Padeshahi (the Kingdom)

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Olgun's Story III

The locomotive had made excellent time, and as they made their approach to the city of Amol the 21st Bell rang out. Apart from the small town that surrounded Gundishapur University and gave it its name, Olgun had never really visited any Aryan cities before and was curious to see what it was like. Besides being sized too big for someone like her, of course; that was an unfortunate given when you were just 3’6” tall. You either learned to make due, or you constantly suffered trying to get others to cater to your special needs. Maybe if I’m lucky they will have a child’s chair still around somewhere that I can sit in so at least my legs don’t dangle, the Sha’ir thought bitterly. Yup, she mused, definitely in a down cycle for my mood.

It wasn’t that unusual that Olgun had never really been to any city but the kind her own people had built far to the northwest in Padeshahi, called Ilgaz. As a general rule most Guran’nash stayed away from the smaller Aryan-only villages and outlying areas, since in those far off places some misguided idiots still kept alive the mistakes her ancestors had made, and were always looking to punish those who resembled their former overseers. Besides, barring what random people thought of her because of her diminutive stature, she was quite cultured and had no interest visiting a place where nightly entertainment consisted of guessing which goats were rutting or complaining about the cuisine.

“Are you sure you don’t mind?” Olgun heard Firuzeh asking Io behind her for what felt like the twelfth time. “I appreciate the offer, I truly do, but if this messes with your plans…”

“Not at all, my dear. I think visiting your family home would be good for your spirit, and a night not sleeping in a carriage car would be just what we all need to be at our best,” the Deva replied, and the Guran’nash couldn’t help but roll her eyes. She understood that the Aryan female wasn’t trying to take advantage of the apparent soft spot the sheikh had for her, but her natural distaste for her fellow shaagerd would take some time to dissipate. Just because she knew more about what drove Firuzeh to act the way she did didn’t automatically mean Olgun could change her memories of her and that twit of a roommate, Laleh.

“If you keep rolling your eyes like that, they’ll stay stuck up in your head,” a deep rumbling voice whispered into her left ear, and the Sha’ir shaagerd turned to face her Ostaad.

“How did you…never mind. Forgive me, Ostaad Lahahana,” Olgun quietly said, hoping her cheeks weren’t as flushed as she felt they were. Someone his size shouldn’t be able to sneak around like that, she sulked.

“Nothing to forgive, my dear. And as to how I knew, I was young once too you know,” the Efreet said with a gentle smile and a wink, and Olgun smiled back at him, thankful he was always so understanding with her. “I know you’re working on it, but remember: changing how you felt about someone for such a long time isn’t erased overnight. Have patience, Shaagerd Olgun,” and she nodded her head once. “Now, are your things packed and ready to go?”

“They are, Ostaad Lahahana. I for one am looking forward to not having the floor shake and shudder underneath my feet.” The vibrations had started to give her a headache.

“Excellent, and I couldn’t agree with you more. Before we go, however, I think it would be a good idea if you were to summon your gen.”

Olgun was both excited and nervous at the same time. “Aren’t I already excelling at summoning it during practice, when you are casting your spells at me and I must defend myself? Why do I need to summon it here?” Unlike Firuzeh and her alchemy ‘tutor’, Olgun and Lahahana had practiced during this trip, so she didn’t understand her teacher’s urgency.

“Her, Shaagerd Olgun; your gen is a ‘her’, not an ‘it’. Part of the bonding process is learning that each gen is a unique being, like we are, and they need to be treated with kindness and respect if you want to earn their trust.” He managed to look both kind and stern equally.

The Sha’ir shaagerd came as close to pouting as she would allow herself. “I think maybe I made a mistake in picking that Element.”

Clapping his hand on her shoulder, Ostaad Lahahana smiled at her. “Nonsense, I think you made the best and only real choice you could. After all, you didn’t want Air since that would be playing into your race’s stereotypes,” and here Olgun nodded, “and both Fire and Earth would have only worked when you were either in your up or down moods –don’t look at me like that, my dear, I can tell when your mood changes- and so that only left…”

“Water,” Olgun finished glumly for her mentor. “But she’s just so, so…nice!”

“By the Ancestors, we should banish her then! Such an awful way to be!” Lahahana teased her, and Olgun glared at him while firmly resisting the urge to stick her tongue out at him. “A Maridan was the perfect choice for you. And remember, they can be mellow and calm but are capable of being roused to great anger if provoked, so…don’t provoke her.” He winked at her to take the sting out. “Now, please, as your Ostaad I command you to summon your gen.” Put like that, Olgun could not refuse, and so she began the words to summon her gen.

If anyone else who wasn’t a Sha’ir had heard her, they would have thought Olgun was speaking gibberish – gibberish that invoked the feeling of an ocean wave, a warm campfire, a cooling summer breeze, or walking barefoot in the sand. At least, that was how each of the Elements made her feel, and Lahahana had told her that memories and emotions were tied up in the magic that they wove. Concentrating, lest she summon something that was not her gen, the Guran’nash finished her ritual and with a tiny pop that brought a nice refreshing mist into the cabin her gen appeared hovering in front of her. It almost started the headache up again.

“Thank you for summoning me, Sarvar Olgun,” the Maridan said to her master. “It is a glorious evening, is it not? What can I do for you today?” The gen was only about a foot tall, colored like an ocean wave, and had shaped her body type after Olgun’s as if she was a miniature mirror; according to Ostaad Lahahana, they did that to make their mortal masters feel more comfortable. Granted, when the gen servant helped their Sarvar cast a spell, their form changed into something more suited to the spell - but that was the exception, not the rule. Lahahana said that only those who had visited the Elemental Plane of Ice and Fire had ever truly seen what the gen looked like in their natural form. Olgun did wonder herself how her gen really looked, but knew that she wouldn’t be ready for a trip to that deadly place for a long time to come.

“We have just arrived at our destination, a city called Amol, and I wanted you to accompany me as we travel through the city,” Olgun told her gen servant, trying to remember to speak to the Maridan with respect and not talk to her like a child. I wonder if that’s what people do with me, the Guran’nash mused briefly before shaking her head fiercely. Now was not the time to be thinking about THAT!

“That sounds lovely, Sarvar Olgun, thank you for thinking of me,” the Maridan said grinning, and Olgun realized there was a way she could help them be closer.

“I know you cannot tell me your true name, but what should I call you?” she asked her gen servant. When she had first said ‘true name’ the Maridan’s eyes had lit up for just a second, but then she seemed to pacify herself when Olgun finished her sentence. It was things like that that really drove home that as cute as she looked, the Maridan wasn’t mortal at all.

“How about I call you Sularsh? It means ‘water’ in my language,” the Sha’ir said, and her gen servant clapped her hands gleefully.

“That sounds very nice, my Sarvar. Thank you for the gift of a name,” Sularsh said, and Olgun briefly remembered something her Ostaad had taught in class one day. The reason that the gen willingly allowed themselves to be bonded to mortals was to grow in power, and one way they did that was by being granted additional names. The older and more powerful a gen was –at least among their own kind- the more names they had added to their true name.

“You are most welcome. Why don’t you come ride on my shoulder?” she offered, and the Maridan gratefully accepted. Olgun had thankfully prepared for this, sewing one of the heavier pads she used for her moon cycle into the shoulder of her light grey jacket. It should keep her from being soaked constantly by Sularsh and her constant moisture.

When she turned around, the Sha’ir was slightly displeased to see that everyone was ready and watching her. “Forgive me, honored sheikh, I didn’t mean to keep us all from departing,” Olgun said to Io, blushing in embarrassment. Both Lahahana and Firuzeh smiled at her, to let her know that they themselves had no hard feelings about the delay.

“It is no bother, Shaagerd Olgun; now, if we have all gathered up our things, let us get off this locomotive and get back on our mounts. Firuzeh’s family home awaits.” Io said, with a subdued grin. No matter what, Olgun reminded herself, for him this isn’t just about stopping someone dangerous, this is about stopping his brother. And the only way it seems likely to be able to do that is to kill him. Fratricide; it took most of the joy out of the Guran’nash.

The deaf crew had already unloaded and prepared their mounts for them, and as Olgun climbed up on Aynur she watched as their leader placed a blessing on each of the crew before pressing into their hands a coin. The way it glinted in the moonlight said to the Sha’ir that it was a qiran. Strangely enough, each of the crew seemed more excited by a blessing from a sheikh than they were about the money. I don’t think I will ever truly understand Aryans, she mused.

Lahahana had already settled onto his drake and Firuzeh was trying to rein in her mount, who was prancing around excitedly after being stuck in that locomotive for nearly a day when Io came over and vaulted onto his saddle. “My dear, it has been many years since I’ve set foot in Amol. If you would be so kind as to lead the way to your family’s estate, I would be most appreciative,” the Deva said to Firuzeh, who seemed to swell up at the honor of leading them. Without a word, the alchemist took point and they set off from the locomotive station.

Honestly, Olgun knew that this late at night there shouldn’t be crowds of people out, but she expected to see some late night revelers, or those who had imbibed too much staggering home from taverns. Instead, they barely saw anyone but a few city guards and a couple of clearly wealthy individuals guarded by one of those metal creations, the Clankers Olgun believed they were called. And even then, they were barely given more than a cursory glance. She didn’t expect hostility, but a party consisting of a Deva, an Aryan, an Efreet and her should have inspired some kind of curiosity. “What’s wrong with this picture?” she muttered to herself.

“They have been frightened into not wanting to cause trouble or ask any questions,” Lahahana answered, and Olgun remembered his incredibly sensitive hearing. “These people are not broken –yet- but they have been beaten down. This feels quite wrong.”

“All thanks to my brother,” Io said behind them bitterly. “Yet one more reason why he must be stopped. Firuzeh, my dear, if you could pick up the pace; I have a bad feeling that something is about to happen.” Thankfully, the streets were lit by lots of steam-powered lights from generators on every other block, and so there was little danger of their mounts tripping over something and hurting themselves and their riders. Their lead increased her speed, and the rest of them followed suit.

It took them roughly an hour to get from the locomotive station to Firuzeh’s former home, and 22nd Bell had tolled by the time that they did. When they arrived at the estate, the guards stepped forward to see what they were about, but then their caution changed to delight that they were seeing Firuzeh again. It was obvious that they had served her family for years. One of them asked the alchemist, “Are you here as part of your brother’s entourage?”

“Wait a minute, my brother’s here?” Firuzeh asked incredulously.

The guard nodded yes. “Indeed, and he and his companions are working on something very secretive. Rumor has it that it will help fix this city’s problem.” Olgun wasn’t that surprised that the staff would be gossiping amongst themselves, since as far as she could tell that was the one thing they were all good at, she smirked to herself.

Firuzeh still seemed dazed about hearing her brother was at their home, so Io stepped forward and calmly pulled back his robe’s hood. Both guards exclaimed, “A Deva!” before bowing deeply to him, right hand pressed tightly over their heart. After a long pause, they righted themselves and the first guard asked, “You are what we always imagined a true sheikh to be. Can we show you to the stables and take your mounts, honored Deva? And then, if you’d like, we can take you to where Master Arash and his friends seem to be working.”

“That would be most kind of you, thank you; and then, if you don’t mind, I must visit the water closet. I forgot to go before we left the locomotive,” Io said to them with a soft smile, which seemed to break the spell they all were under. Laughing good-naturedly, the guards waited while the party dismounted and lead them to the stable, where a very sleepy groomsman and his young assistant were soon roused to look after the mounts. Then, the guards led them to the water closet and they all took turns refreshing themselves. I wonder what’s going through Firuzeh’s mind right now, Olgun thought as she washed her hands and dried them off before sprinkling some lavender water on her neck to help wash away the smell of their travels. Sularsh also appreciated the lavender water, giggling softly as the Guran’nash sprinkled some on her as well. The brother Firuzeh’s estranged from is now here at her home; that can’t be a coincidence.

When she emerged from the water closet, Olgun found that Io was speaking to a dusky female who was almost as small as she was, along with what looked like a walking humanoid lizard. “Who are they?” she hissed to Lahahana. She also meant what are they, but didn’t feel like being rude…or getting yet another lecture about manners from her Ostaad.

“The female is a Kunzumah shaman, and her mate is a Bozmajeh-Mard dervish. Apparently in one of his lives, Io spent some time among their races and is still able to converse in their languages,” the Efreet whispered back, which meant that only Firuzeh was close enough to hear it. Thankfully, the Aryan had mostly come out of her daze but still seemed content to remain silent. “And they are Arash’s friends, strange as that may be for Firuzeh to believe,” he said, and the Aryan alchemist nodded her head in agreement. “Now here comes the odd part, from what I overheard: they are all working together to stop Bahram.”

“Really? Who else is here?” Olgun asked skeptically.

“An Aryan female monk and a Sandstrider gadgeteer,” Lahahana finished, and she almost couldn’t believe it. It nearly sounded like a bad joke of some kind.

Before she could ask another question, Io’s head whipped up from conversing with the short woman and the lizard man and he stared back at the center of town. His vision seemed to drift for a moment before he shuddered and excused himself, hurrying back over to where Olgun and the other two were. “Ostaad Lahahana, Shaagerd Olgun, I need you both to come with me,” he told them, and without waiting for a response took them by the hands and pulled them along over to where he had just been. “Forgive me for being so abrupt, Shaman Basma, but I need you and these two to create some kind of barrier. I’m not sure if you’ve ever worked with a Sha’ir before, but their gen servants are slightly familiar to the Elemental powers you possess.”

“Of course, honored sheikh,” the one called Basma said, still looking slightly confused. “But what is going on?”

“I’ll explain after you save us all, but just know that Bahram has just done something bad, something that is so fundamentally wrong that E’laa’hi gave me a warning.” As he continued speaking with the shaman, Olgun felt the hairs on the back of her neck standing on end. Turning around, she could see some kind of sickly pink glow shooting into the sky from the center of the city, creating some sort of wave that was spreading out like ripples in a pond when a stone is cast in. Whatever it was, it felt unnatural, and even Sularsh was hissing like a submerged cat.

“What do you need for us to do?” Basma asked, and Olgun felt a modicum of respect for her. It was clear the shaman had questions, but she was willing to put her trust in someone she had just met until after the crises was dealt with, and that couldn’t have been easy. The Guran’nash knew that she couldn’t have done that.

“You wield a hammer, which means if I’m remembering one of my lives correctly you favor the Elements of Air, Earth, and Fire yes?” The shaman nodded. “Good; Ostaad Lahahana here favors the Element of Air and Shaagerd Olgun favors the Element of Water. If you combine your Earth and Fire with their Air and Water, I’m hoping that it will create enough of a barrier to block out whatever Bahram just did.”

“If you say so, honored sheikh,” Basma replied. Chanting in a language that resembled the one that Olgun used to summon her gen servant, the shaman concentrated for just a few seconds until a small vortex appeared in the air in front of her, and out from it emerged two beings that were barely humanoid. The first looked like a bonfire had grown legs and arms, and the second appeared as a self-contained rockslide. Apparently the Elementals a shaman dealt with didn’t assume a form to make their summoner comfortable, Olgun thought.

“We are here, shaman,” the rockslide said, though how it spoke without vocal cords was a mystery to the Sha’ir. “What would you have of us?”

“I need you to work with these two gen servants and to create a shield over as much area as you can cover,” she commanded them without even a hint of fear in her voice. This was someone who had been practicing their craft for quite a while and was very confident, Olgun admitted with respect.

The Elementals turned to face Olgun’s and Lahahana’s gen servants. “For doing this, and for working with an opposing Element, there is a price.”

“Name it,” Basma said, and whatever it was must have been communicated without words because Olgun heard nothing. Whatever it was, it made the shaman grow pale just for a moment, but she didn’t even hesitate when she said, “I accept. Now, create the barrier and keep us safe.”

“As you command, shaman,” the walking bonfire hissed out, and they came up to Olgun and Lahahana. Both Sha’ir instructed their gen servants to work with the large Elementals, and without a sound they all flew up into the air above the estate. Olgun took turns between watching them and looking back towards the center of the city. Whatever the sickly pink glow was, it was fast approaching them.

The four Elemental beings hovered in the air for just a few seconds before they seemed to clash together in an explosion of white light. When all of their eyes cleared, the Elemental beings were gone and in their place was a multi-hued bubble that was growing larger and encasing the area they were all in. It had barely touched the ground when the sickly pink glow washed over it, hissing and cracking as if it was a living thing and its will had been thwarted. This went on for a few minutes longer as they all huddled inside. Olgun couldn’t help but notice that the bubble hadn’t been able to cover the entire estate, and wondered what had happened to those outside of its protection.

Then, just as quickly as the attack had happened, it stopped and the sickly pink glow dissipated. When it did, the bubble popped as if someone had pricked it with a pin, and the Elementals didn’t reappear. Olgun would wait a bit before summoning Sularsh again, unsure if the experience had drained or wounded her gen servant. “Is anybody hurt?” Io spoke up from the door to what looked like a work room, standing next to an Aryan male with a sword and a pistol drawn, an unarmed Aryan female who stood in some sort of stance, and a Sandstrider looking around nervously.

“We’re all fine,” Olgun said as she made sure that her companions were all right. Whatever price the Elementals had demanded from Basma, it didn’t appear to affect her health, although she appeared rather sad whenever she looked at her Bozmajeh-Mard partner. Then, the sound of bleats came from the entrance to the stables, and they all turned to see two sheep standing there.

“That’s odd,” Firuzeh spoke up, “I didn’t know father kept any sheep.”

“He doesn’t,” the Arash duelist by Io spoke up, and looking at him Olgun concluded he must be Firuzeh’s brother Arash. “He thinks they smell awful and mother was allergic.”

“And why are they wearing the guard’s shirts over their fronts?” Lahahana asked when they heard more bleating from inside the house. Running out just a few seconds later were even more sheep wearing people’s shirts. The last one that came out was wearing a dark green shirt, and everyone that was standing by Io gasped out loud.

“That’s…that’s…that’s Babak’s shirt!” the Sandstrider exclaimed. “How is that possible?”

“It would appear that my brother has turned the entire city of Amol into sheep. We are the only ones that are unscathed,” Io said, and everyone stared about as if they all were hoping this was some sort of shared nightmare and they would all wake up soon. Unfortunately, it would appear that the nightmare was real. “This just means we really can’t fail to take Bahram down. Honored gadgeteer, are you and your companions ready?”

“We are, honored sheikh,” the Sandstrider said with only a minor tremble in his voice.

“Then, let’s head to the Ring and stop this madness once and for all.” With that, they all began to walk towards the center of town where this Ring –a stadium where they dueled, Olgun guessed- was located, to finally put an end to the evil sheikh’s reign of terror.

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