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still waters

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It has been a long time since Masrur has seen another Fanalis, much less spoken with one. Reim holds nothing but memories he'd rather forget and the promise of seeing his people hasn't lured him back there. He's not one of them, not anymore, and Sinbad doesn't press the issue either.

To say that the girl is a surprise is an understatement.

She's short and young and has a temper that is joy to watch. The stones crumble under her foot like fragile glass and Sinbad looks like he's just stuck his hand in a beehive. Masrur likes her instantly.


It's just as well that Morgiana's used to fighting because Masrur has no idea what he'd do otherwise. At least he has something to build on even if the foundations are dark and twisted.

"Hit me," he says and braces his feet. She doesn't look like much with her small stature and tattered dress, but Masrur has seen Fanalis women in battle before. With them, size has nothing to do with strength. "I want to know how strong you are. Hit me."

She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath, and when she opens them again, Masrur almost smiles. She's been broken and rebuilt already and what came out of it is this. A fist like a hammer and determination enough to move the mountains.

Not enough move Masrur from where he's standing though, and that startles her.

"Fanalis," he says and shrugs at her astonished expression. "Try again."


"You've spent a lot of time with Alibaba lately," Masrur says pointedly and blocks her kick. She's getting better even faster than he expected. The battle is in her blood and now nothing can stop its flow. "Alone."

He knows he's not her father or brother or even a friend yet, but there's no one else to do this. Teenagers are bound to do foolish things over even more foolish things and someone has to keep an eye on her. So far it's been amazingly awkward and Masrur hopes to never repeat the experience again. The next orphan Fanalis they find, he'll send straight to Reim.

Color rushes to her face and for a fleeting second she looks so humiliated that Masrur almost regrets saying anything. Then she lifts her chin and looks him straight in the eye. "He's teaching me to read."

It's a good thing that Morgiana's smart and initiative because clearly Masrur isn't. Of course she wouldn't know how. Who would teach a slave to read?

"Ja'far taught me," he says finally both as an apology and to break the uncomfortable silence. "I was about your age."

Her smile is tentative and feels a lot like forgiveness.


"It looks stupid, doesn't it?" Morgiana mutters and shuffles her feet. "They told me this is what girls should wear."

Masrur stares at them. Her ankles look oddly bare and the faint scars are covered by engraved gold instead of clumsy iron. There's nothing delicate about her feet but for the first time they look light, like she could run and run and never grow tired. His gaze moves up inch by inch from the hem of her embroidered skirt to the bare skin of her flat stomach and strong shoulders, and finally to the flowers in her hair.

She looks like a young Sindrian woman which she very decidedly is not. It's what she should look like tonight, however, and Sinbad's tailors sure know how to do their job.

"You look nice." She looks so happy at that that he can't help adding, "Alibaba will think so too."

It's a relief to know that she only looks a bit softer around the edges. Masrur is pretty sure that if he weren't expecting the punch, he'd be nursing a nice collection of bruises tomorrow. As it is, it's Morgiana who's shaking her hand and grimacing. "That wasn't very funny."

"No, but it's true. Unless he's an idiot."

"He's not an-" Her defense grumbles under his raised eyebrows and her lips twitch. "Well, sometimes he is."

"He has eyes. He won't be this time." Masrur pats her head, careful to not ruin her bright hair and the beautiful flowers. "Have fun."


It's the hottest hour of the day and since Masrur isn't a horrible sadist, their feet are deep in the cold pond and Morgiana is munching a watermelon. She's not a loud person by nature and that suits Masrur just fine, but in the past few days she's been even quieter. As ominous as it is, Masrur can't help but think this as a calm before the storm.

She offers him the last piece and when he shakes his head, she sets it aside and leans down to wash her hands. "I've decided to go," she tells the rippling water. She doesn't sound nervous, not exactly, but she does look at him from the corner of her eye. "To the Dark Continent."

"I thought you might." Masrur hasn't talked to that many free Fanalis but he knows it's in them all, the need to find their origins before they can move forward. Still, Masrur feels that he has to warn her. "You might be disappointed."

He still remembers it and hopes that someone had warned him. The emptiness of the savannah and his supposed home had been crushing.

"I know." Morgiana straightens her back and turns to look at him. "But if I don't go, I might end up regretting it later. I think regretting not doing something might be worse than regretting doing something."

Masrur nods. That's true. What's also true is, "Then we don't have any time to waste. Get up."

It's strange how quickly you can get used to things and people. Right now he can't quite figure out how he filled his days before Sinbad made her training his responsibility. Supposedly he had a life that didn't include getting hit every day and sharing comfortable silences with someone. He's not looking forward to living it again.