Long ago when the old Besherman Emprie had fallen, and the Yunai ruled over this realm, one Yunai had pushed against the others of their kinds so hard that the rebellious being was imprisoned, by their own kind. This prison had been built here, in this very realm, and then buried under an ocean. Queen Ariela of the Yunai. She was considered a corrupt and cruel leader, and eventually the Yunai trapped her here so that she couldn’t be a problem for them any longer.
That made this place special. Unfortunately, it was also wet, cold, full of dangerous creatures, and most importantly, it was constantly at risk of being completely wiped out by a massive wall of water. There was no reason that any person in their right mind would ever want to be stuck in this place, much less willingly travel here. It would be, at best, a suicide mission.
Yet, when the powerful magic users of Udiria managed to force open a portal to Stonehaven, there was no shortage of soldiers that volunteered to join the fight in this watery land. I was not surprised to see Iliera march through with the very first wave of reinforcements. She stood tall, but I could see that her armor fit uncomfortably, and she was clearly still wrapped with bandages on her arms and legs.
I didn’t push or argue with her, as I knew it would be a waste of time.
Twice now, Evanor had endangered those of us who had worked and lived with her.
There was no avoiding it now. We had bad blood.
So, instead of fighting Iliera’s choice, I thanked her for coming.
She wasn’t alone, either. Syanna, Ailyn, as well as a handful of others from our old Academy, all arrived to help with fresh supplies, warm greetings, and a drive to see the ill deeds of Lady Evanor and her Queen put to an end.
“So,” Iliera asked, hoisting her weapon and looking around. “Which way is she?”
I smiled, then pointed to the southern edge of the area. “She’s in the Queen’s prison. It’s called the Temple of Containment.”
“When do we march?”
“Hold your horses,” I said. “Right now we’ve been trying to maintain a presence in the area without provoking the Queen. We know she’s got a plan, and we want to know what it is before we just charge in there.”
“I see,” Iliera grumbled.
“Syanna,” I called. “Did you do what I asked?”
“Sure did,” Syanna replied, pulling a carefully wrapped item from a leather bag and bringing it over. “One overly powerful wand, as requested. The Uidirians weren’t too happy to see it go, but they decided not to stop me.”
“What is this?” Iliera asked, looking shocked. “Is that the wand?”
I nodded, unwrapping it and holding it gently. The Academy had warned that it might still be anchored to the past. Iliera was ordered not to touch it at any cost, or the wand might activate again. I wasn’t sure why I wanted to have it, but something about facing Evanor that made me feel like it would be good to have… even if it was just to break it over her head.
“Alright,” I said, quickly returning the wand to its bag and pointing toward our outpost where most of the forces were gathering. “The officer is presenting soon on our next military options. We’ll want to hear it.”
The main support camp was positioned within an ancient Besherman settlement. The settlement had been destroyed sometime during the very first first Yunai invasion, one that had taken place off the books, and millennia before what historians actually called the first Yunai invasion. The city had sat at the bottom of the ocean ever since, and now the remains our refuge.
We gathered in one of the large stone archways, likely the main opening of a building long lost to decay. The military officer was already reading his reports by the time we got settled in, and he had just reached the part that was most important to them.
“In regards to the traitor named Evanor Stots,” he said aloud. “We know the suspect made it to the Queen’s prison. She was escorted there by a Zinji sorceress named Pashmar. That one is a real fanatic, and we believe she works closely with the imprisoned Queen. Whatever Evanor got herself wrapped up in, it goes all the way to the top of the chain. As some of you know, this news means what we all feared. Evanor is out of our reach until we assault the prison itself.”
“I don’t understand,” Iliera spoke up. “Evanor is not being pursued?”
I shifted uncomfortably. “Iliera…”
“What say you?” Iliera said, her voice louder.
The officer, to his credit, looked sympathetic as he turned to Iliera. “Her position within the prison is unknown, and we are confident that nothing less than a full-scale assault will allow us to breach the inner-sanctum. Once inside, with so many forces together and so little time, we must prioritize the Yunai Queen as our chief target.”
Iliera seemed to realize that she had forced this exchange in front of dozens of soldiers, and many of them had little interest in Evanor’s whereabouts. She composed herself, thanked the officer, and then retreated behind the archway. Our group followed her and the officer, likely thankful to see us go, continued his presentation.
“This is foolhardy,” Iliera said when I was close enough to hear her aggravated whispers.
“This is how it goes,” I answered. “We fortify, we consolidate, then we attack.”
“Will you see it through?” she pressed. “In the midst of the attack, when the army lays waste to the prison, as you and I know we will, will you be willing to stab at Evanor’s heart without having the time to question her?”
“I didn’t think so,” Iliera grumbled. “Sionis. If we wait to find her, it will be too late to have a chat about the situation. The path Evanor chose has led her to this place. Whatever the reasons, whatever the justification… she’s here now. She stands with our enemy, and we must see justice done.”
“When the time comes, she will,” I said, feeling my face flush. “I understand your anger, Iliera, and I promise you, when the chips are down Evanor will meet with justice, but I can’t pretend that I won’t be confused about this… that I won’t have questions about it.”
“What too, will you do when the Queen realizes she has lost this war and uses her magic to bring the walls of water down on us? Will you search the drowned prison for Evanor, or will you escape with us?”
“The Yunai Queen is holding up those walls for more benefit than us,” I reminded her. “She won’t bring the water in unless she realizes she can’t escape the prison. It’s a last ditch effort. By then, we’ll have what we need.”
“Then let us force her hand,” Iliera said firmly. “We assault the prison and trigger whatever trap she has in waiting for us.”
“I can’t do that, and neither can you. We are not in charge of the military operations here, and we don’t have the Academy of Hope standing with us as we did in the past. They want scouts, not soldiers. So, are you up for that task, or should we find a place to sit and rest until the full assault is ready to begin?”
Iliera weighed her options, looking at me, clearly deciding if I would break.
“Fine,” she said at last. “I will scout with you.”
A short time later, our party was on our way.
Fynn remained at the outpost. His time here had been spent healing wounds and providing protective magical spells that could keep others alive out on the battlefield. The paladin seemed weary of his task sometimes, but with Iliera and the others arriving, his resolve had been strengthened. Iliera was pleased to see him as well, that much was clear, and Sionis appreciated the bond that the two now shared, as teacher and student. In many ways, Fynn had become Iliera’s apprentice, and despite Fynn having been a paladin all his life, it was clear that his skill with luminary magic had increased exponentially under her tutelage. When we parted, Fynn gifted Iliera with one last blessing, and it had put a bounce in her step, as she had more power that helped deafen the pain of her physical energies while she traveled in these lands.
The mission we had been assigned was simple enough. We were to scout the prison entryways and figure out the best approach for our forces once the full assault began. It was popular opinion that the Queen would intentionally leave us an opening, some way to entice us to attack.
It was clear the Yunai Queen was playing with us, but it was less obvious what she wanted us to do now that we were here. An attack on the prison would be deadly, and with the Zinji forces gathering elsewhere, it was likely that there were two plans afoot.
So what was the goal?
Did the Yunai prisoner want us to defeat her?
I had been contemplating this for our entire trek to the southern edge of the area. When we reached the last rocky cropping before the pathway led to the prison, we took up some elevated positions to get a better look. We were still a good ways away, but thankfully an engineer had supplied us with a pair of glasses that could zoom in on far targets, like a scope on one of those firearms.
Iliera was the first to use them, and after messing around for a good ten minutes, she finally seemed to get it figured out, and she started scouring the palace for any signs that might improve our odds of success.”
“The security looks light,” she announced from her perch.
“Of course it does,” Syanna grumbled from the back. “It’s clear the Yunai wants us to attack. Why else are any of us here?!”
“The real question is why?” I asked aloud, finally letting my internal thoughts be free. “We know she’s up to something, but what does she gain from us charging in there and attacking her forces? There has to be a key element here that we’re missing.”
“What did Evanor study in the Udiria?”
“Ancient Besherman culture,” I replied.
“Do you think that might be why she was brought here?”
“I doubt Evanor’s knowledge of dated empires is impressive compared to an ancient Yunai,” Kaellax suggested.
“Okay, so why is she in there?” Syanna asked. “What good is she doing?”
“We won’t know until we get in there too,” Iliera reminded Syanna, still peering through the special glasses.
“It’s us,” I said, the realization settling in the pit of my stomach. “Lady Evanor is being used to draw us in. That’s why Evanor was sent to the fleet… to draw us down into this place.”
“So she’s bait,” Syanna said. “Okay. So, what happens once we get in the prison?”
I didn’t know. I couldn’t know. The Zinji had kept the prison locked down since our arrival here. No one had gotten in or out, and it seemed unlikely that any one person would ever be able to manage it. The officer was right. Only a full assault would work against the Zinji or the Yunai forces, but something terrible would be waiting for us inside, I was certain.
“Regardless,” Iliera interrupted my thoughts. “The western gate is almost completely defenseless, as well as the eastern gate. Honestly, only the northern entrance, the main entrance, seems heavily guarded. She’s definitely inviting us in.”
“Well, let’s keep an eye out overnight. We can report back tomorrow and see if others corroborate. If she really is inviting us… I assume we’ll have to accept the invitation.”
The night’s survey brought the same results.
The palace guards rotated regularly, and they seemed dedicated to their posts, but the eastern and western gates had only four guards, while the northern gate had over two dozen in various positions. The discrepancy was absurd, and it was clear to any and all observers that this was an open invitation to the interior of the palace.
As we rode back to the outpost, I couldn’t help but wonder, again, what the Queen possibly had to gain from all of this. It seemed so strange to want to lure powerful enemies within your hallowed halls.
I knew there was something more, but I was missing it.
When we reached the outpost, I was starving. I wandered over to the nearby food merchants with a wild craving for shrimp. I hadn’t eaten a shrimp in ages, and something about those little animals, all cooked and covered in butter… I had to have it.
The merchant threw some on a small stone plate and handed it to me without so much as a greeting. I tossed a few coins their way and started to take my first bite when I heard the familiar voice of Fynn.
I turned to see the paladin charging at me. He looked out of breath, and he was carrying what had to be one of the largest tomes I had ever seen. I barely offered the young man a greeting when the book was suddenly shoved in my face, causing me to drop my precious shrimp on the ground.
“This is it,” Fynn was saying, still gulping down air as he spoke. I called in some favors with old friends, historical people, about the fall of Udiria. There were a few survivors that escaped the city in the early morning hours, before the Yunai got there, and some of them gave accounts of what they saw unfolding. That’s where I found it.”
“Found what?” I asked, still searching for one of the shrimp.
“One of the historians recalled a woman matching Evanor’s description. She had barricaded herself on a balcony. The historian noted she had a wand and appeared to be frantically weaving a spell. He assumed, at the time, it was some kind of defensive spell to help protect the city.”
“I’ve heard this before,” I said, giving up my search. “Most of us assume that it was Lady Sonea. That’s the official account of how she died. She defended the city to the bitter end from her balcony high in the tower.”
“Except we know the truth,” Fynn said. “She was weaving the anchor spell for the magical portal that would get her to our time.”
“Fynn, I’m not following. I know all of this.”
“Did you know that the historian later said he saw a white lightning bolt strike the balcony where the woman had been standing?”
“Yes, it was assumed to be a Yunai attack. Likely, we know now that it was the portal connecting with the future.”
“Right. The energy dissipated, the historian ran, all is well, right?”
“Well, in a followup interview with another historian, the same individual noted that they saw a second white lightning flash, and they realized it had happened in the same place as the first one. He had never seen, or after that in his life saw, an attack from the Yunai that resembled that flash of lightning.”
I hadn’t heard about this second interview, nor would it have mattered… until now.
“A second flash?” I asked, just to verify.
“That’s right,” Fynn said. “You see what I’m seeing, right?”
My mind wandered to the possibility, to the warning the Udirians had issued, and my eyes moved to my pack, where my wand was still safely wrapped away.
“We can just send her back,” Fynn said. “Better yet… we already know we do send her back. That’s why the historian saw two flashes of light. The anchor is still there, in the past, waiting for us to open our end.”
“The energy required to do that nearly killed Iliera,” I said.
“I’m not arguing with facts,” Fynn said. “We use the wand on her. I know it.”
“I can’t ask Iliera to hold the wand again,” I said.
“You might not have to,” Kaellax said, stepping out from behind Fynn as she spoke. I was surprised to see her, and wondered how long she’d been there. As if hearing my thoughts, she smiled at me. “Long enough.”
“The wand is tied to Iliera,” I explained. “It won’t anchor to anyone else.”
“It’s not that smart,” the Shadowspeaker countered. “It needs Iliera’s life force to establish a connection to her powerful energy, but nothing more. Think of it like a magical missive. It may be enchanted to only open with your presence, but once it is opened, anyone can read it.”
“What are you suggesting?”
“I’m just pointing out that a skilled magic user could easily create a small crystal shard brimming with Iliera’s life energy, or at least enough of it to trick the wand’s enchantment. Once it starts, whoever holds the wand goes through the same painful process that Iliera experienced.”
“Would Iliera even offer up her life energy like that?” I asked.
“Already did,” Kaellax responded, holding up a glowing pink crystal shard.
“So, the crystal in one hand, the wand in the other… portal opens up?”
“That person becomes the anchor. If they have enough power, like Iliera did, the portal will open. If they don’t… they’ll likely be ripped to shreds on a microscopic level… total destruction. Fortunately, I should have more than enough energy for the job.”
“No,” I countered. “If anyone does this. It’s me. I can channel the aether to fuel the portal.”
Kaellax rolled her eyes, but handed me the shard.
“Okay,” I said. “This is a good plan. We should do it. We find Evanor, we open the portal, and we send her back to the past. She can face the destiny she tried to escape, and we can prevent the Yunai queen from escaping her prison.”
Fynn and Ailynmarie seemed happy enough.
I couldn’t risk anyone else trying to stop Evanor. She was my problem. She was my friend… my lost ally. I was the one that would have to put her down. The others would be safe. They would fight on against the Queen.
My story would end with Evanor.
I gripped the shard of life energy that Kaellax had given me and promised Iliera that much.
It would be over soon.