Vanishing Act

(A/N: What can I say about this story? I was desperate for something different, so I took matters into my own hands. This story is based somewhat loosely on Susan Kay's version—note that I said loosely. Don't expect it to follow that version completely, because it won't. However, there's plently of angst, adventure, and a little bit of ass-kicking. Usual disclaimers apply. I own nothing but my own characters. Thanks to my friend Aathiya Lia for all her encouragement and advice.)

Prologue

"Mirza! Mirza!"

She ran through the night, her dark hair streaming behind her like a shining banner. He followed close behind, at a much slower pace. The knife was still clutched in his hand—unused, but ever present.

She stopped at last, trapped by the ornately carved  high wall. Shaking like a leaf, she turned to him, tears running down her face. Another high-pitched scream ripped from her throat, and he longed to silence it. Not with the knife, but with—what? An apology?

The knife clattered to the ground.

"I'm sorry," he said.

The woman hid her face from him, still crying out to her Creator for help. Her screams were like swords through his body, and he could do nothing to stop her anymore.

"His blood is on your hands forever!"

The princess was now looking up at him, but the face was no longer hers. Instead he saw a very different woman's face.

"Mother…"

"Go to hell where you belong!" she shouted, standing up. "Go, you demon! Go bathe yourself in blood and death!"

He  stood frozen.

"GO NOW!" she screamed.

Erik awoke in a cold sweat. At first he had to remind himself that his mother was a continent away, and that there was no way she could be here in Mazenderan with him. Even if she wanted anything to do with him at all—and he was sure that she did not.

The princess had been brought back to the court and remarried to the vizier's son a month ago, but the event was as fresh on his mind as if it had happened yesterday. No one had seen or heard from her since, and it was assumed that she had thrown herself into her marital duties.

Erik was not so satisfied.

Why should I give a damn? Her blasted husband said that I belonged in a cage—a cage! He deserved to die. I am only sorry that it was not I who delivered the killing blow.

Still, he could at least find out what had happened to her, and her little children.

No. I don't care, damn it! Even if she was unhappy, she would accept help from the Devil before she accepted it from me! As well she should, if she had any common sense.

Oh, Mother, forgive me…forgive me! Please!

"Erik?"

Nadir Khan appeared in the doorway, looking as though he'd been awakened from the dead instead of a normal night's sleep. His caftan hung loosely on him, and Erik was suddenly aware that the events of the last month had taken their toll on him as well.

"I did not mean to wake you, daroga," Erik replied, sitting up in bed, and lighting the candle on his bedside table. "Especially after you were kind enough to invite me to your estate. This has been the only place I have ever found peace, but now even that sanctuary has been violated."

Nadir leaned against the doorframe. "What do you mean?"

"Nothing, daroga. Go to sleep," Erik snapped.

"Erik, for the love of Allah, won't you tell me? I am your friend, am I not?"

"Yes, you are, though I can't imagine why," Erik replied waspishly. "Still, it isn't without dramatic irony. And I do love drama. If you must know, I dreamed about that blasted princess again. I will hear her screams until I die, daroga."

"There's nothing you can do about her," Nadir responded quietly. "You must forget her, Erik." The light from the candle flickered, accentuating the shadows on his face.

Nothing? I think not, daroga. Did you not once say that you believed I could do anything I said that I could? I have never accepted defeat!

"I cannot," Erik replied. "Oh, don't look at me that way, daroga! I am not in love with her. I don't even know the woman. But I am interested in her fate…and you know that very little gets in the way of my finding out things I wish to know."

A smile twitched at the corners of Nadir's mouth. "I pity the fool that tries to stop you!"

"Then you'll help?"

Nadir sighed. "Do you even have to ask? But I warn you, Erik, if your curiosity is noticed by the wrong people—"

"I will deal with that when the time comes. Do you not think me worthy of the challenge?"

"If it were just you against the shah, I would say yes," Nadir replied. "But he has many followers quicker with a knife than brains, and there are quite a lot of them."

"Never mind. That will not stop me from finding out what I wish to know."

"Oh, very well. Will you be able to sleep now, Erik?" He moved to blow out the candle.

Erik hesitated. "I believe so, daroga. Just…?"

"What?"

"Leave the candle burning, please. I suddenly have no wish to be surrounded by darkness."

                                                                ************************************

Nadir finished saddling the horses just as Erik emerged from the house, clad in his usual black robes.  The morning sun was just rising, casting everything in an orange hue.

He paused in the doorway, taking in the sights and sounds of the early morning. The steam was just beginning to lift off the ground, creating a haze around Nadir's estate. It was as though nature itself wished to protect this safe haven from the outside world.

"You are ready, then?" Nadir asked, turning to him. Erik's cool darkness contrasted sharply with the bright colors of the Mazenderan dawn.

"No, daroga, I simply wished to look at the horses for a few hours," Erik replied sarcastically, somewhat caught off guard. He had not thought that Nadir had even heard him. "What did you think?"

"Very well, then. Let us go back and deal with your little mercy mission."

"Daroga…."

"Yes, Erik?"

"If you tell anyone about our conversation last night, I'll kill you." Behind his mask, Erik's facetious smile was all too apparent.

"I would expect no less," Nadir replied with a grin, spurring his horse. Erik followed suit, and they rode off.