It took three days of travel to reach my first destination.
Lady Evanor had written about it when she left Vers and returned to the world below. The city of Udiria was a military asset these days, and the flying city did not allow visitors to come or go with the proper approval of high-ranking magic users or military generals. This was my first problem. Years ago, during the Yunai invasion, Angus and I had left Udiria and traveled to the world above. Years later I returned and began teaching magic in Stonehaven. The Udirian government had approached me at that time, but I wasn’t interested in returning. They took this as a bit of an insult. When I began purposely teaching magical students that the Udirian Academy of Magic Users had rejected, I accidentally became a bit of an enemy in their eyes. They feared my students would abuse their power, losing their way from the true arts of the twisting aether. I told them they were doing well at creating terrible monsters already, so I didn’t need to focus on that.
The point is… we hadn’t talked in some time.
Obviously, getting to Udiria was critical to my plan’s success. So, somehow, I needed to use this time in the Frozen Realm to become friends with the magical city. The key to this was befriending Lady Evanor, someone who far outranked me, and likely forgot that I even existed at this point. I knew she was holed up at Amber Ridge, her research facility, but getting from our stronghold at the realm’s entrance to her camp had proven immediately difficult.
The tales coming back to Stonehaven talked of a Frozen Realm well under our control. They painted a picture that described Ailyn as nearly defeated, and only pockets of the virus spreading at any given time. Now that I was here, I saw that the truth was less flattering. The land was still full of violence, with overrun farms, embattled villages, ruined castles… soldiers slain in the roads, their heads removed from their bodies as an honorable end to their lives. The Yunai virus was aggressive once it entered your body. You would lose control of your mind, allowing the Yunai to influence you to do things against your will. Your death was inevitable, but it was slow and painful, and you were the servant of the Yunai up until you did finally die… meaning you might harm those you loved before the end. Those that became infected were often put to death in the wake of the injury, so as to prevent he virus from spreading further.
It was a brutal truth to the dangers here.
I had put my powers to good use as I traveled, helping fend off some bandits, burning corpses that had fallen, and even simply providing fire to warm tired and worn soldiers.
I had just started to wonder if I really knew what I was doing out here, when I heard someone call.
I pulled on Surfal, my valiant steed that I had brought with me at this way, and I looked to see a young man running across a grassy field, directly toward me. The man was dressed in the robes of the Udiria Academy, but he wasn’t coming from the direction of Amber Ridge, or at least the direction I had assumed Amber Ridge could be found. His clothes were also tattered and stained with blood, and the poor man’s face looked pale and shallow.
I jumped off Surfal and rushed to meet him. The poor man collapsed into my arms as I reached him, struggling to breathe.
“I’m here, it’s okay,” I assured him. “What’s happened?”
“My superior… she’s been captured… needs help…”
The man writhed suddenly, and I tried to hold him, but I felt warmth pulsing from his chest as I solidified my grip. I took a look, and saw he was bleeding heavily. I pulled the robe open enough to see, and my heart dropped.
The mage had been stabbed multiple times. It was a wonder he was still alive at all.
“It hurts,” he mumbled to me. “So bad.”
“I’m… so sorry.”
“You have to save her,” he said, his eyes wandering from me. “Evanor… dying.”
Lady Evanor. Was it really possible to have found her this quickly?
“Where is your teacher?” I asked. “Where is Evanor?”
The man shook his head. He was crying now. “I don’t know. They took her.”
“Who took her? Stay with me.”
“Sorcerers. The Vinrul sorcerers.”
“Where did this happen?” I asked, shaking the man ever so slightly to keep him awake.
“Not far… west…. near the river…”
The man’s eyes rolled back, his breath drew short, and he spasmed a few times as I held him tightly. Then, with a final groan of pain, the young man died.
I held him for what felt like an eternity, though it was probably only a few minutes. I questioned the whole world around me in this moment. I experienced this young man’s death. I thought of all the people that would find out he was gone. I thought about Marjan, and then I thought about Evanor.
I stood, now covered in the man’s blood, and looked to the west. I whistled loudly and Surfal rushed to my side. I looked down at the poor man and promised myself that I would come back to bury him. Right now, I needed to save Evanor.
As I climbed on my horse to begin my ride, I heard someone approaching. I spun my horse around to see a Besherman walking up on a large horse of his own. He looked at me as he approached, then looked down at the dead body on the ground.
“Was this your doing?” he asked, his voice deep.
“No,” I replied. “It was a group of the Vinrul.”
The Besherman nodded grimly. By now everyone knew of the Vinrul, a group of natives to this realm that had long worshipped the Yunai and now willingly seemed to serve or at least deify Ailyn and her viral army. For whatever reason, the Vinrul seemed impervious to the virus itself, and they were a vicious people with a vicious culture that centered around living sacrifices and punishment to those that were not Vinrul.
“I was afraid this might happen,” the Besherman said. “My name is Onderzoek. I work with the Udira Academy to research Vinrul technology and aethereal abilities. They’re particularly active in this area as of late, and they’ve grown increasingly violent. They seem to be focused on stopping our involvement at Amger Ridge. I was coming to warn William of this now.”
“The corpse at your horse’s feet.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know his name.”
“Does this mean Lady Evanor is in danger as well?” the Onderzoek asked.
I nodded. “William said she was captured. Can you tell me where the Vinrul would keep her?”
The Besherman was silent at first, but then offered me a deep bow of his head.
“Then let’s get moving,” I said. “I suspect time is short.”