by Strange Wulf
A warrior is told where to stick his fanatical religion. (V 2.0; please R&R)
|Author's note: This story is likely rather controversial, and should be read with that in mind. I realize the main character is based on my sparse knowledge of Arab culture, and apologize for any and all inaccuracies. Any corrections and links to relevant sources are greatly appreciated.
For now, please enjoy the story.
The first thing he felt was pain. He had a headache, and his lungs ached for some reason. He moaned as he picked his head up and coughed. He was lying on sand, but that meant little. He was in the desert. It was hard to find a place where there wasn't sand.
He put his hands on the ground and began to lift himself up. He paused when he saw the feet. Despite the rather plain sandals they wore, the feet were unusual. Fur covered them, save for the bottom, and instead of toenails there were claws on the toes. He recognized them on sight. He looked up in mortal terror at the cloaked figure to whom the feet belonged. A demon that stood as a man, but had the likeness of a beast. Two more stood beside it. Jackyls and wolves were their ancestors, so he had heard, but it mattered not. He was now at their mercy.
He stood up slowly, knowing any sudden movement would be read as an attack. The battle was over now. Yet even now there was no guarantee they would not kill him. And by all rights, they should. His brothers were no doubt dead. They'd failed. He had failed.
Drawing to his feet, he glanced at their faces. None looked pleased. There was tension in the air. It felt like Allah Himself was prepared to pour out His wrath upon them. Only he knew it was not Allah whose wrath he had fear now. It was the wrath of these demons, and they could kill and torture at the slightest whim. He wished he were dead.
It was a long time before anyone spoke. There was nothing but the wind blowing across the dunes as the sun set in the distance. He'd been out for a while. When the battle started, it had been in the early afternoon. Now it was nearly evening. The sun had nearly disappeared before he found the courage to speak.
"I... am alive?"
"You're breathing, aren't you? I'd say that counts." The face of the beast showed no emotion; neither did the faces of its fellows. They simply stood there, impassive stone monuments, something in their manner that spoke of power and fury beyond man's knowledge. He did not expect mercy.
"We lost, didn't we?" Voicing his fears out loud brought them into ugly reality. Yet he could think of nothing else to say.
"Yes, you did. You did kill many of our kin. But in the end, the battle belonged to us." He hung his head, completely defeated. The beast was right. Despite how valiantly they'd fought, and the powerful weapons they had used, they'd been no match for the demons' magic. The very desert opened beneath them and swallowed them whole. Only one of his brothers managed to detonate his bomb before the demons learned to bury them deep. He had been lucky. He'd been buried up to his neck, his weapons snatched from his hands by the sands. A figure stepped up to him, blocking the sun and concealing his face. Then a sudden blow and nothing more.
"Kill me," he said. He kneeled and bowed before them. "I have no reason to live now. My life is yours to take. I should have died in battle."
"You're right. Your life does belong to us. Now get up." Confused, he rose to his feet, looking at what he assumed to be the leader. "There, that's better. Now, ask yourself one thing: 'Why am I still alive?'"
That gave him pause. Why was he alive? These demons hadn't shown mercy to his brothers. He'd seen them fall with his own eyes, either lost to the sand or cut down before the demons' blades. Some had even been blasted apart by thunder from the sky. And yet, he had not.
"I'll tell you why," said the leader. "So you can carry a message back for us."
"I don't understand. Why me? Why not one of the others?" He didn't ask, but he also wondered what the message was.
"Consider it good luck. We merely picked you last, so we could have someone to take word of this battle to others like you." The beast shrugged, as if discussing the price of fruit at market. "Most of your comrades were as you. Deluded fools convinced they were doing God's work, and trusting in the words of your leaders." The beast snorted, sounded disgusted. "Pathetic. As for the officers who led this little war to wipe us out..." The beast grinned with a few too many teeth. He stepped back in fear. "They are being interrogated for information. Once we have everything we can gain from them, they will be killed."
It staggered him to think of how cruel these demons were. He could only imagine what cruel tortures his brothers would go through under the inhuman hands of these creatures. He dared not think of it. He fell to the ground and wept.
The beast sighed. "Not this again. Get up!" It wasn't until he felt a sharp pain in his side that he stopped. He looked up at the beasts, seeing the leader's staff extended towards him to strike again. He realized he had to force his sorrow down for now. He could deal with it later. For now, he had to focus on staying alive. Perhaps he could then bring the others with him and try again.
"I'm... I'm sorry. Forgive me... they are my brothers, and I fear for their lives..."
"Perhaps you'll keep that in mind the next time you think about attacking us." There was no compassion in the reply. He wasn't expecting any. "Now, as to our message..."
"Yes, yes," he said, nodding vigorously. "I will take it. Tell me what it is."
"Very well. Listen carefully." The leader cleared his throat before speaking. "Our ancestors had heard of you long before they came to live in the desert. They did not know your treachery first hand. It seems that we, their children, have been fated for that instead. Having seen your ways with my own eyes, I know what you are truly like. This is our message..."
He leaned close to hear the words he was to deliver to his people back home. It was his only chance.
The leader pointed its staff at his heart. "Let the so-called 'religion of peace' be buried in the sands. We will have nothing to do with it. Now leave. Or join your comrades beneath the dunes."
He paused for a moment. "Is that it?" The leader nodded.
"That is it. Now go, and tell your leaders what we have said. And be sure to tell them what you've seen tonight. Make certain they understand the price for attacking the Desert Wulves."
He nodded. "I understand. I will tell them." He hesitated. "Thank you... for sparing me. I wished to die in battle, but now I might live out my life as Allah wills."
"Do as you like. Only deliver our message. After that, we don't care what you do." The leader made a gesture and one of the others threw the man a large bag. "Food and water for the trip. We have some to spare now that our numbers are fewer. Better make sure their deaths were not in vain."
The man nodded and slowly backed off. Once far enough away that he felt safe, he turned around and ran, heading back to his village.
Watching him go, one of the figures approached the leader. "Are you certain letting him go is a good idea, William? He knows our trading routes now."
"They all know our trading routes. We've been using them since our mothers nursed us at their breasts." William turned to the others and sighed. "Changes must be made. First, new routes so we're more difficult to find."
"That's easy enough. The desert changes the paths anyway. But we can also figure out ways to hide our trail, perhaps with the help of the sand mages."
"Whatever works. Second, we must seek out ways to defend ourselves. Magic is not good enough; they killed many of us even with our mages helping." He looked at both of them sternly to drive home his point. "Every man, woman, and child must know how to fight, even if it's only to bite and claw. We dare not leave ourselves defenseless."
The third figure nodded. "Aye. I'd rather not face them again withowt a wee bit o' backup. We'll ask the Elders to send owt men to find good ways to fight back. Someone's got tae be willin' to help us."
"A good idea. I'll bring it up once we're safely home." William frowned in thought. "Now that I think about it, we need to find a way to tell who we can trust. Like a way to mark traitors and allies."
The second replied again. "We'll find it, I'm sure, but it will likely require a bit of stealth. Something that would be worth teaching our warriors."
"Indeed." William started walking off with the others in tow. "Excellent ideas, gentlemen. We'll bring them up to the Elders when we get home. For now, let us focus on the task of burying the dead and preparing for the long journey ahead."
As they headed off, the third figure cleared his throat. "Do ye think the lad will take our message? We doon't know he's trustworthy."
"I doubt it, John. These people are brutish and shift as much as the sands. From what I hear, only faith and family is important. Unbelievers, such as us, take a very low priority." William sighed, feeling tired. "Still, we can always hope. And in case they aren't trustworthy, we'll sharpen our blades and our skills. When they come for us, we shall meet them and prove our point."
"And what point might that be, brother?"
William stopped and considered his words before speaking. "That we will fight to the last. That we shall know neither surrender nor retreat. That here, in our desert home, there is no such thing as a tame wulf."
The wind blew softly across the dunes as the three figures continued walking back to their caravan, saying not a word as the bitter cold of the night began to set in...