Empires Of Faith

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Chapter 23: Off Course

1 Shawwal, 1663

"Well," Muhammad said as he stood from the ledge of the building. "We've been here for at least an hour and still haven't gotten anything important; I think we should go back for the night."

"Yeah," Imran agreed. "And we still need to collect our belongings before someone steals them."

"I nearly forgot about that stuff," Usama said with a yawn. "All I've been able to think about is food; I'm starving."

"Yeah me too, but we still don't have any money. And now it seems we won't be getting any at all."

"I have food," Ishaq said in a low voice. "You are welcome to it if you like." The three men all turned eagerly towards him. "I will take you to it once you've gathered your belongings."

"Let's get going then," Muhammad said, picking up his spear from the rooftop and placing it in its holding place on his back. Thereafter, he, Imran, and Usama all descended the building, careful not to be spotted by any of the townspeople. Ishaq watched from up high while his new comrades went to retrieve their items. Crossing his arms, he then turned his attention back to the crowd, observing with a watchful eye.

This was only the second time since his arrival that Ishaq had seen the otherwise reclusive Baba Mustafeed. He looked on at the man speaking; he was an older man, with white hair growing in three pointed ways on his head and a thick white mustache lining his olive brown, wrinkled face. A nasally voiced escaped the man's lips as he continued on speaking, his words mystifying the listeners whilst annoying Ishaq. Nothing he had been saying at the time was particularly blameworthy, but even so, Ishaq felt a growing resentment for the man who so carelessly misguided the masses and turned them away from the very thing he proclaimed to advocate.

Soon enough, Muhammad and the others returned to the rooftop, lugging their belongings in sacks tied over their shoulders. Ishaq turned to face them and Muhammad walked up with a slight smile, while his two companions caught up breathing heavily. "So," Muhammad said to Ishaq. "Are you ready to go?"

"Follow me," Ishaq said, lowering his arms and walking to the opposite end of the building. He climbed down from the building and the others followed afterwards. On the ground, Ishaq ran into the shadows of the night with the others struggling to keep up. He led them through the city's streets, down its winding paths of twists and turns. They ran through the alleys of the lower villages and beyond the gardens of the fanciful upper towns.

At last, they arrived at an old market place, now abandoned and full of desecrated old buildings, broken and worn with time. The once flourishing market place was now home only to the many pests and vermin that inhabited the island. The four men came to a stop just before a make-shift tent pieced together with large palm tree leaves, sticks, and stones from one of the old buildings. "Is this it finally?" Imran asked, bending over and gasping for air.

"Yes," Ishaq replied calmly.

"Alhamdulillah," Muhammad said, standing up straight and trying to cover his own heavy breathing. "So this is where you've been staying? You don't have a tent or any equipment from whoever sent you?"

Ishaq remained silent as he pulled back a tattered flap to his tent and reached inside. He pulled out a medium sized clay bowl, wrapped in cloth from an old vendor's bazaar. Unwrapping the bowl, he handed it to Muhammad, who then took a scrutinizing stare at the contents before looking back at Ishaq. "What is this?" he asked.

"It's a brew I cooked in the morning for suhur," Ishaq answered.

"Alhamdulillah," Usama said, coming up to grab the bowl. "It's fresh and it smells good. Jazakallah for sharing, akhi."

"I have no utensils for eating with, so-"

"Alhamdulillah, our hands will suffice," Imran spoke up as he came and sat beside Usama. "Three fingers, sunnah right?" He and Usama began to dig in and Muhammad watched them curiously.

"Ma Shaa Allah it tastes very good," Usama complimented. "What is this made from?"

Ishaq gave no answer as he stood, arms crossed and eyes fixed on the new moon. Muhammad stood for a moment beside him, and then took a seat beside his friends and had another glance into the bowl. There were small chunks of a mysterious meat covered in a brownish broth and thin strands of different green and yellow vegetation. By no means did the food look appealing to him, nor did the ripe odor smell appetizing.

Ishaq turned back to the trio and decided to give their curious minds an answer. "The meat is from some sea slugs that washed ashore; the stew is from purified water and some vegetables I salvaged from the old crops that used to grow around here.”

"Um," Muhammad said as he turned away from the food. "You know what? I just remembered I uh, I don't eat meat the night before Eid. It's an old family tradition."

"But earlier-" Imran began before being quieted by an elbow to the side.

"Nope, no meat for me. Got anything else?"

"I have a few small date fruits," Ishaq began. "As long as the worms have not gotten to all of those, you can have them."

"Actually, you know what, I'm not that hungry after all. I should probably just pray Isha and go to sleep soon."

"Actually, we all need to pray Isha and lie down," Usama spoke up, wiping his mouth and handing the bowl to Imran. "It's getting late and we don't want to miss Fajr or be too tired for Eid tomorrow."

"Yeah," Imran said, biting into one last piece of meat and licking his fingers clean. "We should pray and head back now."

"Have you prayed already?" Muhammad asked Ishaq.

"Indeed I have," he replied. "I prayed before I set out into the night."

"Well Jazakallahu Khairun, for the food," Imran said, handing him back the half empty bowl. "I guess we'll be heading out and we'll meet with you tomorrow."

"Actually, I was thinking," Muhammad began. "Since we're all working together, why don't you come stay with us?" Ishaq and Imran both turned to him with slightly surprised looks. "It takes all of the hassle out of having to try and locate each other doesn't it? Plus, our jama’a can always use more people anyways."

"Fair enough," Ishaq said, thinking it over.

"It sounds good to me," Usama agreed. "Saves us time and gives us more protection as a group."

"No reason not to," Muhammad said, placing a hand on Ishaq's shoulder. "So will you join us, brother?"

Ishaq drew a deep breath. He uncrossed his arms and turned around. "I will join you for the time being," he said with a sigh. "Soon enough however, I will be departing from you to return to Spain for my mission there."

"Sounds fine. Come now, we'll pray and head out." Ishaq walked over to a pile of rubble to give the others space to pray. They washed up with a bit of water the he provided for them and Imran led the prayer. Ishaq sat upon a broken wall, gazing into the distance while Muhammad and the others made their final prayer of the day.

After the Isha prayer had been completed, the group of four began their journey back to the other side of town where Muhammad and his companions had left their animals. Ishaq had opted to travel the rooftops so as not to be spotted by any other bounty seekers or guardsmen throughout the city. Walking through the dark roads of the city, Muhammad and his friends noticed the life of the crowds had died down. There wasn't nearly as much light throughout the city as before and there were only a few people left out on the streets. Still, there was much chitter chatter amongst the remaining peoples as they conversed about the events of the night.

"I can't believe that duster had the gall to speak in such a way," one man spoke to another. "And to Baba Mustafeed himself at that!"

"Yeah," the other man agreed. "She'll get what she deserves tomorrow morning though."

"And just what is that?" Muhammad asked as he and his friends walked over curiously. Anyone they were calling a duster was probably someone like he and his companions, so naturally he felt a bit of concern for their wellbeing. And the fact that whoever "she" was was someone who spoke out against Uokuk only made him more intrigued.

"You mean you don't know?" the second man asked. Muhammad shook his head in the negative.

"Well, not that it's any of your business," the first man began with a glare, "but there was some duster girl here earlier stirring up trouble at Baba Mustafeed’s sermon. She called him a liar, a deceiver, and all sorts of wicked things. Fortunately, the guardsmen arrived to shut her up. Although, that just led her to make an even bigger fuss about the men touching her and she said they'd be punished for trying to silence the truth. It was clear that she was deep in the duster mentality."

"That was clear from how she was dressed," the second man cut in.

"And just how was she dressed?" Muhammad asked curiously.

"Why, how else do those hardlining duster women dress? She had on all that black cloth over herself and covered up her face with it. I'm glad the guardsmen took her away to Baba Mustafeed's palace to deal with her; standing out here in all those covers she probably would have tried forcing that style on our women too."

"You think they'd fall for it?" the other man asked.

"Nah. Our women are free from wearing all that stuff. That's duster nonsense. I don't see it being anything our women will want to associate with, unless they are unwillingly brainwashed into it."

"Brainwashed?" Muhammad cut in.

"Our women don't dress like that because they're brainwashed," Imran spoke up before Muhammad could continue. "The Muslim sisters who wear niqab or hijab and abaya do so out of modesty and obedience to their Lord. They are not brainwashed or forced into anything; in fact by covering up they are granted even more freedoms than those who do not cover up."

"That's what all you dusters say," the first man spat. "Well you can't fool us sensible folk. Baba Mustafeed already told us that-"

"I should've known you'd quote that man," Imran said, is nostrils flaring in anger.

"It's okay man," Usama said, placing a hand on Imran's shoulder and pulling him back. "Calm down. Thanks for the information, we'll be on our way now." The trio left the two men standing on the road and continued on back towards their camp. Once the area was clear of any villagers and most lights, Ishaq descended from the rooftops and walked beside the others.

"You seem angry," Ishaq said to Imran.

"It's fine, Alhamdulillah," Imran said, drawing a deep breath. "I just need to lie down; I'm feeling sleepy. I just get upset when ignorant imbeciles like that insult pious Muslim women just because they choose to obey Allah and cover up."

"And what will you do regarding the woman whom they are holding captive?"

"What can we do? It's not as though we can go to the palace at this time of night and just ask them to hand her over."

"If nothing is done then an innocent Muslim woman is going to be punished for speaking up against falsehood."

"Well, that's unfortunate; however, as I said, there's nothing we can do. We are just four men on a journey. If we can't get the people to listen to us about small matters like moon sighting, how do you expect us to get their ignorant leader to listen to us and free the sister? Besides, it's late now. They've probably locked her up somewhere and are now all asleep. Nothing we can do."

"But-"

"Look man," Usama cut in. "Tomorrow after we finish our Eid, we will take a visit to Uokuk's palace. We will try to talk with him in a reasonable manner, telling him she's our unmannered sister or something and hope that he turns her over. At the very least, we'll rescue our Muslim sister from whatever punishment they were going to do, and at the most we'll also get a little more information on Uokuk in a private conversation with him. Everything can work out, we just have to be patient In Shaa Allah. Sound good?" Ishaq and Imran both remained silent as the group kept on walking towards the camp grounds. "Well?"

"Look," Imran sighed. "I'm fine with whatever Alhamdulillah, just as long as we do it tomorrow. We need to rest up for the night and there's no sense in wasting time and energy to go to Uokuk's palace tonight. We can go try to speak with him if you guys want, so long as it is in the morning."

"Alright, that sounds good," Usama replied. "You agree?" Ishaq remained silent. Taking that to be his acceptance, Usama concluded. “Alright, tomorrow we'll go to free that sister, In Shaa Allah." Still, Ishaq remained silent. Muhammad peeped over to see his facial response. Though only Ishaq's eyes were visible, Muhammad could see a look of unwavering determination and dedication. He knew Ishaq was deep in thought and he himself could only wonder at the mystery of the young man...


Hours later, Muhammad was shaken awake by yet another worrisome nightmare about the branch holding man from before. Sitting up in his tent, he sighed. It was the third time in the last month that he dreamt about the frightful man. Each case involved Munirah present at the battlefield, and this worried Muhammad more than anything.

As he sat in his tent, Muhammad looked around; something was different. Looking over near the exit, he realized it. Earlier he'd agreed to let Ishaq stay in his tent with him and use one of his blankets, but now Ishaq was gone. Outside the tent, Muhammad heard the buckling of a belt and the crunching of sand beneath someone's feet. He threw his covers off and stepped outside the thin tent flaps.

Outside, he was met by the sight of Ishaq standing in his same brown clothes and turban over his face, this time wearing the small brown blanket Muhammad had given him draped over his shoulders like a large poncho. He was strapping the camel's saddle on its back and preparing to set out on a journey. "I will return it in the morrow," Ishaq spoke, not even turning around to face Muhammad.

"I'm not concerned about you stealing our camel," Muhammad assured him. "I'm wondering where you're going at this time of night."

"My conscience will not allow me to rest while an innocent Muslimah awaits punishment at the hands of those wicked men."

"So you're going to go free her all by yourself? Is that your plan?"

"In Shaa Allah."

"Do you even know where this Uokuk clown's palace is at?"

"This first thing I do when I arrive at a new place is to draw up a map of the locale. I know my way to Uokuk's palace."

"And what will you do when you get there?"

"Allahu ‘Alam. I will figure something out."

"You mean we'll figure something out; I'm coming with you."

"I'm not asking you to co-"

"And I'm not asking for permission. Your conscience won't allow you to sit idly by and wait as the sister is set to be punished? Well mine won't let me either. Nor can I sit and let you risk everything going into there alone. I'm coming with you. Now wait here." Muhammad walked back into his tent to change his clothes and put on his boots. He emerged from the tent in all black ensemble of pants and a split sided thobe with a black turban wrapped over his head and a large black and white ghutrah slung over his shoulders and neck.

He walked over to his horse, tapping its side and stirring it awake. Once the horse was fully awake and saddled up, Muhammad climbed atop it and walked it over to the side of Ishaq. "Let's ride," he said with a smile. The two raced off into the distance, their two companions left unawares.

With Ishaq as the guide, the two made their way through the quiet streets of Daifa Island. The torches and lanterns had all been blown out, leaving the city in a blanket of darkness. Not a soul was awake to spot the two as they quickly made their way to Uokuk's palace. Not a word was spoken between the two, with both lost within their thoughts. The steely look that flashed in his eyes beneath the glittering moon revealed a firm determination in Ishaq's heart. Meanwhile Muhammad could only relate the situation to his nightmare. What if something had happened to Munirah, he worried. If it were her who’d been kidnapped, he knew that would surely have gone crazy trying to track her down and save her. And the things he'd have done to the men responsible, even the thought had him gripping his horse's reigns tightly and gritting his teeth.

The two arrived at the entry way to the palace and they slowed the galloping beasts to a slow but paced walked. They came up to a large shrub and dismounted, tying the reigns of their animals around the thicker branches in the bush. Together, they walked around to another side of the palace, hoping for an opening to get through to the palace. Suddenly they heard voices coming from the other side of the wall. "Guardsmen," Muhammad whispered. "We'll have to be careful as we sneak past to find another -" he paused as he noticed Ishaq was no longer by his side.

He looked to his left and to his right and yet he saw no trace of Ishaq. It wasn't until he peeked through the cracks of the fence that he saw what looked like a dancing shadow. He put his face to the fence and looked closer, seeing Ishaq on the other side silently taking down the guardsmen. Ishaq knocked one unconscious with a powerful smack at the back of his head with his staff. He spun the staff over in his right hand and with his free hand he grabbed the shirt of another man charging at him. He threw the man right into another man who was coming to attack him. He then grabbed hold of his staff with both hands and spun around low to sweep them both to the ground. They hit the ground hard and were immediately out cold. Ishaq spun his staff over and placed it upright while he scanned the area for any more guards.

Seeing that there were none, he exhaled audibly before lowering his staff into an angled position behind his back, with the unheld end raising above his shoulder. Muhammad climbed over the fence and joined him in the palace courtyard. The two gazed upon the magnificent palace. It stood several stories high, with tall pillars arising from every corner and a central dome of green diamond that glittered even in the night sky. The center of each of the 7 pillars held a large circular pearl in the center, glossed and shining from the moon's reflected light. The walls were made of gold colored bricks, and had beautiful designs engraved into them. Dotted along the walls were wooden planks that jutted out and were holding places for the torches which provided light for the surrounding area. Down below, there were several doors to enter from, all made of strong, heavy metal.

Ishaq, however, had no intention of entering through any of the doors. Instead, he latched his staff onto its holding place on his back and made a quick dash towards the wall. Stepping up on one of the bricks, he boosted himself into the air and caught hold of one of the wooden planks. He pulled himself up until he swung himself over onto the next one, raised just a bit higher. He stood atop the plank and when he noticed Muhammad following his example, he continued climbing.

The two scaled the tall walls of the building undetected by any of the guardsmen around the building. Ishaq continued up the building with speed and grace. Muhammad was slightly more cautious, taking time to measure the gaps and execute his jumps with more precision. Nonetheless, both were easily able to reach the top of the wall where at last they climbed atop the roof which held the large emerald dome.

Now standing on the rooftop of the palace, Muhammad shook his hands and aching arms loosely. "Well that was fun," he said, wiping sweat from his brow and looking back over the edge. "Next time though, maybe we should just take the stairs that I'm certain are on the inside of the building."

Ishaq paid him no mind, instead his eyes immediately scanned the area. In the reflection of the dome he could see two figures in the distance, standing in the higher levels of the pillars. Fortunately he and Muhammad had managed to escape their sight as they ascended the building, however now being so near, they were more in danger of being seen. Ishaq's eyes shifted as he continued surveying the area. Atop every pillar there were two guards watching out over the palace. Up to this point he was able to move unnoticed by the guards, with each of his movements timed perfectly to their patterns of observation.

He silently made a countdown in his head before making a calculated dash towards one of the pillars. Muhammad followed quickly after him. The dancing flames of the torches barely gave a flickering of light to the walled area they ran along. Instead, they were perfectly hidden in the shadows as they ran along the rooftop. Ishaq kept his eyes on the pillar's top, watching the guards as he and Muhammad ran across. When he noticed they were turning their positions to glance over the wall and towards the dome, Ishaq slid down low, hiding beneath the shadows of the wall.

Ducking down low, Muhammad and Ishaq scurried towards the pillar ever so carefully. The brisk air of the moonlit night blew on their faces and chilled their bodies as they breathed in the coolness. At last they reached a wooden door at the front of the pillar. Ishaq drew a small dagger from his belt slashed at the lock before kicking down the door. He and Muhammad quickly entered inside and the door shut behind them.

Inside the dark pillar, they could see nothing before them. Ishaq closed his eyes and drew in a deep breath. He turned to Muhammad who was himself attempting to make out the way in the dark. "This way," Ishaq spoke lowly. He led Muhammad to a flight of stairs and they proceeded to head downward into the main palace. With his eyes now adjusted to the darkness, Muhammad could see the way and he began running beside Ishaq, racing down the way.

Down one spiraling flight of stairs, they came to discover several more levels below. They had no need to descend them however, as Ishaq reached his hand out to tap Muhammad's shoulder and lead Muhammad a different way. There was small gap to a wooden door across the way. Muhammad stopped in his tracks and looked down into the darkness below; and though he could not see the bottom, he knew that it was certainly a long way down. Before he could protest the idea of jumping across, he noticed Ishaq had once again pulled out that little dagger of his.

Ishaq took and wrapped part of the sash on his waist around the handle of the dagger, and then tossed it into the door. The dagger stabbed deep into the door and Ishaq tugged at it to ensure its stability. He then yanked forcefully at the end of the sash and the dagger came flying out, with the door falling down as a bridge between the stairs and a now open pathway hidden within. The two leapt onto the bridge and kept on running down the path.

The darkness soon gave way to light as the hall they ran down led them towards an open room. They could see the shadows of several men, their forms dancing with the flames of the torches posted along the walls. The two slowed their pace, now sneaking stealthily towards the room's entrance. They reached for their weapons as they crept closer and closer.

Watching the shadows of the men inside, they counted a total of four men. Standing just outside the range of light and the guards' vision, the two prepared themselves to attack. Then, in a moment of calculated precision the two leapt out into the room, weapons at the ready. They made quick work of the four men, catching them off guard and beating them unconscious. With the four men knocked out, the room was cleared of all enemies. Muhammad used his spear to knock down one of the torches, catching its holding grip in his left hand.

"That way," Ishaq said to him, pointing towards a door at the end of the room that he'd spotted. The two made their way on through the palace, their path now lit and made clearer. They went on through, quietly taking out whatever guards they came across and traversing through hall after hall. After much time spent running, the two finally arrived at a set of large metal doors, guarded by two large men.

The guards were dressed in coats of metal armor and holding on to large broad swords. As they spotted the moving flames of the torch in the dark halls, they prepared themselves for the oncoming intruders. Muhammad and Ishaq emerged from the dark halls ready to take them on just as the others before them. The guards planted their feet firmly and gripped their swords, ready to fight.

Much to their surprise, Muhammad leapt into the air and tossed the torch at their faces. The guards threw up their arms on instinct, leaving themselves open for attack. Ishaq dealt them both a powerful blow with the side of his staff, knocking them against the doors behind them. Muhammad came up behind him and knocked the two aside with a forceful swipe at their heads with the broad end of his spear. Ishaq quickly removed a set of keys from the side belt of one of the men and opened the door.

The two men ran into a large room, lit only by the flickers of light seeping in through the cracks in the roof. The ground was hard stone, covered in layers of dust and sand. There were various rocks and boulders lying around the room, along with weapons and torture devices. At the far end of the room, there appeared to be an end that led into a dark abyss. Over by the edge, there was a large pulley wheel, with a tightened rope hanging down and disappearing into the darkness of the crevices below.

Over by the pulley, Ishaq spotted a black piece of cloth. He curiously walked over to it and lifted it to his face to get a better look. Squinting his eyes, he could just make out the shape of the small cloth and see an open slit for the eyes. "This is a veil," he said aloud. "The woman, she was here! They removed her niqab, but she was here."

"Hm," Muhammad said, walking over to observe the area. "I think she still is." He kicked the wheel and felt the tension of the rope, something down below was tugging at it. "Wait here." With is arms crossed, he walked back across the room to the doors. Ishaq watched as Muhammad returned from the outside with a new torch in hand. He looked back over to the ledge, stroking his beard in thought before sighing in agreement with his thoughts inside.

Muhammad tossed the torch over the edge and he watched as it lit the way far down into the abyss. Deep down, when the torch had almost fallen out of sight, it bounced off of the side of something. Considering the distance between the torch and the walls of the abyss, Muhammad knew there had to be something else down there. He turned to the pulley and took hold of the lever. "This rope is tied to something," he said to Ishaq. "Help me wind this and pull up whatever's down there."

Working quickly, the two wound and wound the rope. The tension was heavy, and their arms ached from the tiring work of winding that lever. Still, they continued on until at last they could see a flicker of light reflect off of a metal object down below. "Keep pulling," Muhammad encouraged Ishaq. They began winding the lever as fiercely as they could until the object became clear to them as a metal holding cell.

"It is a cage of some sort," Ishaq said in a low voice. "This is where they are holding her!"

"You're right," Muhammad agreed. "As-Salaamu Alaikum, ya ukhti*," he called out loudly. There was a shuffling sound from below, but no vocal response. "AS- SALaAMU ALAIKUM!" The shuffling was louder until it was clear that someone was there. Muhammad and Ishaq wound the rope with all their might, raising up the cage until it was only a short distance below. "Ya ukhti, we are here to free you."

At last there was a low mumbling sound within the cell. Then, as the cage was raised higher and higher the mumbling was understood as muffled crying. The two pulled and pulled until at last the cage came to rise up above the edge of the ground and was hanging a few inches away. Through the faint light they could see the small frame of a woman inside. Her sobs began to fade as she continuously muttered praises to her Lord. "Alhamdulillah, Alhamdulillah, Alhamdulillah," she repeated. "Alhamdulillah, Alhamdulillah, Alhamdulillah, Alhamdulillah, Alhamdulillah."

Muhammad and Ishaq locked the lever in its place and began trying to free her from the cage. With no key, they were forced to improvise. Ishaq struck the lock with his dagger continuously until at last it was busted. The door flung open and woman inside immediately rushed her way to the safety of the flat ground in the room. She jumped out across, almost tripping over her flowing abaya in the process.

She fell right into the strong arms of Ishaq, who then helped her to her feet. She looked up at him with her large brown eyes, wiping tears away and smiling. Ishaq released her and turned his back in slight embarrassment and modesty. Muhammad looked on at both of them, feeling relieved at her safety and the apparent success of their mission. "May Allah reward you greatly," she said, her sobs become slight sniffles. "I knew you would come for me."

Feeling a bit at ease, Muhammad calmly answered back. "Couldn't leave you here," he replied shrugging his shoulders. "Even though I did warn you about getting into trouble wandering around without a mahram."

"I'm sorry, what?" the woman asked as she tuned to face Muhammad. "Who are you?"

"Who am I? I- I was the one who saved you back on the boat, and here I am again, like you said, here to save you."

"What? I was talking about him," she said pointing to Ishaq. "He's been everything this island needs and more, standing up for truth and justice. An inspiration to whatever real Muslims there are on this wicked island. I knew my Lord wouldn't forsake me if I remained patient, and I figured the desert Fox would be my means of escape from here as he's the foil to the evils of these wicked men. You, you just seem to keep involving yourself in my affairs in some way or another."

Muhammad was speechless at the audacity of the woman. He shook his head in dismissal of his thoughts; it didn't matter who received credit or praise for the work, as long as the job had been done. Just as he was about to call to Ishaq and suggest they depart from the palace, a troop of guardsmen came marching in. The woman watched, horrified at the sight of the numerous armed men crowding into the room. Muhammad and Ishaq pulled out their weapons, gripping them tightly.

"Stay behind us," Muhammad warned her, reaching behind him with one hand while holding his spear forward with the other. He and Ishaq eyed the men down anxiously, waiting for the right moment to attack.

"Ahh, for shame," the foremost of the guards spoke. "For us, great fortune, and for you, great tragedy. Had you only waited until the morrow to receive your punishment, you may have only been charged a small fine or been banished to the Kwaadi lands where your overly zealous ways would not be tolerated. Alas, now that we have caught you attempting to escape your prison, we will now have to execute you and your duster comrades. What a great pleasure it will be to rid of you Isla-"

The man was cut off by swipe across the face by Muhammad's cold spear. Startled, the man looked at Muhammad, almost in disbelief. He held his hand to his face, gently tapping the cheek Muhammad's spear had hit. He held his hand before his eyes, taken aback by the sight of his own blood. Looking back up, he noticed a sly smile had crept across Muhammad's face.

"This blade has been dying for a taste of blood," he spoke boldly. "And I've been itching to quench its thirst. Your death is on you, should you choose to try and lay a finger on any of us."

"We'll slaughter you and hang your filthy duster bodies out like the rugs you fools pray on!" The man wiped away the blood from his face and pointed his sword at Muhammad and the others. "Kill the three of them and show no mercy!" The other guards at once moved to attack Muhammad, Ishaq, and the woman.

"I'll go high, you go low," Muhammad said to Ishaq as the two gripped their weapons and prepared to defend themselves. Ishaq nodded in agreement and the two ran forward to clash with the guardsmen. As planned, Muhammad leapt into the air and brought his spear down in a slashing motion, cutting at the necks and faces of several men at once. Meanwhile, Ishaq slid beneath their attacks and knocked them all off their feet by sweeping them with his staff.

With the first wave felled, Muhammad and Ishaq were ready to face the next group right away. Muhammad spun this way and that, stabbing his spear directly into the chests and stomachs of the approaching guardsmen. Ishaq was busied with his own group of guards. One man swung a heavy mace at his face but Ishaq dodged and immediately caught the man's forearm while placing his staff under the man's shoulder. Pushing with a forceful snap, Ishaq broke the man's arm. As the man screamed in agony, Ishaq then swept his staff under the man and knocked him onto the ground where he then delivered a mighty blow to the man's throat.

Another man came charging at Ishaq from behind, but he was stopped dead in his tracks after Ishaq jutted his staff right into his diaphragm, knocking the wind right out of him. Ishaq turned around and spun his staff until he smacked the man from under his chin and knocked him onto his back. Turning over in a sideways flip, he narrowly evaded the attack of another sword wielding man. He landed on the tips of his feet, light as a feather. He then grabbed the man by the collar of his armor and tossed him to the side, sending him crashing into another man who came charging.

Muhammad used his spear to vault himself over their defeated bodies and slash down at the face of a man coming to attack Ishaq. As the man toppled over holding his bleeding face, Muhammad spun over and knocked the man over with a powerful crescent kick. Muhammad landed in a crouched position which allowed him to spin backwards into a sweeping kick to knock over another two men who came after him. After sweeping with his leg, Muhammad twirled his spear over his head once before extending it out into a second circular sweeping motion to fend off any other attackers.

Looking up, Muhammad could see some of the guards were now focused on attacking the woman. Ishaq had also taken notice and within a split second of eye contact with Muhammad he'd already decided exactly what he'd do. Muhammad rolled forward and while his back was on the ground, he held up his spear with both hands spaced out. At that very moment Ishaq came running until he stepped off of the wooden bar and flipped into the air. Soaring through the air, Ishaq bent backwards to maximize the forced of the impact his staff would have when he brought it down. As a man just reached out to grab hold of the woman, he was smacked right over the head by a painful blow from Ishaq's staff. The impact sent him flying over the edge and down into the abyss, shouting curses as he fell to his demise.

"Are you okay?" Ishaq calmly asked the woman, his eyes barely meeting hers for a fraction of a second. She let out a scared yelp and he immediately sensed more danger. He jammed his staff behind him, knocking the sword straight out of another guard's hand. He then jabbed it at the man's foot, then higher up at the man's groin, and then finally he jammed it into the man's abdomen. Using all of his strength, Ishaq flipped the man over himself with his staff, and he threw him over into the abyss. The man landed atop the cage that'd held the women imprisoned before.

Ishaq spun back around and slapped his staff across the face of another oncoming guard. He caught hold of the sword the man released as he fell over and he tossed it behind himself with great precision. The blade sliced through the already stressed rope which held up the cage, and the man atop the cell fell down into the darkness of the abyss, crying in defeat. Another man came swinging his sword wildly at Ishaq. Backing away carefully, Ishaq dodged the numerous attacks of the man.

As the man came down with an overly forceful swing, Ishaq caught hold of his wrist and smacked him in the face with his staff. The man went spiraling into the pulley and his sword stabbed right into the thick bundles of rope. He slashed at the rope fiercely as he got back to his feet and tried to attack once more. Ishaq jumped up and double kicked the man back, sending him crashing back into the pulley. As he came down, Ishaq swung his staff and flipped the man over onto the pulley. He thrusted the staff into the man, trying to push him over.

The man held desperately onto the lever, trying to save himself. Ishaq smacked away at his fingers, forcing him over. As the man pulled as hard as he could, Ishaq swung down at the lever, dislodging it and removing the man's only hold. The guard released the broken lever, trying to grab onto the ground quickly but Ishaq struck him back with his staff, sending him to join his companions in the abyss.

As another guard approached, Ishaq grabbed the broken lever and bashed him in the head with it. He beat the man back hitting him repeatedly with the lever until it broke even further from the strong impact. The bloodied man flew back, almost falling over until he was impaled by Muhammad's spear. Muhammad swung the skewered man around, throwing him into a group of oncoming guards. The men tossed their dying companion aside and all charged after Muhammad.

Sliding under the blades they swung, Muhammad came up with a hurricane of slashing fury. He spun and slashed away until he heard a loud crying shriek from across the room. He looked up just in time to see the woman on her back near the edge and Ishaq stumbling over the edge of the cliff with a tangled rope wrapped around his leg. There was a large, heavyset guard standing just where he'd been; a smug smile spread across his face after having knocked him over.

"ISHAAAQ!" Muhammad shouted in horror as he watched it all. Tossing aside all concern for himself, he threw his spear straight into one man and charged right towards the cliff. He jumped up, kicking off the chest of one man and immediately kicking the face of another with his other leg before he dove over another and landed flat on his stomach, immediately catching hold of the rapidly unwinding rope. He nearly slid to the edge himself, and was barely able to keep himself on top by holding back with one hand.

Muhammad felt a snag in the rope and knew that Ishaq had not reached the bottom. Ishaq slammed into the wall of the cliff, far below, letting out a painful grunt. Muhammad held on with all his might, desperate to save Ishaq. He gritted his teeth as he struggled to pull himself back and Ishaq with him. The guards, however, had other plans. The large man who'd been the one to knock Ishaq over in the first place now came over, a wicked grin on his face as he beat his heavy mace in his palm tauntingly.

He raised the mace high up, ready to swing down and knock Muhammad into the abyss as well. Muhammad flinched as the man swung his weapon down. With his eyes shut tight, Muhammad awaited for the impact. Much to his surprise however, there was instead a squealing yelp and then a loud thud. Opening his eyes, Muhammad looked up to see the mace lying on the ground and the man reaching over and under at the deep cut in his back. Behind him stood the small frame of the woman, now wielding a sharp sword she'd picked up from one of the guards.

Through the faint blue light that penetrated the room, Muhammad could see a victorious smile on the slender face of the young woman. She was slumped over by the weight and size of the sword, which was more than half her body size; still, she smiled at her accomplishment nonetheless. Muhammad gave her a nod of approval before turning back to his own task of trying to pull up Ishaq. As he focused on pulling up more and more of the rope, Muhammad was surprised to see the large man falling over the edge after yet another blow from the courageous young woman.

"Don't worry about him or the others," the woman said, as she stepped in front of Muhammad. "I'll keep them back as best as I can. Just worry about saving my Ishaq!" Muhammad was more than surprised by her statement, but now was not the time to question any of it. He kept on pulling away, raising Ishaq higher and higher. Meanwhile, the woman gripping the sword handle tightly as she looked down at the approaching men.

"What's this?" one guard laughed to his companions. "Now the duster woman is going to fight us? These desert Muslims are-"

"My name's not duster woman," she scoffed as she watched them intently. "It's Jannah, and you'd do well to remember it because I'm the one who's going to send you on your way to Jahannam!" She lifted the heavy sword over her short body and charged straight at the men. Caught off guard, the first of the men fell to the ground breathless after she slashed his throat in a mighty blow. The sword slammed into the ground and Jannah looked up into the eyes of the dumbfounded guards. They could barely bring themselves to raise their weapons as they continued looking on in disbelief; their leader was lying on the ground with blood gushing from his body.

Breathing in deeply, Jannah brought the sword back up and swung it over herself to bring it downward in a diagonal slash, felling yet another of the guards. Jannah nearly tipped over herself as she slightly lost balance from the force of the attack and the heavy weight of the sword. Still, she stood over the third man she'd defeated and it was at that realization that the other guards came to their senses and perceived the threat she posed. As Jannah brought the sword up once more for yet another attack, one of the guards raised his own sword to attack her.

By sheer chance, she managed to block the attack with her own, though she was sent stumbling back from the clashing. She regained her stance a few feet away, and gave a determined stare at the man. "I'm not defeated yet," she cried out.

"Then I will change that," he shouted back, now charging towards her. Just as she began raising her sword up, Jannah saw a flickering silver light dart past her face. She heard the sound of hard steel piercing soft flesh before she could even look to see. Within the blink of an eye, there stood before her the same charging man, now with the hilt of a dagger jutting from his eye. He was frozen in his place, too awestruck to even move. Jannah slowly turned her eyes to the side, seeing a long black wrap reaching past her and wrapped around the handle of the dagger.

She turned around and was astonished to meet the steely eyes of Ishaq, standing near the edge of the cliff with his left hand unwrapped and his arm extended. Muhammad stood beside him, now wielding the staff Ishaq had been using. She could barely contain her excitement and relief at Ishaq's safety, and as much as she wanted to squeal like a happy little child she knew better given the circumstances. Instead, she nodded in appreciation for the save and turned back around to the guardsman, still frozen in shock.

Jannah brought her sword up and drove it through his abdomen and he winced in pain, before falling over backwards after she lifted her abaya to kick him off of the end of the sword. Ishaq yanked the dagger back and it flew past Jannah's eyes just as quickly as it had gone before. Holding the dagger in one hand and the loose slack of the black wrap in the other, Ishaq stared down the rest of the enemies, watching, planning...

In the blink of an eye Ishaq dashed forward and was already driving his short dagger through the heart of one guard before he spun over and laced the wrap around the neck of another. He crossed his arms and pulled tightly before flipping the man over his back and on the ground. The moment the guard's stiff body slammed into the ground he was struck right in the throat by the thirsty dagger. Ishaq released the wrap and spun the dagger over backwards in his hand. He then jumped up, carving away at the next guard that approached him.

With Ishaq on an unstoppable flurry of cuts and stabs, Muhammad and Jannah barely had time to take out any enemies before they met their end at Ishaq's deadly dagger. It wasn't long before almost all of the guards had been slain, and those that weren't were now fleeing for their lives. Ishaq threw his dagger deep into the spine of one of the fleeing men and dragged him back by the strong wrap around its handle. "Get over here," he shouted as he leapt up to kick the man to the ground.

Ishaq stood, slouching over the dying body of the last guard that remained, his fist still clenching onto the bloody dagger and his breathing heavy from slight exhaustion. Muhammad walked over cautiously, his eyes focused on the blade in Ishaq's hand. "I think that's all of them," he said aloud. Ishaq gave no reply, he was still breathing too heavily. "We should probably leave now before any more come or something else happens."

Ishaq drew a deep breath and straightened up. He unwrapped the dagger's handle and covered up his hand again. Holding out his hand behind him, he waited for Muhammad to toss him his staff. Muhammad obliged and Ishaq snatched it from the air the moment it flew near him. He then turned his head and his mysterious brown eyes met with Muhammad's momentarily. Beneath the muffled turban covering his face, he spoke a sincere "Thank you," before turning his eyes to Jannah. "He's right," he spoke in a stern voice. "We should be on our way immediately."

"No argument here," Jannah agreed. She began lugging the sword over her shoulder as she walked over towards the others.

"What're you doing?" Muhammad asked.

"Isn't it obvious?" she queried. "I'm taking this with me."

"Uh, no you're not. That thing is too heavy for you; you will slow us down."

"What? After I just saved you, you have the ner-"

"After you saved me? After we saved you! Which we are still in the process of doing in a more complete way, now drop the sword and let's go."

"Fine." Jannah reluctantly dropped the weapon and began carefully navigating around the many dead bodies that littered the room. "Let's get out of here quickly; this place is disgusting." Muhammad chuckled to himself before turning to pick up his spear. He rolled it back on his foot before kicking it into the air and catching it in his right hand. He and Ishaq then led the way out into the hall.

"There's no way all of these guards came here the same way we did," Muhammad said to Ishaq. Ishaq simply nodded in agreement. "So we should probably just go the way they came; it'll be much easier I'm sure." Again, Ishaq nodded in agreement and with that the trio began their journey through the halls, searching for a way down the building.

As they carefully walked along, with Muhammad and Ishaq constantly on the lookout for any further enemies, Jannah began to get talkative. "Sooooooo," she began. "Are you two brothers?"

"My family is dead," Ishaq somberly spoke. Wide eyed and speechless, Jannah paused for a moment to carefully look at Ishaq and see if he was serious. Though most of his face was covered, Jannah still gave a quick glance into his deep, mysterious eyes. Beyond all the solemnness and maturity, see could've sworn for a second she seen a glint of pain and sorrow deep in his hazel eyes. But when Muhammad turned back to look at the two she quickly turned her face away, hiding her embarrassment.

"Isn't this odd," Muhammad spoke, attempting to change the subject. "We came to rescue a niqabi, and yet we are leaving with only a hijabi and Ishaq is the one whose face is covered."

Jannah's eyebrow's immediately slanted in an angry face, realizing she never got her veil back on after it was taken and placed on the dirty ground. Now she wouldn't even bother with it, it was filthy for certain. She would have to wait until later and perhaps acquire a new one. For now, she would only hope she didn't come across too many men, whom she was trying to hide her beauty from. On the bright side, she considered, perhaps Ishaq would catch a glimpse or two -or more- and would like what he saw. No, no, she thought to herself. If he were the type to do that, he wouldn't be the man I respect him for being.

She sighed aloud, lost in her thoughts. "Keep quiet," Muhammad whispered. "We're trying to make it out of here without any more fights." The three pressed their bodies along a wall as a pair of guards passed through an adjacent pathway, completely lost in their own conversations. With the guards past, Muhammad sighed in relief and motioned for Ishaq and Jannah to keep on following.

"Why not fight?" Jannah whispered as she followed after the two.

"Keep quiet, would you?" Muhammad sighed.

"What happened to your spear being so 'thirsty' for blood?" Jannah questioned.

"That was before, when we were already discovered and had to fight our way out anyways. Now we are trying to sneak out of the building unnoticed. If we get into another fight, we may never find the way out."

"Hmph, I think Ishaq could fight them all off again and find us a way out."

"Ugh. Do you know what 'quiet' means?"

"My, my, aren't we jealous?"

"Jealous? Jealous of what?"

"Ishaq because he's such a brave fighter and so...so-"

"Hush," Muhammad whispered, placing his large hand over Jannah's mouth as he froze in his tracks. Another set of guards passed by, nonchalantly carrying on about some predictions Baba Mustafeed had made recently that came true. When the men had passed, Jannah hastily removed Muhammad's hand from her face and spat on the ground.

"Don't you ever do that again," she angrily spat at him.

"Learn to follow orders and stop acting like a child."

"She's seventeen; she is a child," a nasally voice spoke up from behind. The three all turned around to see a small group of men standing down the hall with Mustafeed Uokuk at their head. "Are you surprised to see me? I'm not surprised to see all of you. I knew you were coming and-"

"Tell me if you saw this coming," Muhammad challenged him. Before Uokuk could speak up Muhammad pushed Ishaq and Jannah down the way and the three took off running.

"After them," Uokuk commanded. "They mustn't get away!" The guards standing beside him left their leader to give chase to the trio of so-called dusters.

Seeing that they were being followed, Muhammad and Ishaq turned to quickly dispose of their pursuers. Then both of them turned around, wielding their weapons and striking down the oncoming guards before turning back and joining back up with Jannah. Now at a long, spiraling flight of stairs, the three could feel themselves getting near to exiting the building. Ishaq now led the way as he skipped down several stairs at once. Muhammad wasn't far behind, though he kept a careful eye out for the timidly hopping Jannah.

By the time they reached the bottom, the tree were slightly worn out. All of the night's running about and fighting was starting to wear on Muhammad and Ishaq. Still, they pressed on. There was another wave of guards that came charging at the trio from the front. Muhammad slid in close, swinging his spear at their feet and Ishaq leapt up high, knocking them all out with a powerful strike on the head. Muhammad and Ishaq stood up as Jannah caught up and they all continued on their way.

Eventually, they were fortunate enough to find their way out of the confusing palace. They were greeted by the blue glow of dawn rising upon them. They had no time to ponder about the quick passage of time, however; they still needed to escape. They were now standing in the gated courtyard, and looking for an exit.

At that moment, a swarm of armed guards came rushing from the building and from around the palace walls, surrounding the trio. Muhammad and Ishaq stood facing opposite directions, with Jannah standing between them. Mustafeed Uokuk himself came walking from the building casually, with a wry smirk on his face. "To answer your question," he began. "Yes, I saw that coming. And I also foresaw your capture by my guards waiting outside the palace."

Muhammad's eyebrows furled in anger as he looked on at the numerous guards. Uokuk continued speaking. "You dusters are a big trouble, you know that? First you come here trying to stir up trouble and bring us into some silly war, then you come telling us how to practice our Islam. What if we don't want to practice any Islam at all? What if we want to guide ourselves and choose our own way to live? Do you not see I have been superb at foretelling our destinies? Don't you know that I've seen no wrong coming upon us? No harm befalls us here in our own peaceful world except that you dusters and your Kwaadi problems continue to pester us from time to time. We do not wish to be a part of your world anymore. You dusters cannot let go of the past; you hold on to your old books and ancient ways, too blinded by the dust in them that you can't see this is the future. This is life. We will not have you coming along and ruining that! Neither will you speak to our king and mess with his mind, nor will you be left alone to propagate your religion in our lands! We will put you down like the animals that you are!"

"So that's it huh," Muhammad questioned with anger. "You people aren't even Muslim anymore? You're just pretenders!"

"Call us what you like. It won't matter after you and the rest of your duster companions are all slain. Such a shame too," the old man spoke as we walked closer to the group. "In this light, I see the girl is a pretty one."

"Ugh," Jannah groaned in disgust as the old man eyed her lustfully.

"So much better without that trash over your face," he spoke as he looked on at her caramel brown skin. As the old man continued his wicked stare, Jannah shrunk between Ishaq and Muhammad for protection. She even nervously grabbed hold of Ishaq's turban tail to cover her face. At that sight Uokuk laughed, and then he spat. He then turned his back and moved from the way of his guardsmen. "Kill them all," he ordered.

Muhammad and Ishaq tightened their grip on their weapons. By now they were both drained, but they had to fight. They had to survive. They had to protect.

As the guards came in closer, the two got ready, until finally they both lashed out at the enemy guards. Muhammad stabbed out at several of the guards, keeping his feet planted firmly. On the other side, Ishaq was also stabbing away at the guards, though his staff was making forceful contact with their faces, knocking out several teeth and breaking several noses. As fast as they worked, strike after strike, Muhammad and Ishaq were growing tired and the guards were getting closer each time.

"We can't keep this up much longer," Muhammad spoke to Ishaq as he drove his spear through another guard and pushed him off the tip of it. "We have to find our way out of here soon."

"Yes," Ishaq spoke, right before bashing his staff down into the unprotected skull of a guard whose helmet had been removed. "I believe there is an open gate around the corner."

"That must be where they're all coming from!"

"Yes. If we can just clear a way, we can make our exit."

"Alright," Muhammad said, pondering over an escape plan. "Follow my lead. We're going to make a rotating defensive attack."

"Hm," Ishaq agreed, nodding his head even though Muhammad could not see him.

"Wait," Jannah spoke up worriedly. "What about me?"

"Just do what you hear," Muhammad replied. "Now, Ishaq, you ready? Let's go, counterclockwise!" The two began slowly turning their positions around, their turn point being Jannah herself. They stabbed, jabbed, and slashed as they made a 180 degrees spin until they were facing opposite sides. "Alright, let's move." Slowly they kept their rotating up as they moved along through the crowd of oncoming guardsmen. "Step, step, step," Muhammad called out, with Jannah and Ishaq following along. "Jump!"

"Wait what?" Jannah confusedly asked. Muhammad spun his spear and stabbed it through a man before pulling it out and spinning it in a circle beneath himself when he jumped up. Ishaq reached back with his left hand and caught hold of her wrist, pulling her into the air for a brief moment. Ishaq and Jannah bent their knees and the spear passed under them easily, allowing it to properly swipe at the legs of the incoming guards Muhammad wanted to fend off. As they all landed, they continued their moving.

"Step, step," Muhammad continued.

"Duck!" Ishaq shouted. Muhammad and Jannah crouched down low as Ishaq spun his staff over his head and took out several guardsmen at once. The group continued rotating, with Muhammad and Ishaq nearly mirroring the opposite move of one another. Muhammad would stab at a guard or two, aiming high up, while on the other side Ishaq would have just struck the legs and feet of another guard or two. As Muhammad swept his two over, Ishaq stabbed his back.

"Duck," Muhammad called out, twirling his spear over his head and grabbing it by the very end of the wood to extend the sharp metal end out and cut back as many enemies as he could. He brought his spear back and twirled it over, spinning it behind his back and passing it from hand to hand. Thereafter, he brought it down low, calling out for his companions to jump. They followed his calling and leapt into the air, with his spear passing under again and cutting down the legs of the unprepared guards who made a lousy attempt at jumping.

"Jump," Ishaq called out as soon as they hit the ground. The three all jumped back into the air as Ishaq spun his staff beneath them and then brought it over himself to bring it slamming down atop one of the guard's helmet. "Duck," he spoke, this time bringing his staff around in a rotating motion over his head. Muhammad and Jannah complied and Ishaq successfully brought his staff around and knocked out several of the guards.

The three were slowly making their way through the crowds, taking down several guards in a quick and efficient manner. Their rotating defensive was impenetrable, and the ferocity of their attacks kept many of the guards at bay, fearing to even attempt an attack. As they moved on through, Muhammad caught a glimpse of the open gate. There were only a few men standing there at this point. This was their chance to escape. They just needed to rid themselves of the remaining men around them.

"Let's pick it up," he called out to Ishaq. "Step, step, DUCK! Step, step, step, JUMP! DUCK! Step, JUMP!" Jannah and Ishaq moved as fast as they could to keep up, with the circle still rotating. All the movement was becoming a hassle for Jannah, as she struggled in her loose flowing abaya. Still, she did her best to keep up with their calls.

"DUCK," Ishaq called out, spinning his staff over. "JUMP!"

"Step..."

"JUMP!"

"Step, step..."

"DUCK!"

"Step, JUMP! Step, step..."

"JUMP!"

"DUCK!"

"DUCK!

"DUCK!"

"JUMP!"

"Step, step, step, step, JUMP! Step, step, JUMP! Step, DUCK!"

"JUMP!"

"We're getting close! Just a little more!"

Muhammad and Ishaq began fighting and moving with everything they had. Their motions were quicker and stronger. Jannah could barely keep up with all of the jumping and ducking and now practically running that they were doing as they continued moving on.

"JUMP," Muhammad called out, seeing the chance for a potential final attack.

At the same time however, Ishaq was preparing a higher attack. "DUCK," he called out, simultaneous with Muhammad's calling. Jannah initially leapt into the air but immediately lowered herself to avoid Ishaq's attack. Off balance and nearly hit twice, Jannah fell on her backside, sitting between the two fighting warriors. Before she could even open her mouth to complain though, Ishaq snatched her up by the wrist and they began running after Muhammad.

Leading the way, Muhammad leapt and slashed at the few guards standing at the gates. He cut away at the face of one guard and then quickly spun his spear over to stab it through the chest of another. Just as Ishaq and Jannah were arriving on the scene, Muhammad had jabbed a man in the face with the blunt end of his spear before turning around to sweep the man over with his left leg. He brought his spear over and slashed at the man's torso before letting him fall over completely.

"Let's move," Muhammad called, turning out of the gates. Ishaq came up running right behind him, nearly dragging Jannah along so that she could keep up. Muhammad led the way around the palace walls, taking down the few scattered guards that were waiting outside. Eventually, they made their way back to the shrubs where their animals had been tied. Muhammad slashed away at the ropes to free the animals, who immediately began to stand.

Ishaq swung Jannah around and tossed her atop the camel's back where she immediately seated herself. He climbed aboard with haste and kicked the camel into motion. With Muhammad back on his horse, they all began running off back towards their camp. Looking back, Muhammad could see the guards were moving go retrieve their own mounts. "We'd better move faster," he spoke up to Ishaq. They leaned forward and kicked at the sides of their animals, spurring them into a speedy gallop.

Bouncing along as the animals ran at top speeds, the riders were leaning forward and holding tightly to the reigns. Meanwhile, Jannah was uncomfortably holding onto the sides of Ishaq. As the camel picked up speeds and she grew more fearful however, she leaned closer and wrapped her arms around his torso to keep from falling off. His eyes widened slightly before returning back to his normal dead set glare.

They rushed through the streets of the island's villages. The people were awakening to start their day as the sun was nearly coming to rise. There were startled screams and angry shouts as villagers were nearly trampled over when Muhammad and Ishaq rode through. They ignored all of the other people as they pressed on through the village, hoping to reach the camp before the guards could catch on to their trail.

Soon enough, the camp came into sight and they spotted Imran and Usama standing outside their tents. They were dressed in their nicest clothing, because for them it was the day of Eid. Imran was wearing a black and red ensemble he'd acquired on one of his journeys east. He wore black pants and a long black thobe that opened at the lower level like a jacket. There was red lining on the sleeves and collar, with set of frog-knots to keep it closed at the top. On his head he wore a red keffiyeh, tied around like a small turban and he had a pair of new black sandals on his feet. Usama, who was standing beside him, was wearing a light blue thobe and a black and white ghutrah tossed over his shoulders. He wore a simple white kufi on his head and some brown sandals on his feet.

The two had smiles on their faces as they watched Muhammad and Ishaq ride up in the distance. Confusion grew evident on their faces when they noticed Muhammad waving his arm in the air frantically and shouting something at them. Tugging at their beards, they tried to figure out what he was hollering about. They looked to each other and shrugged, choosing to stand and wait for Muhammad and Ishaq to come closer.

The horse and camel came to an abrupt stop just before the camp. The sands had brought up a little dust storm which choked Imran and Usama a little before they waved it away from their faces. Muhammad immediately dismounted and ran up to them. "We must get out of here," he shouted, his voice growing weak from exhaustion. "Hurry! Hurry! Grab everything and let's move!"

"Whoa, hold up," Imran said, placing a hand on Muhammad's shoulder. "What's the commotion? Where have you been? What is going on?"

"We need to leave, NOW!" Muhammad began packing up his belongings and deconstructing his tent. "The guards from the palace, which, might I add is NOT a miniature palace, are coming after us!"

"What?!" Usama and Imran both asked in unison. "Why?"

"Because we freed Jannah and they want to kill her and us; now let's move before they catch up."

"Slow down," Imran said calmly.

"Slow down? We don't have time to slow down! We have to go!"

"Who's Jannah?" Usama asked curiously.

"The little girl back there," Muhammad said, now tying his things to his horse since there wasn't much room on the camel anymore.

"Pardon?" Jannah asked, quite offended.

Muhammad and the others ignored her and kept on speaking among themselves. "Uokuk and his followers, they're all kuffar; he said so himself," Muhammad continued, speaking quickly. "But that's not important right now, we need to get out of here! We've been fighting all night and all morning, but there's so many of them. And I'm pretty sure we're all now considered enemies of the nation, so we should probably get moving before word spreads."

"Where will we even go," Imran asked, now packing away his things hastily.

"The outgoing boats to Spain always leave around this time," Ishaq spoke up from atop the camel.

"What? How do you know that?"

"He's very observant," Muhammad said, now climbing atop his horse. "Now can we please get going?"

"Hold on," Usama said, tying the ends of a bag of his. "Let me finish tying my things." While Usama and Imran tied their belongings to their horses and grabbed whatever they could carry, Muhammad and Ishaq continuously looked back towards the village to see if any guards were coming. Sure enough, in the distance they could faintly see a wave of dust being kicked up.

"Hurry up, they're coming," Muhammad rushed.

"Let's go," Imran said, now mounting his horse.

"Lead the way," Muhammad spoke to Ishaq. The four animals began running as the group headed out towards the docks. Muhammad continuously looked back, checking for any guards.

"Where are we going anyways?" Usama shouted over the roaring winds of the early dawn.

"We'll have to catch one of the boats to Spain," Ishaq replied.

"Spain?!" Muhammad, Imran, and Usama all asked at once.

"Yes."

"He said that earlier," Jannah shouted, her face turned to the side to keep the harsh winds from suffocating her. "Don't you three pay attention?"

"Who's the girl?" Usama asked, just now taking notice of her.

"Ugh, I'm getting tired of having to say this. My name is Jannah! Jannah! Not 'the girl,' not 'duster woman,' it's Jannah!"

"She's the niqabi we went to rescue," Muhammad answered.

"What are we going to do with her?" Imran asked.

"We'll figure something out, for now we just need to make it to the docks in time."

The others nodded in agreement and they continued riding on. It wasn't long before the docks came into sight, and a feeling of relief came over the group. The feeling was short lived however as Muhammad pointed out the guards from the city who were now gaining on them. Even worse, the one ship at the docks was already about to set out. The crew were undoing the anchoring ropes and the boat was about to set sail for Spain.

Kicking and slapping the sides of their riding animals, the group pressed on as fast as they could. The confused workers began shouting to them to turn back, the ship was full. But they had no choice. They sped up until they were running across the wooden docks and right past the workers, knocking one or two of them into the water. One after another, the group leapt their way across the increasing gap until they had all landed safely on the boat with their animals. Ishaq and Jannah rocked uncomfortably as the camel came to a stop after having barely made the jump.

Immediately, they crew on the ship all came rushing over and the passengers all backed away, with loud, startled murmurs coming from the crowd. The group all dismounted their animals to speak with the incoming, angry crewmen. Muhammad continuously looked back and forth, checking to ensure that the boat was too far off to be called back by the guards when they arrived at the docks.

"What is this?" the head crewman spoke. "Who is your leader and what are you doing?"

"Well," Usama spoke after the others remained quiet. "We don't have a leader or any sort of plans or anything. We are but travelers who were a little late to the departure. We humbly ask that you allow us to remain onboard and we will be more than happy to pay for the expenses."

"Hm. We'll have to speak with our captain about this. In the meantime, would you tie away your animals before they harm any of our lawful passengers?"

The crewmen walked away to go speak with their captain. Meanwhile, the group complied with their request and went to tie away their animals below the deck with all of the other animals and cargo of other passengers. They were now seated above the deck, with Muhammad, Ishaq, and Jannah rushing to make their morning prayers before the time expired. They had had to change into other clothes because theirs had been dirtied with dust and blood from all the fighting. Muhammad now wore a clean, white thobe and a black jubbah over it, along with a long white turban on his head. He lent Ishaq a pair of his other clothes, insisting that he wore something nice considering it was Eid for them. Ishaq was now dressed in a pair of loose black pants with a dark green thobe over them and he wore Muhammad's wide green turban wrapped on his head, leaving his face open only during prayer. Jannah was fortunate enough to be able to acquire a simple black abaya from a passenger on board who sold it to her for a small sack of coins.

After the three had prayed, the crewmen returned and informed them of the captain's okaying their stay. He requested double pay from them because they were paying in coins instead of shells or pearls, but Imran and Usama footed the bill. Afterwards, the four men now sat in a circle while Jannah sat off to the side by herself. They were all discussing their next course of action.

"We can't go back there now," Usama spoke. "Undoubtedly we'll be hated enemies of everyone there, and will be hunted like animals."

"Yes," Imran agreed. "Which means this journey was a failure. May Allah accept our intentions and reward us for that at least."

"Ameen."

"So is that it then?" Muhammad spoke. "Shall we return home now?"

"How can we even?" Usama asked. "We don't have the money to go from Spain and then travel all the way back through the lands. The most we can do is catch a ship from Spain to the Maghreb Kingdom and perhaps go a few towns south. But with no food and low supplies, we'd never make it home."

"Stay in Spain," Ishaq advised. "Stay for a short while. Perhaps you can earn your wages through some means there, and that will earn you the finances to return to your homes."

"Hm," Muhammad pondered aloud. "That actually sounds reasonable. But what about you and the girl?"

"Ahem!" Jannah angrily piped up, crossing her arms.

"As for myself, I am returning to my mission. I will report to those whom I have allied myself with and see what the next plan in this war is."

"Wait," Imran paused. "The war's out here too?"

"Yes. Recently some of Kwaade's allies executed a treacherous, deceitful attack on one of the Christian towns seeking to strike up conflict between them and the Muslims. Fortunately, we were able to avert any such disasters. Now we are hoping to build a united force between the Muslims and Christians in the land and lead an attack on Kwaade and his forces. We wish to expel him and his allies from the nearest lands and free the people of his secular oppression. That was why I was on the island in the first place, because purportedly they are among the Muslim nations; though my perception on that has changed greatly now."

"Hm. So there is a real struggle here then, isn't there?"

"Yes. As I have seen in the lands, the Kwaadi peoples are moving in closer and closer on the lands of the religious few. I would think that if something is not done soon, this entire area may fall under Kwaadi influence. Even if Kwaade does not directly control the lands, they will lose their hold on their religious beliefs, which is exactly what the evil man wants. Just look to the island we are now leaving. Uokuk may not be propagating the Kwaadi lifestyle in its name, but nonetheless he is certainly supporting them by promoting a lifestyle of secularism, so-called 'self-guidance' and deviant mysticism. He is doing all that he can to keep them away from Islam, and when they lose their religious foundation, they are easier to become the mindless drones of Kwaade, believing themselves liberated and proclaiming free thought whilst in reality they have simply become the obedient slaves of Kwaade and his evil desires."

"That's true," Jannah said, throwing herself back into the conversation. "Even in my village there are people who are followers of this Kwaade man. They ridicule the believers and accuse us of mindlessness whilst they are slaves to their animal desires and human greed. And it is all because of Kwaade. He is a terror to the region."

"So we're all agreed," Muhammad spoke. "Kwaade has got to go. But then, this is general everywhere in the world."

"Yes," Imran replied. "But I'm thinking, perhaps we should join the efforts here." Muhammad and Usama both turned to him questioningly. "Listen to me. We set out with our plans to rid the islands of Kwaadi influence and give da'wah right? We wanted to help spread Islam and keep the Muslims safe in their religion. On the island, it seems like we failed, but maybe it was Allah opening up the door for us to do something greater. If we join the fight here and expel Kwaade's forces from the lands, we will have freed the Muslims from his oppression and his influence. We will have brokered a peace deal between the Muslims and Christians, and we know that Allah loves the peaceful ones. Perhaps in our aiding both sides, it will bring the Christians to Islam and bring the Muslims to greater appreciation of their religion. Everyone will be free to practice as they like, with no fear of oppression or ridicule from the disbelievers. Isn't that a superior step to our original goal?"

"I like it," Usama said, nodding in appreciation of the plan. "And through fighting in an organized army, we will surely earn our wages. That will help us to return home when we have completed it."

"So then it's settled, we will go join the fight in Spain, In Shaa Allah, and thereafter we will return to our homes."

"I don't know about that," Muhammad said, arms crossed and eyes staring in the distance. "This is way off course, and-"

"Look," Usama cut him off. "If you have any issues I understand. And I know you are on a time limit as you said. So how about this, if we are not done within two months, I will personally pay for you to return home. No arguments, no catch."

"Hmmm. Are you both certain that you want to go into this?" Imran and Usama both nodded in affirmation. Muhammad sighed deeply. "Fine then, I will go. In Shaa Allah there will be great benefit in this."

"Yes," Ishaq agreed. "In Shaa Allah."

"Although, I think Ishaq and I just fought enough men to count for a small battle," Muhammad joked.

"Hey that reminds me," Imran said, pointing towards Jannah. "What will we do about her?"

"Oh man, I completely forgot."

"Where is she even from?"

"This is the same sister that was on the boat with us before. She's from the village we left behind when we went to that accursed island in the first place."

"Great," Usama sarcastically replied. "So how are we going to send her back now?"

"Whoa, whoa, whoa, hey," Jannah cut in, standing up and coming a little closer. "You can't send me back."

"Why not?" Muhammad asked. "You certainly can't come along with us."

"And why is that?"

"Hm, let's think about that. A young woman travelling with four non-mahram men all around the lands. What's wrong with that picture?"

"Well, hm," she shuffled in her place, trying to think of a reply. "Maybe, maybe you don't all have to be non-mahram."

"What?"

"Maybe Is-Ishaq could be my mahram," she shyly suggested.

"What?" Muhammad, Imran, and Usama all looked at her with an eyebrow raised. Ishaq was staring into the distance, seemingly distracted from the conversation now.

"I-I said, maybe Ishaq could be my mahram."

"What're you talking about?"

By now, her shyness was wearing off and her frustration was taking over. "I'm saying I could marry Ishaq you idiots!" The three men nearly toppled over at the suggestion. Their amusement was evident, even while they attempted to hide their laughter. Jannah just growled a little to herself.

"And what makes you think he's interested in marrying you?" Usama brazenly asked.

"Yeah," Muhammad agreed. "As Uokuk said, you're barely seventeen and-"

"I'm two years addition to that," Ishaq said in a slightly weak voice, much to the surprise of all the others.

"You're nineteen?!" Muhammad wondered aloud. Ishaq quietly nodded his head only a little.

"Aw man," Usama groaned. "You mean to tell me we got our butts kicked by a kid?"

"Uh, you got your butts kicked," Muhammad spoke matter-of-factly. "I barely showed up before it was all over. But that's all beside the point. Even if you guys were both thirty, it doesn't change the fact that you have no mahram. And how will you get married with no wali? Where is your father?"

"My father is off fighting in the war," Jannah spoke, her confidence now returning and all shyness hidden again. "As are my older brothers, and my little brothers are sucky mahrams, so they'd be no good anyways."

"So let me get this straight," Imran began. "You do actually have mahrams, but you just chose to travel alone? Even while you know you're not supposed to?"

"I didn't do it because I wanted to. I had something to do on that island and I could only afford for my own fair. Plus my little brother would've gotten us into trou- you know what, what I do is not your business."

Imran sighed.

"Well, whatever," Muhammad cut back in. "We have to figure out what to do with you."

"Send her back home," Usama suggested again.

"I just said I can't go back home," Jannah retorted. "To go back to the island and leave from there is too dangerous. I'd be captured and killed as soon as I got there. And I have no clue how to get back home from Spain or the other nation you mentioned."

"Well there isn't much we can do," Imran sighed. "She can't get home, but she also can't come along without a mahram; it looks like she's actually right. No choice but for them to get married. What else can we do?"

Jannah smiled a shy, but victorious smile.

"Imran," Muhammad cut in. "Stop trying to live vicariously through Ishaq."

"What?"

"You couldn't get married so now you want him to get married." Usama couldn't help but let a few chuckles escape his mouth as he listened in.

"What are you talking about? I'm just trying to help the situation. If they get married, she's free to travel with us and that clears it all up. He can keep her in his home with him and take care of her. Problem solved."

"Problem not solved; don't you pay attention? He's a wanderer. He has no home, man. He doesn't have many belongings and I'm pretty sure he doesn't want the burden of taking care of a wife."

"What're you trying to say? Just because he doesn't have as much as us he can't get married? He doesn't deserve a wife if he doesn't have wealth?"

"No, I'm not trying to say anything like that. I would be the last to say something ignorant like that. What I'm saying - and please take no offense to this, brother - is that Allah gives to whom He Wills and some people don't get everything that everyone else gets. Everyone can't afford all the things they want, and sometimes marriage is one of those things. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said to spend on your families, but how can one who has no wealth do so? As he is now, he is in fine condition to take care of himself, and I will not question how he does so. But if he were to take on a wife, I don't think it would be in his best interest for the time being. Perhaps after he has settled and earned some living for himself, even if he sustains them purely off of whatever wages we earn from the battle. But for now, while he has nothing, it is not good for them to get married."

"Neither will we take her home, nor will I marry her," Ishaq spoke finally. "I never gave my word in any of this, so I kindly ask that none of you make your assumptions about me. In any case, I see it best that she remain with us, keeping her distance nonetheless. When we have arrived in Spain, we can send word to her family that she is with us and perhaps one of her mahrams will come for her. In the meantime, perhaps she may be a guest to a kind villager so that we need not worry about a place for her to sleep at night. This, I see best as our plan concerning her. As for ourselves, we have already agreed to go and fight, so let us not worry about that anymore. Are we all in agreement?"

Muhammad, Imran, and Usama all nodded their approval. With her arms crossed, holding her knees to her chest, Jannah sorrowfully nodded in agreement. Ishaq then stood and walked away, his solemn stare hiding away whatever thoughts were floating through his mind. The four remaining sat in silence, each with their own thoughts.

Their paths had all crossed incidentally, and now they were thrown off course. A new journey awaited them. New goals, new plans, new struggles. Imran and Usama wondered about the war and the affects that they could possibly have on its turnout. Jannah thought about the family she wouldn't be seeing for longer than anticipated. Maybe it was for the best, maybe her purpose would be better served traveling with Ishaq and the others.

As for Muhammad, his thoughts were exactly where they normally were: with Munirah. Perhaps once in Spain he could send word to her, letting her know of all the happenings on his journey, and letting her know about the change of plans. He wondered about her condition. As he recalled, she had been a little sick lately just before the week he left. He recalled her vomiting a few times even. She had seemed to get a little better, which is why he felt safe in leaving her behind, but still. She was also a little angry with him for leaving. So he wanted to send her one of his hundreds of letters, perhaps to apologize, perhaps just to let her know how much he loved her, perhaps just to receive something back from her telling him she loved him.

At once, all four sighed, their thoughts overwhelming them. It was going to be a long, silent ride. Roads crossed and paths united, their journeys had certainly taken unexpected turns...off course.....


GLOSSARY/TRANSLATIONS:

Ukhti: My sister (same as how they use 'akhi' ie 'my brother').


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