Chapter One- Loyalty to Ghazi
The Night was uncertain and uneasy, every shadow lingered, and the moon bathed the mountain side in a pearly white glow. The Men of the Red King watched down from the peak, their faces hidden behind their hoods. The GreyTower stood tall and silent, a living presence was within, but didn't stir.
"Why aren't we making our way down?" whispered Abdul, young and eager.
"Ghazi wouldn't take kindly to us marching in unannounced" said Harith, keeping his eyes glued to the Tower.
Abdul shifted uncomfortably and turned to his comrades, "Just think, soon, the Desert Plains will finally fall!"
The other men grinned and nodded amongst themselves.
"It's what the Red King would have wanted" said one.
"And just think of all we'll receive!" whispered another.
Harith rolled his eyes; his men were not nearly as experienced as he was when it came to this. They thought the only benefits of being a Man of the Red King were receiving the occasional Jewel or Crown. It seemed that the younger generation had forgotten all about the joys of killing in the name of their long deceased but not forgotten King.
"We can't stay up here all day" whined Abdul.
Before Harith could tell him to be quiet, an unfamiliar voice rung out in the darkness- "Speak your name or lose your lives!"
They spun around to see two figures on the rocks behind them- a man and a woman. The man was heavily cloaked, his face hidden, except for his eyes. They gleamed deviously at them, round and dark. A sword was in his hand, eager to slice into their flesh. The woman glowed in the darkness, her hands were engulfed in fire and her hair blew behind her in the wind, silver and silky.
"We are the Men of the Red King" said Harith, alarmed but in a calm tone of voice.
"Ghazi has been expecting you" snarled the Man, "What took you so long?"
"There were many soldiers from Midah and Nemebis patrolling the roads" replied Harith, "It was difficult to make it through unseen, they outnumbered us".
The Man looked around, "Twenty of you at least…that should be more than enough".
"Forgive my asking" said Harith, "But who are you?"
The Man gave Harith a hard look, "I am Taoul…you may know me as the Greatest Thief the Desert Plains have ever seen".
"Were you the one who broke into the Treasury of the Nemebis Palace?" asked Abdul, extremely impressed.
"The very same" said Taoul, "And this is Zenora".
Zenora looked around at all the men, her violet eyes intimidating and ruthless, "I am not so well known amongst the Desert Plains…I am a Genie".
With a less frightening person, the Men may have gasped loudly, but under her icy gaze, they all remain subdued and politely nodded.
"I think there have been enough introductions for now" said Taoul, "Follow us, we'll take you to Ghazi".
Taoul and Zenora turned swiftly on their heel and marched off on a path. The Men of the Red King followed obediently, cloaks dragging on the rough ground.
"So how did you learn of Ghazi's capture of the Grey Tower?" asked Taoul.
"The news spread very quickly" said Harith, "Soon, every merchant, every peasant, every traveller was talking about it. They're all worried, they're all afraid".
"That's just what we want" Zenora said.
Taoul began climbing down the side of the mountain, his feet steady and his back straight. Zenora followed suit, with the men climbing above them. Finally, they all made it to the foot of the mountain.
"As you can see, some changes have been made since Ghazi took over" said Taoul, nodded towards the Lake.
A stone bridge now arched over the calm running water, leading towards a makeshift gate in the wall. Taoul walked in confidently, and then beckoned the others to follow.
The Court-yard was lined with Huts, though several lay in the corner, destroyed and broken. A small table was in the centre, with empty plates piled on top of it. Clearly, they'd been making themselves at home. The GreyTower was instantly unwelcoming to the Men of the Red King, it almost seemed like it was purposely trying to ward them off.
Through the doorway and up the stairs they went. Torches light up the walls, revealing the walls to be just as vacant and lifeless as one would have expected. A small monkey, with a round ugly face, came scampering down.
"Swiper! Move!" snapped Zenora, shooting water at the alarmed animal.
Swiper screeched and fled into the shadows. Taoul cast an apologetic look towards Harith.
"You won't have to put up with that Monkey like we did, so don't worry" He said.
They eventually made it to the top of the stairs, where an open door revealed to them the top room of the Tower. It hadn't been how they expected it to be.
Ghazi, his skin unusually Orange, was sat upon a chair, casting a commanding presence over the room. An ancient old man sat against the wall, frail and fragile. He appeared to be drifting in and out of sleep. A bald man in long flowing robes paced the room; his red eyes were focused and thoughtful. Over in the corner, a young man sat, chewing meat contently, his round face happy and youthful.
"The Men of the Red King, Ghazi" said Taoul, bowing.
"Ah, so you've finally come!" said Ghazi, "I was beginning to think you'd be frightened off!"
"I wouldn't dream of it" said Harith defensively, "We Men of the Red King are proud men and are not scared easily!"
"Glad to hear it" said Ghazi.
"Who is this Red King?" asked the Bald Man, turning to the new arrivals.
"He was an Invader" explained Harith, uneasy around this mysterious man, "Was so close to conquering the Desert Plains, before his capture and execution in Marabia".
As soon as this was mentioned, some of Harith's men began muttering bitterly amongst themselves.
"We're dedicated to his cause" Harith continued, "The downfall of the four cities of the Desert Plains".
The Bald Man nodded and walked towards them, taking his time with each step, to drag it out and make them feel ever more on edge.
"I am Barani" He said, "So perhaps you'll excuse my lack of knowledge about your…Red King".
The Men looked to each other in shock, and all at once, they knelt down in respect.
"Forgive me, Barani!" said Harith, "We didn't know it was you… you don't look like we thought you would. The legends greatly exaggerated".
Barani beckoned for them to rise, "What have the legends said about me?"
"That you had the body of a lion, and the head of a dragon… " said Harith anxiously.
Barani laughed, "I am far more terrifying than that, wouldn't you agree?"
The Men nodded eagerly.
"Well, since you'll all be settling down soon and joining our little venture" said Ghazi, getting all their attention back to him, "I'll just introduce you to everybody. You've already met Barani, Taoul and Zenora. That's Abid (He nodded towards the old man in the corner) and this is Korua!"
Korua nodded friendlily, but Abid remained dozy and oblivious- he now smacked his lips and murmured.
"Get up Abid, you old fool!" bellowed Ghazi, seizing a rock from the ground and hurling it at Abid's head.
With a surprised yelp, Abid slammed up against the wall. Korua burst out laughing, as Abid slowly got to his feet, hunched and aching. He was a pitiful sight, seeming more old and exhausted than ever.
"It's …very nice to meet you" He slurred, speaking to the room as a whole, like he didn't know who he was speaking to, "Have you seen Swiper? ...My dear Swiper seems to have been misplaced".
"Stop droning on about your idiotic monkey!" snapped Ghazi, advancing on him, hand raised to strike.
But as he got near, he hesitated. Slowly lowering his arm, he walked to the other side of the room, taking quiet breathes. Everybody watched him closely, completely fixated on him.
"Do you remember when I came to you at your home, Abid?" asked Ghazi.
Abid scratched his cheek, "Yes…yes, I do".
"You remember what I told you, don't you?" said Ghazi, his voice dangerously calm, "If you'd help me, you'd be given riches beyond your wildest dreams?"
"Yes…yes…I remember that" said Abid anxiously.
Ghazi glared at him, "Well, it seems I'm going to have to take that back".
"Excuse…excuse me?" whispered Abid, who was now beginning to tremble.
"You've outlived your uses" said Ghazi, "In fact, you were never particularly useful before. I didn't want to get rid of you, just in case you'd be needed. But now I've seized control of the GreyTower, and I have at least two armies on my side…you're really not needed anymore".
Letting out a fail, Abid fell to his knees and began blubbering, "Please…please…I beg of you…please let me live…let me leave with my Swiper…my Swiper…where is my Swiper?"
Zenora and Korua looked at each other, and in an unusual moment of shared emotion, laughed cruelly.
"You said y-you'd forgiven me" sobbed Abid, "For putting you in the ring…you said!"
Ghazi smirked and narrowed his eyes, "I lied".
Abid was flung into the air like a lifeless rag doll and smashed through the wall. Screeching in terror, Abid vanished into the darkness. A horrified silence fell over the room. The Men of the Red King stood together, none of them daring to breath.
"We'll have to cover up that hole" said Ghazi casually, turning back to the Men.
"Excuse me Ghazi" said Abdul, "But you said you have an army on your side?"
Ghazi smiled, "Have you heard of the Elephant Men by any chance?"