Ardeshir’s body tensed as he stood outside the chamber along with Ervin and Yazdan. Yazdan had managed to secure a meeting with the Council of Grand Magi and the Arch Mage. He’d only ever been in contact with local level magi and the managers of the regional guilds, the High Mage.
The Grand Magi were said to be the best in their field, with the Arch Mage being the strongest mage alive. Kyros was the grandson of the mage who came in contact with the ahura and was introduced to the ways of magic.
“You know, I don’t really have anything to do with all of this. I just got you guys there and back, so I’ll just wait outside for you.”
“You’re coming with,” Yazdan said in a firm voice. “He’ll need to hear every aspect of what occurred. If there’s anyone who can help us locate the remaining relics, it’s the Arch Mage.”
The doors opened and High Mage Bayat stepped out in front with a scowl. “They’ll see you now and I can only hope they dismiss these claims as soon as possible so we can turn our attention to important matters. Trade is still at an all-time low because of the thieves attacking merchant lines. We need to root out every last bastion of these rogues.”
“With all due respect, High Mage,” Ardeshir began. “The leviathan is a greater threat to all our safety than the thieves will ever be. We need to find a solution before he comes across a settled world.”
Bayat narrowed his eyes and turned away. “You’ll get your chance to convince them, but I know what you young folk are up to. Fame.”
The doors opened wider as Bayat stepped aside and allowed them entry. Ardeshir had never been on the High Mage’s good side, but this was a novel experience for him. They stepped inside the room with its high ceiling and fire burning in a nearby pit. The Grand Magi sat at a half-circle table facing the entrance with the Arch Mage at their center. Most of the Grand Magi were elderly, but the Arch Mage was still in his prime, having taken on the mantle when his father died two years prior. Kyros’ robes were black with a golden trim but he kept the hood down, unlike the Grand Magi which wore white robes with golden trims. Some of the magi whispered amongst each other as they approached and remained standing before them.
Kyros followed their movements with interest and indicated for the others to settle down. “Thank you for coming in person to enlighten us on hostile activity on the Frontier. Please tell us what you experienced.”
A moment of silence echoed in the room as Ervin looked to Ardeshir. He took it upon himself to start and recollect their search over the past few months and the discovery of the anchiti. Ardeshir tried his best to explain how he came into contact with Vida and the warning she gave him. The threat he witnessed on two occasions when the leviathan approached a world he was on.
The Arch Mage nodded, stroking his chin. “I understand. So this lizard is following you because you removed an ancient relic from an ahura outpost?”
“That’s correct,” Ardeshir admitted, almost regretting having taken the item in the first place. “From what I understand, it’s not after the anchiti but seeks to prevent the Padishah-i-Gazi from appearing once we have reunited all the relics. The Padhishah will be the one to defeat the leviathan.”
“What he says is true,” Yazdan said. “I wished it wasn’t, but I saw it in the skies with my own eyes and felt its power wrapped around me. We must unite the remaining anchiti and destroy this threat before we lose innocent people to its rampage.”
“Quite the tale you bring to my attention. I trust you imagine yourself to be this legendary hero?” Kyros asked, rising from his seat. He moved around the table of his council members and joined them. He smiled at Ardeshir. “It was in jest and wise of you to do so. I’ll send out a team to investigate and confirm this leviathan immediately. You must be the troublemaker Bayat told me about. That you tricked him by giving him a meaningless piece of jewelery. Come and walk with me. I’d like to learn a little more about your experiences.”
“Of course, anything that can be of assistance. I’m just a little worried about finding the other relics before the Leviathan pushes deeper into the galaxy.”
Kyros held his arm out toward a side door that lead to the back of the Guild grounds where he kept a garden in mint condition. Hedges, flowers and even a small corner for growing vegetables and herbs.
“There’s something I want to show you, it’ll be our little secret,” Kyros said as they approached a garden shed. “This is the site of the first guild house built many years ago. Much has changed over time, but there is a place here where my great-grandfather was taught magic by Ahura Ahmun.”
“He was taught in a shed?”
Kyros raised an eyebrow. “For someone who spent the past year exploring the galaxy, you don’t seem to be open-minded enough.”
They went inside, where the head-gardener kept all the gardening tools stowed away with nothing out of the ordinary. Kyros moved past Ardeshir to the table and pushed the chair over so it fell on its back. A soft click sounded as a piece of the wooden floorboard jumped up a notch.
“Neat trick, I’ll have to remember to build one like it for myself.”
The Arch Mage held his open hand out. “If you please. I think we might find what you’re searching for here.”
Ardeshir studied his face, trying to tell whether he was playing a trick on him. He decided to trust him and look for himself and opened the hatch by pushing it to the side. A winding staircase went into the dark depths, but Kyros already took the lantern hanging inside the shed and indicated for him to go ahead.
“My great-grandfather used to practice every day with Ahura Ahmun down here in order to master his skill of magic and learn the many ways it could be used. One day Ahmun vanished, leaving behind a few pieces of heirloom which my family kept safe down here in case he were to ever return. We never thought they were anything out of the ordinary but cherished them because of who they belonged to.”
It made sense for Ahmun to have been in possession of an anchiti but Ardeshir couldn’t imagine him leaving it behind. It appeared more likely that he was killed off-world and therefore never returned to reclaim the relic.
The staircase ended in front of a thick door that creaked as Ardeshir shoved it open. The door was heavy from lack of care to the hinges and the air musty inside the stone dungeon. Arch Mage Kyros followed him, revealing the path forward. Tapestries of Ahmun hung on the walls with a small pedestal planted in front of each one. Ardeshir could feel the power now that he was this close. It astonished him that the Guild was able to keep the relic a secret for so long. He couldn’t sense the anchiti from the Hall which led him to believe there could be a barrier in place protecting the relic.
“My theory is correct? I can see it on your face; you know what they are.”
“They?” Ardeshir approached the stand, glancing down at the marvelous piece of jewelry but there were more. Ahmun had collected four anchiti, bringing him so close to reuniting all of them. “This is incredible. After all these months of searching, the majority of relics were right in front of my nose.”
Kyros nodded and held up a ring fitted with dragon glass. The black mass inside seemed to swirl around with the motion but appearances were deceiving. “I’ve always been fondest of this one. Tell me, what secrets does it hold?”
“Let me have a look,” Ardeshir said, reaching for the ring. His fingers brushed the glass and a jolt of magic sparked between them as his surroundings dimmed.
The Arch Mage and the dungeon were gone, replaced by a serene mountaintop shrouded in clouds. Ardeshir’s heart raced as he peered over the edge at the deep misty depths hundred of feet below him and the small ledge he stood on. It wasn’t the same place he’d first encountered Vida and the wind brought with it a bitter chill.
“You dare disturb the tranquility of my humble abode?” A voice echoed off the sides of the mountains. A rustling sound followed by the clattering of rocks as they broke off the ledge and rolled down the side. “We’ll see how determined you truly are.”
“I’m Ardeshir and I’ve come to free you from your slumber. Your aid is needed in the noble fight ahead.”
“There are no more great fights. It’s why I rest,” she whispered from behind into his ear. Ardeshir spun around but found the space empty. The voice had first come from above but then from behind him. He couldn’t see into the distance, but only the few feet around him as the ledge wound around the mountain.
Ardeshir balled his hands and walked along the broken pathway. The places the anchiti took him when he came into contact with them had to have a meaning if they were different from one daeva to the next. He walked for what must have been miles, growing weary as the air thinned.
A gaping hole blocked his path. A portion of the mountain must have come loose earlier, creating a twenty foot gap to the other side. For a moment he wondered what would happen if he were to fall. He peered over the edge, gazing down. Would he return to Kyros or perish in unfamiliar lands? It was too big of a risk, but he needed to press on if he wanted to win the daeva for himself.
Ardeshir went back and took off in a dash, leaping over the hole and landing near the edge where his balance wavered. He quickly leaned forward and moved to safety. He could see the top from there and raced up the last leg.
A click gave him enough warning to spin around and come face to face with the barrel of a pistol. “You’re dead but since you took the effort of coming all the way, I’ll give you the luxury of letting me hear your last words.”
Ardeshir gulped, feeling his heart pounding in his chest and the cold sweat forming in his hands, but he still held his ground. “You won’t kill me. You had plenty of chances to already but you didn’t. I know what you are and what you’re capable of. Killing me wouldn’t bring you any honor.”
“It would give me peace of mind.” The woman had a sharp chin and full dark lips. Her armor was made of thin gold plating and a pair of horns peered out from the back of her skull, twisting ever so slightly inward. Her gaze lowered as she must have been caught in thought. Ardeshir remained still, aware he didn’t want to appear taking advantage of her distraction. Finally, she uncocked the blunderbuss pistol and smiled. “Fortune lies in your favor today. You are a guest in my home and come unarmed. Killing you would soil my reputation.”
Ardeshir let out a sigh and dared to take a step closer. “You know my name but I don’t know yours. I’ve already met Vida and come in contact with the great devourer you call Leviathan.”
The daeva pressed a finger to his lips, silencing him. She indicated to the small stone building a few feet away, and he followed her there. There she set water over the fire and prepared a tea for them both. She sipped the strong herbal mix and waited for him to finish his cup before eying him again. “If you’ve encountered Leviathan, then there’s little I can do to save you. Leviathan is no opponent one can defeat but a force of nature, like trying to best the wind with the edge of a sword.”
“That’s not true. The Padishah-i-Ghazi has the power to defeat Leviathan and end the destruction.”
“Hardly. What you speak of was a legend the ahura created to inspire hope amongst their people but all it did was fragment them further.” She rose and held her hand out to the path Ardeshir took up. “I’ve shared tea with you and spared your life. Return home and cherish the days gifted to you.”
Ardeshir took a step in the direction but stopped and turned back around, resolved to not give up so easily despite the chance of landing on her ill side. “I have five of the anchiti. I guess I will have to rely upon a greater daeva than yourself to see the deed through. Vida’s strength must be immense if she holds herself back in every fight. You seemed to be a worthy fighter but now I’m not so sure.”
The daeva’s expression hardened before she charged across. She leapt into the air, bringing her leg around to kick him over the edge when Vida appeared to deflect her blow with the vambrace. “You? You’ve actually become this human’s servant?”
“Ahzi, stop your foolishness. Our chances might be slim but we need to seize the chance to work together. We didn’t always fight against one another.”
“No, we didn’t,” she admitted, lowering her voice. “We were tricked and enslaved by the ahura who mistook our generosity for weakness. I will never be weak again.”
“You’re not. Which is why we need you to work with us.”
Ahzi snarled, aiming her pistol at Ardeshir. Her arm quivered as her finger graced the trigger. She suddenly raised and discharged it at the sky. “It appears I have no choice. The power of the anchiti remains strong enough to condemn me. As long as you hold the Jikka, I’ll be in your service, master.”
The wind picked up strength, encasing Ardeshir and lifting him off the ground. Within a few heartbeats, he returned to the dungeon under the garden shed and toppled to the ground.
“Uneasy on your legs?” Kyros said, peering down at him.
“You didn’t see me just arrive… or leave?”
The Arch Mage shook his head and helped him rise back to his feet. “You took the relic from me and fell over. Apparently you believe you went somewhere which means they are able to influence the bearer’s state of mind through magic. Interesting.”
Ardeshir opened his hand. “Ahzi is the name of the spirit inside the Jikka and I’m afraid she isn’t too fond of us.”
Next time on Magefall …
Episode 9 – A Test of Will