Padeshahi (the Kingdom)

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Arash's Story III

“That went…better than…we hoped for…right?” Yuri panted out next to Arash as they ran full speed through the streets of Amol, following Hengameh as she cleared a path for them, sometimes politely, sometimes forcefully. The Aryan didn’t answer, trying to conserve his air for their sudden but necessary flight from the Sassanid Library. Even if his heart did burst out of his chest from the panicked exertion it would be worth it, because clutched in Yuri’s mecha-arm was the book that should hold the answer to bringing that bastard Bahram down.

“I don’t know…about you but…I can’t keep…this pace up…much longer,” his companion was having a hard time of it, even with his longer legs and his bigger feet making one of his strides equal to two of Arash’s, and the duelist knew the Liyudi wouldn’t last much longer if they kept this going this way. Yuri’s strength was in his intellect, not his stamina. And, although he knew the monk was strong enough to carry the gadgeteer if she had to, Arash’s pride wouldn’t allow it. Regretfully, he called ahead to their new petite but ferocious friend and steered her down an alley that ran between a hookah café and a coffee shop.

Yuri didn’t even put his back against the clay wall and slide down like Arash did; no, he just flopped down in the dirt and dust on his back like a marionette with the strings cut, chest rising and falling as if he were trying to suck in all the air at once. “When was the last time either of those shopkeepers bothered to sweep this place out? Have they no pride in their surroundings?” Arash wondered out loud, disgust evident in his voice.

“Oh, come now pretty boy, there’s nothing wrong with a little dirt. It gives your pristine look some character,” Hengameh teased him as she sank to the floor and sat cross-legged. Besides the thin sheen of sweat on her forehead, she didn’t even look winded! As she brushed some of the sweat-soaked locks back behind her ears, it was all Arash could do to not think about how arousing that looked. Besides, it isn’t as if she’s interested in you anyway, he chastised himself. “Is he going to be all right?” she asked with concern, nodding her head towards Yuri and interrupting the duelist’s musings. “He isn’t going to die, is he?”

Looking over at his young friend, Arash studied him for a minute before responding. “No, I think he’ll be fine. He’s unused to fleeing for his life, that’s all.”

“And you are?” she asked him, eyebrow raised.

Seeing as how she didn’t appear impressed by anything he done or said so far, Arash decided to stop worrying about what she thought of him and to just be himself. “Actually, I’ve done that more times than I can count. Granted, half of those times were running from bedrooms where I had just –unbeknownst to myself- had sex with someone’s girlfriend, wife, sister, or mother, but still…” he trailed off, and waited for the monk’s reaction. Honestly, he was expecting some kind of nagging like his sister or disapproval like his father.

What he got was Hengameh throwing her head back and roaring with laughter. “Ah, yes, I can see that would probably be a common occurrence, you hedonist!” she said as she held her sides. “Did any of them ever catch you?”

Smiling at her, Arash threw her a wink. “Only a few, and those beatings I took as a lesson: you don’t have to be the fastest man around, just faster than the person chasing you.”

“Wise advice, duelist; I’ll remember that if I’m ever in a similar circumstance.”

“I…I didn’t know that monks could have…” Arash trailed off as Hengameh arched her eyebrow at him again.

“Sex?” she finished his sentence. “I admit, there are a few weird monasteries where they practice extreme aesthetics and forego all worldly pleasures, but the one I trained at isn’t one of them. Yes, we can have sex. Why, does that bother you?” she asked him drily.

“Uh, no of course it doesn’t, I’m just not used to, you know, talking about it.” He finally stammered out, and watched as she sat up straight.

“Arash, you seem like a nice young man if a little inexperienced, so I’m going to not hold your lack of knowledge against you. However, I’m going to let you in on a little secret: women like sex just as much as men do.”

He frowned. “That makes no sense. If I added up all the times I seduced someone…”

She interrupted him by laughing. It stung a bit, but he realized she wasn’t laughing at him per se but at his ignorant statement. “Oh, you naïve man! Did you think you worked some kind of magic on these women, and even though they had no desire for you they just went along with it?” She held up her forefinger, stopping him from speaking. “You don’t look like some sort of rapist, so I’m going to spell it out for you. Every women you ‘seduced’ wanted to have sex with you. You’re pretty enough, you can be charming when you want to, so why wouldn’t they? Tell me this, did any of the women you’ve slept with ever say the words ‘No’, ‘Don’t’ or ‘Stop’ singularly to you?”

Thinking back, he shook his head no. “A few of them did say, ‘No, don’t stop’ but no they didn’t say those words by themselves to me.” It was quite surreal, discussing sex with someone that he hoped to add to his list of paramours, but it did feel slightly refreshing.

Shrugging her shoulders, Hengameh simply said, “Then they wanted to have sex with you. Your seduction was just a game you were playing that they wanted to go along with, that’s all.” Arash sat back, stunned. She had just turned his world upside-down.

“If we are done discussing Arash’s sex life, maybe we should focus on the bigger problems at hand, such as we are now in possession of a tome that may help defeat Bahram,” both Arash and Hengameh turned to see Yuri finishing a long draught off of his waterskin and sitting up, obviously recovered enough to start talking.

“Glad to see you survived our flight from the library, my friend,” Arash said as he clapped the Liyudi on the shoulder, and he meant it. If someone had told him a week ago that he would become friends with a Sandstrider, and a gadgeteer to boot, Arash would have laughed at them and bet them it would never happen. It was a bet he was glad that he would have lost.

“Thank you, Arash. So, Hengameh, you didn’t tell us what happened. All we saw was the clerk pulling this book out of a stack that had dust on it and handing it to us before you came running away from one of the wings saying we needed to leave and right that second.”

The monk grinned self-consciously and ran her fingers through her hair in an obviously nervous gesture. “I, uh, I put on those spare clerk’s clothes we had talked about, found Bahram, got him all hot and bothered, and then sidestepped him and punched him in the side of the head.”

Arash just stared at her incredulously while Yuri gave a short barking laugh. “I wish I could have seen that; you are now my new best friend.”

“Hey!” Arash replied indignantly. “What about me?”

“Well, you’re a good friend, but you haven’t punched a psychotic sheikh in the head recently, have you?” Yuri teased the duelist while Hengameh did her best to stifle her laughter. “All kidding aside, let me take a look at this book that we risked our lives to get and see if it can help us or not,” the gadgeteer opened the book reverently and began to read. Just then, a stray gust of wind blew down the alley, blinding Arash and from the comment she made Hengameh as well. Only Yuri didn’t say anything, which was quite odd. When he finally cleared the dust from his watering eyes, the Aryan saw Basma and Kambiz standing in the alleyway entrance.

Standing up, Arash went over to the couple and clasped arms in greeting with the dervish as warriors do before giving the shaman a small bow. “How did you find us?” he asked them.

“I asked the Element of Air if it would assist us in tracking down an Aryan duelist in the company of a Liyudi gadgeteer. It seemed a safe bet that there was only one group of you in the entire city,” Basma said drolly.

“But, why did that gust of air get in our eyes and not Yuri’s?” the duelist asked with a frown, after it dawned on him that the blinding couldn’t have been an accident.

“I didn’t ask it to, if that’s what you’re implying. But, when I gave the Element a mental picture of the two of you, there was one small detail I let slip,” the shaman replied.

“And what was that?” Arash shout back.

“That I like Yuri, and you seem to vex me,” Basma fired right back, and Arash heard a snort of laughter from behind him, meaning that the monk and the shaman were going to get along swimmingly. All I need is Firuzeh to come back into town and my life will be miserably complete, the Aryan thought as he prayed he wouldn’t see his sister for months to come.

“Since Arash seems to be displaying his typical lack of manners, I’m Basma and this is my partner Kambiz. And you are?” the Kunzumah held out her hand to the monk, who took and shook it gladly.

“My name is Hengameh, and I’ve only been travelling with these two since I fought off a magi for them at the Sassanid Library and punched that oily sheikh Bahram in the side of the head,” she told the shaman, whose eyes widened in awe.

“Really? That just made you my second favorite person in Amol,” Basma told her.

“Why is everyone insulting me today? I’m standing right here, you know,” Arash refused to think that he was pouting; he preferred to think of it as protesting the unfairness of the way they all were treating him.

“As if we could forget, duelist. Thankfully, it would appear that you haven’t had time to go and bath in cologne since I saw you just this morning,” the shaman shot back.

“What’s wrong with the way I smell?” he asked, while surreptitiously lifting his arm and sniffing his armpit.

“Nothing…now. Just remember, good sir, that sometimes less is more,” Basma teased him once more and everyone but Yuri laughed, the gadgeteer being too busy reading the book to pay much attention to what was going on around him.

“He actually has a nice scent,” the monk said as she smiled at him, and Arash smiled back while mouthing the words ‘thank you’ to her.

“Ah well, to each their own I suppose. Now, what does the book tell you, Yuri?” the shaman asked the Liyudi, and they all turned to face him while he held up his hand.

“Steam accelerant…chrome pistons…brass driver fittings…steel gears…copper wiring…I’m sorry, what was it you asked me?” Yuri said, not even seeming the least bit embarrassed by his ignoring of them all.

“Does the book tell us of a way to defeat Bahram?” Kambiz growled out. He had a personal score to settle with the sheikh, as Arash knew, and his rare bout of patience was obviously wearing thin.

If Yuri was offended by the harsh tone of the dervish, he didn’t show it. “Yes, yes it does. It reflects on how a sheikh was rendered powerless over a century ago when he got stuck between two large magnetic resonators when he wandered into a university where they were setting up an experiment. Something about disrupting the frequency through which he communicated with E’laa’hi…” he paused in his reading before continuing. “If we created a field frequency disruptor generator, it should do the trick. We would just need a little bit of bodily fluids to determine at what range he resonates. But, what kind of power would we need to do so?” the gadgeteer tapped his pinky finger on his lips, deeply lost in thought.

“Yuri, my friend, you didn’t even sound like you were talking in Aryan right there,” Arash said, speaking for the confusion on all of their faces. “Bottom line is, can we do it, and what do we need for it to work?”

Gazing off into the distance for a moment, the Liyudi shook his head and finally snapped out of his daze. “Oh, sorry Arash. Yes we can do it. There are quite a bit of supplies I’ll need to construct this –and I have no idea how much any of this will cost- and nothing less than a lightning strike will do to power the device, but…yeah, yeah I think we may have a chance.”

“Well, I can definitely get to work on creating a storm to provide the lightning. It will take me a few hours to prepare the ritual, is that all right?” Basma asked.

“That should put us around 22nd Bell, so yes that should be perfect.” Yuri nodded to the shaman before looking around at the rest of them. “Can someone get me some of his bodily fluids so I can test which frequency he resonates at?”

“I don’t know what any of that means, but I’ve heard rumors of where he stays so yeah I can do that part,” the Bozmajeh-Mard said, his voice a low sibilant rumble. “Any particular way I need to save them?”

“If you have a clean glass jar that has a secured air-tight lid that would work,” the gadgeteer told the dervish. “Now, to build this device, I’ll need someplace quiet and clean, somewhere that Bahram would never think to look for us, someplace safe. Any thoughts?”

Hengameh shook her head no. “Sorry, I was going to suggest my monastery but it is definitely not quiet, and while it isn’t filthy I think you need someplace almost laboratory or hospital level clean, and that certainly isn’t there.”

“That’s all right, Hengameh,” Yuri comforted the monk. “Anyone else?”

“He knows where we live, and Kambiz is too noticeable to hide out at any of his guard friends’ dwellings, not that we would endanger any of them anyway,” Basma said.

“I completely understand,” the Liyudi told her while sighing. “I suppose we could try the Guild of Intrinsic Craftspeople, but I’m not a member and we have no way of knowing if any of them were working for Bahram.” They all looked crestfallen.

As much as it pained him to admit it, Arash had someplace in mind, and before he could stop himself he raised his hand to get everyone’s attention. “I…I know of such a place, where I could guarantee that the bastard doesn’t have an inside man.” He swallowed a few times while all of them looked at him expectantly.

“Excellent, moy druug. So where is this place?” Yuri asked him, speaking for everyone.

Sighing, Arash choked out the words. “It is my family home, the Rostami estate.”

Whistling, Basma rocked back on her heels while Kambiz crossed his arms over his chest, Yuri appeared apologetic and Hengameh looked confused. “I don’t get it, why is this such a big deal?”

Rubbing his face with his hands, the duelist paced back and forth for a bit before turning to face the monk. “Because, my dear, I haven’t seen my father in over four years,” he finally answered her.

“Oh,” was all she said. Then, after a minute, she quietly asked, “But do you still think he will help us?”

Laughing bitterly, Arash nodded his head. “Most definitely. Not only does he despise people like Bahram, who abuse their positions of power, but this will be a chance to rub it in my face that he was right and that I would need him one day.” Hengameh looked sad, so he continued. “Just something he shouted at me when I stormed out of there all those years ago. And I know how much my father loves being right.” She came over and patted him on the shoulder. That gesture was more of an honest exchange than he could ever recall having with the opposite sex, and it touched him more than he was willing to let on. He simply patted her hand and smiled his thanks at the monk before she went back over to Yuri.

Breaking the solemn mood that had overtaken their gathering, Yuri cleared his throat. “So, Basma and Kambiz, you have your tasks. I’m sure Arash will leave word at the estate gates so the guards know to expect you. You…do have guards, right?” Not trusting himself to talk, Arash just nodded his head once. “All right. Hengameh, I’ll probably need you to go out with Arash and acquire the parts and supplies I need. Is that OK with you?”

“Of course,” she said, beaming at the gadgeteer.

“Well then, we should all be off,” the Liyudi said, getting to his feet and dusting himself off as best he could.

“Um, just one problem my friend. Bahram and his magi are still looking for us, remember?” Arash reminded Yuri.

“Not to worry. This book had some really interesting ideas, and I was experimenting with my mecha-arm while we were all talking. I want to give something a try. Hengameh, you and Arash come in close to my sides,” he commanded them. Giving each other a curious glance, they shrugged their shoulders and did as he asked. Fiddling with his arm for a second with some kind of tools, Yuri hummed to himself for just a moment until he said, “All right, that should do it.” A wave of light emanated from his mecha-arm and seemed to form around them in a tight sphere. “Basma, Kambiz, can you guys see us?”

“I can’t,” the shaman said, confusion coloring her tone.

“If I use my thermal vision, I can, but that’s the only way,” the dervish said, eyes squinted almost closed.

“Excellent. Judging by how bigoted he seems, I very much doubt Bahram has any Bozmajeh-Mard working for him,” Yuri said smugly.

“What did you do?” Arash asked the gadgeteer while Hengameh made sure she stayed close to the Liyudi and far away from the bubble’s edge.

“Simple, really; I just generated a field that bent the light around us in a way so that as long as we walk slowly down deserted lanes and streets, people will see what’s behind us, not us. It won’t stand up to touch or smell, but I think as long as we’re careful we can make it.” He paused for a second, and his next words were filled with a quiet pride. “One day when we have time, I’ll tell you how my gadgeteer mentor Igor and I built this arm out of the remains of a giant Clanker we found out in the desert. It was mostly buried in the sand, and judging by its condition had been there for centuries! Even I don’t know exactly what every part was originally for, and I didn’t hit on the idea for the light sphere until I saw one of the parts in the book that matched a smaller version that was in my arm. Does that make sense?” he asked.

“Not a bit, my friend. But, as long as it makes sense to you, and it should keep us hidden from wandering eyes, then that’s all I need to know.” Once again, the duelist was struck with how intelligent -and young- his friend was. “Basma, Kambiz, good fortune to you,” Arash told the couple as they set off on their tasks. With that, the three remaining companions began their slow trek out of the city proper and to the wealthier part of town, where his family home awaited.

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