I heard an old woman’s voice in the darkness. My head was fuzzy, and the ground seemed uneven under my feet. I swung my weapon to keep the dark forces away, but I could see nothing around me. I felt panicked, and angry, and lost.
I heard her snap her fingers, and I collapsed to the floor.
“Wake up, Sionis. It’s over, my boy.”
I opened my eyes and I was inside an old wooden hut. The darkness I had seen was gone, stripped away by Ruuna’s magic, and I nearly cried with relief.
“The potion has not yet worn off,” Ruuna added. “Please, you’ll only hurt yourself more if you struggle.”
“Okay,” I replied, taking a deep breath.
“What did you see?” the woman asked. “Was it Arugan?”
“No, I saw Princess Ayla. I saw her talking with Arugan, but he didn’t seem right. I think… I think he’s like those soldiers in the mine. He’s alive, but dead.”
Ruuna seemed completely calm, even with me lying on the ground. “You will fully recover,” she said. “Your anger and confusion are the result of distant memories. This potion brings out the most painful memories as it opens you to the visions you seek.”
“Ruuna,” Christine said as she looked at me with hurting eyes. “He seems like he is in so much pain.”
“That would be because he is,” the woman replied. “This one is dangerous. His sorrow is raw and unfocused. His goals are questionable, and he is not… honest.”
“That’s it,” Christine said more firmly. “That’s enough.”
With that, that paladin stepped forward. She used liminary magic to cleanse me of the potion’s power. I felt a bit of a sting as she cleared my body, but I felt the ability to rest sweeping over me.
When the Light faded away, Christine waited for me to stand.
“Thank you,” I mumbled.
“You will need to seek out a woman named Sasha,” Ruuna said. “She holds the answers you seek. Your vision bled out the name in many strands of time.”
I looked to Christine and shrugged. “More importantly, I saw a vision of Ayla working with Arugan. He’s responsible for the Lycanthrope, and he’s definitely working with the Yunai. If we don’t stop him soon, this place could be the start of a new Yunai army.”
“How can I help?” she asked.
“Go and get Angus. Tell him to meet me south of Goldbrook. There’s a group of trappers there. That’s where this will all set off.”
“Are you sure?”
I nodded. “I’m confident.”
Christine nodded and then rushed outside, jumping on her horse and riding back toward Birchwood Lodge. I went to Surfal and began to climb on when Ruuna stopped me with a hand on my shoulder.
I glanced at her and she appeared to be looking right into Surfal’s glowing eyes.
“You can’t reclaim what you lost,” she said somewhat awkwardly.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I don’t believe that.”
“Your horse carries a shard of Marjan’s soul,” Ruuna said, expressing no emotion. “Her lifeforce, what is left, goes with this creature.”
“What are you saying?” I asked.
“Even in death, our soul carries on, pain and death unable to be separated.”
“I’m not following.”
“This horse is special,” Ruuna said. “Care for it. It serves as a beacon to a lost life.”
I glanced at Surfal’s faintly glowing eyes and he looked at me.
“I’ll keep him safe,” I said. “I promise.”
Ruuna nodded. “Go then, Flamecaller. Save the Basalt Dalles.”
In my vision, I had seen a small trapper camp. There, I heard the name of a woman. Sasha. She had been in great pain, calling for someone to aid her, and now I was rushing toward her to help answer that call.
Just as I arrived, I heard a weapon fire from inside one of the wood houses.
I rushed toward it, but as I was running I saw several dead trappers scattered around the camp. Then, I saw two dead lycanthrope too. I feared the worse, so instead of being careful I barged into the building where I’d heard the shots. I saw a man standing, pressed against the wall, holding a wound stained with red blood.
In the center of the building stood a woman with shoulder length black hair and a large rifle that she had pointed at another woman. This third individual was tied to a chair, and she was looking pretty terrified.
“Hey,” I shouted. “What’s going on here?”
“This scum was just about to tell me where I can find Arugan,” the woman with the gun snapped at me. I recognized her, and her voice, to be Sasha.
“I won’t tell you anything!” the man shouted.
“You will if you want your wife to live,” the woman replied.
“Sasha,” I spoke up, trying to diffuse the situation. “I think you need to calm down for a moment.”
“No!” she shouted. “I watched these murderers kill my husband and child. They’ll either tell me where I can find Arugan or die. So which will it be?”
“Forgive me, Tabitha,” the man said aloud as he charged forward. Sasha fired the rifle, killing the woman instantly. She started to reload, turning toward the approaching man, but he was too fast. As he ran, his body transformed into a monstrous lycanthrope. She dropped her gun and pulled a small blade, but the beast was on top of her before she could get a good grip. The knife clattered away as the pair fell to the ground.
I slammed him with a fireball before he could slash the woman’s throat. He was thrown by the spell, and as he shook off the attack he saw that I was the source of his pain. He pushed Sasha away, then started toward me. I’d never faced such a creature before. He was massive, with fangs and terrible angry eyes. He rushed at me, snarling and barking, but as I drew up a spell to attack, I heard another explosive round of gunfire, and the lycanthrope dropped to the floor, the snarl changing to a cry.
Sasha stood, her weapon reloaded, and pointed it at the wounded beast. “Now, where is Arugan?”
The creature groaned. “He’s on the Starlite Island.”
“Thank you,” Sasha said. “Hopefully there’s some mercy for you in the beyond.”
She fired her weapon, killing the creature. She turned to faced me, looking suspicious. “You’re one of the magic users from Udiria? Are you here for Arugan too?”
“I’m going to kill Arugan for what he’s done to my home and family. You can have the leftovers.”
“I think you’re going to need to think this through,” I said, looking at the two corpses she’d created. “There’s more at work here than wolf-men and magic. The Yunai are involved.”
Sasha grunted. “Figures. That’s alright. That’s why I have my trusty gun.”
She held up her rifle. It was a weapon of the Besherman, adopted and widely used by those in the world below after the Yunai invasion was halted. Despite its destructive properties, however, it would fare poorly against the might of aethereal magic.
“You can’t kill someone if they’re already dead,” I explained. “This situation isn’t as simple as killing Arugan. The fact of the matter is, Arugan is already dead. He’s empowered by the Yunai somehow. I’m not even sure that’s really Arugan out there. We have to be careful with this. The two of us can’t just walk in there.”
“So, what do you recommend?” she asked.
“Come and see,” I said, gesturing outside.
Sasha did as I asked and when she stepped outside she saw dozens of soldiers, travelers, and other adventurers as they rode up on their horses. At the lead was Christine and Angus, both of them looking ready for a fight.
“We’re going to Starlite,” I said to Sasha. “We just aren’t going alone.”
Above Starlite island, a dark spiral of clouds circled ominously. Fortunately, the water was shallow, and Surfal walked through with no signs of concern. We walked slowly, deliberately, and with purpose.
A scout on the island’s edge saw us, and sounded an alarm.
At least a dozen lycanthrope rushed out from a building on the island. They came right for us, and they looked intimidating as they charged across the shallow waters, growling and snarling as they closed in on us. Some of the others slowed in response, but we urged them forward as a group.
“You know what to do,” I said. “Stay strong, heroes.”
Argus and his men charged forward to engage the monsters, and I cast an invisibility spell on Christine and Sasha. We slipped past the chaos that erupted on the beach of the island, past the building where other creatures were coming to aid their evil allies, until eventually we reached a strange stone platform where we saw what we had come here to put down.
Arugan, or at least, a creepy living but also dead version of him. He was standing on the platform, casting some kind of magic spell that I had never seen before. It was similar in its hue to those spells I had seen Kaellax used ages ago. I assumed he was doing something with the Yunai.
“Welcome to the end of your journey,” the shade said aloud, speaking to us despite our invisibility. “There is no need for disguises and secrecy here.”
The invisibility spell was ripped away, leaving the three of us exposed.
We stepped closer together and pulled our weapons.
“You’re brave,” Arugan said, smiling at us. “You face the will of Keaira. You will lose.”
“Keiara?” Angus scoffed. “We know you work for the fallen princess.”
Arugan offered a hearty laugh. “Young Ayla is no more in control of her mind than the one you called Arugan controls this form. Their mortal forms are but puppets for the true masters. Keaira and I have a vision for the future of this World Ship. My lycanthrope creations will fuel a new Yunai army, and the broken world beyond these frozen shores will fall to us.”
“No,” Sasha roared. “You’ll die at my hands!”
Arugan waved an arm, and blood splattered across Sasha as a dark magical spell sliced across her body. Her simple leather garments were no match for the energy, and she fell backward as blood pooled around her lifeless body.
I threw a fire blast at Arugan, and he didn’t even block the attack. It slammed into his body, lighting his clothing on fire, but he reached up and patted the cloth until the flame died out. His skin had charred, but he showed no signs of pain.
“You can’t stop me,” Arugan said, looking bored. He held up his hand and a dark bolt of magic sliced through my regalia and my arm exploded in pain. “The problem is your blood is flowing through your veins, foul mortal. I am not concerned about this crude physical body.”
“Oh really?” Christine asked. “You seem like you need it. You went through all the trouble to actually possess and control a physical form. If you really don’t need it… I’ll take care of it for you!”
Christine slammed her weapon against the ground, and luminary magic ripped across the stone. It erupted beneath Arugan, encircling him in glorious light. She twisted her weapon and the bubble of energy began to shrink, forcing Arugan into a smaller space. He struggled against her power, but when his bare flesh touched the circle it seemed to burn. He writhed in pain, and we all realized at that moment that the physical body, while dead, still seemed to react to Christine’s luminary magic.
“Stop this at once!” Arugan roared at her. “You don’t know what you do!”
“You got him?” I asked.
“Temporarily,” Christine replied. “He’s stronger than I realized.”
I reached into my robe and pulled out a small power crystal that I had made the night before. I had been practicing the craft ever since Marjan had taught me the ancient method of forming and empowering the crystals. This one was far too small to be a weapon in its own right, but I had another option. I wasn’t certain how powerful Arugan was, but I couldn’t believe that Ayla would have given him too much power of his own. Thus, running on luck alone, I energized the power crystal just enough to start a power pull, then shoved it through Christine’s shield. When it came into contact with Arugan’s dark energy, it started to vibrate wildly. I pulled my hand back out and put up my own magical barrier around Christine’s.
“Keep your shield up as long as you can,” I said.
“Just trust me,” I said.
By now, a loud humming was coming from the power crystal. The sound was so loud, in fact, that Arugan’s continual curses and profanities were barely heard. The more the crystal reacted with Arugan’s energy, the more unstable it became. It was literally turning into raw energy, cancelling itself out and consuming the magic of Arugan in the process.
As the power exploded outward, Christine’s shield was struggling to contain it.
“Hang in there,” I said. “We just have to hold out a little longer.”
“It hurts,” she replied. “It is physically hurting me! It’s like the magic is traveling back through the luminary spell to me!”
“I know, just hang in there!”
“Until when?” she asked.
As she asked, the crystal within the shield hit critical mass. It exploded into a million shards and the energy vaporized Arugan. Unfortunately, the resulting blast of energy was too much for either of us to contain.
The explosion erupted outward, and we were all thrown from the top of the stone platform where we had faced off against the enemy. When I hit the ground, I opened my eyes to see several individuals around me. They all looked equally shocked by the explosion that had just rocked the island.
I stumbled to my feet as a Stonehaven soldier came running up to me with a bloodied sword in hand. All around me, I could see only allies. There appeared to be no lycanthrope anywhere in sight.
“Sionis!” the soldier shouted. “The creatures… they all just turned back into… people.”
“These people were monsters just a few moments ago.”
I sighed, carefully standing up and checking my footing. “Then it’s over. We did it. Arugan is dead… again.”
“Thank the luminous ones,” the soldier said quietly.
His quiet words of blessing reminded me of the explosion. I was reminded of Christine! I rushed toward the stone platform, calling for the paladin by name, and after a few precious seconds of pure fear, I heard her call out for me too. I saw her struggling to stand, and I stepped over to help her up.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“Yeah, sure,” Christine replied, her voice weak. “I’m fine, but Sasha…”
I shook my head.
Christine began to weep.
A short time later, a single hut on Starlite island had been filled with the defeated soldiers, both our own and the enemy. The brave woman, Sasha, was laid to rest here too. As the others left the island, I set the building aflame with a steady stream of magical fire. The crackling and hissing of the wood and straw made for morbid funeral music, but there was no time for formalities.
“Are you ready to go?” Christine asked as she set her hand on my shoulder.
I nodded slightly and turned toward the other survivors. I noticed that Surfal’s head was hanging low. Again, for a quick moment, I thought of Ruuna’s words. I wondered how much of Marjan lived on within my stallion.
“Okay,” I said aloud, turning from the horse to Christine. “I’m ready. Let’s go back to the Lodge.”