The day became more beautiful as it dragged on, unaware of the lives and destinies swaying on the surface. Summer wouldn’t last forever but the winters were mild and favorable to many people dwelling in the Outer Realm.
Rouya doubted she’d be seeing any of the usual guests that winter. If they didn’t come to her, then she could at least visit and remind them of the pledge they gave her father. She gently stroked the stem of the bright dahlia flower, admiring the beauty and variety of colors present in the flower garden. The tension she felt hours before vanished and was replaced by a new calm she enjoyed for the time.
“Shall I bring it to your room?” the head gardener asked.
Rouya smiled but shook her head. “That won’t be necessary. It belongs out here with the others. Justinian needed the dahlia for his sugar illness but now they deserve they garden.”
The gardener bowed and returned to working on the seeds he was planting.
“We need to learn a little more about each other before we leave. I still need to introduce you to Mah,” Rouya said, rising from a crouch. She grabbed the scythe and strapped it onto her back.
Rouya reached for magic, concentrating it on the connection she shared with Mah and swiftly drew up the three pointed symbol for summoning. The magic spurred within her and she felt the warmth around her ring finger increase. It lasted a mere heartbeat until it vanished and Mah stood in front of them.
Mah looked to Rouya before tilting her head to take a glance at Evelyn. She crossed her arms in front of her chest. The hems of her dress caught fire, slowly burning away but a long red blouse, black vest and tight trousers replaced it. “I was hoping we’d get to spend some time alone before we get to the action but I guess it’ll have to wait until later.”
“An elementalist, how practical. I’ll let you cool me off when the fighting’s done,” Evelyn said. A grin curled up along the edges of her lips as she crossed in front of Mah and took her place at Rouya’s side with her glaive on full display. The blade alone was twice the size of her head and would require a great deal of strength to wield.
“Correct, but I prefer fire. At least we’re well rounded for any eventuality. I’ll stay with Rouya and lay waste to our enemies and you can go on ahead and wrestle or whatever it is you Maidens do.”
Rouya pulled Evelyn behind her and placed herself between the two arguing women. She needed to become a team with both of them and not have them start a competition to see which daeva was the better. “Stop it, both of you. If either of you starts bickering again, I’ll dismiss you and won’t summon you again for a week.”
Mah pouted her lips but shrugged. “Very well. I’ll do what I can to support you, my lady. Evelyn might have bad taste in hair styles but I’m sure she’s more than capable of handling her knife.”
“What’s wrong with my hair? It’s practical!” Rouya laid her hand on Evelyn’s helping calm her down. “I’m fine. Let’s just see what you got.”
“I’m sure you won’t be able to lay a hand on me,” Mah said with a smirk. She balled her hands and began siphoning off magic from Rouya. Her gray hands glowed orange and became brighter as she took more magic from Rouya. A wave of heat washed over her and intensified as she continued to build up. Mah had gone completely red and was even partially translucent but showed no signs of pain.
Rouya stepped back, breathing in more warm air and wondering just how far Mah would take her demonstration. The scythe strapped to her back became hot and she winced when her fingers brushed against the metal. Even the garden began to take a beating with the flowers losing their petals and beginning to wilt away. “That’s enough, I get the point. I trust you’re able to wield fire as well?”
The heat broke off immediately and Mah sprung forward with a fist into the air. “Sure thing. It depends on the situation but you can count on me to keep you safe.”
A rummage of feet drew Rouya’s attention to the side, and both daeva moved in front to shield her. Rouya sensed a build up of magic swiftly approaching and prepared herself to fight. The presence grew as it drew closer until it was directly in front of her.
“Ah, it’s you,” Markus announced as he came to a stop and dispelled the magic he’d been gathering. Mitra was with him, bow at hand, and her sharp eyes met Rouya’s. The blue taint under her lashes slowly faded away as she released the magic. “You should have told me you’d be out here. Got me really worried when I sensed the power levels building up. We can’t be too safe at times like these. Kalim is probably still out there and he’ll be itching to get back at me.”
Rouya gave him a curt nod and relaxed. “Thank you for your concern but I can’t continue waiting around for the other summoners to make a move. I already decided to challenge Parsa this afternoon. I’ve done my research on the list of names you gave me. He should be the easiest.”
“Nothing’s easy when it comes to a fight. He may be the least experienced of the summoners but they’ve all got a head start on you.”
“You’re trying to persuade me not to fight again,” Rouya said with a frown.
“Not at all, your grace. If I were in your position, I’d go after him as well. I wouldn’t bother challenging him though,” Markus said, moving to a table where beverages had been set up for her. He poured himself some water and sipped from the cup. “I’d make it quick and easy. Parsa is young and likes to get drunk with his harem. Catch him in the act and retrieve the ring.”
“Out of the question. I refuse to stoop to such lows. I want to defeat my enemies in broad daylight, so that everyone can be a witness to their failure on even terms.”
Markus set the cup down and planted his hands on the edge of the table. Mitra was no longer in sight. “If that’s how it’s going to be, then I have to accept it. In that case, I’ll accompany you to guarantee your safety.”
“As long as you don’t interfere in the duel and stay out of sight. If we both appear, he’ll never come out to fight me.”
“That’s true. Before we depart, you should get a taste for what lies ahead of you.”
A prickle of energy on the back of her neck made Rouya aware of the impeding danger. She leaped back an instant before Mitra’s night arrow bore into the ground. Night arrows were a stealth attack that could almost entirely mask the magic of her arrows before it was too late. She reached for her scythe and plucked it from her back strap in anticipation of another attack she could sense building up.
“Evelyn, go take care of Mitra while I deal with Markus!”
“On it,” Evelyn said, dashing into motion. Arrows whizzed by her, landing at her feet. They became increasingly dangerous as she got closer to the archer.
Mah flashed her hands out at her sides and began drawing in magic for two balls of fire. The strain became evident to Rouya as she halted her attack on Markus in order to diverge more magic to the daeva.
Markus seized the opportunity, moving in on Mah barehanded. She flung a fireball at him but he simply pivoted on his toes around it and brought the side of his hand down on her wrist.
Rouya felt the snap echo into her being before she heard it. The connection she shared with Mah passed on a base level of sensation with it. Mah twisted, swinging her right hand in a flaming punch towards Markus but only struck the flat of his arm he held up to protect his face. The punch was still enough to shove him several feet back, his boots dragging long marks into the ground as he attempted to keep his balance.
“Damn it,” Rouya snapped as she raced forward to join in the fight. At least Evelyn was doing her part in keeping Mitra distracted, but hadn’t managed to land a strike on the daeva herself yet.
Mah snapped her wrist back into place and began heating her entire body again as she approached him. She sucked in air and let out a fiery breath in a cone before her.
Markus’ eyes widened when he saw the flames and with both directions being covered by the fire, he leaped over Mah, twisting mid-air to land directly behind her.
Rouya was there to block any attack he might have used against her and brought her scythe down on him full force. Markus moved in closer to her, using the palm of his hand to strike against the shaft and send her off balance. It lasted only a heartbeat as she watched his movements and adjusted herself to his trajectory. His follow-up attack missed, and she locked his arm with the staff and brought the tip of her scythe in between his shoulder blades.
“Got you,” she said with a smile at the look on his face. She considered Markus to be one of the best summoners serving her father and the fact that she managed to best him gave her morale a much needed boost. “I’m leaving in the hour. You’re free to come and watch but keep your distance.”
Markus shut his eyes and smiled right back at her. “As you wish, your grace. I will, however, point out that I didn’t summon any additional daeva into the fight and went easy on you. Your opponents won’t be as forgiving as I am.”
Rouya released him from her grip and strapped the scythe back. “Sounds like an excuse a sore loser would make. Thank you for your advice, I’ll be sure to heed it. I might be young but not quite as foolish as you may think.”
The flower garden laid in ruins, petals from the dahlia were scattered across the grass. It would take time for her to rebuild and improve upon what her father had set in place.
Parsa was the first one on her list.
Next time on Battle Maidens …
New to Battle Maidens? Episode 1