The hope that I felt when I left the Gemstone forest was invigorated when I arrived at Frozenstone keep, which was the largest military stronghold in all of the frozen realm. There I was informed that a coalition force of Bersherman, Lederan, and Stonehaven soldiers had already moved against the fallen princess, making their way north to her final defensive line. My objective was still clear. I had to quickly catch up with them an impact the battle in some way that my name would never be forgotten.
I spurred Surfal to go as fast as he could all the way across the frozen fields to reach the forward base of the allied forces. The cold air was fierce, but I heated my body with fire magic and drew power from the aethereal energy that flowed within Surfal.
When we arrived at the massive armies, the fighting had already started.
I could see the combined might of our soldiers pushing together against Ayla’s forces.
It was coming together. The battle was nearly won.
I started down to join the fight, but then I caught sight of several Besherman heavy assault machines being wheeled to a cliff that overlooked the fighting. They were positioning themselves to fire, but their aim… it was off. In fact, it looked like it would hit our soldiers below. I thought they must be planning something else. Surely it was a show of force, or a ploy to confuse Ayla. I was struggling to come up with a reasonable explanation when I saw one of the men near the weapons turn into a lycanthrope.
I realized immediately the threat we faced.
I spurned Surfal lower, and I swept over the ground forces, boosting my voice with magical energy so that I could make sure everyone heard me as I shouted, “Danger from the cliffs!”
Surfal pulled up, and we darted toward the cliff while the soldiers below started to scatter. I watched in horror as several of the heavy machines fired, launching barrels that landed in the midst of our forces and exploded in massive fireballs that ripped through the soldiers.
I landed on the cliff in a roll and started launching fire blasts in every direction. I hit several of the enemy, but more shots went off into the crowd below. The screams were agonizing, but there were fewer of them than I had anticipated.
Ayla, the fallen princess, stood among her forces. They held their line and pushed forward as our own defenses were broken from the surprise attack. The commanding officers below bellowed for order, and by now a counter attack was forming against these monsters on the cliff. They would come to help me, but time was off the essence.
I continued my attack, using swirling fire to push back the lycanthrope from the weapons so that they couldn’t be used again. By now, the enemy had figured out that I was here alone. They sent all of their men to use the heavy weaponry knowing I couldn’t keep them all from firing. Then, I felt a dark presence approach from behind, and before I could do anything, I was thrown through the air by a cold and twisted darkness.
I rolled over and realized I was looking straight at Princess Ayla. Her eyes were completely black, her armor glowing with dark energy. I thought of the visions I had seen, how Kaellax had told me that the Yunai could fight back against us and use us as vessels. Ayla wasn’t standing there. It was the Yunai.
“Keaira,” I shouted. “At last.”
The woman tilted her head. “You know my name. You thwart my efforts. Who are you that defies me?”
I ignored her question, launching another volley of fire attacks, knocking lycanthropes away from the weapons they longed to use against our armies. Somewhere below the cliff, war horns sounded and battle cries echoed. I looked back to the woman, to Ayla… Keiara… whatever.
“My name is Sionis Sepher. I am the Flamecaller of Stonehaven. I am here to see you undone!”
She smiled ever so slightly. “Unfortunate.”
She lashed out at me with dark magic, and I shielded myself, but doing so opened the way for the enemy to reclaim their weapons. They did so without delay, and just as I feared they’d open fire once more, I saw a blast of light erupt over the edge of the cliff.
The cavalry had arrived.
They rode in on horses, rushed over the edge of the cliff with daggers and pikes in hand, and even a few other Besherman flying machines lowered down reinforcements. The Lycanthrope were unprepared for the sudden assault, and they fell in quick motions.
Ayla and the Yunai within watched as their surprise attack failed. The cliffside was filling up with her enemies and the heavy machines were already being turned against her remaining forces. It was clear that she had lost, and I saw the anger within those black eyes.
One of the soldiers rushed past me, calling out for vengeance. She struck him down without a second thought, and his body was flung over the cliff by a tendril of dark magic. Two more roared in anger and took up the offensive, but she pierced their hearts with those same tendrils, punching through their metal armor like it was paper.
“My power is eternal,” the Yunai said through Ayla. “I cannot be defeated!”
I decided I had to give it a try. I blasted her with fire and channeled all of my magical energy into my attacks. She blocked it all with ease, slashing out at me instead. I felt the dark tendril as it tore through my shoulder and came out of my back. I growled in pain, then felt myself being pinned to the ground.
“Such a pity,” the Yunai said. “I had expected someone more… impressive.”
“Sorry to disappoint,” I groaned.
The Yunai looked up, her focus shifting away from me. A blinding wave of light swept through the air, and Ayla’s body was suddenly knocked backward. The tendril holding me down vanished, and I rolled to see that the source of the attack was none other than Christine.
She stood at the ready, decked out in a full set of plate armor, all glowing with luminary magic. She was no longer carrying a simple mace, but she was now carrying a yellow crystal blade, one that was clearly heavily infused with the light magic that Appoleon had so proudly discovered years before. To put this simply, her aura was blinding, and the magic that surrounded her was powerful.
Ayla slashed at her with dark tendrils of Yunai magic, and the spells burned away before they even reached Christine. The paladin of the Crystal Blade swung her blade again, and another wave of luminary magic collided with Ayla, forcing her back farther. The two of them became wrapped in a magical field, a mixture of shadow and light… a swirling vortex that exploded with energy as they clashed.
I quickly pulled my own energy together and put a shield around the other soldiers so that they didn’t get blown over the edge of the cliff as these two powerhouses battled with one another, each of them struggling to land a blow against the other’s magic. With each new blast, Christine stepped closer to Ayla, the crystal blade she carried swiping more and more, until Ayla was just beyond her reach.
Then, the Yunai shouted at us. “I cannot be defeated. I will find another. I will destroy your world!”
The voice was shrill, unnatural, and I don’t know if she spoke the words or echoed them in our minds. In either case, Christine roared and luminary magic overwhelmed the Yunai. There was a final fleeting moment of shadow, and then the crystal blade swept through Princess Ayla’s neck. Darkness spilled out of the woman’s body, rather than blood, and it too was burned away by the magic that erupted from Christine’s aura. The darkness was gone.
The enemy army shattered in an instant. Some of them simply fell to the ground, lifeless and abandoned by their Yunai puppeteers, while others were given over to madness and ran into the wintery wilderness screaming and weeping.
It took a little while for it to sink in that day. Things had been building for the armies of this land, obviously, but I had been living my own little adventures out at Birchwood Lodge. Everything had escalated with the discovery of Arugan’s plan to create a lycanthrope army, and my involvement in bringing him down had resulted in Ayla’s eyes turning on me. Then, because of my own selfish decision to save my horse, I had been put on the fast path to this confrontation.
I watched, hours later, as some soldiers lifted the small wooden box that held Princess Ayla’s body and severed head. The young Princess fit the description that many Udirian scholars had started to theorize in the final months of this campaign. Many people, when taken under the control of the Yunai, would resist their power as long as they could. In most cases, it would kill the person, and the Yunai would be forced to seek another to control. In Ayla’s case, the Yunai has forced itself into her mind with such ferocity that it had likely taken full control of her being, with only Ayla’s on mind to try fighting back. Some had assumed that the young princess had willingly bonded with the Yunai, something no one had ever heard of so far, but her arms and legs were covered in self-inflicted wounds, a sign that Ayla had been fighting against her own self for a long time.
“I can’t believe I was the one that brought her down,” Christine said as she sat next to a fire pit the soldiers had thrown together in the aftermath of the battle. “I didn’t come here to kill a young woman.”
“You did Ayla a favor,” I replied. “The Yunai… Keaira… that monster had to be stopped.”
“Did we stop it?” Christine asked. “Or did we send it on its way, just to return and haunt us again in the future? Can we ever really be rid of these creatures?”
“I don’t know,” I replied. “Maybe. Maybe not.”
“I guess it doesn’t matter. The war is won. The cycle begins anew. The King of Stonehaven wants to see us for our efforts. Your work on this cliff saved a lot of soldiers. It might have even saved the battle. I see big commendations in your future, Flamecaller.”
I nodded. “I guess so.”
She chuckled. “You got any favors you need to ask? I bet now is the time.”
Her words made my mind come alive. The King did have a lot of sway in all of this. I had just saved an entire battle from turning to Ayla’s advantage. I laughed aloud and looked at Christine as she glanced, rather confused, at me.
“You’re a genius,” I said. “Absolutely brilliant.”
I had a plan again. I was back on track. I could still pull it off.