I spent a lot of time reading about magic after our trip through that field.
Iliera spent a lot of time fighting.
She created a stable at the garrison, teaching our forces how to find and trap animals. She directed troops through the valley, and led them on glorious campaigns against the holdouts of the Yunai.
I tried to learn how to freeze water with my mind.
I became frustrated with my lack of skill in any of the other magical schools, and I definitely let it get to my head. I burned down a few trees just to release the stress I was feeling.
Then, one day, I felt a strange energy arrive at Starfall. I heard a few soldiers talking about a horse, a special horse, that had been brought into the garrison by a visiting soldier. I decided I should check it out, as most of the others were already on their way there.
When I saw the beast, I was blown away. It resembled a horse, certainly, but it was a mechanical monstrosity if ever there was one. The body was made of a golden steel, and liquid magical fire made up the creature’s physical form. It was practically molten metal, contained by magical spells that were incredibly powerful. This animal had been forged by some very talented, and heinous, individuals.
A Besherman soldier had their hand on the creature’s nose. They began to cry.
“What is it?” I asked.
“This animal’s poor soul. He’s lost and tortured.”
“Wait, that thing is alive?”
“Alive. Yes. It is named Surfal,” she replied.
My eyes went wide. I moved in immediately, extending my hand to gently touch the animal’s snout. I leaned in closer, and soothed the beast with comforting words. It lowered its head in response, turning so that it could rest on my shoulder.
“I can’t… I can’t believe it,” I said, shocked. “It really is Surfal.”
I hadn’t seen my horse since I had sailed away from Stonehaven to face the Zinji. I had kept him safe and sound when I signed on to join the Sea Slicer, but when I finally returned to retrieve him, he was gone. The stable master said he had just broken out and flown off. In his defense, he was never really properly trained on how to handle flying spirit horses.
“How did he get like this?” I asked.
“The Yunai supporters got their hands on him,” a soldier said, approaching me with a hand extended in greeting. “My name is Sargent Wilhelm. I’m the owner of this fine specimen.”
“This is the work of the Spirehands?” I asked. These foul beings were Musfurin who supported the Yunai with their own minds in tact. They worshiped the monsters as deities, though they still resisted allowing the Yunai to claim their physical bodies. They seemed more focused on forging mechanical bodies for the Yunai to claim, such as the horse I saw now.
“Aye, it was the Spirehands. They forged a new body right around the soul of the animal. It was a test to see if they could do the same for the Yunai. I guess it worked. We’ve seen those foul creatures in machines before, but never something crafted by our own.”
I was completely overwhelmed. I turned to the Besherman. “Why were you crying? Is Surfal suffering in there, even now?”
“His soul is in agony. The poor creature lives within a sea of fire and darkness.”
“Can I set him free?” I asked. “Break the spell somehow?”
The soldier shrugged. “I don’t know. The power bonding the soul is strong.”
A few soldiers scattered now, and I saw Iliera approaching. She looked sad, like she already knew all of the things that had unfolded, but she also looked determined. I had brushed her off for several missions now, and I felt as guilty as ever. “This is why I wanted the Spirehands dealt with ages ago,” Iliera said, gesturing to the creature. “This poor animal is not the first to come from their evil forges, and it won’t be the last if we don’t do something about it.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t listen,” I said, my voice quiet.
“You are sad,” she mused. “Why? This animal is special to you?”
“This is Surfal,” I replied. “The Spirehands have tortured him.”
Iliera frowned. She looked at the mechanical beast and then placed her hand on the animal’s head. She spoke, and her hand began to glow with the power of luminary magic. She closed her eyes and focused on her words, and I felt Surfal’s spirit shifting, becoming more comfortable, as if Iliera was reliving him of his pain. She stopped speaking a few moments later, then looked to me. “He is indeed tortured. They have contained his soul within this living metal, and it will take someone of great skill to free him. If we were to capture one of the forge masters in the enemy keep…”
“I’m ready,” I said. “Sign me up. This has to be stopped.”
Iliera nodded. “I will speak with the others. I believe we are capable of striking their foundry and marking a decisive victory against their forces, but we must be sure. I’ll give Starfall’s status, and report back as soon as possible.”
With that, she marched back to the command room.
I remained in the stables, looking after Surfal. I felt like an awful person for numerous reasons, one of them being that I had let this strange and magical friend wonder alone for years on end, while I was busy preparing for a future I wanted to prevent. I had to help him find peace, no matter what.