Zia was on board a ship, which was being buffeted by rough seas.
The deck tilted back and forth as it crashed through oncoming waves. Sailors ran around her, moving to ascend riggings and tightening loose ropes. The spray of the waves was blown into her face by a howling wind, pushing against her as she tried to head below decks. Every time she drew near the doors, the ship tilted, causing her to lose her balance.
Looking to the deck above, she saw Amon navigating the ship through the turbulent seas. As she yet again drew closer to the doors guarding the lower decks, she saw the man’s features begin to slide off his face, until all that was left was a skull. A wave of heat struck her from behind as she tried to back away from the skeletal gaze.
She jolted awake, her vision blurred. Trying to get her bearings, she tried to rise. Unable to do so, she realised that her legs and arms were bound. Looking through a shade of blue, the ground moved quickly beneath her. Turning her head to the side, she saw that she moving away from the desert scene that had been ingrained in her mind over the last month and a half.
The heat upon her back came from the sun beating down. She was slung across the back of a camel, one that was moving very fast. The sand flew up as the animal ran, trying to attack her face but being repelled somehow. Her still dazed mind realised that her tagelmust remained in place, and that some of the fabric had been drawn across her eyes.
“Lady Sayeh! She moves!”
Zia arched her back as high as possible, seeing that the voice came from another camel rider several lengths of the side of her. Turning her head as far to the right as she could, there was another rider the other side of the camel she was slung across. As the small of her back begann to protest at the awkward position, she turned to see who rode the camel she was tied to.
The rider had turned to consider the now-conscious passenger. The familiar face of Amon looked back at her, a broad smile adorning his features. The little bit that Zia remembered before she blacked out told her that this was not Amon.
“Are you comfortable, my lady?”
Zia was shocked at the feminine voice coming from such a masculine face. It was the voice she had heard before she passed out.
“Where are we? Where are you taking me?”
The impostor Amon turned to consider the scene before them. Desert was everywhere around them, but the rider seemed to know the invisible path they followed.
“I would say we are almost at Maan. Do not fret, as we will make a quick stop for some supplies. Some people in the town have a soft spot for Sand Pirates.”
Trying to remember the merchant roads her father had described over the years, Zia attempted to gauge where they were. The location was not on the way to Aqaba, so they were moving away from the path Yafeu had been following. Certain that Maan was not a point on the Arabian Peninsula, her deductions said they were moving north, the way of Damascus and Palmyra.
“Are you planning to sell me at Damascus?”
The man gave an effeminate laugh before speaking in that disconcerting voice. “Of course not, my lady. You are much too valuable for that.”
“I don’t see how.”
“You don’t? That is quite humble of you. Your betrothed was happy to give me ten straps across the back for merely talking to you.”
Zia started at the comment, slumping back down as she finally heeded the screaming pain of her lower back. “You are Sayyid?”
“I was for a time, but he had served his purpose. Heydar, Kadir and I decided that the guises of Master Babafemi’s personal guard would be that much more useful.”
“How could you possibly steal their faces?”
“A bit of trickery, learned some years ago from an old mage. We kidnapped him, and took possession of a set of masks he carried. They could be used to transform your facial features into any person, given the right materials.”
“But you placed flayed human faces in front of Yafeu after he had passed out.”
Amon nodded, looked slightly uncomfortable. “Those of his guards, so he knew what had happened. It did make us sad to skin their faces, as they had been good friends since our travels through Persia. But that changed when they tried to escort us towards Damascus, proving themselves Yafeu’s men through and through.”
The rider to their left called out. “There is Maan.”
Amon’s face-stealer turned to look forward. “Thank you, Kadir. Go forward and find us a place. You know who to speak with.”
Zia did not see the man depart, but could hear the galloping of the camel. Trying to get a decent view of their destination, Zia saw a small village nestled within a pond of palms.
The impostor turned to regard Zia again. “I could have killed you to spite your husband-to-be, but that would have been dishonourable considering you stopped him strapping me further. For that I owe you. Do not think to raise a fuss here, as you would force me to take harsh measures. You shall be returned to your betrothed in due time, and I wish to keep you unharmed. A hostage is of no value disfigured or dead.”
“A hostage? You mean to ransom me back to him? For what?”
“Your dowry, of course.”
She nodded to the rapidly approaching town. “Do not think I’ll remain quiet.”
A sigh came from Amon’s lips. “While disappointing, I appreciate your honesty. Heydar!”
The remaining rider moved in to converse with his apparent master. He accepted something, before moving back to Zia. Lifting the bottom of her headgear, a strong-smelling cloth was placed over her mouth and nose. She tried to resist, her binds restricting her. The darkness came again.
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