Chapter XVI

Hostile Takeover

Weeks had passed since Mamir and Ennui set out across the Aldorrian Desert. The trek had been tireless and on numerous occasions the two managed to skirt danger, avoiding bandits, giant scorpions, and creatures of the night. Day after day they had rested in the covered wagon, each of them taking turns to ensure nothing untoward would occur.

Their arrival in Sidi had been marked with ill-fated weather, dust storms rose from the west, blowing harsh red sands across the white painted walls of the city. The houses are covered in thin layers of sand, appearing as though they had been colored with powdered rust. Mamir and Ennui keep to themselves, avoiding guards and city watch alike. It is not until their arrival at the Zeybek Estate that Ennui realizes something is truly amiss. A dark cloud seems to hang over the once vibrant estate. Guards surround around the estate, their unwillingness to grant her an audience rousing her suspicions. When Mamir inquires about the welfare of Lady Aleyna, a sense of unease grows within the guards. Ennui and Mamir leave notice for the guards to inform Lady Aleyna of their arrival, though Ennui knows better than to expect a summons.

A small inn several blocks from the estate acts as their temporary home. Ennui and Mamir spend the better part of five days plotting a way into the estate and possible escape routes. She is aware that what she had planned would be dangerous, and that the potential for things to go awry is quite high. Despite that, without knowing the allegiance of the Sidian guard, the best course of action is one that was swift and final.

Mamir sits on the colorful sheets on the floor. The small room barely fits the two of them and the supplies they had packed. Mamir looks up, his brow pulling together while he turns to Ennui.

“You bloody well expected this,” Mamir grumbles before he returns to fletching the lengthy arrows.

Ennui smirks, her legs crossed on the bed. “Did not.”

Mamir scoffs in response, “This sounds just like you. Coming here ready to fight an army…I should have known with the supplies you took.”

“Does not. I like to do things clean and efficiently. As you are well aware…”

Mamir looks up from his meticulous crafting, “Don’t think that you can make this quick or efficient. M-Maybe…just maybe we can get some guards on our side.”

Ennui chuckles, “Yes. Dear Guard, Lady Aleyna Zeybek is being held captive by her husband’s men…aid us in murde—“

“You always make me sound stupid,” Mamir groans, leaning forward over his work.

“Well, I mean…it’s not far of—”

“Shut it!” Mamir shouts, thrusting an arrow into the leather quiver. “Are you truly expecting me to take on this many mercenaries?” He asks, sidling on the bed to find a more comfortable position. “Ennui…it’s bloody Ziad Zeybek. Emir Ziad Zeybek!”

Ennui bites her lip, “I have faith in you,” she says, clicking her tongue. She takes a deep breath, “We’ll be fine…if things go wrong. You can leave me. But you best be sure to run the fuck back to the north.” 

Mamir glares at Ennui, contemplating her words carefully. “Right then. Shall we run through the plan once more?” He asks, his short legs click against the tiles at the edge of the bed.

Ennui glances up, her tail flicks atop the bed in annoyance. “Right, so you’re going to kill everyone at the gatehou–”

“What?! Ennui, seriously…”

Fine,” Ennui says, sheathing her dagger swiftly. “I’ll climb over the eastern gate and open it from the inside. IF there is anyone there…I’ll incapacitate them and let you in. Afterward, we go to the courtyard…then to Lady Aleyna’s room.”

Mamir smiles, “And if Lady Aleyna isn’t in her room?”

Ennui grimaces, “Well…then they all die I guess,” she whispers with a shrug.

“Good enough,” Mamir sighs and lays his back onto the small bed. “Ennui, this is much more than I signed up for. I don’t think I am ready to die.”

“You’ll be fine,” Ennui snaps quickly. “You’re not the one putting your ass in the middle of a courtyard filled with mercenaries,” she chides, her pale brow pinching in concentration.

“Assuming you can even get in,” Mamir offers, brushing his fingers through his beard.

Ennui looks at the low flickering flame on the desk and pulls another dagger from her boot. Mamir glances up at Ennui curiously before returning his head to the pillow. Ennui places the sharpening stone to her lap, dragging the edge of the blade across the oiled stone. The wind from the dust storm howls violently outside the small inn, the closed curtains billow into the room.

“What if we can’t save her? OR what if she’s already dead?” Mamir asks suddenly after a lengthy silence.

Ennui maintains a silence before speaking, “She’s alive. The lion spoke with her through some sort of magickal nonsense.”

Mamir’s eyes grow wide, “That is shocking. Experienced clerics or learned priests are the only ones capable of such a feat,” he pauses in thought, “then again…if he is the Saint of Flames that may make more sense.”

“Yes, well, perhaps Khimi should have brought his ass here before running off with the little lion,” Ennui mutters.

“If we had a saint with us, I’m sure the Sanctum would list—”

Mamir,” Ennui interrupts. “This was discussed. You’re not to expose Lumi’s nature to anyone.”

Mamir shrugs in response, “He should claim his right and start a following,” he whispers hurriedly. “It’ll only get worse the longer he waits…if people find out he has been hiding…”

“Khimi is going to stab me for ever mentioning it to you,” Ennui groans and slaps her hand over her eyes. “Just…don’t mention it again.”

“I keep my promises,” Mamir replies. “It’d just be a hell of a lot easier with him here. Don’t think he could make the journey here quicker with the Gods’ gifts?”

No,” Ennui snaps. “Khimi will be that much more pleased knowing we did this without his help.”

Mamir rolls onto his side, “Well then, tonight or tomorrow?”

“Tonight is as good a night as any, if not even better because of dust,” Ennui replies.

Mamir nods, “Prepare yourself the—“

“Prepare myself?” Ennui laughs. “I should be the one telling you that.”

Mamir pushes air through his lips and reaches for the bow at the edge of the bed, “I’m ready as I will ever be.”

Ennui rolls her eyes in response, “After sun down, then we’ll head over,” she whispers, crossing her boots over one another.

“Get a bit of shut-eye,” Mamir whispers, turning away from Ennui. He curls up against the wall with the bow in his arms, “It’ll be a long night.”

The sun falls behind the dust covered buildings, the red dust clouds block out the fading light. Ennui awakes from her shallow slumber, a loud group of travelers make their way into the common room of the inn. Their shouts and jeers ring out through the mudbrick walls of the building. Ennui sits up, pushing the curtains back from the window. The light from the small marketplace is nearly blotted out by the blowing dust. Mamir rises shortly after and silently prepares himself for the night’s trial. The dark skinned dwarf presses the short bow against the ground, bending harshly to attach a new bowstring. Ennui jabs dagger after dagger into concealed leather sheaths along her body.

Moments later, Mamir and Ennui slip through the window and onto a small balcony. They pull their dark linen cloaks around their mouths to block out the swirling red dust. With haste, they hurry their way past several small structures until they find themselves walking along the gated wall of the Zeybek estate. Ennui follows along the white walls which are peppered with the red dust, Mamir following alongside. No one can be seen from along the wall, and Ennui carefully skulks through the darkness.

Ennui,” Mamir whispers, testing the tension in his short bow. “Be careful,” he insists outside the side gates.

Ennui looks back, tightening the cowl over her horns. She gives Mamir a confident smirk, “Observe,” she replies, a deliberate smirk crossing her lips.

Ennui brings forth a dagger from her waist, stabbing the steel into a wooden post. She tests the sturdiness before pulling herself up the wall. The visibility of the garden surrounding the estate remains mostly obscured by a veil of red dust. Through an archway, a glimpse of a lit brazier in the courtyard can be seen through the dust. Ennui pulls herself over the wall, landing with a soft thud onto the cobbled path. She checks her surroundings once again before removing the iron bar blocking the wooden gates from opening. The gate creaks open while she pushes it past the sand built up against it.

Mamir gives a nod of approval, squeezing through the narrow entry.

Together they dart across the yard to the lengthy arched hallway which extends into the inner courtyard. As they approach, the sound of music and shouts reverberate from the central hall of the estate. Mamir and Ennui press their backs to the wall, sliding against the gritty texture, the coarse texture snags against their linen clothing. Ennui eyes the courtyard, noting the lit braziers, their flames dancing wildly from the whipping winds. A guard stands posted against a pillar across the courtyard, a scarf covering their nose and mouth. Ennui motions to the hedges along the base of the wall lining the length of the courtyard. Mamir quickly moves behind them, ducking then crawling to obscure himself further.

Ennui whispers a word once taught to her by Samael. She steps forward, appearing in the shadows of the central fountain. She looks about in the dark, preparing for her next movement. We’ll at least have to kill that one. It’d be nice if we knew which of these rooms is Aleyna’s. She presses her fingers against her temples, massaging them in a circular motion. Well…that bloke is fucked. She steps forward again, finding herself behind a wide palm near the central entry to the courtyard. She takes a cautious look from behind the palm. The guard stands waiting, his back resting against the massive sandstone pillar. His hands rest on the hilts of the two scimitar on his waist. Ennui unsheathes the gladius from her waist. She grips the hilt, squeezing it several times in preparation to step through the shadows once again.

Ennui vanishes from behind the palm, only to appear in a blink behind the pillar. The flames from the brazier in the courtyard dances about, causing the shadow of the pillar to shake. Ennui turns around, guiding her hand along the pillar. She edges herself around to the man, tapping her fingers on the hilt with each step. Drawing the blade without a sound, she brings the blade up with both hands, readying it over her head. With a swift motion, she pounces, the full length of the shortsword slides through his shoulder and into his chest. He lets out a faint gasp, his legs stuttering before he drops to his knees. Ennui holds onto the man, easing him onto the floor before removing the bloody blade.

Festive laughter echoes from the main entrance while Ennui drags the man into the brush. She eyes the suspicious flecks of blood left from her deed. Sloppy. She runs back to the hedges, spotting Mamir standing on the tip of his toes, peering into one of the curtained rooms. She approaches, looking into one of the adjacent windows facing the courtyard. In the darkness, she can see in tones of gray. The room remains empty and dark, wrinkled linens lie on the floor, the room is in a state of disarray. Mamir clicks his tongue, nodding his head towards the next window along the wall. Ennui quickly follows, lowering herself and moving behind the hedges.

“Heard somethin’ here,” Mamir whispers, looking into Ennui’s crimson eyes. “I think I heard cryin’.”

Ennui stands, peering over the edge of the sill. The curtain moves with the wind just enough for her to see the shape of a woman lying on the bed. “Could be her,” she whispers with a nod of her head.

Ennui places her hand on the frame of the window, pulling herself onto the sill of the window with her great strength. She drops into the room behind the curtains without making a sound. An oil lantern casts a pale glow across the room. The room is ornate and beautiful, decorated with gold and silk from end to end. Ennui does not make a sound nearing the bed. The woman sobs heavily, her body shakes rigidly, and she looks up at Ennui, her eyes catching hers. Shit.

“Don’t scream,” Ennui insists, crouching and raising her finger to her lips. She lowers the scarf around her mouth.

Aleyna’s eyes go wide in recognition, “You! You’ve worked for Ziad!”

Shhh shh,” Ennui shushes, motioning for Aleyna to be quiet. “That was a long time ago, I came at your son’s request.”

Aleyna pulls the scarf over her head, hiding the stump from her horns, “Khimi?” She asks with another sob.

“Your son,” Ennui confirms with a sigh, watching Aleyna’s body eases at the words.

Despite her ragged state, Aleyna is gorgeous. She had only seen Aleyna a handful of times when she performed work under Ziad’s employ. Over the course of the years, Aleyna had hardly changed, her gentle appearance still remains. The softness of her features had barely changed.

“W-Why did he send you?”

Ennui rolls her eyes, “The aslan said he could tell you were hiding something…and good thing we’re here, right?”

“They’ll kill you,” Aleyna murmurs and wipes her nose on the sleeve of her silk kaftan.

“Can you come with us?” Ennui asks, ignoring Aleyna’s words. “We have a path secured out of the window and through the garden.”

Aleyna dabs her cheek with the linen sheet. “No, they have my handmaid.”

“This really isn’t the time,” Ennui snips. “We’re here to save you, not your handmaid. Certainly, she would understa–”

“Absolutely not,” Aleyna snips, looking up from the mattress with an angry scowl.  “Maza has…protected me here. She has suffered because of me,” she begins, sobbing suddenly.

    Ennui places her palms over her eyes, her tail wriggles behind her impatiently. She paces back and forth through the room and nears the door.

Ennui grits her teeth, “What do you propose?”

“S-Save her!” Aleyna begs, raising her voice. “I’ll pay you. Anything you want.”

Ennui returns to the window, extending a hand down into the darkness. She feels the dwarven man’s thick, callused hand take her own. With a hefty tug, she manages to pull the stocky dwarf into the room. She turns back to Aleyna, whose startled face gives Ennui a sense of joy.

“It’s just us, Lady Aleyna…we can’t take on an army of mercenaries,” Ennui says quickly. “Mamir, did you hear what she said?”

“It just isn’t possible, Lady Aleyna,” Mamir says respectfully and offers a gentle bow before closing the curtains to the room. “I know you want to save your servants, but they’ll understand.”

“Maza is the only one who stayed,” Aleyna whispers. “I know you’ve come to save me…but Maza is family.”

Ennui scoffs while she crosses the room. With her ear pressed to the door, she can hear the sounds of loud conversation in the hall. “I guess we’re killing everyone then,” she says, turning back to Aleyna and Mamir.

Mamir squeezes the grip of the shortbow, “Bullshit!” He grumbles. “Ennui, we need to take her out of here!”

“Please,” Aleyna mutters, rising from the bed. “I’ll pay you whatever you want…I know you’re capable. I know…the things you did for Ziad.”

Ennui itches her horns, “Well…that was then. The situation is a bit different here. I have to somehow keep you alive,” she whispers. “How do we do this, Mamir?”

“Why’re you asking me?” Mamir pleads, shooting Ennui a glance of disgust. “Can I ask you to not go through with this?”

Ennui shrugs, “She is going to be your employ’re soon after all…may as well make her happy,” she says, flashing a toothy grin.

“Y-You planned this all along, as I said!” Mamir mumbles angrily.

Aleyna straightens the silk kaftan. “Mamir is it?” She asks, hurrying to Mamir’s side.

“Aye,” Mamir says, his cheeks turning red while Aleyna kneels before him.

“Please,” Aleyna begins. “I beg of you, save Maza. She is…very important to me,” she adds.

Mamir averts his gaze, his dark cheeks brightening with color. “If she’s like family…then I suppose,” he says stiffly.

“Thank you,” Aleyna whispers, placing a hand on Mamir’s shoulder. “Am I to expect your talents rival that of Ennui’s?”

Ennui scoffs, “Hardly. He can shoot a bow. I guess.”

“You guess?” Mamir mocks, raising an eyebrow. “Ya know, I am bloody great with a bow,” he adds, giving Ennui with a look of reproach.

Loud footfalls outside the door send Ennui and Mamir scurrying. Ennui pushes her back against the wall, her hand immediately grabs the hilt of her bloodied gladius. Mamir hides behind the curtains, his hand resting on the hilt of his dirk. One knock lands upon the door before it opens swiftly. The door bangs against the wall, causing Aleyna to tremble before she stands up firm. A light skinned Equine with blonde hair stands in the doorway. She jostles the plate up and down, the half-eaten chicken carcass slides across its surface in its own grease.

“Why’re you up?” She asks, her eyes gaze around the room. “What’re you up to?”

“I-I had to use the privy,” Aleyna mutters, averting her gaze from the mercenary.

She tosses the plate to the ground, the greasy chicken glides across the tiled floor. “Use the chamber pot,” she laughs, turning her back to Aleyna.

The door closes behind her with another loud bang. Aleyna looks helplessly to Ennui while the mercenary begins to riffle through a large ring of keys. She turns to Ennui, her eyes pleading for help as the mercenary starts searching through a jangling ring of keys. Acting quickly, Ennui sprints towards the door and with a powerful movement, flings it open. The mercenary freezes in shock, her mouth gaping open. In one swift motion, Ennui plunges her gladius into the mercenary’s throat, silencing her screech. As she gurgles and thrashes, Ennui sticks her fist into the woman’s mouth to muffle any remaining sounds. With intense focus in her equine eyes, Ennui reaches for her dagger before the mercenary finally slumps against her body, lifeless.  Cursing under her breath, Ennui withdraws her blade from the mercenary’s throat, causing blood to spill over her boots. She uses all her strength to drag the large woman into the room before closing the door behind them.

“Ennui!” Mamir whispers, revealing himself from behind the curtain. “We’re actually doing this?”

Ennui shoots him an annoyed glance, “Shut it, dwarf.”

Aleyna watches in horror while Ennui begins to scour the man’s body. “Is that necessary?” She asks.

“Oh, he won’t be needing whatever he had on him any longer,” Ennui replies with a subtle smile.

Ennui pulls a small leather pouch of coins from the mercenary’s belt, tossing them to Mamir. She continues searching through the man’s clothing, looking for anything of use. After moments of searching, she gives up with an audible sigh.

 “At least we have the keys,” Ennui whispers. “It’s best if you hide, Lady Aleyna.”

Mamir places the leather pouch on a small desk, “Maybe in the wardrobe?”

“I’ll wait here,” Aleyna whispers, wringing her hands nervously. “Maza is a young feline, in case you need to know. She has sandy blonde hair an-and sh–”

“We’ll find her,” Ennui says, attempting a comforting smile.

Mamir moves to the dead mercenary, closing the Equine woman’s eyes. “We’d best begin then… Don’t get shot again,” he whispers, testing the tautness of his bowstring.

“I won’t,” Ennui insists, running her palm across her thigh.

Mamir tests the bowstring once more before approaching the open doorway, “Let’s get this over with.”

Aleyna clasps her hands together, “Please be careful,” she whispers. “If I could…I would aid you.”

“You can aid us by staying here and alive,” Ennui says, her tail snaps behind her in excitement.

Ennui closes her eyes, feeling a weight on her chest as she contemplates her next move. Though prayer is not a usual practice for her, she can not help but feel the sudden need to ask the Gods for a favor. Her lips part slowly, hesitant at first, but then she begins to mutter a prayer, asking for protection in this dangerous world. She curses under her breath, realizing the futility of her request. What am I thinking? In her heart, Ennui knows better than to believe in divine intervention. She is too damaged, too broken for the Gods to shine their light on. The memory of Samael and the terrible deeds she had performed for her devilish patron floods her mind, extinguishing any remaining zeal. With a heavy sigh, she steps over the massive Equine woman lying before her, gladius in hand.

“I have an idea.”