Episode 5 – Snakebite

Ardeshir woke up with a massive headache. His eyes burned just by opening them a slit, forcing him to squeeze them shut right away again.

His memories were all astray, events from the past few years mixing together to form a pot of pain. One moment he felt as if he were still sitting in class listening to Master Tabun lecture about the nature of summoning but when he turned to look at his seat partner, Yazdan was gone and a girl sat at the desk. The face looked cute and innocent enough, but he couldn’t recall ever having seen her before or if she shared the same study as he did.

“Ardeshir! What happened?” he heard Yazdan say, but it was the girl’s lips that were moving.

His gaze snapped to the front where Tabun had vanished and his father stood. The old man turned and noticed Ardeshir. His expression soured and he raised a discipline stick, charging down the aisle. Ardeshir shifted to run away, but the girl placed her finger under his chin and lured his attention back to her. She began to untie her apprentice robes and grinned as she revealed her petite breasts.

“Do you like what you see?” she asked in a sing-song voice, lulling him closer to her. She brushed her lips against his before moving down and tenderly kissing his neck. Ardeshir giggled and nodded while he felt his body grow hot. He’d never been that intimate with another person before. Her hand moved behind his head, fingers lacing between his hair. The light-headedness grew with every sensational kiss. His hairs prickled upright.

“Mhm, you’re so good. I love the fresh taste of magic.” The woman pulled back, her face drenched in blood before wiping it clear with the back of her hand. Her tongue snuck out and licked the rest clean, and she giggled before tightening her grip. “I kinda want to keep you for myself, but I’m supposed to share.”

Ardeshir screamed, jolting upright in bed and knocking his head against a jug. He pulled away and rubbed the sore spot as he swiftly plotted his escape route.

“It’s okay. You’re at the Guild,” Ervin said. He moved to the bed and held Ardeshir’s hand while dousing a cloth in water. He noticed the bulge in the blanket and raised a brow. “Looks like we both missed out on all the fun last night.”

Ardeshir frantically glanced around the room, searching for any signs of the creature that attacked him in the cave. His heart lurched against his chest as he tried to calm himself and sort through his memories. Pain flared in his shoulder at the sudden movement and he tentatively probed the bandaged wound. He couldn’t remember how much of what he dreamed had been real but something attacked him.

Ervin pressed the cloth against his forehead and eased him onto his back again. “Gave me a little fright there, screaming out of nowhere. You want to tell me what happened out there? Yazdan said you just disappeared along with the two daeva. Took him an hour to find you curled up in a corner.”

“Sn-snake with yellow eyes.”

“A snake, huh,” Ervin pressed his lips together and poured a cup of water for Ardeshir. “Nasty fellows. Glad I got the easy task this time. Followed the trader all the way back to his warehouse. Yazdan went on ahead with the city watch to arrest them.”

Ardeshir reached for the cup, but as his fingers grazed the ceramic, images flashed through his mind of the grinning woman and the cup shattered on the floor. His stomach churned and he felt bile rise to his throat. “What about the eggs?”

“Eggs?” Ervin narrowed his brows and stood. “I don’t know anything about that but I can look for Yazdan and tell him to see you when he’s finished. He confiscated all the thieves’ belongings.”

Ardeshir nodded solemnly while piecing the information together. The screams of the dying men inside the cave. The cracked egg he found under his boot and the strange woman biting him. Yet, he was alive, unlike the others they found. He considered whether the woman was real or just a figment of a delusional mind under the influence of an animal bite.

The eggs must have been valuable for thieves to be dealing with them, or another band had already struck out against them and taken their loot, leaving behind only the eggs.

“I need to see the items taken in from that cave,” Ardeshir said as he moved to the side of the bed. His shoulder burned and his legs trembled under his own weight but he couldn’t be one to sit back and wait. Vida made it clear to him that he needed to find the other anachiti and awaken the Battle Maidens but he needed the support of the Guild and Ervin if he ever wanted to find where they were and how he might get there.

“You really shouldn’t be getting up but it’s not like you ever listen to me so go ahead.” Ervin grabbed Ardeshir’s belongings from atop the drawer and handed them to him. “Yazdan brought everything over to the Guild storehouse for safekeeping until the Watch could come to pick them up. You think we might find a clue there? Oh, I’m always open for a treasure hunt, but I’m keeping my share this time. My time doesn’t come for free.”

The hospice was brimming with people who came to get treated by the Guild. Life outside the Guild grounds was harsh and people needed to get mended just as much as the equipment they handled. Frontier worlds gave people a new chance at life, but they had to build everything from scratch. They didn’t have the same comforts and establishments those inside the Realm got to fall back on.

They crossed the Guild grounds to the storehouse, only to find the doors locked. Only the head of the kitchen and the High Mage would carry a key.

Ardeshir had to rely on Ervin to get him inside undetected and gave his friend a knowing look. Ervin caught his meaning quick enough and started to back away.

“No, not with me. Rules exist for a reason, and I don’t want to get stuck.”

“It’s just a few feet away. You don’t even have to alter the elevation. A small push.”

Ervin raised his brows and frowned. “A small push is what you give to someone you want to see fall over the edge. Portals are much more painful. Just imagine coming out inside a rock and being unable to move while our bodies are crushed by our surroundings. There’s no coming back from that.”

“Guess I’m going to have to do it the traditional way,” Ardeshir said as he pulled his dagger out and pummeled the hilt against the lock. The clanking was loud enough to draw the attention of passers-by who gave them both curious looks, but Ervin still had his robes on and managed to ease their worries long enough for him to break it open.

“I have a feeling my days off are going to be canceled for the rest of the month. Really hope it’s worth it.”

Ardeshir shut the door behind them and lighted the lantern, holding it up to reveal the dozens of crates stocked full with produce and sacks of grain. They split up, searching every row until it was Ervin that called out and ushered him over. He held a shirt in one hand and a pair of boots in the other.

“All they found was a bunch of clothing and stored it here. Maybe we should check the pockets for any notes on where they might have hidden the treasure.”

“It’s not a treasure we’re looking for. When we entered the cave, Vida said she’d found a bunch of eggs.”

Ervin shrugged and put the clothing back into the crate. “This is all I can show you. Maybe the eggs belonged to a bird, or something and they left them in the cave. Are you sure there’s no treasure involved? I mean, these are thieves we’re talking about. Don’t they always keep a secret stash in case of emergencies?”

Ardeshir gave him a long glare until the realmwalker raised his hands in surrender. He noticed a white fragment on his dark robes and took it for a closer look. An egg shell, but only a small fragment, not large enough to have been an entire egg. Ardeshir crouched down and rummaged through the clothing until he found the remnants of the egg splintered into dozens of pieces tucked between the fabric.

“By the Pillars, there really were some. So what does any of this have to do with the thieves or the trade bust your friend is currently leading?”

“I’m not sure,” Ardeshir said, examining the pieces and searched for the body. “Either it was pure coincidence the two were in the same place or the thieves were dealing with them.”

Ervin didn’t respond while Ardeshir slowly lifted and moved the crates around. He felt a tingle on his neck and paused, slowly looking over his shoulder.

“Hold still,” Ervin said as he approached Ardeshir from behind. He reached for the snake curling up around Ardeshir’s neck when it lashed out and bit Ervin’s finger. It didn’t take long for chaos to break out with Ervin screaming and dangling his hand in front of him. The snake refused to let go while he kept backing up. Ervin tripped over a crate and fell headlong into a sack of flour. The sack burst into a white cloud.

Ardeshir rushed after his friend but couldn’t resist a grin at his overreaction. He grabbed his arm and held him still as he pinched the snake at the head and pulled it away. It wriggled in his hand, trying to free itself from his grip. “Hard to imagine this little guy taking out ten grown men.”

“I don’t want to die! We need to get to the hospice before the poison kicks in.”

“Relax. Panic would only speed up the process, besides I don’t think he’s poisonous. I’ll take him back to the office and show him to Yazdan when he returns. We need to figure out what’s so special about this particular specimen.”

~~

Next time on Magefall …

Episode 6 – The Librarian

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