Padeshahi (the Kingdom)

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Basma's Story III

Everyone was paired up as best they could on the mounts that were available. Yuri was riding by himself on a camel that Arash’s father had been looking after as a favor for a friend, since he was carrying all of the parts of the device he’d built to take down Bahram…not that anyone but him understood it. Otherwise, it was Firuzeh and Hengameh on one horse, Arash and Io on the other, the Efreet and Kambiz on the drake, and Basma was riding on the mountain pony with the Djinn-touched. I think they said her name was Olgun, the shaman thought.

She realized she was trying not to think about what had just happened: the spell that the evil sheikh had cast on the city of Amol that turned everyone except them into sheep, the fact that their group had expanded with a real sheikh –and a Deva to boot- and two Sha’ir along with Arash’s estranged sister, and that they were heading towards what could be their downfall…or their salvation. All of that was better than thinking about what she was trying to avoid.

Over and over, Basma heard in her head what the Elementals had asked of her, the price they had demanded for their help in forming the shield that had saved them from the nefarious spell. Was it too high a price? The shaman stared forlornly at the back of her partner’s head, knowing that she should have at least talked it over with Kambiz before making her decision. Not that it mattered, really. She was approaching the mid-point of her life, and he was the only one she loved - even though they were incompatible in that way. It wasn’t like she would really miss being able to conceive, since it had never been in the cards for them in the first place.

Why had that been the price the Elementals had wanted paid? Basma just didn’t understand it. All of her life as a shaman, she had been respectful of all of the Elements, even the ones that she had no power over. It couldn’t have been because they were feeling petty or spiteful; being immortal, she hoped that those beings were above such concerns. There must be a reason they asked that of their faithful servant…until a thought occurred to her. Maybe this was a test, and they just wanted to see how devoted a shaman she was or how badly she had wanted them to work with their opposing Elements. That would make a lot more sense to her than the Elements wanting her to become barren, which she may not even be. After all, it wasn’t like she could really test it out, could she? Upon deciding that, Basma finally began to relax.

“Whatever you just figured out, thank you,” the Djinn-touched turned and said from her place holding the reins in front of Basma.

“I’m sorry, what do you mean?” the Qazzam leaned forward and asked her fellow rider.

“You were worked up about something and holding me so tight that I could barely breathe; so, whatever it was that was bothering you that you dealt with, thank you. My ribs appreciate it,” the diminutive Sha’ir replied drolly, and Basma eased up on her grip around her companion. She hadn’t realized she was that tensed up, but it made sense. The shaman was just glad she hadn’t caused her fellow rider any damage or made them crash in their flight towards the Ring. That would have definitely made things a whole lot worse.

It took them all around a half-hour to arrive at the center of town but as they approached it, they heard some weird kind of wordless chanting that rose and fell every few minutes. It actually seemed to make the steam-powered street lights dim and brighten in response, which made no scientific sense but was frightening nevertheless. “Anyone know what that is?” Arash asked from the back of Io’s horse.

“Whatever it is, it isn’t Enochian or any language I’ve encountered,” the Deva answered him, which made Basma feel very uncomfortable. Even though she had no idea what ‘Enochian’ was, as many lives as the Deva had lived through and as many languages as he knew, the thought of there being one he hadn’t heard before wasn’t reassuring in the slightest.

Without discussing it, they all slowed their mounts down to a steady trot as they got closer and closer to the chanting. None of them wanted to rush in and potentially ruin the element of surprise. “Do you think he knows we escaped his spell?” Kambiz hissed.

“Unsure, but unlikely. If he did, I imagine he’d have unleashed something else even nastier at us,” Io responded. “Thank E’laa’hi we’re not omniscient,” he said softly, and everyone nodded their heads in agreement.

“Forgiveness, honored sheikh, but I doubt the Divine has much to do with what your brother is attempting,” the Efreet said from in front of Kambiz, and the Bozmajeh-Mard spit to the side in disgust at what the supposed sheikh was doing. As if he could feel her concern, he looked back at Basma and waited for her to smile and wave at him before turning back around. Though the smile was false, the concern was genuine, and the shaman didn’t want her partner worried over something that couldn’t be fixed right now. Better he keep his focus on doing what he did best: protecting her, and carving a swath through their enemies.

As they rounded a building, they all finally got their look at who was doing all of the chanting. Spread out and encircling the Ring were people holding hands. Taking a closer look, Basma gasped. They weren’t just random people in the circle. She recognized the two young boys who had helped her carry Kambiz’s tabars home, and their neighbors who had kept offering her assistance when she went looking for her partner’s weapons. From the noises that Arash, Yuri and Hengameh were making, they too recognized others. “Why them?” she said out loud.

“Because they helped us,” Arash said bitterly. “All of these people have come into contact with us at some point and assisted us, and Bahram is punishing them for that.”

“But what is he making them do?” Olgun asked.

“He’s draining something from them,” Yuri said slowly in disbelief, and Basma looked at the people once again. Sure enough, shooting out from the center of their chests was a beam of bright white light that darkened the further away it got from each person and the closer it got to the Ring, which seemed to pulse and undulate if it was stared at long enough. “If I had to guess, I would say he was using it as power of some kind,” the Liyudi continued.

As they watched, someone dressed all in brown –a clerk of some kind, Basma supposed- fell to his knees. The people on either side of him didn’t let go of his hands or try to help him up, and in a few seconds his head slumped forward and the beam from his chest dissipated. “He…he killed him,” Hengameh said. “He was the clerk in the Sassanid Library!”

“This must stop,” Kambiz growled out as he leapt from the back of the drake and stomped up to one of the people, an elderly neighbor of theirs who sometimes brought Basma blackberry tea as thanks for her poultices and remedies. The Bozmajeh-Mard grabbed the woman by the shoulders and tried to pull her away. He strained for a second, and then let out a yelp of pain and let her go. The shaman couldn’t recall her partner ever yelling out when he was hurt, and she had healed him from plenty of dangerous wounds. When he turned to face them, he held out his hands and Basma understood why he had yelped. The dervish’s hands were raw and covered in ice. Unlike all of them, his race was actually cold-blooded and lower temperatures affected him more severely. “She’s….so….cold…” he stammered out.

“Basma, if you would be so kind as to see if your Elemental magic could somehow break the connection, I will see to your partner’s injuries,” Io said to her. At first, it made no sense why he wouldn’t try to interfere with the spell while she healed her love’s wounds, but then Basma figured out his reasoning. Since they had to believe that Bahram didn’t know they had survived the spell, they didn’t want to alert him by divine magic cancelling out his evil magic; it made more sense for him to attend to Kambiz and for her to try her shaman abilities.

Hopping off Olgun’s mountain pony, Basma reached into her belt pouch and prepared herself mentally. She had just the thing –she hoped- to help her neighbor out. After she walked up to the spellbound woman, but without touching her, the shaman sprinkled some ground up yarrow and aloe over the older woman’s shoulders and chanted for just a few seconds in her native tongue. Then with a deep breath, she called upon the Element of fire and channeled it through her hands, almost like what she had done with Kambiz just this morning. Once her hands seemed wreathed in flames, the shaman grabbed the woman by the shoulders and pulled.

It almost seemed like something malevolent fought her for control of the woman; then, the power of the Elements won out and Basma was able to pull her neighbor out of the circle and back a few steps, with the woman seemingly asleep the whole time. The Qazzam was ecstatic for just a second –since the herbs she had used help stop any damage- until she looked up. The clerk that they hadn’t been able to save had become a frozen statue, and he seemed to crumble into a million pieces right before their eyes. The people that had been on either side of him stepped right over him and clasped hands, and the ones who had been aside the elderly woman did the same thing. “What good did I do?” the shaman said morosely to herself.

“Plenty, my dear. Take a closer look at the circle,” Io said from behind her, leaving Kambiz flexing his clawed hands and seeming to marvel at how well they felt.

Reluctantly, Basma did as the Deva had requested. Once she spotted it, she gave out a little laugh of relief. “They’re all pulled a little tighter. We don’t have to necessarily rescue all of them, we just have to…”

“…get enough out that the circle collapses,” Io finished, sharing a grin with her. “Can you repeat what you just did with the older woman?” he asked Basma.

She shook her head no. “Unfortunately, that’s one of those abilities that I can only perform once a day.” Io looked crestfallen, until Basma snapped her fingers when a sudden thought occurred to her. “However, I do wonder if putting an Element in front of the beam would safely break the connection, since it would be pure and not this profane magic.”

“It’s worth a shot,” Io said, looking relieved. “Ostaad Lahahana, Shaagerd Olgun, would you come over here please?” The Efreet and the Djinn-touched left off staring impotently at the circle and hastened over to the Deva and the Qazzam. “I know it hasn’t been very long, but could you both summon your gen servants? The honored shaman may have an idea.”

“Will it result in our gen servants disappearing again?” Olgun muttered derisively before her Efreet teacher grumbled a warning. “My…apologies, honored shaman. Please, tell us what we can do to help.” The Djinn-touched looked like she had just bit into a Gojeh Sabz without any salt to offset the sourness. Basma couldn’t help but smile, but tried her best to wipe it away before answering the bitter Sha’ir. She didn’t want to humiliate Olgun. It had been many years for her, but the Qazzam remembered trying her best to please her teacher as well.

“I don’t believe so, honored Sha’ir. I’ll admit, I don’t know much about what you do, but can your gen servants channel a small amount of their pure Element as a temporary shield?”

“Yes, they can honored shaman,” the Efreet answered her. “And it won’t cause them any harm,” he finished with a glare at his student, who did her best to look contrite.

“Good. Then, I propose we use our Elemental beings to block a few of the beams that are emitting from the people in the circle. Then, when they stop, some of our companions can grab them and pull them back. Once we get enough of them out of the circle, it should collapse.” Basma looked at them both, and they nodded their agreement. “Then, let’s begin,” she said.

“What about our hands? Won’t they suffer from how cold the people are, since it doesn’t seem like the effect wears off instantaneously?” Hengameh asked.

“I’ve got a solution. It’s a paste that should heat your hands without causing damage to them or to the people you grab; just make sure you see me to get it cleaned off, since only an oil I have will do the trick,” Firuzeh said as she started rummaging through her bandoleer of potions and vials.

“What’s in it?” Arash asked suspiciously.

“It’s a 4-(Butoxymethyl)-2-methoxy-phenol solution, if that helps,” the alchemist shot back to her brother, who stood there looking confused. Basma hid her grin behind her hand.

“Well…all right then,” he conceded gracelessly, and now it was Firuzeh’s turn to hide her own grin. Basma met the other woman’s eyes and they shared a wink. While she didn’t know Arash’s sister, the shaman had a feeling she would like her intelligence and feisty attitude.

Now that she had satisfied her brother’s curiosity, Firuzeh went around to him, Hengameh and Kambiz and poured the heating solution onto their hands. It made sense that Yuri wasn’t included, since nobody but him could put the device together and no one wanted to risk his hands being damaged. She instructed them to slowly rub their hand together, and to be ready for when the three Elemental wielders put their temporary shields up since once it was activated it would only provide heat for at most 30 seconds. That should be plenty of time, Basma reasoned; for if it isn’t, something’s gone horribly wrong and it won’t matter anyway.

A gentle cough from Io reminded the shaman that she had her own task to attend to. Turning around while blushing slightly, Basma returned the smile the Deva gave her and focused her attention on what her companions were doing. The Efreet –whose name she couldn’t recall, only remembering that it was long- had summoned his gen servant, a small Air Elemental shaped liked him and composed of wispy storm clouds. Next to him Olgun did the same, calling into being her gen servant, a small Water Elemental with a form just like the Djinn-touched only composed of deep ocean waves.

But, the thought of summoning either the Fire or Earth Elemental again made Basma very uncomfortable. After all, she didn’t want them to test her faith once more nor think about the ‘price’ they had demanded. So instead, she summoned an Air Elemental. Besides, they didn’t need to combine the Elementals, so it shouldn’t matter if she had the same Element as the Efreet. However, when it appeared from the small portal she opened to the Elemental Plane of Ice and Fire shaped like a tornado with arms, it crossed those arms and stared down at her. She didn’t even get a chance to speak before it did. “I know why you summoned me, shaman; but I will do nothing for you until you admit the truth of what my brethren asked of you earlier.”

“What…what do you mean?” she stuttered as both the Sha’ir and Io waited for her. “They just did that as some kind of test, right? To see how devoted a shaman I am?” Sweat began to bead upon her forehead.

“You know it was not. Admit it, or I shall return to my plane and I shall place a censure on you.” Now the shaman really began to sweat. A censure was when an Element determined that a shaman was not working to promote their interests but for selfish reasons, and it stayed in place for a minimum of three days depending on the violation. She had heard tales of censures lasting a year and a day or longer, and none of those were a viable option right now.

Making sure her veil was still on straight –since she was about to be emotionally naked in front of these strangers, the last thing she wanted was to be physically naked as well- Basma swallowed a few times, her throat suddenly parched. Taking a deep breath, but determined to keep her voice as quiet as she could, the shaman said, “I gave up my ability to bear children.”

“Speak up, shaman; we need to know that you are willing to tell others the price you paid before we will believe that you know it to be true.” Its voice was like a haboob’s wrath.

Swallowing once more, Basma raised her voice so the Sha’ir and the sheikh could hear her. The Elemental hadn’t said she needed to shout it or to tell her partner, so she was going to shame herself in front of as few people as possible. This time, she wouldn’t stutter. “I am barren now; that’s the price I paid.” Olgun appeared confused, like she didn’t understand why anyone would want children, while the Efreet actually gave out a little shocked gasp. But it was the tear drops that slid down Io’s cheeks that hurt the most. Then the Qazzam remembered the legends she had heard about his kind, that they were incapable of reproducing. Out of the three of them there, only the Deva could relate to the pain the shaman was going through.

“The price has been paid and the price has been acknowledged. I am at your service, my summoner,” the Air Elemental said with its voice now like a summer gale as it spun in the air above her, and it was all Basma could do not to slump down. But now was not the time for self-pity, and the shaman squared her shoulders and stood up straight.

“Create a shield to block the beam coming from the young man over there,” she commanded while pointing out one of the young boys that had helped her earlier. Her Elemental bowed to her and went over to the young boy, and Arash followed behind it. The shaman could see that Olgun and the Efreet had spread themselves out and were followed by Kambiz and Hengameh, done rubbing their hands together and ready to leap into action. Even though she didn’t have to speak to her Elemental, only needing to think what she wanted done, Basma felt like shouting anyway. “Now!” she commanded the Air Elemental, and it created a shield of hardened wind before shoving it in front of the beam coming from the young man’s chest.

Both Sha’ir did the same with their gen servants, and thankfully it worked. The beams stopped being emitted from the three people that were shielded once they came in contact with the shields, and the three companions who had been tasked with pulling them out of the group were able to do their part. Then, they did it again to the people next to those who they had just freed. Basma watched with satisfaction as the circle was unable to stay connected, and all of the people collapsed down where they were, all seemingly asleep. All of the heroes –since that was what they were, Basma determined- let out a mighty cheer of victory.

“We did it, dear heart!” Kambiz raced over to pick Basma up after he had cleaned his hands of the solution with Firuzeh’s oil. “I am so proud of you,” he said as he put her down and they nuzzled their noses –well, her nose and his snout- affectionately as they liked to do.

“There’s something I need to tell you,” Basma started to say, but was interrupted by a shout from Yuri. Looking past Kambiz, who had turned around to see what was wrong, the shaman saw that the Ring no longer pulsed and undulated. But what had the gadgeteer concerned was the scores of magi running from the building, falchions held high as they charged towards them. “Maybe you should deal with that first, my love,” she told her partner, who turned to kiss her forehead gently before turning back to face this new threat. The dervish drew his tabars and began to howl, working himself up into a rage.

When the first magi reached the Bozmajeh-Mard, Kambiz didn’t even wait for his opponent to swing his massive sword. Instead, the dervish spun around him, his axes carving through his foe as a hot knife through butter. The magi seemed stunned that his innards were spilling out of him, but his confusion didn’t last as Kambiz placed his tabars around the magi’s neck and drew his weapons towards him, savagely decapitating him. His battle skill was both terrifying and exhilarating, Basma thought as she watched her partner at work.

All around them the other heroes were fighting, but she only had eyes for her love. Then, when Kambiz was facing off against two burly magi and managing to hold them at bay, a third slipped around behind the Bozmajeh-Mard and raised his falchion high above him. “Kambiz, behind you!” she shouted out, but the sounds of battle made it difficult to tell if he had heard her. At the last second, before the blade could connect with him, the dervish slid to the right and Basma watched at the magi cleaved one of his fellows in twain. She whooped with glee as Kambiz turned to cut open the sneaky magi’s back, severing his spinal cord and dropping him helplessly to the ground to bleed out. The dervish was so overcome with battle lust that he took his eyes off of the other magi he had been fighting for only a few seconds, but it was enough. Basma could only watch in horror as the magi shoved his falchion through Kambiz’s back and out his chest. As the murderer pulled his weapon out, Kambiz dropped to his knees dejectedly and let go of his tabars from hands that had probably went numb.

It was too much. With a howl of fury, Basma drew her hammer and ran across the blood soaked ground, avoiding the people that had formerly been in the circle. The magi looked up as she charged, readying his weapon again and giving her a look of disgust as if he didn’t consider her much of a threat. That look faded as the shaman leapt through the air and crushed the magi’s skull to bloody pieces with her hammer. The hammer that Kambiz had forged for her, to keep her safe. She wiped the face of the hammer off on the magi’s robes and spit on him. Then, wasting no more time on that filth, she turned towards Kambiz.

His wounds were too much for her healing ability, and she took his clawed hand in hers as she called out for Io. The fighting had just ended, and apart from some cuts and other wounds her companions seemed to be all right. Upon hearing her, the Deva raced to her side. “Do something, please! I love him!” she pleaded with the sheikh as he knelt next to her.

He ran his eyes over Kambiz twice before raising his gaze and meeting her tear-soaked one. “I’m so sorry, my dear. Even sheikhs can’t cheat death.” Basma didn’t want to believe what he said, and tried rummaging through her pack with one hand, unwilling to let go of Kambiz to search with two. She had to have some kind of spell that would cure her partner, she must have. He didn’t deserve this, didn’t deserve to die for fighting against Bahram’s forces.

“It’s all right…my love,” Kambiz wheezed out, and Basma stopped what she was doing to face him. “I know….that I was…victorious against…my foes. And,” here he coughed up blood. “I got to…see you…bloody your hammer. Well…done.”

“Please don’t leave me,” she cried out. “I don’t want to be alone. Not again!”

“We all…must leave…one day, dear heart. But, at least…I died…in battle. And, I am…not alone,” he told her, his voice growing weaker by the second.

A’habak’a,” she whispered to him, bathing his chest in her tears.

Doostet daaram,” the Bozmajeh-Mard said back to her before his head dropped against the ground and turned to the side. Basma stayed like that with her head bent down and sobbing, until she felt a warm hand on her shoulder. Turning, she saw Io crying as well, holding out his arms to her. She didn’t want comfort, she didn’t want to be pacified, she didn’t…next thing she knew, she had leaned forward and let the Deva wrap his arms around her as she soaked his robes with her tears. No one said anything, none of the companions made a sound; they just all let her have her grief until it had run its course. It wasn’t completely gone, obviously, but Basma had it under control enough that they could still set out for what they came to do.

“If you can, my dear, we need to get into the Ring so we can end this,” Io said softly to her as she sat back and wiped her face the best she could before realizing it was pointless.

Sniffling a few times, she gratefully took a handkerchief from Arash and blew her nose before standing up. “Yes, I’m ready. We should get in there and protect Yuri while he sets up the device.” Reaching down to cross his arms over his chest, Basma calmly said the words that summoned a Fire Elemental before she asked that it release Kambiz’s spirit in flames. It nodded to her and did as she asked, quickly consuming the body until it was only ashes. The shaman took some of the ashes and marked her cheeks with the sign of mourning, knowing her tears would turn the ash into mud. Then, she summoned back to her the Air Elemental and scattered her love’s ashes to the winds before release them both and picking up the dervish’s weapons. It was time to finally end this: for those who had been sacrificed, for Amol, and for Kambiz.

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