Padeshahi (the Kingdom)

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Yuri's Story II

Sassanid Library! All the times that Yuri and his family had passed through Amol he had never been lucky enough to visit the famous repository of knowledge, even when he and his mentor Igor had come into town looking for a bookseller to pad their meager collection. For just a second, the thought that he hadn’t told his teacher goodbye, or bid farewell to his beloved friend Gearbox twisted his guts up more than gears in an overly wound watch. But then, the young Liyudi thought of the adventure he was about to embark on, and the twisting went away. Well, lessened anyway, but that was enough to keep the smile plastered on his face.

Beside and slightly behind him, the Chuzhak Arash tried his best to keep up, but Yuri’s eagerness to finally see so many books gathered in one place had lent his feet wings. “Yuri! Pretty sure you need me to get inside, so how about you slow down, hmm?” he panted out, barely out of breath. Say what you want about his intelligence, the young Liyudi mused, but at least the duelist is in great physical shape. I should probably get some tips from him since I know I’m not the best conditioned young male out there, Yuri thought bemusedly.

Arash’s words finally penetrated Yuri’s thick skull, as his mother liked to say, and the young gadgeteer came to a halt. The duelist barely managed to avoid colliding with the Liyudi as he turned to face him. “Why would I need you to get inside? I thought that all this academia was too boring and mundane for someone used to thrills and excitement.”

Hands on his knees as he bent over slightly, Arash answered him. “It does; nobody in there is impressed with the important things, like how good I look or how much training I’ve done. But, unless you are a student at a university or are a member of the right guild, the only way to get inside Sassanid is to either be invited in or…”

“…or be a member of a prestigious family,” Yuri finished for Arash, trying hard not to be crestfallen. “I’m sorry, I got so excited about the chance to walk under its arch that I didn’t ponder why my mentor was never able to get inside himself.”

“Probably not a member of the Guild of Intrinsic Craftspeople, I’m guessing. Though since he helped you build that,” and Arash pointed at Yuri’s mecha-arm, “it’s obvious that the man is a genius. But, I don’t make the rules my young friend, I just know what they are so I can figure out which ones to bend and which ones to break.”

“This doesn’t have anything to do with the bigotry that my people sometimes experience, where you Chuzhak sometimes think that we are…?” Yuri started to say.

“Sticky-fingered thieves?” now it was Arash’s turn to finish Yuri’s sentence. “No, I don’t know why they would ever believe that.” His raised eyebrow spoke volumes, and Yuri blushed as he remembered how he came to know the flamboyant duelist in the first place. “But no, while some of my more rustic brethren may cling to antiquated notions such as that, in Amol we are quite a large city and much more cosmopolitan in outlook. I truly believe it is more of a prestige thing than a racist thing.”

Feeling better, Yuri gestured forward with his mecha-arm and Arash mocked a salute before leading the way. His stomach growling reminded him that he hadn’t had anything to eat since yesterday. “Before we go inside, can we find some place to break our fast first?”

“Already ahead of you,” Arash said as he tossed a small package towards Yuri while still walking. The young Liyudi caught it and opened it, not wanting to slow down or sit and delay their journey. Inside the burlap sack was some goat’s cheese, a slightly wrinkled pear, and some kind of hard bread. Yuri noticed that Arash was already digging into his package, and so the gadgeteer tore into his food with much gusto.

“When did you stop and buy this?” Yuri asked after he had finished the last few crumbs and licked his fingers clean.

“Who said anything about buying it?” Arash asked, and Yuri tried hard not to choke on his last bite. “Some fool left them out on their stall as we walked by and so I took them. To teach them a lesson of course, and to provide our repast.”

“But, but…” the young Liyudi sputtered out. “That’s stealing!”

“Why, so it is! And stolen food just tastes better, wouldn’t you say?” the duelist asked in what appeared to be real sincerity.

“You’re always getting on me about how I stole from you! Doesn’t that make you a hypocrite?” Yuri hissed the question at him, unconsciously picking up his pace as if to put more of a distance between where they were now and wherever Arash had lifted the food from; he hadn’t noticed the duelist steal the food however, and so the Liyudi gave him a grudging respect for his skill.

“I’m not mad that you stole, I’m made that you stole from ME. Big difference, my young friend. In fact, I was very impressed with your stealthy ability. I usually can spot out or feel the cutpurses a mile off, but you managed to get one over on me. Well done. Just, don’t do it again. If that incident puts you off stealing forever, such is your choice. But don’t pin that decision on me, Sandstrider. That’s on you and you alone.”

Yuri sighed. “Fine, I think I understand. And, I thought I asked you to back off with the awful name for my people.”

Now it was Arash’s turn to sigh. “Yes you did; fine, Liyudi. I swear by the Elemental Princes, between you and Basma by the next time my sister sees me Firuzeh will think I’m…respectable.” He shuddered in revulsion. “If that’s the case, please kill me now.”

“Not until you get me inside the library,” Yuri shot back, grinning at the sudden glare on the duelist’s face. “Besides, what’s wrong with being respectable?”

“That proves, my young friend, that we need to get you drunk and having sex with some nubile young woman as fast as possible.”

Clearing his throat to get Arash’s attention, Yuri quietly spoke up. “I prefer the company of men, if you don’t mind.” Arash’s eyes got wide and he looked slightly poleaxed.

“Oh. Oh! All right, I understand. Wait, you’re not attracted to me, are you?” the duelist asked, and Yuri couldn’t help but laugh.

“It’s just like it is for you, Arash. Not every woman inspires frisky feelings, and we’re the same way. You are cute, but definitely not my type.” The crestfallen look on his face made Yuri laugh again.

“What’s wrong with me? I’ll have you know that the ladies find me quite appealing, and some of the gentlemen do too.” His pride had been wounded, and the popinjay duelist had went from not wanting the attention to now wanting Yuri to find him attractive. It was most comical.

“There’s nothing wrong with you, I just see you more as an older brother that’s all.”

“Well…I guess there’s nothing wrong with that. Hmm, I’ve never been an older brother to someone, but I’ve always wanted someone to share my expertise with. You will be my student, and I will be the master. I shall teach you all I know about seduction and whatnot. The rules should still be the same, no matter the gender of the party you’re after.”

“That sound fine, but maybe after we visit the library and we take down Bahram, yes?” Yuri asked, hoping that the time never came for Arash to try and instruct him on seducing someone. Just the thought of it made his whole face flush with embarrassment.

“After we visit the library, of course; but, I think a little teaching here and there while we work to take down that bastard isn’t too much to ask. Ah, we’re finally here!” And hearing that, Yuri looked up in wonder at the grand carved staircase that lead up almost a whole story to the main floor of the Sassanid Library. Statues of sphinxes guarded the landing, mythical beasts that Yuri had never encountered but that supposedly existed somewhere in this wide world they lived in. They were supposed to be guardians of knowledge, which made their placement seem right.

As they climbed the staircase, the young gadgeteer marveled at the inscriptions carved into each stair. In many of the myriad languages spoken in Padeshahi, each one had a famous quote or line of knowledge, hopefully to get the applicant climbing the stairs in the mood for learning. If only Igor could see me know, Yuri thought wistfully, I’m sure he would be just as overjoyed as I am. It’s only Arash being next to me that keeps me from tearing up in wonder and gratitude, the young Liyudi admitted to himself. “Well, let’s go inside,” Arash said, breaking the spell the stairs had cast on Yuri.

While they continued walking towards the entrance, the excited gadgeteer looked up and spotted the famous Arch of the Aspirant, which had carved into it the motto of the founder, Sassanid the Scholar. It read, in Aryan, “Let all who pass under me accept that the more we learn, the more we realize we do not know.” Seeing it in person gave Yuri chills.

The closer they got to the door, Yuri couldn’t help but notice the two massively built guards standing on each side of the door, wearing falchions that looked like they weighed as much as the Liyudi did! Upon seeing the two of them, they actually growled and drew their swords, holding them in both hands as if they were as light as a feather. Yuri audibly gulped, while Arash slowed down and seemed to bounce on the balls of his feet.

“Who are they?” Yuri whispered to his duelist companion as they kept their slow approach. He wasn’t sure if they turned and ran if the armed men would strike them down from behind, but he didn’t want to find out if their honor extended that far.

“If I’m correct, they’re magi working with Bahram. At least, that’s what the brand burned into their left cheek reads,” Arash hissed back, making sure his arms hung down by his sides – and within easy reach of his weapons. Not for the first time, Yuri regretted not carrying anything for defense bigger than the standard knife that everyone carried for cutting things and peeling fruit. Granted, he had the pistol that Foma had wanted him to fix in his knapsack –since he couldn’t force his cooperation now since their mom had taken the money, Yuri figured it was his now- but that would do him no good at the moment, since it was still in repair.

“Halt! We know who you are, Duelist Arash, and our master Sheikh Bahram is inside. He most definitely wants a word with you and bandage-boy here.” Bandage-boy was an insult to the Liyudi; since the wrappings they wore looked like bandages, some superstitious Aryan thought that the Sandstriders were always sick and diseased. It didn’t matter how many times those people were told this was simply clothing to keep them from burning up, the name stuck.

Before anyone could act on the threat that hung implicit in the air, a voice rang out. “Is there a problem here, gentlemen?” All four of the men turned towards the entrance. Standing there looking very relaxed was an petite Aryan female with skin tanned from the sun, dressed only in a yellow cloth wrapped around her breasts, no footwear of any kind, and relaxed red breeches. Her blue eyes twinkled as she took in the scene, and she unconsciously brushed a stray piece of auburn hair back behind her ear, which was cut fairly short for a woman. At least, all the females Yuri knew liked to grow their hair long and luxurious.

“Does a cat have your tongue, men? I asked if there was a problem,” she repeated her question, and one of the magi stepped forward, trying to intimidate her with his size as he loomed over her since he was over six feet tall and she looked just under five and a quarter. She didn’t say anything, just stood there patiently smiling as he realized his tactic wasn’t working.

“This is sheikh business, wench, go on your way,” he growled out. His growl turned into a high pitched squeak of pain as her hand shot out under his robe and gripped his manhood through his pants tightly, twisting it. She didn’t even seem to be bothered by her action, but every other male there instantly winced in sympathy.

“I’m sorry, I asked you a polite question and was greeted with rudeness. I will give you one chance to make amends. I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” she turned and cautioned the other magi from charging her, wagging a finger at him in warning. “If you do,” she continued, “I might just have to rip it clean off. I mean, judging from the size I would be doing every woman a favor if they never had to see this tiny piece of shrimp again, but to each their own. What’s it going to be, hmm?”

The other magi stepped back where he had been, sheathed his blade, and raised his arms. “Much better, thank you for your cooperation!” the petite woman said with what appeared to be true sincerity. “Now, where were we?” she asked the magi she was torturing, who was on his knees now and growing as pale as a Liyudi. “Were you about to learn some manners?”

“You little bitch,” he hissed out through clenched teeth. “When you let go I’ll show you what I can do with my generous manhood and maybe then you’ll learn your place.”

The woman tsked a few times before she said, “I’m sorry, that’s the wrong answer.” Before anyone could stop her, she pulled backwards with her hand, holding a part of the magi’s pants and a bloody lump on the other end. As the magi started to howl, she made a chopping motion with her other hand, and his voice became a gurgle. He turned towards the others, one hand cupping where his manhood used to be while the other went to his throat, which was crushed. Within seconds, he fell over, gave a few kicks, and was still, blood pooling from his injury onto the landing. “Did you want to give me a try?” she asked the other magi. This one apparently had some kind of intelligence, because he shook his head no and ran off.

Tossing the bloody lump onto the body, the petite young woman bent over and wiped her hand off on his black robe. Looking up, she noticed that neither Arash nor Yuri had moved from where they had stood. “Oh come now, I don’t go around ripping off men’s penises as a general rule. I’m not from Lesbos, after all,” she said with a chuckle. Yuri had heard tale of an island where only women resided, pursuing Sapphic love and spurning anyone who was a male, but he had only thought it a myth. “My name is Hengameh, and you both are…” she said as she stepped forward and offered her hand in greeting.

Arash seemed to have been stricken dumb for once in his life, so Yuri stepped forward and shook her hand. “This is Arash, and I’m Yuri. It is our pleasure to make your acquaintance, Hengameh. If I may ask, how were you able to do that?”

After smiling at him and shaking his hand (and winking at Arash, who still hadn’t moved) the young woman answered Yuri. “I’m a monk. My monastery trains us to master our bodies and to endure whatever the world throws at us, so that right there,” she pointed at the cooling corpse of the magi, “was really no big deal. I just hate rude people and bullies, that’s all. Were you gentlemen going into the library?”

Finally coming to his senses, Arash took Hengameh’s hand and bowed over it, pouting only slightly when she pulled it back before he could kiss it. “Yes we were, my fair lady. We are on a quest, would you like to join us?”

Chuckling to herself, Hengameh responded. “First off, I’m not your fair lady or a lady at all. Secondly, how will you get in? I tried, but they told me I lack the proper clearance.”

Frowning to himself, Arash shook his head to clear whatever thoughts were bubbling up inside and said, “Yes, well, I will be able to get my friend and me inside, and you can join us if you feel like it. I’m a Rostami.” After he said it, he waited for some kind of reaction, but all Hengameh did was stare at him. Clearing his throat, he went on. “From the Rostami family.”

“I’m sorry, but you keep saying that like you’re famous,” she shot back, and while Arash sputtered Yuri held his sides and laughed until tears streamed down his face. After they both had recovered, she went on. “But, if you’re able to get me inside the library, then yes we can be friends. As long as you keep your hands to yourself, that is.” Taking Yuri’s arm in hers, the monk turned towards Arash, who looked like someone had just kicked his favorite pet. “So, are you coming?” Glowering, and without any kind of comeback for once, the duelist just stomped towards the entrance while Yuri and his new best friend took their time, strolling along in Arash’s wake. It would do him some good to have his ego taken down a peg, the Liyudi thought amusedly as the Aryan was able to use his name to gain them entrance. After all, he continued, if his head got any bigger he would have problems fitting in through doors! And with that, they left the summer mid-morning sun behind and entered the cool darkness of the Sassanid Library.

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