Hello everyone! Sorry for the delay. Between work and getting sick, it's taken me a while to get this next chapter up. I want thank all of you for the reviews! They are such a huge motivator. Thank you guys! I hope you guys enjoy this chapter (we finally get a song update too!). I can't wait to hear what you think!
As always, I don't own either Prince of Persia or Señor. They are Disney's and Bob Dylan's. I'm just borrowing them for my own amusement.
Señor, señor, I can see that painted wagon
Smell the tail of the dragon
I can't stand the suspense here anymore
Can you tell me who to contact here, señor
Three days. Three days that were alternately boring and aggravating, and they still knew next to nothing. Except that the Hassansins were no better at waiting than they were. And that they were protecting something, but Dastan had no idea what. Their rooms were never left empty. Of the five Hassansins who were there, two were guarding the room at any given time. And they were very careful.
Slipping silently across the rooftops of Nasaf, Dastan pushed the frustrating thoughts out of his mind and focused on not waking the people sleeping inside the homes below him.
He'd left Bis at the rooms used by the Hassansin. Bis would spend the next four hours on watch alone, before Tamina woke and joined him. Her watch would also be eight hours, four with Bis and four alone, before Dastan would relieve her. It was exhaustively boring work, and had so far given them little insight into why the Hassansin were still hunting the dagger. Other than a few vaguely whispered references to an old man, presumably the one Payam had spoken of back in the Valley, they had gained nothing. The Hassansins it seemed were also waiting.
Tamina blinked sleepily up at him when he entered the room they had all been sharing when not on watch. He shook his head, and she settled back to sleep.
He watched her silently for a moment, her features evening out as fell back asleep. They'd spent the past three days sleeping about 2 feet apart on an unforgiving dirt floor four hours a day and trading witticisms during their waking hours. Her eyes were getting warmer and softer when their gazes locked. And if her eyes lingered on his lips one more time, he was quite certain he was going to kiss her even if she hadn't quite made up her mind yet.
He gently ran his finger down her cheek, savoring the soft feel of her skin. She'd jumped into their little surveillance plan with her usual tenacity, and he'd enjoyed watching her charm the kids on the street while she pretended to beg for coins during her hours on watch. For all the motion and urgency of their last trip, he was enjoying the chance to spend time with her that didn't involve immediate death. They'd both managed to spend a few extra hours on each other's surveillance shifts, half to annoy one another and half to simply spend time together without Bis and Garsiv providing a running commentary.
With a final brush of his finger tip against her cheek, he stepped away and lay down on his own bed roll. The even sound of Tamina's breathing was soothing as he tried to focus on the feeling that had been nagging him during his watch.
He didn't understand why the Hassansins were hiding out in Nasaf, clearly waiting for something. But the fact that they were had been eating at him. With Nizam dead, what was in Nasaf that would help them? Why not stay in their hidden retreat until it was over with? Payam had said they had left the retreat with the old man before the rest of the servants and staff had been aware of Nizam's betrayal. But why? Nasaf certainly kept them closer to the palace, but that wasn't any help to them as far as Tus and Garsiv had been able to determine.
He was pulled from his thoughts when Tamina made a whispered murmur in her sleep, turning slightly to face him. He took a deep breath and let his mind relax, knowing that going over the same details he'd been focusing on all day wouldn't bring any new answers and wouldn't let him sleep. Listening to her breathe Dastan slowly drifted off to sleep, still feeling as though he was missing something.
As he faded into sleep, the images from his hours watching the Hassansin house began to blur into memories of Alamut.
He was crouched on the roof where he could over look their rented rooms, shifting his weight silently as he strained to hear the words coming from the rooms two stories below. He could see them through the window, one pacing and the other sharpening the blades on his staff. Outside the rooms Persian soldiers dug channels deep into the streets of Nasaf, calling to one another as they pulled bucket after bucket of sand from the streets. Beside him Tamina also moved, balancing against him for a moment as she adjusted to get a better look at the Hassansins.
With the fuzzy quality only present in dreams he turned to look at her, smiling when she didn't pull away from him. The sun above shimmered in her hair and highlighted her warm eyes. She reached out to him, placing her hand on his cheek and said "Step only where I step."
Confused he watched as she stood up and carefully placed one foot on the edge of the roof where they were perched, in full view of the Hassansins below. He started to grab her and pull her back down beside him when she fell in a rush of flowing sand.
He yelled and threw himself forward to grab her arm, his fingers barely managing to maintain his grip on the stone column that supported the sand glass. His arm screamed in pain as his hold on her strained cut on his upper arm. His left hand felt like it was being ripped apart as he dug his fingers into the rock to keep them both from falling into the abyss below.
She looked up at him with fear and regret in her eyes. "I wish we could have been together," she said, her voice breaking off in a scream as she started to slip. "Dastan!" He heard her words come out in a sob as he struggled to hold on her, his own screams lost somewhere in his throat.
Just as she started to slip the last inch, he felt a change. Instead of her hand letting go of his, she'd managed to once more grab hold of his wrist, her grasp warm and firm. With everything he had, he pulled her back onto the rooftop ledge above Nasaf. His heart pounding he pulled her to him, holding her tight as he looked to see if the Hassansins below had noticed the commotion. Nothing had changed in the streets below, the soldiers were still digging and the Hassansin continued to sharpen his weapons.
Feeling as though he'd once again missed something, Dastan turned to Tamina. She smiled at him sweetly, and he lost the thread of the dream, slipping into a deeper sleep.
Watching Dastan carefully, Tamina rolled farther onto her stomach, letting her arm rest in a more comfortable position as he held tightly to her hand. She could see the tension fade out of his body, his features gentling as the nightmare faded.
He'd awakened her with his muffled yelp and twitching limbs. She'd started to wake him up when he murmured her name. It was the mumbled reaction of a dreamer, but she could still pick out his fear and pain, even half asleep. His hand had flexed, the muscles of his right arm tensing against side. Without thinking she'd reached out, wrapping her hand around his. Dastan's response had been instant, his grip tight enough to sting before it had settled into a firm but painless embrace.
She started to pull her hand back, wanting get her last few hours of sleep before she had to go relieve Bis, but his hand tightened briefly as if to stop her. She tried again, but even sleeping Dastan was insistent. Shifting closer, to let her arm relax against the ground between them, she dragged the pillow with her other hand. Settling herself closer to him than she was entirely comfortable with, she let herself drift back to sleep. Dastan tended to move about in his sleep. There was no doubt in her s mind that he would release her hand soon, allowing her to move away. She'd just have to be patient until he did.
The sound of footsteps and a loudly clearing throat snapped Dastan awake. He sat up, his right hand reaching for the dagger the was under the blanket he used as a pillow. He felt resistance against his left wrist and started to use the grasp to leverage his attacker to floor when his eyes focused on a grinning Garsiv.
Sending a vicious if sleepy glare at his brother, Dastan turned toward his left hand, surprised to see Tamina's hand in his as she drew herself up to her knees. Her eyes were narrowed dangerously at Garsiv. "Are you having fun?" she hissed.
With his eyes focused on their joined hands, Dastan dimly heard Garsiv answer with great relish "Apparently not as much as the two of you." But his mind was swimming groggily through distorted memories of sand swirling, Tamina falling, and soldiers digging.
As he tried to sort through the mishmash of dream fragments he heard Tamina futilely trying to explain that she'd been calming him from a dream. Some part of his brain registered her statement and gave a small thrill at her words.
She tried again to work her hand free of his grasp, but he held on. The sensation sharpened the memories, and he finally brought the scene into focus. It took several moments before the significance registered.
His head snapped up, eyes burning into hers, his hand tightened on hers. "When did you collapse the tunnels?"
He startled her. Her eyes widened then narrowed when she turned to look at him. "When you breached the gate."
"Who besides you knows how to reach the sands without using the tunnels?"
Tamina looked hard into his eyes for a long moment before she tightened her grip on his hand and answered. "Zhila knew. The regent of Alamut. Myself. Dastan, why is this important?"
"There is no possibility that the Guardian Hassansin knows of the other way to get to them?" He clarified looking into her eyes.
Tamina shook her head. "The hidden passages are guarded as one the greatest secrets of Alamut. Only the Guardian, her closest attendant, and the regent know. No one else is ever to be told. Ever." Her eyes hinted at the inner turmoil that resulted each time she told him another detail of the dagger.
Dastan reached out with his other hand and traced her cheekbone with his finger, holding her gaze softly. He wasn't supposed to be a part of any of this. And yet in both futures she'd been forced to trust him with all of it. She turned her face into his touch just slightly. Hating to break the moment, but well aware that Garsiv was watching their every move, he pushed on. "Have you opened the tunnels yet?"
Finally pulling her hand away from his, she snorted. "Yes Dastan, with all the entertaining of Persian royalty that we've been doing lately, excavating our secret tunnels has been very high on the priority list."
Dastan smirked. "That's what they are waiting for, Princess. That's why they haven't gone to Alamut."
Garsiv looked at him in confusion. "Why would the collapsed tunnels keep them out of Alamut? It didn't stop our uncle last time."
Dastan gave him a tight smile, guilt mixing with the horror of remembering that time. "The last time we were the conquerors of a traitorous city. We could dig up Alamut as long as we pleased. Nizam went straight down through the city square last time."
Garsiv felt his eyes widen in understanding. "They can't get to the sands."
Dastan nodded. "They can't get to sands." He turned to face Tamina. "Have the tunnels ever been filled in before?"
Tamina shifted, her usual calm eroded slightly from stress. "Yes. Once before."
"The Guardian who used the dagger?" he asked.
She nodded. "According to her writings, it took several months for the tunnels to be discretely dug out. The Guardian demi-temples and a room in the palace are settled over the main entrances. It takes time to removed the sand and then rebuild the mechanisms that allow for their collapse."
"So they must wait until the tunnels are dug out. Their priest is not high enough in the order to know how to get in the other way. But why move the whole group to Nasaf? What do they gain by waiting things out here?" Dastan stood and began to pace, needing an outlet for his nervous energy.
Garsiv leaned back against the wall and watched his brother. "Proximity? According to Payam their base is well hidden, but it's hard to reach. Father has raised the alert of our uncle's treason to the whole kingdom. Anyone who draws unusual attention is in for a rough time. They couldn't move information easily from cities to their base without attracting that kind of attention."
Dastan shrugged an acknowledgement. "Payam said the Hassansins left with the old man before anyone else in the city had even heard about the attack."
Tamina faced him, her eyes filled with the calm that came when the priestess was speaking. "They had to. Your uncle was in a unique position, Dastan. To overthrow a king taken years of planning and effort to gain the allegiance of his people. The new king needs enough supporters to aid him in his plans, all of whom must know and understand what they are working for."
She continued, " Not so for your uncle. Only a very select few needed to know. He could tell any others, men like Payam, that they were supporting their king. He didn't need their loyalty. In his new time, he would be the only king they'd ever have. It made things much easier for him to hide. But as soon as word got out, men like Payam would know they had been deceived. They had to leave immediately or risking trying to hide a city full of dead men. Even in the desert that would be hard to hide without attracting attention. Payam said they did business with local merchants. They would notice the sudden absence of business."
Dastan grimaced. "Time would have changed everything."
She nodded. "It always does."
Garsiv stepped away from the wall, drawing their attention. "But why do they still want the dagger. Our uncle is dead. Who can use it now? No one is left who could arrange to make Nizam king. But they are clearly following some sort of plan. But to what end?"
Dastan gave him a bitter smile. "I don't know. I can't come up with a reason."
Garsiv gave him a sour look. "So we're just going to sit around here and wait until they come up with a way to dig out the tunnels?"
Both Garsiv and Tamina reacted to Dastan's grin. "Dastan, what are you going to do?" she asked wearily.
"We need to get inside and see what they are protecting. They never leave less than two men inside the rooms. Unless we get inside we'll never know why."
Tamina stepped towards him. "That's impossible."
Dastan gave her an amused smile. "Difficult. Not impossible."
Garsiv smirked. "My brave little brother, I suppose you think you should be the one to go inside?"
"I'm better at the fast get away. And you're awfully good at making a scene." Dastan answered with a grin as he looked over Tamina to Garsiv.
Garsiv glared. "Given the size of their rooms, it will take you too long to search alone. We'll both go. I'm certain your princess can make quite a scene when she's motivated."
Dastan shook his head emphatically, trying to control his reaction to the thought of Garsiv and the Hassansins fighting. "No. Tamina goes nowhere near them. And neither do you. They've killed you once. I won't risk that again."
"It's not your choice, Dastan." Garsiv hissed. "I will protect my family the same as you. I'm not afraid of a past that didn't happen."
Dastan started remind his brother than it had happened. That he'd buried his brother after watching him die. But Tamina interrupted.
"While you two debate your brotherly duties for insane tasks, perhaps we should consider a better plan. One that doesn't risk the dagger? As soon as they realize we are watching them, they will know why. Before anything else, we must keep the dagger safe."
The three of the stood in silence for a moment, before Dastan grudgingly conceded. "When Bis gets off watch, we'll start planning. We'll get a few boys to watch the rooms while we plan," he said, cutting off Tamina before she could protest that she would not be part of the planning. "They can watch for a few hours. We have a good idea of their schedule."
Garsiv nodded slightly. "I will return to the palace and update Tus." At his smirk, Dastan was quite certain that most of that update would involve how Garsiv had found him and Tamina sleeping. "I'll return when Bis heads back. And arrange a proper meal for us while we plan. No need to be hungry while we work.
Anyone else looking forward to raiding the Hassansin's rooms? ;-)