The carriage moved slowly down the street, pulled by two horses made of pulsing green light. The driver held one arm out, a similar green light shining through his white embroidered coat. It passed by another carriage, coming against it on the other side of the road. This one not drawn by horses but floating through the air on a foggy haze. The drivers tipped their hats at each other in courtesy.
Flukia waved at the floating carriage as well, it wasn’t often that she saw an air mage like herself. She wondered if it was transporting a royal envoy from the Northern states, that would seem to be the most likely scenario. The curtains on the carriage were closed but she could sense the breath of at least one person inside, probably a man, he gave a deep sigh of relief.
She continued to look out the window once it had passed. The carriage was taking her back into Sothwood, the Capital city of the Western states. The only road entrance to Sothwood was beside both a cliff and lake. She could see the lake from this side, it was a deep red from the algae blooming on the surface. The lake broke out to sea at its south-most point, right there was where Sothwood had been built.
The story was that Knarrian the Avatar of the Ocean was trapped here, he turned himself into a gigantic whale and forced his way out of the lake. On the other side of the lake was Knarria, a smaller town that housed the Western states military academy. Flukia had just come from there she could just make out the shape of the watchtower she had occasionally been posted at.
“We have arrived young lady.” The driver called out as the carriage slowed and came to a halt. Flukia waved her hand at the door behind her a white light flashing on her hand, it popped open a little too fast and made a thud as it hit the carriage.
“Sorry! Can you get my luggage?”
“Of course.” He replied trying to hold back an indignant tone.
Flukia climbed out of the carriage, she was wearing her under-armor overalls with a light blue dress over top, the same colour as her hair that was held back loosely in a bun. The overalls were made from white dragon fur, they could stop a sharp blade that was being dragged across them even a blunt one with a stab. Her dress, she had fashioned herself from the same material, but used one of her air charms to make it appear the blue colour. It was her favourite.
The building they had arrived at was an old church of Knarrian, it had been damaged during the last war but had since been refurbished and turned into a kind of nursing home. It was a place for those who by all other means would be dead if not for their own magic keeping them on this plane. It had a great view of the lake.
She caught a glimpse of the horses as they faded into a green mist. Back to the else-plane, not to be confused with the place people go when their magic is gone. Those trained in the arcane can easily come and go from the else-plane, it would have been how this driver made those horses his own, if they had not been passed down in the family.
Flukia had been there, just like all the other recruits, a trip to the else-plane to find an animal companion. Those who have never been liken it to going to the stables with a bag of gold but it is not that simple. There are a myriad of eldritch beasts present there, most of them hostile, many of them deadly. Also the spirit animals that are peaceful are not always easy to befriend, which you would have to before you could summon them.
“Are you sure this is where you wanted to go?” The driver’s arm was now covered in white stone as he struggled to carry Flukia’s trunk. It was holding all of her worldly possessions.
“Yes, I’m meeting a friend here. I have your payment sir.” She pulled a couple of silver coins from her pocket and held them out to him.
“I can carry this inside if you like.”
“I’ll manage, thank you.”
He put down the trunk and accepted the coins. Waving his arm the stones disappeared and the green light shone through once more, the horses reformed with the sound of snapping a branch.
Flukia turned around and looked up at the nursing home. It had some marvelous brickwork, stones that had been placed to look like waves crashing onto the entrance way. Flukia wasn’t looking at the bricks however she didn’t have an eye for that.
The patchwork that had been done interested her though, magical fire was the same as any other but in the war there were much more powerful uses of all forms of magic. Around the new brick were large sections of melted stone and a lingering feeling, the twang of the arcane. No wonder they kept the elderly here, it would supplement their own magic at least a little bit, take the edge off. Flukia pointed her arm over towards her trunk.
Invisible patterns on her arm became clear now as white light shone from them. Her trunk wobbled like a defiant toddler then gave into her power, rising from the ground. A dark cloud formed below it, blossoming around it into a cushion. It floated over to her as she put her arm down, the tattoos on her arm still white but not as bright.
She entered the old church calmly, using her buoyant trunk to push open one of the large doors.
“Flukia?” There was a young woman sitting behind a desk just inside the door. She was scratching at her arm, consciously avoiding where she had recently got a new tattoo. It was a dark blue and seemed to move as she did. Water mages were more common in Sothwood, it being the original proficiency for the Western states, but it was also more expected in a caring facility as they have innately stronger healing magic. “Abhain has been waiting for you. He’s up on the second floor.”
“Thank you.” Flukia nodded. “Do you mind if I leave my trunk here?”
“Kia! You made it.” There was both joy and relief in Abhain’s voice. “How was the trip?”
“Good to see you too Abby.” Flukia have a cheeky grin. “No stick ups, so as pleasant as it could be.”
“Mmm, I heard there were some bandits on the roads, but I knew you could handle them.”
“Is that why you were stressing out the lady at the desk?”
“Aquiquese is pretty used to my stressing.”
“No patients up here then?” Flukia looked around, the second floor at this end of the building was a long chamber overtop of the main entrance hall. There was a wooden table lined with chairs in the center and right at the back was a circle of more comfortable cushioned chairs.
“Not patients Kia, they aren’t sick.”
“They’re just not well.”
Abhain just smiled at her, he thought about continuing to correct her but knew it was in vain.
“No, the patients aren’t allowed up here.”
“So why a nursing home Abby? As far as I knew you were one of the top healers.”
“A lot has changed since you enlisted.”
“No it hasn’t, your mother wrote me too you know.”
“I wanted to help people Kia.”
“And you would have, people who had a chance.”
He turned away and walked up to the window looking out to the lake. He put his head against it with a thunk.
“And why did you enlist then huh? Why did you even think that they wanted a air mage in the Western Corp?”
“You know what I’m good at.”
“Fighting, I know, but you didn’t have to do it for them. You could have done it here. Why did you want to get away from me?”
“Abby, you know that’s not the reason.”
“What was I supposed to think? You didn’t tell anyone until you’d already done it.”
“I’m sorry Abby, I was selfish back then.”
“It’s only be three years.”
“That’s a lot of growing, even more so when everyday is an intense training program.”
“So why you leave then? That sounds like your dream.”
“Just because I’m good at it doesn’t mean I like it.”
They stood quietly. Flukia walked up to the window beside him and looked out at the water.
“So was the nursing home ‘cause of me or…?”
“I don’t know. I think it was probably just me lashing out at the world.”
“Weird way to do it, but that’s you in general, right?” Flukia teased.
Abhain laughed, put his fist on her shoulder gave her a hardy push. That used to be enough to shift her balance but this time she stayed stiff. She grinned back at him.
“I couldn’t have got this view working at a hospital or apothecary.”
“Very true…” The high pitch whistling of an alarm cut her off, she spun away from the window.
Flukia flicked her hand down beside her lightly tapping her leg. There was a swirl of air around her flapping her dress. Suddenly she was holding a short sword. It’s blade glinted silver in the light, the hilt was wrapped in white fabric.
“That’s not an attack alarm Kia. Someone has reached critical magic le…” Several similar alarms started drowning him out. “What in the four realms is that?”
Flukia turned back to the window. The lake had gone dark, but it wasn’t the algae it was the sky that had turned black.
An energy storm had started to form darkening the area. The telltale red and blue arching of magic gave it away.
“A portal to the else-plane.”
“In the sky?”
The storm spread out in a ring across the sky with a boom of thunder leaving behind an unfamiliar starry sky. Once it reached the horizon the ground shook violently knocking them both off their feet.
Flukia was suddenly holding a shield over top of the protecting them from debris.
The shaking slowed to stop but the sound of crumbling buildings continued. There were a few muffled shouts then nothing, complete silence.
They both jumped up, Flukia glanced out the window and froze in place.
The water was being displaced, drained out to sea, revealing the bottom of the lake. The sand had started to move, huge black tendrils underneath it wiggling their way out.
Each tentacle moved independently but had the common goal of burrowing to the surface.
“A demon under the lake?” Abhain asked, Flukia hadn’t noticed that he was staring along with her.
“No not a demon, an else-plane guardian.”
“Did the portal bring it here?”
“No… We were brought to it.”
“B…but, how is that possible?”
“Your patients! You need to go sa…” There was another quake but they both stayed on their feet.
The wet sand had finally cleared away and the guardian was now exposed. The tentacles weren’t just black but they seemed to drain the light around them diffusing the very sight of them. Its central mass was much the same but covered in large pure white spots, eyes.
A piercing screech dulled their hearing even though they tried to block it out with their hands. Flukia knew what came next but trying to warn Abhain would have been in vain. She didn’t know if there was anything he could have done anyway.
The guardian sucked in air and puffed itself up to about twice the size. The eyes rolled around until the pupils were visible, huge and black with the thin outline of white.
Abhain fell to the floor, he wasn’t braced for his magic to get drained away.
Flukia’s sword and shield turned to smoke.Her vision grew dim as she tried to fight it, even the worst magic fatigue would never have felt this bad. Her fingers and toes felt like they were covered in molten iron. Every bone in her body started to ache and she felt stabbings all over her back. She put her hands onto the windowsill ignoring the broken glass, trying to hold herself up.
The draining stopped but the pain remained. With another quake the guardian lifted itself up and pushed off the ground floating off into the sky, still bloated but now with magic instead of air.
She would survive with this remaining amount of magic, so Abhain probably will too. She fell back onto the ground with a sigh of relief knocking herself out.