A renowned adventurer is hired to slay a dragon plaguing the land. To find the beast he ventures into the desert, while an assassin with a vendetta against him rides on his tail.
It was dusk. By then, not a solitary ray from Devywar shone through the clouded Ptaerok or struck the eastern steppes of Anum. A chill met the summer air, and frost formed along the edges of the Annen Strays.
Yet on the eastern steppes north of his home, Hasim spotted a bronze mare in the fading light. Her four-beat however slow, was deliberate and had an even pace as she marched toward his stead. A rider in the reigns. Hasim continued to watch as the sunlight dwindled and the rider came increasingly near. Hasim slowly filled with unease.
Soon the moonlight brimmed, but the rider was no clearer to see. The robes were a pale grey, and a hood obscured its face. Hasim was about to ask if the traveller needed a bed for the night but changed his mind, and kept silent out of fear.
“Boor,” said the rider at last, referring to Hasim. Hasim hadn’t expected a woman, for the armour under the robes made her appear deceptively larger.
The rider asked suspiciously in a thickly foreign accent, “Might I… take lodge here to-night?”
Hasim nodded, but remained tight-lipped. The rider dismounted and lead her horse to a stable before following Hasim.
Inside, Hasim’s hut was warm. A welcome change from the cool air blowing, despite the season. The hearth was at the centre. A large stewing pot hung over the pyre, and smoke and steam rose up through the smokehole above.
Hasim’s guest stood before the fire, and suddenly proceeded to strip; making herself at home. She slid off her outer robe, a fur liner and the leather armour. Now that the woman was disarmed, Hasim felt more composed and even aroused.
Out of curiousity, Hasim watched the rider sit in a cross-legged stance. She stuck out her palms face down so that they hovered inches above her knees, and she tilted back her head revealing her face and physique. Eyes closed, she inhaled deeply fiery fume.
Her person was beautiful to behold and fraught with mystery. Her youthful skin was taut, and as raven as her hair. Her hair looked never-cut, and billowed down to the small of her back. Her bare back— bare body looked thin and delicate to the touch. Yet navel to nape she was covered in scars, and they scoured deep.
Upon closer inspection Hasim saw that among the scars of thousands of lashes, lacerations and punctures were self-inflicted wounds. Raised markings of a meticulous design. Had he been a wise man, he would have known the shape her brandings made.
Abruptly the woman gasped for air, and her eyes shot open taking Hasim far aback. Her brown eyes were wide and searching, and her bosom was quickly heaving.
When she had regained her breath she closed her eyes once more and began chanting. Quickly, words unknown to Hasim came flowing from her supple lips, making them undecipherable even to one fluent in the language. She continued for several minutes until once again she was out of breath. Until there was nothing left to say; when she had achieved illumination.
What was most frightening however was how lithe the woman was, for she rose vertically using only her toes. Simultaneously, Hasim fell backward in fear when the rider produced a silver falcata, and pressed it against his chin.
Hasim panted frantically. The sword in the face, and the naked girl holding it made Hasim as horrified as could be.
Returning to the common speech, the rider began to interrogate Hasim. Accusing him as if he had committed treason. “Boor, you helped a man! Three men in fact!”
“Yes!” Hasim answered truthfully, daring not to deny it.
“One of the men, he was a Hawk yes?”
“Yes!” Tears began to stream from Hasim’s eyes.
“Was it the Jackal?”
“The Jackal!” replied the rider more loudly. At the same time she dug the blade into Hasim’s skin so as to draw blood. It made the man weep uncontrollably, yet he did answer in between frightened sobs, “Yes! Yes! Yes!”
Even after the woman pulled her weapon away Hasim continued to cry and repeat his answer. He curled into a fœtal position, and the rider put her clothes back on.
“Please don’t kill me,” Hasim begged.
“I won’t kill you, boor. Just tell me which way he went.”
“South! He carried on south!”
The rider sheathed her sword and left without further mention.