Episode 6: The Soul Hunt – Pt. 1

         The sun was beginning to set when Irian Perch finally came into view.

         Like most outposts in the area, this one was controlled by the Yunai hunters. No central authority existed among their ranks, but usually one of the more powerful would step up as an outpost commander. If they were lucky, that would be their first interaction here.

         When the flying machine carrying Fynn set down on the rocky ledge, he was quickly approached by the lean and muscular enforcer that watched over the outpost’s security.

         Behind him, two more machines landed, one carrying Iliera, and another with an older paladin that had offered to help. His name was Aethelwolfe, a veteran of the Order of the Crystal Blade and a founding member of the Academy of Hope.

         Nearby, Fynn recognized Aebaloth standing nearby.

         Aebaloth was a Yunai hunter, like the others. Though, he always seemed nervous, on edge, like he wasn’t standing with his Yunai hunting brothers and sisters on the same level, though Fynn couldn’t understand why.

         Finally, a large bird swooped down from overhead, shifting into the form of a fellow magic users just before touchdown. She landed gently on her feet and smiled warmly at Iliera and Fynn. Her name was Daliluin. Another founding member of the Academy, she was a helpful druid that worked tirelessly against the Yunai.

         So together they gathered, the five of them, exchanging short greetings with one another before Iliera brought them up to speed on the events that had transpired before. These were all members of the Academy of Hope, and they had come to find their ally.

         As Iliera filled them in on the plan, however, another approached them.

         “I am Tormash,” the Yunai hunter started, his voice gruff and dark. “I am commander of this outpost. I do not know what brings you here, adventurers, but we have no inn, no tavern, and no time for strangers. I suggest you move on.”

         “We’ve come on business,” Aethelwolfe replied, stepping forward. His gray hair was long and flowed easily across his wrinkled face as he walked. The power of luminary magic shown through magical enchants on his shoulders and weapon, and he stood as the perfect antithesis to the hunter that had approached the group.

         “What business?” Tormash asked, his voice sounding suspicious.

         “It doesn’t concern you,” the paladin replied. “In fact, it might be best if—”

         Iliera stepped up now, quickly moving between the two as tension built between them.

         “Greetings, Tormash,” she said calmly. “I assure you we do not intend to stay long. We have come to discuss a matter with one of your Illidari.”

         “Who is it you seek?” Tormash asked curiously.

         “Vellia Doomslicer,” Iliera answered.

         “Doomslicer? The traitor?”

         “Traitor?” Fynn asked. “What do you mean?”

         “She abandoned her post,” Tormash replied with a gesture to a nearby cauldron. “Up and gone without a word. We fear she has turned to the Yunai.”

         “Or she was taken hostage,” Daliluin suggested. “Have you considered—”

         “Investigate if you will,” Tormash snapped at the woman. “You are wasting my time. When you are finished, I suggest you be on your way.”

         With that, Tormash stepped away from the group, returning to a few other hunters that were nearby.

         “Lovely,” Fynn said with a frown. “Shall we investigate?”

         The camp didn’t reveal much at first glance, it was clear that Vellia’s post was abandoned, but so were several other posts around the outskirts of the perch. In addition, Daliluin noted that Vellia had left behind several vital supplies that would have been helpful to her if she really was leaving for good.

         As they looked around, Fynn noticed that several of the Yunai hunters had practically altered their entire patrol just to avoid passing close to them. “Anyone else getting the vibe that we might not be wanted here?” he asked.

         “That could be because of me,” Aebaloth said, standing with his back away from the camp. “They’re not exactly friendly with me.”

         “What? Why not? Aren’t you one of them?” Fynn asked.

         “Not exactly,” Aebaloth said with a sigh. “I am one of them, but I have my own reasons for taking on this burden. I’m not some fanatic.”

         Fynn was going to say more, but then Aethelwolfe broke his train of thought.

         “I found something,” the older paladin called, waving the others toward him. “Not good.”

         Iliera crossed the post with Fynn right behind. They all glanced around where Aethelwolfe was standing. At first, Fynn was confused, but then he saw it. The tangled supplies, the marks all through the dirt, and the deep trenches where feet had tried to hold steady. There had been a struggle here.

         Then, there was the blood. A lot of blood. It was dried into the dirt and stone floor. A path of it dripped away from the outpost, down the steep hill and toward the south. Only a few feet in that direction, the group discovered the broken tip of a glaive.

         “The blood isn’t old,” Daliluin said, kneeling over a large pool of it. “This struggle didn’t happen a long time ago.”

         “Then we must follow the trail,” Iliera said. “Vellia could be in grave danger!”

         Following the blood trail was easy enough thanks to Aebeloth’s tracking abilities. He simply used his Yunai magic to follow the scent of the blood. The further inland they traveled, the darker it became. Fynn felt his power, infused with luminary magic, was becoming difficult to grasp, and Daliluin started to grow pale from the poisonous fumes of the twisted aethereal energy that festered all around.

         When the blood trail ended at the mouth of a large cave, everyone knew they were in for at least some kind of confrontation. Peering inside, they saw what they were up against. A large Yunai stood guard.

         “That guy is massive,” Fynn said, looking around. “Maybe there’s another way in?”

         “We should kill it,” Aethelwolfe said firmly. “It’s a Yunai and we’re here to kill Yunai.”

         “I agree,” Iliera said with a nod.

         “What if it knows where Vellia is?” Daliluin asked.

         “What do you suggest?” Fynn asked. “You think we should talk to it?”

         “We could do that,” Aebaloth replied. “I can speak the Yunai language. What should I ask it?”

         “We can also kill it,” Aethelwolfe repeated.

         “If it doesn’t want to talk, then we kill it,” Iliera said, softening her resolve.

         The older paladin frowned. “I don’t like it.”

         “It’ll be fine,” Fynn said with a boyish grin. “The sooner we try talking, the sooner we can get slaying.”

         Aebaloth nodded and headed into the cave.

         The massive Yunai looked at the arrival for a moment, but did not move.

         “Ered’nash havik yrthog” Aebeloth said loudly to the demon, his words causing Fynn to get a chill down his spine.

         “Shaza-kiel!” the Yunai yelled in response.

         Suddenly, Fynn felt a clamp come down on him, and he couldn’t move. He shouted to Iliera and she confirmed the same, as did Aethelwolfe and Daliluin.

         They were trapped. Only Aebeloth stood against the enemy now.

         “Our luminary magic isn’t strong enough to break the bonds,” Aethelwolfe grumbled. “Not in this wretched place.”

         Then, a crackle of magical energy caught Fynn’s attention. He turned to see that Daliluin had transformed, shaping into an animal to break the bonds over her, before turning back into her natural form. She gave the others a quick smile and then charged forward as the Yunai made his first swipe against Aebaloth.

         Together, the two overcame the creature with a speed and efficiency that was expected, but still glorious to watch. Fynn had been fighting Yunai holdouts for months now, all across the World Ship, but being frozen in place gave him a chance to truly stop and watch the mastery of his fellow academy members.

         They moved together, two units locked against a single monstrous foe. Despite Daliluin’s weakness from the twisted aethereal energy, she controlled herself as though it was nothing. Aebaloth, a Yunai hunter, thrived on the energy around him, pulling more power as he needed it and continuing to grow more powerful against the enemy.

         The fight lasted less than a full minute, and when the demon fell, the magical bonds holding the others in place immediately slipped away. Fynn nearly fell over as he’d relaxed in the trapped position, letting the evil magic hold him up.

         “Well done, you two!” Aethelwolfe said as he shook off the effects of the Yunai’s magic.

         “What do you think he was guarding?” Fynn asked.

         “I don’t know,” Iliera replied. “We’re going to find out.”

         The group proceeded past the fallen foe and traveled a short ways before they found the cave ended with a dark chamber. Fynn was about to call upon luminary magic for guidance when the room suddenly started to glow an eerie green. As the cave grew brighter, the walls of the cavern became covered with lines of green light. There were scrawls and scribbles painted in what appeared to be… corrupted blood.

         “What is this?” Iliera asked, stepping closer to the lines. As she did so, the lines took shape into various symbols, pulsing and moving, crawling across the walls. “Is this a language?”

         Daliluin was already holding a book in her hands, where she retrieved it from Fynn was unsure, but she flipped through the pages, glancing back up the at symbols every so often. Then, she gave a wide smile and nodded, more to herself than to the rest of the group.

         “This is an old language. It’s the words of the Yunai.”

         “Can you translate it?” Aethelwolfe asked.

         “Not exactly,” she admitted. “I can, however, interpret some of the symbols. See, look at how this one loops around the other? That’s a sign for a transference of some kind and—”

         Daliluin stopped talking. As she finished her explanation of the symbol, it began to morph into the common language. Suddenly, Fynn was staring at simple words that he could understand. Not all of it, but at least the part that Dal had interpreted.

         “How did you do that?” Aebaltoh inquired.

         “I didn’t,” she replied. “It just… happened.”

         Aebaloth turned back to the wall then and gave a wicked grin. “I think I can do this.”

         He was silent for a moment, staring intently at the writing, and then, slowly, as it scrolled by, the words began to mutate into common. Fynn was amazed at what he was watching.

         “It’s a Yunai spell,” Aebaloth explained, not breaking his attention from the wall. Shared magic that allows a hidden language to be seen among trusted parties. In other words, my mind is translating it for you.”

         “That’s insane,” Fynn replied.

         “LOOK!” Iliera shouted.

         By now, the words had all nearly translated to common, and Fynn realized that the words were mostly names. He recognized a few of them right away. Many of them were heroes from around the world, while others were adventurers he’d met over the last few months. Then, right in the middle of the list, he saw it.

         Sionis Sepher.

         “It’s a soul binding,” Aebaloth continued. “They’re holding the souls of all these people.”

         “What will they do with them?”

         “I don’t know,” he replied. “Thankfully, they included the location and leader for the ceremony to transfer the souls.”

         “Location and leader?” Aethelwolfe asked.

         Aebaloth gestured to the remaining writing on the wall. It identified the soul binding ceremony and labeled Inquisitor Tivos as the ceremonial master. They would be siphoning the souls aboard a vessel called the Dark Harvest.

         “We have to keep moving!” Iliera said, stepping toward the cave exit. “If they have Sionis’ soul, it’s only a matter of time before they destroy it!”

         “Or worse,” Aethelwolfe amended. Let’s go!”

To be continued…

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