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First Blood

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Please! Someone help!

Aarin sat bolt upright, his thin blanket falling from his shoulders to pool around his waist. A soft breeze flowed through the wooden slats of the slave quarters, bringing with it the scents of cinnamon and spice from the nearby bazaar. Aarin shivered and pulled the blanket closer to him.

It had been four days since his mother had died – four long days and five longer nights. Her voice still haunted him, the moment of her death playing over and over again in his mind whenever he closed his eyes. The Caliph's cruel gaze, lit with a maniacal glow, seemed to follow his dreams, turning every moment of sleep he managed to catch into a nightmare.

"What are you gawking at, boy?" the Caliph questioned harshly, "Get me another tankard!"

Aarin couldn't bring himself to move. His mother's face, bruised and bloody, eyes unseeing, faced towards him, her mouth frozen in a rictus of pain and fear. Unshed tears stung his wide eyes, and his hands and fingers trembled in silent emotion. The Caliph frowned, wiping blood off his hands with a white silk handkerchief.

"What you are waiting for? Unless you wish to end up like your mother, I suggest you move quickly."

Mutely, Aarin dragged his gaze away from the body of his mother and slowly looked up at the Caliph. His eyes smoldered with barely disguised rage and anguish. The Caliph paused momentarily, surprised to see such passion in the eyes of the quiet youth who skulked through the halls of his house. Then the moment passed, and Aarin's expression returned to the shadowed obedience the Caliph was used to seeing.

"Get going." He said, a vicious smirk playing across his features. Aarin turned and fled.

No matter how he tried, sleep still wouldn't come. Aarin found himself wandering the halls, hiding behind pillars as the Caliph's guards stalked by on their usual rounds. He wasn't quite sure where he was going; his feet seemed to move of their own accord. He passed through the magnificently jeweled sitting rooms, the gardens smelling of jasmine and lilies, embroidered curtains and pillows shining in the pale moonlight.

Soon, the wood and wrought metal of the Caliph's door loomed in front of him. The guards were nowhere to be seen, strange at this time of night. Before he really knew what he was doing, Aarin put his hands on the door and pushed. The door gave, creaking slightly as it opened to the Caliph's sitting room. A few slave girls stirred in their sleep, rustling the chains that bound them, but other than that, no one noticed him. Memories of his mother rose up unbidden, choking him with unexpressed emotion.

A warm breeze ruffled his hair, and he looked up, his mother's smile filling his vision.

"Aarin, come here. I have something for you."

He moved towards her, watching her hands plunge into the folds of her skirt. Her black hair curled around her shoulders, framing her kind and loving face. She pulled something out of an embroidered pocket, gesturing to him with her other hand.

"It gets so dark, Aarin. Sometimes, we find it difficult to see."

Aarin moved closer, entranced. His mother often started her stories this way, and he would always listen avidly, transported to the lush and green jungles of Chult by her words. This time, however, she did not continue into a tale of the unknown.

"You are at home in the dark, my son. But I fear you will lose yourself." Soft hands encompassed his own, and he felt the cool weight of metal press into his palms. His mother smiled again, a hint of sadness in the curve of her lips. Her hands left his, and Aarin glanced down at what she had given him. His eyes widened in awe and gratefulness.

"So that you shall always be able to find your way out. It will take care of you, as I have." His mother whispered. As soon as she had spoken, she was gone, returning to her duties as a slave to the Caliph. Aarin clutched the pendant she had given him as tightly as he could. She had given him a precious gift indeed.

Aarin blinked back tears. The pendant slipped from its place against his shirt and fell onto his uncovered skin, the cold metal burning him. What use was light when all the good things in his life had been plunged into darkness? The Caliph's apartments seemed to take on a dream-like quality as his sleep-deprived mind sped up. Nothing seemed real. His mother was dead at the hands of his master, and the pain would not go away.

He kept on waiting for the realization that this was all a dream. That he would see his mother, alive and well, waiting at the head of his bed waiting for him to wake up. But in his heart he knew that she was gone. His mind hadn't come to terms with it yet. She didn't deserve to die, least of all in the manner in which she had been murdered.

Aarin clenched his jaw. It was hard to even think about it without the rage boiling inside him coming out. From the seeds of anguish had sprouted a desire for vengeance so strong that it frightened him.

Why couldn't I save her? Why did I just stand there? I could have done something! The thoughts ran through his head, loud and accusing. He could have stopped the Caliph's blows. It was his fault his mother was dead. It was all his fault.

He found himself in front of the gilded doors that led to the Caliph's bedchamber. Somewhere along the way, he had acquired a knife.

The door slipped over easily, the hinges well-greased with sweet smelling oil. The Caliph was asleep in his magnificent four-poster bed, imported from Amn. Aarin stared at him from the door. In the soft moonlight, the Caliph appeared peaceful, sleep softening the hard planes of his face and smoothing the lines around his mouth. With the silver light caressing his face and beard, he looked almost angelic. All Aarin saw was a murderous demon.

Closer and closer he crept, grief and the night blurring his vision. He shifted his grip on the knife, noticing it for the first time. His breath caught. Then his expression hardened.

This man murdered my mother. He will pay.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the Caliph lay before him. The hard wood of the bed dug into Aarin's thighs, but he didn't care. His breath grew harsh at the sight of the man he hated sleeping in front of him. He had no time to think. Before he really knew what he was doing, his hand had moved, and he felt resistance as the blade in his hands sunk deep into the Caliph's throat.

He sprang back as blood spurted out of the wound, expression frozen. The Caliph's eyes sprang open, mouth gaping as he tried to yell through ruined vocal chords. His gaze darted around the room as he thrashed, blood bubbling and flowing, staining the silk of his sheets. Finally, his gaze landed on Aarin, who was still standing, eyes wide and unseeing.

The Caliph tried to concentrate, but the pain and the blood loss was quickly making any form of communication impossible. His arm flailed and hit a bedside lamp, sending it crashing to the floor. Then everything went black.

The noise shook Aarin out of his thoughts, and his eyes widened. I… I did that? Shocked and horrified, he backed up until his back hit the wall. The contact seemed to bring everything crashing back to reality. I have to run.

The noise of running feet sounded outside, and Aarin sprang into action, feeling around the floorboards for the secret passage he knew was there. The Caliph had an escape route for times when his life was threatened. Now it would be used by the one who had taken that life from him. He landed in the damp passageway and stood, his head barely missing the ceiling of the small tunnel. It was too dark to see.

The pendent burned against his skin. His mother's voice floated up from the darkness. He wasn't sure if it was his imagination or something else. "So that you shall always be able to find your way out."

Aarin lifted the pendant from his neck with trembling fingers. Almost instantaneously, light flooded the tunnel. Giving silent thanks to his mother, Aarin fled through the tunnels, putting as much distance between himself and the Caliph's house as he could. Even in death, she had provided for him.