Starfall Garrison was a hustling and bustling hub of activity in the days following our arrival. The local Musfurin were quite excited to see actual soldiers showing up to help them fight, even if they were mysterious aliens from another world. They knew we utilized Luminary magic, and that was enough to keep them happy.
I was put on patrol duty a few days after we arrived, and I was partnered with Valiera. She had requested special shifts and, in particular, sought to travel to a village called Ember’s Light. She explained that this had long ago been her home. It was, she hoped, where she would find her family… still alive.
“I think we’re supposed to be going the other way,” I mumbled to Valiera as we crossed through a large bog that had a sickly sweet smell to it. I wanted to gag every time I took in a deep breath, so I had settled on inhaling through my robe sleeve.
Valiera stopped, looking back at me, then frowned. “I’m sorry.”
“For what? Bad directions?”
“You were always kind to me, Sionis. I’m sorry for what I did that day, with the spell.”
“Ah, that old thing? When you caused the Shattered Calamity?”
“I’m not going to our patrol point. I’m going to save my family.”
“Your family is in this bog?”
“No,” she said. “Technically, I am.”
“You’re going to have to explain that one.”
“I don’t have time,” she replied, pushing ahead through some underbrush. “I have to be around here somewhere. If I can just warn this reality about the attack then I can make sure… aAAH!”
Valiera froze and the utter disgust in her voice was laced with a kind of visceral terror that I had not expected to hear from such a seasoned fighter. I rushed forward, pushing through the underbrush until I laid my eyes upon the thing that had just caused such a reaction from her.
It was a Musfurin, lifeless, seemingly mutilated. I had become dull to the horrors of war, but I could understand why Valiera was so impacted. The victim that was on the ground before us… was Valiera.
“I don’t understand,” she finally said. “They missed me… they didn’t know I was here.”
“Alternate outcome,” I said, gently pulling her away from the corpse. “Different rules.”
“No. That poor woman is dead. You’re right here. You’re with me. Now.”
“Sionis. We have to get to Ember’s Light Village. Now.”
“Can you give me a direction?” I asked.
She pointed, and I turned to face it. “Alright. Hold on.”
It took me a moment, trying to reach into the aether was difficult here, since this place seemed to exist deeper within the fracture of reality. It was like the entire World Ship was hiding away in a part of reality that barely understood it was real. That meant the aether here was stronger than I’d have ever imagined. I felt both limitless, and completely overwhelmed.
Still, I felt the living energy of the village ahead, and I anchored us to it.
With a pop and fizzle we appeared in the village, and then I gasped.
Ember’s Light was on fire.
We went to work on clashing with our foes. I had known this would be a problem, but I hadn’t expected the Yunai to act so fast. The Yunai had already known how to infiltrate the population, how to influence some to become Shadowsleepers, and how to wrestle the free will from others. They’d organized their army in shockingly fast time, and they were coming to claim this realm as the first step in their plans to claim the entire World Ship.
I sent a magical missive to Starfall Garrison to warn them of the danger, and they responded by sending Udirian soldiers that could help the villagers fight. Valiera fought with a singular purpose, cutting a line straight through the enemy until she reached one particular home. She rushed to the front door, calling out names I had never heard, and when a male and female emerged from the home with weapons in hand, Valiera burst into tears and fell into their arms.
“Where’s Iliera?” she asked.
“Fighting,” the male figure replied. “She fights for the Luminary One!”
“Where? I must save her.”
“She protects the shrine!”
Valiera looked at the two for a moment, then ushered them back inside the home. She ordered them to stay put, then turned to me with pleading eyes. “Can you protect them?”
“I will do my best,” I replied, quickly working to create an invisibility cloak on the home. It wasn’t actually invisible, but the spell would help the house blend in with someone’s view. They wouldn’t know it was there unless they were specifically looking for it. The spell was easy enough and held fast.
“Thank you,” Valiera replied. “Now come, there is one left to save.”
We charged through the burning village, striking down any foe that dared to cross our path, until we reached a large glowing structure that looked similar to a glowing wind chime. We saw a female Musfurin there, a purple mace in hand, holding off at least ten attackers.
Valiera roared, pulling her bow and firing a volley of arrow at the enemy soldiers surrounding her sister. They didn’t see the attack coming until it was too late. I finished off the last one with a fire blast, and we stepped up to the female, who looked at us with shock.
“Valiera?!” she cried. “I was so worried about you!”
“Hello, Iliera,” Valiera said, wrapping the woman in a tight embrace. “Come. We must get you to safety!”
“Absolutely not,” Iliera said, standing firm. “I will not yield this shrine.”
“She sounds serious,” I said. “I can tell you’re related.”
Valiera frowned. “Very well. We remain here. We fight. We survive.”
I liked the sound of that, so I snapped up some fire and stood with the two, ready to take down our foes. Fortunately, the Yunai had enough fighting for one night. By the time we readied ourselves for another attack, the reinforcements from Starfall Garrison were already driving back the enemies.
“We made it,” I said, finally relaxing. “We won.”
“Thank the Luminary One,” Iliera said, looking over at me. “Now, who might you be?”
“Sionis,” I said. “Sionis Sepher.”
“I am Iliera of Ember’s Light and champion of Starfall.”
I had to admit, it was in that moment, hearing that name again after all those years… my curiosity and my confusion must have bleed through the moment, because Iliera made a strange face. “Did I offend?” she asked. “I apologize. I do not know of your people.”
“No, it’s not that,” I replied. “I just… actually…”
“Come,” Valiera said, interrupting our conversation. “We must return home and make sure our parents we safe.”
Iliera nodded, turning away from me, and I was thankful for it. My mind swirled with the mystery of the woman I had just met, but there were so many other things to do… so many other things to worry about. How could any of that come into play with Lady Sonea or my old wand?
I forced those questions down for now and followed the sisters.
We returned to the sisters’ home, and I removed the spell that camouflaged the place. Once she had everyone together and gave them all a series of hugs, she took a moment to pull me to the side and fill me in on the details.
“In my time, things were different,” she explained. “I was scouting, as I did each night, and the attackers passed me by. I did not know they had gotten through our defenses. I returned home the next morning, and our village was burned to the ground. My sister, my parents, they were all dead. I never came to terms with the loss. Seeing them here… now…”
“Are you okay with everything you saw tonight?” I asked. “I’m sure if you need to talk to someone about this, we can find someone.”
“My own corpse, you mean?”
“I would not have taken it as smoothly as you did.”
“I am saddened by the death, but I must admit that the joy of seeing my family again overwhelms any sorrow… is that selfish of me?”
“I don’t think there’s a precedent set for this kind of situation,” I said, scratching my head. “You’re paving some new paths here.”
“I want to stay here with them,” she said. “Tell the garrison I died in the forest. Send them to collect my body.”
“Yes. I need to keep them safe, Sionis. I cannot leave them now.”
I was shocked by this revelation, but at the same time, I understood the raw emotional connection. I had experienced loss, I knew what it was like, and I had even considered attempting to retrieve the things I had lost. Valiera was in the unique position to actually reclaim a life that she had lost. I couldn’t be the one to stand in the way of that.
So, I agreed.
Later that day, I left the village with the rest of the Udirians, and Valiera stayed.