The magical city of Udiria floated above an aethereal vein that ran deep through Azirin. It held a strong flow of twisted magical energy, and the Udirian magical users tapped into that flow of magic for all their spells and work.
On the ground, away from the city, I came across a wonderful place.
The Gemstone Forest.
I had heard about this beautiful landscape while I was staying at Birchwood Lodge, but I had never expected to see it. I was captivated by the pure beauty. The trees that grew out of the ground appeared to have been converted to solid crystal as their roots fed on the raw energy of the twisting aether. They had become pure energy, transformed from the trees they may have once been.
It was calming to be here, and the trees had a quiet hum to them that soothed my troubled mind. I must have walked through the forest for hours on end. The warmth they generated fought back the cold winds of the north.
I felt… at peace.
That was then I heard someone walking up behind me.
I twisted around, ready to fight, but I froze when I saw Bevozzsh standing there.
“Hey Sionis,” he said, stepping closer. “Crazy thing you did, breakin’ me out.”
“You let Surfal die,” I said, my voice cold and angry. “If I knew how, I’d kill you.”
“Whoa, who said anything about letting Surfal die?” he asked. “You held up your end of the bargain, Sepher. So did I.”
I glanced wearily at the being.
“Seriously,” he assured me. “Here, look.”
Bevozzsh stepped back and made a strange whistle. When he did, I saw a glint of something in the trees above, and I was fascinated when a creature came down from the sky to land next to him. It was a winged horse, but one that had a body formed entirely of swirling energy, just like Bevozzsh’s own.
“This,” he said, looking at me. “This is Surfal.”
“Seriously?” I asked.
“Look in the eyes.”
I stepped closer, and the energy being looked at me. I saw in its swirling form, bright glowing eyes, familiar eyes that looked back at me with recognition. This was, somehow, Surfal.
“I had to snatch them back from the edge of life,” he added. “I think the soul shard was trying to be reuinited with the rest of itself.”
“So, he’s really here? Surfal is safe?”
“Safe. In fact, now that the horse is transformed, he doesn’t really need Marjan’s soul shard to survive. I can break the bond and let her essence go to the rest of her.”
“No,” I said firmly.
“I need her here,” I said.
“What for? Didn’t you hear me? She tried to pull her shard to the realm of death.”
“I need it for something else. I can’t explain. I promise the intent is good.”
Bervozzsh shrugged. “Whatever. I’m not going there. Listen, you take care of this horse, Sionis. He’s a good one.”
“Wait. Listen, while I was in Udiria, Zoran said that Ayla could potentially exploit your powers. You need to hide, at least until we’ve put a stop to the fallen princess.”
“Don’t have to tell me twice,” he replied. “I’m out of here. I just had a debt to repay.”
“Thank you,” I said, honestly. “This means a great deal to me.”
“Just… be careful,” Bervozzsh pressed. “You’re treading down a path, Sionis. I don’t know what you’ll find on it, but don’t let it consume you, yeah?”
I nodded. “Of course.”
Bervozzsh, seemingly satisfied, took a step back and vanished into the twisting aether.
It took me about an hour to feel brave enough to climb atop Surfal in his new form. He welcomed me and shook his mane as he would have done had he been a true physical horse. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to fully describe the sensation of this new form, but he was back and he was still Surfal.
I started to ride, then we started to run, and then he sprouted his magical wings and we took to the sky, flying through the air above the forest like it was nothing more than a normal day here in the frozen realm.
It was exhilarating, and it was inspiring.
My plan was still in motion. I needed access to the Academy libraries in Udiria, but my banishment meant I couldn’t get back there now, not without special permission that superseded Zoran’s command.
I thought of Ayla, and what the magic user in Udiria had said to me. I knew that would be my ticket. If I could help end the fallen princess’s power here in the frozen realm… that would get me a King’s pardon to be sure, and once I was back in the city with Surfal by my side… I could finally finish my plan.