Ardeshir found himself in the tomb once more. He quickly glanced around to make sure he wasn’t hallucinating. Ervin stood by the chest, still gleefully running his hands through the gold. Apparently, the realmwalker hadn’t noticed his departure. Ardeshir raised the opaque glass to his lightstone and rubbed his thumb over the smooth surface.
“Vida,” he repeated, hearing the name in his mind as he recalled the events. It seemed unnatural for him to have traveled between worlds and Ervin not to have noticed. The stress must have been getting to him, causing him to imagine the whole thing.
A black fluid seeped out of the earring and trickled to the floor. Ardeshir stepped back until he brushed against the wall and nearly dropped the relic. He felt his heart thumping in his chest and questioned what hideous trap he may have released. The liquid pooled together, steadily growing higher until it stopped a few inches taller than himself and took on the form of a young woman clad in armor.
“Er-Ervin, are you seeing this?” Ardeshir blinked his eyes to try and clear whatever dust might be tricking him. The woman had to be a daeva because of the way she appeared and the slight dip of magic he felt. He hadn’t cast a summoning spell. Her name and the magic. He quickly pieced it together.
Vida dashed in front of Ardeshir, holding her arm out protectively, and brought her sheathed sword up to strike. “Don’t worry, master. I’ll take care of you.”
Gold slipped between Ervin’s fingers and clattered onto the floor. Ervin grew pale, backing up against the sealed door they came through. He whined and beat his hands against the stone to get out. “No, please don’t hurt me.”
“Let him be. He’s a friend,” Ardeshir said, reaching for Vida’s arm and lowering her sword. “I thought you were a hallucination, but you’re real.”
“Of course I’m real. I thought we established this fact before you accepted me as your Maiden. This is going to be a lot more tiring than I anticipated.”
“You know her?” Ervin asked, slowly regaining some composure. Ardeshir could still sense him drawing in magic to possibly use and create a wild portal — even if that meant risking his own life. “What am I missing here?”
Ardeshir held the earring for Ervin to see. “I found this on the statue. It appears to be linked to… her. I’m still not entirely sure what exactly you are.”
Vida pulled off her helmet and shook her head, letting her blond hair fall loose over her ears. “I’m a Battle Maiden and yours to command for so long as you possess the anachiti. We won’t be safe here for much longer. I sense a strong presence closing in on our location. We should vacate the premise while we still can.”
“Strong presence? I know many women find me attractive, but never quite in those terms,” Ervin said with a satisfied grin.
“She’s talking about a monster. Do you think you can open a portal from in here and get us back?”
Erving furrowed his brows and shrugged. “I can try, but the chances are pretty good we’ll miss and wind up dead in space.”
Ardeshir turned to Vida for answers. “We found you in here. Is there any other way out?”
Vida folded her arms in front of her chest. “I’ve never been to this outpost before, but walls are hardly an inconvenience for me.”
Ervin grabbed the handle of the chest and tugged, trying to get it to budge, but the weight kept it firmly in place while his arms bulged.
“Leave it,” Ardeshir said, moving towards the entrance. A pressure built, distant but dominant, and slowly approached him. The power level had to be immense for him to sense it over such a distance. He licked his lips and turned to Vida as she rammed the wall with her shoulder and burst through. The wall gave in with a rumble and a small dust cloud plumed in its wake.
“You know how much this is worth? Ugh. We need to bring some of it back or they won’t believe us. We could be heroes.” Ervin gave up on the chest and began filling his pockets with coins and trinkets until they spilled out.
Ardeshir didn’t have time for his dallying, but needed the realmwalker to open up a portal and focus on their escape. Vida worried about what was coming, and Ardeshir didn’t want to risk finding out just how big of a threat it really was.
Ervin moved away from the chest and finally took off after the two of them. They made their way down the corridor and turned left at the junction, heading back the way they entered. Waist-high snow still covered the door, further slowing them down.
They had to get back on their knees and crawl through, and he could sense the presence nearing them. Ardeshir scraped his back against the ceiling but forced himself to continue wading forward in near darkness. Only the small pillar of light ahead from the opening in the roof let them know how close they were to escaping. “We’re almost there, hurry.”
The mound of snow grew in the hour since they’d been away, but the hole in the ceiling was too far away for them to reach out of on their own. Ardeshir began climbing while Ervin held the rope steady. The line snapped and Ardeshir felt weightless for a moment as he fell and dropped on top of Ervin.
They both moaned as they rolled to the side and Ardeshir inspected the end of the rope. “The line’s cut. What did you attach the rope to when you came down?”
Ervin scratched the back of his head. “I wound it around a post sticking out of the ground. It was the only thing I could find on such short order. I can try creating a portal to get us up there. Might be a little rough, but doable.”
“Allow me,” Vida said, joining them. She grabbed both Ardeshir and Ervin, one under each of arm, and then kicked off, hurling herself up and through the hole to land outside the structure.
Ardeshir’s stomach churned at the amount of wild motions he’d been through that day and wasn’t sure he’d be able to take much more of it. The presence of the leviathan grew in his mind and when he concentrated on the magic, he could sense its grip reaching out to where he stood. “Get on with the portal. This thing is unbelievable.”
The sheathed sword appeared with a burst of blue energy in Vida’s hand as she broadened her stance and prepared for a fight. “We need to get as far away from here as possible and we have little time before he claims this world. The further away, the safer we are that he won’t be able to detect me that easily.”
Snowflakes danced in the wind, slowly rising. Ardeshir held his hand out in front of him, watching as snow detached itself from the ground and drifted through his fingers. “What kind of monster is this? Don’t tell me it can affect gravity as well.”
“I already warned you before claiming me. The leviathan is an ancient creature of immense power. You should not underestimate his strength because when we come into contact with him, we only have two choices. Defeat him or die. So far, none have accomplished the former.”
“What makes you think he can even be defeated then? Even if I collect all seven of the Battle Maidens, what’s to say we stand a chance against him?”
Vida shrugged and put on her helmet. “Those are the concerns of mortals. I will do as you ask and provide council to the best of my knowledge, but I can’t promise a victory.”
Ervin finished drawing the lines and filling them with magic. The spell took effect, bursting to life as the magic ran along the lines and created the portal back to Tasbir. “Enough sightseeing for one day. By the pillars, let’s get out of here.”
As the portal finished taking form, the sunlight faded and darkness swooped in over the world, except for the haze of light stemming from the portal. Ardeshir rushed ahead and leapt through the portal, landing on the pavement of the Arrival Square on Tasbir. Rain drizzled in a rhythmic beating around him.
Tasbir laid on the Frontier of explored space and housed many magi belonging to the expeditionary wing of the Guild.
Ervin strode through the portal and closed it with an annoyed expression. “Great. This is a heartwarming return. There’s a lot you need to tell me about, but it’s not just me who needs to hear it. We need to go to the High Mage and present this discovery.”
Ardeshir rose and brushed his slick hair to the side. “This could be the greatest discovery we’ve ever made, but the worst one at the same time. We must tread carefully, I just hope it can’t find us here.”
Vida appeared next to them, drawing the attention of the magi emerging from their posts. They controlled all incoming and outbound traffic from the planet and collected any due fees, but with Ardeshir and Ervin both members of the Guild, they were exempt.
“Dismiss your daeva,” the mage said, cupping his hands to shield his eyes from the rain. “No casting permitted inside the city. You two should know better.”
Ardeshir glanced at the relic he still held clutched in his hands and wondered whether he’d be able to summon and dismiss her as he would an ordinary daeva. “I’ll call you back as soon as possible. The High Mage is going to be curious to see you for himself once I tell him about you.”
“As you wish, but a word of warning not to blindly trust others. Power can overcome any sense of loyalty. I’ve seen it all in my years of service.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Ardeshir said. He considered whether Ervin would turn against him, but quickly dismissed the idea. Ervin would have a difficult time trying to find a buyer for such a common, yet unique item. Ardeshir drew in a sliver of magic and dispelled the Battle Maiden before turning back to the magi. “We were just on our way to the High Mage to deliver a warning.”
Next time on Magefall …
The High Mage