Lost in dreams of her homeland (which she hadn’t seen in at least five years), it took Basma a minute to realize that the pounding she heard wasn’t from the forges ringing out in Ha’il but from her front door. “I’m coming!” she called out, groggily at first but louder the second time, practically shouting it. “Don’t they know that Qazzam are nocturnal?” she muttered only to herself, since there was no one else in her small home. Her partner was diurnal, and they had given each other a quick hug before he headed out the door and she had tried to lay down to get some sleep, unsuccessfully it seemed.
The home they shared was not that small, but since most of the space was taken up by her trade, it could sometimes seem that way, at least to her partner she was sure. Basma wasn’t complaining, since her people were used to small enclosed spaces; having not a lot of room almost made it feel like home. Almost. Scratching her back, the small female made sure to grab her veil and affix it to the back of her head before heading towards the offending entryway and whomever was on the other side. Only one person got to see her naked, as it were, and he was already out and about for his day.
Not that he cares, Basma mused bitterly as she moved the stepstool over in front of the door so she could look out the peephole that her partner Kambiz had installed for her when they bought this place. She knew he loved her, in his own way, but since her race and his weren’t compatible sexually (not that they hadn’t tried, but Bozmajeh-Mard just weren’t soft enough for that), they remained simply as partners. Besides, both their respective races were patriarchal, and he liked having someone to be in charge of -as it were- and she liked having someone male be in charge of her. And, it was no one else’s business but theirs what they did in their home.
The door shook from being pounded on once more, and having had enough of that, Basma screamed through it, “Touch that door one more time and see if I don’t have the wood in the door stab you through the heart!” That did it, and she breathed a sigh of relief that they bought her bluff. She couldn’t make the wood in the door do that; after all, her people didn’t have much experience with calling on the element of Wood, so she wouldn’t even know how to make good on her threat. If it had been made of stone, however, then her threat would have been a viable one.
Shamans such as herself were fairly popular among the poorer population of this fine city, since alchemy was practically a dead science and sheikhs were too high-and-mighty to concern themselves with ‘petty problems’ as one had told her once. Using their magic and their understanding of the elements and the natural world, they could take care of a lot of issues. But, most of her neighbors knew that she was only open for business from sundown to sunrise, and if it was any of them with an emergency, they would have called out their name to her to let her know. That only meant one thing, strangers, which usually meant trouble. Basma stepped up on the stool to see if she was correct.
Putting her eye to the peephole, she peered out to get a good look at the noisemaker. Upon seeing who it was, the female Kunzumah let out a loud sigh before stepping back down, moving the stepstool out of the way, and putting on her fowgh goggles. Without this invention, her people were effectively blind during the day, hence why most of them that had left the shelter of their underground cities adopted a nocturnal lifestyle. It filtered out the bright light that seemed to smother everything it touched and allowed them to function normally. If it hadn’t been for the Elements telling her to come up here, she never would have left her home behind.
Throwing open the door, Basma put her hands on her hips and glared at the two people darkening her doorstep. The second was a Sandstrider and unfamiliar, but the first was giving her that grin that he thought was so charming. It wasn’t, not this time, and she let him know it. “By the Elements, what do you want now Arash? If you were foolish enough to let someone stab you again, you can go bleed out somewhere else. I was just about to go to bed, you know, like normal productive members of society do.”
As usual, the Aryan male just let the sarcasm and disdain roll right off of him. “Basma, my dear, you are looking lovely as ever. Is that a new veil you have on?”
“It’s not, and you know it. Get to the point, duelist, what do you want? I’m very tired, and unlike you I don’t get to party all night and sleep all day. I have to do this thing called a job, you should try it sometime, might do you some good.” Stepping back into the entryway, she let both of the men into her home, since the Sandstrider seemed to be with Arash. “Who’s your friend? And why does he keep staring at me? Never seen a Qazzam before?”
“My name is Yuri, and no I haven’t,” the Sandstrider replied quietly.
At the same time, Arash frowned and said to him, “I thought your people were called the Kutuleh,” confusion evident in his voice.
Rolling her eyes at him, Basma closed the door behind him. “No, that’s what YOUR people call my people, using your language. You never bothered to ask us what we were called.” Turning back towards Arash’s companion, she glared at him. “Did you want to sketch a picture, Sandstrider? It’ll last longer than you eyeballing me.”
She knew that she was nothing special among her kind. Just 4’5” in height, only weighing 120 pounds (her people were slightly dense), skin a charcoal grey and eyes the orange of a molten forge, though of course they couldn’t see that. Basma was only clad in a black silk vest and trousers, but that was because it was much colder in her homeland under the ground and they all had gotten used to it; being up here felt like constantly working in an oven. In her line of work she was always active, so her frame was lean and angular, not curved and soft like those Human women. Not that it mattered to Kambiz, but it did matter to her.
Something about what she said put a bit of iron in the Sandstrider’s backbone, and he drew himself up, now taller than either Basma or Arash. Thankfully, the ceilings were tall since sometimes her partner liked to stretch. “Since you’re such a stickler for what’s proper, Qzaaam, my people’s name for ourselves is Liyudi. Sandstrider is just an obvious and insulting nickname that HIS people,” here he jerked his thumb at Arash, “labelled us with when they first encountered us all those years ago.”
“Oh, by the Elemental Princes,” Arash swore as he threw his hands up in the air. “All right, my ancestors weren’t exactly the most accepting and understanding of people, and on behalf of them I apologize. Now that this little farce is over with, do you want to know why we’ve come to bother you this early in the morning?” Looking around their living space, even though there was no place he could be hiding, the Human said, “That reminds me, where’s Kambiz?”
“He’s probably checking with the latest merchant caravans to see if they need to hire any extra guards,” she told Arash, who elbowed his young friend in the stomach.
“Not only is he a Bozmajeh-Mard, but he’s a dervish as well. You should see the lizard man fight, it’s a thing of terror and beauty all at the same time.” While Basma was proud that her partner’s accomplishments were recognized, she despised the nickname that his people had, though if she was being honest they did look like giant humanoid lizard people. Still, there was no need for Arash to be so rude, and she opened her mouth to admonish him.
Straightening out his robes where Arash’s elbow had roughed them up, the Sandstrider -excuse me, the Liyudi, she admonished herself- beat her to it. “My caravan deals plenty with the Bozmajeh-Mard, and they are an amazing people. Make some of the best bladed weapons around, which fetch a hefty price wherever we trade them. So, since they probably made your grandmother’s shamshir all those many years ago, show a little respect.” She had only just met him, and Basma liked this young man already. Though how he wound up hanging out with a degenerate like Arash was a tale she would like to hear.
“I swear, it’s like I’m talking with two old maids at the well about how their backs hurt and their boobs ache and they haven’t been touched in ages. Jeez! OK, OK, I will try to be nicer, but I make no promises. Fair?” Both Basma and Yuri nodded their heads somewhat reluctantly. “Fine. Now that’s out of the way, once again: would you like to hear why we are bothering you when you’re supposed to be getting your beauty sleep? Not that you need it, my dear.” He gave her a salacious wink.
Basma snorted loudly at that, which caused Yuri to cover his mouth and giggle slightly. “Flattery will get you nowhere with me, Human. Fine, why are you both here?”
Glaring at his companion, as if it was his fault that his ‘charms’ were ineffective, Arash straightened out his shirt and sulked a bit before replying. “We need your help, figuring out a way to be able to defeat a sheikh.” Basma couldn’t help herself and gasped involuntarily. “Yeah, I thought that might get your attention,” he boasted to the Qazzam.
“Let one thing slip to your clients,” Basma muttered to herself as she began to pace back and forth in agitation. Under Human custom, since sheikhs had been touched by the Divine, there was no place that could be barred to them. If they asked to enter a house, a building, a business, they were allowed to enter. Granted, if they committed a crime while in a place they could be charged same as anyone else, but that rarely happened. In Basma’s opinion, that was because most Humans accepted whatever the sheikhs did as divine, even if it was something selfish and horrible, and wouldn’t report any crime committed for fear of angering E’laa’hi.
One of them, a greasy pervert by the name of Bahram, had spotted Basma when she was out gathering ingredients for her remedies and spells not too long ago. Intrigued, since according to him he’d never seen a Kutuleh before, he followed her back to her shop and just strolled in like he owned the place. Having never heard of the Human custom, the Qazzam did what she would have to any intruder in her home: she bound his arms and legs in stone, and summoned a gust of wind to blow him outside like the trash that he was.
Naturally, this offended the sheikh, and once he had gotten free of the bindings (since Basma had only made it temporary and not permanent), Bahram tried to have charges brought against her for assaulting one such as himself. When the city guard arrived, they tried to explain to her that it wasn’t how things were done among their kind, barring a sheikh from entering wherever they pleased. She kindly informed the guard captain that since she had bought the land her home was on and paid her taxes every month like a good citizen, she didn’t give a damn ‘how it was done’, and trespassing was trespassing, holy man or not.
It may have gotten ugly if Kambiz hadn’t gotten home at that time. His skill with his two tabars and temper when someone threatened Basma had a reputation, so the guards let her off with a warning. Once they had left, Bahram had hissed to her that he would make her pay one day for what she had done before storming off to nurse his injured pride, bellowing for his magi to come and take him away from these slums. Kambiz had wanted to follow him and ‘chop him into little steaming piles of shit’, but Basma had asked him not to, not wanting to cause any more of a scene than they already had. Reluctantly, he had agreed.
So when Arash had approached her after he won his duel by Sheathing the Blade for some healing (and since she was the only magical healer open that late and that close to the Ring), he had told her that the cost of healing didn’t matter. “The ‘Honorable’ Sheikh Bahram is paying for this, with his losses from trying to bet I would lose,” he had told Basma during those times he was coherent, and she had confided in him that she too was happy that the sheikh got a bit of a comeuppance. Not so happy that she didn’t charge him, of course, but happy nonetheless.
Her musings were interrupted by her front door banging open, and Kambiz staggering through it, multiple wounds bleeding profusely. “Kambiz!” Basma shouted out, while Yuri and Arash went over to the Bozmajeh-Mard. Putting his arms around them, the two males helped him over to the sofa while the Kunzumah sprinted over to her workshop and gathered up her supplies. She knew that when he came to, Kambiz would be embarrassed he bled all over their furniture, but she would be happy to let him say that as long as he was alive to do so. And that depended on her and her skills.
Her partner was only clad in a red leather harness that went over both of his shoulders and held the straps where he hung his tabars, along with his red trousers. They contrasted nicely with his copper and white scales, which formed a star pattern on his bare chest. The tabars were missing, but his money pouch was still tied around his waist, Basma clinically noticed as she finished grinding up the herbs using the pewter mortar and pestle. This wasn’t a mugging but an attack, and during the day. Whomever it was, they didn’t fear any repercussions from their actions, it was apparent. If they had been caught by the city guard, they would have been fined and received ten lashes across their back for fighting using deadly weapons; if Kambiz died, his assailants would be hung under the noon sun after being starved and dehydrated for seven days.
“No! He’s NOT going to die!” she told herself, blinking furiously to keep the tears from forming. Finally, the paste was the right consistency and color, and she hurried over to her partner’s side and began to rub it into his wounds. He barely made a sound, which meant that he was dangerously close to losing consciousness. That would be especially bad, since this medicine needed the heart pumping blood rapidly through the body and spreading its healing effect throughout the patient. “Don’t you pass out now, you bastard,” Basma told him as she continued to work. “Who’s going to help me reach the things on the top shelves if you do?”
“I thought shamans cast spells,” Yuri asked Arash as they both stood back, not wanting to get in her way.
“They do, my friend, but this poultice that she’s applying will help the Elements do their work. It is also less taxing on Kambiz’s body this way, since less of the healing energy comes from his own reserves.” Arash told Yuri, who nodded slowly as though he didn’t understand the rationale, but wasn’t going to question it any further.
As much as she hated to admit it, Basma was impressed. She had explained the process to the Human duelist when she was patching him up, but she honestly hadn’t thought he was paying attention, much less capable of understanding her explanation. Then, she put all thoughts of Humans and Liyudi aside and focused on opening herself up to the Elements. In a ritual that she had done many times since she had first heard the Calling, she closed her eyes, slowed her breathing, and reached out with her spirit to the powers that were always around her.
Healing was a mixture of three Elements: Earth, which the herbs represented; Water, which the blood from Kambiz’s wound stood in for; and Fire, which was what Basma was about to channel. Thankfully, since her people were so used to the cold, Fire seemed drawn to Qazzam naturally, as if it only wanted to heat them up. Usually, this could be very destructive, but the shaman had challenged herself to master this dangerous Element many years ago, and so it heeded her call. Laying her hands on her partner’s chest, Basma carefully but firmly sent the power of Fire throughout his body, heating up his blood and the poultice.
She heard Yuri gasp, but didn’t let that distract her or cause her to open her eyes. Fire could run out of control if it wasn’t monitored closely. But she knew that the young Liyudi was watching wounds knit themselves closed right before his very eyes. Soon enough, she could sense that the danger had passed, and thanking the Elements for their service, sped her breathing back up to normal and opened her eyes to find her handsome partner staring up at her.
Knowing he needed some real rest, she asked him, “Who did this do you?”
He tried to smile at her, simply whispered one word, and fell asleep. Hearing it, she stood up and turned to face Yuri and Arash, hands clenching. “He said it was Bahram,” she told them in a fierce voice. “All right, I’m in. Let’s stop this son of a bitch once and for all.”