The first day of harvest was a monumental occasion in Patnah. Everyone would spend the day gathering only the finest selection of their yearly bounty, and then they would gather to celebrate and feast. The real work would begin a day or two later, when the majority of the crops were collected for distribution, but for today, it was a very relaxed and excited feeling across the realm.
Sionis always hosted a big event at his farm. The house was too small to cater to any guests, so he would spend the day preparing tables and chairs that littered the area around the farm instead.
Everyone in town would show up, and Vestria was no exception. By now, she had lived here for a full cycle, and at the last celebration she was only a stranger to these people. Now, she was a friend. She was thrilled to be in such great company, and she couldn’t pretend that he didn’t have a strong desire to live here forever.
The hills sang with the gentle winds that rushed through the valley. In comparison to the busy streets of Stonehaven, even the bustling market of the twin hills seemed like an energetic gathering of family rather than a central hub for the masses. In fact, from the main market, Vestria could hop on a beast of burden and ride for fifteen minutes in any direction and she’d be by herself.
Vestria understood what had drawn Sionis Sepher, the Flamecaller of Stonehaven, to live in these lands, and she knew what was making him stay, but she still didn’t have all the answers that she needed. If she wanted to save her home, she had to know how to defeat the Yunai… permanently.
She had poured over her notes at length. She was confident that she had a good record from Sionis’ humble beginnings in the foothills to his time in the frozen realm. Now, it was time to learn about the Shattered Calamity. The whole of Azirin was dealt a damaging blow, and the entire World Ship felt its effects. There were cataclysmic earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and entire ecosystems were suddenly cast into turmoil. The scholars in Stonehaven argued for years about the true origins of the destruction. Many had told Vestria that it was the work of the Yunai.
Now, she knew the truth.
Sionis had attempted a spell that would allow him to alter time, and one of his allies, a Musfurin named Valiera, had seized the spell and used it to her own advantage, forcing an object to travel through the past and into the present. The size of the object had widened the hole in reality, and the ramifications were immediate. With Azirin turned upside down, Sionis Sepher had a new role.
Vestria wanted to hear the tale, but she also knew the harvest celebration would take all day. Once it was over, however, Sionis would be left with a large mess to clean up. That would be the perfect time to strike, catching the Flamecaller when he was left to do the dishes. It had worked before, so it would work again.
She chuckled internally as she thought of her plan.
What a life she was living.
The orange glow of the setting sun was the perfect backdrop as Sionis Sepher began his tradition of tackling a massive wall of dishes. The food had been amazing, as it always was, and the Flamecaller seemed pleased with the day’s event. Vestria was watching the sunlight fade away, wondering how many people in Azirin really understood the truth of the World Ship, until she heard the clattering of dishes hitting soapy water within. She knew the time had come, so she quickly grabbed her mechanical quill and stepped inside the Flamecaller’s hut.
“Hey Sionis,” she said, setting the quill on the table.
He turned to the her, looked at the quill, then smiled. “Did you already eat?”
“I did,” she replied. “It was delicious.”
“How did you enjoy your second celebration? More exciting than the first?”
“Very much so,” she admitted. “I’ve learned so much about all the people here. This place is quite wonderful once you’re accustomed to the change of pace.”
“The Elder Shou plans to quarter up some of his land to sell off as farmsteads. I’m curious if you heard about that?”
“I hadn’t. That seems like a big deal.”
“Huge,” Sionis replied. “Rumor has it you might have a shot at one of the plots if you want it.”
“Certainly. I shared the impact you’ve had helping me over the last year, and you’re still staying up at the tavern rather than living on a farm. He seemed impressed with your dedication.”
“I… well… I find that quite flattering,” she stammered. “Truth be told, however, I’m only supposed to be here for your story. Once I have that, I’m meant to return to my home. There will be a lot of work involved, obviously, in getting everything sorted…”
“Is there magic on your World Ship?” Sionis asked now, turning to look at her.
Vestria froze. “What?”
“Surely you don’t think me a fool,” Sionis replied. “You favor machines over magic. No citizen of Azirin has that kind of affinity. Machines are of the Yunai, or at least that’s how most folks see it in the world below. Maybe, if you were Besherman, I could understand it, but you’re not.”
“You believe I’m from another World Ship because I prefer machines?”
“Am I wrong?”
She frowned. She’d been rather obvious, thinking about it now.
“I am from another World Ship, yes,” she admitted. “We don’t have magic.”
“I must insist, Sionis, that I am the Collector. I’m here for your story.”
“Of course, of course, think nothing of it,” Sionis said, picking up his first big pan. “Oh my, this one will need to soak for a bit.”
“Speaking of which,” Vestria added. “Do you think we might continue?”
“I suppose I owe you at least that much,” the mage said, without looking back. “You have done some good work here on the farm, Vestria.”
“So, where do we pick up? I came back from the frozen realm, I was summoned…”
“You were called to active duty by the King of Stonehaven.”
“Right. I was assigned on a mission to secure a chain of islands near Stonehaven. The Zinji, an aquatic people, had viewed the Shattered Calamity as a sign of their ascension to power. They declared war on Stonehaven in the wake of the destruction, and suddenly we were at war, not with the Yunai, but another flesh and blood species that simply… sought our destruction.”
“Out of the frying pan,” Vestria said. “Right into the fire.”
“An apt description,” the Flamecaller said with a grin. “Let’s see… I suppose the Sea Slicer is the best place to start. Yes… I remember it well…”