A/N: Chapter one, revised, again. Many thanks to Kara, my great beta-she's helped with the story progression and with the story's flow a lot, even though it's just the first chapter.
In other news, I'm just going to yank all of the original a/n's out since the story won't follow the original's chapter progression quite to the T. It'd be kind of awkward, no? There's a lot stocked up to happen, so please enjoy! I plan to get out at least a chapter a month, so please be patient.
Disclaimer: The Farsala Trilogy and all associated characters, settings, and plot are exclusive property of Hilari Bell and her publishers. I do not make any sort of monetary gain from this fanfiction, nor is this fanfiction meant to affect Bell's original work negatively in any way.
Maybe, Kavi reflected, this was not a good idea. He had been traveling in the general direction of the Badlands from Setesafon for a few weeks now, and he had to wonder whether the Suud would still welcome him into the desert after his absence for the past few years. But truly, he had no choice—he had to see the deghass. Or, he mused, the Lord of Lightning.
But, even as he reached to final cursed cliff he would have to descend, his amusement faded. It didn't help that as soon as he began the treacherous path, his nerves prickled with a sense that he was being watched—and the eyes were not friendly.
The desert had been in chaos for a few months now. Suud rebels had been slaughtering the foolhardy miners that entered the desert, and it was unclear whether or not the Suud were helping them or restraining them—there was no one who could report back, after all. The unrest had started even before Kavi had given the gift of metal to the desert people, but even so, he couldn't help but feel as if part of this mutiny had been his fault. Regardless, those who stepped into the desert never came back.
But even as that was, the fools who pursued the mythical superior ore continued to travel into the desert. A few miners went missing, which had been normal, until the few escalated to more than fifty lost traders, leading to the only conclusion: the desert was unsafe for any to travel. So, because no one else with the authority to hold any sort of diplomacy with the Suud could be spared, Kavi was chosen—against his own will, really—to go and find some sort of compromise that didn't involve killing Farsalans.
With a steadying breath, he looked over the edge of the cliff that divided Farsala and the Badlands, to find the dizzying trail below, almost hidden in the setting sun's shadow. Although he had a map this time around, he still couldn't quite believe that he had descended it once before, albeit four years ago—almost five now. His twenty-four years weighed down on him as he inched onto the thinner side of the trail, before stepping carefully quick until the path widened and he could breathe. It seemed narrower; had the desert eroded it away? Or was he just fatter now?
Kavi snorted at himself. A fatter target.
He briefly questioned his sanity in visiting the Suud alone with nay but a dagger, fresh clothes, and a writing kit to report in his pack. After all, what was the chance of a crippled man making it out of the desert alive with a peace treaty in hand while other, healthier and whole traders in groups had gone missing? And with winter coming on, no less? At least the last time he had been to the desert, Duckie had accompanied him.
The memory made Kavi wince from the stab of loss. The stubborn mule had been careless. It hurt to remember that incident, but he was reminded of it everywhere he traveled. No one would be so rude to ask him openly about Duckie, but the faces that inquired about the mule's absence were enough to make him feel horribly in the center of attention, even after two years. Duckie had been old, too old, to be playing with the ducks. One misplaced foot had told it all—Duckie would heal, but not completely. It would hurt every Flame-taken moment, even worse than Kavi's own crippled hand. So, even though he was sorely tempted by those who had offered to take care of the mule, Kavi did the merciful thing and speared her through.
An arrow thudded at his feet at the next step he was going to take. The path crumbled away in front of him, creating a large, jagged hole less than a hand span away from his feet. He scrambled backwards, giving himself a buffer from the unstable cliff path.
Fear was Kavi's first reaction, but relief was in quick succession. Even if the arrow had been meant for him, he would be dead if he had taken that step and fallen. Plus, he knew how fast the Suud were with bows—a second arrow would have struck him by now. He had been right about the cliff path, and someone had saved him from it.
"Wait there!" A strangely familiar voice called out to him. A strangely familiar feminine voice, or rather, a voice that belonged to the very girl he had been seeking.
"Where do you think I could go?" he retorted easily to the deghass. It had been a long time since anyone had really tried commanding him. The ex-slave deghans and deghasses couldn't talk back to him, or more accurately, they were too afraid of being sent back to the Hrum. Honestly, Kavi had been thinking that they would start demanding their noble status back, but, he mused, they didn't stand a chance against the peasants who were now armed and ready to fight back, courtesy of Commander Jiaan.
Besides, Kavi was promptly surprised out of his thoughts—and wits—when Soraya's face appeared from the ledge. She swung up easily, as if she were used to climbing unstable cliffs, clearly enjoying his reaction to her sudden presence, Flame take her. He was trying not to gape, which was a trying task, considering the circumstances. Almost as suddenly, he felt himself take stock of the differences this Soraya was from the one he had last seen, two years ago in a chance meeting outside of Setesafon. He shouldn't be surprised at anything, Kavi amended, not after seeing her as a slave in the Hrum camp.
Soraya was calm. Comfortable. He could go as far as to say that she was… elegant. Even though her clothes had no overstuffed jewels and heavy silks, confidence radiated from her and made what she wore as fitting as those had been on a deghass—something she wasn't anymore, he realized. It was a white robe that wrapped around her like a simple shift, connecting at the shoulder and ending right above her knees to thankfully offer her more modesty than other Suud women. She had kept her hair short, just below her ears, which was probably the only unfeminine part of her. This Soraya wasn't so bad, he realized. It lacked even the residual snobbishness from before. And with sudden recollection, Kavi was reminded of Maok. She was like Maok.
Putting himself back together from the shock, Kavi closed his mouth. "And how did you get up here?" It was a stupid question, really. Kavi had no doubt she had used the Suud's magic.
And apparently, Soraya knew the same as she scowled at him. Ah. Some of the old spirit. "I spoke to the rock's shilshadu."
Kavi suppressed a chuckle from his next thought, but said it aloud anyway. "So you're the Stone Lord now?" Obviously, he couldn't keep the amusement out of his voice. Somehow he knew that this meeting should have been much more solemn, but he couldn't help reverting back to old habits.
The scowl turned into a glare, reminding Kavi that she was, for the most part, the only person who could get him to the Suud unscathed. He shut up, and she continued, "Are you ready to climb down?"
Kavi suppressed what would've been a well-timed snort. Of course, only she would assume that he could do something so seemingly impossible. However, to question her would do a fool justice. Yet ironically, to blindly step to unstable rock would do a fool even more justice—with death.
"Well? Are you coming or not?" Contrary to what she regularly would have done, Kavi was sure, she had waited for him to answer. "I won't wait until the night falls for you to move."
A thousand retorts leapt to Kavi's tongue, but he chose the mildest. "After you." She glared at him ferociously, then, without a hesitant bone in her body, swung her legs off of the ledge, and stepped onto one of the aforementioned unstable rocks. Instead of caving in, the rock held her weight, Kavi observed. He was still surprised, even though he knew of the Suud's magic. It seemed that he couldn't really understand it, being away from the supernatural for so long. It was probably this reason why he was so jerky in his movements to follow her. She wouldn't let him die, he knew, even though she would never admit it in so many words. But he still hesitated. Doing something one was almost certain resulted in death went against almost every instinct in Kavi's body.
But, in the end, he grabbed his pack, and secured it tightly to his back. Then without another thought to intimidate him from taking action, he, too swung his legs off of the ledge and onto the exact same niche the deghass had. It held. Reassured, he put his other foot down, and at last, let go of the only stable ledge within his reach. It helped that the cliff wasn't a sheer wall, but it was still a long drop.
He almost sent himself plummeting to his death when a hand took his right foot. He looked down—it was the girl's. "I can't talk to it to make the whole place steady," she explained, though her tone held no sympathy, only a certain coolness, the strength and hardness of stone.
Kavi sighed. It would be harder for two people, it seemed. It didn't help that his crippled hand couldn't even hold a pen, much less a cliff face. Still, it clung to the crevices in the jagged rock for some semblance of balance.
Holding his breath, Kavi lifted his foot from the niche. The hand didn't pause, and he was guided lower. Then his other foot, as his hands followed the trail. He made do with an awkward crab's walk, for his crippled hand soon couldn't handle the strain, and he was forced to lean on the cliff itself for support. Then finally, he brought his foot down and it touched sand. They had made it down alive.
Kavi dislodged himself from the cliff face, then turned around as he massaged his taxed left arm. He was abruptly faced with spears to his neck, which were almost immediately pushed out of the way by his companion's hand. He backed away carefully as Soraya took her place in front of him, speaking angrily in Suud to the group of three men that had clustered there. Kavi, for one, was not fluent in the language, so he could not understand what she was saying because of her speed, and, simply because of the vocabulary that she used. But he got the main gist of the message: I told you to stay at camp, you blockheads! Somewhere in the middle of her heated conversation—he hadn't really listened due to his lack of knowledge of the language—he realized that she commanded them. It was in every posture she took, and the respect they gave her as they bowed their heads.
However, throughout the whole speech, her voice had remained as quiet as the desert's calm winds. Then with a final snap, she changed her tone, giving orders. It seemed that it was a trait her family possessed—Jiaan certainly didn't mince words in the letters they had exchanged on Farsala's welfare.
He was abruptly addressed by the deghass, obvious displeasure emanating from her. "Give one of them your pack. They deserve some weight." Kavi couldn't say he didn't want to comply; after all, he had just climbed down a cliff with the thing on his back, yet he pitied the heavily robed men. The sunlight was still there, but it most of it was still disappearing on the horizon. It would be a bother for them to have to take the pack right then, and still, Kavi didn't want to be in their debt, even if the she-bitch (of which the deghass still proved to be) said that it was fine.
He made no reply, deigning to keep the pack on his shoulders. She did not insist, and it was left in silence as one of the men started leading the way. They followed in a disorganized troupe, with Kavi most of the time in the middle of it, out of the way and safe.
A/N: Nothing much has changed from my original, but alas.
-Soraya went to the Suud once the war with the Hrum was over.
-The "Lord of Lightning" nickname was coined when Soraya unceremoniously blew Garren to pieces with lightning.