Episode 7 – A Close Encounter

“We about ready to make the jump?”

Ervin scowled, glancing away from the lens to scribble down a few notes. “Don’t rush me. You know full well what nearly happened the last time. There haven’t been any teams out there for years.”

“Yeah, well, just let me know. It’s not like we’ve got an ancient evil stalking us or anything.”

“Pressure isn’t helping,” Ervin said.

Yazdan watched them from the sofa nearby with a bemused smile. “I’m surprised you both haven’t already killed each other. How long have you been working together?”

“We’re not,” Ervin interjected. “He keeps getting me into this and I’m just too kindhearted to let him down.”

Ardeshir frowned as he continued to apply the ointment meant to mitigate the effects of extreme weather conditions. “We’re supposed to be friends. Besides, I pay you for all your troubles and don’t act like I didn’t see you stuffing your pockets with gold the other day.”

Ervin shook his head, finished scribbling down coordinates and slammed his pen onto the desk. “It’s my fair share of the find. You got yourself an ancient weapon of mass destruction and I got a few nights of paid pleasure. You still owe me for that trip, by the way.”

“Well, no worries. I’ve seen to it that our little expedition has been signed off by the council of Grand Magi. I can only hope we are able to retrieve further evidence of these claims, so I may present them,” Yazdan said. He noticed the jar by the window and moved over, holding it up. Didn’t think you were the type to keep pets.

Ardeshir took the jar from him and examined the snake. He appeared larger than when he found him the day before and wondered, just how fast they grew, before setting it back down. “We found the bugger in the storehouse and it attacked Ervin. You didn’t happen to see any snakes or eggs at the merchants’ warehouse?

“Forgeries, drugs and even a handful of women they kept chained to the looms in the back, but no snakes. Whatever the thieves were dealing with, they already moved the goods to another location. So, what made you decide to pick this world for your next expedition?”

“Vida located the planet the outpost is supposed to be on, but it’ll be up to us to find the anchita.”

Yazdan stroked his chin in thought. “You say you felt the relic?”

Ardeshir nodded and rubbed the earring. “It was as if it were calling out to me. I’m not sure if all the relics do the same, but we’ll have to look for any magical traces that’ll lead us to it.”

“That should be enough.” Ervin stood up and shook himself off before drawing in magic. His hands glowed a soft blue as he channeled the magic to his fingers and began to draw up the spell. Within moments he had the first set of lines ready and added on the additional three layers one atop the other until the spell locked into place with a hiss. The circle grew smaller and was replaced by a portal in mid-air. “After you, I insist. If this is another death trap, then I want to at least see the look in your eyes first before I die.”

Yazdan raised an eyebrow. “He’s quite the optimist.”

“Hey, you don’t get to live as long as I have as a realmwalker unless you’re careful. The universe doesn’t care about us and it’s just waiting for one little mistake to snuff us out.”

“I’m going already,” Ardeshir said as he stepped up in front of the portal. It was silent and loomed innocently before him without drawing him in — the signs of a stable portal. He took the step, letting the dry liquid sensation run over his face as he passed through. Ardeshir felt weightless for a moment as he drifted through to the other side and stepped on firm ground.

Yazdan and Ervin followed him soon after and bumped into him for standing in place.

“You’re supposed to clear the portal once you go through,” Ervin growled and crossed his arms.

Ardeshir couldn’t move out of fear. A dark substance engulfed the land, with red rivulets gleaming beneath. He couldn’t see the sky through the thick cloud cover, but at least they could breathe. “Are you sure this is the right place?”

“Not again. You said you wanted to go here, so this is where I took us. The last report from here is over a decade old, but it doesn’t mention anything about this.”

“Then we should be on our way and hurry back,” Yazdan said. He turned to Ardeshir and gripped him on the shoulder, stirring him away from the mountains. “Do you feel it, is this the place?”

Ardeshir blinked and met Yazdan’s eyes. “I-I don’t know. I’ll try.”

Each breath burned his lungs and left behind a thick slime in the back of his throat that felt as if he were going to choke on it any minute.

Bat-like creatures swarmed ahead and flew toward the mountains with a high pitched screeching. They were nearly three times their size and had humanoid bodies with claws for feet.

Ardeshir closed his eyes and concentrated on his surroundings, reaching out in all directions as he searched for any traces of magic. Only magi could tap into the magic of the Shadow Realm and use it in their world, but it appeared as if the relics had a magical aura in themselves. Nothing but the hot air against his face. He reached out further, going as far as he could and brushed across a soft tingle in his mind. Ardeshir opened his eyes and pointed in the vague direction he felt the presence. The sensation was too soft for him to tell how far away it was.

Vida, come forth. I need your help. He channeled some magic into the earring and felt her take form beside him.

“You called, master.”

“Yes, I thought we might need your help once we get closer to the outpost. This place isn’t exactly inviting.”

The group kept closer together with Ardeshir at the front, leading them and Vida in her battle attire at his side. The bats were out of sight but could come back at any minute and he didn’t want to wager whether or not they were friendly. As they drew closer to the mountain pass, more unnatural objects began to appear around them. Chunks of rock that might have once belonged to a wall and signs of an abandoned settlement with rotted wood.

“A realmwalker camp,” Ervin said as he moved ahead and inspected the remains. He lifted up pieces of wood and tossed them aside. “These must have been the ones that first discovered and reported the world. No wonder their reports stopped coming in.”

“They died?” Yazdan asked as he wandered around the fallen heaps.

“They could have escaped to another world but there would have been records of them abandoning the camp. All I found out was the initial scout report from twelve years ago and then silence.”

A sense of dread churned in Ardeshir’s stomach as he glanced around the camp sheltered in between the mountain pass. The day already grew darker by the minute, which meant they wouldn’t have much time before night settled in. He concentrated on the faint magical presence ahead to verify they were going in the right direction. “We should carry on. I don’t want to wait and find out what happened to them.”

Ervin gulped and took a step back, nervously eying the crevices in the surrounding mountains. “Yeah, I think you’re right. Let’s get it over with.”

They continued on down the passage and were getting close to the source when an even larger presence made itself known to Ardeshir. He stumbled forward, pressing his hands against his head as he tried to rid himself of the dark influence. The leviathan stabbed into his mind, steadily blocking his senses outside of his body until he became engulfed in the leviathan’s mental grip.

“Argh! What is this?” Yazdan growled and brushed by Ardeshir aimlessly.

“It’s the leviathan,” Ardeshir cried as he attempted to steel himself and look ahead. A forgotten ruin carved out of stone laid there. “He must have been able to sense the relic as well. We need to hurry before he arrives.”

Together, they struggled along the path and slowly grew accustomed to the mental grip blocking their senses. Ardeshir could no longer reach out and help guide the way to the artifact.

The ruins were built in a similar style to what he had witnessed on the frosted world Turat, but here he was able to see those parts of the building that had already been covered by mounds of snow. As they approached the first building, Ardeshir noticed that there were no pieces to the triangular structure but rather it was molded out of what had once been a chunk of the mountain. The fine craftsmanship and detailed work hinted the ahura had used magic in the construction that would have taken human workers decades to finish. The central step-pyramid alone towered over them and nearly came as high as the mountains looming on either side.

“We should keep going,” Vida said, undisturbed by the leviathan. “The ahura grew paranoid over the years and would have kept the relic hidden away inside but I can not detect its location.”

“What about the writing on the wall?” Ardeshir suggested, pointing to some markings by one of the open entrances.

Vida cocked her head and studied the writing. “I’m afraid the ahura never saw value in teaching us their written language. I suggest we split up and search each of the buildings individually.”

“Splitting up is a bad idea,” Ervin said. “You all got daeva and whatnot to protect you, but I’m just… myself.”

“Here, take this,” Ardeshir said, handing his dagger over. “The leviathan is coming, so let’s get this over with and meet back here in fifteen minutes.”

“Wait, what are we even looking for? Are all the relics earrings?” Yazdan asked.

“No, they were all various forms of jewelry. Rings, bracelets and necklaces,” Vida said. “Coming in contact with the relic will have the daeva reveal itself to you.”

With everything settled, they split up with Ardeshir taking the route left of him. It lead to the smaller of the three structures as Yazdan had already dashed off for the central tower. Vida stayed with Ardeshir and together they crossed the pathway mostly reconquered by nature and entered. The building lacked a door in the space but Ardeshir wasn’t certain if there had ever been one.

Small corridors went off on either side of him, with the path forward leading to a large space that took up most of the interior. He gasped at the sight and slowly made his way down the flight of stairs. Dozens of bookshelves coated in thick dust and overgrown with vines lined the floor.

“An archive,” Vida pointed out as she joined him. “This must be the entire collection belonging to one of the princes. A lot of work was put into bringing these over here from the other galaxy.”

“Amazing,” Ardeshir said, reaching to pull one off a shelf. They were all only half an inch thick and quite light. He opened it up and frowned.

There was hardly anything inside of them. No pages full of text and history. In fact only the left side of the book had any writing on it all with the right side kept entirely blank, except for a small square drawn in the center of the page. It didn’t make any sense to Ardeshir and he couldn’t quite piece together what it meant.

Was it a map or a construction design? It could be anything or maybe just an ahura calendar.

“The reading apparatus is there,” Vida said, and pointed towards the center of the room where a small circle was etched into the ground. A pedestal, as high as Ardeshir was tall, stood in the center. “You can access the information stored by putting the block into the apparatus, but I don’t think we will find any information on the relics there.”

“This could be what I was looking for all this time. I might have actually found a collection of ahura records on magic.” He took a step towards the pedestal and stopped. There were thousands of books on each shelf and no time to spare. He needed to continue his search for the relics, if he wanted to defeat the leviathan and save mankind. “Check and see if you can find any drawers or additional rooms. I’ll have to come back for this another time.”

His heart craved to go through every volume and learn the minute secrets the ahura kept. To learn of their culture and way of life, but he had to leave that behind for the moment. Ardeshir needed to save mankind’s legacy first.

The leviathan’s strength was growing as he got closer and would only give them a quarter of an hour at most.

Ardeshir set the book back in its place and targeted the pedestal, moving up to the smooth marble design and searched but couldn’t find any openings where the relic may have been stored. He rose back up and went down the corridor, quickly glancing left and right for any clues that might have been hidden on the walls and would open up a chamber but he only bumped into Vida.

“We might have better luck in the other buildings. There has to be a chamber belonging to the prince we can search. He wouldn’t keep the anchiti out of sight,” Vida said. She swooped Ardeshir off his feet and into her arms with a grin. “This would go a lot faster if I do the walking.”

Ardeshir wrapped his arm around her and held on tightly as she darted out of the room. Two forms plopped down in front of them, just as they were about to leave the building. Ardeshir instantly recognized them as the creatures he saw flying away earlier but noticed they were more human than he thought at first. Their soft faces appeared almost innocent but heavily contrasted by the sharp red irises and long ears. The one on the right whisked their wings back, revealing the feminine body covered only in light strips of hide. She raised her claws and took a step towards them, licking her lips.

“Yes, these are the ones. Soft and juicy.”

As the bat-like creature came closer, more of the swarm landed on the ground and buildings behind them.

Vida reached for her sword with her free hand and removed it from her back. “Step away, lilitu or I’ll have to plow my way through you all.”

Lilitu, Ardeshir repeated in his mind. He’d never heard the term before but he wished he still had his dagger on him to help Vida. Hopefully the lilitu hadn’t gone after them as well.

The swarm broke out into hysterical laughter, inching their way closer as Vida slowly moved back towards the library. There were over twenty of them, more than Ardeshir figured Vida could take on at the same time.

Vida set him down and placed herself in front of him, raising the sword with both hands while keeping it in the sheath. “Whatever you do, don’t leave my side.”

Ardeshir nodded silently and drew up a summoning spell, bringing out everything he had captured over the years but mainly for Indaria’s support. The daeva would help keep his flanks secure and prevent the lilitu from breaking through. He controlled the boar to remain in the rear as a reserve. “We’re not interested in fighting. Let us go and we’ll leave this place without anyone having to get hurt.”

“Why leave when we want you to stay and be our guest?”

“Stay. Feast upon the flesh,” another giggled.

Indaria and Vida took up positions at the entrance, blocking their way inside the building. The two women were a stark contrast to one another with Indaria’s light armor and ice magic and Vida’s heavy armor and two-handed sword.

Ardeshir channeled more magic, drawing up spells to help increase defense and stamina. He had no offensive magic of his own and had to rely on supporting the two fighters.

The lilitu sprang into the air and dived ahead with their claws outstretched. Vida whirled her sheathed sword around, knocking the creature mid-air with a deafening blow that snapped bone and slammed it against the wall. More swept in to take its place and lashed out at Vida. They clawed at her armor and tried to disarm her while she shook and hurled them to the ground.

Indaria wielded her mace, slamming it into the skull of the lilitu before quickly raising her free hand and conjuring up an ice spell to freeze the next one swooping in. The lilitu dropped to the ground and splintered into a dozen pieces.

“Yes!” Ardeshir jumped on the spot, cheering for them but even in that moment of hope, he saw that more were joining and it would only be a matter of time before they broke through. “Look out!”

It was too late. With Vida on her knees, two lilitu dove in simultaneously with each grabbing one of Indaria’s arms. She struggled, tugging against them as she attempted to conjure up a spell. Gusts blew into the library as the lilitu slowly dragged her out.

“Dungir, it’s your turn,” Ardeshir said, raising his hand and pointing to the hybrid creature. As long as they were still inside, they’d be low enough for Dungir to charge. The boar grunted in acknowledgement and stormed ahead, leaping against one of the lilitu and bringing it to the ground with a thud. “Great work, now the other!”

The boar whizzed around, preparing to help free Indaria when a group of lilitu pounced upon him. He let out a squeal as they clawed at him to the point where he burst into a dark cloud and returned to the Shadow Realm.

Ardeshir clenched his hands into fists and felt a tear roll down his cheek at the sight. The pressure from the leviathan intensified and by his guess, he only had minutes until he arrived.

Indaria reached for her mace, fingers brushing against the straps as she managed to get ahold of the stock to wield it around and smash it into the lilitu. She rose to her feet, cradling her bleeding arms and was joined by Vida who had finished taking on two other hybrids. Vida still hadn’t drawn her sword from the sheath.

There were still over twenty hybrids outside but they no longer blindly stormed inside. They adapted and waited patiently for them to leave. Ardeshir didn’t have the time to waste with them but he couldn’t go out there without immediately getting picked off. He glanced over to Vida and considered if she’d be able to carry him to the other building fast enough when he held in and felt the ground stirring.

The lilitu noticed it as well, gawking from one to the other as they came across the unknown. They gazed over to the mountains, perhaps anticipating an eruption but the leviathan must have been much bigger and more dangerous. He blocked out the sun in his approach to the world and the lilitu finally scattered in every direction but the truth was they wouldn’t be safe no matter which way they went.

“He’s arrived. We need to find the anchiti and leave immediately.”

The three of them darted out of the library and into the opening. Ardeshir slowed down, gazing up into the sky. The clouds had parted but only to be replaced by a giant mass filling in most of the sky. Vida told him the leviathan was big but it wasn’t until he saw it for himself did he believe that there could be something that massive in the universe.

“Time to go. I’ve had it with these life and death situations, Ardeshir. I want out of your little group. It’s caused me enough trouble these past few weeks.” Ervin reached into the Shadow Realm for magic and began to conjure up a portal to get them as far away from there as possible.

“Is this an earthquake?” Yazdan asked as he joined them. He froze mid-step and held his hands out to the side, instinctively reaching for magic but Ardeshri already knew through Vida that they wouldn’t be enough to stop him. “So it is true. We should continue our observation in order to adequately report everything to the Arch Mage when we return.”

“That’s not a good idea. Did you find any clues about where the anchiti could be?”

Yazdan shrugged and summoned his daeva beside him.

“You can stay for as long as you want, friend, but I’m getting out of here,” Ervin said as he finished the second layer of the spell.

Ardeshir closed his eyes and concentrated on his surroundings, attempting to break out of the stranglehold the leviathan had put around him. It proved too strong and every time he tried to push outward his mind recoiled back inward and left him feeling dizzy. The relic was still out there, close by but he couldn’t tell in which direction he’d have to go. He glanced around the ruins, trying to pinpoint any abnormality that might indicate to him a hidden area but the world had seen a drastic change from when the ahura had built the outpost there.

“I’m going to check one last time. Don’t let him close the portal on me just yet,” Ardeshir said and raced towards the larger structure in the center. He wasn’t sure whether the item was located inside or if it might even be hidden somewhere else a little further along but he had to try again. He needed all seven pieces to stand a chance.

The leviathan roared as he entered the orbit at a high speed. He had a long snake-like body albeit with an odd grey skin and shimmering snout. He came down a few miles away with a thunderous crash. A gust of wind rushed across the horizon and carried with it tons of earth and rock in a gigantic wave that would soon wash over the valley.

With only moments between the impact and the devastating wave, Ardeshir turned on his heels and made for the portal. He didn’t want to give up on the anchiti but getting killed in the process wouldn’t serve anyone. With any luck, they would be able to draw the leviathan’s attention away from the world once they left and be able to return at a later time.

Ervin had already finished the portal but the elements of the spell were still taking effect, slowly opening at the center.

“Don’t worry, the Arch Mage will hear of this. He’ll be able to defeat this creature,” Yazdan said and together they all leaped through the portal.

Next time on Magefall …

Episode 7 – The Lord of Light

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