Fire lit the night sky as the last of the sunlight faded from view. The city of Kennis, once a calm and peaceful hub, was now thrown into the path of war. As several allied ships started to throw their lines from the nearby dock, more escaping row boats were being pushed into the waters by soldiers helping lead the civilian evacuations.
Fynn, paladin of the Order of the Crystal Blade, was one of those among the remainders.
Not far from him, currently loading several young children onto another row boat, was the Academy soldier named Jinghoo. He was a Patnesh that had joined up with the Academy of Hope after the Legion invasion was defeated. He was full of spirit and Fynn was glad to have him along in this trying time.
Nearby, the two heard the familiar pop and fizzle of a teleportation spell and Syanna appeared out of thin air. Her robes were singed, there were several blood stains marking her skin and clothing, and she looked like she might soon pass out.
“You’ve looked better,” Fynn said as he lifted another wounded Besherman onto one of the row boats. “How’s it going out there?”
“They’re nearly to the city,” Syanna said, taking deep breaths and trying to regain her composure. “Frost and Macksyn are organizing a counter as best as they can, but it’s just a matter of time now.”
The paladin sighed. “I’m sure we can—”
Fynn was silenced by the terrified scream of a voice among the evacuees. “Incoming!”
They all turned toward the call and shock overtook them as a massive fireball rained down on the city, crashing through one of the large buildings and rolling into the sea, nearly taking a fully loaded boat with it.
“The range on those catapults is impossible!” Jinghoo shouted and he started to practically throw the last few children onto the escaping boat. “We need to get these guys clear!”
“Right,” Syanna said, looking exhausted, but already pulling up magical energy. “I can use the water’s flow to move the boats away from the shore faster. How many more can we fit?”
“That’s the last of them,” Fynn replied. “We don’t have any more.”
“No,” Jinghoo said, rejecting the paladin’s answer. “We need more. There’s still hundreds of civilians here that have to escape.”
“Give me a minute to get these ships clear,” Syanna said. “If we can find Frosty in all of this madness the two of us could probably hold a portal together to teleport the rest of the evacuees. Not far… maybe the Grid structures.”
“The Grid that they’re about to invade?” Jinghoo asked.
“It’ll buy us some time,” Syanna countered angrily. “You got a better plan?”
The Patnesh monk shook his head and then said, “Fair enough. Portal it is.”
“Where’s Frosty?” Fynn asked. “Vikasterix is helping get people out of the village to the boats, but we didn’t see Frosty around here.”
“No clue,” Syanna replied. “I need to work my magic here. Go find him and bring him back.”
“Okay. Stay safe, Syanna.”
Macksyn had seen a lot over the years. He had witnessed the devastating power of the Yunai. He had faced off against invaders from other World Ships, and he had taken a stand at the very gates of hell on the Yunai planet of Pulkaan. Now, he was witnessing something far more primal and savage.
Pure hatred. Destruction. Rampage.
The Zinji war machines had come to Kennis and they had done their masters well. As the forest burned and the rivers ran red, he couldn’t help but wonder what was the purpose? The very world of Azirin was wounded and the Zinji had not been without honor. Surely they understood that there was no true time to be spared with this kind of fighting?
None of this felt right.
And yet, it was happening. Right now. He had no choice, but to keep fighting.
So, with the sunlight no longer giving him guidance, the Patnesh took a deep breath and started reaching out to sense negative energy in the air. He found it, thick and heavy, everywhere around him. He was likely surrounded by enemy forces at this point, having held his ground here while the enemy pressed ever north. For a moment, he started to wonder if he was the only one left, but then he heard a shout not far away and knew exactly where he needed to be.
He covered the distance in less than a minute, rushing over the final hill and, with a mighty leap off the ledge, landed just a few feet from a young Musfurin that he had only been introduced a few hours ago.
“Are you okay, Aelgad?” he asked as he closed the last few steps between them.
“As okay as one can expect in this madness,” the Musfurin replied. “And you can call me Wave.”
“Right,” Mackwyn replied. “Have you seen Frosty?”
“Not since the line was broken,” Wave answered. “He may have fallen back with the other Besherman.”
“Maybe, but that doesn’t—”
An explosion ripped through the nearby woods and the two heroes froze in place. “The war machines have already pressed forward,” Wave said. “What was that?”
“I don’t know.”
“We should investigate,” Wave suggested. “The Zinji might have other tricks up their sleeves.”
The two rushed into the woods, heading straight for the site of the explosion, and when they finally reached the target they saw a single man standing in the midst of total chaos. A Flamecaller. A madman.
“Frosty!” Macksyn shouted. “What are you doing?”
The man spun around, panic on his face. “Get to cover!”
The Patnesh was going to ask what he was talking about, but before he could, blue spinning disks of aethereal magic sliced through the air, nearly cutting him and Wave in half before slamming into the ground and kicking up a bunch of dirt. They traced the attack back to its source and saw a Zinji dressed in full regalia with another two spinning disks spinning in hand.
Before she could attack, Wave wasted no time calling upon luminary magic to bring down a burning pillar of light. Macksyn used what knowledge he had of healing powers to wrap Frosty in a restorative spell and then the three of them gathered up behind the pillar, ready to face the enemy when she came for them.
What they hadn’t anticipated, however, was for there to be multiple enemies.
As Wave’s pillar died down, the woman was still standing in attack position, but now she was flanked by two other figures as well, and at least one looked like a Besherman!
“Don’t underestimate them,” Frosty said. “They’re powerful.”
“Not strong enough!” Wave said, pulling back his weapon and slamming it into the ground so that it sent a thundering earthquake at their attackers. The three of them split up to avoid the attack and Macksyn saw the opportunity. “I call the woman.”
“I got the one on the left,” Frosty said, jumping into action.
“I guess I’ll go right,” Wave added. “Attack!”
Macksyn, Wave, and Frosty stood with their backs facing one another, each of them using their powers to deflect everything these mysterious figures were throwing at them, but they were losing momentum, their arms were getting tired, and their enemies were unrelenting.
“How much juice you got left?” Frosty asked as he blocked another arcane blast with a shield of ice. “I can’t hold out much longer.”
“I can hold out,” Macksyn replied. “I will not yield.”
Wave chuckled. “Well, now I feel silly!”
The Patnesh cracked a smile as well, and the three continued to fend off the attacks, watching as their enemies closed in for the final blow.
“I know we haven’t known each other long,” Frosty added, “but it’s been an honor fighting with you two. For the Academy, as they say.”
“You as well,” the Patnesh replied.
“I just got here,” Wave added. “I’m not done yet.”
Then, the world went white. Or, at least, someone turned on the lights. The entire clearing where they were now fighting was suddenly blindingly bright. At first, Macksyn assumed Wave had done something based on his statement, but then he looked back the attackers and saw exactly what had happened.
Fynn, charging in on a horse made of golden holy power, his own crystal blade raised high. Behind him he saw Ailyn and another rushing into the clearing. They were a sight for sore eyes, to be sure.
Holy lightning arched from Fynn’s weapon and struck the enemies at their flank, sending them sailing across the clearing and right into one of the large trees at the edge. Ailyn reared back her staff like a spear and sent it sailing. It rang true, piercing one of the attackers and pinning them to the ground. Jinghoo jumped and tucked into a roll, bowling over the third attacker before he jumped back up, spun around and delivered a kick to the confused foe’s face.
“You guys okay?” Fynn asked, his horse fading into the darkness as he dismounted. “We heard the explosion.”
“That was me,” Frosty replied. “Just a pyroblast that went a little… overboard.”
“Who are these people?”
“There part of some group,” Macksyn replied. “They call themselves the Vestige of Despair.”
“How many are there?”
“At least a dozen,” Frosty answered. “They’re mostly Zinji fiends, but there’s a few that are real whoppers. That woman for example, was rough.”
“Right,” Fynn said. “Her.”
The paladin rushed over to the tree-line where the woman was still laying. He must have knocked her unconscious with his attack, which was impressive if he said so himself. When he reached her side he grabbed her by the arm and started dragging her back into the clearing.
“Frosty,” Jinghoo said. “We need you to teleport us back to Kennis. Syanna needs you to help hold open a portal that can get people to safety.”
“Do you know how much power that requires?” Frost asked. “I doubt Syanna and I can do that even if we put everything we have in it.”
“Syanna said you could,” Jinghoo added.
“That woman is crazy.”
“We could make her help,” Fynn said as he dropped the unconscious woman next to them. “She’s a powerful magic user.”
“Like she’ll help us,” Frosty replied.
“I could make her,” Ailyn said, cracking her knuckles. “Five minutes with my Yunai friend and she’d be begging to help.”
“Look,” Fynn said. “We go back to Kennis first. Then we’ll figure all this out.”
“Right,” Frosty said. “That makes sense. Portal coming right up.”
The magic user went to work on a portal for the group and Fynn hoisted the woman onto his shoulders for the trip.
“You’re bringing her with us?” Jinghoo asked.
“Bargaining chip?” Ailyn guessed.
“No,” Fynn replied. “Prisoner of War. She might have answers about this group that is trying to kill us. She’s known as the Enchantress. I can’t imagine she’s a lowbie in the organization.”
“Alright,” Frost said as he stabilized their transport. “Let’s move, people!”
One the shore of Kennis, a portal opened and the party of heroes piled through, rushing through ready to help with the evacuations, but they all stopped short when they saw what waited for them on this side.
Dozens of soldiers… some of them in Zinji uniforms, but most of them wearing some kind of tabard with a different crest. Frosty was the last one through and he came through backward, sealing the portal behind him.
“Whew,” he said as he closed it. “I don’t know if I could…”
His voice faded.
“Welcome,” a familiar voice said, a voice that Fynn knew all too well.
The evil Zinji from Felwood. “It’s time I introduce myself properly,” he continued speaking as he stepped forward from the armed crowd. “I take it you’re all members of the Academy of Hope?”
“We are,” Macksyn answered, pride in his words. “Who are you?”
“My name is Zalarnen. I am the leader of the Vestige of Despair. You might consider us to be your… arch nemesis.”
“The Zinji will—”
“I do not speak for the ZInji,” Zalarnen growled. “You fools. I speak for my own ideals and desires. We do not care for your petty factions unless they suit us.”
“Where’s Syanna?” Fynn asked.
“I have her locked up with the other villagers. They’ll be a gift to the Yunai when we unleash our true power on this World Ship.”
Ailyn stepped forward, her anger evident. “You better not touch a hair on Syanna’s head, you stinking piece of death, or I’ll personally feed you to the Yunai you cherish!”
The Zinji cackled and then walked closer to the group, ignoring Ailyn as he came so close to Fynn that the human could smell his rancid breath. “When I first met you, I thought you were quite powerful. There was so much potential wrapped up inside you.”
“We’re going to stop you,” Fynn said angrily.
Zalarnen squinted and then looked at the other members on the beach. “He’s an honest individual. It’s unfortunate he’s so misguided.”
In a split second, the enemy unsheathed and twisted a dagger, then shoved it forward with all his might. The blade pierced Fynn’s blue and gold armor, digging deep into his torso.
“No!” Ailyn shouted, rushing forward and catching the paladin as he stumbled backward. The other members followed her, but as they moved, the entire armed force behind the Zinji also took attack positions. They stalled their advance, and the enemy did as well.
Fynn’s eyes didn’t move. He grimaced at the pain he was experiencing, but he didn’t yell, or cry, or do anything really. He just stared at the enemy for what felt like an eternity for both of them. Then, he stumbled. He let the woman fall from his shoulders, first making sure that Ailyn took the load so the unconscious prisoner didn’t fall straight to the ground.
“Growing weak?” Zalarnen asked.
Fynn said nothing.
“The poison can take a little time to work. It’ll spread soon. You’ll know too, since it’ll feel like fire is igniting in your veins.”
“You will gain nothing from this,” Macksyn said firmly.
Fynn collapsed to his knees, then took a deep breath. “Zalarnen, let them go. I’m the one that earned your ire, not them.”
Zalarnen looked down the paladin and frowned. “Oh, a plea from the dying hero? How absolutely unoriginal.”
“We’re not going down without a fight,” Jinghoo said.
“I’m aware,” Zalarnen replied. “I’m confident I have more than enough soldiers to—”
Without any warning, a sweeping wave of fire ripped across the village, cutting straight through the line of enemy soldiers. It wasn’t destructive, or explosive, but the flames kicked up and caused the line of enemies to break in multiple directions.
This was all they needed.
Jinghoo launched forward with all his might. Ailyn and Frosty had spells charged and ready to go in an instant. Wave called upon the elements and the wind swept down over the fire, pushing it after the confused enemies.
In an instant, the balance had shifted.
Zalarnen saw this happening and clearly decided he wasn’t going to let Fynn escape alive. He pulled a second dagger free and reared back, ready to shove the weapon through the human’s neck, but as he lunged forward, a heavy metal shield came sweeping across the beach, smashing against the Zinji’s arm, and sending the dagger harmlessly to the ground.
As the enemy cried out in agony, the shield snapped back to its owner.
He turned to see a paladin standing near the water’s edge. Next to her, a Flamecaller clothed in battle regalia and already charging another fire blast.
Iliera, Protector of Azirin.
And me, Sionis Sepher, Flamecaller of Stonehaven.
“We’ve seen enough,” Iliera said, stepping toward the enemy. “Now, it’s our turn.”