Summary: Under orders from his grandfather, Sphinx must find his little sister who'd been kidnapped ten years earlier and either bring her home or kill her.
Categories: General, Action/Adventure, Romance
Family isn't about whose blood you have.
It's about who you care about.
-Trey Parker and Matt Stone, South Park, Ike's Wee Wee, 1998
The worst feeling in the world is the homesickness that
comes over a man occasionally when he is at home.
The first thing Sphinx became aware of upon waking was the endless prodding of a finger on his cheek. Second, the loud and repeated use of his name. Third, the toes pressed firmly into his back. All at once Layla's annoying behavior stopped and Sphinx braced himself for what was to come.
Sharp and hard the foot connected with his back and his attacker drew back, hissing in pain and cradling her newly aching toes. To Layla's utter annoyance, Sphinx groaned and rolled over.
"Get up already!" she exclaimed.
"Go away, Layla…" Sphinx mumbled into his arm.
Expecting the womanly voice of Layla, it was a surprise for Sphinx to hear the low, smooth voice of his grandfather. "Sphinx, I have information for you."
Not feeling as tired as he had a few moments earlier, Sphinx sat up to face his visitors. Layla loomed over him with a menacing stare, her pale tresses hung about her voluptuous figure in a mess. Her face was round, except for her chin, which was rather prominent and, at the moment, outthrust in a rather arrogant manner as she looked down at him. She wore a white corset with gold thread sewn into the upper hem and a linen skirt that fell around her legs in long strips. She stood before him barefoot as the leather sandals she wore for travel were abandoned somewhere within the proximity.
Behind her stood Sphinx' grandfather, who went by the name Kontar. His tawny mane and its downy splendor indicated he'd endured many years of life even though he didn't look a day over thirty. He was dressed in simple linen robes of beige, with leather sandals adorning his feet. Sphinx was rather tall at his full height but Kontar was slightly taller, allowing him to look down upon Sphinx in all sense of the words. Like Sphinx, he wasn't bulky in appearance, both were muscular but they carried a more feline stature. He watched Sphinx with a blank stare; he appeared bored with the situation already.
To Kontar's side stood his loyal servant and concubine, Aki. She wore a loose fitting linen dress with a gold obi strapped securely around her tiny waist. Her long dark hair laid down her back in a single loose braid. Aki didn't appear very interested in the situation either; she watched Kontar with troubled eyes, most likely believing herself to be the cause of his discontent.
All four were from a race known as the Raion. With the proper concealment they could look like humans at a mere glance but humans knew them as lion demons, as they had lion tails and fangs and claws. Their eyes appeared fairly human-like in the dark but in light their pupils dilated as a cat's would and like a cat, they had a natural black outline around their eyes. To finish off their unique appearance, two pointy cat ears were perched on top of their heads.
Sphinx cleared his dry throat and asked slowly, cautiously even, "What kind of information?"
"Information that could lead you to your sister and her abductor."
Several minutes later, Sphinx sat cross-legged on the floor of his hut waiting for Kontar to elaborate on his prior statement. Layla and Aki were gone, though Sphinx suspected Layla was nearby eavesdropping.
She's so annoying… Sphinx sighed inwardly, yet-
Sensing the change in his stature, Kontar glanced at Sphinx from his spot at the lightly draped window. "Is there a problem?" he asked, his face blank.
Mimicking his grandfather's expression, Sphinx said, "No."
Kontar stared at him a moment longer before turning back to the window. "Why do you stay in this hut and not in the temple?"
"The temple is your home, not mine."
"This whole oasis is my land yet you still dwell here."
"Yes but the temple is your sleeping quarters, I wouldn't wish to intrude."
There was a long pause. "I see. Let's get down to business." Kontar stepped away from the window and took a spot leaning against the wooden walls. "As you know, I was away taking care of business. Just so you know, that man won't be coming around here anymore and I'm fairly certain he didn't get a chance to tell anyone of our presence here before I got to him."
Sphinx felt his stomach churn. "What'd you do to him?"
"What do you think?"
It was a rhetorical question so Sphinx didn't bother to respond; he could have predicted that man's fate the moment Layla found him wandering around her hut.
Kontar resumed his speech, "Aki had come with me and while I was dealing with our little visitor, she was wandering around Opathesis. When we met up again, she told me she saw a suspicious group of women hiding near the city gates. She watched them for a long time and they entered the city no more than two at a time. A young girl was with them, Aki guessed the girl to be about ten years of age."
"The girl-" Sphinx started.
"Not your sister, she was human."
"But the women-"
"They can probably lead us to her. I didn't see the group myself but what Aki has told me leads me to believe these women are a few of the infamous Gatos. So if we follow these women, they'll lead us to the others and in doing so, to the woman who took your sister."
"You want me and Layla to follow them?"
"When do we leave?"
"Immediately." Sphinx made to stand but Kontar held out a hand signaling he should stop. "I'm not finished yet."
"Oh…" Sphinx mumbled, shrinking back into a sitting position.
"If you find your sister well and alive, what will you do?"
"Uh… bring her to you?"
"What if she refuses?"
"Then I use force."
Kontar sighed heavily, "No. Usually I'd say yes but in these circumstances, her refusal would mean chances of gaining her loyalty are slim to none and using force would only alienate her further. We want her as a comrade, not as a captive. If she refuses, then it would be clear that the life she's been living is more appealing than a life with her real family and forcing her to join us would be pointless. She'd probably runaway or spend the days planning an escape."
Sphinx nodded slowly. "Then what should I do if she refuses?"
"You kill her. I cannot have her running about spawning half-blood children, which would be the result since the only male Raion in the area are you and I, and I highly doubt she'd go in search of her own kind."
"But priorities change, she may be loyal to the Gatos now but maybe she'll decide to go in search of her own kind someday. If she knows she has family in the area, perhaps she'll join us one day."
Kontar shook his head, "We're not leaving this to chance; if she refuses, kill her, end of story. However, if she shows even the slightest interest, use the power of persuasion and lead her to me." He took to the window again and pushed the blind aside, "Now, the Gatos spent the previous evening entering Opathesis, the gates are locked at night and no one may enter or leave. The sun is still rising but the gates should be open; if you're lucky, the women may not have left by the time you get there. If they have, then you and Layla have some tracking to do." Kontar looked at Sphinx over his shoulder, "Travel light and don't let the women know they're being followed. Fill Layla in as you travel, there is no time to waste. And Sphinx… you better not disappoint me."
Within a half an hour of being awoken, Sphinx was heading north towards the city-state of Opathesis with a disgruntled Layla in tow. Sphinx had yet to feel the need to explain the situation to her so he resigned to state of tolerance where she and her complaints of being left in the dark were concerned. She knew the situation involved his sister and for the time being, that was all she needed to know.
Behind him, his home was disappearing in the distance. A group of shrubbery had all clustered around the Tahirah River, two great Acadia trees sat on both side of this river. Near one tree, stood two worn out wood huts and, near the other, a giant slab of stone was clearly visible. A gaping black hole had been dug into the stone, leading into the long, dark caverns of what use to be a temple, but, due to sandstorms over the last few centuries, was now almost completely buried under sand. Sphinx felt great joy when the scenery finally disappeared from view, leaving the Tahirah River as the only indication of its whereabouts within the vast desert landscape. They followed the river for a short while before it joined with the Nakia River, which acted as their guide for the rest of the journey.
Sphinx' sensitive hearing picked up the distant sound of city bustle as he came over a sandy hillside, his toes barely skimming the burning sand that flew beneath him. Rising up in distance was the tower of Opathesis, and as the two drew nearer, the magnitude of the fortress reached an overwhelming stature. The city-state was gigantic, the tower reached nearly a hundred stories tall and a stone wall barely a quarter its height circled the tower in a widespread loop. The Nakia River ran into a large barred hole in the wall and out the other side and into the ocean visible in the far off landscape.
As a boy, before his parent's deaths, Sphinx had found a weak point in the bars where the river ran into the city. He managed to sneak into the city walls and found that a rather crowded settlement had been established within the barrier. He knew the tower was restricted for the use of the pharaoh, his family, and other aristocrats, so he wasn't all that surprised to find hundreds of lower class folk occupying the village and running its market plazas. Unfortunately Sphinx had little time to look around; he had not expected to make such a discovery so he hadn't properly concealed his cat-like features. Do to his lack of planning, Sphinx was quickly found out and barely escaped the citadel unscathed by the frightened villagers. When he returned a week later, the passage had be resealed and unable to find another way in, Sphinx returned home feeling very disappointed.
His father had taken a liking to traveling around this time, sometimes disappearing for a couple of weeks at a time, and on this particular day, his father had decided to return home. Upon his father's arrival, the rude demand of Sphinx' whereabouts had been his father's first greeting to his mother.
"How should I know where the boy is?" his mother had retorted, "He's seems to be taking after you by not telling me where he's going." As an afterthought, she added, "Although he only disappears for few hours at a time.
His father merely glowered at her. At this point, Sphinx decided to make his presence known and was taken to the edge of the oasis where they could speak in private.
"I caught your scent at Opathesis," his father said, "Why were you there?"
Sphinx' measly response had been, "Uh…" He was fairly certain his father already knew the answer so it seemed like a bad idea to lie when the older Raion was already in a bad mood.
"Do you go there often?"
"Uh… only twice."
"Do you know why the sewer was sealed?"
"I-I… I, they, uh, they saw me. The villagers."
His father stared at him for a while before saying, "Stupid boy," and going to the temple. Sphinx sagged in relief, his father was not what one would call an abusive father but he was a formidable fighter and it wasn't too late to adopt the title 'abuser'.
"Sphinx," Layla said suddenly, awakening him from his memories and causing him to nearly fall over as he came to a sudden halt. If it weren't for the mischievous smirk she wore, Sphinx would have thought she missed it since she didn't bother teasing him for it.
"What?" he demanded angrily.
Sphinx followed her gaze to see a middle-aged woman and a young girl sitting quite a ways from the gate in the shade provided by the wall. From where they had seated themselves, the curve of the wall left them out of sight from the guards at the gate and they could wait for the rest of the Gatos unnoticed, unless, of course, a guard from a top the wall happened to do their job.
"I don't think that woman or the girl has seen us yet, we should probably wait till they leave," Layla whispered, taking hold of his wrist and attempting to guide him away from the two.
"Why?" Sphinx replied, tearing free from her grasp and narrowing his eyes, "You don't even know why we're here."
"So we want to announce our arrival then? Fine." She turned to the humans and opened her mouth wide as if to yell. Before she managed even the slightest sound, Sphinx was on top of her, covering her mouth with his palm and eying the humans warily.
"Are you stupid?" he whispered harshly, "You want us to get caught just so you can prove a point?"
Layla rolled her golden eyes and refused to look at him. She mumbled something incoherent into his palm. Sphinx removed his hand so she could speak. "Will you get off of me?"
"Will you stop being so rash?"
Layla scoffed and lifted her lower body, trying to force him off. Sphinx didn't budge so she raised her hand to smack him. He took hold of her wrist and pinned it above her head, only to do the same with the other when she tried the same stunt again.
"If you don't get off of me this instant, you better prepare to spend the rest of your life pinning me to the ground because the moment you let me go-"
Sphinx rolled off of her but remained seated in the sand to avoid being seen by unwanted eyes. Layla growled and brushed the sand out of her hair.
"So…" she muttered after a few minutes of silence, "can you, uh, tell me why we're here?"