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       Nasir and Maarika Chronicles Episode II, p.1

           James Mullins
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Nasir and Maarika Chronicles Episode II


  Nasir and Maarika Chronicles

  Episode II

  By James Mullins

 

  First Edition February 19th, 2017

  ?2017 James Mullins

  Published in association with Longinus Industries

  All rights reserved. This story may not be reproduced in any form, in whole or in part, without written permission from the author.

  This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in this book are either products of the author's imagination or used fictitiously.

 

  August 2nd, 636 Arabia Province, Byzantium

  Several hours after Nasir and Maarika's northward journey on the Aqaba road began, sweat glistened on their foreheads. The heat from the merciless Sun above made them feel like they were slowly cooking in a large fire. The road, nicely paved and showing little wear, despite its 500 years of age, had received little maintenance.

  This marvel of Roman Engineering was surrounded on both sides by tall cliffs. The cliffs loomed over the road and were varying shades of brown with the occasional patch of reddish looking stone. Fortunately for the pair, the cliffs provided shade from the Sun's rays, and they avoided the worst of its effects.

  As the pair walked, Maarika turned to Nasir, "Have you ever heard of the prophecy of the hungry?"

  Nasir nodded, "Aye, it was said that one day the people would turn away from Bismillah. When that day came, a horrific plague would be released upon the land. The accursed disease would make the people forever hungry. Husbands would eat their wives. Mothers would consume their children, and the living would become as a feast to the dead. The hungry ones would ravage the world until the people turned back to Bismillah. When that day comes, a hero will emerge to put an end to the people's curse of hunger."

  Maarika smiled, "I'm glad you did not lose touch with your people as you served the Romans."

  Nasir, grinned, "The Romans are very accepting of other peoples and cultures. As long as you recognize that Emperor Heraclius as God's Vice Reagent on earth, equal to the Apostles and that you follow the true faith as laid out by the Council of Nicaea."

  Maarika pondered Nasir's words for several moments, "This God the Romans are obsessed with, is he greater than our God Bismillah?"

 

  Nasir responded, "In my heart, the answer is yes. Though if you ever gather a group of twenty priests and ask the same question, you will get twenty different answers."

  Maarika snorted derisively, "These priests should spend more time working and less time pondering I think."

  "Aye."

  "I guess you Romans are rich beyond imagination if you can afford to have so many not work."

  Nasir laughed, "Indeed, I've never really thought of it like that. Sadly all the priests seem to do is think up reasons that divide us."

  "That seems silly. How can such a rich people be so stupid?"

  Nasir shrugged his shoulders, "If we ever figure that out the Empire will become truly unstoppable."

  The two fell silent as they each pondered the wisdom of the other's words. They continued following the trail of what they had come to call the plagued ones. As they followed the Roman Road to Aqaba, they came upon the occasional body part or piece of flesh. These pieces of the plagued ones were not the result of violence but seem to have just fallen off of their own accord.

  After a while, Maarika broke the silence, "The legend said that the hero would be of pale skin and come from a place far to the north."

  Nasir pondered this for several moments then asked, "Did it give any more details?"

 

  Maarika sifted through her memories trying to remember bits and pieces of the story that seemed just out of reach. She hadn't heard this story since she was a little girl, "The place would have mountains." She pondered another moment and added, "Not like our mountains barren, brown, and lifeless, but mountains with immense trees upon them."

  "I've heard about several places that fit that description. The closest is a part of a land called Phoenicia. At least it used to be. There aren't many trees left in the mountains now." Nasir said.

  Maarika shook her head, "Hmmm, that name doesn't sound familiar at all."

  Nasir sifted through his memories of conversations he had with officers from the North, "The next possibility is part of a land called Armenia."

  Frustrated, Maarika said, "I just don't remember what the hero's homeland was named in the story."

  As the Sun set, the pair found an outcropping of rocks to sleep beneath. This spot ensured that they were out of sight should some of the plagued ones reverse their course and come upon them in the night. After eating a meal consisting of warm water from their water skins and the fresh bread that Maarika had baked earlier that morning, they fell asleep. The night was filled with faint sounds of the wind pushing through the cracks and crevices of the cliffs. They both slept, their dreams filled with the horrors they recently witnessed. Fortunately, no other being or creature bothered them that night, only the imaginary ones of their nightmares.

 

  The following day around noon they emerged from the mountain pass. They did not have any encounters with the plagued ones that morning but continued to see evidence of their passing as they walked. As the pair emerged from the pass, they saw an imposing stone structure off in the distance set upon a hill. The structure, along with several smaller ones, was surrounded by a stone wall. The wall, crumbling in places, was about as tall as two men. The hill, like the surrounding terrain, was filled with various shades of tan and brown, comprising equal parts of sand and gravel.

  Nasir frowned at what he saw, "Odd, usually there are guards on the wall."

  Maarika replied, "Look at the trail of the plagued ones. It leads right toward the city."

  "That's not a city. It's a fort." He pointed at the front gate. Still, barred shut, despite no evidence of occupants, "Why is the gate still locked and barred if the fort has fallen to the plagued ones?"

  Maarika pondered for several moments and replied, "I know not the answer to that question."

  Nasir gazed over the rest of the fort. In addition to the imposing central barracks building the fort had a smithy used to repair armor and weapons. Next to the smithy was a supply depot that stored food. The food supplied both the occupants of the fort and the various border posts in the region, which included Nasir's. Also of interest was a large set of stables.

  "We need to get in there and see what happened," Nasir said.

  Without waiting for a response, he set off in the direction of the fort. As they drew close, they could hear the buzzing of thousands of flies. The battlements had several of the plagued ones laying where they were struck down. The fort's walls at one time was covered in limestone and shear. The passage of centuries had caused the limestone to decay in many places and the underlying bricks now shown between the remaining patches of limestone.

 

  Nasir and Maarika arrived at the imposing gate and pushed on it. It did not yield. The stout wooden doors, cracked and pitted from many years in the desert, was barred from the other side.

  "How do we get in?" Maarika asked and then added, "Do we even want to try?"

  Nodding Nasir said, "Aye, I must find out what happened and check for survivors. Surely someone survived the onslaught of the plagued ones. With luck, we can obtain some horses from the stables and try to get ahead of the plagued ones so we can warn Aqaba of their approach."

  Nasir started to walk to the right of the imposing wooden door. Looking up, he saw a spot on the wall not too far from the door where the limestone had fallen off in a giant sheet. This had exposed the br
icks underneath the limestone layer. Years of scouring sand had done their work on the exposed bricks and worn away much of the masonry around them to make the surface rough and uneven.

  "Do you think you can climb the wall and open the gate from the inside?" Nasir asked.

  "Yes, that surface looks easier to climb than some of the cliff faces I climbed as a child."

  Nasir smiled and pulled his dagger out of its sheath. Handing it to Maarika, he said, "Great." Pointing to his left shoulder, he added, "I took a spear in my shoulder some years back during a punitive expedition. Damned Camel thieves. Now I can't lift my arm above my shoulder so I don't think I can make that climb."

  Maarika laughed at him, "It's a good thing I came along when I did. Many more months of living with nothing but other men and you would have fallen completely apart!"

 

  Too late Maarika realized she had reminded Nasir of his fallen men. Unable to hold back the pain any longer Nasir dropped to his knees and started weeping. He struck the sand with his fist over and over asking one question, "Why God?"

  Maarika knelt down beside him and put her arms around him. The metal bands of his armor dug into her as she held him, but she ignored the pain, "Shhh I'm sorry. Please forgive me for causing you pain."

  Nasir continued
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