It’s hard to describe how truly cold it can get at night across the Frozen Realm. I don’t think there’s a lot of places around Azirin that get anywhere close to those frigid temperatures. From what I understand, the Besherman said that part of the World Ship took exterior damage at that part of the ship, and the icy-cold void cools the entire realm to such extreme temperatures.
Likewise, the poorly-insulated designs of any wooden structures up there meant that icy air was always seeping inside through the nooks and crannies. Most people combatted this with fire. The stone hearths were always hot, fed with freshly cut timber from the ample woods of the untamed forests of trees that could survive the climate.
The magical fortress that the Udirians had constructed at Amber Ridge was another story.
The building been sealed tight with magical enchantments that allowed the heat to dissipate, but did not allow the cold to come inside. It was a comfortable temperature in the stone tower, no matter what, and I grew comfortable with this over the few days that I had stayed with them.
Lady Evanor had recovered rather quickly, but many of the prisoners had not. We asked for help from neighboring military outposts, and they sent us a handful of soldiers to help the prisoners recover enough to be transported away.
I had spent most of my time watching over Evanor, but she had stirred this particular morning looking lively, even asking me to get her something for breakfast. I heartily agreed, hungry myself, and I headed outside of the tower to visit the food tent that had been setup.
The cold hit me like a ton of bricks, but I took a deep breath and picked up my speed until I reached the tent’s interior, which was not much warmer, but still better.
There, standing at the back of the tent in nothing but a thin pair of shorts and light shirt, stood a very large man with an even larger butcher’s knife. He looked over at me, standing in the tent flap, and then smiled widely. “Sionis!”
My jaw nearly dropped. “Appoleon?!”
“What in the heck are you doing here?” Appoleon asked loudly. “My goodness! I haven’t seen you in ages!”
“I know,” I replied. “I… this is impossible.”
“What are the odds?”
“No, I mean… Lady Evanor is here too.”
Appoleon offered a hearty chuckle. “You’re kidding me?!”
“I wish,” I said, completely overwhelmed. The truth was, it was very concerning. I had come here to commit crimes and alter the past. When Lady Evanor crossed my path, I thought it had been fortune, or luck, but for Appoleon to show up too? Now? No, there had to be something more than coincidence at play.
Appoleon saw my concern and set down his massive blade. His aging face was calm, but stern, and his blond hair was thinning to baldness, but it wasn’t quite there yet. He looked healthy, particularly happy, and I felt awkward being in his presence.
“So, uh, you’re a cook now?” I asked, trying to steer the conversation.
“Yup,” Appoleon said, looking at his shabby kitchen. “I had to throw this together on short notice, but I’ve got a nicer one back at the keep. I cook for people when they’re hungry, and I use the magic of the luminary tech to heal folks if I can.”
“A powerful combination,” I said.
“Well, it beats killing things,” Appoleon said. “My days of crackin’ skulls are long over.”
“What? Why?” I asked.
He chuckled. “If you have to ask, you won’t understand. In time, you’ll get it.”
I wanted to stay and talk more, but I thought of Evanor and her request and I realized I’d already been gone a long time. I put in my order, and Appoleon had it cooked up in a jiffy. He bid me a fond farewell and I rushed off, not sure if I was eager to come back and talk more, or if I wanted to avoid him entirely.
I would have to decide on a full stomach.
In Evanor’s room, the two of us had a great time eating the eggs and bacon that Appoleon had prepared. I hadn’t had fresh food in some time, living off magically crafted bread and water to lighten my pack. The real deal tasted like heaven.
I had just buried any fears I had about all of my old friends coming together in this strange mix of coincidence and fate, when I looked up and saw an Udirian soldier, dressed in full armor, standing at the wooden doorway of Evanor’s room. My panic skyrocketed at the sight, as I instantly convinced myself they were there to take me away for a crime I had yet to commit.
The guard stepped inside, and the next man to enter was an elder. He was an Udirian Elite from the looks of it, probably a very powerful magic user. He looked happy to see us, which was odd for me, and he walked over to take Lady Evanor’s hand.
“I’m so glad you’re well,” he said to her. “I was so worried when I heard the news.”
He looked to me now and nodded. “Are you the one that rescued all these people?”
“In a way,” I said, trying to stay humble.
“Sionis Sepher, right?” he asked. “Glad to have you here.”
“What are you doing at Amber Ridge, Donathan?” Evanor asked, sitting up. “Your group has been posted at Colderra.”
I nearly gasped. This was Donathan? The squirrely guy from the library in Vers? Impossible.
“That’s precisely why I’m here,” he answered. “Evanor, something terrible has happened. The Vinrul have been seeking a way to bring more of the Yunai spirits to our world, just as we feared. They opened a rift yesterday. It’s a raw portal of of aethereal energy. We believe they are struggling to maintain control of it, but Evanor… if they pierce the veil…”
“Then it’s over before we even take down the Fallen Queen,” Evanor said, her voice sounding tired.
“If it’s that bad, surely the Udirians have people that can fight?” I asked.
“Unfortunately not,” Evanor explained. “The Vinrul are one of a dozen problems that we’ve discovered in the Frozen Realm. Right now, the Udirians are spread far too thin. This responsibility falls to me. I’ll have to close the rift, but getting inside has been the problem.”
“Why is that?”
“No magic can breach their lair. It will have to be brute force. We’ll need soldiers, not magic users.”
“I think… I think I have a plan,” I said. “It’ll be dangerous, but it could work.”
Of all the prisoners that had been saved, only a few were well enough to even attempt what I was planning. The others would have to stay here at the tower. Those soldiers sent from other outposts were more than capable.
That included Appoleon.
“I’m a cook,” Appoleon said without looking to me. “I don’t fight anymore. Didn’t we already have this discussion earlier today?”
“No fighting,” I said. “We have fighters. I need a healer. You said you can heal with your luminary magic.”
“I’m not your man,” he said. “I’m sorry.”
“Lady Evanor says if we do nothing, this thing could destroy our world.”
Appoleon laughed, then turned to fully face me. “That’s the real trick, ain’t it? Whatever adventure it is, no matter how big or small, the world is always in mortal danger. Tell me, what is it that threatens our existence this time?”
“A magical rift capable of piercing the veil of the aether and allowing countless Yunai spirits to flood our world, potentially causing the end of all things.”
“Who created this rift?” Appoleon asked. “Udiria?”
“No, apparently it is a group called the Vinruls.”
The large man scoffed, then shook his head and waved a dismissive arm. “You’re the worst, Sepher. I was done with this nonsense. You know that? Fine. Let me get my stuff ready. Tell someone out there I’m going to need a mace. I want a proper one, Sepher, none of those little hammers you call weapons.”
“Fair enough,” I said, thankful to have him with us. “You won’t regret this.”
“We’ll see,” he said, his own voice weary. “We will see.”