part III

Whatever had been in the cave was gone. The sage had described seeing “something come through” in the vision, but she couldn’t be sure of that fact due to the interpretive nature of the things. Visions had always been explained to Carter as malleable. Windows into possible futures yet to be affected by the trillions of tiny variables that made up the chaotic universe everyone inhabited.

But she appeared to be correct. The charred crater in the center of the room. The lingering metallic stench that singed his nostrils. The suspended dust still hanging in the thick air. They were all signs that something had been there.

And they had just missed it.

As investigating incidences of magic was far from his forte, Carter relinquished control of the site to Cordts after a thorough sweep of the chamber resulted in zero ancient items or any signs of Cretan’s past. So as the Adarai began conducting their own investigation into what had happened, Carter excused himself from the chamber.

It is an odd one, he thought to himself, as he washed the dirt from his face in his tent. And no matter how many times he blew his nose, the stink of scorched metal would not leave his nostrils. Cordts had noted an odd amount of electromagnetic interference in addition to other higher-dimensional distortions, as Carter was leaving, but, for some reason, Carter couldn’t bring himself to care.

He just couldn’t shake what he had felt. That empty feeling. He had been let down by disappointing digs and discoveries in the past of course, but this was different. Something deeper.

But before he could give the feeling any more thought, his comm rang out, projecting the words “ENCRYPTED CALL” over his desk.

“This is Carter,” he said, answering the call, as he pulled a cup of fresh coffee from the machine.

“Hello, Carter,” the familiar cool yet honeyed voice sounded from the unscrambling projection, causing his jaw to tighten.

He took a seat in his chair and a sip of his caffeine, as the image of the slender, ornately-dressed woman cleared, “Agrona. To what do I owe the pleasure?”

The Flamen Martialis’ expression was difficult to read through the shuddering projection, but Carter thought he saw a thin smile curl at the edges of her mouth. “Strictly business, I assure you. I heard The Council has been unable to reach Mr. Cordts since this morning, so I decided to inquire myself.”

Carter decided to engage as little as possible, “Everything is fine, Agrona. Just a lot of interference out here as you can tell. Probably remnants from the storm, as you’d imagine.”

“So nothing of note from the cavern, I assume? Considering you’re drinking alone in your tent before noon,” she cooed cooly.

“I’m sure the Council will inform you of the findings,” Carter shrugged, taking another sip, “If they think your--insights--will be useful, that is.”

He couldn’t be sure, but Carter thought he saw her jaw clench before she quickly moved on, “To be perfectly honest, I do have something else to ask of you, Carter.”

“Just get on with it, Agrona.”

“Carter, please. There's no need for hostilities."

He stifled a sigh but did not respond.

“I have a favor to ask. For old time’s sake.”