A few weeks passed after the Besherman soldiers came to visit. I waited patiently for Lady Evanor to announce her next plan, but there was nothing. She was working on a plan, of course, but she wasn’t sharing any of the details with us.
The Besherman engineers had come to Vers and gone to work on building new airships. I initially wondered why they hadn’t decided to do the work in a city like Kennis, but then I remembered that that city had been heavily assaulted by the Yunai, while Vers had been left alone. It was easier to work here, and the use of magic increased efficiency, so the engineers welcomed it, even if they judged us for using it.
Hypocrisy, as Marjan had pointed out.
My thoughts, however, had not been focused on the airships themselves. Instead, I had been trying to figure out how I could get a ride back to the world below. I had asked Angus about requesting passage, but he had made it clear that as one of only three verified Flamecallers left, we had a duty to fulfill here by training new students. Appoleon had already secured his place among the brave souls that would return to our old home, but he too felt that I should remain here until we knew the real situation below.
So, I took a deep breath, and did the unthinkable.
I asked for an audience with Lady Evanor.
Much to my surprise… she accepted.
I was a bundle of nerves on the day I finally got to speak her. I knew Evanor had things going on that were far and above everything I worried about on a day to day basis. She had, inadvertently, become our leader after she led us away from the destruction of Lederan. I was confident she had no interest in helping me find my way home. Still, if anyone could get me there, it was her.
I stepped inside the tower and saw her sitting at a wooden desk, not far from the entrance. Her hand rested on her forehead and she looked like she might set the whole desk ablaze. Then, when the door squeaked, she looked up at me and her face instantly melted into a compassionate look.
“Greetings,” she said, looking over some notes. “I’m glad to get to see you again Sionis. It’s been a long time, hasn’t it?”
“It has,” I said, suddenly feeling guilty. “I’m sorry I never made time before.”
Evanor chuckled. “I wouldn’t worry about it. We’ve all been busy. Tell me, how can I help you?”
I had considered how I was going to address the topic once I finally got into the room, but suddenly I felt at a loss for words. My hands were sweaty. I felt like a school child that had been asked to speak to the whole class. I thought I might not make it, but then I thought of Stonehaven, of uncle Maron, and my strength was resolved.
“It’s about the airships going home,” I started. “I would like to go too.”
Evanor’s brow furrowed in contemplation.
“I have family in Stonehaven… Maron… I would very much like to see him again.”
“Did Sonea… what happened to her, Sionis?”
I shook my head. “I don’t know.”
Lady Evanor stepped out from behind her desk and paced the floor. I knew I was being selfish. I knew that Evanor had suffered as much as I had. Everyone in this city had lost their world. I wasn’t any different. I wasn’t special in comparison to them.
She paced for a long time. Back and forth.
Finally, she spun around and looked me square in the eyes. “I will allow you to go, but your primary mission, Sionis, will be to investigate the approaching vessel and secure an army to defend the ancient passage if our fears come true. You might find your family, but you’ll be marching headfirst into another war. Are you sure this is what you want?”
I couldn’t believe it. She was going to let me go? “I do,” I confirmed. “More than you know.”
“Very well,” she said. “I’ll add you to the mission briefs. You’re a valuable asset to have. General Taanach will likely find use for a Flamecaller in his ranks. If you find that all the kingdoms fell to the virus, you and the soldiers we send in our airships will be our only true line of defense against the Yunai.”
“Yes, my Lady.”
She looked at me for a long moment. “I’m sorry about Sonea. Stay safe, Sepher.”
I burst out of the tower and rushed down to the blacksmith where I knew Appoleon was crafting armor sets. Ever since the Yunai had been defeated, he had been pouring all of his attention into his luminous magic, finding ways to channel the aether through weapons of all kinds. He said that it was the best tool we had to fight against the Yunai, and they were the real threat to our safety.
As far as he was concerned, there wouldn’t be any more invasions. Not on his watch.
“She’s letting me go,” I said proudly.
“What?” he asked, pulling a helm from the flames. “She said yes?”
“That’s right,” I proudly replied. “I got a ship. I got supplies. We’re sailing away!”
“Fantastic. Are you ready to take up a crystal blade?” he asked.
“What?” I asked loudly. “I’m not going to be one of your paladins!”
“With my new magical hardware, we’re going to really crush the Yunai when we face them. I can get you a sword if you want. The Besherman believe they can make another batch soon, but it’ll be the last for some time. The crystals that they use to make the blades take time to grow as large as we need them.”
“Do you think Stonehaven survived?” I asked, moving past the topic. “The virus… did it reach them?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. I certainly hope we helped stem the tide.”
“Yeah, me too.”
“Alright, well you get along then. I only remind you that we’re not going on a picnic. These airships are floating into an apocalypse, and a potential battle for the fate of the world, so maybe think about that while you’re packing your things.”
With that, Appoleon threw down a face cover and went to hammering away on the metal helm, slowly shaping it into another perfect piece of armor.
From the blacksmith I made my way to the stables, where I knew I would find Marjan and Surfal. The two of them had become close friends and often rode together during the daylight hours. I knew Marjan would want to go with me across the sea, but I needed to hear someone be excited about securing the passage, so I defaulted to her.
“We get to travel to the world below?” she asked, her voice rising. “I am terrified at the very notion, but the excitement builds too!”
“I know, right?”
“Will we see new plants and trees and animals?” she asked.
“I… uh… well it’s not that different,” I said. I hadn’t even considered it at the time, but this place was relatively the same as the world we had left behind… just… up.
“Regardless,” Marjan said. “This is great! What an adventure!”
Her excitement did exactly as I had hoped, stoking the fires of excitement within my own heart. I was going to get to go home! I was going to see my uncle again and tell him that I was okay, that I didn’t die, and that I could work on the farm with him until our dying days.
We talked about our homes for the rest of the afternoon and well into the evening hours.
A fair amount of time passed before the airships were finally ready. Once that was in place, we went to work on assembling the final crews, going over the mission details, and finally the day came when we boarded the fleet for our trip down the cascading mountains and back to the world we once knew. We had a flight plan in place, and we knew to head straight for the realm of Stonehaven. We’d only touch down on ground when we knew we had a secure landing area. If we couldn’t find one… if the world was covered in death and sorrow, we would return to the world above and prepare to face the Yunai there instead.
On the day of our departure, I had one more stop to make.
I knocked on the door and waited. A woman, Sellia, opened it and locked eyes with me. By her side, the young blonde haired boy named Fynn looked at me with confusion.
“I heard you’re leaving,” she said flatly. “It’s a shame. Vers needs folk like you.”
“I’ll come back,” I replied.
“We both know that’s not true,” Sellia replied. “That’s why you’re here, right? To get the wand?”
She reached over, having it on hand already, she presented the wand to me. As she held it there, I heard whispers murmuring in the aether. It was Sonea’s voice. I heard it so clearly now, quiet but clear. She was speaking a single word, a message left behind for me to hear… a name.
I looked at it for a long moment, making sure I had heard correctly, then glanced up at Sellia and gave her a big smile. “The name of the wand,” I said quietly. “I finally heard it. It’s Iliera.”
Sellia smiled too. “So you can hear it, when you stop talking long enough to listen.”
“I suppose so,” I admitted.
“Well, now I have to give it you. After all, I said if you knew the wand’s name, I’d let you have it back.”
That wand held deep sentimental value to me. It had been given to me by Lady Sonea when I was just a young child. At that time, she had told me to take care of it, but like a foolish young person tends to do, I did not listen and ultimately lost the weapon within a few short years.
Sellia, on the other hand, had kept it close and protected it ever since she took it from me. Since then, it had protected her and, if it stayed with her, could continue to protect her and the child she now cared for.
“You keep it,” I said as casually as I could, stifling the emotions that begged me to take the wand for my own nostalgia. “You may need to keep your family safe someday.”
“That’s very kind of you,” she said, holding it out a bit longer to be sure I wasn’t joking.
“The original owner would be proud to know it’s used for noble goals,” I added. “I’m sorry you and I had a rough start. I do thank you for offering to give it back. It means a great deal. Perhaps, if I do come back to Vers, we can get together and have a drink. I wouldn’t mind talking things over and starting fresh.”
Sellia nodded. “A fair offer. I won’t hold my breath, though, you’re too full of adventure to come back.”
I started to interject, but she placed a finger on my mouth to silence me. “If, however,” she added. “You do decide to stop by, I would be happy to call you friend.”
A moment later, she placed her hand atop the small boy’s head and I stepped back as she closed the door. I felt a strong sense of closure there, and I headed toward the airships feeling like I could let go of Vers.
I untied the rope that morning with great uncertainty.
I was leaving a lot of friends behind for this quest to return to Stonehaven. For a brief moment, I even thought about cancelling the whole thing. I didn’t have to go back. It didn’t have to happen. I could just write Maron a letter or something…
The sails came down and the air bladders lurched forward from the strong easterly winds. I watched as the city grew smaller in the distance. Before long, Vers was gone. It was blue seas everywhere around us, and the cascading mountains were ahead of us.
“Okay,” the ship’s captain, Keit O’Brien, said proudly. “We’re heading right into it, ladies and gents. So get yourselves ready for the drop. It’s going to be a heck of a ride!”
I looked around. There were a dozen of us, on this air ship, and there were four more, each larger than our own. We had loaded up with plenty of supplies and weaponry, but we were not a large army. If the Yunai were coming aboard a ship, they could have thousands of forces, as many that attacked the Grid, and we’d have hundreds to stand against them. Our hope for the future rested in the world below. If Stonehaven still stood, then we’d have the army of the southern realm to aid us. Then, we might stand a chance.
As the winds started to swirl and turn, the sky grew dark, and I got into my position as directed by the sole magic user that had volunteered to help steer us through the air currents. My job was simple, heat the air as needed, help steady the ship, and get us down to the world below.
Captain O’Brien was confident he could do it. He looked excited. “Alright everyone,” he with with a cheer. “Brace for adventure!”