The first thing to learn about the Vinrul sorcerers, was that they were working with the a special type of magic that seemed to stem from the Yunai. We’ve talked about Shadowspeakers, like Kaellax. They were special magic users that bent the will of weaker Yunai and used them for their own purposes. The inverse of that is what we called the Shadowsleepers. These were normal people like you or me, but the Yunai had reached into their minds and now forced them to behave and act as they wished. Sometimes a Shadowsleeper was particularly easy to sway, other times they fought back. Either way, many of the Vinrul were controlled by the Yunai at some point. If a Yunai stayed in control for too long, the host could die, but if they relented often, the damage was more or less temporary.
The most important thing, of course, was that we were warned to stay away. A single Vinrul, if they were a Shadowsleeper, could inform other Yunai of your location in an instant. It was considered a death sentence. So, obviously, I wasn’t thrilled when I reached the Vinrul operations and discovered nearly two dozen of them working the scene.
“I didn’t know about the dragons,” the Besherman said, looking nervous. “We should return to Amber Ridge and get help. If there are this many of these devils around, there’s something important going on here. It’ll take Udirian soldiers to clear out this camp.”
“No time,” I replied. “If Lady Evanor is in danger, we need to bring this group down and get her out of here. I can see some of their magical containment units at the edge of their camp. That has to be where they’re holding Evanor, and maybe others too. Do you think we could sneak around and hit them from behind?”
I heard no response. I looked back and saw that the Besherman had already mounted his horse and was quietly leaving. I couldn’t really blame him, but I wasn’t too keen on where that left me. I was alone, unprepared, and heavily outnumbered. The deserter would probably get the backup I needed, but it would take far too long to wait for that.
I decided I’d have to strike with a shock and awe approach. I could create a bomb charged with aethereal energy. It could be placed as far as I could reach through the magical field that surrounded us, and the chaos it produced would be enough to get me inside the enemy perimeter. If I could get Evanor free, I could bolster her strength with magic, and then they’d have to deal with two of us. We’d escape if we could, hopefully they’d let two powerhouses like us escape rather than risk fighting to the death.
A magical bomb was, obviously, highly forbidden, but Angus had taught me the basics of how it worked during our time in the world above. I crafted one by condensing as much magic as I could, like a strong vacuum, I just kept cramming the energy into a tighter and tighter space until I could feel it already swirling and kicking, begging for escape. I scoped out the camp, tried to find the perfect spot, and then sent the magical energy swirling into their midst.
There was a flash of purple light and then fire magic crackled and ripped through the air. The blast incinerated a few unfortunate Vinrul near the initial detonation, a handful of others cried out in agony as the blast blinded with with its brightness. I had barely set it off when I jumped up and charged down into the camp. The Vinrul spiraled in confusion, clearly not expecting an enemy attack. I barely hid myself as I rushed to the prison cells where Evanor was, hopefully, located.
I checked the first cell, and it was empty, but as I went to check the next one I heard an angry voice.
“Who dares interrupt Mistress Tapeesa!?”
I froze, but I doubt it did any good. A moment later there was a much smaller flash of light and a woman appeared right in front of me. The woman’s face, while contorted with anger, looked surprisingly hollow. Her clothes were tattered and torn, her hair at least as matted and dirty as my own. She looked awful, and smelled it too. I was shocked by her state of being.
I stood my ground, locking eyes with her for a moment so that she could really gauge my own determination. I wanted her to know I wasn’t some fresh recruit from Stonehaven. I had faced dangerous people before, and frankly, she failed to impress me on any level.
“What do you seek, assailant?” she asked with a hiss.
“I’m here for someone. A young man died in my arms today. I want to speak with whoever is responsible.”
“It’s rewarding to know a job is done,” she said, smiling at me as she pulled a dagger to display, still stained with dried blood.
“Release your prisoner,” I said sternly. “Then we’ll talk about your punishment.”
The woman scoffed. “I’m not releasing anyone.”
“I’m going to kill you,” I added. “If you release your prisoner, I can make it fast. If you resist…”
“You’re outnumbered. Your magic is countered two to one,” she explained, waving her arm to show me the gathering guards. “Do you honestly think you can defeat me?”
“Is that how the man died?” I asked. “Stabbed by your guards?”
“I killed him myself,” she said angrily.
“Then call your guards back. Fight me alone.”
The woman contemplated this for a moment, then raised a hand. The Vinrul stopped approaching. I waited for her response, but she answered with action instead of words. She came at me like a bolt of lightning. I reverted to instincts, forming an ice shield to protect myself. She smashed through it with a devastating attack, but it slowed her enough for me to dodge.
I threw a couple quick fire blasts her way, but she dodged each one, growing closer with every maneuver. She knew how to fight, and I quickly determined that I wouldn’t be able to best her with docile magic.
“Come now,” she said through her sharp laughter. “I thought I might have a real challenge here! Your letting me down.”
“If you insist,” I said, slowly conjuring my next fire spell. “Let’s try something bigger.”
I slammed my hands together and called upon all of my energy. I used it to build a complicated attack that mixed fire within fire, bright blue at the center, yellow and orange outside. The raw power and heat of this spell could burn the uniform off a Udirian soldier from across a room. It tried to lash out at me, but I contained it long enough to give it a better target.
The sheer speed of the spell made it impossible for my foe to deflect. It slammed into the ground not far from her side, my bad aim to blame. The eruption was still potent, and my opponent was thrown several yards before she landed on the ground. She was likely in agony and in need of healing, but this was a duel, likely to the death, so I couldn’t let up.
I threw several fire blasts at her, one on top of the next, and while she managed to deflect the first one, the second nicked her, and the third dug in deep. She laughed at first, but then her armor, super-heated from the spell, began to burn. The laughter turned to panicked screams. She blasted the armor plating off with her own spell, and the time it took for her to accomplish this was enough to me to close the distance between us.
I wrapped my hand around her wrist and the two of us froze in place.
“The fight is mine,” I said proudly. “I can cast a spell that will burn you from the inside out. Call off your guards, give me the prisoner. I’m not here to kill you.”
The woman’s eyes darted widely from me to her guards. She probably wondered if she could fight her way out of this, calling on them to aid her. I had already considered that, and I wasn’t bluffing. I’d likely die, but she’d be dead long before the guards reached us.
“It is not over,” she said at last, looking at me with crazed excitement. She twisted her arms, pushing her hands up and around so that she could grab a hold of me as well. She locked her grip as tightly as I held onto her and she smiled at me, looking very unstable.
“I won’t go down because of you,” she growled. “If you want to see some fire, get ready for what I can show you. I’ve turned myself into a bomb, you wretch. You and I are going to burn to ash right where we stand. Witness the true power of the flame!”
I could feel her hands growing warm, then hot, and I couldn’t help but wonder how I planned to free my arm from her grip. She was digging her nails into my flesh and the heat of her body was growing immensely. I knew I had to escape, and a brutish idea popped into my head.
I threw myself forward, slamming my forehead into her nose. It cracked with a terrible sound, and she recoiled appropriately, releasing my arms in the process. I used a spell to transport myself, landing less than twenty yards away, but out of the circle of guards that were closing in around us, many of them unaware of what she was planning.
I heard her scream with a mixture of rage and extreme pain. I shielded myself with all of the magical energy I could harness and fell to the floor.
A moment later, she exploded.
I don’t know if the guards were simply unaware of her intent, or they knew and underestimated the blast. Either way, they were engulfed in the flames that erupted and I was knocked away by the blast, but my shield held.
In the aftermath there was only silence. I stood, looked around, and then cautiously approached the crater where the woman had stood. She had transformed her entire physical body into fuel for the magical blast, but tattered remains of her clothing and a chain necklace remained where she had once stood.
On the chain was a magical crystal.
I looked around, and noted there were several hexagon shaped cages that littered the area. I didn’t see any other guards around, so I walked to the first cage, held the crystal close, and it popped open with no problem.
Inside, a clearly famished dwarf warrior looked up at me, confused.
“You’re free,” I said. “Can you walk?”
It took nearly an hour to walk around, opening cage after cage. I organized those that were able to move into helping with those that could not. Some of the cages were empty. Some had corpses, and others had fresh prisoners.
Finally, as I opened the very last cage, I was relieved to see a tired and dirty, but otherwise unharmed, Lady Evanor. She was chained, unlike the others, but the magical key opened the cuffs with ease.
I hadn’t seen Evanor in years, but it was like she hadn’t aged at all. She still had long black hair that rested well past her waist, and her bright blue eyes glowed with magical energy, almost as though she had long ago enchanted them to do so.
She started to utter her thanks as she stood, but then she stopped short as recognition took hold. She smiled, ever so slightly, and her hand reached up to touch my face, though it was mostly my nose. I couldn’t blame her, my nose is an easy target.
“Sonis?” she asked. “Sionis Sepher?”
“Hey Evanor,” I said. “You okay?”
“I… how did you get here?”
“Adventure called,” I answered sarcastically.
“Always showing up in unexpected places,” she mumbled. “I’m glad to see you.”
“I would hope so,” I replied. “I just saved you from certain death.”
“I could have taken ’em,” she joked.
She leaned forward, weakly taking hold of my shoulder and letting me help her out of her cage. I guided her over to the area where the other prisoners were resting. I knew we still had a bit of a trek ahead of us to get to real safety, but everyone seemed grateful to be out of their prisons.
Evanor, having taken a seat, soon fell asleep on the ground.
I took a few deep breaths and then started trying to remember the spell for conjuring a portal. Amber Ridge was too far to walk for many of these prisoners, and the sun was setting, which meant it was about to get very cold outside. If they were going to survive, this was the only way.
“Hold on everyone,” I said, taking a firm stance far enough back from everyone to avoid any magical overlap. “Let’s hope this works…”
I was blown away when it did, indeed, work.
I ripped open a portal through the twisting aether. It was impressive. One by one the prisoners stepped through to the Udirian stronghold on the other side. As they did so, a few Udirian soldiers on the other side saw that I was struggling with the portal, so they empowered the gateway with their own magic, which gave me a chance to relax.
When it was all said and done… I saved twenty-five prisoners that day.
Two of them were Udirian soldiers.
With any luck, I would be in the flying city by the end of the week, or so I thought.