Chapter III

Skull Valley, La Noscea, 1568

Vyne glanced up and down several times, looking between the strange terrain around her–vibrant formations of crystal and rock with senseless, clashing textures and colors assaulting her eyesight and making her cringe–back down to the map clutched in her gloved hands. She had studied and read plenty of maps, but actually following one was something entirely new. She had rarely been far from home, and even then she usually had her parents or an escort of some variety to accompany her.

She gritted her teeth in aggravation. She couldn’t believe she was lost! Her first time venturing out of the Shroud alone, her chance to prove herself as her own woman, and already she had blown it and gotten herself lost. Scowling, she spared another glance around her surroundings, finding a tall formation of rocks. With some difficulty, she climbed to the top, using her higher vantage point to survey the horizon. Her lips spread into a triumphant smile as she found rooftops in the distance: a small village she was able to glance down onto her map and pinpoint. If she followed the road from the village, she could make it to Aleport in no time. She scrambled down from the tower of rocks, carefully folding her map and stowing it safely in her pocket with the envelope and rushed in the direction of the town.

She could not have expected what she found there. The small, fishing town was completely abandoned, no one in sight, at least, that was what she thought. As she ventured further into town, she noticed splotches of blood splattered across the ground and walls. She stiffened, freezing in place and unsheathing her bow from her back, clutching it tightly in her hands. Her first instinct was to run away. Whatever had happened here was bad news. If she landed herself in any trouble, she would only make a fool of herself. How could anyone seriously believe she could take herself if she found misfortune on her first trip out alone?

But what if there were survivors she could help? What if she could catch and apprehend the culprit? Yes, this was her chance to prove herself! She held her bow in a viselike grip, pressing onward with haste before she could change her mind. It wasn’t long before she would stumble upon bodies–a couple villagers, several Maelstrom guards, and even more Sahagin. A shiver ran up her spine. Perhaps this wasn’t the best of ideas, after all. She dared not venture close to see how fresh the corpses were, but she could tell they were certainly not rotting.

Startled, she barely managed to withhold a shriek as something stumbled out of an alleyway right in front of her, raising her bow in preparation to shoot. However, she hesitated, seeing it was only a young Midlander man. He looked to be about her age, though it was difficult to tell, for he was covered in blood. A vertical gash ran across the right side of his face, starting at his temple and ending at his cheek, cutting straight through his eyebrow and a closed eye, crimson blood seeping from the wound. “H-help,” he managed to blurt out only the single word out before collapsing at her feet.

In a panic, she dropped down to the boy’s side, resting her hand upon his shoulder. Her palm radiated with a soft, white light as she sent the healing aether into his own body. However, the gash across his face remained. She poured more and more aether into him, unknowingly drawing from her own energy. She had never healed more than her own small scrapes and cuts. The boy’s breathing stabilized and she saw no more blood seeping from his body, but no matter how much she tried, the cut across his right eye remained. She felt herself growing tired, vision spinning and her limbs and eyelids feeling heavy, but she wouldn’t stop healing him until she realized the sounds of several heavy footsteps and the clank of armor were moving toward her from behind.

The light around her hand abruptly flickered out and she whipped her head around to look over her shoulder, nearly losing her balance and crashing face-first into the dirt. She relaxed a little as she saw the figures rushing toward her were in Maelstrom uniform. “You two!” The closest one shouted to the two teenagers. “Are you all right?” The man gave a brief pause before reaching a hand toward his ear to speak into a linkpearl, “We need a healer here. We have at least two survivors–kids; at least one of them is injured. We’ll need to question them if there’s no one else. It looks like the Sahagin have been cleared out of town. Who knows how many they’ve killed, or worse, Tempered…”

The soldier continued to speak, but Vyne had long since stopped listening, unable to focus on his words. A couple of the soldiers had rushed to aid her and the boy, but she barely noticed. She only stared blankly ahead, her vision swimming. Everything went black and she slumped forward, collapsing to the ground next to her unconscious counterpart.

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