Book II - Epilogue

Epilogue

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31st day of the 14th month of the 4582nd year after the great passing.

As written by the Dignified Leader to the Investigation Post of the Second Privileged, in record for the First Investigation of the Emperor’s will.

Royal Advisor,

Eduard Rosel, of the Lesser House Ertra

 

I am of my station, in motion to act by all the trusted power it holds. For the first time since I was elevated to the status provided, of Dignified Leader to the Investigation Post, I will grasp the reins myself.

Today is the day I leave.

My instructions were given in a rather ordinary manner, considering the circumstances that prompted them. Paper, plain, not even of fine parchment if one were to ignore the Royal Seal of wax. Read once, then a second time, and then burned as demanded. It is by that instruction that I have set my quill to scribble. However unlikely such a command is to be enforced (as these are writings of a personal nature, and thus beyond my extensive notes on the subject of urgent reports from the Northern Continent) I will see the task carried out regardless. True as any will confirm, I am rarely one for taking excessive risks in life of my own initiative, and I will certainly not be starting now.

So, I write. I etch my words with perfect font, strung along by golden quill early this morning. The sun has yet to rise, but not more than two hours from this moment will mark the privilege of setting foot aboard a Royal skyship. Through no small amount of study, I have come to also expect that by the end of this day, should winds permit, this will mark my first time leaving the Eldest Continent. By heavy hand, though, I must inform whoever reads: the situation seems dire. Those reports have been as numerous as they were troubling. The fleet setting out later with me today will be the third in the past week alone. Our destination will be the Eastern port city of Otel, stationed along the Northern Continent’s coast. That great walled beauty of a past age, which borders the Ocean of Storms.

While I trust in the journey’s methods, for there can be no safer, my fear of being cast amid those horrid waves bring out a terror I’d not thought I had within me. Such an expanse of nothing but depths and unholy creatures that live within them troubles me greatly. Still, we must make haste. The Emperor himself has ordered our leave, and I act beneath the power of his own will.

My investigation is of the utmost importance.

 

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1st day of the 15th month of the 4582nd year after the great passing.

As written by the Dignified Leader to the Investigation Post of the Second Privileged, in record for the First Investigation of the Emperor’s will.

Royal Advisor,

Eduard Rosel, of the Lesser House Ertra

 

As I watch from the sky-vessel known as Aquila, I have come to the humbling conclusion that one can never comprehend the vast nature of this world. The ocean is just so: more than I ever could have imagined. Far above the waves, this winged ship of human ingenuity carries us safely amid the clouds, yet I look through polished glass to find the sight of land has been lost in entirety. In all directions, there is nothing but water.

Nothing at all.

Our Captain has taken the liberty of addressing me as a most esteemed guest aboard his ship, going so far as the offer his own cabin as my own. His offered name is that of a commoner, Welve, yet he commands this great vessel with more power than most nobles hope to hold- over anything upon the ground. It is hard not to admire such a man, who faced their fate and won victory against it.

Against the formality, perhaps my respect for this man has taken the better of me, for I politely declined and have instead chosen to bunk with the rest of the crew. Perhaps, in a slightly more accommodating room than that of an ordinary crew member, but amid their number nonetheless. I am not one to take liberties I do not deserve, nor am I one to foolishly believe myself beyond my station. The assignment is clear: I am not some pompous ambassador, sent to live a life of luxury. My purpose has little to do with politics. Instead, I am to learn what can be learned, to advise when called upon.*

I am the Emperor’s instrument.

 

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7th day of the 15th month of the 4582nd year after the great passing.

As written by the Dignified Leader to the Investigation Post of the Second Privileged, in record for the First Investigation of the Emperor’s will.

Royal Advisor,

Eduard Rosel, of the Lesser House Ertra

As it is my duty, I have kept my eyes open and my mind alert to all aboard this ship. The conversation of an [Engineer] or the passing gossip of a [Mage] in the hall beyond my cabin door: so far nothing has been treated as insignificant. At least, not initially.

Truth be written, I will admit that the relations between the second in command and one of the enlisted, is not the manner of rumor or knowledge I hope to collect. Furthermore, if I am to be true with myself, I know much of my interest in such trivial facts is a symptom of the human condition. A natural course of being trapped in a small room among my scrolls. The full crate was delivered up from storage days ago, and yet I am still not finished with their number. What’s worse, is that it is my full expectation there will be another crate waiting upon my arrival.

The difficulty of this, is my own.

As the second most privileged, I am the eyes and ears of the Emperor himself. I must know and understand, intensely, what goes on in the world of late. Yet, there is so much. The Seers and their reports, papers and scrolls provided: these are outdated by over a week now. Some even more so, and still I have yet to swallow down their contents in full. It is deeply troubling. There is simply too much to read, and not nearly enough in the way of time. Another hundred reports are left to comb through, to record in my own notes, and file away to be returned to the City of the Emperor. I can spare no detail, I know this all too well. I also know, I will miss something crucial, should I cramp my mind in with my thoughts like flies: trapped by the glass of a window.

To fight against this nature of mine, I have taken the habit of walking.

Just as those who study the mystic arts do meditate, the common man and those lacking bloodlines might find a simpler concept. Pacing about in no true direction, until their mind unwinds once more. As such, I have come to learn that there is much I have yet to understand about those accompanying me on this great voyage.

There is cargo, aboard this ship. Truly astounding quantities. Tied down in heavy boxes of stone strand and rope, I was informed by manner of a passing member of the crew, this ship is one of three dozen loaded to the brim with alchemic ingredients. No one I’ve asked seems to know their purpose, or intent. Their presence, simply is: the will of the Seers, the will of the Emperor. Not to be questioned.

I was told nothing of this cargo prior to leaving, and there is no one to answer but these countless papers. It seems I still have much to learn.

 

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10th day of the 15th month of the 4582nd year after the great passing.

As written by the Dignified Leader to the Investigation Post of the Second Privileged, in record for the First Investigation of the Emperor’s will.

Royal Advisor,

Eduard Rosel, of the Lesser House Ertra

 

We have flown into a storm, and out of the same storm did we escape. The Aquila is not a vessel that fears winds or rain, although, it is much to my dismay that I report that I am not nearly so sturdy.

The winds were strong enough to throw me from my bunk, and the turbulence that followed enough to draw blood from my forehead. One nasty gash, to be sure. I believe it has earned me greater respect from the crew, as I was treated in full view of many by the vessel’s priest. Several made jokes that my quill should allow for alternatives to the black ink of my station, considering my abundance of a similar medium. To this, I simply replied that only the inquisitors are permitted to use blood in their writings.

I failed to obtain much laughter from that joke, for exception of Captain Welve. It seems my humor is not appreciated.

Still, in the passing of time since that traumatic event, I have settled once again in my cabin, reading through the recorded horrors that have stricken our destination. Humor, it seems, is now lost to me. I am forced against all odds to admit, perhaps, the Seers are correct in their assessment. What really does await us, on the approaching shore? I cannot say for certain, not yet, but the records that have reached me here: in this very room. Papers that were written, sent by ship across the ocean, to reach my desk, only to be loaded up and sent back from whence they came. Skeptical as I once was not so long ago, I understand now, if only part of the danger that threatens us.

The Great Forest burns.

This I knew. I have known this since I was sent aboard this fine vessel, but gods have mercy: what I did not know! Spirit of the First King guide us, the flames- these unbound magics of some wrathful force. Not only has the Great Forest been lost, but what these reports which have come after indicate, is that the Great Forest is by no means the only casualty. The fires of wrath have not stopped.

They have spread.

 

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13th day of the 15th month of the 4582nd year after the great passing.

As written by the Dignified Leader to the Investigation Post of the Second Privileged, in record for the First Investigation of the Emperor’s will.

Royal Advisor,

Eduard Rosel, of the Lesser House Ertra

 

I have spoken with the Captain, and I know the coast soon approaches. While it is not yet in sight, the truth is undeniable. Where there was once only the far-off clouds and occasional sky whale, there are now dark clouds. Hundreds, upon hundreds of trailing shapes, mingled together into a fine gray. By the air, by the sea, their density is such that the world seems to be slipping into night.

Darkness.

Though my time of writing this cannot be much beyond the sun of early noon: it almost seems that an unnatural evening has fallen upon the sea. There is an ashen gray about the air, a stain that holds itself far above my head, even now. Smoke, dust, waste that must have lifted off the land: it can be nothing else. Yet, no ordinary fire could have brought about such gloom.

 

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15th day of the 15th month of the 4582nd year after the great passing.

As written by the Dignified Leader to the Investigation Post of the Second Privileged, in record for the First Investigation of the Emperor’s will.

Royal Advisor,

Eduard Rosel, of the Lesser House Ertra

 

The flames of chaos. Even from a great distance, not long ago, I could see them from the windows. Bright, swirling, tendrils of madness. I have read the reports, seeking to contain this horror- but Is it contained, I wonder? We’re miles off, still, and the glow is bright. Too bright, I feel, for such a length.

I was warned. So many times, I have been warned now. That was what was written, and yet I still do n-

 

The ship rocked, so fiercely that Eduard lifted his quill. On the pages, ink blotted in specks.

His free hand grasped at the glass bottle of ink, piece sliding in the violence that forced it towards the small desk’s edge. Beneath his chair, the floor shook, then rattled. Off, somewhere far beyond the confines of the wood that encased him in relative safety, something sounded: deep and loud.

“Was that a horn?” Eduard asked aloud, not really expecting an answer. The cabin was empty, after all. It was only himself, and himself alone within, but outside he could hear the voices rising. Footsteps and bodies, shouts and muffled orders.

Then came the knocking.

“Enter!” Eduard responded quickly, turning as the door to his room was opened. What had been muffled, was no longer. Dozens of people, all calling out as the distant rumble came once more: the sound of a horn. Long and deep, it sounded. Tremor of its force shivering through the wood, through Eduard’s bones.

“Greetings.” Eduard spoke loudly, as he rose from his seat. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"

“Dignified Leader, Captain Welve has requested your presence upon the bridge.” By the door, a man replied, callused hands gripping at the frame to steady themselves. Eduard turned, catching himself with a free hand against the bunk beside his desk just in time to do the same.

“Understood.” Careful as Eduard could, his hands fixed the stray cork as it threatened to escape, fixing it to the bottle of ink. Much to his dismay, he noticed several drops upon his shirt, black sinking into the deep red. Swiftly, he returned the bottle to its slot along the wall, locking it into place before any further damage could be done. “Are we in danger?”

"Your presence is requested upon the bridge."

“That is not an answer to my question.” Eduard replied, as the ship shook wildly. He recognized the man’s face, just as he could see the insignia of the [Engineer] swinging from the cord about the man’s neck, but the name of this particular crew member eluded him. “So, I must ask again. Are we in danger?”

“Follow me.” The man replied, expression uncomfortable as he adjusted his stance. Carefully he turned, heading back out into the hall. “Be sure to hold onto the bars.”

“By your lead, then.” Eduard followed out into the hall, following those instructions.

It wasn’t a far trip, ordinarily. Two halls and one set of stairs, on a typical day. Yet, they took the journey slowly. Painfully slowly, as Eduard copied the crew member ahead of him: one hand crossing over the next in methodical movements. The man refused to let go of the bar along the wall, patiently inching down the way with a grim snarl.

"Can we move faster?"

"Not unless you want to break every bone that matters."

"I'm not quite sure I understand."

"Give it a moment then."

At the man's reply, the ship shook, and Eduard felt the floor beneath him reorient. No longer was it beneath him, but behind him.

“Hold on!” Ahead of him, the crew member doubled back, grasping both hands to the railing along the hallway’s right side. “Don’t let go, he’s turning her! Running right into lift, I reckon!”

“Into the what-“ Eduard didn’t have time to finish his question, before the ship went parallel.

The din of shouting rose, as did his feet, then his whole body, as the ship turned. Dizzy and unprepared, it was all Eduard could do to simply cling onto the railing for dear life, hand gripping the wood and praying to the gods it didn’t decide to come loose.

“Hang on! He’s bringing her to bear, pointing towards the south!”

“Gods! How long will that take?”

“Another few seconds! Just hold on! Hold on… there!”

Eduard heaved a sigh of relief as the motion settled, relatively speaking. The floor felt angled, but it was walkable again.

“Damn it all. What’s happening? Have we arrived?”

“Captain is changing course!” The man ahead began moving once more, brisk in pace as he shifted his grip along the bar towards the stairs which lead to the bridge.

“He’s changing it?” Eduard questioned, as he found his way to the stairs. “Why would he change it?"

“Just hurry.” The man’s voice was grim.

Eduard hurried after, each step easier than the previous as the craft straightened out beneath his feet. As he reached the top, the Captain greeted him.

“Ho’ there, Eduard.” From their seat, a larger figure rose, hand raised in salute.

“Captain Welve.” Eduard nodded, carefully approaching the center of the large room, mindful of the railings. “You’ve requested my presence?”

His eyes were forced to adjust, the dimness of the hallway an abrupt change to the hue of mana buzzing about the glass around them now. The dome of the bridge was always a marvel to set foot within. A perfect half sphere dome of windows, glowing with the runes of ancient techniques long forgotten. Such was the way, with ships of flight, that the old and all but forgotten, was blended together with the new. Ancient technology was fastened together and brought into the present day by the sheer will of the Empire’s finest. Currently, those forces were aglow. Letters, symbols and numbers: coordinates of their current journey fixed with so fierce a light, that it might trick the eye.

“We must change our direction.” The Captain spoke solemnly. “We might even change more than that.”

“Change course? Captain, might I remind you: we have a duty. The Emperor himself demands it.” Eduard spoke calmly. “Do you balance on the edge of heresy?”

“No, Dignified Leader. Far from it.” Eduard watched Captain Welve smile bitterly at his words. “Things have changed since the Aquila last came to the Northern Continent.”

“Changed… how?” Eduard turned his focus on the dome, eyes catching on the key words that hung about the display of runes. He pointed carefully, towards the front of the ship. “We’ve reached our destination, have we not? Even I can see, the coordinates are clear.”

“That’s exactly the problem.” Dropping heavily back into his chair, the Captain nodded towards a crewmember seated on the lower deck. “First seat, clear the screens and open the filter.”

“Yes, Captain.”

The glow of displays began to fade, dropping as if completely from existence. The dark stain of the glass fell with it, distinction of mana reverting to polished glass. What lay beyond, slowly became clear. Eduard’s eyes widened, as he looked down to the world below. Watching, and finding that there was only one thing he could see.

No matter how far he searched.

“First King guide us.” Eduard whispered, voice almost a shout above the silence that waited in the room. “Are we too late?”

“Not yet.” From the center seat, wheel in hand, the Captain shifted. “Not yet.”

The Captain’s hand rose, and the center of the dome came to glow once more. Letter and runes rising. First one, then two, then ten, then one hundred, then ten hundred.

Eduard’s eyes flashed as they came across in an endless stream: single words, messages, beacons. Behind them, the ship was turning, window no longer facing the land, but the sea. The ocean of storms, and the endless lights that floated below. Beneath their feet, Eduard felt the ship turn, cutting against the winds.

He could see them all. A single city, tall walls scorched black, was aglow with mages casting from the battlements. The city was almost surrounded by flames, but for the harbor. There he saw the trail of lights more clearly. Thousands, upon thousands of lights, pouring out into the open sea.

"Is that... Otel? The Great city of Otel?"

"Aye."

Eduard turned his head, following the trail of lights More than that though: he saw their sails, the emblems aglow beneath their torches and spells that were illuminating the sea. Thousands of their people, the Empire’s people: fleeing.

He stared, unable to pull his eyes away from the scene.

“Where will they go?”

“South.” The Captain replied. “We’ve received word that the flames have yet to reach the Southern lands.”

“Does our vessel come with a messenger orb paired to the Eldest Continent?” Eduard finally broke the uneasy silence. "One that might send immediately, with no delay?"

“Yes, Dignified Leader. For such a distance though, we have but one.”

“Only one.”

“Yes.”

“I would ask that we use it.”

“Are you sure? The price-“

“We use it.” Eduard repeated. “Directly to the Royal Palace. I accept the responsibility.”

“Understood.” The Captain nodded, signaling a member of the crew. Not a moment later, they returned with a gold encrusted orb, heavy in hand. “Mage, ready!”

Bowing deeply, the crew member handed this to the Captain, who in turn, handed it to Eduard. From the bridge, below, a Mage joined them. Their staff glowed, crystal affixed to its end humming with energy.

“Your message… It must be short.” They stated. “At this distance, anything further will be lost.”

“It shall be.” Eduard replied, letting the artifact touch his skin- glowing to life with forgotten runes and ancient magics.

“Upon your words, then.” The Mage confirmed. “The next statement you speak, will be transferred.”

Eduard nodded, swallowing down the lump in his throat, tasting the air as he turned once more to look out upon the fires raging below.

So many ships.

In his hands, Eduard knew that by some respect, he held his own life. The task was his, and his alone, but to send a message like this? By the price of what he held in his palm now, this artifact alone, his existence was forfeit. If he was wrong…

Yet, in the ocean, they floated upon the waves.

Thousands upon thousands of the Empire’s citizens, fleeing towards fate uncertain. He could see them, like tiny candles beside a raging bonfire. As cities crumbling beneath the unrelenting fires of death, devoured by the spreading chaos, more were launching. Pushing out to the sea, escaping by any means.

What was one man’s life truly worth, when placed beside so many others?

Eduard closed his eyes, as he found the answer.

“Send everyone."