Episode 15 – The Gates of Elad

Rouya and Markus arrived at the marketplace in Elad, the central hub for realmwalkers arriving and departing. They dressed themselves in large cloaks to conceal their combat attire underneath. It would only giveaway that they were looking for a fight and had enough coin to purchase finer craftsmanship.

Elad itself was located in a mountainous region and profited heavily off the sale of raw metals and refined precious metals. The marketplace was abuzz with commotion as craftsmen and salesmen from vendors attempted to pitch their wares while customers tried to haggle down the price. The Mage Guild maintained the centerpiece, and they were quickly waved over by an official to make sure the area would be clear for further portals.

“Names?” the man asked, dipping his feather into the ink vial. His tone suggested a no non-sense attitude, but the bags under his eyes told Rouya that he’d been at it for quite some time.

“I’m—“

“Dorian Andai,” Markus said, interrupting her and placing himself in the foreground. “And my serving girl, Arezo.”

The mage quickly jotted down the information before returning his gaze on Markus. “Where are you from and what’s the purpose of your visit?”

“Commerce, I’m looking to purchase iron and coal for sale at the markets on Intrina. I heard the prices here a quite competitive.”

“Very well, then here’s your two-day city pass,” the man said, finishing the paperwork and stamping it off. “Keep it on you at all times and hand it over before departure at the customs desk.”

Markus thanked him and handed the passes to Rouya. “Keep a good eye on these. I don’t want you losing them like the last time. Sometimes I question where your head is.”

Rouya rolled her eyes but played along and showed the guards the passes before stuffing them into her pocket. “Better not get a taste for this.”

He grunted, and they made their way through the market and past the stalls cramped together with wares from all over the universe on her left while the local merchants were on the right. Rouya stuck to Markus and let him lead her through the maze and towards the castle overlooking the city.

Aequilla had fewer heights with most buildings level to one another and a city layout which foresaw plenty of space between the structures.

A few curious eyes strafed them while some people bumped into her, but she made sure not to carry any coins on her. She kept the Nazar under her armor and out of sight. The last thing she needed was for some fool to steal it off her. She could sense Evelyn’s spirit lurking inside the amulet, waiting to be released. Doing so in the middle of the city would attract unwanted attention to themselves, and so they waited until they reached the ramp leading to the castle gate.

“Hold on,” the heavily armored guard said, raising his gauntlet. His companion remained behind with his hand gripped around the shaft of his sword, still hidden in the scabbard. “What do you two want here? Got lost or something?”

“I have an urgent reminder for Lord Parsa,” Rouya said. She smiled at him when he cocked a brow and studied her.

“Oh, yeah, and what might that be?”

Evelyn, Mah and Mitra suddenly appeared with a flash of light standing beside them in full battle attire.

“Of an oath he swore to my father.” She lunged ahead, snatching his arm down and planting her knee into his face. He instantly fell unconscious but his companion still remained and he didn’t hesitate to draw his sword and storm down the ramp.

Mitra let an arrow pierce him in the throat before he took five steps towards them. He spit blood, swaying where he stood as he choked before finally tumbling over the edge and onto the cobbled road.

“I told you I didn’t want anyone to get killed!”

Markus glanced at Mitra before returning his gaze onto the Queen and shrugging. “People are bound to get killed. Imagining this as a bloodless conflict is extremely naïve. We better hurry before reinforcements arrive and we have to take even more lethal action.”

The bells sounded from a watchtower on the walls, alarming the garrison of the intruders. By the time they made it to the gates, dozens of men were flocking out of the barracks and forming a line between them and the palace. The sun reflected off the crisp shields and spears wedged between their arms. Rouya could see the determination in their faces to uphold their duty.

“Have you ever heard of the fight-or-flight instinct?” Markus asked, taking in the buildup of forces in front of them with archers mounting the battlements. “How a person reacts when confronted with danger says a lot about the individual. Play the deck given and attack or flee to live another day.”

“Are you suggesting I pull back?”

Markus clasped his hands behind his back and walked casually down the ramp. “Perhaps, but I’m also interested in Parsa. The Mage Guild is sworn to neutrality, but he could still attempt to reach their office and wander off-world. Anyhow, I brought you to the gates and will let you do your thing. I’ll be over here in case you need me.”

“Are you abandoning your Queen?” Evelyn snarled, shifting her glaive towards the retreating satrap.

Rouya laid her hand on the pole and turned her away from him. “Let him go. He did as I asked. I’ll finish this my way.”

Evelyn hesitated but accepted her command. “You should go to safety. Let me deal with these scum.”

“Soldiers of Elad, I admire your courage but the woman you see before you is a Battle Maiden who knows no defeat. I doubt you would be little more than a nuisance for her, but I don’t want her to end your lives. You have families waiting for you to return home, just as I had, but they were taken from me by the man you protect. My grudge lies not with you but with Parsa and so I challenge him to settle the dispute with me.”

The archers loosed their arrows and cast a dark shade upon her. Evelyn moved in, brushing hundreds of arrows in one fell swoop away and hurling them to the ground.

“I don’t appreciate the hostility,” Rouya added. “But I’m not leaving until he’s come out to face me for the man he is. If you all wish to lay your lives down in his name, then come and meet our blades.”

The line held still with not a single member breaking formation and prepared to fight her if she attacked.

Minutes passed in which the three women merely stood against the two hundred soldiers and the intense silence that played out between them.

“He’s not coming,” Mah said, mindlessly drawing animal shapes in the air.

“I could easily make my way around without injuring any of them,” Evelyn said. “But I don’t want to risk you being harmed.”

“We’ll wait. It’s his honor he continues to tarnish by leaving us here at the gates.”

Rouya hoped he’d show himself eventually but couldn’t rule out the possibility that he had already left the scene. She knew she couldn’t wait indefinitely. Word would spread of the summoner and other summoners might try to take advantage of the situation.

Parsa revealed himself after an hour of standing in the sun. However, the cool mountain breeze made it tolerable. He came out to the balcony of his mansion and spoke to his soldiers. “Why haven’t you all slaughtered her by now? Can’t you see that you easily outnumber her? They couldn’t possibly fight you all at the same time. As your patron, I command you all to press the attack!”

The front row soldiers wavered, glancing at each other hoping to reach a unified decision.

The line moved.

Soldiers formed up in a dual column on either side of the pathway with their spear tips raised, granting Rouya entry into the mansion.

Parsa growled from the balcony and tossed his wine at them. “None of you are getting paid for your insolence. Press the attack now or punishment will be dealt.” The line locked their shields together in unison. “Very well then. Tassia, dispose of these cowards at once.”

“As you wish, my lord.” The pale Maiden brought her fist to her chest and bowed. Her delicate frame and the blue and white dress were at odds with her presence as a Battle Maiden. She began casting a shimmering spell in the air before her.

“This can’t be good,” Rouya said. “Let’s move now!”

Rouya rushed towards the mansion, catching Parsa off-guard. The thin man stumbled back, pressing himself against the wall. Light burst out from Tassia’s spell in a powerful beam and vaporized half of the force gathered within an instant until not even the ashes remained. Only the faint image of the army scorched the floor as shadows would.

“By the Pillars!” Rouya shook her fist at Parsa. He was willing to sacrifice his own men for nothing. “You’ve got nerves. Come down here and let’s see how tough you really are.”

“Your Battle Maiden means nothing. The empire is history and you’ll join it soon enough,” Parsa said. “Tassia, erase the princess off the face of this world!”

“With pleasure.” Tassia raised her hand and began casting the next spell. Magic crackled around her as it built up. “Light of the divine!”

“I gave you a chance to come and play nice. Evelyn, you know what do to.”

Evelyn nodded, twirling the glaive before bursting into a frontal charge. Within a matter of heartbeats, she reached the mansion and sprang into the air.

“That’s not possible,” Parsa shrieked as he turned to flee. His maiden appeared less fazed and adjusted the trajectory of her spell. What she failed to account for was Rouya.

Rouya slipped in under her sights, flashing the scythe upward and slicing through her wrist and cutting off a hand. The spell broke off immediately, her eyes widening as she found herself completely defenseless. Evelyn roared as she came upon her and pierced through her chest with the blade coming out on the other side.

Blood trickled out of the corner of Tassia’s mouth while her lips curled into a smile. She pointed her finger at Rouya. “Checkmate.”

A small beam of magical energy burst out of her finger and pounded into Rouya’s shoulder. The blast knocked the air out of her lungs and flung her over the railing, but she still managed to hang on with a hand and keep herself from falling.

Evelyn finished her off and Tassia blew up into a cloud of blue smoke before hurrying to help Rouya back over. “Are you all right? I’ll get us out of here,” she said in a pitch.

“No, we need to finish the job before he summons her again.” Rouya applied pressure on the wound, flinching when the pain shot through her body. She walked to the balcony door and entered the room where Parsa had fled to.

Mah fought against three of his daeva, dodging their blows but being steadily pushed back and unable to counter them. Rouya had sent her in a flanking move to cut off his retreat. The daeva noticed their approach and shifted to the new threat.

Parsa scowled, covering the ring around his finger. “You can’t have it. It’s my right as lord of five worlds to have a Battle Maiden serve me. You-you’re not even a king.”

Evelyn and Rouya each took on one of the daeva attacking them. Sparks flew as she blocked the attack and tore at the wound in Rouya’s shoulder. She screamed and eased back, avoiding the diagonal slash of the sword.

“I never said I’d be king. I’m the Queen!” She pivoted, knocking the daeva in the waist with the stump of her scythe before twisting it around and going for the man’s head.

He reacted quicker than she had hoped, swiftly back-handing her and cutting off her attack.

Evelyn made quick work of the daeva she fought against, disarming and then destroying her. She turned and befell Rouya’s attacker from behind and ended his presence in the realm with a clean slice.

The dagger-wielding daeva going after Mah gave up and retreated out of the room after his master. All three chased after him, but it was Mah’s fireball that punched him to the ground and incinerated him.

“You’re running out of options, Parsa. Hand over the anchita and I’ll let you live out your days in the dungeon.”

Shifting shadows in the parlor alerted Rouya of where he was trying to hide. They may have defeated his daeva but unless they captured him, he still posed a threat. He moved around the pillar to keep out of sight but his heavy breathing and loud feet gave him away just as easily.

Rouya passed the pillar and faced Parsa directly. He jumped back, bumping into Evelyn.

“The ring. Yes, yes. Here you can have it, it brought me nothing but bad luck. Just promise to let me go, okay?” Parsa began fumbling with his hands.

“Your crime is unforgivable but we can see about the measure of punishment when we return to Aequilla.”

“I see but, uhm, I have information,” he said. “I know about—“

“Get down,” Markus shouted from behind and soon after a body hauled her to the floor.

The pain in her shoulder flared up again. She let out a scream before grinding her teeth together as she heaved him off her and rose to a knee. She paused at seeing Parsa on his back in front of her. Three arrows protruded from his chest and his eyes were glossy, staring up at the ceiling while his lips mumbled something incomprehensible to her.

“By the Pillars, Markus. What got into you?” Rouya fumed, dabbing him in the chest with her finger. “He was about to tell me something.”

Markus narrowed his eyes on her and straightened out his clothes. “He was about to kill you, that’s what. He was buying time while getting ready to perform a spell. I just saved your life.”

“I had the situation under control. We’d have had him before he could have tried anything.” Rouya moved over to his body and shut his eyes, whispering a prayer to Ahmun for his soul to find its way to the Pillars of Eternity. She then took the ring and held it to the window, allowing sunlight to pierce through the diamond. “At least we have what we came here for. Let’s get back to Aequilla before we cause any more of a mess here.”

Rouya saw enough death for one day, and she despised each one. Nobody should be forced to have their life cut short, not even the traitors who killed her family. She moved towards the gates when she noticed Markus lagging behind.

“Go on ahead. With Parsa dead, I should see to a smooth transition back into the imperial fold and appoint a transitional governor.”

Rouya nodded and beckoned Evelyn and Mah to accompany her through the city. “We’re not finished yet, Markus.”

Once out of the mansion, Rouya turned to Evelyn and lowered her voice. “Keep an eye on him and report anything suspicious. I think he’s hiding something from me.”


Next time on Battle Maidens …

Intermission

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