* * *
Although the moon rose bright on the horizon, Asis had difficulty navigating the shadow-filled sand. The Cliffs of Dawn and the great falls stood in the distance. The moon had just cleared the most known landmark for as far as she had ever dared to venture. Asis stopped and looked toward the City of Dawn, then back to the second largest city in the Dawn Consortium; her home.
Master Gahiji made his laziest student train into the night. Asis’s arms ached like she had spent the entire training session practicing with a spear of stone rather than the smooth wood. Her arms were stiff as if they had been cast in gold at the Forges of Dawn. Not that Master Gahiji had stayed awake to oversee his student. He joined the revelers celebrating another day stolen from the fates. Master Gahiji staggered to the training hut and dismissed Asis; her punitive training incomplete. As she made her way home, she moved slower than she would’ve had she not put in the extra time training.
The citizens of city were shouting in raucous laughter. With most of them in attendance of the nightly celebration, Asis was left alone to her thoughts – thoughts as dark as the silhouette of the City of Dawn in the distance. She passed by one of the temples to the Gods, her dark thoughts made their way home. She thought of excuses to stay away from what used to be a welcoming home. Her parents, unable to hide their dissatisfaction in her training, would likely instruct her to do her chores and go to bed. She disliked her parents’ constant reminder of the sacrifices they made to win her a chance to train with Master Gahiji. She couldn’t conclude if she hated the constant reminder or the spear training more.
She knew her parents cared for her. Despite the constant nagging, only parents that truly cared would have even attempted to get their daughter to train with Master Gahiji. Perhaps they care too much, she thought. How many times had they forbade her from gallivanting with Nemr and Fatma? Gallivanting was her parents’ word, not hers. Too many times, she thought with a heavy sigh. Asis cursed the Gods and the ancient traditions that prevented her from moving away. Her time was near, and she clung to the arbitrary date and counted the nights. She knew her dagger skills were sufficient to train young warriors in the towns and villages along the Dawn Road. She could even use what she learned from Master Gahiji to supplement the dagger arts with hunting. She reluctantly admitted, that even the worst student of Master Gahiji was a class above others.
Despite taking her time, Asis had successfully traversed the patchwork avenues of her city, and although she couldn’t see her home, she knew it was not far ahead. The dark thoughts and the musings of her life ceased as if someone had dammed their flow. The hairs on the back of her neck stood on end. She thought she detected movement in the shadows. A primal fear consumed her and she had to remind herself that the monsters of lore simply didn’t exist. Her intuition screamed that she should run, but which way?
It wasn’t like Asis to be frozen with indecision. She left her superfluous spear leaning against Master Gahiji’s hut, but she preferred to have her stone daggers anyway. She slowly reached for her scabbard, but before she could, hands seized her arms and pulled her into the shadows. An arm held her across her chest and a large hand covered her mouth. Her scream devolved to a muffled sob, the hand clamped firmly over her mouth. She tried to flail her legs, to purchase traction against her abductor’s legs, but her training had left her drained. She tried to bite the hand covering her mouth.
“Asis, it is me,” her abductor said in hushed tones. Asis stopped struggling and looked up, her eyes wide.
“Nemr?” she cried, her voice still muffled by his large hand.
She elbowed him in the gut and he staggered back, releasing her.
“Demons take you, Nemr!” she hissed. “I thought a bandit horde had snuck into the city! I’ve heard rumors passed along the Dawn Road.”
Nemr doubled over, hands on his knees gasping for air. “Sorry…” He held a finger aloft and gathered his strength. “Sorry, Asis. I wanted to get to you before you went home.” He stood straight, and clutched his stomach. “Why are you so violent?”
“Me?” Asis’s voice rose to a screech. “I’m not the one abducting his friends.”
Nemr raised his hands in defense of her stabbing, accusatory finger. He tried to step back, but his back was against the wall of someone’s home. “I’m sorry, Asis. I couldn’t wait for you at your house, your parents hate me.”
Asis deflated, adrenaline fading. “Oh, Nemr, they don’t hate you, they’re just…” She waved her hand, searching for the right word. “Uptight,” she concluded.
Nemr rolled his eyes as Asis adjusted her scabbard, waiting for his response.
Nemr nodded. “I wanted to walk with you, if that’s okay…” He smiled, Asis recognized it as sheepishness, but those who didn’t know him may have labeled it something else.
Asis looked down the avenue at where her house was, and decided that her excuse for not going home had just presented himself. “Yes,” she sighed, the terror from earlier dissipated, replaced with a welcoming smile mirroring his own. She studied his face, memorizing shadows that played across his features. She took in his deep blue eyes twinkling in torchlight and the way he looked at her; smile more crooked than the usual smugness.
“Let’s go,” she whispered looking back to her home.
Asis started toward the reverie of the city square, but Nemr grabbed her hand and shook his head. “Let’s sneak past the gates tonight.”
Asis looked at the gates to the city. Her house was close to the gates furthest from the City of Dawn. “If we get caught,” she whispered.
Nemr flashed what she could only describe as a look of arrogance. “We won’t,” he declared.
Next: Fidelity Demands