The cell wasn’t damp. It was bone dry. Simply being in contact with the hard stone floor made Dan feel thirsty. It was also unnaturally cold, especially given the heat outside.
His face pressed against the ground, Dan could smell a trace of dried blood. The burnt smell of charred wood and heated metal hung in the air. Dust and smoke seemed to be everywhere, and it was all Dan could do to keep from coughing, knowing he would never be able to get the air back into his lungs.
He heard someone moving next to him, and then soft hands touched his back. “Your muscles will relax faster this way,” a voice whispered, close to his ear. It was a woman’s voice. The hands began to rub his back. Instantly, his muscles began to relax, and Dan was able to cough out the dust he had inhaled, and take his first deep breath since entering Hyleran. His head – which he hadn’t even realized was beginning to fog over – quickly cleared.
“Thanks,” he managed to gasp. The hands moved to his legs, rubbing hard. Soon Dan was able to sit up and look around.
There were about twenty cells lining the wall, each holding between four and eight prisoners. Dan spotted Jaseff in the cell to his left, along with a knight and two kyrie of Einar. The remaining ninjas were spread out in different cells closer to the door, along with the rest of the kyrie. Laelia was in a cell at the far end. Dan’s cell held Gideon, one of the ten kyrie, and the woman who had spoken to him. She was also a kyrie, but she wore the garb of a civilian. Dan was unable to tell what general she belonged to.
“Anyone hurt?” Jaseff called from his cell. “I can heal you.”
“Not in here you can’t,” one of the samurai said. “Einar made sure these cells were drained of energy. You couldn’t so much as summon a spark in this place.”
“Thanks,” Dan said again, as the kyrie woman stopped rubbing his muscles back to life. “What’s your name?”
“Caela,” she replied.
“What happened?” Dan asked, getting to his feet and stretching his weakened muscles. He had to hold onto the cold metal bars for support.
Caela moved on to the kyrie, rubbing his arms and wings. “An army of Utgar arrived two days ago. Drow used magic to destroy the turrets on the walls, and orcs came through the gate. There was no warning; we didn’t have a chance. I think they moved on, leaving only a few orcs, but I’m not sure. We’ve been here ever since.”
“Do you know what’s happened with the war?” Dan asked. “We know Vydar’s betrayed the alliance, but we don’t know what else has happened.”
“I know,” Caela said. She sounded defeated, but there was something else in her voice: a measure of sorrow which Dan wasn’t expecting. “Vydar attacked Ullar and Jandar simultaneously. He surprised both in their capital cities and secured the wellsprings almost instantly.”
Everyone in the dungeon was silent at this news.
“Utgar’s orcs joined Vydar’s forces,” Caela continued, sighing. “The battles were over before most of the alliance soldiers knew what had happened. Vydar stopped all communication, meaning all of the alliance forces stopped where they were, not knowing what to do next.” Finished rubbing the kyrie back to life, Caela moved on to Gideon. “Utgar started to pick them off. Vydar broke apart the larger armies with false commands, and then his soulborgs decimated each part one by one.” She was silent for a moment. “Right now all of Ekstrom and Nastralund is overrun with orcs and Vydar’s soulborgs. Vydar has both amulets.”
No one spoke. Dan was sure Vydar had plans in motion to intercept the amulets Utgar had collected, which meant he likely had Aquilla’s and Ullar’s. If what Caela said was true, he had Jandar’s amulet by now, and Otonashi would have given him Valkrill’s amulet herself. All that remained was Einar, and then Utgar.
“Utgar attacked Aquilla and overwhelmed her with marro,” Caela said. “He slew her himself, and he’s said that he killed Jandar himself, though no one knows if that’s true or not. We do know a small group of Jandar’s army fled to the Thaelink, but they’re being hunted down.
“Right now, every available soldier from both Utgar and Vydar is converging on Einar. I think Einar got word of what was about to happen a few hours before it did, because he was able to pull a lot of his soldiers out and reinforce his own cities, but he’s still losing. The last thing I heard was that Liesic itself was under attack.”
Dan remembered the map he had seen in Montfre. Liesic was Einar’s capital. “How – How do you know all that?” Dan asked, still grappling with everything he had heard.
“I used to serve Vydar,” Caela said, a note of sorrow in her voice.
“You knew his plan?”
“No,” Caela answered bitterly. “I was a diplomat though. I knew where all the troops were. At least, until Hyleran was attacked.”
“So that’s it then,” Gideon said, sitting up as Caela finished rubbing his legs. “Einar’s the only one left. He might hold out for a bit, but…”
“He can’t keep fighting forever,” Jaseff finished for him. “Vydar and Utgar have basically won.”
“Not yet,” Dan said. Everyone looked at him. “Vydar still needs the amulets Utgar has. Only one can win the war, not two.”
“That doesn’t help us right now, though,” Gideon said. “They’ll turn on each other eventually, but I’m sure they’ll wait until they’ve dealt with Einar. It would be foolish to attack until he’s out of the picture.”
“What about Jandar’s army?” Laelia asked from her far cell. “They’ll come back and free us.”
“Cyprien was heading an army of vampires in Kinsland,” Caela called back. “I’ve heard the orcs talking: he moved west and decimated them. Jandar’s army is lost.”
Silence met her words.
Dan tried to think of a way out. Obviously he could break out of the cell with his gloves, but then what? Assuming the transporter worked, would they go to Liesic and die with the last of the alliance? Did they strike out on their own, perhaps try to steal an amulet while Vydar and Utgar were distracted?
There were options, certainly, but they all ended the same way: they were too few. Even if they somehow managed to steal an amulet, they wouldn’t last. The power to summon was in the wellsprings, not the amulets. They would be a tiny force, surrounded by a hostile Valhalla. They would eventually be tracked down and destroyed.
Whichever way Dan looked at it, there was no way out. Not permanently. He sat down against the wall. There had to be something they could do. There had to be a way out of this mess. There had to be.
“I’m sorry,” Caela said gently, sitting next to Dan. “The best option we have right now is just to stay put. Whoever wins might simply send you home. There’s no point in executing thousands of prisoners once the war is over.”
“You are home, though,” Dan said glumly to her. “You’re a kyrie. What will they do to you?”
Caela was silent.
This was it. This was the end. Dan would get them out of here, and they would do their best to help Einar. But from there, he could see no way for them to win. Maybe Caela was right. Maybe their best chance to come out of this alive was to not anger Vydar or Utgar further by trying to escape. Maybe they would be sent home.
Not Dan though. That’s what Terav had said, when he and his kyrie attacked them. “Vydar won’t honor his half of the bargain.” The message couldn’t be clearer: Dan would never see Heleer again.
So this was how Dan’s dream would die. Further from Heleer than he had ever been, locked in a searing, dry cell, any hope of attaining his horizon taken from him. He had tried to reach his horizon, and he had failed.
There was a sniff next to him. Glancing towards the sound, Dan saw the kyrie, Caela. She was crying. She had her head in her hands, and was clearly doing her best to muffle the sound, but it wasn’t very effective. Dan could see her shoulders shaking in the darkness of the cell, shivering with each sob.
For a very brief moment, Dan forgot he was on Valhalla. He forgot he was in a cell, surrounded by people he had never dreamed of meeting before. For one brief moment, he was back on Isadora, back in his own bed, watching a young Heleer crying because of a nightmare.
And then the moment faded, and Dan remembered where he was. He remembered that Caela wasn’t crying because of a nightmare, but because of what she knew awaited her. There was no chance for her to be sent through the wellsprings when the war ended. She was a kyrie, and her home was here. And as an enemy of Vydar, there was very little good which could happen to her. She was crying because she had lost everything. Her land, her freedom, and very likely her life.
In that moment, the darkness of the cell closed in on Dan, and he truly felt for the first time that this was the end. He could almost feel his horizon slipping away from him. He would never be able to reach it now.
And then, in that blackest of moments, things got even worse.