The green glow of dark-tainted earth.
The Academy of Hope had risen to the challenge, pushed their way inside the Bellulan, and as they marched through each challenge, the darkness around them grew more powerful. The sulfur in the air was becoming so thick that Fynn was having trouble breathing.
Their numbers were fewer now, but the life essence of Reliah had bolstered them.
Defiantly, they stood with the Unified Armies of Azirin.
Onward deeper into the core of Pulkaan itself.
They discovered the enemy war factory, a major contributor of ships and weapons for the Yunai assaults. It was decided that target was too valuable to ignore. Despite the growing fatigue, the adventurers of the Academy of Hope pressed the attack against the Yunai.
They found themselves halted at the gates of the factory by the demonic commander Limonar. The Yunai had intercepted the unified army before they reached the Bellulan war factory, and now he was successfully resisting the Academy assault as well. He stood higher than the gates of Stonehaven and held a blade that could cleave a human in two with one swing.
But they were determined. They would not yield…
Two Yunai ships zoomed overhead, their cannons spitting toxic blasts that hit the ground and sent molten dark magic spewing into the air. Daarus, the priest, deflected some of it while Fynn got the rest. Iliera used her protection spells to simply walk through the destruction.
She threw her shield through the air and it smashed against the Limonar’s blade.
They were having a problem defeating their latest challenge. Every time the Academy assault got organized, more Yunai ships would come in with a barrage of attacks. Everyone was on the move. Constantly.
Meanwhile, three more members had fallen to the attacks.
They couldn’t keep this up forever.
Fynn saw the ships in the air. There were three of them this time, each one armed with a cannon that would shower death upon the pathway where they stood. The other members were too spread out for him to cover with a simple spell.
“I can’t shield us!”
“Together,” Aethelwolfe yelled. “Luminous One save us!”
Fynn nodded, rushing to the older paladin’s side. Together, they threw their magical energy as one, their weapons glowing with pure luminary magic. Daarus joined in, his power adding to their strength. The magic sparkled and burst from them like a beacon. It spread out from the center, creating a dome of protective magic that covered everyone.
Just before the shield hit the ground, Limonar’s blade swept through, catching Iliera by the shield, knocking her sideways and out of the protective dome.
The shield slammed down with an electric crash.
“No!” Fynn shouted, starting to lower his weapon.
“Stop!” Aethelwolfe yelled. “If you go for her, we can’t hold the shield.”
The Yunai ships opened fire, the Yunai magic hurtled down toward the platform. Fynn resisted his emotional response, putting his focus back in the protection spell.
The enemy blasts hit the platform and the world went white around them.
Fynn felt luminary magic pulsing through his armor, growing hot as it attempted to absorb the sheer amount of energy that the enemy had just thrown at them. For a brief moment, he worried the shield would fall, but then he looked to the grizzled paladin at his side and saw that Aethelwolfe held more determination than ever before. Of course he did. Iliera had been leading the assault for ages now. If she had fallen, if they had failed her, then they couldn’t surrender now. They had to fight on. They had to fight—
His thoughts were interrupted by new noises. A triumphant roar from the other members. An exhilarated cheer of jubilation from one of the warlocks. Fynn turned, and his jaw nearly dropped to the floor as he saw Iliera, glowing wings sprouted from her back, a protective shield surrounding her body, and her mighty weapon aglow with purple flame.
“For the Academy!” she exclaimed. “For Xernia and Azirin!”
She threw a hammer, the weapon piercing the darkness and clearing a path to the Yunai commander. It crashed against the creature’s chest and knocked him off his feet. As he fell backward, Iliera was already airborne. She slammed her shield into this throat, spinning her blade and thrusting it downward through the Yunai’s breastplate.
Limonar yelled, then he swept his right arm and knocked Iliera backward. She went tumbling to the ground and landed so hard it sent a cloud of dust into the air.
“We’ve gotta get out there,” Fynn said, pulling his blade down and moving to the shield wall. “The Yunai ships will come back around soon.”
“It’s not that easy,” Aethelwolfe replied. “The energy we poured into this shield. We can’t just take it down.”
There was a crash. Fynn turned to see Iliera pressed against the energy dome. Limonar held her there as he leaned in to get a good look at her face. She didn’t sound pained. She didn’t sound upset at all.
Fynn knew she had a plan.
As the Yunai grew closer, so too did the hilt of her weapon, still lodged in his breastplate.
“You will die,” Limonar said to her, his breath heavy with the smell of blood.
“Someday,” Iliera replied, her hand tightening around the handle of her blade. “Not today.”
She pulled the weapon free with an upward trajectory, swiping it across Imonar’s face as it came free from his chest.
The Yunai twisted away, once again throwing Iliera through the air.
She hit the ground with a thud and Fynn couldn’t help but rush to get as close to her as he could, even if the shield was blocking him.
“How can we help her!?” Darrus asked aloud. “She needs us!”
Iliera stood, dust falling from her body, and lifted her shield once more.
“I’m not sure she does,” Aethelwolfe replied, a smile on his grizzled face.
“Up there,” Ailyn, their Shadowspeaker, said as she pointed away from the battle. “The Yunai ships are back on approach.”
“She won’t be able to survive another hit like that.”
“Without the shield, we won’t survive it either,” Aethelwolfe countered.
“There… might be a way,” Daarus, suggested.
“Well, we can’t dissipate the energy in the shield, but we might be able to—”
“Blow it up,” Fynn finished.
“I wouldn’t say blow it up, but it would send the energy outward in a forceful manner.”
“Sure,” Fynn replied. “Blow it up.”
The energy shield cracked again and they turned to see Iliera rolling along the ground. She jumped up with shield in hand, but her reaction time was slowing. Limonar was looking pretty rough too, with multiple cuts and wounds on his face and arms, but still not down for the count.
“Okay,” Fynn replied. “What do we do?”
“Well, I need the Shadowspeaker, and any other dark magic users.”
“We’re basically going to pump Yunai magic into the shield. The two forms of magic don’t work together at all. Mix them up and you’ve got yourself some—”
“Explosions,” Fynn said loudly.
“I was going to say trouble,” Daarus replied.
“What about Iliera?” Ailyn asked. “How will she know it’s coming?”
“She won’t,” Baarus admitted. “She’s too busy fighting Limonar to worry about us doing something dumb.”
“If we don’t do something, the Yunai ships are going to decimate the platform before we can help her.”
“We have to do something,” Ailyn growled. “She won’t last forever out there.”
Fynn looked past the shield and saw Iliera slide beneath Limonar, swiping her blade, and catching the demon across the back of his legs. He stumbled and she rolled to safety before jumping up once more. He wasn’t sure, but he thought she was… smiling.
“She can take him,” Aethelwolfe said aloud. “She can actually win this.”
“She won’t be able to survive the weapon fire from the ships,” Ailyn chimed in. “She’s tired and Limonar is pulling all her attention.”
“Then we do this!” Fynn shouted. “Make it happen, Daarus.”
“When the shield goes, we need to be ready to attack,” Aethelwolfe added. “We need to end this.”
Daarus pulled Ailyn to the center of the energy shield, where glowing energy continued to flow from where the paladins had stood.
“Okay, so, just… put your dark energy into it.”
“Seriously? That’s all you got?”
Darrus nodded. “Like this.”
The priest held out a hand. A black and purple orb appeared and he held it out, letting it brush against the luminary energy for a moment. It sparked and fizzled and slowly a black streak ran up and through the energy, fading as it spread further into the shield.
“We’re going to need a lot of void energy.”
Ailyn smiled. “I have just the thing.”
A moment later, a shadowy figure appeared at her side, summoned from the twisting aether. She looked at it, then pointed to the Light. “Feed.”
The creature did as commanded, and when it reached the luminary magic the two seemingly merged, with electrical sparks shooting out from the path of the purple energy of the creature as it was swept into the energy shield. A humming noise started to echo from the shield and as it grew louder it started vibrating the very ground beneath them.
“Are we going to be okay?” Fynn asked. “This seems… dangerous.”
Darrus looked out of the shield and saw the Yunai ships. They were preparing to fire and Iliera was putting all of her energy into blocking Limonar’s hefty blows.
“Time’s up!” he shouted. “Make it happen!”
“Come on,” Fynn said. “Give it all we’ve got.”
The priest and Shadwospeaker held out their hands and dark void energy swirled from within them both. The luminary magic all but retreated from Daarus’ form, leaving him looking rather lifeless and pale. Ailyn, on the other hand, seemed to grow more powerful with each passing moment. Her spell grew and the energy shield turned from shimmering gold to deep purple. Then, cracks of light began to emerge all around them, like glass dangerously close to shattering.
“It’s happening!” Daarus yelled. “Be ready!”
Aethelwolfe already had his weapon in hand. “Hold on, Iliera. We’re coming.”
Outside the shield, Iliera appeared oblivious to the dangers all around her, both the ships on their attack run, and the violently deteriorating shield. She had one target in her sights and she wasn’t going to yield.
Limonar took another swing and Iliera timed her dodge just right. She slammed her feet down on his blade as it passed under her, propelling her higher into the air. She called upon the Luminary One and released her shield so that she could grip her sword better with both hands.
Limonar had no chance to dodge.
She thrust her magical blade forward.
The tip of the blade slid right between the Yunai’s eyes, pushed deeper and deeper by the momentum of her jump. She came to a stop with her face mere inches from Limonar’s giant left eye as it began to roll back in his head.
He collapsed and she came crashing down with his lifeless body.
She tucked into a roll, releasing her weapon and sliding to a stop a few feet from her fallen foe. Her body was crying out in agony. Every muscle had been pushed past the breaking point. She struggled to push herself up to her knees, and that’s when she saw them.
Three Yunai ships, guns primed and ready to fire.
She didn’t have the energy to defend herself.
She looked to Limonar and gave a wicked grin. “At least I did that.”
As the ships drew in, she closed her eyes, ready for the final blow.
When the explosion came, however, it wasn’t at all what she had expected. She was thrown forward, not backward, and dark Yunai energy erupted all around her. As she tumbled through the air she caught sight of her allies, a wall of darkness spreading outward, and she was genuinely confused. Then, she felt the life-giving energy of luminary magic as it wrapped her tightly and pulled her through the explosive blast of dark energy.
She emerged on the other side to see Fynn holding her within a protective spell.
She twisted back to see the dark explosion as it eviscerated the Yunai ships, erupting further down the hallway and killing at least a dozen other enemy soldiers.
Fynn lowered her to the ground and then released the spell and she nearly collapsed when she was back under her own control. Fynn and Aethelwolfe rushed to her side to help her up, and Ailyn was right there with them, a concerned look on her face… or at least as concerned as a Shadowspeaker can look in a situation like this.
“Not bad, huh?” Iliera asked, smiling at her allies.
“I’ll say!” Fynn replied. “You just one versus one stomped a Yunai commander!”
“Nice trick with the explosion,” she said.
“Not my idea,” Fynn admitted. “That’s all Daarus.”
Iliera looked to the priest and saw that he too was having trouble standing. His power was dim and his skin looked like it had been partially burned on his arms.
“Yunai magic,” he replied, trying to settle her unspoken concern. “Totally worth it.”
Iliera tried to get her footing and the room started to spin a bit.
“Calm down,” Aethelwolfe said to her. “You need a few minutes. Let’s get her some water.”
“We need to keep moving,” she started.
“We just took down a major commander and three Yunai assault carriers,” Ailyn replied, looking around the pathway. “I think we have a little time.”
With a sudden thunderous crash, everyone turned to see one of the magical beacons opening. It sparked to life and an entire platoon of soldiers emerged with weapons drawn.
“Heroes,” a Besherman General said as he emerged from the beacon. “Thank goodness we found you. You’ve really driven a line into the enemy forces.”
“We can’t keep pushing this hard,” Aethelwolfe said. “We’ve taken losses and we’re tired. We need time to recuperate.”
“Agreed. This portal will get you back to the Burning Vengeance. We’ve got medicine, potions, and fresh food there. The way to the factory is clear, and our soldiers can punch through what is left. Return to the ship and rest up. This fight isn’t over. We’ll need you again.”
Iliera stood on her own two feet now and saluted the General. “Sir, yes sir!”
As the unified armies pressed forward along the pathway, Iliera leaned on Fynn. “We should be leading that charge.”
“We did lead that charge,” Fynn replied. “We’ve been leading for days. It’s time to rest. We know what we’re here to do and we’re doing it.”
“But Azirin doesn’t have time—”
“Azirin won’t survive this at all if we die before we capture the Yunai leadership. Azirin is safe for now.”
She cracked a tiny smile. “Fair enough.”
“Alright people,” Fynn shouted. “You heard the General. Let’s get through that portal and regroup on the Burning Vengeance. There will be plenty of Yunai for us to kill tomorrow!”
The Academy forces cheered. They were all tired and ready for a break. Bellulan had been grueling, and knowing that the fight wasn’t going to be over any time soon only made the exhaustion more real. The future of their world was hanging in the balance, but this fight had shown them all that they were growing thin and worn. They had to rest. They had to regroup. When the time was right, they would return to finish what they had started.