The air in the Wooded Vale carried an ever-present humidity that easily made someone feel like they had just stepped out of a hot shower and into the blazing summer heat. It was not uncommon to see travelers and soldiers alike shedding their armor as they moved through the temperate zone.
The Besherman, for whatever reason, had made their claim to these lands in recent history. Most of them were part of various trade groups or pirate organizations, while others still worked for monopolistic corporations that sought to corner the market on this or that.
Iliera shifted through the underbrush, trying not to disturb any of the wildlife that lurked in the thick jungle as she made her way from the Stonehaven outpost to her destination. The walk had not taken long, and the flight down from the city had been almost pleasant. The only drawback, now that she was here, was that her glowing aura seemed to draw the attention of every insect in the vale.
She wore a simple robe, covering her thick plate armor as best she could, but she still generated a fair amount of noise as she trudged along. There was little doubt that her target would know she was coming long before she finally arrived.
It didn’t matter.
She was here for one thing and one thing alone.
Klick Slickwizzle wasn’t a man without his merits. He had joined the SmokeWeasel Cartel after a tragic accident at a company worksite claimed his parents. The various trade owners weren’t the worst people to work for, but they certainly didn’t care about his overall well-being. They paid for him and expected their due in return.
He had taken up management of the logging division in the northern vale with the intent to avoid any of the latest conflicts. Out here in the depths of a balmy jungle he assumed he would be able to steer clear of any adventure-loving heroes.
At least, he had hoped as much.
A few days ago, Klick had received a package from Bounty Bay, a small box sealed with the insignia of Baron Revelli. There was a note attached, addressed to him, which told him that one such hero would be coming to his logging facility to retrieve that package. He was to hold it until she arrived.
Getting a box like this meant one of two things.
The Baron owed someone a favor and was fulfilling it far away from Bounty Bay to keep any prying eyes off his affairs, or the box was filled with explosives and he would soon be incinerated where he stood.
A few hours later he was still alive, so he assumed it was the former. He spent the next few days thinking through each of the million ways that this situation could end for him. None of them were good.
Then, just four days after the package arrived, he heard he whistle from his security that indicated and unexpected visitor.
Trying to hold back his panic, he headed out to the edge of the operation where he laid eyes on the very last person he would have ever expected to cross his path.
Two bodyguards stood on either side of Iliera. They were trying to maintain a professional level of intimidation, but she was confident that they both feared for their lives should she decide to act against them. Still, she was not here to cause harm, so she stood back and allowed them to continue their act.
A single man in a simple leather vest and cloth pants approached from the main camp. He was holding a long and slender box as he walked and his body language implied that he wasn’t sure if he was walking into a trap. The closer he got, the more his face changed from trepidation to complete shock.
When he was close enough, she decided to speak.
“My name is—”
“I know who you are,” Klick replied. “Iliera Starfall. Champion of Azirin.”
“Iliera is fine.”
“What in the world is someone like you doing out here?”
“I’ve come for that box,” she said. “More so the contents of that box.”
The man looked at the box under his arm and then carefully extended it to her.
She took it from him and spun around, ready to be on her way.
“Hey, wait,” the man said. “I… I wanna know what it is.”
Iliera turned back to him with a slight smile on her face. “Very well.”
She pulled back the seal and pulled the lid of the box free to reveal nothing more than a plain and simple wand. It had a large power crystal, but that was incredibly uncommon. In fact, it all looked rather plain in comparison to what he would have expected.
Klick frowned. “What is it?”
“A wand,” Iliera replied.
Klick was silent for a long moment, then he laughed. He laughed hard.
“Are you well?” she asked.
“Yeah,” Klick said through the laughter. “I just… I was worried that it might be something dangerous.”
Iliera nodded slowly. “Time will tell.”
She went to close the lid on the box when the wand seemingly vibrated. There was a slight glow of purple that emanated from the weapon and Iliera heard a sound piercing through the air, straight into her ear… a voice.
“Did you hear that?” she asked.
The man’s laughter died down. “Hear what?”
“My name,” she replied, looking intently at the wand.
“I don’t hear nothing.” Klick replied.
Iliera’s hand started to reach for the wand and she heard the whispered voice echoing in her ears once more. “Ilieraaaaaa.”
Her hand gripped the wand and she lifted it out of the box. As she did so, the voice died away, the purple glow vanished, and she was suddenly very aware that she was standing in the woods with the wand in her hand for seemingly no reason.
“Everything alright?” Klick asked.
“I… I think so,” Iliera replied. “I just—”
Pain. Overwhelming pain exploded through Iliera’s body.
She screamed in agony. There was nothing she could do. She had felt the excruciating weapons of the Yunai, she had been subjected to powerful dark magic, and yet none of it scaled anywhere near this level of torture. It shot like pangs of pure fire, ripping through her body like an explosion contained within her skin.
The wand grew bright at first, then it exploded with a blast of energy that easily lifted and threw the two guards and Klick through the air. Iliera, however, was anchored where she stood. As the energy exploded again from the wand, she realized that it was also erupting from her own magical aura.
The wand had somehow tapped into her power.
It was pulling everything, converting every tiny bit of her essence into magical energy.
At last, the wand focused this energy and fired a beam into the air. It exploded, not far from the ground, and a swirling vortex of energy opened to reveal what looked like one of the beautiful archways of Udiria on the other side.
It was a portal of some kind.
Iliera saw a figure appear on the balcony. They stood there for a moment, perhaps wondering if they should dare step through, and then headfirst threw themselves into the opening.
When they touched the portal, Iliera felt like she might actually explode.
Her vision turned white, her body felt like it might burn to ash, and yet the seconds dragged on, one after the other, and more power rushed forward, channeled directly into the portal that loomed in the air.
She heard a thud on the ground, then, it stopped.
The power retreated, the wand released itself from her hand, and Iliera fell, lifeless, to the ground. Her body was in such pain that she couldn’t even find it in her to take in breath. She felt like she was suffocating and her lungs refused to respond.
Though she could not see, she then heard a familiar female voice.
“Now, that was impressive.”
“Wh…o..who…” Iliera couldn’t form the words.
“No no, don’t speak,” the woman said. “It will only make it harder. Honestly, you poor thing, I could not possibly imagine that you could have survived the power that was just channeled through you to finish that spell. It’s impressive, but I am sorry for that.”
Iliera didn’t respond. She didn’t understand.
“No matter,” the woman said. “I’ll give you a quick death, just to end the misery.”
Klick rolled onto his back as the world exploded in blinding light. He covered his eyes and listened as Iliera screamed in utter torment. The beam that erupted from the wand seemed to open some kind of portal, similar to the kind magic users commonly used in Udiria, and then a figure fell through and landed gently on the ground. It was a woman, with black hair and a slim, if not athletic, build. Her skin was pale, like she’d not seen the sun in months, but she wore an expression of pure joy. On her back, she carried one of the Udirian magic users battle-staffs that hadn’t been used since the last Yunai invasion years ago.
The portal above her collapsed and, with it, the light that was produced faded away. Iliera, literally smoking and charred, fell to the ground in a crumpled heap. Klick could tell that she was still alive, as she moved ever so slightly on the ground, and watched in horror as the woman with black hair approached the injured Iliera.
Klick looked around and saw his two bodyguards were also recovering from being thrown away. He signaled to them with low clicks and they jumped up, ready to follow.
He rushed forward, hearing the woman talking to Iliera about a quick death, and he shouted as loud as he could. “Back off the paladin!”
The woman spun around and saw the two bodyguards rushing forward with Klick. In a single swipe of her arm, a portal ripped open.
“Send him to find me on the Stonehaven fleet!” she shouted as the portal closed.
Klick reached Iliera and winced at the burns on her body. He reached down to touch her, but her metal armor was so hot that he recoiled in surprise. He turned to his bodyguards looking confused. “Get ice. We need ice. Call down to Bounty Bay and get a priest, the best one the trade princes can provide!”
“And tell them to find Sionis Sepher!”