The apocalypse came so suddenly, not even the one responsible had predicted it. He had made plans, had worked carefully and knew exactly what was going to happen. Except he hadn’t thought about someone else showing up, causing a magical explosion. And as Anankos was forced to retreat and find the one who had interfered with his powers, the known lands sunk into chaos and destruction.
Peri was having an awful day. One moment, she was on the back of her horse, killing bandits and protecting Lord Xander. The next, she couldn’t breathe. There was mud staining her clothes and hair, she could feel that much. Peri gasped, desperately trying to get some air into her lungs. It was like trying to breathe in the dusted cellars of her old home. Much to her disappointment, they had not offered any interesting secrets.
“Peri …!” She heard Laslow’s voice but it seemed to come from far away. Was that a hand grasping her arm? Disorientated, Peri tried to get up, feeling pain shoot up her entire body, and cried out. She didn’t see much, only darkness that couldn’t be natural, and a few vague figures. The bandits? Or Laslow and Lord Xander?
Someone hit her on the back hard enough to make her cough. The pain got worse but at least she was able to take a breath of fresh air again. Suddenly, as if it had never been there, the darkness disappeared. It left bare trees and corpses that were rotting too fast. They had set off on a summer’s day but this looked more like a harsh winter.
“Peri.” Laslow again, this time closer. Considerung he sat just next to her, he had probably been the one to help her.
“Laslow,” she managed. “What …”
He shook his head. “I don’t know. Suddenly there was magic and … oh gods.”
She barely had time to take a look at the cuts and bruises he had – much less check her own body – before she almost fell down again. Laslow got up, running to where Lord Xander’s horse stood. Or at least he tried to run, it was more of a limp, Peri realized as she used one of her hands to avoid the fall. Her own horse had thrown her off and she had ended up in a puddle that wasn’t even wet from blood.
Cursing, she got to her feet, grabbing her spear to rely on it as if it was a walking cane. Stupid magic, stupid world. Peri hurried over, ignoring her injuries as she saw the blood. As much as she liked seeing people bleed, this was Lord Xander and he was not to be hurt. She would kill whoever did that.
Laslow was already there but he struggled with the armour as his own hands were bleeding, too. Peri dropped to her knees and quickly helped him. She really hoped he had packed a potion because there was no healer close by and all she had taken along to the trip were weapons.
“Some of the bandits just dropped dead,” Laslow mumbled as he actually pulled a vial from his belt and handed it to her. The wound didn’t look too bad but then again, she was no expert and it was awfully close to one of those places that bled out very fast. Peri had tried them all, she knew where they were. “Their clothes could work as bandages.”
“Hurry,” she urged him. At least they were all breathing. Was that true for the bandits as well? She didn’t think she was able to kill anyone just now. Peri tried to be careful as she applied the medicine to the wound. She still spilled some of it and cursed again.
“Are they all dead?” She looked up as Laslow returned, wrapping a strip of relatively clean cloth around his wounded hand. Together, they worked on bandaging Lord Xander.
“Yeah. Maybe we have a better magical resistance. That was some pretty bad stuff, I have never seen anything like it before.”
Peri frowned. “I don’t like this. I can’t just stab magic.”
He let out a small laugh, closing his eyes to take a deep breath. “But you can probably stab the magician. Let’s make camp here, we won’t get anywhere right now. And then we’ll have to find out what happened.”
Camilla was high in the air when magic took the land. She didn’t see it spread because there was no starting point. The dark energy just suddenly appeared, consuming everything that wasn’t strong enough. She saw trees die more easily than in a storm, saw grass wither like in the summer heat. Birds stopped singing, children stopped laughing.
“Selena!” Beruka got in her way before she could get down. Camilla glared at her retainer. “We have to find her!”
“Milady …” Even the wind had died and Beruka’s soft words were clear among the chaos. “We cannot help her right now. She is strong.”
Closing her eyes, she clenched a fist around her wyvern’s reins. Beruka was right, of course, but Camilla didn’t want to imagine her retainer, her friend, being stuck in that magic. It was bad enough to witness the silence fading into screams.
“Selena …,” she whispered, taking deep breaths. When the darkness cleared, the landscape looked barren. Somehow she doubted there were many survivors, but Selena had to be among them. With Beruka by her side, she set off to look for a spark of bright red. They hadn’t been far apart and with so many plants dead, it wasn’t hard to spot something.
Camilla felt the wind in her hair and couldn’t even enjoy it. She got off her wyvern’s back before it landed, stumbling a little because she hadn’t expected the ground to be so soft. Everything looked awful and harsh, softness did not belong here. “Selena.” She knelt down, relieved to feel her retainer’s pulse. Beruka circled above them, keeping watch although Camilla doubted there was still any danger out there.
She tilted her head to one side. Who was Kjelle and why did this person matter to Selena? “Can you hear me, dear?” She brushed some lose strands out of Selena’s face, checking for injuries. None of them seemed dangerous, so she considered getting her on the wyvern to get out of here. But flying with two people was easier when both were conscious.
“Lady Camilla?” Selena whispered these words, a frightened look in her eyes.
“I’m here, don’t worry. Are you okay?”
“It’s like the world ended again.”
“Again? Selena, dear, do you need something?”
“No.” Selena sat up, staring at the ground. “I’m sorry, it just brought back unpleasant memories of home.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry.” Camilla pulled her into a brief hug. “Are you fit to travel? This stretched to the horizon and I need to check on my dear siblings.”
“Of course.” Selena stumbled a little, but she managed to stand without help. Such a relief. Camilla hated to see people she cared for hurt. “Let’s find the others.”
They were on their way to a village when the magic appeared, throwing them all to the ground. It washed over them like a wave, too warm to be comfortable, too tickling to cause pain. Niles groaned, pushed himself off the ground and tried to take a look but whatever magic this was, it was thicker than most fogs he had ever witnessed. Lord Leo’s horse whickered, Odin complained about foul trickery and Leo already tried mumbling a counter spell. Somehow, Niles doubted there was a way to counter this.
It vanished as suddenly as it had appeared. Sure, it was cloudy now and they sat on a dry field full of withered corn instead of one in full bloom, but he wasn’t going to complain. This magic had probably caused a lot more damage otherwise and he had no desire to spend more time in its presence. He got up, walked a little up the hill and froze in his place.
“Wow, didn’t think I would survive the end of the world.”
“Could you please not be dramatic?” Leo looked up, furrowing his brows. “That’s Odin’s job.”
Odin didn’t complain. After all, everyone knew his flair for the dramatic speeches.
“Well, what else does this look like?” Niles knew he couldn’t speak for the entire country of Nohr but what he saw was like he imagined the apocalypse. Everything was dead or dying, houses ruined, the village empty. At least that was what he saw from here.
“It can’t be … oh.” Leo stopped next to him, turning as if the other direction looked better. It didn’t, Niles had already checked. They were lone survivors in the destruction. “I suppose it is that bad.”
“Perfect.” Niles grinned. “It’s just like the stories. Where do we go?”
“You sound a little too enthusiastic.” Leo turned to his horse, checking for injuries. The animal seemed frightened but mostly unharmed which was probably good. He knew his lord hated walking.
“Sorry, I grew up in the slums. Stories like that were some kind of utopia back then.”
Niles shrugged. “That depends. It would be quite boring if we were the only people left alive. But I suppose there are others, we just need to find them and make sure they are worthy of our support.”
She was too close to the capital. Elise heard something like thunder from the ground and her eyes widened. Her retainers called her name but she couldn’t see them, couldn’t see anything except for the city falling apart. And the rubble that was being thrown into her direction.
Elise wanted to get back to her horse, wanted to flee and at the same time help the people, but she couldn’t move. And suddenly, someone slammed into her, providing a shield as stone hit metal. Effie. She heard her cry out in pain because whatever was happening was too much even for the strongest woman there was. Elise felt tears in her eyes but she couldn’t move because Effie was still shielding her from the destruction and because everything was suddenly too dark.
She didn’t know how long she remained in that position, unable to do anything, until there was light again. Arthur’s face was a welcome sight and she hugged him, still in tears, before turning around to Effie. She was breathing, the stones hadn’t done much damage, but the magic had been bad. “Where’s my staff?”
“Right here, milady.” Arthur handed it to her and she smiled. He had even made sure her horse was still there. Carefully, she moved closer to Effie, closing her eyes as she healed her retainer. As long as that kept her busy, she didn’t have to think about the capital, the palace, the people. Her family. Her heart stuttered and she felt new tears well up but she continued taking care of Effie until her retainer stirred.
“Oh, Effie.” Elise dropped the staff and hugged Effie, who returned that without her usual force. Which was probably good, now that Elise took a look at herself, she saw torn clothes, a few cuts and bruises and lose hair.
“We have to go.” Effie already got up again, not letting a few injuries weigh her down. “You are not safe here, milady.”
“But the people!” Elise wanted to run towards the capital but even from this distance, she realized that was no capital to come back to. Everything was in ruins, but maybe there were survivors that had been just outside the destruction, like her. “We need to check if anyone else is alive around here,” she insisted, crossing her arms. Compared to her retainers, she felt tiny. Still, they both sighed in relief, helped her back on her horse and got moving. Her siblings couldn’t be dead, she would search all of Nohr if she had to.