Quest of Solomon

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  1. Steffi Adler generally wasn't the kind of person to generate unnecessary drama. Boy bands which seemed to summon storm of hormones in teenagers all around the world evoked nothing but disdain in her, current scandals of various starlets interested about as much as political situation in Borneo and she didn't stand by the popular opinion that having to work on school assignments over weekend was a completely logical reason to commit suicide. In fact, the complete lack of exaggerated reactions on her part sparked many joking debates among her tiny clique of friends; debates that led to conclusions like 'she must have had her emotions surgically removed' or 'I bet she's gotta be a robot sent back in time from the future.' These claims were, of course, exaggerated; just like with every human being, even Steffi's stoicism had its limits. For her, it was getting up early. The annoying sound of alarm clock pierced the air, ripping her out of embrace of dreams violently, and the blonde sighed loudly. No way. It can't fucking be the morning yet, she thought and put the pillow over her head, but the time-tested tactic of ignoring the problem until it disappeared didn't work in this particular case, mainly because the sharp bleeping was burning its way into her brain mercilessly. There's always a tiny, microscopic chance this is just a nasty dream. Or a tumor in my head pressing against some nerves that affect hearing. Steffi clung to that foolish hope for a few seconds, but it was getting increasingly obvious she couldn't disregard reality forever; if she were to hesitate any longer, the damned alarm clock would probably awake her mom. While everyone knew Charlotte Kirsch as a kind woman incapable of harming a living creature, Steffi had learned the hard way that sleep deprivation caused by a night shift could warp her pacifist views significantly.

    I am fairly sure that getting up THIS early for class of physical education is illegal somewhere. It has to be, as it's pretty much against basic human right. The only question that remains to be answered is, why isn't it illegal here? This sure as hell isn't my idea of American dream! Rolling out of her bed, Steffi briefly contemplated dealing with this injustice the American way, which meant suing anyone tangentially responsible for your troubles and hoping to earn enough money to live comfortable for the rest of your life, yet she decided against it in the end. Her bullshit-o-meter was still calibrated by the German standards and frankly, certain part of her personality wished to kick herself for even considering such ridiculous course of action. Stephanie yawned in a distinctly unladylike manner and went to visit the bathroom; the fifteen minutes spent in shower made her looks significantly more like a human being instead of, say, a zombie in the first stages of decay. Even greater effect could be achieved if she bothered enough to put on some mascara, but unlike girls brainwashed by commercials full of perfect supermodels, Steffi didn't believe showing her face without make-up equaled to social suicide. Well, that, and then there was the chance her face would end up as if it was handled by a blind monkey if she were to try and use cosmetics so shortly after awakening. Slipping into her favorite comfortable attire - black wooly shirt, blue jeans and sneakers - Steffi grabbed a doughnut from the kitchen's table and stepped outside.

    It was technically autumn, but the weather did everything within its power to disguise it and the devious plan would have worked if it wasn't for the trees practically glowing in various shades of red, yellow and everything in between. The air still carried the sweet scent of summer, even though it was nothing but fading memory at this point, and you could go outside without wearing a jacket without risking pneumonia or some other lovely disease. The rain that belonged to this season just like outlandishly decorated trees belonged to Christmas would turn the soil into ugly, grey mush soon and half of the population would spiral into annual depression, yet as of now, anyone could enjoy the peaceful scenery. Our heroine was too narrow-minded to let her spirit soar in admiration of landscape, so she lit a cigarette and savored the nicotine instead. Her mom perpetually nagged her she was actively shortening her life-span, but the blonde stood by the opinion that life only appeared to be longer if you abstained from smoking and other forbidden pleasure. Inhaling the smoke with gusto, Steffi reached the bus station. There were some people standing around, but nobody from her age category; she classified them as unlucky individuals heading to work. Well, of course there isn't going to be anyone under twenty aside from me. Only my school resorts to child abuse.

    It seemed miracles could still happen for the bus arrived on time. Steffi was almost inclined to believe some horrible accident would meet them on the road in order to compensate for this unexpected turn of events, yet absolutely nothing out of ordinary marked their journey to the city. When they finally arrived and the bus spat out the travelers, she still had about three quarters of an hour to spare before the notorious German punctuality would force her to enter school building. That may have looked like an uneconomical use of time, but had she chosen to go by later bus, she would have arrived late. Ah, the joys of commuting, Steffi thought as she wandered through the narrow streets aimlessly, determined to avoid the hell-hole called school for as long as physically possible. Sure, exploring the city would have been way more amusing if it wasn't too early for any shops to be open, yet it still felt better than sitting alone in a completely empty classroom and pondering over how awesome it would be as a survival horror setting. That place fed off of human dreams! I'm bored. Bored. Bored. Boreeed. 'Bored' is actually a funny word if you repeat it enough times. B-O-R-E-D. Is its etymology related to 'red'? If so, why? Hey... What's this doing here? The inner philosophical debate was temporarily pushed aside by discovery of a tiny shop; shop squeezed between a barber shop and a drugstore. Steffi knew this city like her own shoes and she could probably navigate it with her eyes closed, but for some reason, this building had been escaping her attention up until now. Frowning slightly, she squinted to read the inscription on the signboard. Djinn's Lamp? An antique store?

    Now that sounded interesting; what intrigued her even more was the fact the little shop was apparently open despite the early hour. Well, I can either continue to find new and exciting ways to dissect the word 'bored,' or I can go inside and investigate a little. There was no harm in wasting the shopkeeper's precious time, right? Besides, Lenore's birthday was approaching in leaps and bounds. Her younger sister loved old trinkets, preferring them to new items as they contained stories according to her, so maybe she could see whether the store sold something worthwhile and return tomorrow with more money. Yes, that sounded like a reasonable plan! A bell suspended above the door announced her arrival, and a likeable old man from behind the counter raised his gaze from his newspaper to examine her. His face brightened with a sincere smile almost immediately, and she had to think of her long dead grandfather. "Good day, miss. Have you come for anything specific?"

    "Good morning," Steffi smiled in response, "and no, I don't think so. I'm just looking around." And she could tell even now that a thorough inspection would eat much more of her time than initially anticipated. The space may have been relatively small, but it was so cramped with items of questionable value it would make any archaeologist worth their title squeal in delight. Broken ceramics, statuettes of gods she couldn't recognize, old books written in unknown fonts and much, much more; Steffi had accidentally stumbled upon collector's paradise. "Alright, then. Feel free to see what I have to offer. Be careful, though. You may find more than you've bargained for," he threw in a conspiratorial wink and shifted his attention back to the newspaper. Ehm... What? Is that some American idiom I don't know? Have I finally encountered malignant effect of the language barrier? Steffi kinda wished to ask whether that comment meant some of his artifacts were riddled with parasites, but certain part of her - the one that didn't like the idea of being thrown out of the shop - suppressed the vitriolic remark. "Uh... Thanks for the warning, I guess." Shrugging, the girl turned to the shelves full of junk and started picking through it curiously, careful not to damage anything. The last thing Steffi wanted was to leave the store with a debt. Debt and a damaged reputation, to be precise.

    While the range of the merchandise was certainly wide, nothing really screamed 'buy me!' at her; something told her that her fourteen years old sister wouldn't find pieces of pottery all that exciting. Steffi was preparing the leave when something called out to her. A necklace, probably gold or made of a metal eerily similar to it, with a gleaming ruby embedded in its center. Logic dictated she shouldn't be getting too hopeful as the jewel would likely cost too much for a high school student whose pocket money barely covered her lunches, but there was something magnetic about it. Reaching out her hand, Steffi touched the trinket... And then her universe shattered to million pieces. The greatest pain she had ever experienced was breaking her arm in a particularly heated floorball game and even though it hurt like hell, this felt like pinching her finger in a comparison. Something invaded her body, tearing apart tissue from bones on a molecular level, and she wanted to scream, but her mouth wasn't where it used to be anymore. Before her perplexed mind could make a sense of the situation, the pain ceased and her body reassembled itself as if the nightmarish experience she had gone through had been nothing but an illusion. To be honest, Steffi would have been quite happy to accept this explanation if it wasn't for the fact she materialized in a freaking desert city that looked like straight out of One Thousand and One Nights!

    Wait... What the actual fuck?! If she had expected a clear answer to emerge from her subconscious, she was wrong; only silence echoed in her head. Well, silence and typical sounds of haggling from the market. People were arguing with each other over prices, lamenting that the other party wished to ruin them, and nobody paid attention to the lost girl standing in the center of it all. Okay, okay, calm down. There has to be a logical reason behind this. So, umm... Perhaps I hit my head in that store and this is just a really weird dream? Yeah, probably. Well, as long as I realize it's a dream, I can control it, which means it should be possible for me to wake up! Filled with new resolve, Steffi sat on the ground, ignoring weird stares from the people who saw her suspicious behavior, closed her eyes to maintain concentration and began chanting her mantra. "Wake up, wake up, wake up, wake up...."
  2. The sun beat down on the desert sands unrelentingly, as it did everyday. Occasionally, clouds would make their way across the sky, though they were scarce, and small. Water was liquid gold in this land, and the sky had none to spare for the people below. That didn't bother the citizens of Hilal much, their wells were dug deep into the earth, providing them with fresh water all year long. But people never drank this water, heavens no, it was far too precious. Instead it watered the fertile fields inside the city walls, where crops grew and animals were grazed. Wine and milk were what people drank, if they could afford it. And sadly, most could not.

    Such was the case with Ali, the young boy mused, as he heaved another sack of grain over his shoulder, lugging it towards the wooden cart. Each sack was almost a quarter of his size, and heavy, but had to be handled delicately so no to tear the burlap bag, and spill the grain. Each one was worth a day's salary, and he had only just worked himself out of the debt he owed to Ibrahim. He plopped the sack down in the cart, wiping the sweat from his brow before going back to fetch the last one. He had made sure he counted them all correctly, 37 bags in all. Finished loading the cart, he hitched up the old donkey to it, leading the weary mule towards the trading post.

    Every day was like this. He worked all day, and slept in the storage shed at night. He worked for a lower rate than he would have liked, but with the food he was provided and a roof over his head, it could always be worse. And he didn't have to see Ibrahim often, which was perhaps the biggest perk of all. Ali hated the man, that arrogant, fat, slimy excuse for a merchant. He was always kicked around and abused by him, but what could he do? Ibrahim was the only merchant with a desert caravan in town, ever since Mazin chased the others out. All other merchants operated thanks to him. Ibrahim only managed to be allowed to stay by kissing the warlord's ass, and in order to keep his job, Ali had learned to do the same. Sure, it was humiliating, but this was the way things were. No one else would hire him, he was too new to be trusted.

    He looked up at the hill as he passed it, gazing at the tower visage of the Dungeon of Mammon. That dungeon which had emerged from the earth beneath the town almost sixty years before, and still had not been captured. Seeing it every day, like a looming guardian, inspired Ali to keep going. Because he would be the one to conquer the dungeon. He just had to buy himself some supplies first, and when he went in, he could claim all the fame and wealth that was to be had after conquering a dungeon. He would be rich enough to hire his own army, and chase Mazin and Ibrahim out of town. Then, he could buy his own palace, much more beautiful and elaborate than any dungeon. Maybe he could even buy all of Hilal, and rule it as he pleased. He grinned at the thought, yes, he would definitely do it! And so he needed to work hard, and get more money quickly! Maybe he could even beg Ibrahim for a raise that day, if things went well upon the delivery.

    He was jolted out of his thoughts quite suddenly, when the mule stopped in her tracks, bringing the cart to the stop. Ali blinked, before cracking the reigns again, in hopes of moving her again. Still, she remained rooted to the ground. Had something spooked her? He then heard a small voice, almost like a chant. He peered over the mule's head, seeing the strangest person he had ever seen, sitting in the middle of the road! Yellow hair, pale skin, strange clothes, was she an angel? No, no, she was a girl, definitely a human girl. And more importantly, she was taking up the part of the road that carts go through.

    He hopped off the cart, marching over to the girl and putting his hands on his hips.
    "Oi, crazy girl! Out of the way, can't you see you're taking up the entire road? Go and be stupid somewhere else, I'm not in the mood to be late because I have to scrape your guts off my donkey's feet!" he scolded her, though he knew that there was no way the stubborn mule would let him run someone over. Damn animals and their moral conundrums. Still, if he was late, then Ibrahim would dock his pay, and he might go back into debt again! How could he afford to buy food and stay in the storage she if his already meager earnings were cut?
  3. Sitting on the dusty road and listening to the people haggling over prices, Steffi had to admit one thing; her mind was certainly an impressive tool. Who would have thought it could create such a trustworthy illusion, complete with sound effects and ungodly heat that made her feel like a hamburger on a grill? Sure, her brain fabricated dreams on daily basis, but for some reason, this felt different. More real. Dreams ran on a strange logic, removing any traces of reasoning from her thought process so she would accept the slightly twisted version of reality without any suspicion, yet her weirdness detector remained finely tuned this time. The concept of sudden transportation into an oriental land still struck her as pretty damn strange, which meant most of her brain functions must have stayed intact. Then again, all of the sensory perceptions she was receiving were seriously convincing, so perhaps her mind had just gotten better by fooling itself by employing the tactic of appearing to be completely sober. Steffi frowned deeply, not exactly pleased her efforts to escape from this imaginary world accomplished exactly nothing so far, and pressed her fingers to her temples in an attempt to increase her concentration. Of course, devoting all her thoughts to a single cause was pretty difficult when random boys kept coming to scold her.

    Steffi's icy blue eyes snapped open and pierced through the guy towering over her authoritatively, apparently unfazed by his catastrophic lack of anything that even remotely resembled good manners. Frankly, gentlemanship had gone out of fashion centuries ago and somehow, she always managed to turn herself into a suitable target for rude remarks, so dealing with them had become a routine affair. In retrospect, it was rather sad her subconscious had followed the real world trend and created this instead of a knight in a shining armor that would offer her help in this confusing situation, but whatever. Steffi guessed it related to that 'realism' niche. "Don't you think you're a little cheeky for a figment of my imagination, sweetie? Since I technically created this world, I'm pretty sure I can make you disappear with a snap of my fingers once I actually learn how to control it, so watch your mouth," she stated in a calm voice that was, according to her vast experiences in the field, best for aggravating just about anyone when used during an argument.

    Steffi proceeded to change her position to make herself more comfortable which was a symbolic gesture more than anything given the fact she was still sitting on a ground, but hopefully it got the message across; she wouldn't go anywhere. Not just because some overly insolent product of her fantasy demanded it. "I get to be stupid wherever I want, thank you very much." Perhaps she wouldn't have been so stubborn if he had approached her with kinder words, but Steffi was a firm believer in treating people the same way they treated her, and the boy had killed any chance at decent conversation the moment he had opened his mouth. Besides, can't you see I'm trying to wake up? So unless you wish to help me with that particular problem, buzz off and leave me alone," the blonde concluded and closed her eyes again, searching for the lost concentration.
  4. Ali was taken aback by the girl's sour retort, giving her a look of stunned reproach. A figment of her imagination? This girl reall was crazy! And of course, rather than move out of the way, she settled herself in a more comfortable position, making it very clear she had no intention to move. Ali grit his teeth as she brushed him of and returned to her meditative state. No, this was not going to happen! He was not going to be made late because some crazy foreigner had taken too many puffs of smoke.

    He tucked her switch into his belt, cracking his knuckles. He grabbed the foreigner by he back collar, forcibly dragged her out of the street and tossing her to the side. It was a very hard throw, but hey, if she had wanted to be treated gently she shouldn't have been sitting in the road.
    "Stay out of people's way! I don't have the time to deal with your insanity, I already have one stubborn mule, I don't want another!" He ordered her, pointin his switch at her for good measure.

    With that, he walked back to his cart, climbing up into it and sitting down in his seat, glancing at the girl again.
    "And don't be so stupid next time! Others won't be as nice as me, you hear? Go home, little girls like you shouldn't be out alone!" He shouted, before snapping his switch, they cart jolting forwards as the mule continued down the street.
  5. Being the eternal optimist she was, Steffi expected the guy to start shouting at her, but it turned out quickly that hoping in anything that even remotely resembled a civilized interaction was fairly naive. Instead of continuing their debate, he grabbed her unceremoniously by the collar and tossed her aside, letting her experience the sweet power of gravity. Laws of physics apparently worked the same way here as they did back in the real world, but Steffi wasn't exactly overwhelmed with nostalgia.

    Rising from the ground, the blonde's eyes flashed dangerously; it was the kind of expression her friends had learned to know and fear. When she had made that face last time, it had been on the occasion when her German teacher dared to question her usage of grammar, forgetting that German was, in fact, her native language. Let's just say the verbal backlash that had followed had earned her few weeks of detention and ruined her short-lived reputation of an exemplary student forever.

    "What the hell, mate? Are you trying to win some unofficial contest of being a greatest dick around or is this your standard behavior?" Okay, objectively speaking, it was also partially her fault for not moving out of the way when he had requested it, but Steffi certainly wasn't in the mood to apply empathy to the current situation. Hell, she had gotten stuck in some bizarre yet weirdly realistic illusion that let her experience pain without terminating itself in the process like every decent dream; Steffi had every right to be a little self-centered at the moment. To be honest, she also had the right to panic and maybe break down in hysterics, but that simply wasn't her style. At least not when she could direct her attention elsewhere. Brushing the dust off her clothes, Steffi walked back to the cart. "And if I knew how to get home, I wouldn't be sitting in the middle of the road, thank you very much for your concern. Actually, I don't even know how I got here. What is this place, anyways?" she raised her eyebrow, deciding to play along with the dream for now. Smoothly transitioning from insults to normal conversation might not have been the most diplomatic approach ever, but to her defense, Steffi wasn't exactly renowned for being great at diplomacy.
    #5 Aine, Nov 20, 2014
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 23, 2014
  6. Ali didn't believe he could be any more irked without crossing the line from pissed to furious, when the foreign girl returned, walking by the cart. He rolled his eyes and sighed in exasperation as she started cussing him out, opening his mouth to fire back a mighty retort, when her tone suddenly changed. Confused, he glanced over at her, raising an eyebrow. What the hell was she going on about now? He had half a mind to continue his insulting string, but this girl was like a desert leech; the more you pulled to get her off, the deeper she sank her teeth.

    Shaking his head, he sighed, pointing up at the dungeon tower, visible from every point in the city and the surrounding countryside, like an ever present God.
    "Seriously, you can't tell? This is Tabuk. That up there is the dungeon of Belphegor. I don't see how you can miss it, it's visible from hundreds of miles away. Before Mazan took over, people supposedly came to see it from many villages, and try to claim it. They all died, of course, no one has ever come back from Belphegor alive. I'm going to be different though, once I make enough money..." He trailed off, snapping back to reality.

    He shook his head, cracking the donkey's switch on the cart, starting her moving again at a slow pace.
    "Anyways, I can't stay around here, you've made me late enough as it is. Seriously, kid, go home. I don't want to get beaten because of you." He said, starting off down the street once again.
  7. Geography and orientation in general had never been Steffi's strong points - frankly, if someone took her to a foreign city, spun her around three times and ran away, she'd probably starve to death on the streets instead of finding her way home - yet the girl had still harbored a naive hope some information concerning this location would help her. Perhaps the misconception stemmed from the belief that knowledge equaled to power even in imaginary worlds or the crazier part of her personality buried deep under the rational exterior actually began accepting this fairly outrageous turn of events as reality, but her motivations didn't matter; the only thing that carried any significance was the simple fact none of the names he had thrown at her rang any bells for her. Tabuk? Mazan? Dungeon of Belphegor? A confusion settled on her face as she searched through her private database of available information. The metaphorical search engine in her head showed zero results which didn't make any sense; dreams relied solely on the knowledge stored in her head and even though her subconsciousness could twist it to some extent, it should still be recognizable under careful scrutiny.

    "Actually, no, I've never heard of anything even slightly similar to these names. Dungeon of Belgephor? What is that supposed to be? It sounds like something straight out of a fantasy roleplaying game. You know, the kind of unoriginal, tacky game where the pseudo-plot consists of murdering sentient beings because they have different skin color than you and the only moral dilemma present is the anguish over which items to loot from their corpses because there's an encumbrance system implemented," Steffi raised her eyebrow, subconsciously adjusting her pace to his. "And do you have some parasite in your brain? I've literally just told you I don't know how to get home. Trust me, I'd be on my merry way already if I had even the slightest idea where should I head. I was in an antique shop, choosing a potential present for my younger sister like the model older sibling I am, I touched some pendant and the next thing I knew was that I somehow... appeared here, for the lack of a better word," she threw her hands up in the air in exasperation, clearly not pleased with the outcome.

    "I know it sounds crazy and I'm fairly open to the idea that this is just some illusion and I'm actually lying in a deep coma somewhere in a hospital, but I imagine you don't support this theory very much, so... Can you tell me name of this country? Name of this continent?" Asking these questions was very likely fruitless, but to be honest, Steffi didn't know what other steps should she take. She had formed some plans for the eventual zombie apocalypse during few extraordinarily boring History classes, but it hadn't occurred to her to prepare herself for getting stuck in some weird alternate reality which may or may not have been created by her hyperactive imagination.
  8. Ali rolled his eyes, muttering a prayer under his breath and holding back his desires to smash his head into a wall. Why was this girl still following him?! Didn't she have someplace to be?! And what the hell was she babbling on about, games and plots and systems?! If he wasn't sure she was a lunatic before, he was certain of it now! People were starting to give them strange glances, not just from the conversation, but from how weird the girl looked! She stood out from the dark skinned, dark haired crowd like a white pebble in a jar of saffron! He wanted to get her away from him as quickly as possible, without her talking on and on about illusions and imaginings.

    He heaved a great sigh, suddenly stopping, turning to the girl with a helplessly annoyed expression.
    "What the hell do you want from me, girl?! Sounds crazy? No, it is crazy, everything you have said to me has either been crazy or an insult! I don't know what drug you are on, but I wish, Allah above, I wish you would take your lunacy somewhere else, to someone who has the time to deal with you!" He near shouted, throwing his hands to the sky.

    "Okay, I'll play along. Firstly, little miss crazy girl, this is Hilal, where Arabs live, us, the people of the desert, okay? To the East is Persia, where Persians live, to the west are Greeks and Jews, where they live, to the southwest is the Dark Continent, to the southeast are the Hindus, and to the north are the barbarians. There you go, full tour of the continent, in twenty seconds!"
    He explained loudly, pointing stabbingly in different directions.
    "Secondly, since you are clearly so smart, much smarter than a peasant boy on the street, tell me this, where is this magical pendant, huh?! Because, I don't see it. I don't see it at all. You know what I see? I see a lost, annoying little brat who has no respect for adults or any idea of how hard or important work is. Look at you, no calluses on your hands, long nails, shiny hair, you are probably someone's lost pet, let loose around the market to wreak havoc! Well, I'm done playing games with you, okay?! I don't care where you go, so long as it is away from me! Go find your little sister, or your necklace, or someone who cares! Because I'm not helping you, I can barely help myself! So instead of wasting the time of hard working adults, maybe you should-" he dropped his angered rant as he noticed the cart was gone, his donkey had walked up the street without him.
    "Oi, Oi Oi! Get back here! No, you stupid animal!" He shouted, running after the mule, who refused to hear him.
  9. Practically being called a madman didn't exactly please her, but she didn't really blame him for this reaction; red mist of anger may have blocked out most of her rationality, yet even the girl herself agreed her explanation had been quite out of realm of 'normal.' Actually, if some random passerby she met on streets had tried to tell her a similar story, she would have likely backed away slowly while reaching for her cell phone to in order to contact ambulance. "Yes, yes, of course," Steffi waved her hand as if driving away some troublesome insect. "That's why I started my sentence with 'I know it sounds crazy.' I don't need to be reminded of the fact how insane my questions sound. I'm aware of the massive WTF-factor, thank you very much. Now could you answer in a civilized manner, please?" Steffi briefly contemplated leaving him to his own devices and finding someone more cooperative - which, by the way, wouldn't even be that hard as even a mute person would have been more helpful and they'd have added benefit of not being so annoying - but unexpectedly, the guy transformed into a tourist guide.

    Steffi's face twisted into something that could very well be a textbook definition of amazement. Geography usually interested her approximately as much as courtship rituals of platypuses and thus she had never heard of this 'Hilal' before, but not even someone who actively resisted the baneful influence of education and stuck their fingers into their ears whenever the teachers said something couldn't not know where Arabs lived, at least in broad terms. It certainly wasn't anywhere near America. So, let me get this straight. If I exclude the option that he's simply pulling my leg - which doesn't seem very probable as he hasn't really shown any affinity for humor so far - then I've somehow traveled across the globe within few seconds. She immediately put this evidence into a fancy folder with inscription 'Reasons To Think It's Just a Strange Dream' while half-expecting the delusion would crumble under the weight of reality, but it didn't. Actually, whole absurdity of the situation only escalated as he began accusing her of... well, basically everything from global warming to Spanish flu. "If I knew where it was, I'd obviously employ my superior intellect to figure out how it works in order to get back rather than continually bang my head against the wall via trying to talk to people who share most of their traits with stick buried deep in an ass. Also, I'm sincerely sorry for not throwing away my future to work the moment law enabled it and choosing to be, you know, a student instead."

    Steffi took a deep breath to add few more toxic remarks to her tirade, but the mule apparently found the boy's presence just as annoying as she did and manifested it in the most direct way possible. Her legs acted before she could really think it through, following the guy despite their mutual antipathies; Steffi still needed to know some things and even though he wasn't exactly pleasant to be around, asking him seemed to be the safe choice in comparison with the idea of confronting one of the unknown, potentially dangerous people giving her weird stares. "Wait! One last question and I'll leave you alone. How do I get to American embassy?" She may have been dragged into spiral of insanity, but that couldn't stop her from taking logical steps.
  10. The girl continued being unhelpful and rude even after the boy had started running, and now she was following him as he caught up with the donkey, jumping on the cart and snapping the reigns, slowing the animal down. He brushed his black hair out of his face, catching his breath as the animal returned to a crawl. He looked over as the girl caught up with him, asking him where the American Embassy was. He frowned, an embassy? Why would a place like Tabuk have an ambassador? It was'nt even a real country, merely a city-state in a collection of city-states. And what was this place "America", anyways? He had never heard of it, and he was certainly no fool when it came to matters of travel.

    He shrugged his shoulders, shaking his head.
    "There is no embassy here, this city isn't big or important enough. And I don't know what this "America" place is. Is... Is that where you're from, your home?" He asked, making a connection. This girl... Was she someone important? It would certainly explain her haughty attitude and fair skin. She must be a lost foreigner. Feeling slightly guilty for being rude to her so much, he sighed.

    "Well... See that building up there? That really tall one? That's the Dungeon, up on the hill. Next to it, that villa there? That's where Mazan lives, he's the lord of this city. He's who you're gonna want to talk to about leaving the city or political matters. Of course, you need an appointment to speak with him. For that, you'll probably want to see Ibrahim, he's the only merchant left in the city, and extremely wealthy. I think he's close to Mazan, so, if you get a good word in with him..." He pondered this. If this girl really was important, that would mean that Ibrahim might be in a good mood, and more inclined to give him a raise. Smiling at his own ingenuity, he turned to the girl with a grin.
    "Okay, hop on. I was going to see Ibrahim today anyways, so I might as well help a kid out. It will be good for my karma." He offered.
    #10 Invader Len, Feb 8, 2015
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 9, 2015
  11. Disappointment spread all over her face as he informed her she had chosen to end up in some small town nobody gave a damn about. Not important enough for embassy, huh? I don't even know why I expected otherwise. I mean, this delusion is clearly a manifestation of my hidden masochistic desires. Of course nothing can ever be NOT complicated. Actually, given the circumstances, Steffi should probably be grateful that scary clowns and other monsters plaguing her childhood dreams hadn't shown up yet to settle a score with her, but this small solace still didn't solve her number one problem. Operation with codename of 'how-the-fuck-can-I-get-out-of-here' still hadn't progressed by a single step into the right direction. Alright, alright. Panic has never been an answer, so let's just... take a few deep breaths and analyze the whole mess. What can I do in this situation?

    That answer sounded, predictably, 'not much.' Steffi had always held great pride in her ability to improvise and devise workable plans on the fly, but it seemed her brain undertook a strike action as the only thing that occurred to her was getting a hold of a phone. 'Hi, mom, someone probably drugged me and kidnapped me to some Arabic country. I have no idea where I am, but could you possibly pick me up? Okay, thanks, bye!' was exactly the kind of conversation she wished to avoid at all costs even during a dream. The poor woman had enjoyed her fair share of heart-stoppers already. Needless to say, her mother would definitely freak out even more if she didn't contact her at all, so that was totally out of question, too.

    Steffi was beginning to sink into her own thoughts when a single remark stole her attention back. "What? You... You don't know about America?" All the arrogance in her voice was suddenly replaced by disbelief; how could anyone miss existence of two continents? "And no, America is not my home," she added, shaking her head resolutely. The country was quite nice when you overlooked certain aspects - nobody could deny that - but it still hadn't earned the privilege of being called her home. "It's just where I currently live." Steffi was about to fulfill her wish of not bothering him anymore and waving him goodbye, but then the guy extended a helping hand. The sudden change of heart did seem a little suspicious, yet her natural wariness concerning strangers generated by the 'don't get into a car with an unknown person' principle couldn't make her refuse. Her danger-o-meter may have been badly calibrated, but the boy failed to inspire any feelings of fear within her; he just didn't give off the psycho vibe. Moreover, the fact that he apparently had connections to this Ibrahim could make things so much easier for her.

    "Aren't you a little too young to call anyone 'kid'?" Steffi smirked while climbing on the cart carefully, mindful of every movement; the last thing she wanted right now was to give him ammunition by demonstrating her clumsiness. "Seriously, though, thanks. As you can probably imagine, being lost in a completely foreign city isn't fun. Also, sorry for presenting you with such a wonderful first impression; I tend to speak a little faster than I think sometimes and this is the result. Anyway, I'm Steffi. What's your name?" Yes, Steffi may have been quick to explode in anger, but she was equally quick in to seek out reconciliation, especially when someone else offered the olive branch first.
  12. Ali grinned as the girl climbed on, scoffing as he rebuked him calling her a kid.
    "Aren't you a little too young to be wandering the streets alone? I'm nineteen, for your information." he retorted, in a less aggressive tone than before. He snapped the reigns as she seated herself behind the grain bags, setting the mule in motion. He snapped them again, mindful of how much time had already been lost in the streets. He really hoped this girl was rich or important enough for Ibrahim to overlook his lateness. As the girl continued to talk, she did talk very fast, he nodded, smiling when she introduced herself.
    "I can relate, it was difficult for me as well when I arrived here. I'm from a different country, but I came here because there was better work. I've been to a lot of places in Hilal, though my home is in Baghdad. And Steffi, huh? That's a strange name. I'm Ali. So, tell me about this America, where you live. Do all the people there look and talk like you? You're a pretty weird kid." he noted, honestly curious.

    As they made their way through the narrow streets, their surroundings eventually gave way to wider paths and fewer people, the outer circle of the city seeming desolate and empty. Soon, they passed through a gate, into the large lot where Ibrahim's caravan stayed. There were several wagons, camels and horses and oxen in their stables. Crates were stacked near them, being loaded on by muscular workers. There were barrels of wine, spice, and perfume, sacks of produce and grain, pens with sheep, pigs, chickens. There were cages with exotic birds and reptiles, pots of oils and plants, rolls of fabric, calico and silk. As they passed by a larger cage, Ali bowed his head in shame; the cage was full of humans. Dirty and poorly clad, they sat in the corners, some children crying, but most just looking tired, desolate, empty. They were slaves, to be sent into the mines, into the fields, to work in the homes of the wealthy. Shackles on their arms and chains on their feet, like animals. Ali's grip on the reigns tightened and he grit his teeth; he hated it, humans treated like commodities, like things. He absolutely despised it. But as they passed the cage, he forced his expression back to normal, smiling like nothing had happened. He had to focus on himself, unless he wanted to wind up a slave too.

    He stopped the cart by a larger wagon, hopping off and unhitching the mule from the ride. As another worker led the animal away, Ali wiped the sweat from his brow, looking around the lot.
    "Let's see... Ibrahim should be around somewhere... Ah, there he is, he's coming this way! Let me handle this, he won't talk to you unless he knows you." he whispered to her, walking towards the man. He was a fat man, one beyond belief. With every step he took, his flabby breasts and belly jiggled, even the fat pouches on his cheeks wobbled as he moved. Behind him were two dark skinned guards, large scimitars sheathed at their waists. Ali swallowed his true feelings, putting on a flattering smile and clasping his hands together.
    "Good morning, my master! I have brought the grain from the market, just as you requested! All the bags are here, safe and sound! I-" he began in a voice laced with sweetness, when Ibrahim's guard stepped forwards, and butted him hard in the gut. With the wind knocked out of him from the impact, Ali fell to the ground, clutching his stomach on his knees. Ibrahim have a cruel sneer on his face, a mix of anger and contempt.
    "Silence, you disgusting worm! Do you realize how high the sun has risen in the sky? It's almost noon! You were supposed to arrive with that shipment over an hour ago! How do you explain that to me, you thieving, pathetic waste?" he asked, stepping on Ali's head and forcing it to the ground, kicking it with each insult.
    Ali tried to withhold his groaning, coughing as the dirt and dust filled his mouth, coating his tongue and throat.
    "F-Forgive me, m-my master! Th-The streets were crowded, and the mule-!"
    "Excuses, excuses, all you can give me are excuses. It's like you don't even care that I am the one that houses you, feeds you, puts the clothes on your back! All you can think of is robbing and cheating me out of my time and money!" he barked, before taking notice of Steffi.
    "And who is this, some harlot you picked up off the streets to fool around with, on my time?"
  13. "Oh, so you're nineteen. I see. In that case, I apologize for my earlier remarks; the two years that divide us make for such a tremendous difference. How mature and experienced you have to be! In fact, you're practically an old man in comparison with me. Have you reserved a spot in a local graveyard already? I heard it's best to take care of such things in advance," Steffi stated, her expression the very definition of seriousness, yet her tone didn't quite match her words; it was fairly obvious they were meant to be taken with a grain of salt. "And yeah, Steffi. Actually, to be precise, it's Stephanie, but that makes me feel as if I'm hundred years old, so I go with Steffi unless I'm trying to sound important. Good to meet you, Ali," she added and then extended her arm to shake his hand. Her grip wasn't bone-crushing, but it also spoke of confidence. Steffi hated it when people couldn't perform such a simple thing as handshake correctly, so she always went out of her way to be firm. There was nothing more annoying than hand that felt like a dead fish. "Well, I'm not sure whether I'm a typical specimen in America - probably not because I'm still deeply rooted in my European mindset - but you could certainly meet stranger people there. I'm not really that weird; I don't usually claim I've been transported across continents via some magical device or block the road. I'm clearly not having a good day," Steffi laughed quietly.

    "Anyway, about America. It's an obscenely large country, so the mentality varies, but people are generally friendly. Sometimes a little too much, to be honest. Oh, and arguing about everything seems to be a national sport, but that probably applies to human race in general." Even though Steffi looked to be completely focused on digging up stereotypes from her still somewhat limited arsenal of trivia about America, she actually perceived the environment around her quite well, and her inner child couldn't help but stare in astonishment. Supermarkets she was used to had so many advantages it would probably take whole day to list them all, but they were certainly lacking in the atmosphere department; the only thing that could culturally enrich you while shopping there was a random Justin Bieber song and that kind of food for soul could very well poison you if you consumed it in bigger doses. On the other hand, this market was pulsing with life and stories. The fragrance of various herbs mixed with sweat and other smells she couldn't quite categorize overwhelmed her senses; she was tempted to hop down from the cart, check out the stalls and maybe buy some souvenir for her mother, but her common sense overruled that particular desire. Curiosity had gotten her in this mess in the first place, dammit! No, she should silence that little voice in her head that told her to pursue adventure and go with Ali's proposed course of action. Seeing people in cages only cemented her opinion about wandering away from the one person who knew the ropes around here.

    They... actually still sell slaves here? I thought these medieval practices have gone extinct already? Damn, where the hell have I ended up? Existence of slaves seemed so surreal in this day and age; people were actually being sold for profit here while her greatest problem was not being able to find a pair of jeans that truly fit her. Maybe Ali had been right. Perhaps she really was a kid in some regards. "Alright, I'm not gonna interfere until it's clear my unique power of saying the worst possible thing at the worst possible time won't get us in trouble," Steffi replied as she climbed down from the cart swiftly. Meeting Ibrahim for the first time exceeded all her expectations; she had thought she would get introduced to an ordinary man who happened to possess some political power, but she got to witness a walking miracle instead. Human stomach is only this large and yet he managed to reach this... size. Unbelievable. Do we even belong to the same species? Isn't he Homo Fatus or something like that? Laughter was threatening to erupt from her chest, but it died out as soon as Ibrahim demonstrated this country probably had really shitty labor unions. Steffi clenched her fists, clearly enraged at this situation.

    "Well, first of all, no, I'm not a prostitute, thanks for asking. I'm someone who doesn't think it's okay to step on your employee's head just because it seems like a fun thing to do! Could you maybe stop acting like a complete jackass and let him go? It's my fault Ali was late; he helped me when I was lost, so your precious merchandise is safe." Yes, Steffi may have been talented at many things, but diplomacy unfortunately wasn't featured very high on her skill-set.
  14. Ali looked up as Steffi started speaking, his stomach twisting itself into knots, and it wasn't from the dirt he had inhaled. Shit, shit, shit! She was ruining everything! He opened his mouth again to yell at her to shut up, before she got the both of them beheaded, but Ibrahim's foot drove into his skull again, before he got off. Red faced at being spoken to in this honor, Ibrahim tried to compose himself in his normal sneer, approaching the girl. His stomach wobbled again with each step, as if it were but water beneath his skin.
    "Eh? And who do you think you are addressing, in that tone? I am Ibrahim Mohammad Moghadam, and this is my market! That boy works for me for as long as I say he does, for as hard as I say he does, or else he becomes a slave! And who exactly do you think you are, to distract my workers and insult me?" he hissed, looming over Steffi as best he could.

    Spitting sand and dirt out of his mouth, Ali scrambled to his feet, hurrying to perhaps salvage the situation. He pulled Steffi back, putting himself in-between them.
    "M-Master, please, she meant no harm! Sh-She's just a lost foreigner, really, ah-she's not used to our customs. I-It's really quite sad, you see, she's from a barbaric northern country where the men ride wolves and they don't cook their meat. She's quite illiterate and unintelligent, please forgive her discretions, she didn't know any better. Y-You see, violence and insults are their way of greeting, and the greater the insult, the more respect you have for that person! Quite backwards, I know, but what can you expect from a race of people where the women wear pants and the men wear dresses, and children are chiefs instead of elders?" he said, making up wild lies in hope Ibrahim would believe them. The man rubbed his chin, tugging at his pathetically thin mustache.
    "Hmmm... And, what is this land called, perhaps?" he asked slyly. Ali's eyes widened, thinking he had bought it.
    "Ah, yes! It's this place called America, it's a very large place, and the people there argue as sports! You could say it's almost magical, how vulgar they are, I was quite astonished when I met this girl, but apparently she became separated from her family and needs to get back. I was hoping that you, my most wise, powerful, generous master, would take pity on this foolish barbarian, and your humble servant." he said, bowing to show his "deep respect".

    Ibrahim was silent, before smiling.
    "Aha, I see. Very well, I will gladly help." he said. Ali looked up, eyes bright with hope. However, things changed when Ibrahim grabbed his ear, yelling into it.
    "Is that what you thought I would say, you fool?! That pack of lies is the stupidest thing I have ever heard! What kind of moron do you take me for?!" he roared, throwing the teen to the ground. Ali scrambled backwards, not wanting his head to be stepped on again. As his guards stood ready behind him, swords drawn, Ibrahim continued ranting.
    "Foreigner this, foreigner that, read a map, you buffoon! I have been to the Aral sea, to our holy Mecca, to Greece and as far away as the badlands of Iberia! Egypt and Morocco and Heliopolis, I have even seen snow upon the Anatolian plateau! And never, in all my years, have I ever heard of this place 'America'! How much of a nincompoop do you take me for, not recognizing that shrimp as the Germanic scum she is?! She's probably one of Mazan's harem slaves, and if she's not, then I'll get into his good favor giving her to him." he finished, his smile turning sinister.
    "Throw her in the cage, be careful not to bruise her. As for the boy, I want him chained and whipped. The sentence for assisting a runaway slave is death."

    As the guards moved closer, Ali had to clench his trembling heart. Shit... This was it? He was just gonna die here, like this? He glanced over at Steffi, feeling a sick wave of pity. Which was worse, slavery or death? He didn't know... Slavery, probably. At least in death, there was heaven... He took a deep breath, swallowing his fears. Best save the worrying for later.
    As one of the guards grabbed his shoulder, Ali dug his feet into the ground, grabbing the man's arm and kicking him behind the knees, sending him off balance. He twisted his other arm and grabbed the scimitar, disarming him. Damn, this was heavy! Spinning around, he cut the other guard's loincloth, making him drop his sword in an attempt to cover himself. Pointing his blade at Ibrahim, who had stepped back in a shocked panic, Ali grit his teeth in anger and frustration.
    "Sorry, Steffi, but if it comes to the choice between slavery and death, I would rather die. That being said, I still have something important to do first." he apologized quietly, looking up as he heard the shouts of the workers, coming to see the commotion.
    "Come on, run!" he urged her, grabbing her hand and dragging her along.

    "Stop them! They're getting away! Catch them! I want Ali's head!"
    Ibrahim's frantic screams and pants could be heard as he ordered his men, Ali shoving past a confused worker. Looking back, two men were giving chase, soon joined by the confused farmhand. Ali cursed under his breath, so much for an easy escape. Seeing barrels ahead of them, he pushed harder, letting go of Steffi briefly so he could use the sword to split it open. Like a black flood, oil and tar flowed out, causing those giving chase to slip and fall, getting covered in the slick, sticky ooze. Grinning at his ingenious, Ali grabbed Steffi again, leading her to a stack of crates by the wall.
    "Climb up! Them jump to the other side, I'll be right behind you!" he instructed, looking for more things to use to distract them. He opened the chicken pen, kicking it to scare the animals loose, before doing the same with the goats. He put the sword in his belt, pushing a cart of watermelons out into the street, sending them rolling. The marketplace was in chaos, the melons smashed everywhere and some knocked over casks and tables alike. Oil continued to move in it's slick, and goats were either eating silk and produce or butting those trying to catch them. Turning back to the crates, Ali climbed up after Steffi, kicking the stack over once he reached the top.

    He jumped down to the ground below, rolling as he did so. Panting, he looked around, seeing no one on this side of the wall had seen them. It wouldn't be long until Mazan's guards caught wind of this. They had to hide.
    He grabbed Steffi's hand again, pulling down a shawl from a laundry line, putting it over her head.
    "Hurry, it won't be long until they find us. We can hide by the aqueduct. Keep your head down, and keep close." he whispered, hurrying her down the street.
    It was a long, silent walk until they reached the aqueduct, hiding in doorways or behind steps whenever people came near. Ali didn't think they were spotted, making it to the aqueduct without incident.
    It was a long, man made river of clean water, powering a waterwheel and going out towards the farms from wells deep below the city. Ali sat down exhaustedly, leaning against a cool wall.
    "Haa, jesus... I told you to let me handle the talking, and what do you do? Now we're refugees. It's only a matter of time before we're found out, Ibrahim and Mazan are the only ones in control of the city gates." he lamented.
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