I hadn’t expected our task to be easy, but for some reason the enemy seemed to be holding back on their advance. Erisk felt discomforted by the inaction, but we swam on, not far from the other survivors, and closing in on our allies. Unfortunately, I soon felt a wave of fear and confusion. It wasn’t coming from Erisk. Instead, it was coming from the other Musfurin, Gadra.
Something had happened to Gadra, and he was in danger.
I felt like time was of the essence, and I knew we would take far too long if we tried to swim the entire way, so I reached out and grabbed Erisk’s arm. I felt the life of Gadra. I felt his fear and his essence in the aether. With a quick surge of energy, I used my teleportation ability to relocate us.
We appeared in the damp and poorly-lit chamber that Gadra’s group had been using for refuge. It was, unfortunately, anything but calm. I heard metal clanking against metal and the grunts and cries of soldiers fighting echoed all around the cave.
They were under attack!
Gadra’s survivors were on one side, with the enemy forcing their way inside. Meanwhile, beyond them, near the entrance of the cave system, the recently freed prisoners and our surviving soldiers had engaged those enemy forces, splitting the fighting on two fronts.
It was then that I realized we were in a dry cave. I could use fire again.
I spun up a flaming tornado, igniting the air and sweeping the blaze over the Zinji as they struggled to fight out of the water. Erisk and Gadra warned the others to stay back, and I became the sole fighter against this enemy force.
Only for a moment.
My allies took up defensive position, lobbing anything they could from range. As the Zinji began to flee from the dry air, they found my group waiting for them in the water, spears in hand and ready to attack. I continued to blast unrelenting magic at the attackers, even as they retreated, when suddenly I felt something push back against my energy. I saw a sword in the flame, cleaving the magical fire so that it deflected harmlessly away from my targets. Holding the blade, was the largest Zinji I had ever laid eyes upon.
“Sea-Lord Zin’Jatar!” Gadra shouted at me. “We’re in trouble!”
“No,” I replied, my voice gravely and calm. “We’re not.”
I wasn’t tired. I was tired of being tired. I would give no more ground.
The Sea-Lord was a powerful Zinji, to be sure, but in that moment, I had reached a level of fear and determination that I had only felt before when I faced off against the Yunai. I was bent on my survival. I was going to win. I lifted my arms high above my shoulders and pulled fire and ice together in a flaming spear of frozen water that defied everything about these two powers. It was a masterpiece, and something I couldn’t conjure at will if you gave me a day. No, only instinct could muster this kind of power.
This spear would not shatter. It would not melt. It could not be extinguished.
It hurled through the air with grace, and when the Sea-Lord foolishly attempted to cleave the attack in two, the spear simply ignored his magical blade, slipping fluidly past the weapon and reforming on the other side.
It went through his neck with such speed that I wasn’t sure I had hit my target.
He recoiled, paused, and seemed almost as equally unsure about the blow as I was.
Then, he slumped to the ground. Dead.
The other Zinji suddenly started to flee. A full retreat.
After the chaos of the fight had died down, most of the survivors went to work on maintaining their hard fought survival. They set fires in the cave for warmth, and looted the bodies of the Zinji for food or supplies that might aid them. I sought out Erisk and Gadra, eventually locating the two near the back of the cave, speaking to one another in hushed tones that no doubt sent a message of uncertainty or fear to the others in the cave.
“There he is,” Ersik said, gesturing to me as I approached. “The hero of the day.”
“It’s nothing,” I replied.
“My people are grateful,” Gadra replied. “I am glad to meet you, Sionis Sepher. If you had not arrived when you did, we would not have survived against the Sea-Lord.”
“We got lucky,” I replied. “I can’t say I knew it would work. Locking onto the heightened emotions of a single individual to use as an anchor point in a teleport spell is a stretch, even for a powerful magic user like Evanor. It was a gamble, to be sure.”
“Perhaps,” Erisk said. “Gadra has good news, Sionis. The refuge we seek is near.”
“Indeed,” Gadra spoke up. “The Gold Hollow. Stonehaven Command has a stronghold. The word down here is that we might have a way to stop the Zinji before this war escalates beyond the sea.”
I was glad to hear that we had allies out there, more than I realized, but I was surprised to hear that we’d managed to become so organized in such a short amount of time. A plan to defeat the Zinji was a welcome notion, but I had barely wrapped my head around the idea that we were fighting them. I nodded after letting it all sink in. “Okay. So, Gold Hollow. That’s our new destination. Does Stonehaven Command have access to ships, or contact with the mainland?”
“Were it so easy,” Gadra replied. “Go to Gold Hollow. There, your journey will continue.”
I rolled my eyes. “How far is this stronghold?”
“Not far, one of my people can guide you.”
“What will you do?” Erisk asked.
“My team will continue to call out and gather others that are stranded out there. The Zinji have claimed many ships and plenty of survivors are lost in the sea, in need of our help.”
“Fair enough. Erisk, tell our people to rest here for a bit. We need to leave here and go straight to Gold Hollow, but we need to make it alive. Some of these people are so tired they’re not able to swim on their own.”
Erisk nodded, then left to tell the others.
“You lead well, Flamecaller,” Gadra said, looking to me. “Do you have experience in leadership, or does the spirit guide you?”
“I have been around long enough to pick up a few skills,” I answered. “Gadra, how has Stonehaven Command gathered here so quickly. You said they have a stronghold.”
“The Stonehaven military was already researching underwater anomalies in this area before the Shattered Calamity,” Gadra explained. “We believe we had found something here, something of grave concern. In fact, we believe it is that discovery that may have ignited the Zinji war, not the quakes.”
“What exactly did you find?”
“A creature that the Besherman believe exists in both sides of a fracture in reality,” Gadra said.
“The Yunai came from the other side of the fracture,” I said, trying to recall the tale. “I don’t understand. How could something live on both sides?”
“That’s what we are trying to discover,” Gadra said. “When the Shattered Cataclysm shook the ocean, the creature became weakened, or so we believe. At that point, the Zinji showed up, but not the ones you and I are used to seeing. They’re more like the ones we’ve faced since we wound up here. They’re militant, and they want the creature for their own control. If this animal can somehow bridge the two realities… it’s possible the Yunai could use it as a gatekeeper. If that happens…”
“Yeah, death and destruction. I get it.”
“We must stop them,” Gadra emphasized. “Our world has sustained damage. Whatever they might do would be devastating for all of Azirin.”
“Stop the Zinji and a terrifying creature. It sounds like we have some work cut out for us, Gadra. First, these people have to sleep. We’ll go to Gold Hollow. I’ll help if I can, but these soldiers didn’t sign up for a doomsday mission. My priority is rescue for these soldiers.”
“Of course,” Gadra said. “It is an honorable task. I wish you success.”
“Right,” I replied. “Me too.”