Long before I reached the archaeological dig site of the ancient ruins, the smoke in the sky had me concerned. The closer I got, the more I understood that I was riding toward tragedy.
By the time I reached the actual structures, I saw fire erupting out of ancient windows while screams echoed in the air. I pulled on Surfal’s reins and brought him as close to the flames as he dared go. Despite his metal body, he still reacted negatively to the blaze, so I jumped from his back and started throwing ice blasts into the burning debris. A water elemental was summoned to help extinguish some of the smaller fires, too. Meanwhile, not far from the entrance to the building, I saw a few survivors huddled together, coughing and tending to burns they had sustained.
“Are there still people in there?” I asked, shouting to them.
“Yes!” a young Besherman female shouted from somewhere in the haze. “Dozens of them! Do you think you can help?”
“I’ll do what I can!” I answered, working my way to the survivors. The young female was small, probably only a child, and she had fire red hair in a tangled mess atop her head. She was covered in soot, but she looked otherwise unharmed.
“There’s a fire suppressant system installed in the ruins,” she shouted. “We can’t get in there to activate it though, and someone manually shut it off!”
I looked into the blaze and grimaced. I knew the arts of fire and ice magic fairly well, but that didn’t mean I had a free pass to run into a burning building. Still, if dozens of people were in there, with one of them potentially being Kaellax, I had to try.
“There are bandages and healing tonics in my bags,” I said as I started toward the door. “Help anyone that you can. I’ll be out with more survivors soon. When I get in there, how do I activate the system?”
“The control panel is all the way in the back,” she replied. “By the siege engine storage area. There’s a big red valve. Just give it a twist.”
“Right,” I said. “Piece of cake.”
Inside the stone building, the fire was overwhelming. I was forced to call upon my full abilities as a practicing frost mage just to get inside without cooking myself alive. Thankfully, my obsession with this school of magic had grown significantly in the last few months. I was able to form a bubble of cool air around my body so that I could navigate inside the blaze.
Aside from the direct threat of the fire, the stone building was beginning to act like an oven. The smooth surfaces absorbed the heat, radiating it and threatening to choke out all life within. I was just starting to lose hope that anyone could survive in this when I felt someone grab at my ankle. I looked down to see a badly burned person, pinned by some debris. I freed him from the burning rubble, and as I helped him stand, I saw that the flesh on his leg was broken.
“It’s just a small thing,” the Besherman said through clenched teeth. “Thank you.”
“Thank me if you survive,” I replied. I knew the injuries were substantial, and without a powerful healer he likely wouldn’t make it. I took a moment to conjure a portal that would lead the poor soul outside. I pushed him through without an explanation and snapped the doorway shut once more.
I continued onward, examining the structure until I found another survivor near the fire suppression system. This one had nearly turned the system on when a beam collapsed., crushing his arm and pinning him to the ground.
I tried to move the beam, but it was too heavy.
“Don’t worry about me!” the man grumbled. “Turn on the water!”
I left him there, stepping over the suppression system, and looked around until I found the red valve that the young female had told me about. When I twisted it, the sprinkler system erupted over my head. The hissing of a suddenly dying fire echoed all over the building, and my visibility dropped to zero as steam and smoke began filling every room. I clapped my hands together and blew a frosty wind that cleared out the room and some of the heat too.
The man, despite his crushed arm, looked ecstatic.
The water-soaked walls were still sizzling, but the sprinklers did their job. The fires were nearly out and the worst part of the destruction was over. Now, it was just the horrible task of picking up the pieces…
I found more survivors, dragged them outside, helped them to fresh air.
They had fifty researchers at the dig site. Only twenty survived the blaze.
I spent most of the afternoon checking with the sick or injured, but Kaellax wasn’t among any of them. I took a brief moment to view the growing number of confirmed dead, but she wasn’t among them.
As the sun was setting, I finally collapsed near one of the relief tents and let out an exhausted sigh. I heard footsteps and turned to see the young female that I had spoken to when I arrived. “Mr. Sepher? I just… I wanted to thank you for helping us. My name is Meledee. I’m from the city of Kennis.”
“No need to thank me, Meledee,” I said. “I’m just glad I was here.”
She nodded. “If you don’t mind me asking… why were you here?”
“I was on the trail of two individuals,” I explained. “I heard they might have been here.”
“Kaellax and Fynn?” Meledee asked. “They were here, yeah. They gathered up their things and took off in a rush this morning. We weren’t sure why, but… surely they didn’t create this fire?”
“No,” I said firmly. “I know Kaellax. This wasn’t her, but the thing that did this might have been after them. They’re running from a Yunai, I think. Meledee, do you know where they were going when they left?”
“Kaellax said someone was waiting for them in the marshes.”
“The swamp,” I said aloud, musing on the destination.
“Are you going to leave us?” Meledee asked. “We need you here.”
“You need to head north to Fort Trident,” I said. “I won’t do you any good, and my friends are in danger. I have to locate them.”
The young woman frowned. “I understand. Thank you, Sionis, for helping us today.”
I nodded. “Of course.”
I left in the early hours of the evening, after I was confident that the most injured survivors had been sent ahead for medical attention. Those that remained wanted to secure their research and make sure any belongings that survived the fire didn’t end up being looted or destroyed by the elements.
Surfal charged forward, never tiring, never in need of sleep.
I could feel his life energy within the living steel frame of his body. I could feel the continuous pain that he felt. I reminded myself of the plan to return to to Iliera, confront the Spirehands, and get my horse out of his prison. All of that would have to wait. I tried to express my sorrow to Surfal, rubbing the metal frame ever so slightly.
I took a deep breath and started running south. I knew the fastest way to the marshes, and I needed to get there as quickly as I could. I was catching up to Kaellax and Fynn, and I had questions that only they could answer.