When I first woke, I discovered that I was no longer in the cobblestone streets of Udiria’s famous square. The hard surface of the street had been replaced by a soft mattress, and I sat up to see that I was in a comfortable room with magical paintings around me.
I was still in the city, but I had been moved, likely to the nearby city ward.
I started to stand, and the blood rush to my head was intense. I stumbled slightly, and a young woman in the room that I had not noticed spun around at the noise I made. “Oh, you’re awake!” she said, setting down the linens in her arms. She was dressed like a nurse, but she had the Udirian badge on her outfit, marking her as a magic user. “We weren’t sure you were going to pull through,” she added. “May the luminary one guide you to good health.”
I rolled my eyes at the little blessing at the end. Appoleon hadn’t intended it, but when luminary magic was created, it didn’t take long for folks to start attributing that power to something more than aethereal magic and machinery. The Luminary One was the hottest religion in Azirin these days.
“Excuse me,” I said. “Can you tell me where I am?”
She stopped in the doorway. “Academy of Magic Users. Medical Ward.”
“What happened to me? Where is my horse?”
“I’m sorry?” she asked, looking somewhat confused by the question. “I would assume he’s in the stables with the other horses. We don’t allow horses inside the building.”
“No, you don’t understand. My horse was hurt. I saw Ayla cut him down!”
“Your horse fought the fallen princess of Lederan? Look, I’m just a volunteer, but if you’ve had some kind of head injury, we should probably have it looked at once more.”
I realized how absurd I sounded. I calmed myself down and apologized. She seemed to forgive me and went on with her chores, while I headed down the hallway and into the main lobby. I stopped at a large mirror and saw that I had been dressed in a simple adept’s robe, something I hadn’t worn since I left Udiria so long ago. Then, it clicked. I was in Udiria. I had made it.
Of course, now it might be too late. Surfal was the key to accomplishing my goal. I would need the horse to be alive if I planned to accomplish my task. I started reaching out into the aether, feeling for that small piece of magical energy that my horse still carried from all those years before…
The streets of Udiria were crowded with hundreds of heroes. Many of them were cut off from the Udirian facilities, but almost all of them looked like they were simply passing through anyways. All the while, the dangers of this realm seemed almost nonexistent here. The shops were open, the magi were laughing and sharing stories, and the icy cold environment was replaced with a magical warmth, a controlled climate likely produced by the magic users.
I felt the fleeting remnants of Surfal’s life energy, and I’d teleported there in an instant. The Udirians shunned magic travel within the city as they feared they may cause some undiscovered calamity, but I was in a hurry. In the street, I found no sign of my horse, but then I heard Christine calling out to me.
I looked up from my focus on the cobblestone and saw her rushing toward me, pushing anyone out of the way that wouldn’t move of their own accord. She practically tackled me, wrapping me up in a hug that was as comfortable as you might expect from someone wearing thick metal armor.
“I’m so glad you’re alive,” she said, releasing me and looking over me like a worried mother might inspect her child. “Honestly, I can’t believe you survived.”
I smiled briefly. “Me either.”
She looked more serious for a moment, then asked. “How about Surfal?”
“I don’t know,” I said, suddenly feeling anxious again. “I don’t know where to find him.”
“I think they have him at the city botanical garden.”
“Seriously? I have to go,” I said. “Thank you, Christine. We’ll talk soon!”
I had been to the city’s beautiful botanical gardens many times during my stay here. I knew the way without even thinking about it. I cut corners, rounded alleys, slipped through a few buildings, and eventually emerged just outside the glass enclosures. I ran inside and immediately stepped in a thick pool of blood. Standing over my black stallion, an absolutely exhausted Lady Evanor was covered in red.
I looked at Surfal and saw that his eyes barely had any purple glow left. They looked clouded, like he was slipping into a dark mist. She looked at me, then shook her head, and I realized that there was nothing more she could do. “I am so sorry,” she said. “I can’t… I can’t make it stop. I heal him, I give him more blood. The magic won’t release him.”
“Okay,” I said firmly. “I considered this. The body is dying. Okay. Fine. So we bypass the physical.”
Evanor looked confused. “I’m not following.”
“I need a favor. It’s a doozy, and it’s the last time I’ll ask you for help, I promise.”
“There’s a man named Bevozzsh. I brought him down years ago during the Remnants campaign. He’s being held in the city’s magical prison. I need you to teleport me inside.”
“Bevozzsh? Sionis, no. I cant just blast you into a prisoner’s cell,” Evanor said.
“I don’t have time,” Sionis urged. “Evanor. I need Marjan’s soul shard. This isn’t just for me, this is for her too. Teleport me and Surfal into the prison. Please.”
She sighed, then took my hand into her own. The dried blood pressed against my skin as she tightened her grip. She was silent for a moment, moving her other hand as she clearly worked to undo various magical spells that protected the prison. Then, she pulled on me, hard, and the two of us slipped through the twisting aether, moving instantly from the botanical garden to the the very cell where Bevozzsh was detained.
He was standing near the cell door when we appeared, and he stepped over, clearly interested. He looked like a humanoid, or at least was shaped like one, but his body was a mirage. He wrapped himself in bandages to hide the truth, but the man that had once been Bevozzsh was gone. Now, only a being of pure energy remained. He was an anomaly, and his use of magic to extend his own existence had been bad enough, but once he understood the magic, he had done it to others to help them… even if they didn’t want it.
“Sionis Sepher,” he said with a hiss, sounding disgruntled. He paused, looking down at the wounded Surfal. “Oh, that looks unfortunate.”
“You were Musfurin once,” I said, ignoring his greeting. “You drove yourself into the twisted aethereal energies and became immortal. I need your help.”
“You want me to perform one of the most powerful spells that I’ve ever accomplished, on your horse, after you imprisoned me?”
“That’s about right.”
“What? You’re joking right?” Bevozzsh asked. “Why would I do that?”
“My horse is dying. I need your help. In exchange… I’ll help you escape.”
“Seriously?” Bevozzsh asked. “You’re being serious right now?”
I glanced at Evanor, who looked as shocked by my proposition as Bevozzsh. I didn’t say anything else to her, as I needed her to be clear of this crime.
“I’m serious,” I said. “Save the horse and you go free.”
“I can’t save the horse,” Xevozz replied. “This process will destroy the horse, at least physically.”
“What about the soul?” I asked.
“Yeah, the life force, soul, whatever you want to call it. Sure, that lives on. I mean, I’m still Bevozzsh, or at least the part of me that identifies as that. I hold this form because I want to, though, so the horse… who knows what it’ll do.”
“That’s fine,” I said, feeling desperate. “Please.”
“You know, honestly, I’m more interested in how you plan on getting me out of here than the whole backstory of why you’d bother saving a single horse, so sure, I’ll do it.”
I looked to Evanor and frowned. “I’m sorry. Teleport back to the gardens. I know this is crazy, but I have to do this. If Surfal dies, I’ll lose everything. I can’t do it.”
Evanor frowned. “I have to tell them,” she said. “I’m not a criminal.”
With a pop and fizzle, she was gone.
Bevozzsh got as close as he could to the horse from his cell. His arm reached out and touched Surfal’s hide. “What’s so important about this horse?”
“It doesn’t matter,” I said. “Hurry.”
The prisoner started to glow brighter and energy began to spread from his hand over Surfal’s body. As this happened, the horse shuddered, and with a final puff of breath, he went still. I felt my heart breaking.
“No,” I shouted. “Not yet!”
“Not to worry,” Bevozzsh said confidently. “I can get him back. The thing you need to do is strip the magical dampening field on my cell. I can’t finish this without my full power.”
I nodded. Without hesitation I did as he asked, reaching out and disarming his cell with a simple cancellation spell. As soon as it dropped, an audible alarm sounded and I knew the Udirians had been alerted.
“Okay,” I said. “What else do you need?”
Bevozzsh laughed. “I have all I need, Sepher. Thanks for the pardon.”
His physical form suddenly exploded outward, and I was thrown back from the energy that was released. I crashed against the ground, and from the center of the blast I was fairly confident that I saw the outline of a man sitting atop a horse.
Then, the light faded, and I was alone, with an empty cell and a dead animal.
Several bright flashes went off around me, and I was surrounded by ten magic users. They had their wands at the ready and pointed right at me. I help up my hands to show that I was unarmed and waited there. “I surrender.”