.:Author's Note:. Sorry for taking so long in publishing this! I finished writing it about a week ago but forgot to post it. Anyways, here begins part II of what I am now calling the Desert Trilogy.
As a note, with the next post I will be changing the name of the series and possibly uploading parts 1 and 2 separately, so watch for an A/N about that. Part one will be called Desert Sands and Part two will be called Desert Winds.
Otherwise, part two is for the most part pre-slash, so though you will find Marik and Akefia becoming much closer (and there will be some cute scenes, even in this chapter), there will be no full-on slash just yet, mediated by the fact that Marik is still only 12 _
Thanks, and remember to review!
Desert Winds: Chapter 1
Kanika slowed to a trot as they closed in on the oasis. Several palm trees and scores of small bushes and patches of dry grass were littered along the brittle earth. A low, mountainous range that Marik had only believed to be a trick of the heat loomed up before them in the glow of the stars. The horses stalked quietly through the still night, veiled in the song of Cicada and owl. Upon reaching the base of the rocky mountain, the horse picked up a familiar trail with newfound rigor, clambering up a steep, narrow road for almost a mile before the path descended and flattened into a dusty trail flanked by the red-rock, brush-coated ravine. The trail was often obstructed by the occasional bush or boulder that had to be gingerly sidestepped, but the horse seemed confident of its step and proceeded at a moderate pace.
Finally, Marik was jerked from a half-awake stupor as the horse abruptly stopped. Marik looked around, rubbing at his eyes and wondering why the horse had stopped in the middle of the trail. Akefia descended off the horse, leaving Marik wide-eyed and gripping at the horse's mane with newfound trepidation. The beast, however, stood obediently still as its master approached the edge of the mountainous wall, brushing his hands over the rock as if searching for something.
Marik glanced at the thief and looked back to see the others descending from their horses. He swallowed and, gripping the horse's mane tightly, swung one leg over its back until he dangled awkwardly over the horses shoulders like a sack of wheat. He slowly slid himself down, unwillingly releasing the horsehair, and dropped to the ground. He stumbled but caught himself before he could fall over.
"Thank you," he whispered breathlessly to the patient horse who had been watching his struggle with faint amusement. Marik finally turned around and took a minute to observe his surroundings.
They were in a small ravine bordered by two mountainous ranges similar to those him and Akefia had been traveling within during their escape, but the rock was a golden color, and of a more brittle, clay-like consistency that crumbled when he brushed a hand over it. A few feet below the narrow path that had bordered the mountain was a small, flat valley of green bushes and dark dirt. Marik swore he even heard the distant bubbling of water. A thick coating of plants, bushes, weeds, and roots were entwined on the wall, reaching endlessly across the rock. Marik looked around for Akefia, but was startled when he'd noticed the thief had disappeared along with half of his band. Panicking, Marik was about to risk joining the remaining thieves, who were unsaddling their horses, when a young boy, hardly older than himself, walked straight out of the rock and towards Marik.
The tombkeeper flinched, startled, and could only stare when the boy approached him with a surly look on his face.
"Are you the hostage?" he asked bluntly. Marik nodded curtly, his eyes never leaving the taller boy's face, half-hidden by the darkness. "What the hell are you still doing here then? Don't make Akefia wait." The boy shoved Marik towards the thieves before turning to unbridle the horse. Marik glanced at him awkwardly and glanced at the others, who had finished unsaddling and unbridling their horses and were releasing their horses into the valley below. Marik ambled up beside them, trying to keep a fair distance. A tall, heavy-set man picked up his tack and began to push past a thick bush of dark leaves and bright red berries, and disappeared into the mountain.
Marik blinked. The others followed suit, pushing past the brush and vanishing into the darkness. He tentatively skirted up to the bush, pushing the thick, unbending stems out of the way, and gaped as a large black hole faced him. A cave, similar to the one they had slept in two nights before greeted him.
"Are you going to stand there all night or are you going in?" Marik jumped at the sound of the sarcastic voice. The boy who had released Kanika was standing behind him, bridle slung over his arm.
"Sorry, I'm going," Marik responded meekly. The boy sighed audibly as Marik pushed past the bush and entered the hidden cave, letting the leaves fall back into place behind him with a gentle rustle. The boy froze, surrounded by darkness. He squinted, trying to make out a direction, or pinpoint the thief's white hair, but he saw nothing.
"Um… hello?" He called out.
"Keep going strait, you idiot." Marik jumped as the boy's biting voice snapped at him from behind. He felt himself being pushed forward and blindly allowed himself to be guided through the damp, narrow, rock corridor until he suddenly emerged into huge, earthly cavern.
The wide expanse was dimly lit by a few torches hung along the walls and a crackling fire that flickered in the center of the cave. White moonmilk glittered ominously from the cracks of fungi-slick walls of cold hard rock. Marik looked up and was stunned to see a gaping hole in the cave where the starlit sky gazed down on him and lit the cave in a bluish hue. The boy behind him suddenly shoved him forward one last time towards the fire where several thieves were gathered before pushing past him and joining the others.
"Are the horses taken care of, Kali?" one of them asked gruffly.
"I fed them, if that's what you mean. It's your job to clean them, not mine," the boy retorted. The thief who had spoken growled angrily but was silenced by the admonishment of another.
"You can put the bridle away, with the rest of the tack, Kali," said a softer voice. "And tell the boy to come over."
"I'm not a message-boy," Kali growled, "tell him yourself." Marik was left frozen in nervous fear as the young boy stalked off towards one end of the cave. The soft-spoken speaker suddenly addressed him again.
"Come here, boy. It's alright, we don't bite," he urged.
"Not that there's much to chew on, if you ask me," muttered another. A round of chuckles went up around the fire, and Marik braved a few steps closer. He didn't see Akefia anywhere, and dreaded that the thief might have decided to resign his promise of safety after all.
"He looks terrified," one of them noted in amusement.
"Wouldn't you, at that age?"
"At his age, I was guttin' sheep and huntin' fowl is what I was."
"Oh show a little mercy will you? You're going to frighten him even more."
"Your face is probably the scariest thing he's seen yet, Chigaru."
"Zaliki, if you fancy your fingers in tact I suggest you shut your mouth right now." Marik couldn't help but feel slightly relaxed by the bantering humor shoved around by the thieves. There was no underlying tension or antagonism neither in the air nor in the flying insults. Marik finally found himself seated awkwardly in between two intimidating men in thick, earth-toned cloaks and tunics, letting the warmth of the fire brush over him. He glanced around the cave, eyes flitting about.
"Akefia isn't here right now," a gruff voice addressed him. He started and looked to his left where the man who had first addressed him and Akefia in the desert watched him with a crooked smile. The man had a wide, angular face brushed by a thin layer of stubble on his chin, a bent nose, and large, drooping blue eyes. A brush of dark hair was draped over his head and tucked into the cloak drawn over his shoulders. Marik swallowed.
"Um… where… where is he?" he croaked, trying to moisten his dry throat. Chigaru motioned to a companion on his left and then turned back to him.
"He's getting looked at by our medical man. Akefia's wound was reopened on the ride here. He needs to get the wound stitched up. The burn was only a temporary fix. He'll need to rest for a few days as well. We need our leader healthy and strong." Marik nodded.
"I see," he said. "He was shot. By an arrow." The man smiled.
"Yes, he was. And I heard you helped pull it out and mend the wound." Marik shuddered and said nothing.
"Why don't you tell us what happened?" asked the gentle voice who had beckoned him over. Marik looked up to see an older, thin man with a long face in a cloak and tunic far too big for him looking at him patiently. Marik bobbed his head and recounted to the thieves the account of Akefia's break in, their deal, and their escape from the Pharaoh's tomb, leaving out only their confrontation with his father and sister and his cold blooded murder. A round of mutters and chuckles accompanied bits of his stories, and Marik even thought he saw one grim-faced man slip a few gold coins to his more triumphant neighbor.
"What a journey!" Chigaru exclaimed with a laugh. "Must have been quite the adventure, sauntering off with the great Thief King like that!"
"I didn't quite 'saunter,'" Marik muttered, "more like he kidnapped me and used me as a hostage." The man chuckled.
"Oh well I suppose that's not quite true, is it? You did make a deal with him. He got you out, didn't he?"
"He did," Marik agreed. The man slapped his knee.
"Well there you go, then! He got you out, and on top of it, he kept you safe and out of their clutches until you were way away. I mean, he could have left you stranded in the middle of the mountains, or worse, in the middle of the desert, and you'd either had been found and taken back or die of starvation or beast attack before they could find you. Count yourself lucky the leader has a bit of a heart."
"Tha's right," another thief joined in, swallowing down a mouthful of alcohol from a bottle that had been making its way around the circle during Marik's story. He was a stout, bulky man with coarse features, yellowing teeth, and a single dark eye, the other hidden behind a makeshift eyepatch made up of a dirty brown rag tied around his head. "'es got a bit o' a thing for pickin' up orphans an' wayward little 'uns, 'e does. 'As a bit 'o a history 'imself, Akefia. Even before 'e was leader, 'e picked up Kali o'er there when th' kid was naught but seven years old. Big 'eart, Akefia. But make 'im yer enemy, and he's a merciless, bloodthirsty killer!" Marik shuddered. He knew all about the cold-blooded killer in Akefia, but a small part of him twitched in curiosity.
"What history?" Marik asked. The man took another swallow and passed the bottle to his neighbor.
"'S'not for me t' say," he simple replied, and Marik had to contend himself with this, because a murmur went up among the thieves and they all turned their attention to his left. Marik looked up and started as he noticed a familiar disheveled head of silvery hair. He stood up in tune with the others, who crowded around the young man. Akefia was being supported by Kali, who looked up at Akefia with a mixture of concern and adoration that almost startled Marik, after only knowing the boy's cold, blunt attitude.
"Give him a bit of space, will you?" Kali snapped at the others, who had huddled around Akefia and were showing him with praise and words of health and welcome. Kali gently sat Akefia down beside the fire and settled himself to his left, pulling out a flask of water and offering some to the thief. Marik settled back down in his spot, still keeping his eyes on Akefia. The others had also resumed their spots around the fire and were now all anxiously looking to their leader. Akefia, Marik noticed, looked paler than usual, if a little green. He was clothed in a new white tunic and a pair of soft, earth-colored trousers, and clutched at his side now and then as if in a lot of pain. Akefia declined the water but accepted the bottle from Chigaru's hands and took a large swig, grimacing as he swallowed. Finally, his tired gaze swept over his crew, flitting over Marik and finally landing on the fire before him.
"The raid on the pharaoh's tomb was, though not entirely a failure, not the victory we had expected." Akefia's voice was hoarse and dry, but resonated through the cave. "The security was much tougher than I had expected, and though I managed to break into the Tomb Room, it seems the puzzle has also disappeared." A round of grumbles went up. "I did, however, locate the Millennium Rod, and the Millennium Necklace. I was unable to obtain the necklace, as its location was unknown and I did not have enough time to further investigate. I did not, however, return empty-handed." With this, Akefia withdrew from his tunic the Millennium Rod, still sheathed which glistened eerily in the firelight. A round of gasps and mutters went up from the thieves, and several bent over to see it more closely. Marik shuddered, and for a heartbeat he could still see the red blood smeared over the blade of the rod. Akefia turned the rod in his fingers, unsheathed it and brought it to his face.
"The Millennium Rod gives its user the power to control the mind and will of any person." The white-haired thief chuckled hollowly. "Is such a thing really worth the pain and sacrifice it demanded? Is such a power really able to be used for good? A tool of slavery and torture." Akefia slid the Rod back into his robe and sighed deeply. Suddenly he looked up and his eyes perused the circle of men until they landed and rested upon the young tombkeeper.
"Marik," he said quietly. Marik blinked, fidgeting nervously as he noticed the eyes of all were now on him. Akefia turned to address the others. "To those who were not out on the lookout squad, this is Marik Ishtar, son of Aknadin Ishtar, the last Tombkeeper. Marik is my hostage as much as he is a guest, and no harm will befall him. The boy, if anything, still has his uses as a member of the Ishtar clan. He, of all people, may be able to tell us where the Millennium Items can be found." Marik swallowed as he watched the others' hard gazes on him. Most were simply curious, but several were distrustful, even menacing. He quickly looked down.
"I suppose you have introduced the others, Chigaru." The man blinked and slapped his knee.
"Heavens, I must have forgotten my manners," the man exclaimed. Akefia shook his head and gestured towards the grinning man.
"This is Chigaru, my loyal second in command. Beside him is Zaliki," he pointed at a small, cheeky-faced man with a wide smile, "Amun," a taller, lean man in robes of dark purple with deep olive skin, "Hasani," a black African with a bald head and a single gold hoop in one of his ears, "Masud," the thin man in the oversized tunic, "Mbizi," a large, hulking man with a menacing glare, "Tsekani," a lean young man with large, wide eyes, "Atum," a shorter, more heavyset man with a lazy eye who was fiddling with his dagger, "Odion," a younger, quiet-looking man with long dark hair and thin eyes, "Sebak," a short, bald-headed man with a row of missing teeth, "and Kali," the familiar boy sniffed in derision. Marik nodded in polite greeting to each one as they were introduced, trying to sort out the friendly-looking ones to those he preferred to avoid. "Our medicine man Kamuzu is still cleaning up the mess of blood I made." Several men chuckled. Marik did not find anything amusing about this.
A few minutes later, some of the men got up and returned with a whole goat and a basket of various fruits and loaves of bread. Dried seeds and potato slices were handed out, and everyone was given a chunk of bread to chew on as the goat roasted on a spit over the fire. Mouth watering, Marik devoured the cooked meat almost as soon as it landed in his hand, burning his tongue in the process. Despite the messiness and general lack of manners around the company, Marik found it to be the most delicious and filling meal he'd ever eaten. Several minutes later, the thieves were picking the last of the meat off the goat's bones and licking their fingers clean with a new bottle of alcohol, which Marik discovered to be a very strong kind of strong, aged wine, as the fire faded down to a low glow of embers.
Akefia stood to his feet, brushing off Kali's offer of assistance and looked down at the hushed audience.
"I'm off to rest as I still need to recuperate. Marik will stay with me for now. We will discuss further plans tomorrow. Chigaru, meet me at your tent in five minutes, I need to talk to you about a few things." With this, Akefia gestured towards Marik and began limping towards the far side of the cave. Marik hesitated then rose to his feet, nodded awkwardly to the others who wished his a goodnight, and hurried after the thief.
Marik caught up to Akefia right as the leader of the band of thieves reached the edge of the cave, where a large tent of fabrics and carpets was set up on wooden stands hammered into the earth. Akefia disappeared behind a large flap and Marik shortly after followed suit. Inside, the ground was covered in camel skins and thick blankets of wool and fur pelts were strewn about the room, along with several artifacts, scrolls, and bags tucked in the corners. Marik and Akefia's unloaded packs were also sitting at the end of the tent. Marik watched as Akefia wandered about the room, bending over to collect a few scrolls and some of the bags of riches before returning to the entrance.
"Make yourself comfortable. I still need to talk to Chigaru about a couple of things. You can sleep anywhere." With that the thief pushed past him and exited the tent. Marik stood awkwardly, taking in his surroundings before he sat himself down. He tugged at a woolen blanket and draped it over himself before lying down, using a woolen pelt for a pillow, and closing his eyes.
Marik shivered. A cold breeze rustled the tent and sent goosebumps crawling over his arms. He pulled the covers higher over his shoulder but couldn't seem to get rid of the cold which invaded his body. Memories of a night so long ago and yet so clear thrashed through his mind, sending shudders along his spine. The act was nothing but a blur – but the aftermath continuously haunted his mind. He knew what he'd done, and there was nothing he could do to stop it. Marik choked back a sob, squeezing his eyes shut, and buried his face in his hands. Ishizu. Rishid. His home. His life. It was all gone. He could never return – never take back what he had done. The young Egyptian could practically feel Anubis' teeth grazing his throat, glistening gold eyes piercing his soul and unveiling all his sins.
You did nothing wrong.
Shut up! This is all your fault! Marik whispered hoarsely. I faked a look of shock and hurt.
My fault? I only helped you attain what you desired, dear Marik? How can you accuse me of providing you freedom?
It's not what – I never wanted that to happen!
There was no other way.
There must have been! I shook my head.
Your father would never have let you leave. Not alive. I only did what was necessary. The young boy whimpered, easing a small smile from my lips.
Besides, I said, touching his cheek gently, I am simply a part of you. Thus, you can't deny that you never desired this to happen.
I almost grinned at the look of horror that dawned upon his wide eyes.
No… I never –
"Hey kid, you alright?" Marik started as another voice reached his ears. He turned his head to see the ivory-haired thief standing at the entrance of the tent, a gentle light from the candle he led in one hand flickering across his face. Marik nodded wordlessly and sunk further beneath his covers. Akefia shrugged and walked over the boy to his own pile of covers. Marik heard the rustling of fabric as the man slipped off his tunic and eased beneath the covers with a grunt. Another breeze flickered through the tent, sending chills down his spine.
Akefia glanced up at the body of the young tombkeeper. His frail back was turned towards him, the flickering flame of his candle making the scars on his body dance and jeer. The body shivered suddenly, curling itself into a ball and practically disappearing into the covers. As hard as he'd tried to hide it, the thief had seen, if briefly, the red rim around the boy's eyes, and the smudged trace of tears along his cheeks. Akefia narrowed his eyes.
"And what do I care?" he growled to himself, blowing out the candle. The thief settled comfortably on the straw, pulling the covers over himself. The night was quiet save for the chirrup of the cicadas and the occasional call of a nocturnal hunter. But Akefia could also hear the trembling. He cracked open his eyes and glared irritably at the shuddering figure beneath the covers, illuminated by a sliver of moonlight peeking from behind the flaps of the tent. He sighed.
"Hey brat. Get over here." The body beneath the covers stiffened, and a mess of blond hair poked out from beneath the covers. "Hurry up. And bring your blanket." Marik, confused and wary, crept out from beneath the covers, shuddering at the sudden bite of the cold, and crawled towards the dark figure a few feet away. He stopped next to him, uncertain of what to do. He opened his mouth to say something, but the slender, pale hand of the thief suddenly shot out and snatched the woolen blanket, flinging it over his own covers, before grabbing Marik's wrist and pulling him beside him.
Marik immediately stiffened as he found himself within Akefia's arms, pressed against his chest.
"It's warmer now right? So shut up and sleep. We have a lot to do tomorrow." Marik said nothing, only tried to hide a smile and accepted the thief's awkward generosity by nestling in closer. Despite his small body, Akefia's skin was hot to the boy's cool touch, and wonderfully inviting. Everything suddenly felt infinitely warmer, and all his fears, doubts, anxieties, disappeared as the touch of sleep closed his eyes and whisked him off into a land of dreams.
There. Is that cute and cuddly enough for now? Anyways, I'm also wondering whether nor not to shift some of the writing and simply set this back to ancient Egypt. I just feel like it would be much easier to write, considering the characters and setting. There -was- a reason why It was set in the modern age which would be revealed at the end, but I feel that I might just change the ending slightly, or adapt it for more ancient times. What are your thoughts?