The doors to the governor’s mansion blew open, carrying with it the pair of guards barring him entry. Markus strode threw the dust cloud at ease, appearing on the other side in front of Kalim’s court.
The satrap sat up in his chair, nails digging into the arms. The shock playing out in the occupants’ faces quickly dispersed when they saw Markus alone and unarmed. Grins took their place as the two guards standing between Markus and Kalim saw their chance. They approached at an angle and drew their swords.
Markus moved in and snatched the man’s wrist. Bones crunched as he applied pressure and twisted, knocking the sword out of his hand. The other tried to use the distraction to his advantage and charged forward from behind him. Markus leaped, kicking himself off the guard he held and launching himself into the chest of the other guard.
They tumbled to the ground with Markus on top. He pinned the Kazari man down with his knees and struck him in the throat. His larynx snapped, and he wrung for air. With all the guards taken out of the picture, Markus rose and turned to the satrap.
Attia stood beside Kalim, leaning against his chair with narrowed eyes. Her long dark hair came to her waist. Sun-kissed skin revealed itself through the scarce light armor she wore and was accompanied by dual blades held in the scabbards at her hips. She gave Markus a curt nod before hopping off the rise and landing in front of him.
“You made a mistake coming here,” Kalim said. The frost dragon curled up on his lap woke up and leaped into the air, soaring above them. “I thought we had an agreement. It pains me to have to take it out on a hostage but I must be a man of my word.”
“What makes you think I dared come alone?” Markus raised his arm into the air and a twinkle of metal in the distance signaled the position his daeva took up. Moving ahead on his own was risky but he wanted to talk, only then could the rest of his plan succeed. “I don’t want to fight you, but there are larger threats I can no longer ignore.”
Kalim remained silent for a moment, each of them staring at each other and anticipating the other’s move. The seconds dragged on in which Markus could feel the beating of his heart. The way Attia circled him like a vulture closing in on its prey.
Markus spun on his heel and drove his elbow into Attia’s side, catching her off-guard and reaching for the sword at her hip. Just before he could clasp his hands around the grip, she vanished and appeared behind him. Arrows whisked across the city followed by the clanking of metal as they parried each and every one of Attia’s blows before she could cut a hair off him. Markus stood at ease, letting her come at him from all angles, only for an arrow to knock her weapon aside and have her come again.
As long as Markus kept himself in clear view of his daeva, they could provide him with an invisible shield against any and all attacks. The only reason he dared set foot in Kalim’s mansion in the first place.
“You could have asked nicely and I might have given her to you freely but if you’ve come to lecture me on your fantasies, then I’m afraid I don’t have the time,” Kalim said.
“It’s not a fantasy,” Markus said, striding by Attia without paying her any heed and taking the first step to Kalim. “Another fourteen stars went out last night.”
“Hardly concerns either of us. Those were out past the Frontier and we don’t even know for sure what lies beyond those worlds.”
“We know and the only way to stop it is by uniting all the relics. Justinian stopped paying heed to my warnings and sought to silence my voice by giving me a satrapy but I won’t stop until we have defeated our enemy. Just ask Attia if you don’t believe me,” Markus said.
Kalim’s gaze lazily wandered from Markus to his Maiden. “Well? What do you know of his wild claims?”
Attia licked her lips, hands rolling off the pommel of her swords. She itched to end the fight but was still being held back. “There are only two creatures older than the daeva. Those who are said to be there from the beginning to end. Alpha and Omega. I’ve only ever fought the leviathan and lost but whether he is the Alpha or the Omega, I do not know.”
“You mean there’s something out there more powerful than a Battle Maiden?” Kalim asked, leaning forward in his chair. The dragon returned and let itself get pet by him. The presence of the dragon alone cooled the entire room with each of its breaths. “And you just expect me to hand you everything over because of this, maybe even join you to the furthest reaches of space?”
Markus nodded. “The longer we fight, the weaker we become. Only the Padishah Emperor will have the strength to oppose such a powerful being.”
Kalim broke out into a fit of laughter. “All it takes is a word and your wife is dead. Even if you manage to escape, I could tell the other lords of your rendezvous with the princess. How long do you think she’ll last when we all decide to end her?”
“Don’t do this. You’ve already let the bastard escape. Leave her to me.”
“Why would I do that? Even if this fairy tale of yours is real, wouldn’t it be better if I become the Emperor? You’re not the youngest anymore and I’d hate to see you break a hip.”
Markus snorted. “You’ve never bloodied your hands before and the fact that you haven’t warned the others yet tells me you won’t.”
“Enjoy the final moments in your life. You can rest assured, your wife will follow you in the the afterlife soon enough and Mitra will serve me.” Kalim snapped his fingers, sending Attia into a frenzy as she assaulted him, appearing and vanishing within heartbeats as she sought a lapse in Mitra’s judgement and an opening to drive her blade into him.
Markus eased back when the hairs on his neck prickled and he turned around to see a portal ripping open. Adelaxia’s face appeared in the center and she smiled when they looked at each other. Her hand reached out to him and Markus gladly accepted, allowing her to pull him through the portal and onto their homeworld. He took her into his arms and held her close.
Rustoji, the daeva he sent to free Adelaxia while he distracted Attia and Kalim stood nearby and gave him a polite bow.
Adelaxia pulled away and smiled as she gazed up into his face. “Kill him.”
Markus nodded, channeling magic halfway across the universe to Mitra waiting in the hills outside the city of Sumhara. She gathered the energy into her arrow and loosed it upon the mansion, sending the entire structure up in a rupture of flames.