Exposure Level 2 - 10 | v

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Vescovi knew the stories about The Coming. About how the city of Zanu was swallowed, back into the sands from which it rose to glory. Details about its demise were sketchy at best and for most, it was just a story. One that illustrated the dangers of magic and why the use of it should not be taken lightly.

Because of the lore, the Zanu desert was rarely explored. The locals did try to warn them that their presence would awaken the revenants. Protectors of the secrets of Zanu. According to the locals, the magic thought dormant was very much alive. They spoke of it like it was a living breathing thing. Vescovi thought they made it seem more ominous than it was worth. That some of the details were wholly exaggerated. He was wrong. And to their collective dismay—the locals were right.

The magic here countered Ava's shadow magic. Repelled it. Up until the people of the sands came at them with sharp-edged swords made of hardened sand, Vescovi thought shadow magic was the ultimate. Wrong again. Ava, as strong as she was, was having a rough time countering the forces that attacked them.

The first attack was unexpected. Sporadic sand storms were not out of the ordinary. They were in the middle of the desert, so they took no serious note of them. Vescovi and the others pushed their way through the minor ones and took cover under travel tarps when the storms were more severe. That was all well and good until the storms brought with them death. From the clouds of sands that obscured their visions came figures wielding swords. They had a hard time fighting what they could not see.

Regrouping after the first attack, Vescovi counted three men down. Two of them were dead, the third missing. Presumed buried somewhere under the mounds of sands. One misstep and one went tumbling down the side of the mound. Sometimes it was just a few feet other times it was more. Getting back up was like trying to make your way through dry, parched quicksand. Not once did they encounter any sign of life. No plants, no animals, not even the barest spring.

The second attack brought insight into their enemies. The revenants were using elemental magic in its purest form. The air Vescovi and his convoy breathed became a weapon. The earth around them. The moisture inside their bodies. With each attack, they grew wary and more men died. Their numbers were whittling down from twelve, not including Daniel, Zigor, Helick, Penny and Ava to eight.

Out in the open, they were easy targets. Vescovi felt he was the one to blame. It was his idea to take this path to shave days off their travel. They might as well have gone the long way around. Each fight delayed them; each ended in one of his own dying. He remembered an old saying 'the long path draws sweat, the short way draws blood.' An apt analogy for their current dilemma. Going the long way would have added a day or two, yes, but what if it would also mean all of them making it to the temple alive?

Vescovi tried not to focus on the grim, but it was proving difficult. The last attack—the fourth—left Daniel missing, and Zigor wounded with a sword wound to his gut. A deep one.

"We can't stay here," Vescovi said.

"And where do you propose we go?" Ava asked. She was holding up a force field around them.

On Ava's forehead was a light sheen of sweat. Elemental magic was not new to Vescovi but this form—it was beating the best they had to throw at it. Vescovi did not have an answer for Ava's question. Outside their temporary haven, the sands continued to stir.

"This is why Salvay and Sven are here," Vescovi said. "They came to this place to unearth the magic."

"I have never faced elemental magic like this before," Ava said. Her voice sounded strained. Her feet were sinking into the sand as if she was holding up the sky on her shoulders. "This magic is ancient. Pure."

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