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> This is the Aswad, ~ Desert Bandits ~
Hassan el Sharir
 Posted: Nov 29 2016, 01:16 PM
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Hassan el Sharir


Kalima (f) – seer; sister to Nazli
Nazli (f) – sister to Kalima and second to Kadir
Kadir (m) – leader of the Aswad and brother to Nazli and Kalima
Prin ti Demsiri (m) - friend to Kadir, Nazli, and Kalima
Alai Karzi (m) –former territorial warlord of the Southern Acacus Desert; and slaver – ultra-opposition to the Amir and to Hassan el Sharir, prefers to absorb the Aswad.
Abdullah (m) – second to Alai

For thousands of years, caravans of camels loaded with rubies, jade, amber, musk and of course silk made their way along routes that zigzagged across Sha’Lazar’s interior. Trade has been the mainstay of wealth in the land… where goods such as ivory, silver, iron, wine, and yes, silk were exchanged across the world, but starvation, thirst, bandits, and ferocious storms, among other threats were known to bury entire caravans. In the end, any traveler would express gratitude for surviving a journey; or pray for safe deliverance before embarking.

Governmental oppression, poverty, exclusion, desertion, greed... just a few to identify prime reasons for a correctable deterrent to trade – the Bandit. So, one might wonder what environment fosters such criminals, as well and family and camaraderie among men? Could it be a city-state’s violent and oppressive history of government, its numerous corrupt and inconsistent rulers, or a violent disregard to a justice system. Regardless of a reason, or reasons, it nurtured an atmosphere of self-reliance and cooperation among the people that opposed the reasons that developed deterrents to trade. This reliance and respect was voluntary, and usually supported by the individual’s family and friends to oppose the ruler or government that instilled violence, exclusion, oppression, and threats.

Once in a while, these bandits, who violate the laws, but who still serves a higher justice. They rob from the rich and give to the poor, free slaves from the slavers, and only kills in self-defense or *just* revenge. As long as they observe this code, they are, in myth and legend, invulnerable to their enemies; they can die or be captured only when betrayed by friends.

Many years ago, there was a wealthy happy family. The merchant, his wife, three sons, and four daughters; the sons to carry on the family business, three beautiful daughters to marry for wealth and prosperity, and the 4th youngest daughter, with promising abilities as a future seer for the temple. The future for this family would turn bleak as the elder brothers and sisters that watched their parents brutally slaughtered for their fortune. And the Amir’s guards, in an attempt to falsely arrest the siblings for their parents’ murder, killed the two elder brothers, then raped the two elder sisters, then killed them as well. The youngest brother, Kadir, and his two youngest sisters, Nazli and Talima, were hidden away, thanks be to Talima’s unique ability; and from their location Kadir watched his older siblings violated and murdered... and vowed justice. Under the cover of darkness, Kadir, Nazli, and Talima ventured to their cousin’s estate near the coast.

Now, over the years, Kadir’s vivid nightmares and Talima’s visions fueled hatred, hatred begat enemies of the state. And the siblings garnered associates who either sympathized their efforts against the Amir and his oppressive government, or favored his ousting. Titled as Enemies of the State, the band of criminals continued to grow... This is the Aswad...
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Prin ti Demsiri
 Posted: Nov 29 2016, 01:41 PM
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Prin ti Demsiri

This is the Aswad - Chapter 1

~ Friends ~

A small, dark bird flew high overhead. Its wings spread wide and riding the draft as it circled lower and lower in a slow, smooth spiral. There was but a fingernail of moon and little light to illuminate the dark feathers, yet a million stars glittered and sparkled in that velvet expanse and gave the hawk all the light he needed. It ignored the estate, choosing instead to find his dinner outside its walls. Silent and deadly for the unaware viper, its wings would fold tight to its body and its gentle glide would become a swift dive, cutting through the cooler night air and plummeting to the sand where talons clamped around a scaled body and a moment later its wings pushed it upward, a writhing serpent taking its last look of life from a hundred feet up secured in its claws. A single scream of success came from the hawk, echoing and then lost in the dark.

Within the estate, Kalima stood on a small balcony, the slight breeze rippling the silk draped over a mane of black. Dark eyes stared out at the night, the sound of the hawk coming to her faintly. Her brow was marred only by the frown that had settled there, as if she were deep in thought or disturbed by something only she could see or hear.

Nazli was behind her, a sister just a year older than she, and a hand was gently placed on Kalima's shoulder. "Come inside, sister…"

Kalima turned to her sister, their like eyes meeting. They resembled one another, but Nazli was older, stronger and quieter. Nazli was the rock. Strong, unyielding and tall. Kalima was the sand, always shifting, changing and hiding things. "He is unsettled..." She said quietly, speaking it as fact and not a question.

Nazli nodded. "it is almost every night lately."

Kalima turned and followed her sister back inside, giving up the cool night air for the candle and fire light within. Nazli dropped to a pile of cushions surrounding a small brazier and leaned toward it to stir up the coals. Kalima's dark eyes lifted to where her sleeping brother was moaning and the frown did not leave her brow. His dreams disturbed him yet again. She joined Nazli, lowering gracefully into a cross legged sit. Tiny bells tinkled as she leaned in to set a small kettle on the brazier and drew a reed box toward her. "I wish he would let me give him something to sleep."

Nazli smiled gently to her sister, shaking her head. "But he won't. We have a very stubborn brother."

Kalima sighed and nodded agreement, rummaging in the box and removing a folded pouch of herbs for their tea. She and her sister talked like this in the wee hours of the night quite often, for neither could sleep when their brother was restless. Yet they preferred him close and not taking his respite elsewhere. They worried over him, as sisters often do.

As Kalima prepared the tea, Nazli watched her closely, studying her sister’s frown and considering its source. Kalima had been born with a caul and the midwife had known even then that the baby would have the sight. It was a gift they had said, but Kalima viewed it quite differently.

Nazli had been skeptical as a child, perhaps from nothing more than sibling rivalry, but she had seen Kalima's visions come true enough times that she could not disbelieve. Of course they were not always accurate, but if any had asked Nazli, she would have said that when it mattered the most, Kalima could see past the veil of time.

Kalima saw her gift as a curse for the most part, for the visions haunted her and caused her great distress. She never knew if the visions were true, or if the prophecy did not come to light because some act of fate had changed it. She had come to be somewhat shy about it, relaying her visions only to her siblings, parents and now their Uncle. She never saw the future for small matters, or for joy… it was always a haunted thing, and it frightened her when they came. She prayed often for the Gods to be kind and not mislead her with false sight. She handed over a steaming cup to Nazli. "Are they to let you go with them?"

The women naturally directed their quiet conversation away from their restless brother, his thrashing stilled for the moment, but mutterings proof that bad dreams still plagued him. "I hope so" Nazli spoke softly, but there was an air of excitement in it as well. Nazli could ride and fight and track, but she was still a woman and at the mercy of her brothers decision. "If they do not, I may throw a scorpion in his bed." This last said in a conspiratorial whisper and obviously with enough humor that it was not a true threat. The sisters smiled at each other, comfortable in each other’s presence.

Kalima had always looked up to her sister, partly because she was the only one she had left, and partly because Nazli garnered almost everyone's respect. She could ride as well as any man, could wield a sword and her arrows were always true. As children, she had once knocked Kadir out cold for teasing her and had often beaten her brother on horseback. Her actions demanded respect, but her voice rarely did. Nazli was a quiet force and perhaps that was the main reason aside from birth order that she was Kadir's second.

Kalima on the other hand, seemed shy in public, or around others than her family, but in private she was the one that would argue a point, or demand something she felt strongly about. She disliked riding and fighting, though she had been taught to do both. She preferred silk to armor and rose oil to camel hair and was often the one to treat the bruises and injuries of her older siblings from their more active life. She was often lost in thought or distracted by them however, as she seemed this night. Her visions were often the cause, but while others had come to respect them, she never trusted them. Sometimes she never spoke of them to anyone.

She did not intend to speak of the latest simply because she did not understand it yet. It was but a feeling now… an oppression, a darkness that loomed in the distance. It moved like a snake but spread out in all directions. Mountains loomed without water and the sun was blinding. Perhaps the vision would clarify itself, let her know what it meant, but for now, it was just a disturbing feeling.

"Perhaps we should wake him..." and both sisters turned their heads toward their brother who was again thrashing in his sleep behind the gauzy curtains that sheltered his pallet.


Over the years, Kadir grew to be a man of two personalities, a duality many saw… and many unfortunately felt the wrath. One side was the dutiful brother, caregiver to the family that now entailed nearly a hundred or so. The other was a fierce bandit… a leader of thieves; one who could deal justice to his enemies without even blinking; one who had been monikered *Red Sand*, a bloody ruthless leader of bandits called the Aswad. The Aswad was several thousand strong now, many drawn together for a *cause* to eventually force the capitulation of the Amir, some were here to get revenge for wrongs by the Amir and his henchmen, some were here purely for greed, for the profit.

Kadir, as the *Red Sand*, Nazli, as his second, and the captains have been planning a raid on Alai Karzi, the southern territorial warlord… and noted slaver. Rumor is, it is one of the biggest trade caravans to ever have crossed Sha’Lazar. The raid would be the largest scaled attack in centuries… almost the size of a battle in a war. It would take timing, regulated logistics, and… Kalima’s ability of seeing. The plans were on his mind day and night.

But Kadir never truly recovered from the distress of youth… his nights so far filled with fits and nightmares of cruelty, bodily harm, and murder of beloved family members; over what… silver, gold, jewels… items that could be replaced; his days filled with pent-up anger… unless spent with Kalima and Nazli… or the carefree spirit named Prin…


Over the years of youth, living in the criss-crossing streets and alleys of Arcadia, Prin developed, refined, and used a holistic training discipline using movement using only the body and available surroundings for propulsion, with a focus on maintaining as much momentum as possible while still remaining safe. His skills included obstacle courses in the market, running, climbing, swinging, vaulting, jumping, rolling, animalistic movements on all fours, and the like, depending on what movement is deemed most suitable for the given situation. People often cheered as they watched him dodge the guards by running towards a high wall and then jumping and pushing off the wall with a foot to reach the top of the wall, leaving his pursuers lingering below. Despite the guards valiant efforts, Prin often displays feats of vaulting over obstacles imagined too high; or jumping and landing accurately with the feet on small, or narrow, impediments; or moving from a position hanging from a wall-top or ledge, to standing on the top or vaulting over to the other side; or jumping and catching a ledge with the hands while the feet land on the vertical surface below, or using a rolling motion to help absorb large impacts.

There was a hum in the night air, for in the far distance, on the other side of Arcadia, familiar actions were occurring… Prin ti Demsiri prowled the darkness, and his antics caused the guards to be chasing him… or more possibly, their own shadows. The soft sounds soon faded, a sure sign that Prin evaded capture once more.


There on the balcony, where Kalima once stood, were fingers emerging at the bottom of the railing… then with a grunt, a young man, twin sword attached to his back leapt over the railing and landed squarely on one foot, as his leg bent, the other almost touching the ground. Rising to full height, Prin smirked facing the now-armed Nazli, the sword pointing directly at his stomach. “Now my dear Nazli… my blood would only stain your floor and your sister’s heart.” Then he winked at both young ladies. “Will you invite me in?”

Nazli was halfway to her feet to wake her brother when she heard the grunt on the balcony, and it was one smooth motion in which her weapon was drawn and her stance readied. A quicker pulse the only sign that she had been startled by the sudden appearance.

Kalima too had heard it, rolling out of her cross legged sit and to her feet, the small wooden cup she had been preparing to fill still gripped in one hand.

Both women had been startled and almost immediately, both women were relieved when they saw it was Prin.

Nazli returned the smirk, her weapon already lowering and her voice calm. "Now is not a good time, Pri…"

Her sentence not quite finished when Kalima threw the cup. It was empty and not quite heavy enough to cause any injury, but it made an audible 'bonk' when it hit Prin high on the side of the head. Kalima was right behind it, advancing on their brother’s friend with obvious aggravation. "Why do you insist on scaring us to death! I hate it when you do that!"

Nazli's smirk had turned into a half smile and a roll of eyes at the love/hate relationship, and with her sword sheathed, she left Kalima to chastise Prin while she went to wake their brother. She never touched him while he slept, choosing instead a safer distance and calling his name softly. . "Kadir. wake up..." normally that was all it took to rouse him from disturbed sleep. That half smile still twisting a corner of her mouth as she looked back at Prin and Kalima, adding "Prin has the city guard after him again…"

Of course he did… it was a habit to Prin, or more aptly, a game that he thoroughly enjoyed and this was not the first time he had snuck in in the same manner with the guards still searching the streets a block or more away. While it was amusing, Nazli felt that Prin deserved every chastisement that Kalima gave him, including the most recent knot to his head. Maybe someday it would be enough to make the reckless Prin a little more cautious. Doubtful, but possible.

Nazli would have chuckled at the encounter, if not for concern for her brother. His thrashing and moaning had ceased and her voice was rousing him, but she privately worried that his dreams were only a symptom of a bigger issue. She knew his anger was like a beast he only barely controlled. He rarely showed it around his sisters, but Nazli knew it was always just under the surface and that the weight of his responsibilities was a heavy one. "Kadir.." She roused him a little more, glad at least that Prin would be a distraction from the remnants of his nightmares.

Kalima's earlier question as to whether or not Nazli would be allowed to go, was in reference to the small scouting party that was to be sent out in the following days. It was a risk to allow Nazli to ride along, for if things went wrong, it was not wise to have both sisters at risk. Kalima was to accompany the scouting party, for her visions if they came, would be invaluable. Still, Nazli wanted to go. She was very protective of her younger sister, and she was worried that such a small party might be captured if spotted. She had voiced these concerns already, but the final decision was as always, her brother’s. Whatever decision that Kadir made she would follow, having a great respect for her brother’s ability to lead.

The planned raid on the caravan of Alai Karzi was looming and the more information they had the better. She knew Kadir had been torn in the decision to send Kalima, for he worried about her as much as Nazli did. It was possible that he might not send the scouting party at all.


Prin looked at Nazli with an odd, quizzed, “A good time for what Nazli? Kadir nightmares again?”

He should have seen it coming… the cup and the attack by Kalima… He grabbed her upright wrists as she approached… and she asked her question and all he could do was pull her in close and smirk. “Mischief?” and he shrugged and cocked an eye, then released her hands as he stole a kiss from her, offering her a cute smirk and a wink as payment. “Besides I had to juke the guards…”

“Kadir… come save your sister before I kidnap her and start my own harem…” He pretended to wrap Kalima into his arms, and kissed her neck to her struggle.

Kadir rolled off the pillows, and stood, stretching; then he walked out from the other room. “Take her, less mouths to feed… just treat her properly.” Kadir teased with a serious face and a wave as he passed both of them. Kadir knew Prin favored both his sisters… and seemed to alternate between flirting with Kalima and Nazli… though Kalima would get most of the attention.

Prin whispered in Kalima’s ear where no one else heard… and she broke free and popped his arm…

Kadir looked at Nazli… “Did any of the captains send word of the caravan?” he was waiting on the location of the caravan and the planned ambush. They still did not know how many men Alai Karzi had for this caravan. Though he had number nearing an informal army, his guarded caravans were always less than optimal. But this caravan was to be the biggest yet.

Looking to Kalima as she sparred with Prin… “Kalima… have you seen anything yet?” Hoping his beloved sister had her visions.

Prin cocked his head… “You are not letting them go…? Surely this will be far more dangerous than any previous.”

And he received glares from both females, and surely they would have started a heated conversation but Kadir held up his hand in advance to quell it. “They shall go… I need both of them.” And then Kadir held his hand to Prin to quell his counter-argument.

“Ass…” Prin mumbled at Kadir, his hand lightly touching Kalima’s face as she seemed to calm him without saying or doing anything…


Kalima's protest was as habitual as Prin's escapades and though she wasn't really angry with him, she often got aggravated, especially when he provoked her with his roguish antics, and Kadir was no help at all, for he often condoned his friend’s playfulness around his sisters.

Kalima got the majority of it, mainly because Nazli was more apt to just calmly pop Prin in the nose, while as Kalima's reactions were more entertaining for everyone, and the more aggravated she got, the more Prin seemed to do it. Yet everyone knew that Kalima liked Prin and vice-versa. Not that she would admit it.

"You are a delinquent rake!" Pushing Prin off her neck, and throwing a dark look back at her brother for his lack of help. Kadir ignored her and spoke instead to Nazli, his responsibilities always first and foremost. Nazli's lips in a thin line, she was shaking her head slowly to her brother’s question.

"Three scouts were sent out yesterday and have not returned. The Captains await your word."

When Prin whispered in Kalima's ear, warmth and color spread up her face. The physical tussle had stopped, but the mental one was constant and she was rather glad when Kadir turned his questions to her. She stood beside Prin and shook her head with obvious regret. No… she had not seen anything yet. Of her darkest vision she still had not said a word, for part of her felt it had nothing to do with the caravan of Alai Karzi, but it had been the only vision she had had. For all the weight her brother and sister had on their shoulders, hers was perhaps greater, for she had no control over her visions. She knew how important they were, what advantage the visions could be, but she felt herself only a receptacle and often she felt guilty when her visions turned out to be false, or they didn't come at all.

Kalima too, had a hatred for the Amir, the State and any that opposed the Aswad. She had been the youngest of the family, and barely remembered her parents and siblings that had been murdered, but she knew the history and had grown up with the Aswad. Kadir and Nazli were her world and she would have laid down her life for them without thought. Gods help her, she might even do the same for Prin.

The somber look on both female faces melted instantly into glares that were targeting Prin when he raised his doubt, but they did not need to argue. Kadir would let them go. His decision gave both women a small sense of relief. Kalima was even able to smile weakly at Prin as he touched her face. For all the aggravation he caused her, she knew that he was as protective as Kadir.

Nazli stood where she had been when she woke Kadir. She felt as much relief as her sister in hearing Kadir say they would go, but there was nothing visible on her face that showed it. Nazli was much more adept at hiding her emotions and her demeanor was always calm and quiet outside of battle. Even her sense of humor was calm in a way. She rarely laughed out loud, but she was always up to the task of verbal sparring with Prin or teasing Kalima and smiling as she did so.

Inside however, there was something blood thirsty in Nazli. She carried anger at the way her family had been slaughtered, carried it deeply inside like her brother, but even Kadir did not know how angry she was. She had no nightmares, she had no outbursts... but oh, her arrows found their targets, her blade was greedy to open the necks of their enemies and she was eager to wield it. She felt the weight of her responsibility as much as her brother and it was heavy. "Shall I tell them to ready?"

Prin stood along Kalima, and just looked at Kadir... "Truly you will allow them to go?" It was then his arm wrapped around her waist. And he looked to Nazli... She knew how to fight; dagger, sword, spear... mounted, dismounted... She may not be big, but her speed gives her advantage, then he smiled at Kalima; she, to him, was far from the valued sword... or spear... as a bowman maybe... and he smiled again not revealing his thoughts.

Nazli just leveled a direct return stare at him as if she very well knew what he was thinking.

Kalima frowned, and drawing her eyes from Kadir, she turned it toward Prin. What Kalima lacked in fighting, she gained in courage. Her voice was quiet when she spoke. "I have to go, Prin." He knew that… he knew why. Kalima knew it was risky, but that would never stop her.

Prin hated the Amir... that cruel and dubious man... but as much as a criminal Prin was, it was petty compared to the Aswad... He had never been involved in any raid. He had killed, but not since being in Arcadia... He did not carry twin swords for just looks. But even Hassan il Sharir, the Amir's warlord had scruples. Alai Karzi did not. He was murderous... and a slaver; and at that thought he looked to the females. "Fine, then I am going too if you give the word..." he shakes his head. Did love for the three of them go deeper than anyone truly knew?

Nazli straightened. She knew Prin was being protective, and although it was a chauvinistic attitude, she accepted it. But she felt that Prin was reckless, and they could not afford that right now. She was not favoring his going along. But as was often the case, she chose her arguments carefully and for the moment, kept her tongue in her mouth. It was Kadir's decision after all and she was confident that Kadir would make the right one. If he asked, she would speak up, but not until. She let her eyes linger on Kalima and then turn to Kadir to see what he had to say.

Kalima met her sister’s eyes, some moment of silent understanding between them, but then, she too looked toward Kadir. Part of her wanted Prin with them, but she was uncertain if Kadir had other plans and her sister clearly was not in favor of it. She waited for what he would say, the tension of the moment stiffening her slight frame that remained yielding to Prin’s circling arm.

Kadir looked at Prin... he felt like a brother to Prin... and assuredly, vice versa. But he looked to the floor, then back to Prin... "My dearest brother... I shall not allow it... I know intentions are well gotten... and are duly received... but..." he hesitated. "I have no assignment for you... next time." That was the best way he could say he did not want him there.

Prin's arm tightened about Kalima's waist, as if to not let her go... and Kadir's words hurt... No assignment? Oh he knew he was reckless... but only in HIS environment... he could restrain himself... and when he started to speak, Kadir spoke instead...

Kadir was shaking his head. "The decision is made, we go tomorrow, Nazli, give the words... Kalima, prepare your bow, and everything for wounds." Then he looks to Prin... "Apologies brother..."

Prin looked down, his arm still around Kalima... and simply nodded; even he knew Kadir had the final word; even though he did not like it. He just looked to Nazli.

Nazli showed nothing of her own thoughts, though she was sure Prin knew them well enough anyway. She gave a single bow of her head to her brother and as she turned to leave, she met Prin's eyes only briefly, hers dropping first. Then she was gone.

Kalima gently extracted herself from Prin's tighter embrace, giving his hand a soft squeeze of what she hoped was reassurance before she let it drop. She left the two men as silently as Nazli had, disappearing behind a veil of tapestried curtains. What was hanging in the air between the two men was just that… between them, and neither woman had wanted to make Prin feel any worse. In any other household, a woman might have hidden herself and listened, but Kalima did not. She saw the future more often than she wanted to, but her gift also made her a natural empath. She felt the sting it had given Prin and it hurt.

The two men looked at one another... Kadir had lost so much... and he did not wish to lose his sisters... nor his newfound brother and friend. But throttling Kalima would be easy enough, but Nazli was like him, destined to die in a blaze of glory. But alas, only the gods knew what lie ahead... so he would look at Prin and smile. "No more shall we discuss this... I must pray to Baal and Ishtar."

Prin was not allowed to speak... and that was a privilege he allowed Kadir... for the man had no true hold over decisions for, or of, Prin. With the answer he did not wish to hear, and Kalima and Nazli gone... He simply bowed to Kadir... "Be well My brother, and may you always have water."

Within a few seconds, Prin made his way to the balcony, he looked back and nodded to the man one last time; and with one hand on the rail, leapt over the railing and disappeared... only the thuds of his movements that soon dissipated in the night air.

Kalima knelt down in front of the small altar shrouded in gauzy white curtains, silken pillows cushioning her knees. She lit the lamps that were set on small shelves, and bowing low, prayed softly to Tanit to bless each arrows path and aid her healing hands. She prayed to Melqart to send her a true vision and help her to understand it well. When she was through, she rechecked her supplies. She had gathered them three days ago, before she had learned about the scouting party. It was one of those things that she didn’t think about. She had had no specific vision to tell her it would happen, and she had had no specific reason for gathering up the supplies as she had. She had just felt the need to do it. Now as she rechecked them, she did not think about how she had known. She just had.
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Prin ti Demsiri
 Posted: Dec 2 2016, 09:27 AM
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Prin ti Demsiri

This is the Aswad - Chapter 2

~ Desert Bandits ~

Unbeknownst to Hassan il Sharir, in the deserts of the Rash’ani, several unified bands of Uthmann opposition continue to raid and battle against government institutions… people who are now declared free… These hotspots across the Acacus grow with each passing day. While people die and the blood stains the sands, Amir Abu Said ibn Tumart and the al-Jama’a al-Ashar (Council of Ten) argue politics while their people are attacked again and again. [/SIZE]

Meanwhile, Alai Karzi, a former territorial warlord, ultra-opposition to Abu Said Uthmann, remains a powerful force to the south, one the Council of Ten cannot remove. For the last few years, a little known, yet affective, force called the Aswad had raided Amir Abu Said Uthmann’s caravans and now ventures out to raid any caravan that crosses the sands, for they knew little of who to give a strained loyalty.


Thought is something that can't be avoided. Even when one tries not to think too much, on any matter, they generally do. Kalima's habit was always to overthink matters. It was one reason that Nazli and Kadir liked to see her taken along on raids. Raids went smoothly, more often than not, with her presence. Some became impatient with how long Kali would sit upon horseback, silencing her only companion, staring at the target below. Whether a compound or a caravan, they deserved the same degree of thought. She never liked to rush in since that would cause loss of life, either of her comrades or those below, on a level that couldn't be avoided.

"Kalima, how can we surround them?" Nazli sat on a dark stallion, its white star showing clearly, that contrasted next to the cream colored one Kalima called her own. They were sisters that held similar life stories. And as a family, they raided together on many occasions. Yet neither wanted to see any fellow companions or innocents lose their lives. They weren't in this to spill needless blood. The main purpose was to raid for supplies, when needed, or to free those enslaved. The caravan below was obviously that of someone wealthy, consisting of many large wagons and a well-armed guard, and in a couple of those wagons... were slaves. Some of those in the Aswad knew the people below. They'd been following it for days. Only one thing was unsettling...

Kadir wouldn't tell either of them whose caravan it was, even though he knew. "They are well-guarded. I count over three-thousand armed men on horseback. We don't know how many of those in the wagons are armed."

Kalima paused a moment, gaze slowly scanning the wagons until stopping upon the two in the middle, "They have at least double that in slaves though. This has to be someone very important, but I don't see anyone fitting that..."

Was the caravan just of belongings and guards to protect them? It was possible. They've seen it multiple times, but this had everyone they'd brought along, tense. There were three-thousand armed men down below, that they could see. They'd only brought about one-thousand two hundred men along for this run.

One hand tugged on the braid hanging over one shoulder in agitation before Kalima finally muttered, "There." Hand lifted to point one finger in the direction of an oasis just a few miles ahead, "We can reach it before them. Their horses are looking tired and are probably in need of water."

Nazli's lips curved in a smile of satisfaction before both of them tugged the hoods of their cloaks up to shield faces and rode back away from the ledge to where the others waited. Orders were given swiftly and soon hooves kicked up sand as they all rode at breakneck pace to reach the shelter of the oasis for their attack.


Alai Karzi rode the big red stallion, a pure bred Rashani. 'Truly is that horse prized by them above all else in Sha’Lazar...You may hear them remark: "Children of mine may hunger and thirst, but never my steed..." Developed in a desert climate, the horse was prized by the people of the Acacus, and was often brought inside the family tent for shelter and protection. This close relationship with humans helped to develop a horse that was good natured and quick to learn. It also developed the high spirit and alertness that was essential in a horse used for raiding and war.

Alai had mostly camels upon this event, but enough horses to circumvent any attack. This was one of the largest caravans he had attempted, with over 5000 slaves for open market. With Utican, Tomas dez Besariz deposed as Amir, the lofty intentions of his warlords were left to fend for themselves. And as such, Alai Karzi took upon himself to continue the slave trade that brought him those lofty attributes. At the same time, Alai desired to rid himself of the pest-infestation of the southern raiders. Hence such a tempting target was placed upon the desert floor to lure flies to honey.

As he rode his red and black steed, the white robes of Alai fluttered in the slight breeze. In the distance, he caught sight of a small dust cloud… one would not know it was from a thousand riders over the miles of dunes… but the experienced warrior knew it was not the wind… and he smirked as he continued the caravan toward the next oasis.


There was enough about this raid to be particularly unsettling. Never had an order been questioned when it came to those given by Kadir. If not for them, Kalima knew she'd have been dead long ago. However, it did not mean that sometimes gut feelings didn't bring about the urge for extra caution. She stared off into the distance, at the oasis glittering in the waning sunlight, and sighed softly. This brought about a glance from Nazli, a question in the mere lift of brow, and Kalima adjusted her horse closer, "This feels... not right. I cannot put my finger upon what, but I feel it here." One hand moved to press against a stomach covered by layers of cloth. "Why would Kadir not tell us whose caravan it is we attack? I can tell by the size that it is someone of importance. I would not wish to question an order by our esteemed leader, and brother, as he is wise and kind, yet it leaves me nervous. The outcome could not be in our favor..."

Kalima gave another glance off in the distance and Nazli raised a hand to halt those riding behind them. "What do you think we should do, sister? Speak and we shall listen."

Carefully to think first, Kalima sat in silence a few moments before murmuring, "Send a handful of riders ahead. Have them take position. It... it may be a risk of casualties. Only send those willing and let them know they may not come back. I will follow at a distance, by foot, the closer I get, and scout the camp. If I do not return within a few hours then ride fast for the kazbah. You may be followed..."

She saw that Nazli wanted to debate such a plan, but within a moment the woman's horse turned to thread through the line. Within a few moments she returned with a handful of volunteers, older riders who were skilled warriors, who'd been told the plan. Soon they rode out and Kalima began to follow.

Nazli smiled and spoke softly to her sister. "Be careful, sister. If trouble seems imminent then I want you to run. We will wait for you at the rendezvous."

Smiling gently, Kalima nodded, though did not speak. None would speak the location of their rendezvous. Words were limited, though their eyes spoke volumes. Digging knees gently into the side of her horse, Kalima rode off toward the oasis. She'd have to leave her horse a good walking distance from the sight in case trouble should arise though...


A flick of his wrist and four riders broke off from the massive caravan… then another 4 moments later… then another four… and this continued until riders were going in all directions… The sands of the southern Acacus had slight puffs of dust all around. It was as if a storm was brewing.

More than five hundred warriors of Alai’s caravan had broken off and were moving toward the oasis. As he sat upon his horse atop a dune, he could survey the situation. Thru the valley of dunes, the massive caravan moved… while the five hundred paralleled their path from all directions. If the raiders were attempting such a feat this time, they would be ensnared in a iron-clad trap… Alai knew the sparse few of each group were being offered as warning signals, their fighting with ANY raider attack, would provide enough time and counsel to send reinforcements; of which he had plenty. In the middle of the desert, the slaves would have nowhere to go in such an environment, so minimal security was sufficient.

His hand reached for the man who sat next to him, being placed upon his back. “Abdullah, take 30 men and ride straight for the oasis… see that it is ready for our arrival… sentries in all the right places my brother… 500 riders will be several hours behind you.”

The man nodded, the cloth upon his head barely moving in the breeze… “Yes MiLord… do you think it is Kadir and the Aswad again?”

Alai smiled… “If Ishtar deems it so… we shall be victorious… but I think Ishtar desires us to endeavor our best, no?” offering his warrior a smile. “One day, Kadir will be ours… and his sisters shall grace my harem…”

Abdullah smiled. “MiLord… with Besariz deposed… and Abu Said running the land, Hassan can be insignificant, you now have a path to be Amir… and I shall serve you until Ishatar takes me home…”

Alai just smiled an eerie smile… those haunting eyes seemed to sparkle with intensity… “Ahhh, what pleasure it would be to sit in the palace with Kalima and Nazli at my feet…” He pointed toward the oasis… “Go my brother… see you at the oasis…” [/color]

And the man rode off, a loud shrill yell… and the 30 men behind him all rode toward the oasis at a dead run… No time for secrecy, it was a race to water… and the control of it…


The desert, life is different… wars are fought differently… In the desert, deaths in battle are nothing upon the wind… Even swords, shields, and armor are swallowed by the sand storms. It was people like Alai Karzi… and the Aswad that truly ruled the Acacus… yet there can only be one power across the desert… and that power often fought against the weather and gods, cursing them both to get what they desired…

Had Kadir informed his sisters and the others whose caravan it was in the beginning, it might have swayed their minds to avoid this event. Kadir knew the numbers were unimaginable of just how man slaves were being transferred… so apparently Karzi had been saving up for one big push eastward. But he was determined to stop the slaver…

Thru the odd looking glass, Kadir could see the 50 men ride hard eastward… and back at the caravan,. He could see several hundred preparing to move ahead of the caravan… Now he had a choice… attack the caravan, and lose the water, or race for the oasis and lose the caravan…

It was a large risk for Kalima and she showed real courage when she rode off after the few brave riders that had volunteered for what could be a suicide mission. Her head and face were wrapped in sand-colored muslin and her robes were of the same, so that she and her horse did not make a black mark against the dunes and only the dark eyes looked out over the sand. Thoughts crowded in as she rode hard.

She would never argue with Kadir's decisions, but she thought Prin would have been a great asset right now. She knew Nazli thought differently, thinking Prin was too reckless, but Kalima disagreed. He was crazy… like a fox. She often respected Nazli's thoughts, for Nazli was older and wiser, but regarding Prin she kept her own ideas. As the sigh of the desert blew in circles around her, showing just how alone she was out here, she wished he was beside her.

Her brother had never said whose caravan this was, though surely they had all wondered. If she had known, she would have thought twice about this crazy plan but as it was, she could not conceive of any other plan that would work as well. The Aswad were adept at raiding caravans and though this one was larger than any before, she did not know the true danger.

Nazli might have been a better fighter and rider than Kalima, was stronger and more fierce, but Kalima was not without assets. She could track, she could ride and she could hide. She knew the Acacus and everything in it very well and she could hit what she shot at. Her arrows were tipped insuring each that found a mark were lethal. She might have been an unlikely assassin but she was well capable of being a good one. Assassination was not her role though, it was to see whatever she could to help the Aswad and run like hell if trouble found her. She was grateful to Nazli for cooperating, for they both knew Kadir would not have approved.

She said a silent prayer for assistance and tried to clear her mind and thoughts of everything as she rode. This served three purposes. One, it made her receptive to any vision, sight or sound that might come to her. Two, it did not allow fear of the unknown to take hold, and Three, it kept her mind off of Prin and just whose caravan this was. By the time she left her horse in the shade of a dune, her mind was ready.

Nazli sat upon her restless horse, swathed in black and watched as Kalima rode away, only then turning back to the line. Both she and her brother believed in Kalima and if she said there was something wrong, there was something wrong. Still, Nazli felt as though Kadir would not have wanted this risk to be taken and she did not look forward to telling him.

She would never try to usurp her brother, or undermine him in any way, she was second and content in that, but sometimes decisions had to be made without consulting Kadir first. She looked grim as she turned her horse and before she would discuss it with her brother, she sent out five more men to follow Kalima at a distance with the same warning she had given the first. As soon as they had turned their horses, she reigned hers around and trotted toward Kadir.

The man lay upon the sands, concealed by a rock formation that stood out like a sore thumb. The sentry there, that wore the clothes of the Karzi, now lay very cold and still next to him. Prin looked thru the cone and rotated the prism stone at the end. The scene that unfolded in the distance was now brought closer and he focused on Kalima, then Nazli… and he cursed refocusing on Kalima seeing her ride off with some men. “What is going on?” he mumbled to himself.

Far to his left he could see the large armed caravan moving west at average speed for a huge caravan… he counted 13 slave chains, almost 5000 slaves, 350 or so burdened-camel, and several thousand rider-camels and a third as many horses. With a shift further left, there at a faster clip, was a smaller group, several hundred on horseback riding southwest. Apparently they wanted to secure the only oasis, a midpoint from his origin to Arcadia…

Moving back to the right, he saw Kadir upon the sand dune… with Nazli riding back to him… knowing full well the Aswad was going to attack the caravan in the open… But what frustrated him was just how many warriors Kadir had with him… and how many did he afford Kalima… could she and her men secure the oasis and keep the several hundred Karzi men from overtaking them.

Decisions… stay put to observe the outcome, ride to Nazli and Kadir and offer his services in the attack, or ride to Kalima…??? Again he cursed. Slithering back off the stone formation, he mounted his black stallion, who once his master was upon his back shook his head, the long mane fluttering in the breezeless air. He would need to ride north then by northeast to depart without being seen and reach the oasis before, or at least at the same time as Kalima.

With an odd sound, the stallion bolted, sand flying behind him, and Prin leaning forward.

Kalima lay belly down against the hot sand, a frail current of air that stirred individual grains doing little to cool the vast surface. Her vantage point was as high as she dared, in a sliver of shade cast by the swell of sand and rock to either side. The oasis was there, and though far from her, she was within sight, its tiny spot of green in the otherwise ruddy landscape inviting. It was not hidden by hills, for the ground sloped steadily downward, heaved up only where the rocks protruded through, until it flattened out and became a huge bowl of sand, rippled by the wind and with the oasis clinging to its rim. It was easily defended from the side where sand stretched endlessly for whoever held the oasis could easily see what was coming. On the side where she watched, it was not so easy, for the rougher terrain made seeing far much more difficult.

Dust rose where riders raced and her eyes followed as she crawled forward and knelt close to sunbaked stone. She was intent on this, wishing she could get closer but not daring. Her attention was solely on the riders, a momentary glance down for better footing never meant to take attention away for more than a blink. But a flash of colorful light turned that blink into many more.

There, half buried in the sand, was an emerald. Its faceted face catching prisms of sunlight and glittering like a star in the night sky. It was brilliant and out of place, beckoning for someone to pluck it up and take it home. Her fingers reached out to do just that. Suddenly the sand began to swirl and her hand jerked back. The vision was upon her again.

It was black, like a snake writhing in silica, rising, falling, almost visible, almost gone. Then it erupted, boiling forth like oil. Black vines snaked forth in all directions, each in its own path growing larger, until the center was like some dark pit that swirled with polluted sand. It was hungry and it ate everything within its path, and she watched with wide dark eyes as the brilliant emerald was consumed and disappeared.

This vision was all consuming, happening in the present right before her, but just as suddenly, it seemed a memory and there was a young child standing about a yard away. A boy, his head wrapped in linen and the edges of his embroidered vest flapping in a soft gust of wind. He was looking at her calmly and speaking. "The time of the Embarken comes."

She stared at this tranquil vision with a listening silence, watching as the boy stepped forward, offering out a hand full of sand. "Watch..." He said playfully and her eyes fell to the grains in his cupped palm. An invisible brush began to paint in the sand, the symbols those she knew but did not wholly understand. They were marks of Arcadia. Marks of a warrior. The boys hand closed over the sand, letting it fall back to the desert like an hourglass. His eyes seemed huge as she looked into them. "They are the marks of regret. ...They are the marks of dissension and discord." The boys hand dropped to his side, and then he turned and began to walk away from her.

Kalima blinked and suddenly the world seemed more tangible and she realized she was alone. There was no emerald in the sand and the sand was not black. There was no boy and no prints in the sand to say he was ever there. She was left to decipher her vision on her own.

Prin had ridden for several hours at a quickened pace…one not to tired his mount too soon, nor waste time in a leisure pace. The experienced desert rider knew the pace to kept, and Prin’s youth was in Arcadia and the surrounding desert. Knowing he would soon be close to the oasis, he began to look around for signs of a place to do reconnaissance. There not far away, the ground sloped steadily downward toward the oasis.

Moments later, he was making his way along the dunes on foot; his desire was not to be seen… as yet. A few meters away knelt Kalima… kneeling? She would be seen… and she appeared to bending over reaching for something… and he moved closer, calling her name out softly… yet she did not respond… she just appeared to be reaching for something in the sand… down below, men had arrived at the oasis… some thirty or so…

Just as he neared her, the men below started looking around as another took their horses. He crawled quickly, calling her name one last time as he gently as he could forced her to the prone. “Kalima… Kalima… lay still, its Prin…” as she struggled a bit then lay prone in the sand… his hand gently patting her back.

The vision was vivid and confusing, and her mind tried to rapidly decipher, categorize and translate in the same seconds that it was urgently reminding her of the oasis. Her body had even begun to turn her in that direction when at the same speeding moment, Prin was pushing her to the ground with her name on his lips.

Reflex made those swift ticking seconds contain a multitude of reactions, a start and a half comical squawk of being taken by surprise, a brief struggle as she was pushed to the ground, a grunt as a breath escaped her, a swift realization that it was Prin and subsequent end to her struggle, a swifter realization that those at the oasis were looking around, and not a little surprise at everything.

Her vision loomed large in her mind’s eye, and she felt, more than knew that they had to get back to Kadir as quickly as they could. For the moment though, they were frozen with the possibility of being seen and... "Prin… what are you doing here?!" in a desperate whisper.

His arms lifting him slightly, he peered just over the edge of the dune… a thin sliver of shadow extended over the edge of the dune. The sun was setting behind them… and he needed to be reassured that she had not been seen. Easing back down, his hand went to her back and he canted his head to her. “I just could not allow you to go on this stupid venture without me. Arcadia would not have the same meaning if you were not there…” his voice soft, but stern, and brutally honest. “I feel that Nadir has revenge upon his mind instead of just freeing the slaves at hand.” She started to speak and his hand went gently to her face, his thumb at her lips. “I know Kalima, there are so many slaves in this caravan… and Kadir hates Alai Karzi for many reasons…” and he shrugged a bit.

“But look at the numbers… Karzi has several thousand warriors… that we know about… it is the unknown that bothers me… He was able to cut 300 from his caravan just to secure the oasis? We both know that whoever controls the oasis out here controls the lands for many leagues… and you have, what 50 maybe?” He shakes his head… then kisses her briefly on the lips… “Now you have 51…” and he slithered over to the detachment commander who was making plans and assigned his life into the man’s hands.

What would she think of him? He has a fairly good life in Arcadia… a bit dishonest but he rules the night there… a free spirit… and now he offers his life and or freedom to what, keep her *safe*? But he has two swords, and is good with both… agile and quick… and he reasons well in rough situations…

Kalima's visions had been startling and vivid and left her with a feeling of urgency. Prin's sudden appearance and what he had to say was just as shocking. Kalima was literally left with her mouth hanging open as he crawled away toward the commander. When she had tried to interrupt him, it had not been to argue Kadir's motives, but to warn him. He had then given her even more to be concerned about. Matters of the heart and his chivalrous reasons and all that encompassed would have to wait, even if she could still feel the kiss he had left on her lips. What did she think of him? At different times she thought different things, but right now, she just thought he was crazy.

Her feeling of urgency was still very strong and she had not forgotten her own orders from Nazli. Suddenly she was very scared. She crawled quickly after Prin, and perhaps the look on her face portrayed more than her words could as she grabbed a hold of his arm with strong fingers.

"Prin, we have to get out of here… we have to get out of here now and warn Kadir!" Prin might have thought she meant warning Kadir about what was obviously a trap, but she meant something much worse, something that was a threat to every living thing in the desert. She threw a desperate look to the horizon. Nothing… no sign of it… but it was coming. She could feel it.[/color]

Prin looked at the detachment commander who had this confused look upon his dark tanned face, as he spoke. “Mistress Kalima, shall we continue with our orders. Kadir would be angry if you abandoned this now.”

Prin just shook his head… and looked oddly at Kalima, his voice barely a whisper... “What?? Yes… do that, I shall remain and help Aquinne…” then he looks to the commander. “That is if you could use a sword or two?” Prin then looked at Kalima as they lay in the setting sun just down from the edge of the dune. “You need to go now… it will get colder soon. The moon will be at the eastern crest by the time you reach Kadir…” Kalima was a woman of the desert, born and raised, surely she could find her brother by the star positions.

He had assumed that what she meant was due to the men below at the oasis, preparing for any attack… preparing for the brunt of any attack knowing full well Lord Karzi would be here by the moon’s full peak overhead. He did not know she was referring to her vision. Prin was more of a realist and did not truly believe in visions. Did someone say that opposites attract?

Meanwhile, Aquinne, the commander was preparing his men for an attack. His instructions would be to sneak down and catch the men unawares. But Prin just looked at Kalima with concern. Planned events were unfolding, but to the apprehension of two.
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Prin ti Demsiri
 Posted: Dec 2 2016, 09:43 AM
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Prin ti Demsiri

This is the Aswad - Chapter 3

~ The Sandstorm ~

It was happening all so fast, and she felt more and more frantic as the seconds ticked by, but she could not get a word in edgewise with Prin, something that was at times sweetly frustrating and was now aggravating as hell. She was shaking her head at Prin as he ordered her back, wanting to stop Aquinne and the men, but the commander was already preparing his men. She couldn't just explain… how could she?

While her sister and brother put some stock in her visions, she didn't discuss them with anyone else. She had never told Prin, and though he had probably heard rumors, she never spoke of them to anyone but her siblings. She didn't expect to be believed and right then she didn't have the luxury of thinking it out. She was even more distraught because she didn't understand half of the vision. She knew only one thing for sure. They had to get out of here, all of them, and as fast as they could, and she could not explain to them how she knew.

Her nails bit into Prin's arm as she gripped him tighter and her words were clipped. She wanted to scream, but she kept her voice low. "Prin… you have to trust me. We all have to get out of here right now. A storm... a storm is coming and it is coming fast!" She used his arm to leverage herself forward, hissing at Aquinne. "Take the men and go back… and hurry! I will answer to Kadir!"

He canted his head and looked at her. The deep brown eyes sparkled back at him. Whatever that flourished in her mind mandated he listen to her. Quirking his lips, he nodded. “I do trust you Kalima… with my life.” And his life would truly depend upon her vision this evening.

He motioned to Aquinne… who in turned signaled the men. It seemed that everyone was motivated to follow Kalima’s instructions. The men made their way back to the horses. Prin would stay with Kalima as they made their way to the horses. And his mind reflected upon the anomalies of the desert.

The desert weather has many moods, ranging from the blazing sun of spring and summer to the cloudy, overcast days of what was considered as *winter*. However, not so pleasant are the days when the Acacus is swept by the penetrating dust of sandstorms. Those anomalies that vary in enormity and many can be vicious storms with little to stop the dust laden winds as they sweep across the desert bearing heat and driving sand that buries everything in its path.

Despite the unpleasantness and danger, there is a unique grandeur and indescribable magnificence of the desert storms. Especially during *Sanat al hamra*, known to the foreigner as the *Red Year*.

First, there in the distance is the small black cloud no bigger than a man’s hand… Closer, closer still, came the tempest; the wind rising still as the towering mass of sand swirled higher up into immense brown clouds into the sky… growing, growing until it extends across the horizon as far as one can see… a mighty storm with powerful black swirling thunder clouds tinged with red dust the color of the deep Acacus… and in the center of the oncoming mass, pierced by eerie flashes of lightning within, continuous electrical discharges accompanied by sharp crackling noises… and, followed by one long roll of thunder, seeming to foreshadow the end of all things. It could last for mere minutes, or for hours on end… Obviously, everything in its path, if not blown away, would be covered with a fine scarlet-red sand in a few seconds.

Kalima felt a huge surge of relief when both Prin and Aquinne gave almost instant agreement. Her grip was gone from Prin’s arm with a momentary shamed look, as if she just realized how tight it was. There wasn't time just then, but later, she would recall many of the things Prin had said to her here on the sand, including that he trusted her with his life.

As they made their way back to the horses, and she swung easily up on hers, she would smile at him with a look of gratitude. He had trusted her without a single question. She hoped Kadir would not be angry that Prin was here, for she was very glad.

There was very little time for conversation, for once mounted, they all pushed their horses hard as if the storm were right behind them. Kalima would throw looks back at the horizon, but she didn't see anything, just a sunset that seemed to be coming swiftly and turning the sky orange. This did little to make her feel better. That sense of urgency had not gone away. They had to move fast.

Kalima did not know how right she was, nor did Prin when he had considered the desert and its anomalies. There was a sandstorm coming, and it would sweep across the oasis with the moon, leaving behind it only dunes and sand scoured landscape. It was not the worst storm to ever eat its way across the land, but it would be one of the largest and this one was coming weeks ahead of the time of year when people expected it.

It would blot out the moonlight and blast the skin from bones in a red haze. Not even rock was safe from it, for what would not be covered, would be worn smooth. The oasis that held its gem of water would most likely be obliterated and those that were there would have little warning.

The storm was gathering strength and force even as Kalima, Prin and the men were riding hard in the opposite direction. Any sign of its approach would not be seen until the sun was gone and unless they had their own methods for prediction, the men at the oasis and the rest of Karzi's caravan were under the biggest threat.

Kalima pushed her horse hard, her face grim. She knew Kadir would believe her about the storm, but the rest of her vision was a mystery, even to her. It was very hard to explain something she herself did not understand.

Desert anomalies kept their own schedule, with no concern of man nor beast. Their fast retreat could be the best life-saving effort or as vainly as pissing in the wind; they were at the mercy of the winds. And if they could not win the race between light and sundown, the anomaly could either outrun them, or tease at their heels. There were only a few in Sha’Lazar who could even master the ability to influence the oncoming weather event, whether in the form of prayer to the Gods, or by expert skills summoning the magic force to even compete with a small storm. In the case of powerful storms, the mages and djinns could only offer protection, for even they could not change a desert storm.

Desert anomalies not only come in the form of dust or sand storms, but flashfloods. The Acacus Desert is not all sand --- in fact, sand only constitutes 15% of the desert; the rest is rock and gravel. The sand dunes are not fixed, but tend to migrate, and sometimes inundate whole villages. As the extreme air sucks out the moisture out of the land; sometimes, nature returns it during the deserts violent storms in the form of rain, rain that gathers in the low lying areas… and may the Gods be merciful should anyone unfamiliar with the desert be caught unawares. And the further south one goes in the Acacus, the more likely to experience one of the violent storms and flash-flooding.

Prin rode his black stallion hard, but never losing sight of Kalima. Now each man rode hard, hell-bent on saving his own skin; damned be in the storm alone. Would Kadir and Nazli be caught unaware of the encroaching storm? Could they arrive in time to save everyone? These things were going thru his mind, as he could save Kalima by seeking cover from the storm in the nearby caves or rock formations that littered their path. But he knew Kalima would not abandon her brother and sister to save herself… and he would not abandon her… survival be damned.

Night was on their heels, and on the heels of night came the storm. They all rode at breakneck speed and even their horses knew it was coming, the whites showing around their dark eyes. They would make it to Kadir in time, but was there time to shelter? The sky had turned from a brilliant array of red and orange to a deep bruised purple and the moon was showing her round face. By the time they would reach Kadir and Nazli, it would be full dark. When they were close, Kalima began to scream one word over the ears of her horse for they needed every second they could get. "Sand storm!"

By then, the storm was approaching the oasis. Its huge red wall stretching for miles in either direction and only the door to the destruction it carried with it. If those at the oasis were so unlucky as not to see its approach, they would surely hear it, but of course it would already be too late. This was no small storm and it would not be over quickly.

The Aswad would have a choice. Try to make it to the caves that riddled the rocks, or cover themselves and hope for the best. Whatever Kadir chose to do, it did not stop a few of his men from immediately bolting for the rocks as soon as they heard Kalima's shouts. The rest of them looked half poised to do the same, but looked to him instead.

Fear was a strong motivator for any man… or woman… and the dark red wall, with eerie flashes of thick lightening reaching out across both land and sky, rolled ever steady toward them. Kadir’s eyes went huge when his patrol and sister rode hard into his camp… and to his surprise, Prin… and she yelled sandstorm… and just as her words fell to the wind, the stormed enveloped the crest of the hills near them.

The wind carried his words senseless upon them, as he motioned his men to the caves… but how could they all fit? Prin grabbed Nazli arm in one hand and the reins in the other and headed toward a cave… “KALIMA !!!!” he yelled as the trio forced their steeds to lay down at the entrance.

There across the sands were hundreds of men hunkering down, knowing full well they could not make it to the hills… all they could do was hunker down behind their camels or lay with their horses and cover them and their animals heads with their robes. May the Gods be merciful.!!!

The darkness came, lightning flashed… and the winds ripped at whatever was not growing out of the sands and rocks… One could not see a foot in front of him, or her; and hands clasped together reassuring the other they remained. In the distance were faint screams of animals and men sucked away by the powerful winds… Loose rocks and logs became dangerous projectiles. Prin just lay still… one hand petting the horses heads… his other petting the girls he cared so much for… and he cursed the gods for their cruelty.

Moments earlier, there down from them, where they last saw the caravan, survival was being tested… Between the oncoming storm and the caravan stood a lone man… his eyes were of eerie blue, his aged hands waving while he spoke odd words. Behind him stood the leaders of the caravan, Karzi and his lieutenants… behind them scattered about the sands were men hunkered down… slaves bound by chains digging holes to lay in…

The wind enveloped the caravan… fierce winds whipped around the mage and his entourage… Karzi fearfully looking about the funnel that would swirl around him and several hundred men… and those outside the mage’s funnel, the Gods only knew.

The storm was fierce and was equally punishing those that stood against its power… even the mage in the valley was tiring… but if he faltered, Karzi and his few remaining men would be swept away and most likely killed. What was mere minutes, seemed like eternity…

Kalima's scream had startled every one of the Aswad, and fear was seen on every face. A sand storm was the unstoppable enemy and it was at their door. Kalima was off of her horse before it had even stopped, the reins still in her hand, panic making the horses rear and throw their heads. Men fought with their animals to move them quickly toward the rocky outcrops. Kadir and Nazli both were trying to make themselves heard, but the wind tore the sound from their mouths and muted them with its own. Nazli had no time to consider why Prin was here and moved swiftly with him toward the cave, as worried about Kalima as he was.

It seemed like forever that it took them to reach the relative safety of the rocks, seemed even longer before they could force their horses down and shelter themselves, but that was all to be put in perspective as they hunkered down to wait out the storm. None of them could see, if not for the dark then for the stinging sand that found every niche and crevice. Kalima and Nazli had most of their face covered, forced to squeeze their eyes shut and lower their heads. Every time a faint scream was heard in the raging storm, Kalima would curl herself into a tighter and tighter ball. The storm might equalize the numbers of Karzi and the Aswad, but it was not going to help the great number of slaves and Kalima cringed at the very thought. There was little time or luxury to think about such things though, for survival for all of them was first and foremost and it was hard to believe they would all survive this.

Perhaps it was better that none could really see, for in the darkness, the blowing sand was not just red. Black grains were mixing themselves in with the ochre and when the storm was over, the dunes and drifts of sand would be more black than red, a phenomena that none of the Aswad had ever seen. The storm would be a noteworthy event, one that would not come again for another hundred years. Even Karzi's mage would suffer from this, for not only had he failed to predict it, he would be left to explain it. No doubt it would be the catalyst for omens and false predictions by the mage, for such a catastrophic occurrence had to mean something.

Sometimes however, there were no mysterious elements in things, no omens or magical reasons, just natural occurrence's that happened every few hundred years and which seemed mystical to those that had never seen them. Such a mage as was Karzi's would have been a fool not to use the storm to his benefit and there was little doubt he would lay the blame for it directly on the Aswad's head and in turn crediting them with more magical power than they in reality, had.

Of course this could only happen if the mage and Karzi survived the storm itself, and it would last long enough that it would put them to the test. An hour after the storm began, it slowly began to dissipate, but it would be almost two before any dared to raise their heads.

The main trade of the southern desert is traditionally salt, gold, and slaves. Over the millennia, the tribes of the southern Acacus had *an inexhaustible hunger* for slaves. Karzi felt a slave was worth much less than a good camel, which was a fair approximation of their relative value. A *good male slave* was about half the price of a good piebald**, brindled, or white camel, and was considerably less than the tawny reddish-buff racing camels, so prized for their speed and endurance.

**Piebald - A piebald or pied animal is one that has a spotting pattern of large unpigmented, usually white, areas of hair, feathers, or scales and normally pigmented patches, generally black. The color of the animal's skin underneath its coat is also pigmented under the dark patches and unpigmented under the white patches. This alternating color pattern is irregular and asymmetrical.

Just as the wind died down, and the black dust began to settle… Alai Karzi unveiled his arms from his face… and stepped forward to the mage to congratulate his feat. And as fate would have it, the old man sunk backwards into Karzi’s arms, his face pale white despite; as if he had seen a demon itself. “Tis the Aswad’s doing, summoning the demons against us.” The old man closed his eyes as men approached, listening to the words he spoke, then whispering amongst themselves. Then one eyes wearily opened and Alain smirked, then looked up to the men gathering. “See what the Aswad has become, demon worshipers, summoning the desert winds against our way of life…”

But the flames of rumor and deceit were easy to fan under such circumstances. But just how many had perished in the storm? The mage, Alai Karzi, and his lieutenants… but of the 5,000 warriors in the caravan, the numbers had been tragically decreased by more than four-fifths… and most of the bodies in that four-fifths had succumbed to the desert and could not be found; for none lay upon the ground dead…those that remained were of the living… bruised and battered but alive… the dead? Nowhere to be found.

The slaves? The young men and women were alive, and only the old ones had been killed. Fate? Maybe. Chains clanked and upon every opportunity, slaves were escaping into the desert, preferring to die rather than be taken slave. Some of the remaining warriors were overtaken, their keys removed from their person. Calamity and chaos reigned supreme in the Karzi caravan.

Their robes used to cover the horses’, and their own, heads were heavy with black silt. Piles of sand began to move; each blanket and robe. Prin laughed as he tried to vainly rise, his robe weighted down so restrict him from getting up. It would be Nazli and Kalima to get the horses up and moving, then began to dig Prin’s leg out of the wedge that formed under the weight of the sand against the boulder. Kadir walked past them to survey his men and laughed at Prin; then snarled at his presence here.

Far away at the oasis, the storm left the trees and water untouched… but those 300 that raced to secure it had vanished… their horses and camels now roamed free of masters.

Truly this was a mystery… a storm of all storms.

Kalima and Nazli both shook sand from themselves, dusting out their garb even as they got the horses to their feet. Nazli took the horses and with only a half smirk at Prin's ability to get himself in a tight spot even in a dust storm, she left Kalima with him and began to take a head count of men and horses. Kalima smiled at Prin as she dug him out, with a look that held gratitude, relief and some worry. She still had her visions on her mind and she could not forget the faint screams of those who had been buried by the storm.

As Kadir walked past and she had scooped enough sand away that Prin could at last move, she hurried to her feet. She knew Kadir was angry, she could see it on his face, but Prin had helped save all their lives and she did not think her brother could stay mad for long. Perhaps when she told him her vision, he would have other things to concern him and forget his anger towards Prin. She gave Prin a weak smile, and then hurried toward Kadir, catching up with him at his elbow. "I must talk with you"

Kadir would nod, and with a last look at Nazli, who silently nodded that she had it under control, he took Kalima's arm and guided her away from the men. Prin could see them, but not hear them.

Kalima told her brother that she had had a vision, that it had shown her the storm before they could see it and she went on to tell him all the details she could remember of the rest of her vision. The boy, the symbols, and what the boy had said. The longer she talked, the darker Kadir's brow became. Eventually Nazli made her way toward her two siblings, where she too learned of Kalima's vision. Her younger sister seemed confused as to what it meant, but it was often with Kalima's visions, that no one understood their meaning until something occurred that clarified them. Often by then, it was too late. Perhaps Kadir would understand more of this one.

Kadir would at last put a comforting hand on Kalima's shoulder, for his sister looked poised to well up with tears. It had been a stressful few hours.

Nazli glanced toward Prin. If her brother did not know the meaning of the symbols then perhaps Prin did and if Kadir chose not to ask his friend and comrade, then she would. For the moment however, Kadir and Nazli had enough to do with taking stock of who and what was left of the Aswad.

Kalima would part from them, and stand overlooking the sand that now looked peaceful. She stared out, unmoving, trying to will the visions again and knowing all the while that she had no control over them. If only she could have seen Karzi's mage, painting the Aswad with a brush of crimson blame. Perhaps such things did not need a vision to be known. One had only to think about what they would do in Karzi's place, and blaming such a monumental storm on the Aswad was easy to imagine.
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Prin ti Demsiri
 Posted: Dec 2 2016, 10:03 AM
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Prin ti Demsiri

This is the Aswad - Chapter 4

~ After the Storm ~

Kadir consoled Kalima and glanced back over at Prin who was busy dusting himself off. “Later sister…” then he turned and walked to Prin. “I shall ask one more time… what are you doing here?”

Prin stood erect and looked squarely at his old friend. “I go where my friends face danger… I do not prefer to be here, but you and Nazli feel differently… and Kalima did not seem this was a good idea.” Looking back at her, then looking around at the results of the storm. “And seemingly, she knows things we do not… how, or why, I know not… Excuse me brother.” Seeing Kalima standing alone peering out over the vastness that was the Acacus, he moves to her disregarding anything Kadir may have said or reacted to.

“A coin for your thoughts.” Standing beside her, he nudges her a bit. “Are you alright?”

Several kilometers below them, small dark specks were moving about. The survivors from the caravan were trying to collect and save what they could. Silks were ripped from their crates and some snagged now strewn about the sand… jars of spice all but buried, its contents definitely contaminated with sand, both brown and black. Camels, shed of their saddle burden, now lay comfortable on the sand… men were calmly coaxing horses so they may catch them… slave chains lay half buried in the sands, only the couplings showing.

Where could the slaves go? How did the chains come off? Regardless, thousands of enslaved men, women, and children had disappeared… yet Karzi men were preparing to depart in all directions to recapture as many as possible.

Karzi, with an entourage, managed to find transportation, and allowing the mage to accompany him, all departed, heading for the oasis. But there far ahead of him, the oasis was untouched, or so it seemed. There was a Djinn there now, his magic restoring the oasis to its previous glory, minus 300 Karzi men; there whereabouts only the Djinn knew.

Kalima felt very troubled as she stood looking out over the Acacus. She felt as though the storm were only the beginning of something much larger, but what she did not know. As Prin came up beside her and spoke, she glanced back at him, giving him a weak smile and briefly did her gaze shift past him to Kadir who did not look very happy at all. She swung her vision back to the desert before she responded.

"Yes." That single word spoken softly before she paused and then turned to look at him in silence. Just the distant sounds of the men and horses and the wind.

"…I thought... I thought the storm would pass and I..." She stopped and then began again, uncertain of how to continue.

"…something still does not seem right." She twitched, as if she were going to walk away, and then instead she knelt down, and smoothed the sand with her hand. With a single finger, she began to draw what the boy had shown her. If Kadir would not ask him, she would.

"Do you know what these mean?" She looked up at him with earnest hope that he could help her understand what the visions had shown her. Still it was unspoken between them that she knew things, was shown things, but she was trusting that he believed her. He had said he did. With his life.

Prin could see that Kadir did not appreciate him being there… and a reason for the dissenting view was avoided. So Prin simply stood by Kalima viewing a vast seemingly endless desert of red, brown, and speckled with black… But she offered only a simple *yes* to his inquiry…

And continue she did, but to his dismay, for she truly had concerns about the storm… and when she knelt and drew something in the sand, he canted his head and knelt beside her. Looking at her as he knelt, he shook his head… “My dearest Kalima, I vaguely recognize such drawings… what are they?” his hand did go to her lower back, hoping to show some sort of support for her. “I am beginning to believe the rumors… that you are a seer of visions… for there is no other reason of how you could see the storm that came upon us so quickly…”

Her head was lowered and his curled finger lifted her chin so that he could look eye-to-eye with her. “Tell me your concerns Kalima…”

She looked pained when he spoke of her visions, and she seemed reluctant to speak of them directly. She gently pulled her chin from his finger, but her eyes remained locked with his. There was fear there and uncertainty. She trusted Prin, as she did her siblings, but speaking of her visions to any but Kadir and Nazli was difficult. Her eyes cut from his, seeking out Kadir, and if in that moment he had looked sternly at her from a distance, she might not have spoken at all. But Kadir had his back to them, speaking to Nazli, and her eyes returned to Prin. She seized the moment.

"I saw much more than the storm, Prin. If I tell you what I did see, you will think I have lost my mind, and I fear you will not believe me." She put her hand up, as if to stop him from responding and went on in a rush. "...when I see things, ...when they are shown to me, …I often do not know what they mean. I must… interpret them ...and ..."

Her tears welled up in her dark eyes and threatened to spill over, as if she touched on the very thing that frightened her the most and her voice dropped to a strained whisper. "…what if I am wrong, Prin? ...what if I cause something with my interpretations? …what if I do not understand what they really mean? …or do not understand in time?"

He watched her painstaking glance toward Kadir; and with his back to her, she seemed to inject words she desired to say, with the lack of his approval… he listened intently. Prin shook his head reassuring her that he would never think her having lost her mind. One thing about being street-wise, you encountered many variations of humankind… and the occasional beast.

He could see the tears straining against her will… and he smiled his hand seeking her leg as they sat together. “Kalima, you feel the need to interpret things you know yet untrue… from mere visions… That I understand. Care not whether you are wrong or right… interpret best as you can… If the Gods deem thee worthy to give such a gift, maybe they deem you worthy enough to interpret them as well.” Then he smiled and patted her leg. “Speak of the visions what you know, shy from speaking unsureties, unless it could be harmful… then heed your best judgement.” And he offered her a simple shrug.

Canting his head he looks one last time to reassure her. “Like me… I often think one escape route is enough, but I do not see the unexpected guards have guessed well enough on my destination… so I have to take an unexpected shortcut… whether I know a way is safe or not…” He knew there was no comparison to her visions and his gut instinct, but he offered his sage the best he could.

She was giving Prin a deep insight into her daily struggle as a seer, into what emotions were tied to every one of them. She was letting him see the depth to which they affected her, and how awful it really was.

A hand raised to brush the wetness from her eyes, almost angrily, and then dropped to obscure the drawings in the sand, as if no one else should ever see them and she stood up with her chin raised in some act of defiance to her own struggle. "Forgive me. I do not mean to cry." She took a settling, deep breath and let it out slowly. "I will tell you what I saw." She said flatly, and taking his hand, held it as she told him all the details of her vision, afraid to see his eyes in case there was disbelief, or worse, some sort of pity there. When she was through, she dared at last to look up at his face. "It is not all vision, Prin. Much of it is… is feeling... it has something to do with Karzi and the caravan… but it is bigger than that. There is magic at work here."

She had beat him to brushing away the tears, but she would notice he had attempted it… “There is no reason to ask forgiveness… I am glad you feel comfortable enough to cry with me. Just breath, it will be alright.” He gave her a familiar smile.

She smiled back for him, his words having the desired effect. He calmed her and made her feel better about herself. Most importantly, while she was aware he might not fully believe, he didn't disbelieve.

And when she took his hand, he inhaled and smiled brighter. His blue eyes were not sympathetic, nor judgmental… but supportive… strong for her. And he once more listened intently to her, watching the lips move… and he was hypnotized for a moment. “Magic… yes… that’s it.” He spiritually referred to her lips, but his mind did register her concern with Karzi having the capability of enchantment.

“Yes magic, how else could the man escape the storm.” And he seemed deeply concerned for the people of Acacus. “At least many of the slaves escaped.” A derivative of what he had heard Kadir’s lieutenants reporting to their leader in the aftermath of the storm.

His eyes were locked on her lips, and the softness of his voice made her take notice that he was talking about more than the storm. It brought some warmth to her face, and she had to drop her eyes. It was but a moment that they were both very aware of each other and it might have blossomed into more if not for the immediate situation. His last words hung in the air there and something about it didn't feel right to her. She turned to the desert again, staring for a quiet minute and then turning abruptly back to him.

"Did they escape, Prin?... How? … and should we not strike now to save the rest of them?" She searched his face, as if the answer was there. As he was trying to find an answer for that, her thoughts were speeding toward the oasis. Was it still there? …the vision had shown her that it was covered entirely. Her bottom lip pulled through her teeth and she suddenly pushed past Prin, heading for Nazli and Kadir.

“What?” he was confused by her questions; which he knew not the answers. “Strike? We have much less than what we started with… I advised Kadir not to attack long before we came out here.” And then she pushed past him and he canted his head. “Kalima…” and his calling her name was ineffective… so he followed after her.

She hurried toward her siblings, and both turned to her to hear her, but Kadir was already shaking his head by the time Prin reached them. Nazli looked more uncertain. Kalima was looking back and forth between them with some urgency. Nazli's gaze shifted to Prin, but was much less accusatory than Kadir's when his gaze too swung to Prin. It was clear that Kadir was angry at his interference.

Kalima gripped Nazli's arm. "Sister, you know I would not say it if it were not important. We must go back and see what has happened at the oasis."

Nazli shifted her eyes to Kadir, who looked very irritated. "I will go with her, Kadir. We can take Prin and some of the men. If there is danger, we come back."

Kadir was growling with irritation, mentally counting the remaining men, weighing the risk and wishing he had been gifted with two brothers instead of sisters. He gave a brief nod of consent and then turned to Prin, stepping into him and meeting the eyes of his friend with intensity. "If anything happens to them Prin... I am holding you personally responsible."

What had happened to Kadir for him to dislike his childhood friend of many years? He could see the tension in the man’s gaze. Yet he stood by the girls and watched their brother offer but belittling stares. Still his curiosity was teased by the way Kalima insisted on seeing the oasis, either to confirm, or deny, her suspicions of the destruction. He so truly wished to believe her… but even she did not trust her own circumstance concerning the visions; so how could he not believe anything but what she said.

He stood a ways back from the trio… listening but pretending he could not. But inevitably that could not be avoided when Kadir turned to him and offered the threat… “You would nay get any chance at that brother, as if harm would come to them, I would already be dead…” and that was the truth… either by wielding weapons or by profanity lashes of tongue, he would defend them til death took his ability away.

Then he turned to the girls…. “I shall prepare mounts…” then he glared at Kadir, for if looks were fists, he surely would have knocked Kadir on his ass. Looking at the girls, he smiled faintly… “Prepare supplies for us to carry… I shall meet you here.”

Kadir knew Prin would defend his sisters to his last breath, so why was he so angry with his friend?

Both Nazli and Kalima wondered this as they nodded and moved off together to make ready. Nazli had a better idea at what Kadir's problem was than Kalima did, but she knew better than to get in the middle of it. As they separated from the men, Kalima began to fill her in on what she had not been told and Nazli did her best to calm her younger sister down.

Kadir stood unmoving beneath the glare from Prin. He was angry that his orders had been ignored. Not because he did not trust his friend, or have confidence in his ability, but because it caused him to lose face in the sight of his men. He was the leader of the Aswad, but leaders were usurped every day. The second his men lost faith in him was the second they found another to lead them. He saw his friend as an equal, for Kadir was not power hungry, but at the same time, he expected Prin to understand his position. His brow was still stormy, but his voice showed he was keeping his anger under control. "What did you see at the oasis before the storm?"

Prin stopped at Kadir’s question, mainly because of the changed tone in his voice, not the question. Canting his head slight, pushing the strands of the kafiya out of his way. “Come with me…” he said softly and took his friend’s arm and guided him around a set of rocks out of view of the Aswad.

With a smile he offered to Kadir. “Brother, First, I am not a part of your Aswad… you have made that clear upon many occasions… it’s alright, I understand… but do not pretend to command me, lest you enlist my weapons… but I came because of your sisters… Nazli and Kalima mean the world to me; sisters, maybe more…” and he looked down… then he looked back at Kadir… “Nazli is strong-willed, and a good warrior… Kalima is not… the only reason she is here is because of the visions… and those tear her apart… she is afraid that they will get you two killed… and THAT is hard to digest.”

Man-to-man; friend-to-friend… they stood facing one another. “I know you have a big responsibility… one that you took upon yourself…” he paused, his hand going to Kadir’s shoulder… “… a choice you made… and the people needed a leader… and you are good at it… keep feelings out of it… I shall provide the emotional aspect…” he chuckled… “Of course thru Kalima…” he winked.

Kadir would not apologize for his anger, but Prin had made a point. They understood each other well. When Prin put his hand upon Kadir's shoulder, a moment later Kadir gripped his friends shoulder with a strong hand in-like kind. He smirked at his mention of emotions and Kalima, letting his bruised ego go.

"You are going to wind up marrying one or both of them. I suggest Nazli, so that she can kick your ass once in a while." He gave his friends shoulder a single shake. "Now, what did you see at the oasis?"

With a squeeze of the shoulder, Prin shook his head… Kalima and I saw the 30 men or so from the caravan… they were setting up a perimeter as if more were to follow… and in the distance, I could see dust from 150 or more riders leaving the caravan’s path. It was like they had intended to take over the oasis… so to house the caravan when it was able to catch up…” and he shrugged. “It is a vital link of south and north…”

Taking the wine-sack and imbibed a bit, then offered it to Kadir, who refused. Corking it, he let it swing down at his waist. “That is what I saw, but Kalima seemed in a daze even when I arrived… then she hurried us from the ridgeline… and the rest you know.” Then he shrugged again.

Kadir gave what he said some thought and then nodded, walking side by side with him back toward the men. "I think we all go to the oasis. If it is there, we will hold it if not outnumbered." He clapped his friend on the back, and swung easily up on his horse, shouting to what was left of their group to head out. A few minutes later, they headed out toward the oasis, or where it used to be.

The discussion was brief and to the point… and it went just as he had hoped… that two friends would reason thru it, and push passion aside and allow logic to intervene. But what he had not expected were the words of Prin marrying one, or both, of his sisters… even if it was connected to a joke. When it came to his sisters, Kadir had not even joked about such with anyone, particularly Prin; until now.

Marriage? Had the young man thought of such events? Probably not… but if the subject crosses his mind, he prefers Kadir’s sisters to any he has met. Oh, do not misunderstand carnal knowledge was in Prin’s repertoire, as he was not a virgin… and his interests definitely lie in the feminine gender, just he was more introverted, or shy, in some deep personal characteristics.

He was a wild and free spirit, and both Nazli and Kalima were fine feminine specimens, with each one having such desirable characteristics worthy of a man’s heart… AND great physical attraction. But did his wild and free spirit hamper one’s desires to settle down? Only age and circumstance would forge that path. And with no further consideration of the subject, he laughed at Kadir’s comment about Nazli kicking his ass.

He had explained what he saw before, during, and after the storm… and how Kalima seemed affected by it all… He even mentioned the eerie scene of the concave force that surrounded Karzi and the unknown man… It was as if a giant hand was placed to protect the warlord.

As the pair walked back, his voice discussing the suspected force or magic summoned to protect Karzi was low, and only distinguishable only to Kadir. He dare not wish others to fear such things, or deem him insane. Mages, Djinn, and other entities such as those were of legend and myth… But in recent years, more and more such event have been rumored all over the land. But this occurrence was one of a much large magnitude. All he could do is advise Kadir to such knowledge and he shrugged his shoulders. “I agree, tis an oddity my brother, but still has myth and legend caught up with reality and education?”

And they hushed as they came upon the men readying their mounts… and at the same time, Nazli and Kalima followed Prin’s advice and gathered supplies… but Kadir’s new orders surprised them all.

Kalima handed Prin his refilled water-sack and the reins to his horse. Nazli returned his swords to him with words of caution *not to cut himself with sharp toys*. Prin smirked, hanging the water-sack on the ring of the saddle; then taking his swords and putting them in the crossed-sheathes on his back. He looked at Nazli… “Will you be upfront with Kadir, or with me and your sister at the rear?” and as Kalima as she walked around him to her mount, he nudged against her and spoke softly. “Stay with me Kalima, let Kadir lead the way…”

[color=#000000]Kadir and Prin were of the same mindset, which if indeed there was magic surrounding Karzi, then keeping it quiet was the wisest thing. He was troubled though, for such things were difficult to defend against and such rumors could possibly become like a fire and spread, leaving them all vulnerable. His concerns created a storm on his brow as he pushed his horse through his men to the fore.

Nazli's only response to Prin, was that he was much better at "sneaking up from behind" than she, and she would ride ahead with Kadir. As she trotted off, Kalima nodded to Prin in agreement, smiling at him as they set off in the dust.

Prin just chuckled at Nazli and canted his head pointing at her with his finger.

"Did you and Kadir come to an understanding?" She liked Prin, and it seemed he had always been a part of her adult life, almost a part of her family. If she had known what he and Kadir had just been discussing (ie: marriage), she would have been shocked. Yes, Prin was always flirting with her, and she too was guilty, but he flirted with all the pretty girls and Kalima had never really thought about marrying anyone. There had always seemed more important things to be concerned about in her young life and in truth, Prin was the only man that had ever tried to flirt with her. Perhaps he was the only one that dared approach the seer of the Aswad and Kadir's sister. She was young enough that Prin's flirtation always seemed like a game to her and something she had never really taken seriously. She cared about him as she did any member of her family and she felt he shared the same sentiment. She had always assumed her older sister would marry before she did anyway, and there had been no sign from Nazli that she was interested in Prin. Kalima thought that Nazli would probably marry some brute of a man, seasoned by fighting and scars and with whom she could stand on equal ground with, but the reality of it was, she never gave it much thought for either of them. She did not do so now, burdened by her visions and what awaited them at the oasis.

At first he did not catch the connection to the oasis discussion by her question, as his mind was elsewhere… He incorrectly associated the question with Kadir’s comment about marriage. “Ka’ple ? “ an inquisitive expression quirking his lip. “Ah yes, an understanding, well, yes and no. He spoke I listened… He said I shall wind up marrying one or both of you; suggesting Nazli, so that she can kick my ass once in a while." …just paraphrasing what was said.

And her expression, and her suddenness to mount her horse, caused him to rethink the reasoning for her question. “Kadir said not much of nothing regarding the storm, only asked what I saw beforehand… and in doing so, I guess he figured twas of import to take the oasis first.” And he shrugged think all the while that should have been the foremost in anyone’s mind. What strategist would attack a superior number while not securing logistics?

Talking about the argument between Kadir and Prin was a welcome distraction from that. She was glad Prin was at her side. He always made her feel safe and her gratitude for how he had accepted her visions was strong. Talking was not easy though, as Kadir set a fast pace and the dust was thick in the rear of the group. After their initial exchange of words, the both of them just rode hard.

Mainly due to the pace Kadir set, discussion was limited, and an air of misconception was possible at this moment, moreso on a personal nature than a professional one. And so off to the Oasis they rode… hard, with only an occasional glance between them.
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Prin ti Demsiri
 Posted: Dec 2 2016, 10:07 AM
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Prin ti Demsiri

This is the Aswad - Chapter 5
~ The Oasis Part 2 ~

~ Possessed ~

Fear struck Kalima as she saw first her brother and then her sister display the same reaction and she watched Prin with nervous anticipation as he shook the sand from the scope and looked again. The shock at hearing there was not one, but two Djinn, was clear in her widening eyes. She felt cold as she fitted the device to her own eye and saw clearly the same thing they all had. Her prayer was whispered as the device was lowered and handed back to Prin. Her opposite hand clasped the amulet of protection around her neck. She too, wanted to bury her face and not witness this spectacle before them. Her words were barely above a whisper, as if her throat had closed tight on the words. "...we have to help…"

Nazli's head whipped around to Kalima, hissing out words that showed a fear not common to Nazli at all. "We cannot interfere in the business of Djinn!" and no doubt all the possible consequences were flashing before Nazli's eyes.

That was when Kadir spoke, silencing both sisters. "You are both right. We cannot interfere between the Djinn, but what we can do, is fight." Kadir looked now to Prin. The Aswad was still nearly 1200 strong.

But before Kadir could alert his men to attack… an oddity would occur.

The large blue Djinn seemed to be fidgety, anxious… and with glowing blue gold eyes looked across the sands, sensing a mind of someone special in the distance… and separating himself from the tender-clan’s tin bottle, and in what seemed a puff of smoke disappeared…

Tis said by the Elders that Djinn are capable of possessing human beings; and when a djinn possesses someone, the host maintains his or her original appearance and voice. But while under possession, the host has no memory of whatever occurred while they were being possessed.

And a gentle breeze blew past them… and the hinted aroma of sulfur filled the air… and Nazli’s eyes were wild and she belched loudly and laughed eerily. “Apologies… more room outside than inside…” she retorted in an odd manner. Then she stood, raising her sword in the air, wavering it about as it to beckon a fight. “Karzi… I dare thee to challenge me… til MY land…” and suddenly she shook and fell to the sand…

And as Prin, Kalima, and Kadir tried to get her to get down… she suddenly shook and fell in the sand beside them. It was Kalima and Kadir who were next to her and sought to see her condition and what caused the sudden outburst. And not moments later, Kalima’s eyes went and she shook…

Apparently, Nazli’s demeanor and will-power was too strong for the blue Djinn and he could only handle so much resistance in the presence of the green one. So in an exchange of hosts, the blue Djinn occupied Kalima, one with an extremely strong mind yet weak will, before the green one could follow suit…

Nazli had suddenly felt as though someone had thrown a wet sack over her head and her reaction was a violent one. Just as suddenly, she felt as though she had fallen from a short drop and couldn't quite remember where she was. She was sitting up and shaking her head, trying to clear it, trying to remember what had just happened to her, when Kalima laughed in a way she had never heard her do before.

The protective amulet Kalima always wore around her neck had been clutched in her hand, and dangled there now, the chain broken free. It fell into the sand as she laughed in that weird way. "What the…"

Kalima was stepping over her sister, clapping Kadir on the shoulder and giving him a little shake. "Go on now, get the men ready!" Then that laughter again, and she was releasing Kadir (who was staring at her with an open mouth) and moving toward Prin.

She threw an arm around his shoulder, and turned him with a strength that was very surprising, nearly jerking him in that embrace to turn and watch out over the oasis. "...and you... I think we can put your firm ass to good use!" She grinned at him, one eye closing in a sly wink. This was so unlike Kalima and so contrary to her normal behavior that all three were staring at her as if she had grown long ears.

If there were not surprised enough, when she wrapped two arms around Prin, laid her mouth on his, and dipped him like he were a frail girl and she a grown man, they were completely shocked. The kiss ended with a loud smack and she stood Prin back up straight. She turned and looked at them all in turn, a single brow raised high. "Well… what are you all waiting for?"

The girl Prin thought to be ultra-conservative now seemed to disregard any, and every, thing… Her appearance was unchanged but her strength, and her extroverted mannerisms caused him to look at her with a smirk. With the deepened voice asking what everyone was waiting for, caused eyes to widen… and minds to spark extraneous thoughts of what just happened…

Prin canted his head as Kalima looked at her hand, twisting in to look at finger-length and rotating it to gaze upon the back of the hand… all as if it was the first time she had ever looked at it… And as Prin stood there, his mind running thru the kiss, he saw her hand move toward the amulet, and then retract as if someone pulled it back… as if something inside her was fighting with herself. Inside the Djinn was trying to keep her from picking up the protection amulet… but he was weakening… and she was beginning to be able to fight back.

And when Kalima was finally able to retrieve the amulet, the djinn, in a shuddering exit, left her. The wind blew hard, and a wisp of blue smoke circled her, then wrapped itself around Prin, only to dissipate as she stepped forward with the amulet extended. Then in a gust of wind and a loud bellowed laugh, the blue djinn reappeared near the owner of the tender-clan tin bottle owner.

Would she know what happened? Would she, or could she? Maybe, maybe not… depends upon the girl’s visions; but everyone would surely see her in a different light… especially Prin… who had wished for more.

And as soon as the trio regained their composure, Kadir, turned to his lieutenants and started barking orders to get the men ready for battle. Prin just stood there looking at Kalima.

Nazli had felt as if she had been attacked from behind, had struggled and then felt herself dropped from a short height. She remembered little else, but when she watched her sister man-handle Prin and then blue smoke swirl around him and then vanish, she could put two and two together as to what had attacked her and why she felt so disoriented now. She was still trying to clear her head as she got to her feet.

Whereas Nazli had felt an attack, Kalima would have best described her experience as a seizure. She had felt seized and unable to resist. She was not aware, nor would she remember exactly what she had done in the physical sense, but she would remember losing her amulet and resisting the hold on her to get it back. When the demon finally left her, she felt as though someone had suddenly released her from a constricting bear hug and now she could breathe again. She almost fell on her amulet and it had been pure instinct to hold it out towards Prin as blue smoke swirled about him.

That laughter seemed to hang in the air around them, and then she was blinking at Prin with a confused look on her face. Her head swam and she dropped her ass to the sand, the amulet still held loosely in her fingers.

Nazli was beside her, looking into her face with concern and then throwing a glare toward the staring Prin. "Stop staring at her that way." Reproaching him already as if she knew what he was thinking.

This caused Kalima to look even more confused and a little frightened. "What... what did I do?" She glanced down at the amulet in her fingers, trying to understand why the chain was broken and it was not around her neck. She couldn't remember. For both women, what little they could remember would fade like a late night dream upon waking.

Prin had failed to realize his excess ogling… or *staring*… as Nazli made quite a stir about. “I…I… I was not staring… I was…” …wait, maybe he was staring. He had not been kissed like that before… nor kissed by Kalima at all, other than a mere friendly peck on the cheek. But what she had done, he would wish to explore more… if the goddess Ishtar would allow such… thank the gods for baggy trousers.

And he smiled a wicked smile at Kalima as she asked what she had done. “Oh, nothing.” He responded.

Meanwhile Kadir was busy scurrying around preparing for combat.

Below, at the oasis, the blue djinn was observing the green smoke that circled around the two men, the mage and Karzi, that stood upon the knoll; behind them stood a legion of 1000 or so horse and camel mounted warriors. Their intent was to secure the only oasis in the southern desert capable of maintaining a livelihood such as this one did.

In between the mounted warriors and the oasis… in between two conflicting djinn… were thousands of slaves… slaves that were miraculously freed of their bonds and spared death in the sandstorm…. Spared only to be the object between two opposing forces…

Nazli threw Prin another hard glare for his response, but there wasn't time to argue. She helped Kalima to her feet and made sure she was steady upon them before she hurried to help Kadir prepare. She was already considering splitting their men in two, half to attack the front and the other the rear.

Kalima was still looking somewhat confused, but she was rallying fast and realizing that the thousands of slaves were being used as a human wall. This filled her with a cold fear. "Oh Prin... oh no…" reaching for his hand and that physical support. Things were happening fast now and the sound of horses and men that were readying to fight was growing louder behind her. She didn't think the Djinn, either of them, would care if the slaves died or not. All of them were unarmed and they did not even have the chains that used to bind them for defense. She looked to Prin with large eyes, sharing a moment of understanding with him that all those lives were likely to be lost.
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Prin ti Demsiri
 Posted: Dec 2 2016, 10:17 AM
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Prin ti Demsiri

This is the Aswad - Chapter 5
~ The Oasis, Part 3 ~

~ Possessed ~

Kadir had rallied his men and on horseback rode to the top of the hill where Prin and Kalima still stood. He yelled to Prin. "Get down there and find something to arm those slaves with, even if it is sticks and stones, just find something!" Which was a pretty tall order considering the number, but Kadir hoped that his men could hold back the force of Karzi long enough for the slaves to become an asset instead of a wall of sacrificial lambs.

Nazli was already leading five hundred of the Aswad at a full run to circle Karzi's force and try to take them from behind. It would take them longer to reach Karzi than it would Kadir, but it was their only hope of success. They were all concerned about the Djinn, for it was a weapon they had little defense against, but Kadir and Nazli both hoped that one Djinn would take care of the other while they focused on the mortal army and even that was a battle that neither of them was sure they could win.

Kadir waved his arm and led his men in a charge down the hill to cut in between the slaves and Karzi's men, his battle cry strong and without fear.

The slaves were not mean to be involved in a war… they were often equated to women and children… but arrogance and failure to know their advantage would be the defining issue that would unravel all intentions of victory. Kadir, Nazli, and their associates had often fought Karzi forces… Kadir, being a fine leader, abided in the rules of war handed down by those that fought thru the centuries.

One rule he tendered was never to repeat the tactics which have gained him one victory, but allowed his methods be regulated by the infinite variety of circumstance. And this situation was transfixed by the violent sandstorm, and the appearance of djinni.

Tis often marked in men’s notes that security against defeat implies defensive tactics; alas, the ability to defeat the enemy means taking the offensive, especially in the open. Standing on the defensive indicates insufficient strength; attacking, a superabundance of strength… and twas Nazli and Kadir’s intention to make use of all advantages…

Nazli took the 500 and headed to the Karzi rear, while Kadir drove a wedge between the slaves and their murderous opponent. The rule “Whether to concentrate or to divide your troops, must be decided by circumstances” was usurped by what would become of the slaves should Karzi turn his forces against them before Kadir could intervene…

Leaving her behind with guards, Prin kissed Kalima, swung himself upon his black steed and rode hard behind Kadir… then branched off toward the slaves…

Rousing amongst the fear of those now chainless slaves, Prin yelled them to take up arms as he rode amongst the thousands… stirring the pangs of freedom among them… yelling at the top of his lungs for them to attack, taking arms from the dead men they would meet…

As Kadir’s men either fell or victoriously subdued, or killed, their opponent, idle weapons were taken up by hands with scarred wrists… men, women, old and young, youth of both gender… all willing to die instead of wearing those horrible shackles barring freedom.

The tide of battle swayed in favor of Karzi against Kadir… until Nazli hit them from the rear, unexpected that a female, leading many females, could be so beneficial… then the slaves were able supplement Kadir’s fallen… less experienced than those that fell, but with much more heart, they added the force that the waning army would need.

Meanwhile, the blue Djinn was busy expending his energy in protecting the tender clan at the oasis… higher up on the dunes another was summoning his own power…

As Prin, Kadir, Nazli, and those they led, battled a hardened army. And Karzi saw his men were failing… and he turned to the mage and ordered him to command the djinn… No longer did he wish to remain; to watch his army decimated by mere slaves and desert bandits. As the green Djinn spoke an odd language, waving hands, the temperature about them began to rise… and the winds began to churn about them… Lightning began to spark from the dust cone… and when the dust dissipated, the djinn, his mage, and his master were gone.

Prin looked about him… men lay dead at his feet, all about him… near him stood hundreds of slaves cheering in victory… the sands near the southern Acacus oasis were stained with red… Not one red-caped man of the Karzi army stood on his own… Nazli and Kadir, followed by their lieutenants walked toward Prin… all stained by blood…

She had watched the battle from the hill, holding the reins of her horse so tightly that her fingers would feel it the next day. Her horse pawed nervously as did those of her guards. They all felt the pain of witnessing and the ache of not being able to help. She lost sight of Kadir almost as soon as his army clashed with their enemy, but Prin, she could spot in the throng of slaves. She almost cried out in angst as it seemed the Aswad was losing ground, but then, there was Nazli and her warriors slicing in through the rear and she felt her own savage blood roar in her ears. Then the slaves flooded in, and she felt their rebellion. She cheered for their victories and cried for the fallen.

As soon as her guards yelled that they saw victory, she could wait no longer and spurred her horse forward and down the hill. Her guards followed closely and it was only minutes after the battle was over that she would reach her family. She was off her horse before he had even come to a stop and ran through the rejoicing slaves toward them. She was relieved to see her siblings alive and mostly unharmed, but she was also relieved to see Prin the same. The cheering slaves imbued all of them with that sense of victory and Kalima was half-laughing, half-crying and trying to hug Kadir, Nazli, and Prin all at the same time. Nazli was smiling beneath the black scarf over her face and hugging her back; Kadir was tolerating it and Prin was probably wishing for more than a hug.

His thoughts were upon the dead and dying that suffered their fate at his hands. He was a capable warrior, maybe more than capable, but still somewhat, he grieved internally at the unnecessary loss of life by his hands. But what deemed it “unnecessary”? To Karzi, he was defending what he assumed was *his*, to include the oasis under his realm. To Kadir, he and his was defending all people from oppression and cruelty. To Prin, he was defending those he cared for… although he preferred the daily drudge of evading, and avoiding the Amir’s city guard; which was more *fun* that work… and very few, if any, ever died from his antics and mild criminality.

Still he smiled at Kalima as she tried to hug everyone; her excitement in the victory exuded to all, winning a smile from all she encountered. Prin just waited his own turn to hug Kalima; doing so allowed him to wash away some of the blood splatter…

Meanwhile, the tender clan leaders were approaching, and flooding them all with appreciation and so it was a very confusing cluster in which they were ushered to take rest and sustenance and receive appropriate thanks.

The slaves were already setting about saving Kadir's men from the grisly task of making sure all of their enemy was dead and assisting those of their own that were wounded.

There always was a duty to the living to ensure the dying enemy warriors received their due, and did not suffer… and those friendly injured were being cared for as soon a s possible. And as the victory-fervor continued, Prin ti Demsiri walked about the battlefield… and felt as if he had been here before… in another life… in another place… or time. He was alone in his own thoughts.

Later that night, they would help with the funeral pyre. Nazli and Kadir's lieutenants were sent to take care of the Aswad's injured and dead.

Another time… another place… another life, there would be 12 days of mourning for the dead… but now… here… the funeral pyres burned hot… the physical life completed, ended before its time, now nothing but whispers to the gods to save their souls. And in the end, there would be human ashes mixed with residue of burned timber. Prin would silently salute the dead, then return to the living.
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Prin ti Demsiri
 Posted: Dec 2 2016, 10:18 AM
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Prin ti Demsiri

This is the Aswad - Chapter 5
~ The Oasis, Part 4 ~

~ Emotions ~

By the time night fell, Kalima was housed in a small tent with Nazli, their men were camped and much rejoicing was had by the Aswad, Tender clan, and slaves. Kalima and Nazli would finally have the opportunity to question each other about what had happened when the Djinn possessed them and this would leave Nazli relieved and Kalima mortified. There was also a fear in Kalima that it would happen again. She would reattach her amulet and secret it under her robes and for the remainder of their time here, she would do her best to avoid Prin, too embarrassed to face him.

As the sun set behind the dunes of sand, the darkness setting in, the triumphant songs, cheers, and discussions filled the oasis. Prin made his way thru the rows of tents belonging to the living, past the large tent of the wounded, and urged by her avoiding him, toward Kalima’s tent.

The moon shown bright over the oasis, as if the Gods were gifting the victors. The chill of the desert crept across the oasis, and Prin wrapped the material out of his way as he took a drink of the cistern. To him, there was more beautiful sight that to see the desert at night, the blanket of stars surrounding the tops of palm trees… and he smiled, blotting out the events of the day.

His skin cracked from the stained blood of battle… the blood of other men… and now that the day was almost over, he decided to wash up. There in the area setup by the freed slaves, Prin was undressed by women willing to serve willingly. His clothing set aside, he stood stark naked, his arms parallel to the ground, his feet spread more than shoulder-width apart, as the women began to wash his muscled torso and limbs…

But behind him, he felt the eyes of another upon him… he simply smirked but did not move or turn his head…

Prin's bathing must have taken place in a tent outside of Kalima's own, for the tent that housed the two sisters was a smaller, private one in which they would bathe and sleep away from all other eyes.

Kadir had poked his head in briefly, asking if they would attend the funeral fire, and while Nazli agreed to, Kalima did not. Not because she was avoiding Prin, which she was, but because it was too painful to watch. She felt at least partially responsible for each of the Aswad that had died in the battle and would say her prayers to the Gods in private.

Prin's sense of feeling eyes upon him was true, for indeed he was watched as he was disrobed and the slave girls sponged the blood and sand and sweat from his body. Yet if or when he would turn to view the watcher, there would be no one there. Just a movement of the tent flap that proved someone Had been.

At Kalima's tent, two guards stood watch outside as the funeral pyre was lit and the black smoke of all their brethren rose into the night sky, blotting out the multitude of stars that lit the desert. Nazli watched this take place in silence beside Kadir, neither of them speaking. A half an hour later, Nazli declined food and drink and instead returned to the tent she shared with Kalima. She had been nearly silent for the majority of the evening and was doubting she would find sleep even though every bone was weary.

Prin could have snuck in to Kalima's tent after his bath, for surely two guards at the front would not have stopped him, but did he wish to do that? It had been a long day for all of them and no doubt he understood Kalima's embarrassment. Still, while the funeral pyre burned the dead, she was in there alone and if he wished to speak to her in private that night, this would be his only chance.

He could feel the heat of the funeral pyre upon his face… his deep blue eyes watching the dark gray smoke spiraling upward as if to transfer the souls of the departed to the heavens, in the safety and sanctity of the Gods. No longer did the stench of dried blood stain his skin. The bath he was given by the freed slave girls was enjoyable, though secretly he wished Kalima had performed the deed… of course, he surely would be desiring more. But he did resist *that* with the slave girls’ hands all over him… somehow.

Canting his head watching the grey smoke rise, he wondered about the Gods… and the djinn that stood before them in the battle. How short live for a warrior was, while that of a djinn seemed to last forever; or at least much longer than 20 generations. He smiled at the fact that the blue djinn had protected the tender-clan of the oasis… and yet offered the Aswad protection from Karzi’s green djinn. How fickle fate is !!

Looking into the starry sky, he wondered… Had Kalima, or Nazli, been the observer in his tent? He had felt a presence there, but when he turned, he only saw the movement of the flap. It could have been anyone… but he smirked again at the thought of Kalima.

Soon he would find himself at the entrance to Kalima and Nazli’s tent… The two guards looked forward, expressionless, as Prin stood, hesitating – to enter, or change his mind. Not once, but thrice, he raised his hand to open the flap… alas, he retracted his hand each time. Then the older guard spoke loudly…

“Smehlia Kalima, Nti Saheb aji…” (Forgive me Kalima, Your friend is here…).

Prin tried to wave him off, but too late… he stood there like a statue, not knowing what to say, or do.

There was a few awkward seconds where there was no response from inside the tent, during which the guards exchanged an uncomfortable look. Then the flap was drawn back by Kalima herself. "Is something wrong?" she asked him, and momentarily out of concern that something ill had happened, her embarrassment was put aside.

Stay or leave… a decision that was crossing the mind as silence within made him a bit despondent… But suddenly, the flap moved… and expecting a servant, he was surprised to see Kalima instead. All he could do was force a smile to hide his revelation. “Nay My Lady… nothing wrong… nothing at all.” He responded with a shaky response of his head and words.

As soon as she learned that nothing was amiss, that embarrassment came back and added a touch of color to her face, visible above a veil of blue. Then it was her turn to look uncomfortable, glancing briefly at the guards and obviously conflicted about inviting Prin inside. In the end, she decided that the guards’ ears were more discomforting than Prin's company and stood back that he might enter. She could not avoid him forever.

Prin noticed the flush above the blue veil, and forced himself to refrain from his own expression to it. He did not say anything, to anyone; just offering the guards one last glance and he bent over entering her tent.

It was also obvious she was trying very hard not to let her embarrassment get the better of her. She didn't exactly want to apologize for what she herself had had no control over, but she also wanted him to know she would have never… ever done something like that on her own.

He did not know the reasoning for flushed skin, though he could guess… but he enjoyed what had passed between them earlier… here at the Oasis… and secretly wished more of the same.

They were not completely alone in the tent, for the young girl that served her was present, but Kalima knew her lips would not speak of anything and the conversation was as good as private. She motioned for him to take a seat before a small brazier in the center of the tent, and the girl was already bringing him a cup of wine. At least she smiled at him, as Kalima's fingers fretted with the gold embroidery that hemmed her silks.

The girl stepped closer and bowed deeply… he returned her bow with a slight movement of his head; errant strands of his long light-brown hair fell across his face and he smiled timidly as the girl rose and moved away toward a corner of the small tent leaving Prin and Kalima close to one another.

A moment’s breath, and he inhaled as she offered him a place near the brazier. Half-sitting, half-leaning against plush pillows, he watched her, interrupted only as the young woman returned with a brass cup of wine. “Graces…” he offered thanks for the drink.

Taking a settling breath, Kalima struggled with what to say, and then burst out all at once. "I hope you are not afraid that something like... well... like what happened on the hill today… that… that it would happen again. I mean, I intend to take precautions against it and… well... you know it wasn't me that did it... and I don't even remember how it all happened. The Djinn..." and here she faltered, afraid she was just rambling and not making much sense and she could feel her face grow hotter beneath the veil.

At her sudden outburst, he wanted to laugh, moreso at her fidgeting and anxious tone… plus she was speaking fast, not the usual perpetuated tone, but he refrained. He need not pave the way for more embarrassment unto her. BUT, regarding the first sentence, he was not afraid IF it happened again… he wanted it to; but apparently she did not wan…. Djinn? His mind stopped mid-stream of thought. His eyes narrowed, and he felt his nose and lips twist in confusion. He questioned her softly, “Djinn?”

Again his mind cranked over the past events involving her and what she just said. He had heard Djinn possessed the ability to inhabit animals and humans, but never assumed one would possess her. Mischief, disruption, and malice were the Djinn’s calling card… and he softly cursed a bit feeling used as a victim. “Tis alright My Lady… no harm done.” and he looked down as hopes were dashed upon the rocks.

One would have to be a younger sister with an older brother to really understand Kalima and how she felt just then. She was still young and often struggled with her visions and how they impacted her life. She was like any other girl in that she saw men that she felt were handsome and made her stomach flutter, but rarely did any of them approach her and she never them. Prin had always been one of these to her, for she found him rakishly handsome and charming. At the same time, he was her older brother’s friend and in that, he seemed to her, unreachable. Surely there were many young women who secretly adored their older brother’s friends and yet never let on that this was the case. Most often these friends were oblivious to the younger sister, or found that the older brother was very protective and thus did not pursue the girl. Whatever the case, Kalima had just never considered Prin as anything but that handsome family friend who probably didn't think of her as anything but a child to tease. As they stood there in the tent, lit by lamplight and with the sounds of men outside muted, Kalima was suddenly very aware that she was a woman alone with a man. This did not alleviate her embarrassment but high tuned it so that she thought she had never felt so self-conscious around Prin before.

When Nazli had told her of the events she had witnessed on the hilltop, Kalima had known it was the Djinn. This was a fact that she never considered might be unclear to anyone else for it was so obvious to her. She had been grateful that the Djinn had only possessed her briefly and had not decided to stay for she knew that it could have. She also inherently knew that the Djinn had not possessed her long for it had desired them to defend the oasis.

As Prin's face twisted, Kalima realized that he hadn't known she was possessed and must have thought she had kissed him like that out of her own volition. This made her feel very uncomfortable, for she could only imagine that Prin saw her as that childish younger sister and had only tolerated such an act of outward romance and could never have actually liked it or wanted more.

"You... you thought I..." this spoken as half question, half statement, and it opened the floodgates for the blood to flow into her face fully. She had never felt so embarrassed as she did right then and covered her veiled face with her hands and began to turn away.

In the beginning, Prin had no family… no siblings… only the people of the street. He was born motherless, the young girl dying in childbirth… suckled by a despondent woman of his Father’s house, who had lost her own child in childbirth not days before he was born. But as time passed, the foster mother loved him; alas his Father, thru the months, suffered heavily at the loss of his beloved, and turned that anger at his son. For safety sake, his loving foster mother took the toddler from Shez’ra to Arcadia. Despite a loving mother-figure til her dying day, Prin grew up on the streets, learning how to steal, extort, and defraud people after first gaining their confidence. Soon, his “street skills” became his greatest asset; the streets became his family… until he met Kadir.

Prin and Kadir roamed the streets for different reasons, yet they became close allies. Two peas in a pod, so to speak… Yet the Amir’s guards could not catch either lad, or the group they ran with. Talents were shared, skills honed together… yet each night, Kadir had a place to go to… two sisters to care for… a family unit to enjoy, while Prin and other lone boys found solitude in a group. Far too oft did Prin sit on the rooftop and gaze thru the window at Kadir and his sisters sitting down to a table… to a scanty meal… but despite meager supplies, they had one another. But the older brother was leery of his friends around his sisters, especially the smaller Kalima; for Nazli was more the tom-boy.

But eventually Kadir and he grew to be friends as young men, loyalty proven and accepted, his friend’s family soon becoming his own. And only natural, did Prin befriend the sisters, even moreso. But to prevent angering his best friend, he kept his feelings buried deep; especially when the girls started to develop into young women, and nature’s path became evident…

Kalima had been correct in her assessment of the Djinn, that it had not possessed her long because it had wanted their help, but that did not mean that the Djinn was some benevolent spirit that would now watch over and protect them. In fact, the Djinn had found the multitude of slaves and Aswad warriors a veritable playground once the battle was over and even as Kalima and Prin talked inside her tent, it was enjoying its games among them.

It bounced through the ranks of slaves, playing tricks on small groups and individuals as well as the same with the warriors. The following day there would be many tales and more than one slave would die because of these games. Many would report odd dreams and terrible nightmares or what they thought was sleepwalking. Others would report things missing and blame the closest man to them, causing numerous arguments. Slave girls would find uncovered food had spoiled and chamber pot contents splashed on their tents. One group of slaves had been reported to have gone off screaming into the desert during the night and no one knew where they had gone or what had become of them. The Aswad would find some of their horses missing and the tethers that held their camels all twisted into hopeless knots. Nazli's own lieutenant would discover upon waking that both ankles had been tied together and when she had stood up, had fallen flat on her face and thus broken her nose. One would wake and cry out as he beat himself with his hands, an army of scorpions skittering up his clothes. (Although later he would realize not a single one had stung him). Others would wake in a different place than they had fallen asleep in, some would wake naked and not be able to find their clothes. A few fights would break out when men teased others about what they had done during the night, things they didn't remember.

Many of the Aswad and the slaves would say that they heard laughter in the night or strange whispers and by the morning, many would be anxious to leave and a great number of the slaves would be hiking into the desert, more afraid of what the oasis held than of anything else.

As Prin and Kalima talked in her tent however, all seemed fairly calm in the camp and as Nazli made her way from the tent of wounded to her own, she never once thought about the Djinn or what problems such an entity could cause. "You... you thought I..."

And Prin would just look down having discovered he had assumed incorrectly, even now knowing the true reason for what occurred. Looking down, rotating the brass goblet in his hand, he failed to witness the blush. Only looking up when she turned… and just then he saw her expression, a flushed pink face partially covered by her hands. “Wait… do not leave… I am sorry…” and he sat up.

The enemy routed, the threat dissipated, Kadir and the Aswad enjoyed their victory, but the Djinn’s antics over the evening had wreaked internal havoc enough to disrupt even the best army. It would be the generator of stories for months, maybe even years, to come. Though a few slaves lost their lives due to the Djinn’s lark, those who killed them received more than a fair dose of pranks upon them before the Djinn was done.

It was Kadir who finally approached the leader of the Tender-clan beseeching his assistance to contain the djinn… and in the end, the master sequestered the spirit; then asked the Aswad to remain and enjoy the benefits offered by the oasis.

And back at the tent, Prin rose quickly, gently grasping Kalima’s wrist. “Do not go…” It was the first time they were together alone… for when they looked around, the young servant girl was outside talking to the guards about the chaos down in the main camp.

That they were completely alone together just increased Kalima's discomfort and made her wish that the ground would open up and swallow her, but this was just the confused emotions of a young girl in a rather embarrassing situation and not a true want. When Prin took her wrist, her hands dropped from her face, but she couldn't… or wouldn't, look at him. To her this was a painful moment, as such things could be only to a young woman. The angst showed in her face and in her voice when she nearly groaned out.

"How could you think this of me? How could you believe I would...I would kiss you like that!" or kiss him at all.

It was easy to stifle the fact that she had often wondered what it would be like to kiss Prin or have him say romantic and seductive things because those had only been wistful dreams. To think that he, or anyone, would believe she was that bold was like calling her a harlot and this was a great shame. Add to that youth and inexperience and it was all very dramatic and too much to bear. Tears were already welling up in her eyes.

Her words were faint, but the tears welling in her eyes spoke louder than any herald ever could… But what was worse was her reluctance to even look at him. What had he said, or failed to say that could upset her so much? And no less was what happened next.

It was at that inopportune moment that Nazli opened the tent flap, ignoring the stutter of the guards that tried to warn her Kalima was not alone. Her head ducked through and as she straightened, the tent flap fell closed behind her.

Nazli's black clothing was dusted with sand and her face looked weary from the day of battle. Her eyes had flicked from Kalima to Prin and as her back straightened it was clear she was assessing just what was going on. For a long, uncomfortable minute, she did not say a word and then with a voice that was so soft as to belie her internal feeling, she asked. "Am I interrupting?" She said this while looking at Prin, but it was obvious the question was meant for Kalima. It was very difficult to read Nazli's eyes or face. Outwardly she always appeared calm and in control of herself, even in moments of distress. The stare from her dark eyes stayed on Prin for a second longer and then shifted to Kalima, waiting for her to say stay or go.

Kalima couldn't bear any of it any longer. She was so very embarrassed for herself and she could only imagine what Nazli thought upon walking in on the current situation. With a display of inner strength, she blinked back her tears, pulled her wrist from Prin's gentle grasp and rushed out of the tent murmuring something about tending the wounded.

Of all the theft he had committed, he had not been caught… and let fate meander as it would… and in walked Nazli. The scene before her appearing none what it seemed – Kalima standing near Prin, his hand upon her wrists, and she in tears. All he could do was release her wrist, dropping his hands to his side and sighing exasperated at the same time as Kalima ran out of the tent, leaving him to deal with the incident.

He shook his head at Nazli’s question… her tone eerily calm and collected. “No, you are not interrupting anything…”[b] and he shrugged.

Nazli blinked in a little surprise as her sister darted past and turned to Prin again with a raised brow of question. Although she didn't say a word, the question was clear. What the hell is going on?

And as he started to leave, Nazli stood in his way and gave him that expressive raised brow. No need to ask, he knew the question. [b]“Nothing at all…”
And the next expression was one of disbelief. Now could she have a conversation and never say a word? With a sway of his head, the hair leaving his face, he looked down, the hair falling over his eyes again. “I just wanted answers as to why she kissed me as she did.” He shrugged. “That is all.”

Could this be classified as male ignorance in dealing with the feminine gender?

Indeed Prin might be categorized as the typical male and in such was ignorant in dealing with females, but who could blame him when it was such a universal problem among males and females everywhere. It could be said that most females didn't understand the minds of men either. Certainly Kalima did not and Nazli just had a different way.

She looked at Prin silently and then nodded, moving out of his way and toward the cup of wine he had abandoned. She took it up and drained it, then moved to fill it up again since their attendant had not returned. "You assumed she did it out of some playfulness or romantic desire and did not realize she had been possessed?" This was a question, but not one she really expected an answer to. They both knew the answer.

She had prevented him from leaving as well… and her expressions spoke volumes… “I… I assumed nothing of the sort… I…I…” he stammered. What Nazli had asked was a not a question, but a statement they both knew was correct. He tried to deny the inevitable, but that just faded with a gaze to the floor.

"She on the other hand, was possessed by the Djinn, did not remember it until I told her and is now mortified to face you. You confronted her and are now confused as to why she would run out the way she has." She drank deeply from the goblet and then turned with it still in hand. Dark eyes regarded him, but she did not smirk or laugh at him. She just looked at him in that calm way, her head canting to one side as something dawned on her. "... you want her."

He looked up at Nazli… “Want her? I… I…” and now he blushed and looked back down again… “I know not what I want… I always thought I did… but when…” and he just huffed.

She stared at him for a moment longer, and then turned back to the wine, drinking and then pouring. Her tone was a little flat when she spoke again, but perhaps that was the wine. "Just give her some time, Prin. She will come around."

Prin looked up with a confused expression, and sidestepped past her, only to pause at the tent doorway and cast a gaze back at her. “I have always loved you and Kalima…” and as turned for the flap, only to speak once more without looking… “and for both, always will…” and exited into the night.

Nazli watched him go and was left in silence once he had. She had no doubt he cared for her and her sister, for they cared about him, but for all the charm Prin had with women, there was a lot he didn't understand. Nazli would drain her goblet for the third time, and only then did she think she could sleep. Kalima had not returned by the time she would lay her head down.

Kalima could not have found sleep either and while she was not glad for the work with the wounded, she was grateful to have something to keep her mind and hands busy. She had a way with the injured, not only in tending their horrible wounds, but in comforting them with a gentle voice and hand. She spent a long time with them that night and only a few hours before dawn, as Kadir was speaking with the Tender clan about their wayward Djinn, did she return to her tent. Rumors had trickled into the tent of wounded until she was worried about Nazli and once inside with her sister, she knotted the tent flap closed. It was said that Djinn could not or would not untie knots, although they liked to make them. She was glad that Nazli was asleep and that Prin was gone.

As tired as she was, sleep would not find her easily and she lay there with a train of thoughts skipping through her head. She still felt the burn of embarrassment and the sting of the things Prin had assumed of her and still did not understand how he could have thought she would do something like that. She had always tried to conduct herself as a lady and now in one fell swoop of a Djinn it seemed that she was now viewed as something different. She realized that she was angry at Prin for assuming, and hurt because it seemed that was the only type of woman that attracted him. She had often seen the slave girls flock around him or smile at each other when he was near. She had seen women of higher rank flirt with him as well and how he could put color in the face of young and old alike.

Well, she decided, she was not going to be one of his conquests. She had more dignity than that. He could think whatever he liked about her, but she would continue to conduct herself as she always had and not give him any further reason to believe she was anything but chaste. This settled her only partially for deep down there was still that desire to be the one and only girl that could capture his heart. Oh how painful it was to be young.
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Prin ti Demsiri
 Posted: Dec 2 2016, 10:28 AM
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Prin ti Demsiri

This is the Aswad - Chapter 5
~ The Oasis, Part 5 ~

~ Reflections ~

Having left Kalima and Nazli’s tent, he stopped just outside, allowing his eyes to adjust, and looked around; nowhere could he see Kalima. And so Prin walked toward, to, and along, the far end of the water’s edge of the oasis, just outside the light of the residential area. His mind reflecting over the past few hours; he shook his head. Most free females were confusing; unlike the indentured women. A smile broke his facial features at the thoughts of what had been said by men at the taverns; their tales of experience reiterating his current thoughts of today’s events.

What did Kalima and Nazli think of him? Has he been defined by his past? Verily, time…and the actions within… is, and can be, a very misleading entity. But with all the events of his young life, Prin has always felt there is no import in the past nor future, only the now is important. He believes that a man can only gain experience from the past, but cannot therefore relive it; … and how can one hope for the future, if one does not know if that shall exist.

He knelt down, then bent over and looked into the pool. There, reflecting back at him was his own reflection highlighted by the moon’s full glow surrounded by stars. “We should not be defined by the things we did, or failed to do, in our past. Regret not, tis merely something that happened. Let it not control thee… The past is a simple narrative of periodic life. And once you realize that fact, it has no power over you.”

There were many odd things that would happen in their camp that night, most of which were caused by the Djinn before it was contained. Yet there were other things that the Djinn had no hand in, but that the following day would be blamed on the blue demon.

As Prin knelt down by the water, its surface a perfect mirror for the night sky above, someone watched from the yucca that grew in abundance.

A male fist curled tightly about its sword which was curved and toothed and gleamed dully in the moonlight while its owner remained as stealthy as a cat. He had followed Prin here and now watched from just a few feet away, his face wrapped in the black cloth of an Aswad warrior.

The night was somehow peaceful, with the sounds of camp muted and distant. The lap of the water and the sound of night insects created a soothing music and gave the perfect backdrop for Prin to think as he gazed into the mirror-like surface of the pond. As lovely as it was, it would offer Prin no insight and no warning of the warrior that even then was slinking up behind him. A low crouch prevented this stalker's reflection from showing in the water and no sound gave away his movement. Only a split second before he attacked was his growl heard and by then the curved sword was wicking through the air, its razor sharp edge on a perfect trajectory to take off Prin's head.

The reflection in the water only slightly wavered as the ripples disturbed the vision… possibly from a far off disturbance in the water. Prin could see his head and shoulders, and the handles from the twin swords cross-sheathed at his back, and he pondered his life in a brief second. Unaware of anything, or anyone, willing him harm, he smiled at the ripple-effect of the water, thinking his own life was such; having no true job, except to harass the Amir’s guards, no true profession, save the sell-sword, he occasionally profited with; and no family, save Kadir and the girls, and the fellows of the streets.

Once the Captain of the Guards, across the spans of thatched roofs, cursed him and loudly stated he had no purpose under the Gods… and would die one day, with no one to miss him. And he noticed the rhythmic tunes of insects had stopped, and from behind him a growl emanated. He had no time to move, yet a mere flinch gave him opportunity to avoid death once more… the assailants sword struck the handles of his twin weapons… the force of the blow knocking him forward half into the water, half out…

And in a hurried movement, he turned to his side, only to see mud swirl around a sword thrust into the water, just missing his head. Instinctually, he rolled toward the sword instead of away, his hands pressing the sword down and away from him, hoping to extract the weapon from the assailant and pinning the loose sword under his own weight. He had no advanced warning, only the instinct a street-wise lad would use… and the assailant had the advantage… now Prin evened the odds a bit.

Water flew in the air as Prin trapped the sword, but it would not come loose from his assailants hand so easily. His attacker snarled, his free hand outstretched for balance as his attempt to hold on to his weapon bent him half sideways. Water sprayed in the air again as a leather clad foot thrust out, attempting to shove Prin back and off the sword so that it could be raised again. The man was strong and if it were simply a matter of brute strength, Prin would lose this fight. His attacker was bigger and heavier and obviously hell bent on murder. But strength was not always what decided a victory and Prin was deadly quick, light on his feet and tempted the fate of the guards almost daily. He was used to getting out of tight situations and thinking on the run.

Who was Prin's attacker? Was he an Aswad warrior as he looked to be? If so, why did he want to kill Prin? Was he a spy, and if so, why was he attacking? These were just a few of the questions that Prin was likely to have, though at the moment there was no time to consider them. There would be a fist following the shove off of a boot, a heavy, scarred fist that could break a jaw or nose and suffer little injury to itself.

Unsure of whether the tactic would work or not, it had saved his life… for now… but the man had a grip on the hilt, a strong grip Prin could judge. But what he could do in his current position was very limited… half in the water, half out. Then it came… but from his viewpoint the bottom of the boot looked larger than it looked from other angles… and the boot struck his side and disappeared into the water… and the blade was released…. Once more the brute, standing over him, with the flick of a thick wrist, would soon adjust his curved blade once more with a plan to severe his head from his shoulders.

Prin rolled and placed his hands down to spring to his feet, but his hands sank in the soft murky sand bottom… but he gripped a handful and managed to push up hard, extending his elbows. To his feet he sprung, arms extended quickly, and from the hands came wet sand, projected straight toward the man’s face, whose sword in hand and the thick arms extended overhead… ready to cleave Prin’s neck, was unsuspecting of the present Prin now offered.

From Prin’s view now, his mind quickly noticed the man’s attire… Aswad? Oddly enough one of Kadir’s men would attempt to kill him… or maybe Karzi had a spy amongst them. Quickly back to the situation at hand… Prin’s hands, in one swift movement, went to his trousers, briefly knocking the majority of the sand away, then rising over his head to retrieve his own twins of death…

Prin's gift was received full in the face and it did as he wished, blinding his opponent. Unfortunately for Prin, this did not give him as much time as he had hoped and his hands would have barely enough time to wrap around the hilts of his twin weapons before his assailant was roaring and with head lowered, barreling forward with every pound of his weight to catch Prin and send him flying back into water inches deeper than that which they now fought in.

There was not enough time and not enough space for Prin to avoid this head-first attack, for upon finding himself blind, his assailant did not swing downward with his weapon, but spread his arms wide in assurance he would catch his opponent and with head lowered, rocketed forward to tackle Prin backward before he could draw his weapons, causing both of them to send up a huge splash of water and most likely both lose their footing in the sucking bottom.

With no time to think, nor draw his weapons, he was bulled right in the chest by the large man, his weapons retrieval now unwillingly abandoned and they were forced to remain in the sheathe… but the contact between the man’s head and his chest knocked the wind from his lungs, his hands grabbed the man’s clothing as he flew backwards and both men went into the water… not only did he get hit full-force with the man’s head, he hit the water, then the man’s weight settled hard upon him… the attempt to fill the man over his as he fell was in vain.

A last-ditch gasp before the water covered his head was all, but in vain… and the bludgeoned force his body endured was enhanced by fear of being drowned. Skill faded to pure fear of not breathing… and he felt his own hand land squarely, not once but several times against the man’s jaw, the other pulling at the behemoth’s wet clothes, in hopes of moving him, and being allowed to breathe air again. Kicking at whatever he could, arms swung hard at any afforded target… But blue eyes saw nothing but murky water; blurry brown water.

Time seemed to slow… and if anyone had ever told Prin, that near-death, one would see a light to a better place, would be called a fool. Prin could see nothing but blurry, murky, brown water. Finally able to raise his head, his blow to his opponent seemed void of effort, he sucked in as much air as he could, he saw the man still trying to kill him with his eyes closed; surely he was in pain from sand grinding eyeballs.

Prin held what little breathe he had left, then discontinued his struggle, and became lifeless… a pretend to be dead.

Unbeknownst to the two struggling for life and death in the water, several of the newly freed slaves were walking down to the water, casually discussing the odd occurrences of the day and night. When sounds of the struggle met their ears, they all stopped, wide eyes staring at the water. If not for one of those slaves, who had presence of mind enough to raise an alarm, Prin may have very well died that night.

As Prin went limp and pretended to be dead, his opponent with very little vision grabbed him by the shirt and pulled him up out of the water, meaning to simply throttle what breath was left right out of him. That was when he heard the slaves shouting and knew that others would soon come running.

He probably assumed that Prin was dead already, or as good as, and he simply dropped him back into the water. This assailant hurriedly marched his way out of the water, still struggling with the sand in his eyes and then ran as fast as he could to conceal himself in the dark.

The slaves were unwilling to put their own lives in danger, or intercede in an argument between two men, but as one of the fighters ran away, they hurried to help the one left in the water.

Suddenly Prin was being helped by three pairs of hands, dragging him up out of the water and the distant shout of the one that had cried the alarm could be faintly heard as some of the nearest Aswad came running to see what was wrong. It looked as though Prin had escaped death by the skin of his teeth once more.

Had his mind not decidedly to give up rather than struggle further, surely he would have been drowned. As he lay helpless, his shirt became taunt, his body lifting from the water… and he inhaled slowly, opening one eye slowly and narrowly; enough to see the outline of the large man looking away… and in the distance, the sounding of alarm. Surely someone would come to his aid !! And just then he large man looked down at him and snarled, then dropped him. And Prin quickly gasp one last breath before submerging again… at least until the man departed.

Not one, not two, but three pair of genteel hands… his energy had been exhausted, his fear of death now subsiding… he coughed several times from a sore throat from the large hands upon his person… and then puked the murky water from his lungs as the three people helped him from the water.

As Prin’s knee hit the dry sand, he looked up and saw the people had gathered ‘round. He was safe… for now… but who had his assailant been? Not only from the brief glance, but by his sure size, Prin did not know the man… nor knew of anyone that size.

Ah, but there were men of the Aswad that were that size. Not many, but a few. There were also men of that size that were part of the Tender Clan and of course there was the possibility that it could be a spy from Karzi's army. It was really impossible to say who it had been, or why they had attacked him.

As people rushed to where he had been dragged from the water, one of Kadir's own captains sent a few men to scout the area and hunt down Prin's attacker.

They headed off in the direction the wet tracks led them and Prin was escorted back to the camp, assaulted now by questions as to what had happened.

Kadir's men followed the wet tracks that led from the oasis pool and into a copse of aloe and acacia, where following became much more difficult. Cursing and bleeding from the thorns, the men struggled through, but their search ended on the other side where a pile of wet clothing was found. There was nothing there that identified who had worn them, but a little further was a soft drift of sand and in it a few clear foot prints. They followed them as far as they could, but they soon became lost in the harder pan of the oasis ground where many a man had walked. This meant two things. One, that they were not likely to track the man and two, that whoever it was could still be among them.

One of the men inspected the pile of wet clothing, frowning over them. He doubted very much if someone were running about the desert night in nothing but their skin, which meant that whoever had attacked Prin had had dry clothes waiting for them. Did this mean they had expected to finish the fight with their clothing soaking wet? Or that they had prepared for it with a disguise before or after? The man didn't know, but most of the Aswad knew Prin and his regular antics with the guards. It was quite easy to assume that Prin had antagonized someone and they had sought revenge. It was also easy to assume this was just another trick of the Djinn, of which many had plagued them that night.

The men continued their search, but by that time, none of them really expected to find anyone. They combed the ground around the pool and the oasis further out, but not surprisingly, they didn't find anything else. With the pile of clothes their only clue, they brought these back to Prin with the grim report that his attacker had not been found.

By this time, the night was waning and stretching into the wee hours of morning, but the darkness would hold the oasis for a few hours longer. Would this night ever end?

Prin’s head was spinning and his body ached… and his throat was sore where the big man’s hand throttled his throat; but he was alive. Still he had no idea who would wish him dead… the ones he considered as possible candidates would rather pay someone to do the deed dirt cheap than soil their own palms…

Truly a night remembered, disdained as it was… though he would verily never forget… so close he had come to dying… or at least thinking he would. He wanted to see Kalima… or Nazli… but both were safe in their tent… and now he was in his, safely… if only for now. The mystery man’s task most likely incomplete… a thought he did not care to ponder on…

He watched the shadows on the tent back and forth across the closed tent flap… til he fell asleep… finally.

The following morning, Kalima would wake with a start, unsure of what had drawn her from sleep. The day was already warm and without a wind and as she rubbed the sleep from her eyes she realized that Nazli was already up and gone. Her attendant was there, preparing her clothes and breakfast and means of washing, and when she saw her Mistress awake she was relaying what had gone on in camp during the night. The slave girl chattered on about all the tricks they said had been played (for many of them had not come to light until the morning) and Kalima listened, amazed at all that had gone on. She was relieved when the girl told her that everyone was fine (meaning Kadir, Nazli and the wounded) and a little shyly asked about Prin. The girl animatedly relayed the story of his attack the previous night but he had survived and was not seriously injured. Kalima released a breath she hadn't realized she had been holding.

Nazli, she was told, was with the horses and Kadir had taken a few men and set out to scout their perimeter, but the girl could not tell her where Prin was. Kalima had had every intention of going about her day with her chin held high and not thinking about the handsome Prin, but with news that he had been attacked, she forgot about pushing him from her mind. Now, she just wanted to make sure he was alright.

Sleep held him close… and the sun’s rays upon his tent had no immediate effect. Prin was usually up before the dawn… and by the time others rose at their usual time, he had fed his steed, raided the camp’s kitchen stores, and was watching the girls’ tents til they emerged… but today was different.

Prin woke startled, the dagger between him and the space before him… Could it be from last night’s events? His pillows were scattered about the tent… either he had had a fitful sleep or the djinn ravaged his quarters… either way, a sense of violation could be misconstrued as mischief.

Before him sat a pan full of water, probably for washing his face… Prin put his dagger away seeing that no harm was imminent, nor anyone was in his tent… then he looked at the water, his reflection looking back at him… then he watched his face, only to fall back upon adjusted pillows… and he huffed pondering things he had read, or learned….

By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.  Confucius

Without deep reflection one knows from daily life that one exists for other people.  Albert Einstein

It is not by muscle, speed, or physical dexterity that great things are achieved, but by reflection, force of character, and judgment.  Marcus Tullius Cicero

Kalima forced herself to eat and after her attendant had helped her dress, she bid her leave. Alone, she would take a few minutes at the small shrine set up in her tent. She crossed her legs and sat in front of it with her head bowed. She prayed to Melqart and Tanit, offering them thanks and asking for their eyes and hands to be upon her during the day.

There were small figurines of each of the Gods upon this small shrine, a small lamp of oil that burned continually and a small brass cup that held incense. Above it was a small mirror that was the method of reflection for her. It was covered with a swatch of black silk and only removed when she was before it.

There had been times when the mirror had shown her visions, but she rarely sat before it expecting one. She did not do so now. She said her prayers and then gently removed the black silk that she could see her own face.

The sounds of the camp were distant and muted and inside the tent the light was diffused and cool. Her face showed clear dark eyes, the subtle hues of her skin and the golden shimmer of delicate chain that hung from her head scarf. It also reflected the tents interior behind her. She was almost ready to recover the mirror and stand up when a flicker of movement held her in place. She was hardly aware of the growing roundness of her own eyes as they watched a figure... a shadowy figure emerge from the murkiness of the tents shadows. It was Nazli, dressed in the black robes of an Aswad warrior, her hands held out before her. As Nazli stepped slowly closer, she could see blood dripping from her hands and dark bruises upon her face.

It was a normal reaction when one saw something startling in a mirror, to immediately turn around and see if it was truly there and this is exactly what Kalima did. With a gasp of breath she whipped her head around...and of course there was no one there. She blinked once, then looked back, a little fearfully into the mirror, and saw...only herself. Kalima swallowed and heard a dry click in her throat.

She recovered the mirror, said the last of her prayers and hurriedly got to her feet. She shook off the unsettling feeling the vision had left her with. Nazli was with Kadir and while the vision had been awful, it had not left her with a feeling of urgency of any kind. She did not know what it meant, but she did not fear Nazli was in danger.

Kalima pushed her way out of the tent and stood in bright sunshine for a moment before heading straight to Prin's tent. It was he that she was concerned about this morning.

As she was scratching on Prin's tent, Kadir was riding back into the camp on the far side. He had set out with a scouting party of six and returned with only three. They had split up in the desert to follow a myriad of odd tracks. They had turned out to lead to nothing, the wind having obscured the trail and Kadir assumed that the same would prove true for the others. He would find out from Nazli when she returned.

The man was not a slave, as Prin despised slavers, but the man worked for a few coin that Prin could offer. Hell, Prin could not even remember the man’s name…but his paid servant opened the tent slightly and announced Kalima. Prin sat up as Kalima entered. The tent flapped closed and Prin stood up to face her. “Good morn Kalima… How do you fare this day?”

One calloused hand took her smooth hand, while the other extended to offer her a pillow. And as the two sat, he gazed at her, in-taking her beauty and appreciated life, especially after the previous eve. But how would she perceive him now after what had occurred and his revelation as to how he felt about his choice pair. His mental consternation was only interrupted by Abdullah’s clearing of throat and the offering of wine.

Kalima stepped inside, ducking slightly in the flaps opening. She seemed a little nervous, but a veil of sea foam green did not hide the relief on her face to see that he was, as she had been told, uninjured. She smiled at him as he took her hand and squeezed his warmly. "I am faring well now that I see with my own eyes you are unhurt."

She settled down upon the offered cushions, her hand slipping from his and the ensuing silence a felt a little uncomfortable. She met his eyes once, but her gaze dropped as Abdullah approached and cleared his throat. She declined the wine, but thanked him for his attention and when he had turned away, she bravely lifted her dark eyes to Prin's face and held them there. She seemed to be bravely plunging forward. "There is such talk as to things that happened over night. Most of them they say were pranks of the Djinn... but I also heard that you were attacked and nearly killed!" She again seemed to look him over with a tick of her eyes up and down. "Are you sure you are alright and do you know who it was?"

Nazli rode back into camp a short time later and was stopped briefly by Kadir. She affirmed that the tracks had petered out and she had seen nothing. She seemed eager to be gone, but he detained her a few minutes longer and asked if she had any idea who attacked Prin during the night. She did not.

Kadir detected something subdued about Nazli, but she often puzzled him because she was so reserved and there was no understanding the many moods of a woman. With the many pressures of leadership on his shoulders, he could afford little time in sorting out the complexity of his sister.

She stood with him a while longer, questioning him about how long they would stay at the oasis and what supplies would sustain them. He wasn't sure how long they would remain here, but there was no doubt a convoy would have to be sent back for supplies. She agreed to arrange this and then led her horse away.

With a frown, Kadir left her and sought out the other two members of their scouting party to see if they had discovered anything other than dissipating tracks.

His voice was a bit different than usual, due to the grip of his assailant, but he smiled and reassured Kalima that he was alright. But it were her words that were heartfelt for him… Did she truly know what her kind words meant to him? Probably not…

“Yes, I heard much of the confusion were blamed upon the Djinn… but what fought with me was not djinn… it was a man… possessed maybe… but human all the same… but the djinn…” he rose a hand to his throat and massaged it, then continued. “Yes maybe djinn inherited a man’s form, but they are often mischievous… not pre-planned like this man… he knew where I had gone… and according to reports after the attack, they found wet clothing on the shore down a ways from where we fought.”

He sat back upon the pillows and stretched his throat once again and coughed a bit. “It is alright Kalima… just sore…” seeing her expression as to his well-being. Then he repositioned himself when his bruised ribs caused him discomfort. “I am ready to return to the city… at least I know where I can be safe… at least until I find out WHO wants me dead…”

He sat there looking at her. Once in a while, he offer her a smile… His thoughts his own…for now.

Kalima looked at him with some concern as he spoke and she could hear the roughness from his throat, but he saw it and tried to ease her worry. She listened to him, a frown creasing her normally smooth brow as he spoke of returning to the city. That took her by surprise as she realized she didn't want him to go. She kept that to herself though, not sure of why she felt so strongly he should stay. "I am sure Kadir is doing all he can to find out who it was, and what assurance do you have that returning to the city will keep you safe?" She was worried about him, that was clear but she also seemed to realize that it made him uncomfortable and she tried to contain it. "I will bring you some sage syrup for your throat. It will help the pain and help it to heal." She gave him a soft smile that was still tinged with concern. "You are not leaving now, are you?"

Meanwhile, Nazli was arranging a small troop to bring back supplies and Kadir was seeking out the last member of the mornings scouting party. He had talked to Nazli and Rahad, who had returned a short time after Nazli. Both had said the same thing, that the tracks had petered out to nothing and no other sign had been seen.

He was not sure who the other member of the party had been, and no one else had been sure either. Rahad had counted eight of them when they set out, and only seven had returned. It was concerning, but Kadir had bigger problems and he could not watch over every single warrior in the Aswad.

With Nazli taking care of the supply issue, he had now the problem of the Clan who were worried over how long they had to keep their Djinn contained. They were a persistent lot and three of them in their turbans and white robes were following Kadir about, pestering him with questions and seemingly unhappy with his answers. He needed to decide how long they intended to hold the oasis and he constantly wished he had some inside information as to what was going on with their enemy.

For that matter, was the enemy in their midst? With this in mind, his thoughts turned to Prin. His temper flared with the Clan members and their questions and a slightly heated exchange finally sent them back to their tents. Blowing off his tension through puffed cheeks, Kadir headed towards Prin's tent. He had an idea he wanted to bounce off his friend.

Caught up in his own thoughts, he simply canted his head at Kalima when she spoke of Kadir… “Kalima my dearest, my assurance is the city is my home… and I know every inch of Arcadia…” he paused… “Remember, I grew up there… Here I have only been am vulnerable; those who I assumed were allies, may in fact, be adversarial…”

It was not the fact that she worried about him that was disconcerting, it was rather pleasing to him in discovering she really did care enough… and he nodded at her gesture of pain relief. Prin canted his head at her about leaving and slowly shook his head. “Not if you wish me to stay…”

Kalima did want him to stay, but she shook her head as slowly as he had and met his eyes. "I could not ask you to stay if it puts your life in danger." She was thinking of how he had just shown up, despite Kadir not allowing him to come along. She had been glad he was here and realized that she felt safe when he was with her. She did not know how long Kadir would keep them here, but as it was with the young, she knew it would feel like an eternity. Still, she could not ask him to risk his life just to ease her mind.

She drew in her legs and prepared to rise to her feet when Kadir arrived at the tent and Abdullah was soon announcing him. She did not know why, for she had done nothing wrong, but she felt a little guilty when Kadir stepped in, as if she had been doing something she shouldn't. She was glad for the veil to hide any color that may have stained her cheeks.

He inhaled and spoke softly… “I know you could not ask me to stay for that reason… but that is my choice… all I want is to know if YOU WISH me to stay.” And when she rose, his hand clasp her wrist as a gesture to stay… but their moment under the sun was interrupted, again, by Kadir’s appearance. Prin’s mind shot to that repeatedly frustrating coincidence. And when Kadir entered so quickly after Abdullah announced him, Prin released her wrist and looked at her, then to Kadir yet said nothing.

Kadir stepped in, an eyebrow arching briefly as his eyes flicked from Kalima to Prin and back again. He had not expected to see her here. "Sister..." He said in a greeting that was as much a question.

Kalima looked a little flustered and her instant explanation was further proof that there was more going on here than a simple visit. "Brother. I was just leaving. I came by to make sure Prin was alright. ..Have you found out who attacked him?"

Kadir just slowly shook his head, still looking between the two with a little curiosity. "No, I am afraid not. If you wish, I can come back later..." He looked briefly at Prin, some amount of humor glittering in his eyes.

Kalima was the one that answered him though, her cheeks now rosy. Even she detected the innuendo in her brothers words and it brought back all of the embarrassment of the previous day. It also put a bit of sharpness in her voice. "As I said, I was just leaving."

Prin watched the two siblings, and his beloved Kalima’s gruff tone toward her brother. If one could interpret his eyes, the answer to Kadir’s question would be yes… but the frustrated young female’s answer outweighed his… and he quirked his lips.

She frowned at her brother, who was almost chuckling and that just made her angry because she knew he was enjoying it. She turned to Prin, sure she caught the glimpse of a smile on his lips too. This made her cheeks burn more, but she refused to let go of her dignity. Her chin lifted. "I will make sure you get the syrup before you leave and I wish you a safe journey."

Misinterpretation… or misrepresentation… One or both resulted from the quirk of his lips… and a silent thought of “Damn” came to mind; damning Kadir and the situation that put them in the precarious emotional swing. But it would require Reflection of all parties involved to actually see what was occurring. All he could do in response was growl and nod… even his pleading blue eyes could do nothing to keep her from leaving.

She turned around and brushing by her brother, she exited through the tent flap that Abdullah held aloft for her. At least Abdullah had the good manners to hide anything he may have been thinking.
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Prin ti Demsiri
 Posted: Dec 2 2016, 10:29 AM
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Prin ti Demsiri

This is the Aswad - Chapter 5
~ The Oasis, Part 6 ~

~ On the Inside ~

Kadir was indeed amused at his sister’s fluster, or rather, at the obvious flirtation that went on between her and Prin, but he had more important things to discuss with him. He looked at his friend with an uncertain questioning gaze. "You are leaving?"

The blue eyes of his friend would look to Kadir and if eyes could speak, they would warn of an ass-whooping… but Prin only remained silent on what occurred. With a shrug, he adjusted his position… “I only made the comment that I would feel safer in the city… You know me.” He shrugged. “I know not why I was attacked… or by whom. I just wanted to walk along the water…” he looked at Kadir with a side-glance… “To think on Kalima… and how she reacted in the tent evening last…” and he shrugged again, looking down. “In the city, I am in my element… Maybe you were right, I should have stayed home…” and he went silent, and gestured Kadir to sit a while.

While he found it amusing to witness the discomposure of his friend and sister, he had little time to indulge such things. Matters that were much more important took precedence and when Prin offered him to sit, he dropped unceremoniously to the cushions and accepted wine from Abdullah when it was offered. He drank and appeared to be considering what his friend said before responding.

Kadir drained his cup and offered it up for more before he spoke. "Let's be honest, Prin. There are probably a lot of people that want to see you dead. Whether it's a pissed off guard or someone that lost all his money to you in a dice roll, or some little harlot's angry father. Not everything is a conspiracy." He frowned, studying his friend in silence for a moment. He chose not to mention his sister again. Whatever was between Prin and Kalima, it was not a high priority for Kadir and not something he chose to be concerned over.

T’was not something Prin wanted to hear, but Kadir was correct. His frivolous and audacious life could have easily induced hatred toward him in many people… He had never even thought about it before. It stung, but Kadir was truthfully honest… a fact that both men endured with one another thru the years; never having to apologize for it… something the girls never seemed to understand in the boys.

"I know I didn't want you to come and I was pissed when you showed up anyway, but I can't deny that you've been an asset. To be honest, I came here to ask you for help. Help that I think only you can give." Kadir held up his hand, as if to stop the protest he knew was coming. "I know, I know, you are not under my command. Which is why I ask this as a friend and nothing more. If you refuse, I understand."

Prin wanted to laugh at the word “asset”, surely Kadir could call him something similar… yet all he did was smile; especially when the hand rose to keep him silent. It would have been easier to object to staying if he had been under Kadir’s command… but as his best friend had said, he was asking as a friend… and Prin sat up, his muscular legs crossed, his hands sank between thick thighs and fiddled with the material that covered the sands.

“I cannot refuse to help my best friend in need… especially the young man that gave me sanctuary when I was at my worst…” They were only a few years apart… Kadir the older… as fate would have it, the more mature of the two, at least… Prin looked up at Kadir, then motioned to Abdullah for more wine… then he held out his goblet toward Kadir… “My swords are yours, brother…” Kadir and his family were everything to Prin… nothing mattered more… nothing, even his own life.

"I hope you will not need your swords." He clanked his cup to Prin's firmly and then drank in toast before he explained. "We hold the oasis, but we are blind to anything Karzi may be planning." He narrowed his eyes and lowered his voice, leaning in slightly. "What we need, is someone on the inside. I can think of no one more suited to the task than you. I will give you anything you need, but if you ask me for more of a plan, I am sorry to say, I have none. How you get in, how you obtain information, I leave solely to you."

He leaned back, waiting to see what Prin would say, adding only, "Nazli is preparing a small troop to return for supplies. You can ride back with them."

His blue eyes rocketed side to side as he pondered if anyone in the Karzi band knew him. Karzi did not fear the Amir, nor the Warlord, Hassan el Sharir… but both Karzi and Hassan preferred to maintain control of their own sections of the Acacus. The Amir was the royal sovereign of the Acacus… to include all the large city-states there of… and Hassan el Sharir was his warlord… and governor of the northern lands and Alai Karzi was a warlord and slaver of the southern lands. And Prin knew of both the Amir and el Sharir, but he knew of Karzi, only what Kadir and Nazli had spoken of.

Kadir had asked a lot of him… and though hesitant, he answered freely… “I will do what you ask…” Truly, who would be better suited for subtlety and invisibility than Prin… but he needed an edge… a subtle, quiet, advantage… and he thought of Kalima, and her visions… but he would not ask. He only tipped his goblet at Kadir… “Give me two days… and I shall disappear. You will only hear from me when necessary.” And Prin drank all his wine… and pondered what guise he would use to infiltrate the Karzi slave train.

Kadir nodded, finishing his wine in a single gulp and getting to his feet. "I'll give you two weeks to find something we can use to our advantage. That damned Tender Clan is already complaining about bottling up their Djinn." He reached out and gripped Prin's forearm in a Roman handshake, sealing the deal and relaying by a brief look alone that he was grateful for Prin's help.

Prin cocked his head at Kadir… then simply nodded. “Two weeks then…” and clasped his best friend’s arm… the deal finalized; all that was left to do was formulate a plan. And as things wound down, he could see the appreciation in his best friend’s eyes, and he offered a smile.

He released his arm and then gave him a half-cocked grin. "Do not get yourself killed. I shudder to think what Kalima would do to me if that happened and personally, I am looking forward to a wedding." That grin grew and he was quick to step back before Prin could take a swing at him. He was laughing as he let himself out.

He chuckled at the half-cocked grin… “I do not plan on getting ki..… what?” His eyes squinted and the head canted automatically…. Much less, he had not even finished his sentence when he finally comprehended what Kadir had said… “Wedding??”

No one had ever mentioned marriage… much less a wedding… though it was not impossible. On the inside, he cared for Kalima to depths untested and inexperienced… but how much, he could not say, for he knew not the range of true love… and her feelings? Where did they lie? Would she ever expose her true feelings? For all he ever saw was blushed cheeks and fiery temperament.

Oh what an ass… Kadir left him laughing as he pushed past Abdullah who had no time to open the tent flap for the man. And all Prin could do was watch with hands upon hips and an odd look upon his face… a look that even caused Abdullah to chuckle and leave.

As Prin did not know Kalima's true feelings, neither did Kalima. Prin was the first to spark her feelings, but he was like a member of the family and first romances were often confusing and complicated. She had come back to her tent, fuming a little at her brother's inopportune appearance and look of knowing good humor, as if he knew what was going on! She didn't even know what was going on and it all served to irritate her as it seemed only a brother could. She knew Kadir liked to tease but she might have been angrier had she known of her brother's joke of marriage. Certainly this was a thing she had not yet considered and unlike many young women, she did not lie awake at night dreaming of her future husband and wedding. She was the seer of the Aswad and sister to its leaders and this she was content with. Or so she thought. Lately, Prin had been on her mind a lot.

She busied herself in mixing an elixir for his throat and realized she was sad that he was leaving. She was also worried about him. At least if he stayed here, she would not have to constantly wonder if he was alive. Silly, she thought. He was a grown man and he could take care of himself and if he said he was safer somewhere else, then who was she to argue? She had no idea her brother was sending him into much more danger than he was already in.

As she stoppered the small bottle, she frowned, recalling the vision she had had that morning of Nazli. It was curious that it had been so violent in nature and yet she felt no sense of urgency or danger. She decided that she would seek her sister out, and make sure she was alright before she said goodbye to Prin.

Like him, Kalima, Nazli and Kadir did not approve of slavery and all of their attendants were paid for their services. Kalima's attendant was Anoush, a lovely girl and loyal. Kalima gave her the bottle and bid her take it to Prin's tent and ask him if he would stay until she could say goodbye. Nodding, Anoush did as she was asked and Kalima set off across the camp to find Nazli.

Prin paced his tent… and Abdullah just sat in the corner should his master require of him. What went thru Prin’s mind was his task. He was to infiltrate Karzi’s camp and keep eyes upon the caravan’s retinue. What he desired was against what he needed… He wanted to keep those he cared for safe… but he needed someone to work with him…someone he trusted without question or care. He was to disguise himself as a slaver in order to get into Karzi’s camp; but who could he trust? Nazli, Kalima, Abdullah, and Anoush… and surely a few others… others who could fight if needed. But to ask them for help, he would be placing them in dire danger.

And a smirk crossed his face imagining Nazli in slave clothing… She, and Anoush, could dance well too… Nazli,at least after some wine… Rubbing his chin in thought, Abdullah could be pawned as a house slave, and Kalima… well, he pondered hard on that… and the smirk about Nazli faded when thinking of Kalima…

Just at that moment, someone cleared their throat at his tent, and the dutiful Abdullah opened the flap to find Anoush. After some mild discussion, Abdullah handed him the corked bottle and gave him the request to wait. Prin canted his head and smiled. “Yes, I can wait… have Anoush enter and wait with us.”

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