Padeshahi (the Kingdom)

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Io's Story II

Being back in the saddle felt as natural as it did when wielding a sword or kissing someone, Io thought as their party rode through the night. Thankfully the moon was full, and between Olgun’s ability to see in low light and Lahahana’s enhanced hearing, the Deva was confident that they would be able to avoid any dangers until the sun rose and they bedded down for the day.

“Isn’t riding at night dangerous for our mounts?” Firuzeh practically shouted to be heard over the sound of pounding hooves and feet, and while the question was valid Io hoped that her words didn’t carry through the darkness. Of course, the sheikh admitted, if the sound of our mounts galloping along doesn’t alert anyone to our presence, then her voice surely won’t either.

“Olgun can see in perfectly fine in this level of light, my dear. Besides, for now we’re sticking to the roads so there should be less chance for injury,” he shouted back. Firuzeh looked at him oddly for a second, then slowly nodded her acceptance of what he had said. Io could understand her reaction; after all, even though she knew and went to school with members of different races, if she wasn’t close friends with them it was unlikely she was aware that not everyone had the same degree of senses as an Aryan did. Some were much improved.

Personally, Io had never believed the drivel that some of the sheikhs from his youth had spread, that the Aryan were the one true race and the rest were just poor copies that E’laa’hi had made as a cruel joke. It had sounded then like racist propaganda, and it still did those rare few times he occasionally heard it. Thankfully, those types of people had seemed to fade away over time like the relics they truly were. Having lived, loved and fought side by side with those ‘poor copies’ Io knew they were just as noble, base, cruel, kind, giving and greedy as the Aryan. In other words, as mortal and unique as everyone else.

A piercing whistle split the night, and all but Io and Lahahana gave a start. Io had known that the steam locomotive would be passing by –though the tracks were over a mile away, hence why they didn’t hear the metal wheels clacking along- and he was sure the Efreet had heard the faint rumbling of the massive technological wonder as it made its journey in the dark. According to the schedule he had seen at the station just this afternoon, that whistle meant the locomotive was right on time. Which, not so coincidentally, meant they were right on time as well.

“This way!” he shouted and put words into action, leading his horse to the right and off road. As they crested a dune, he could imagine but not hear the gasps that his companions let out, and Io broke out into a huge grin. The locomotive they had just heard had finished passing by, and on the opposite tracks they spied a smaller version waiting by itself. It only had a cab, the coal car which powered how the vehicle moved, a boxcar with plenty of space between the slats, a small carriage, and a caboose at the rear.

“What’s going on?” Olgun demanded as she did her best to calm her mountain pony, who was prancing as if he still heard the call of the open road. “Why are we stopped up here and looking down at one of those infernal devices?” She bit off each word as she spoke them.

“Oh, come now Shaagerd Olgun, surely you aren’t one of those Luddites are you?” Ostaad Lahahana asked incredulously. Io had heard of those, people who said that all this technology was ruining the original way of life and leading them astray. The founder of the movement was a foreigner who had washed up ashore after a shipwreck, so far out to sea that no one had spotted his ship or how it came to be destroyed. He had died recently, but his followers lived on, apparently spreading their message of ignorance and misinformation.

Flushing with embarrassment, the Djinn-touched pressed on anyway. “It’s not natural, I tell you. If we were meant to move at speeds like that, we already would.”

“Now just hold on a second! My family is very involved in new steam technology, and I’ll have you know it is advancing us as a society!” Firuzeh walked her horse up to Olgun’s, and even though it wasn’t her fault that she now loomed over the small Sha’ir, it was obvious that Olgun took it as a form of bullying. Her brow furrowed as she glared up at the Aryan, and she opened her mouth to retort.

“That’s enough,” Io didn’t need to shout, but his voice startled and shut up both females before they could start screaming at one another and potentially brawling. Firuzeh looked tough, but if he had to bet the Deva was sure that Olgun could not only hold her own but end up winning. Now that he had their attention, the sheikh continued. “E’laa’hi touches this world, and everything we do is with the blessing of the Divine. It is not up to E’laa’hi to tell us how to use the things we make, it is up to us to use them wisely. Is that understood?” Sullenly, both young women nodded yes. “Then, as you all agreed to listen to what I said since I am in charge, I’m saying that I arranged this so we can get to Amol faster.”

Only Io caught the look that passed across Firuzeh’s face, like she had just bitten into a juicy tomato that she had been looking forward to only to find it bitter and unappealing. Unaware of this, Lahahana spoke up. “Then, forgive me honored sheikh, but why all the subterfuge of providing us mounts and having us leave in the middle of the night?”

“Because, honored Ostaad, I don’t know how far Bahram’s reach is, and I couldn’t take a chance that he would find out we are coming for him. As it is, there’s a good chance that he will be able to sense me when we enter Amol, but that is a worry for another time. For now, just know that what I have done, I have done to help keep us all safe.”

With a sneer on her lips, Olgun said, “I’ve never ridden on one of those…things. How fast do they go?”

“Instead of it taking us a week to get to Amol, we should be there at latest tomorrow evening. Isn’t that right, honored Io?” Firuzeh provided the answer, and as he nodded she lit up as if she had just gotten 100% on a test. You can take the shaagerd out of the university but you can’t make them stop being students, he thought fondly.

“Forgive me, sheikh Io, but since you are so paranoid about your brother finding out we are coming for him, how do you know you can trust the people running the locomotive? If his reach extends this far, isn’t it possible that they could be HIS people?” Olgun’s question made sense, even if it hurt his heart knowing that circumstances beyond his control had made one so young so bitter.

“That is a good question, Shaagerd Olgun, which is why I asked the Raees to arrange this for us. The likelihood of Bahram being able to influence people that the Raees has known for decades seems unlikely at best. Now, we need to be getting down there. Although I had checked the schedule and no locomotive is supposed to be on those tracks for another few hours, it’s best to never tempt fate.” And with that, Io, clicked his tongue against his teeth and his horse took off down the dune, carefully but confidently. He could hear his companions following behind him and although he would never show it outwardly, inwardly he sighed in relief.

Soon enough they were standing in front of the boxcar as a ramp was lowered and their mounts were led onto it. It took a few minutes, but eventually the animals were settled into their stalls and secured so they wouldn’t come to harm while travelling. All the while, Olgun was staring at the men suspiciously. Not wanting to take her eyes off of the crew, she scuttled over to Io and hissed at him, “How do we know they won’t listen in on our conversations?”

Sighing, since it was obvious the Djinn-touched wasn’t going to let it go, Io went up to one of the men, an older Aryan clad in brown trousers, vest and shirt, and said “Excuse me,” while standing behind him. Neither he nor the other men helping him seemed to react. “I said, excuse me,” Io said a little louder, with still no response. Finally, Io reached out and tapped the man on his shoulder. The man spun around, and Io smiled and began to move his hands back and forth in changing patterns, while the man responded with more of the same. After a minute, Io patted the man on his shoulder yet again and let the man return to his work. As he walked back over to Olgun, he could see the confusion written all over her face. “Happy now?” he asked her, trying not to be vexed with her paranoia.

“What was…how did…I don’t understand,” the diminutive Sha’ir sputtered.

“They are deaf,” Lahahana provided as he came up behind his prized student.

“That they are. So there is no chance of them overhearing a conversation; although, they are quite adapt at reading lips, so if you have any secrets maybe this trip is not the best time to reveal them.” Io joked with Olgun, who still looked unhappy but was quickly realizing that she had no ground to stand on when it came to her suspicions.

“What was the hand gestures you were making, honored sheikh?” Firuzeh spoke up, breaking the awkward silence. Io gave her a grateful smile.

“Those gestures are a language, Shaagerd Firuzeh,” Ostaad Lahahana provided the answer once more. “They can speak just like you or I do, but they use that instead of words.”

“I am surprised you know about this, honored Ostaad. Not too many people do. Do you know someone who is deaf?” Io asked, and immediately regretted his question. The crippling sadness that appeared and was wiped away on the Efreet’s face spoke of much pain and loss.

“I did, honored sheikh. My dear departed wife was deaf.” He sighed deeply once, then went on. “Is it safe to assume that you learned the signing language in another of your lives?” It was obvious that he was trying to change the subject to something that caused him less pain, so Io let him do so, not wanting to extend Lahahana’s grief any more than he had.

“That is a safe assumption, Ostaad Lahahana. I believe it was around three lives ago; I was trying to infiltrate a warlord’s base after he had been terrorizing villages in the nearby region. His brother was deaf and had been given the position of being in charge of the household’s staff, and so I used makeup to disguise my appearance and joined as a servant. After a while, I gained his trust and was able to take the warlord down.”

“Did he resent you using him like that, sheikh Io?” Olgun asked him.

“Not at all; turned out, the warlord used to abuse his brother as a child and only gave him that position after their mother browbeat him into it. The brother hated the warlord and all the deaths he caused, and was quite happy to play his part in the downfall.” Io had their full attention now, which was good. It meant that they could stay out of the way as the crew finished stowing their belongings on the locomotive and were prepping to depart momentarily.

“I’ve heard that warlords can make their followers’ wounds heal with just some praise, and that they can inspire them to feats of daring that they normally couldn’t do,” Olgun said.

“While they can’t make wounds heal instantly –as far as I know, only sheikhs can do that- their belief in their followers can allow them to ignore their wounds or to almost make it as if the wound doesn’t cut that deep, as it were. Without seeing it for yourself, it’s hard to explain,” the sheikh told them. “And as for inspiring feats, the rousing words of a beloved commander will inspire men to do just about anything…as long as their leader believes in them as much as they believe in him.” Io answered Olgun’s question. Unlike Firuzeh, a Sha’ir is more used to accepting something that they can’t see, and so she seemed satisfied with his reply.

“Do you remember the name of the warlord, honored sheikh?” Firuzeh spoke up, as entranced by his story as the other companions.

“If I recall, it was Amir Jahangir,” Io said, and watched in amusement the looks on their faces. “Yes, that was his name. Have you heard of him?” he asked, knowing full well they had.

“Are you kidding me? You took down THAT Amir Jahangir? The one who was known as the Butcher of Balkh? The one who beheaded the city’s council when they refused to give in to his demands, and then let his men sack and pillage the town and enslaved over half the remaining population?” Lahahana was incredulous as Olgun and Firuzeh just stared in shock.

“Yes, I believe that was the one. He was quite despicable, and well deserving of his defeat.” As they all still stared at him, Io grew a little self-conscious. “It’s not like I’ve been involved in every major thing that has happened in Padeshahi…” he trailed off.

“No, but you have been involved in some really important events. I guess it’s true, Deva are drawn to things that need resolving.” Lahahana finally spoke up.

“And right now I feel like I’m being drawn towards Amol. So, since the crew is ready to go, what say we board the locomotive and head off?” That did the trick, and with the entrancing tale ended they finally stopped staring at him and hastened to get into the carriage. Shaking his head in regret –he didn’t want hero worship, he just wanted to do what was right- Io went up and spoke to the conductor, who assured him they had enough coal that they wouldn’t need to be making any stops and should arrive in Amol in roughly 16 hours. After thanking him and shaking his hand, the sheikh went back and rejoined his companions.

“I did bring enough supplies that we should be able to break our fast and eat lunch and dinner. Now, unless you would like to see the darkened countryside rush by as we travel through the night, I suggest you get some sleep. I’ve locked the carriage door, so there’s no need to set a watch. And, the door at the rear of the carriage is the water closet, in case anyone needs it.” Taking his words to heart, his companions left the common area of the carriage and went into their sleeping compartments, bidding him good evening before they closed their doors.

He knew he should follow his own advice and get some rest, but as the locomotive started up with a burst of steam and a jerking motion, Io sat and stared out the window. What they were doing was right, he truly believed that; but, knowing something is right and being able to go through with it were two different things. After all, this wasn’t just some evil person they were going to face...it was his own brother. No matter the skin he was wearing, the Deva could still picture his brother’s original face as Io pleaded with the Yazata to allow his brother to join him in greatness throughout the centuries. The angel had relented when it was obvious that Io had no intentions of going through the process without his baby brother by his side.

If his brother had fallen to evil ways as he had heard, and there was no reason to believe that he had been told that many lies, then it was Io’s responsibility to bring him to justice. After all, the sheikh had researched what happened to a Deva that fell from grace, and it was horrifying. Even the name sounded like evil personified. Rakshasa. Just thinking it gave Io goosebumps all up and down his arms. He didn’t want to think of his brother becoming one of those things, spending his immortal life terrorizing others and inflicting much harm on the world.

So, no matter what, the Deva couldn’t think of his brother as he once was: loving, brave, daring. Something had happened in the centuries they had been apart, something that had twisted his heart and soul and made him selfish and cruel. And believing that Io could convince Bahram to give up his wicked ways with just his words was a bedtime tale. This was the real world, and in this story there would be no peaceful resolution to the conflict. There would only be spilled blood, shed tears and broken hearts.

Soon enough, the clacking of the steel wheels on the tracks had lulled him away from his distraught thoughts and into a state of relaxation. Yawning, Io got up from his seat and stretched before making sure all of the blinds were closed and heading into his sleeping compartment. Today was over and tomorrow would be here soon enough. As a wise person once said, worrying about what will come won’t make it come any faster. The Deva smiled, thinking of the Raees and how he missed his gentle, steadfast presence. Then, with that pleasant image the last thing he thought of, Io laid his head down on the pillow and drifted off into sleep.

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