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"In the name of Lady Sun - the All-Merciful, the All-Knowing, and Life-Giving Lady Sun - I tell my tale. And my tale is true. As true as any other tale that has ever been told "

The Tale of the Robber and the Caliph, Part Two

Dusk settled into the most twisted resources of Medinat al-Salaam first, but soon enough would enshroud the rest of the city as well. Her citizenry would usually be packing up their wares and moving on to whatever hovels they considered home by now, but with the festivities at their peak, the merchants were still hard at work late into each evening. The Caliph, high above them, clutched the thick stone railing of her balcony as she idly considered events of the last twenty-four hours.

Rumors were arriving about a new leadership within the Moto horsemen, one that could prove problematic for the city in the very near future. Raids on the trade routes had momentarily stalled, but would undoubtedly resume with increased fervor as soon as Kara, wife of Gaheris, was able to consolidate her command. The Senpet, Yodatai and the rest would be furious at the new, unknown quantity and demand aid in protecting their goods.

A subtle knocking at the twin portal to her throne room roused the Caliph from her long mental diatribe. Turning into the immense, gilded chamber, she called for the offender to enter. A guard, burdened by futilely disguised fear, shuffled past the cracked door and asked if she was ready for the first of her prisoners to plead for their life. Almost without a thought, she waved her hand back over her shoulder in acknowledgement, then paused.

"Bring me the robber who spoke to me at the last yesterday," she ordered while pouring herself a healthy cup of purple wine.

The askaree hesitated, apparently surprised by the caliph's words. "He is a wordy child, Lady, and the dungeons are filled to overflowing with other refuse that could better satisfy your thirst for blo-"

"How is it that you understand what I thirst for?" the Caliph snapped. She nearly blurt out an insult she had always fancied, but stopped short. It was best; he would not have understood the term anyway. "Go and bring me that boy. Now, or I'll have your head as the first upon the chopper's block this evening.

Falling back into a muse even before the door was carefully pulled shut, the Caliph wondered at what lies the little rat would have to tell her this time


Merciful Caliph, I applaud your judgement of entertainment this night as, I think, do many of the others in the bowels of this piteous place.

I am sorry, Mistress. Those words were too harsh for one of your station. Let me begin again. Where was I? Oh, yes, the tunnels

I had followed the glowing Ashalan into the sewers beneath our Jewel, where I am told the worst horrors of all the sands lie in wait. The halls were slick with something left behind by former travelers whom I felt better not picturing, and there was a smell like rotten candy.

The Ashalan continued down - three levels' depth before he halted in front of a seemingly blank wall of mortared stone. Setting his charge in the slow-draining muck at his feet, he went to work on a small spot high up on its surface. It was then that I noticed for the first time that the Senpet had been bound and gagged, not wounded as I presumed. The bindings themselves were most interesting. Heavily woven silks of a deep scarlet, not unlike those used by your very own Khadi, if I am not mistaken.

No, madam, I do not know who the man was. Only that he was very far from home and quite unhappy with his current position. His eyes darted from the azure man above him to the shadowy alcoves of the rank chamber, swollen with terror.

What's that, my lady? I followed them out of curiosity, of which I am cursed with in abundance. And because I have always been fascinated by the mystics and their obscure talents. I'm sorry? Why did I not flee the sewers when I had the chance? Well, I am getting to that part

The Senpet suddenly jerked aside, huddling close to his captor's feet. His eyes had fixed on a grating in the center of the room, and he began to shake violently. Without warning, the grating was flung out of its mooring and sailed a dozen feet to land behind them, and from within the garbage-crusted hole emerged a horror the likes of which I had never seen before and pray to Lady Sun I never see again.

All manner of waste clung to its glistening, skinless form, and its eyes were nothing more than hollow sockets surrounding distant glimmers of arcane life. As it clawed its way out through the flow of refuse and bellowed an awful howl of rage or pain, I know not which, I finally took the cue of my fleeting courage and ran.

I ran for the streets I know and love. I ran for the rough arms of the Senpet or even al-Hazaad, who even then searched for me above. I ran to anywhere away from the monsters that reside below this city. In moments, I was back up on her streets, coughing and spitting to rid myself of the lingering stench of death. I was sure that I reeked of the worst she had to offer, and needed a bath and new clothes.

What, mistress? No, there is not much more. I am sure that I will be able to finish this tale before sunrise. If you insist

I was in Peddler's Row, near enough to the dwelling of an acquaintance of mine, Dharr. His master would be away at the Festival grounds, but Dharr would not have been needed. So I ducked between the stream of camels along the thoroughfare to remain unseen and unsmelt until arriving there. The reception I received was not what I expected. Not at all.

Several men in the dark robes of the Khadi stood diligently outside the door, and I could hear angry yelling from within. Sneaking along the smooth side wall of the building, I knelt as close as I could to the window that opened onto the alley I was in. The voices were those of Dharr's master and another I did not recognize. Glancing within beyond the thin curtain, I could see Dharr's master, his wife and child and a Khadi in heated discussion. His daughter, whom I have come to know as Amru, was clutching closely to the backs of her father's knees. The sorceror was screaming at the man about her, telling him that the girl was the property of the Caliph and should be given over.

What? The girl? I do not know why they would be so interested in her, oh wise and all-understanding Caliph. She is but the only child of a simple craftsman. Shall I continue?

The argument had reached a fever-pitch, and things were going badly for the old man, when the Khadi went silent and leveled his gaze upon him. Knowing enough about the Khadi not to watch their rituals in practice, I looked away. Upon returning my vision to the scene, I found the girl within the lifting arms of the Khadi. Dust was scattered about the floor of the room and the outlines of her parents were cast upon the opposing wall, as if stained there by a riahsim.

I was compelled to watch the rest of this drama unfold, and still too happy to be out of the sewers to realize the dangers of my actions. I had seen people die before, of course, and even a few at the hand of magic, but this was something more disturbing, though I cannot tell you why.

Amru was crying, balling like a baby, and struggled viciously with the Khadi, who was headed for the door. But just several feet from the front door, he halted, as if sensing something I could not. He turned to the rear portal, peering closely at the veil of beads that hung there. A figure stood beyond them, tall and dark-skinned, as a Senpet, with no hair on his pate. As we watched, a nimbus of light gathered about his hands.

The Khadi seemed unable to move, and his eyes began to widen. He struggled against the force that held him in place, and Amru fell into a quiet whimpering. Tears streamed from his eyes, then blood, and he crumpled into the floor without a sound. Dragging herself from the fast-deflating corpse of the Khadi, Amru looked on the carnage of her home.

"Is there anything I can do, little one?" the man behind the curtain asked.

A long moment of gathering strength welled within the room before Amru answered. Then pointing at the remains of the Khadi, she said "Teach me to do that."

She carefully walked around the dust piles and beyond the curtain and vanished



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