Syanna woke in far less pain than she had expected she would. She was being held in a small cage, probably one of the animal cages used by the Besherman to contain the sick or corrupted creatures of the forest. She sat up and the floor went all wobbly. A hand gently touched her shoulder as she nearly lost her balance.
“Hang in there,” a soothing voice said. “I don’t have you patched up just yet.”
Syanna turned and saw a Musfurin leaning over her. It was the paladin named Vikasterix, another one of the soldiers that had joined the Academy of Hope in the aftermath of the Yunai’s defeat. Iliera had spoken highly of the paladin’s healing powers, which Syanna knew must be true as she didn’t feel like she was going to die now, despite having nearly done so just an hour before.
“You were beat up pretty bad,” she said.
“I got caught off guard by the Zijnji,” Syanna said, sounding disappointed.
“That wasn’t the Zinji,” Vikasterix replied. “They’re something else. An independent group, probably more akin to our own group than the actual Zinji.”
“Are they acting on Zinji orders?”
The paladin shrugged. “Hard to tell anymore.”
“So now we’re prisoners?”
“Seems that way. They’re rounding up the other villagers that didn’t get away and putting them in the few buildings that still stand. I’m assuming they’re going to burn them alive.”
“Where are they?”
“They went down to the beach. One of them, the leader I think, said that it was finally happening and they rushed off.”
“What was happening?”
“So now what?” Syanna asked.
“You think you can get us out of this?”
The magic user started to stand, and while the cage felt like it was spinning, she managed to get to her feet with the paladin’s help. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She tried to focus, to reach inside and find the aethereal power within her. If she could focus a blast of winter air on the cage, she could make the metal brittle enough for the paladin to smash it, but that would require a lot of energy, and she was feeling particularly drained.
She continued to pool her energy and finally reached out and took hold of the bars. She held it and channeled everything she could into her icy spell. It started to take hold and the cage was soon frozen over with ice as she dropped the temperature ever farther.
“It’ll be weak,” she said. “You’ll have to break it.”
“Right,” Vikasterix said. “I can do that.”
The paladin reached out, calling upon luminary magic. Despite the darkness all around them, it worked. A lightning bolt of energy arched out and hit the metal cage and the bars shattered into a thousand pieces, falling away and leaving the pair free of their prison.
“Now what?” Syanna asked.
Before the paladin could answer, a wave of fire erupted near the shoreline and shouts of soldiers began calling out nearby.
“Never mind,” she added. “I think I know where we’re needed.”
The Patnesh did as commanded, sliding down on his back and just missing the axe swing of one of the giant enemy that fought for these dishonorable fiends.
Ailyn stood at the back of the group now, casting curses left and right that send soldiers to the ground squirming as they tried to free themselves of the agony she had put on them.
Fynn had fully collapsed to the ground before Iliera could close the distance between them. Zalarnen had started casting his own assortment of dark spells, but Iliera had either absorbed them, or taken them head on without flinching from the pain. The Zinji leader miscalculated her determination, and before he could retreat she was on him. She brought her mace down with an impressive force, and it was only by sheer luck that he was able to escape the blow. The hammer slammed into the ground, but Iliera heaved it back up in a heartbeat. Zalarnen had used the single moment to retreat, falling back behind his troops as they tried to restore their defensive line.
It was too late.
Macksyn, Frosty, and Wave had already surged forward. Before the forces even had a chance to react to my own opening salvo, the team of Academy members were on them with even more fury.
Iliera, seeing that the Zinji had evaded her, dropped her hammer and turned to Fynn’s side. The young paladin, upon seeing her, smiled wide. “Hey!”
“Oh Fynn,” she said. “I’m so sorry.”
“What?” Fynn asked sarcastically. “Oh, this? No, that’s fine.”
“How does it feel?”
“Like my blood is boiling,” the paladin said, grimacing.
Iliera placed her hand on him and whispered a simple healing spell, but when her hand glowed with the restorative power, Fynn suddenly yelled in agony.
“No no!” he said. “That made it worse. Definitely worse.”
“Ailyn!” Iliera shouted. “Come here.”
The warlock stopped her casting and rushed to their side. “What is it?”
“Fynn says luminary magic is hurting him more. What did the Zinji do?”
Ailyn reached down and gave Fynn a sympathetic look. “This is going to hurt.”
Before the paladin could ask what she was talking about, Ailyn took the grip of the dagger still in his torso and pulled it free. He growled in pain and she nodded as though she fully understood what he was feeling. She looked over the blade and then flipped it once to see the other side. “I was afraid of that,” she said at last. “This looks like it’s a corruptive magic. It’s not something your ordinary magics can clear up.”
“What do we do?” Iliera pressed.
Ailyn seemed to struggle with an answer, but then she cracked a smile. “The healing pools.”
“This city has a healing pool. The restorative powers are legendary. We just need to take him up there and it’ll do the rest. They’re like springs directly tied to magical energy. If anything can purge Yunai magic, it’ll be the fountains.”
“Are you certain?”
“It’s our best shot,” Ailyn answered.
“Fine,” Iliera said with a nod.
She turned, focusing for the first time on the battle that was now raging all around them. The citywas mostly on fire, save a few buildings here and there that had somehow escaped the destruction. The fountains were near the city center, which meant almost all of Zalarnen’s forces stood between them.
“Sionis!” she shouted.
I raised a hand and used a simple spell to appear at her side. “What’s up?”
“I need a path.”
She pointed deeper into the city.
“Right,” I replied. “We can do that.”
I flicked my wrist and a fireball ripped out, cutting a small line of flame on the ground that led straight into the village interior.
“After you,” I added.
Iliera nodded. “Let’s push in!”
Macksyn had just delivered a kick that took the head off one of the enemy warriors. As the body fell to the ground, two more nearly cleaved the Patnesh in half, or at least they would have if Frosty’s powerful pillar of fire hadn’t incinerated them both before they could finish their swing.
“This isn’t so bad,” Frosty said as he reached Macksyn’s side. “Where’s the Musfurin?”
Macksyn shrugged. “He was here a minute ago.”
“It looks like Iliera and Sionis are pushing up the middle with Fynn. I think they’re going to the fountains of healing. Makes sense.”
“Okay, that’s fine. We can keep cleaning up this mess and—”
The air started to grow brighter around them and Macksyn fell silent. They both looked up to see several glowing balls in the sky.
“More incoming!” Frost yelled. “Take cover!”
Three large fireballs came crashing down across the village, all of them clearly launched from the Zinji war machines that they had faced off against further south of the city. That meant the Zinji were closing in on the village.
Time was running out.
“Focus on the people blocking us from the fountains,” Macksyn said now. “I need to check these last few buildings for any civilians that might be hiding. They won’t want to get stuck here when the Zinji arrive.”
“Fair enough,” Frosty replied. “Be careful on your own!”
On the other side of the fighting, near the edge of the village, Jinghoo and Wave had managed to find themselves surrounded by at least ten of the attackers. They were both out of breath and feeling exhausted from the confrontation. There was no fresh air in their lungs, as the smoke was growing thicker by the minute.
“What’s the plan?” Wave asked.
Jinghoo looked at Wave, clearly confused. “What? You think I know what I’m doing?”
“You’re a soldier… so yeah, I assumed that.”
The Patnesh man smiled. “I like you, Wave.”
“So… you do have a plan?”
Jinghoo nodded. “Always.”
“Well, now’s the time.”
The man stepped forward, as the enemy forces circled around the pair and held their weapons out, slowly stepping closer as though they would simply impale the two when they got close enough. He crouched, then stood straight up, pointed south, and gasped. “What’s that!?!”
Two things happened. The first was the smack of Wave’s palm hitting his forehead as he expressed his disappointment. The second was the sound of one foolish enemy as they looked where Jinghoo pointed.
One was all he needed.
He leapt into the air, slamming his legs into the chest of the soldier that had fallen for his gambit. The others turned to try and close the gap, which drew their attention away from Wave. Seeing his chance, Wave called upon the magical elements of the aether and slammed his fists against the ground to create a fiery blast that knocked all of their foes back.
The two quickly disarmed a few of the fallen and the rest began to retreat.
“Well done,” Jinghoo said as he returned to Wave’s side.
“That was your plan?!” Wave asked, his voice peaking. “Look that way?!”
“You can always count on someone to fall for it,” Jinghoo replied. “Always.”
Wave was about to say something, but then a horn blasted in the distance. It was a call for help, coming from the center of the city.
“That has to be our people,” Wave said.
“Agreed. Let’s get in there.”
Iliera and Ailyn lifted Fynn’s body into the warm waters of the healing fountains and I held the human’s head above the liquid as he floated there.
“Okay, paladin is in the healing water,” Frosty said. “Magical healing water aside, what next?”
“I’m not actually sure,” Ailyn replied. “I haven’t ever used one of these before.”
“Guys!” a voice shouted.
Iliera glanced up and saw Wave and Jinghoo coming over a nearby hill. They came up to the fountain and stopped at the edge, taking a moment to catch their breath.
“Good to have you here,” Frosty said, patting Wave on the back.
“We need to find Syanna,” Ailyn said. “They should be—”
“Hang on,” Iliera interrupted. “We’ve got company.”
The group looked where Iliera was gesturing and they saw a small army was approaching. It looked like these Vestiges of Despair members had gathered up all their remaining soldiers for a final confrontation. At the lead, the Zinji approached them with purple power swirling around his arms.
“I’ve had enough of your antics,” he growled as he got close. “You have had your fun. I admit, you proved yourselves to be far more challenging than I had originally assumed. Now, however, it’s time for us to end this.”
Iliera stood firm. “We broke your line once. We’ll break it again.”
“You ambushed my men,” he countered. “You won’t catch us off guard this time.”
He snapped his fingers and his minions started rushing forward. Despite their earlier effort, these foes still outnumbered the Academy two to one. Iliera held her weapon, ready to take down as many as she could, when she heard the war cry of dozens of others from behind her. It caught everyone by surprise. She threw down a shield of luminary energy and then looked behind her, terrified that the Zinji had arrived to end this confrontation. Instead, she saw… Besherman! Most of them looked to be nothing more than ordinary citizens armed with pitchforks or pruning blades, but on their faces were the looks of rage and determination that anyone would express in a fight for survival. Leading the charge was Syanna and Vikasterix, their weapons raised in the air and spells already charged for their opening volley.
As they reached the healing fountains, Iliera raised her hammer and yelled, “For the Academy!” The Academy of Hope answered with vigorous roars and everyone raced forward, slamming against the Vestige of Despair’s forces with a thunderous crash.
I positioned the young paladin in the healing waters and was about to rush down to join the fighting when one of the civilians slid to a stop and looked at the two of us.
“Is he wounded?” she asked.
“He is,” I confirmed. “We were hoping the moonwell might heal him.”
The civilian said nothing, but leaned down and let her fingers dip into the warm waters. As she did, a blue glow spiked out through the fountains and wrapped around Fynn. He squirmed a bit, but the pain on his face soon melted away and he relaxed for the first time since he’d been stabbed.
“Thank you,” I said.
“Ande’thoras-ethil,” she replied.
With that, she continued her charge, following the other villagers that had chosen to fight for their last chance at freedom.
“You feeling okay?” I asked, turning to Fynn.
“I feel amazing,” he replied. “Just… give me a minute.”
I smiled. “Alright. Hold steady. We’re going to finish this.”