Ardeshir plummeted through the sky. An icy wind slapped against his face and stirred his eyes open. The ground became larger as the gap swiftly dwindled. Fear surged inside of him and sent his heart racing as he glanced around in search of Ervin. The blasted mage was nowhere in sight, and Ardeshir quickly assumed he backed out at the last moment and would let him fall to his death.
Instincts took over as Ardeshir spread his body apart as best he could to increase the resistance and slow his descent. He reached out for magic in preparation to cast a spell, but he wasn’t sure which one would actually be useful in such a situation. The daeva Indaria could control the elements to dampen his landing. He wasn’t a realmwalker or elemental who could control such matters. Ardeshir was a summoner and as such constantly relied on others to do the dirty work. He gathered magic into the palm of his hands and drew up the six lines needed to summon, but the spell misaligned and the power dispelled with a crackle.
With only a few moments left until he struck the snow-covered cliff, he noticed the ripples in the air underneath him. The tear of magic splitting open in the world. Ardeshir slipped through the crack and landed face first in a pile of snow. His body trembled, unsure whether he was truly alive or on his way to the afterlife. He popped his head out of the snow and broke into a hysterical laughter as he brushed himself off. After all that effort, he actually made it in one piece.
“I’m glad to see you’re enjoying yourself,” a voice called out from behind. A man loomed over him, arms cradling his body in a vain attempt to pull the cloak tighter. “That makes at least one of us.”
“Ervin, you nearly got me killed!” Ardeshir scrambled to get up but slipped on the ice. He held his arms out and balanced himself against the snowstorm beginning to pick up.
“Ac-actually, that’s all on you,” Ervin countered. “You’re the one who pointed at some cave paintings and thought it would be a good idea to travel to the unknown reaches of space. They’re unknown for a reason, because we know nothing about them.”
Ardeshir frowned and glanced around in search of any markings that could indicate life on the world. “It’s only unknown until you make it known, but you could have at least landed me on my feet.”
“Look, the universe is in constant motion and I did the best I could. The alternative would be to risk putting us both underground. What makes you think this is even the right direction?”
“Trust me. I got a feeling we’re on the right path.” Ardeshir closed his eyes and slowed his breathing, concentrating on the flow of magic. The average human would feel nothing but the cold, but Ardeshir could sense a drift off to the side. It felt stronger than it had on Salehir, as if he could reach out and grab the source. He opened his eyes and pointed in the direction.
“Excellent, let’s get this over with before we both catch our death out here. You may be my friend, but I’m still charging you extra for this.”
“Don’t worry, anything we find will be worth more than any coin I could pay you with,” Ardeshir said as he began trekking up the slope.
Ervin hesitated before following Ardeshir through the knee-high snow. The path they took was slow and the bitter cold soon seeped through their clothing. Ardeshir would have brought an elemental along if he’d known their destination would have been so inhospitable.
Mountains came up on both sides of a narrow valley with plenty of trees growing along the base, but a complete lack of paths or animal tracks, with not even a single bird in sight. The tug on his senses grew, proving that they were drawing near to their final destination.
No more portals to potentially dangerous worlds.
“I think there might be something down there,” Ervin said as they reached the top.
A handful of odd shapes peeked out from under the snow. Ardeshir assumed at first glance that they were part of the rugged landscape, but the surface appeared unnatural.
“Hold on, I think I can get us there.” Ervin drew up a spell in mid-air and opened a portal, allowing them to cross the three miles without any further trouble.
They needed to be careful in how they moved forward. There wouldn’t be any rescue teams coming after them if they failed to return to Salehir. The archivists protested when Ardeshir told them of his plans to search for ahura homeworld, which left them exposed at the temple while he was away.
Ardeshir waded forward, counting the objects as he went. They were triangular in nature, but most of the structure appeared to be buried under the snow. Whoever built it hadn’t returned in a long while. “Take a look and see if you can find any openings. There’s got to be a way inside.”
“I’ve never heard of anyone living this far out,” Ervin said. “Might be some locals that see us as intruders.”
“Perhaps. You’re more than welcome to wait outside while I go ahead.”
Ervin placed his hands at his hips and frowned. “I don’t like it, but it’s better than the damn cold.”
They split up and moved around each of the nine structures in search of any windows or doors they could use when Ardeshir noticed a crack in the frame. He moved closer and peered down into the darkness. “Come over here and get out the rope. This might be our chance, so I’ll scout ahead and let you know.”
“What if something happens to you and I don’t notice or worse yet what if something happens to me?”
“Relax,” Ardeshir said, taking the rope out of the bag and tying it around his waist. “Just tug three times if we need the other’s help. You’ll be fine. I got us through everything so far, didn’t I?”
“I got us out of them. Without me, you’d still be stuck on some backwater planet,” Ervin said as he reluctantly helped lift Ardeshir to the crack. “I still think this is a bad idea.”
“Only one way to find out.” Ardeshir tapped his forehead and climbed inside. There wasn’t much for him to hold on to as he kicked off and gently lowered himself deeper. As the light grew dimmer, he reached into the pocket of his cloak and pulled out a pair of lightstones. He tapped them against each other, illuminating them before dropping one down to gauge how far he had it.
The stone plopped onto a mound of snow some twenty feet below him, and while the room he appeared to be in was quite high, it wasn’t very large.
Ardeshir reached the ground and used the stones to get a glimpse of his surroundings until he found what appeared to be a hallway. Snow blocked most of the way, but he held his stone out in front of him and felt fairly certain he could still squeeze himself through.
The rope wouldn’t be long enough for him to go any deeper, so he took a step back and tugged lightly on the line. “It’s safe. Come on down and have a look with me.”
Ervin bound the rope and climbed down. He had his scarf pulled up over his mouth and rubbed his hands as he gazed around the room. “So what’s so special I had to come and look?”
“Shh.” Ardeshir raised his hand and held his breath. “Did you hear that?”
“No.” Ervin widened his eyes and stepped back.
Ardeshir turned in the direction he heard the sound and moved to the corridor. The soft, rhythmic tone to it resembled a woman’s voice. “I think there might still be someone here. Get out your stones and follow me.”
“Wait, if there’s someone here, they might consider us intruders and attack. Let’s just head back for now and live to tell the tale.”
Ardeshir shook his head and got onto his knees to crawl through the opening. His back rubbed against the ceiling, but he managed to squeeze himself through before turning back around to help Ervin join him. They only had the soft yellow glow of the lightstones from there on out.
The corridor was only five feet wide but steadily gave them more height as the mound of snow decreased. They came to a crossing a few yards ahead with both options leading into the unknown.
Ardeshir raised his stone and examined their surroundings, but failed to notice anything that might give them any clues as to where they were going. He could only rely on his instinct and the magic coming from within the building. That and the woman’s voice only he could apparently hear. “This way, we’re almost there.”
Ervin glanced the other way before turning and following him down a long stretch until the corner they came from was out of sight.
A wall blocked their path and at first Ardeshir thought he forgot to take a turn somewhere until he noticed that they’d only been able to go straight for the past ten minutes.
“So much for following you. It’s a dead end,” Ervin said. “I’m beginning to think there’s nothing here, but a trap meant to lure in fools such as ourselves. We’re going to get lost and never find our way back out again.”
Ardeshir scowled and looked around for anything he might have overseen. He pressed his hands against the wall and felt around. The ahura wouldn’t have constructed a hallway that lead nowhere —unless they’d been unable to finish construction. So far he had seen no remnants of the ahura. Where were the rooms and furniture, decoration and scrolls of their history he was expecting? Salehir provided so much more. A race doesn’t just disappear without leaving any signs of their existence, and there were plenty of records throughout the galaxies that told of the ancient race that came to them but then vanished.
Ardeshir assumed the information had gone lost during the dark generation and that the ahura had simply died out. Even so, they came from the Beyond and if only he could retrace their steps, he would have access to the knowledge left behind.
“I know you’re desperate for answers, but we can always come back better prepared,” Ervin said. “There are still plenty of buildings and pathways here for us to discover, but I want us to be smart about it and not rush into anything.”
“Just give me a moment.” Ardeshir ran his fingers along the grainy surface. It was difficult to see in the dim light, but there were etchings engraved into the stone. They were unlike anything he’d ever seen before. All knowledge they had about the ahura came from human sources, and so they never got a chance to study their language. He tried pushing each of the symbols, hoping that they’d react, but they didn’t move an inch. He slammed his palms against the wall in frustration and moved to rise when a spark went through his mind. He leaned in closer and inspected the three sets of symbols he expected to mean something when in fact they much more closely resembled a set of patterns students at the guild would use to learn magic.
“Have you finally come to your senses?”
Ardeshir stepped back and drew in magic. “It’s a spell.”
“Oh, in that case just go ahead. Don’t stop to think of the consequences or anything. It’s not like you listen to me.”
“Thanks, I knew I could count on you.”
He drew up the first set of lines and felt the hum of magic as the pieces locked into place. The other two sets were each drawn on top of one another to create a single spell. The lines radiated as he completed the last line and began to take effect.
The ground trembled and dust drifted through the air as they both held their breath. A wall dropped behind them, cutting off their way back and inched towards them with a rumbling sound. Ardeshir and Ervin only had a few minutes before they’d both be pressed out of existence.
“Great, look what you did. Just had to go ahead and do it, didn’t you?”
Ardeshir glanced at Ervin, narrowing his brows. As much as he disliked his friend’s pessimistic outlook, he was right on the occasion. “Can’t you get us out of here?”
“I don’t even know exactly where here is and it’s going to take a lot more time if we don’t want to find ourselves walking into space.”
Ardeshir needed to buy them some time for Ervin to create a portal, so he quickly drew up a spell and summoned a dungir, a boar from the Shadow Realm. He flung his hand out and pointed to the wall. “Go for it and see if you can break it down.”
The dungir glanced up at him, scratching its claw on the ground and kicking up dirt before storming ahead. The boar was four feet tall and weighed over fifteen stone but it crashed against the wall and fell back injured. Ardeshir needed an alternative plan and quick, but the tingle of magic on the back of his neck had him turn around.
The dead end wall blocking their path shimmered and faded out of existence. As if it were a mere illusion cast to stop them. Ardeshir felt the surface to know it had been real but he could now pass his hand through the space unhindered.
“That’s a neat trick,” Ervin said as they both tentatively moved ahead.
Once they passed the barrier, it reappeared and blocked their path. Ardeshir tried to move through the wall and bumped his nose on the very real stone and nothing they could get through without destroying the wall or casting the spell again.
“Well, now I know why they wanted to keep this room a secret,” Ervin said, holding up his lightstone.
The chamber walls were bathed in gold with colossal statues in each of the corners. They were each holding weapons and appeared to be a set of guards meant to protect the room. Ardeshir instantly recognized the similarity between the statues and the paintings of ahura which were often depicted as god-like beings gifting magic to humans.
“What is this place, some sort of burial chamber?” Ervin’s voice was laced with awe as he moved forward and took in the room. He rested his hands on the chest at the center. “Let’s see what’s inside, shall we?”
“Wait, it might be a trap,” Ardeshir said, reaching out. “This looks a little too inviting to be true.”
Ervin grinned with a gleam in his eyes. All the caution he usually preached had been cast aside. “This place was hidden behind a magic door and nearly got us killed. We made it this far and now we have our prize.”
He unlatched the locks and lifted the lid, sucking in a deep breath as they both took in the pile of coins and gemstones. Enough to build a city and finance a small army on the side.
Ardeshir moved away as he turned his attention to their situation. They couldn’t return the way they came, and the length the ahura went through to keep the room a secret signaled that they were hiding more than just gems.
The ahura did not cherish such items, but viewed their knowledge of magic as their most valuable asset. They decided what forms of magic to share with mankind and how to wield it. He figured a distant world with a secret room might also contain with it a deeper knowledge of magic.
He stroked his fingers along the smooth gold-plated walls. There were no symbols or magical instructions engraved into it and left him feeling disappointed. Perhaps the chest was really all there was to the room. It could of course be that there were many types of ahura, as there were humans, and that some valued gold and gems more heavily than others. Ardeshir sighed, closing his eyes to concentrate on the flow of magic that led him there. The pull turned him around before he could open his eyes again, and he faced one of the statues. He let himself be guided by his senses, wandering forward and holding his hand out in front of him.
Upon closer inspection, he realized the statue was that of a woman, but it wasn’t the entire piece that was magical but a fragment hidden amongst it. The statues were made of solid gold with an earring that didn’t quite fit in to the rest.
He brushed his finger along the glass and felt a jolt of energy rush through his body.
The room grew dimmer although the lightstones could last for days of use before going dull. He turned to Ervin, only to find the chamber empty. The room shifted, sending Ardeshir into a vertigo until he was shrouded in darkness. He took a careful step forward, attempting to retrace his steps to the entrance when a bright light burst above him. He gasped and stumbled back.
A wide plain with green rolling hills and a meadow in the distance surrounded him, completely contrasting where he’d been a few heartbeats prior.
Ardeshir felt his heart thumping against his chest and his hands dampen. The earring must have been the source of magical energy he’d felt and transported him to another place he did not recognize. He reached out to gather magic and perform a summoning spell, only to find himself slack-jawed as his fingers whisked through the air and were unable to draw a single spell. He knew how to conjure ever since he was a young lad on the streets. Not having it made him feel even more vulnerable in an already less than ideal situation.
He went out in search of Ervin. There was a slim chance his friend had been taken along with him, at least then he’d have a way of returning home. He noticed a figure standing atop a hill but couldn’t make out the features with the sun looming directly behind.
“Ervin, is that you?” Ardeshir called out but grew anxious when no reply came. He decided to take his chances and wandered up the hill with caution. He could no longer count upon the help of his summons to protect him. He reached the top and leaned over, panting.
A woman faced him with her eyes shut. Strands of short blond hair blew in the wind, accentuating her soft face that appeared at odds with the plate armor she wore. She held a sheathed claymore across her lap in both hands and gently opened her eyes.
Ardeshir felt taken aback by her beauty and quickly averted his gaze to keep from staring. He didn’t need an enemy on top of his problems.
“You’ve come a long way to disturb my meditation. How can I be of service, master?”
“Master?” Ardeshir furrowed his brows and dared take a step closer. As a summoner, he encountered plenty of daeva during his travels to the Shadow Realm but the terrain and woman in front of him were unlike anything he’d ever witnessed before. Her cream-colored skin did not match the gray of the daeva. “You don’t seem surprised to see me. Could you possibly be an ahura?”
The woman cocked her head to the side and looked him over. “An odd question. Your lack of knowledge is a bad omen, but I’ll do my best to serve you as I once did the ahura. My name is Vida and I’m a Battle Maiden.”
Ardeshir repeated the words under his breath. “You served the ahura. You’d be my link and could give me first-hand knowledge, but wait. If you’re here, where did they go?”
“Leviathan. He will be drawn to my power in the same way you were.”
“Leviathan? Who is that, another mage?”
Vida’s expression darkened while thick clouds moved in front of the sun. “The devourer of worlds. Tell me now and be prepared to take full responsibility; are you my master?”
Next time on Magefall …