Chapter Twenty-The Cave under the Waterfall

"So...Barani has been summoned into the world once more".

Sultan Latif sighed and rubbed his eyes. Night had fallen upon the Desert Plains, and the Sultan grew more restless by the second. His wife was leaning over, pouring water into the cups of Taj, Ali, Barika, Cassim and Malakah, even if they insisted they'd had enough. Ever since they'd gotten back two hours ago, she'd been mothering them.

"You poor things...a good night's sleep is what you need" She said kindly.

"I don't think I can sleep" said Barika, "Not when I know what's going on out there".

Nayif sighed.

"Worrying won't do us any good" said Nayif.

"I know...I can't help it though" said Barika anxiously, as Taj squeezed her hand reassuringly.

"There's still hope" said Gulzar, to her fretting husband.

"Let's be real about this" said Sultan Latif, "There's no chance of us defeating them, even with the other cities on our side!"

Kazim and a rag tag group of the Guards from the Grey Tower looked over with some concern.

"Are you alright, your highness?" asked Kazim.

"No Kazim, I'm not" said Sultan Latif, "The odds are, frankly, stacked against us. I'm usually optimistic...but not this time. The hard blade of reality is piercing my spirit.."

He turned away from them all, and his shoulders fell down.

"There's only one thing for it" He sighed, "We're staying inside the walls of Midah..."

"You're what?" said Taj.

"We're staying in here" said Sultan Latif turning around, a desperate glint in his eyes, "They can't get in here, nobody could! We'll be safe, all of us will be safe! That's what we should do! Just stay in here! The rest of the Desert Plains will just have to fend for themselves!"

Cassim crossed the room towards him, gracefully and calmly. Upon reaching the shaking Sultan, he smartly smacked him across the face. Gulzar gasped, and Kazim reached for his sword. Sultan Latif stared up at Cassim, one hand on his face, the other lingering near the dagger on his belt.

"You should be ashamed of yourself" said Cassim, "You're the Sultan of Midah. You're known for being resilient, the leader of the strongest city in the Desert Plains...or so I've heard..."

Sultan Latif swallowed, his mouth now open for a response, but no words left his mouth.

"I know you haven't seen much of the world beyond your walls" said Cassim, "But I have. I've feared it at times, I've despised it. I thought the world was a dangerous place, unloving and evil. But then I realized..I was looking in all the wrong places. Ali, Malakah, Barika and Taj...they are the most compassionate and brave people I've ever known. I'd be proud to call them my friends. Look around you Sultan. Look at your wife. Look at your men. Look at the statues of the Sultans that came before you. You should be glad to have them in your life. You don't want to lose them".

A silence now fell over the room, everybody hushed. Nobody dared to speak. Nayif finally spoke up.

"He's right" She said, "He's absolutely right".

Ali had never smiled so much in his life, he felt himself getting to his feet. And without even thinking, he moved to Cassim and embraced him in a hug. Cassim held onto him even tighter, trembling slightly. Malakah joined, then Barika and finally Taj. They all stood together, quiet and reflecting.

"I'm so sorry everybody...I was acting like a fool" said Sultan Latif, as Gulzar rushed to him, "I don't feel fit to decide our next course of action...will you decide Nayif?"

Nayif smiled at him, "We shall go to the Cave under the Waterfall".

A day and a half later, after hiking through sandy hills, they finally made it to the acclaimed Cave under the Waterfall. The land surrounding it was drier than all the rest, so much so that a scorpion could be seen clearly, scuttling along the floor. A large lake lay out before them, crystal blue and very appealing to the eye. It's waterfall trinkled amongst small rocks, producing a soothing sound. The mountains were a rather clean white, reminding Ali rather peculiarly of the Palace of Nembis. Off to the side, a small passageway lead up into the mountain.

Nayif and Sultan Latif headed in first, then indicated for the rest to follow. Immediately upon stepping inside, a rather sudden chill came over them all. But after a couple of seconds, they grew accustomed to it. It was surprisingly light inside, and oddly cosy.

They came to a large circular room, a large wooden table in the middle. Upon it was a map of the Desert Plains, alongside several large books and a couple of quills. Boxes lay around, and through a passageway to another part of the Cave, Ali spotted rugs for sleeping.

Kazim and his men made for them, as to set them up, accompanied by the Guards that were formerly at the Grey Tower. Nayif beckoned Taj and Barika over to the map. Sultan Latif stared up fondly at the opposite side of the room. Ali was also intrigued by what he saw.

A large hole covered one side of the room, on which the waterfall ran past. It's beautiful colours glistened in the sunlight, and gently pattered onto the stones below. Listening to it was extremely captivating, and it was rather eye catching.

"So we'll be moving between here and the Palace of Midah" announced Nayif, looking around at them all.

This greatly pleased Ali, who wasn't fond of Midah's lifeless walls and overtly strict security measures.

"Are you sure your wife will be okay?" Malakah asked Sultan Latif.

"Oh, she'll be fine" beamed Sultan Latif, "She's tougher than a Rhino's backside".

As Night time came, they were pleasantly surprised about how equally flawless the waterfall appeared from inside the cave. The shining stars lit up the cave and made the shadows seem even longer. Many were eager to get to sleep, whereas Ali wanted to stay up all night. His mind was heavy with thought.

"Ali, you look troubled" said Nayif.

"I suppose I just can't accept that a war has begun" said Ali, "It's quite a difference to the life I was used to in Abab or even in the peaceful Genie realm".

Nayif nodded, "Nobody wants to be accustomed to War. War is a terrible thing".

Ali gazed out into the night sky for a couple of minutes, before speaking again, "Do you think we have a chance?"

"Of course we do" smiled Nayif, "Anything's possible".

This reminded Ali of what Fudail had told him back at the Spirit Pool, and that night, he went to sleep with a smile on his face.