The city of Udiria had started to feel like home for Iliera. It was hard for her, sometimes, to think back to just three years earlier when she had been living a peaceful life on Xernia, before the rise of the Yunai and the chaos that brought her to meet Sionis.
The number was so small, and yet she felt as though so much had happened since those days. She had trouble now, remembering the grass fields of the valley, or the sounds of the wild elk rushing across the fields of Tranador.
It all felt like ages had passed.
Next to her, young Fynn looked excited. It made sense. For Iliera, trying to find Sionis was like hunting for a piece of herself. She needed him. Getting him back was simply a requirement to continue her life. For Fynn, however, this had been nothing more than a grand adventure to rescue an acquaintance.
“So, there’s your first problem,” the Shadowspeaker named Ailyn said, tumbling a soul shard in her hands as she looked it over. “This isn’t Sionis.”
Iliera had recruited the help of a Shadowspeaker when she returned to Udiria. Dealing with dark or Yunai magic was simply beyond her, and it was required for the next part of her effort to find Sionis. She had asked for the woman to figure out a way to communicate with the soul inside the shard, if such a thing were possible. She had not expected to hear such a devastating revelation right away.
“What do you mean it isn’t Sionis?” she asked.
“This is another Shadowspeaker’s soul. A powerful one. I can channel her conscious into my body for a short time. Hopefully she will be able to give you the information you seek.”
“It must be Kaellax,” Fynn said, a slight smile forming on his face. “That’s great news.”
Iliera’s heart sank. Was it possible that Sionis died that day and Kaellax had tried to save herself with a soul shard? If that were the case, she couldn’t be sure she’d ever recover.
“You can channel her life force and let us speak to her?” Aebaloth asked. The Yunai hunter had stayed with the pair after they returned to the magical city. He knew that Iliera didn’t care for users of Yunai magic, so he had kindly served as a mediator for these interactions.
“I can,” the woman replied. “For a price.”
“I want more power crystals.”
Aebaloth frowned. “Those crystals are worth a fortune.”
“If you cannot supply it, I am afraid I can’t risk my life on this—”
“It will be yours,” Iliera said, interrupting the woman. “Let us speak to her.”
“Very well,” the woman said as she pulled a small bag from her robes and littered the floor with a pink sparkled dust. She set the shard down in the dust pile and then crossed her legs and leaned over the shard. For a long moment, nothing happened, but then the room exploded with purple lightning.
The woman reared back up and her eyes burned with purple energy, not unlike Aebaloth’s own. She was silent, but the fiery eyes stared at Iliera with a strange determination.
Then, she spoke.
“Iliera, I knew you’d find me.”
“Is that you, Kaellax?”
“We can’t find your body.”
“That makes sense. Sionis has it.”
Iliera’s heart fluttered. “What?”
“He’s in the twisting aether,” she explained. “You must use this soul shard and mix it with aethereal magic. Open a portal into the twisting nether and save us.”
“How would we find you? The nether is an endless landscape with—”
“The soul shard will be drawn to my location. Open the portal. Save us.”
The eyes on the warlock closed, the light faded, and Kaellax was gone.
“You heard her,” Iliera said. “We need magic users. All of them.”
The Academy of Hope had grown significantly in the time since Sionis went missing. A veteran band of adventurers that had worked together to help secure the realms and assault Yunai holdouts. There were teachers, students, allies, and simple members. All of them working toward the goal of gaining and sharing knowledge that could be used to strengthen all of the World Ship. Now, more than ever, Iliera needed that knowledge.
Thankfully, her call did not go unanswered.
Dozens of members came to her aid. As she told them of the situation with the Yunai powers involved, the Shadowspekaers stepped in to understand and figure out their best course of action. As she spoke of the twisting aether and the portal where Sionis was held, the magic users stepped in to start working on the necessary spells.
The whole team came together. By the end of the afternoon, they were ready.
“What if it doesn’t work?” Iliera asked as she took her place in the city square.
“It’ll work,” Syanna replied, looking over some notes the others had written. “It should work.”
“So just stand here. The soul shard will rest against your shield while we channel the spell. You’re going to have to stand your ground, even if it pushes against you really hard. Don’t worry though, Fynn is going to be shielding you and there’s a luminary priest on hand if things get rough.”
“Okay,” she said. “I’m ready.”
Syanna nodded. “Right, yeah. Me too.”
The group started to take their positions. There were five magic users lined up, each one taking aim directly at the soul shard that was tied to the front of Iliera’s shield. She was to use her own luminary magic to press against the portal that they would channel so that the twisting aether didn’t grab them all when the portal opened. Fynn was assigned to protecting her. Aebaloth was given the most dangerous task. He had a rope tied around his waist. When the portal into the aether was stabilized, he would leap inside, find Sionis and Kaellax, and then they would pull the three of them back into the physical realm.
Iliera had tried to thank Aebaloth for offering to take the task. He only responded by telling her that if she wanted to thank him, she’d line his coffers with gold when it was all over. He sounded serious, but she didn’t have time to worry about his loyalty.
She wanted to save Sionis.
“Okay everyone,” Syanna said, voice raised so all could here. “Don’t forget to take a sip of the potion I gave you. It’ll help you sustain your magic long enough to get this done. We go in ten seconds!”
As the countdown ran, Iliera braced herself for impact. She looked to Fÿnn and saw that boy-ish excitement that he often displayed in these situations. He was ready for adventure and this was going to be right up his alley.
“Keep me safe,” she said to him with a smile.
“Always,” he replied.
The portal slammed against her shield like the weight of ten thousand heavy bricks. Her feet dug into the ground and the cobblestone beneath her started to crack from the intense energy. She couldn’t see much since she was leaning heavily into the shield, but blue sparks of aethereal energy were arcing into the ground all around her.
“That’s it, almost there!”
She heard Syanna yelling over the sound of the portal and then more weight pressed against her. She pressed back as hard as she could and again her feet sank lower into the street. She couldn’t be sure, but she felt like she might actually be pushing Udiria out of the sky. Fynn empowered her with luminary magic and the weight did feel lighter. The aether energy started to fade and the portal stabilized.
“That’s it. Aebaloth, you’re up!”
She could hear the Yunai hunter running, and then silence. She knew he was in the portal now. There was no way to know how long it would take him to find the others, or even if he would find them at all.
The weight started to press on her again. She looked to Fynn and the paladin shook his head. He was throwing all his energy at her already. It wasn’t going to be enough. As the pressure grew, she felt herself slide, ever so much, as the cobblestone continued to give and a small trench was formed by her feet.
Then, another relief of pressure. She glanced to her right and saw that Aethelwolfe had added his power to the equation. She gave him a thankful nod, and he saluted in response. They held the ground for a short time longer, and then the weight became powerful once more. She wouldn’t be able to stop this forever. She could feel the entire city tilting slightly under the weight of what was happening here.
“That’s it,” someone shouted. “Pull him back!”
She wanted to object. There was time. She wasn’t tired yet. The energy was there.
“He’s got them!”
Her heart exploded with joy.
“Okay, on the count of three, stop channeling!”
The pressure vanished. The portal snapped shut, and Iliera collapsed to the ground.
Her body felt like it had been drained a thousand times over and only the strength of her will to see the Flamecaller overcame that weakness. She struggled to stand and when she got to her knees, a familiar hand touched her chin, and angled her head up so that she was looking at a pair of familiar eyes.
“Hey there,” I said, standing over her with a gentle smile. “Miss me?”
She was up and in my arms in an instant. At first, she thought she’d done it herself, but then she felt the familiar power of the Light. A gift from Fynn in the form of more energy.
She held me close and squeezed me tightly. “My dear Sionis, I have missed you so.”
“Tell me about it.”
Aebaloth suddenly appeared between the two of us. “Sorry guys, you’re missing one thing.”
He picked up Iliera’s shield and pulled the shard free. “Kaellax.”
“Right,” Sionis said. “Here, let me see that.”
“I got this,” Aebaloth replied, heaving the shard into the air and then shoving it down and straight into Kaellax’s lifeless chest. Sionis had pulled her body back with him through the aether, but without a soul, it was just lying on the ground. When Aebaloth shoved the shard through her chest, the Shadowspeaker lurched into a sitting position and gasped for air several times before she started to calm down. As she looked around, her face went from one of confusion to understanding.
“You did it,” she said proudly. “You actually got us out.”
“They did,” Sionis confirmed.
“I’m impressed,” she admitted.
“You should be,” Syanna said, gesturing to the other magic users. “We worked hard to get you back.”
“Of course,” Kaellax replied. “I appreciate all of the effort.”
“I’m so glad we have you back,” Iliera said, still holding firmly to me.
“I’m glad to be back. It felt like an eternity in there.”
“The twisting aether is timeless,” Kaellax said.
“Xer’Thraxis is back,” I said, solemnly changing the subject. “He’s what got me into this mess.”
“We know,” Iliera said. “We’ve met.”
“What of the Legion’s invasion?” Kaellax asked.
“Funny you should ask,” Iliera said with a grin. “We’ve neutralized . Most of their threats across the World Ship, and now the Udirian military is planning a counter attack for the actual invasion force when it arrives. I can tell you more once we’re all settled.”
“In the meantime,” Syanna added. “We continue to pursue our goals in the way of garnering knowledge. We have some of the best craftspeople and fighters that the world has to offer. We’ve grown considerably since we were formed, and we’re ready to end this fight against the Legion.”
“Then I’ll get my battle gear,” I said with a smile. “It sounds like there is still work to be done.”