Några av detaljerna i den berättelsen fortsatte rattla runt i mitt huvud, och jag insåg att de lät bekanta. Detta är Peregrino av Lost Demiurge, aka Andrew Seiple , och är löst knuten till hans Teslaverse, med den strandsatta korsfararen, väl, Korsfarare som i hans Dire Saga böcker.
He walked to the fire, waited until the others arranged themselves in a loose circle. The words of the lost tongue came to him, the words taught him by his father so long ago. "Aequitas Rex."
"Aequitas Rex Saecula," they chorused back.
"Manifestataurus," he commanded, and watched them reach into various pockets or pouches. For his own part, he pulled the amulet free from under the neck of his tunic, watched the tiny silver key glitter in the firelight. "I am the Key."
Semiha offered up a journal, quill set into a sheath on the front. "I am the Codex."
Sabbas merely raised an arm, spreading his fingers wide. "I am the Hand."
The short frank drew a knife, held it up. "I am the Blade."
A rustle, as the youth drew back his sleeve to show a smooth arm and a tattoo of a leaping deer. "I am the Hart."
And the tall Frank pulled a heavy piece of rusted iron from his belt. "I am the Lock."
"Salutem, Rexi." Arzu said, and they replaced their symbols, as he did his own. An ease had come over the camp, as he'd hoped. The argument was forgotten, in the face of their shared duty. "So. I am Arzu. Semiha and Sabbas are known to me. Who are the rest of you?"
"I am Adalric," the short frank offered. "This is my brother Bertmund. We took the cross and are following Emperor Barbarossa on his holy crusade."
Semiha snorted, and Arzu shot her a cautioning look. For once she held her tongue.
The youth, the Hart, cleared his throat. "I am Khazhak."
There was silence for a bit, and Arzu looked him over. Tanned skin, a firm, beaklike nose... "Armenian?" he asked.
"What do you do?"
"Ironic, that," said Bertmund. "A hart who hunts."
Like the others, the flesh gave like wax to a heated poker, and it took barely any effort at all to cut through the demon. Something about the steel made it vulnerable, that was his best guess. He cut it in two, then scooped up the thrashing halves and threw them out into the sunlight, ignoring the foul blood that sprayed over him.
Then he burst out into the light, and cast around, and sure enough, there was rustling near the hatch to the mosque's cellar. He started jogging that way, and immediately the rustling retreated.
The sword's bent again, he noted, and straightened it, moulding it like clay. But he was the son of a smith, and he knew that if he kept doing that, it would eventually snap. No matter how witched it was, metal was still metal. He didn't know what he'd do then. The creatures had stolen away the other weapons from his group while he was sleeping. There wasn't even a dinner knife left in the village.
Arzu lowered his blade. The Frank tried to sheathe his, couldn't get it to fit in his belt. The blade was so wrecked and bent, that it wouldn't slide in.
With a grimace, the Frank grabbed the blade and twisted it with a careless gesture, and Arzu heard gasps behind him as the blade bent back into shape.
"It's the metal here," the Frank explained. "They've witched it somehow."
Arzu sheathed his sword, took a cautious step forward, held out his hand. "No."
"No?" The Frank's relief turned to caution. "What do you..."
"I will do you no harm. Let me see that."
The Frank measured his face for a long moment, then offered the broken blade, hiltfirst. Arzu traced the marks of fingers pressed into the solid hilt, and nodded. He took the hilt, and carefully extended the blade to Bertmund.
Bertmund wrapped a gloved hand around it, and tried. Grunts rose from both of them, as Arzu's arm shook, holding the hilt steady. Bertmund finally released it, and Arzu reversed his grip, offered it hiltfirst back to its owner.
"The metal is not witched," he told him. The wind sighed over the hills, as the Frank stood, uncomprehending.
Tahir took a deep breath, and stomped up to him, staring up into his eyes. The chubby chin trembled, and the kid brushed at brown curls, face reddening.
"What's wrong?" Gahmess dropped down, to the kid's height.
"I want to marry you!" Tahir blurted out.
"I can cook!"
"Please! I want to go with you and hunt lions and drive chariots and fight giants and-"
"Um. Given how this Allah fellow hates fun I'm pretty sure he frowns on men marrying."
"My name's not Tahir. It's Tahira."
"Which means what?" Gahmess scratched his ear.
"I'm a girl! Dad says I have to dress this way so slavers don't take me! I want to marry you and when I come of age I can bear you lots of sons! Seven or eight I'm sure!"
Gahmess rubbed his face. "Yes. See... you're ten, child. I'm not a Greek. "
"Please! I don't... I don't like it here." Gods, now her lip was quivering. "I don't get to do ANYTHING."
Gahmess sighed, and straightened up again. Maybe it was time to move on, after all. This was going to make things awkward. Still...
"Please don't go," Tahira whispered, and hugged his knees. "I... I want to hear more stories."
He sighed again. So few people did these days, and look at all the mess they were in.
She perked up when he stretched a hand down, and ruffled her hair. "Well," he said, deciding to take the easy way out. "Tell you what. Go ask your parents for permission, and if they say yes, we'll talk about an engagement. I can wait four or five years standing on my head." Not that your mother or father would ever agree to it. They'll talk sense into you.
"You promise?" She looked at him, face as fierce as only a young child's can be.
"Promise," he said, and that satisfied her. She ran, practically floating, back towards the camp.
"Sure. Where are the children?"
"They... They ordered... them taken to the... Ebon Manse."
"Ebon Manse... wait. Old black marble pillars? Disturbing ruin near a dry well full of bones? Odd feeling that something ancient and malevolent wants your intestines for a torc?"
"How... you know it?"
"Haven't been THERE for a while. Not since Tiamat got stroppy that one time... Well. Thank you, you've been quite helpful."
"Glory to Allah..."
"Somehow I don't think Allah would approve of you taking children to the Ebon Manse. Really don't get the impression that he's that kind of god, pork-phobia aside and all."
"We... We had to gather ten virgins..."
"Mm. Yep, that's Ebon Manse nonsense. Well, pretty sure I can find it from here." If nothing else, all I have to do is follow the trail they left behind.
A thought struck him. "I'm going to wager that's where my pack is, yes?"
"Yes. Not much in it... A few odds and ends. Old bronze crown. You know, mementos."
"I... yes. The captain... claimed it."
"Well! He can't have that. He's no Kal," Gahmess said.
THAT threw the Astrologer for a loop. He blinked, and before he could shift his mind to the new paradigm, Faisal pressed on. "Performing this rite, scouring all of Anatolia with a demon of plagues, would be the worst possible treason. Dismantle it."
Reversal completed, and the guards were looking back and forth between him and the Astrologer, now. Faisal knew the Astrologer, he wouldn't have given them all the details. By showing more cards than the Astrologer had, he'd made them doubt their leader.
Now to seal the deal. He flicked his eyes toward Anwar, and the white-haired old soldier nodded, catching the cue.
Anwar cleared his throat."Take the prisoners and we'll leave this place. Back to the barracks, and a hot meal."
"Wait!" the Astrologer levelled his staff, and Faisal grinned to himself. Desperation in that voice. Time to end this.
"Enough." Faisal spread his arms, took a step foward. "Come on back to the Tower. We'll sort out an alternative that doesn't end with-"
The Astrologer's gaze snapped to Anwar. "In his garden are flowers, placed marking the hours, beautifully are they arrayed-"
Anwar's voice shook, as he answered. "-In the full of their bloom, is written God's doom, Kismet grinds down all, it is said."
What? Faisal took a step back. What was going on here?
Anwar sighed. "Sorry, my friend." He pulled his sword, aimed it towards Faisal. "Dead or alive?" He asked the Astronomer.
And then realization struck him. "The fucking Hashasheen?" Faisal roared. "You're a FUCKING ASSASSIN?"
"Ah. Yes," Faisal lied. He didn't know what Gahmess meant, but it seemed best to agree. Kal Gahmess, Kal Gahmess... wait, wasn't there an old story? With something like that name in it?
"Well. No matter." Gahmess took his hand away, and looked around at the carnage. "Tell you what, get the children and the womenclear of here, then come back and help me clean up all these bodies. More importantly, their blood. You can tell me what's going on after that's done."
"Blood?" Faisal shuddered, looking at the mess. "That's going to take hours," he whined. He was feeling the price for his earlier adrenaline. He was tired, his muscles ached, and he was feeling every pound that soft living had put on his frame.
"Best done before midnight," Gahmess said. "Otherwise this place will be swarming with hungry ghosts. Blood is power, you know. You don't want to leave a drop of the stuff in the wrong hands. Especially not when there's sorcery involved."
That tone brooked no disagreement, so Faisal left. The children followed him, as he wandered out of the Ebon Manse. Funny, but it no longer seemed so foreboding and menacing as it once had. Almost as if the very ruin was staying quiet, and hoping that the bronzed warrior at the heart of it didn't notice it was there.
Just like that, everything had changed. Faisal shook his head. "Kal Gahmess, Kal Gahmess..." he muttered, a time or two, sounding the word out. No, it was similar, but not quite-
Faisal stopped, so suddenly that the girl bounced off his rump, and sat down. She squawked angrily, but he ignored her as he slapped his palm to his face.
"All Praise to Allah," he whispered, seeing just how complicated life had become. "Gilgamesh."