Arivi shuffled through the soft, warm sand, barely able to lift his feet any further. Arivi had been travelling through the desert for five long days, and two of those had been spent in the middle of a sandstorm, choking on dust whilst being blinded by the grit stabbing into his eyes.
His brother, the Count of Amahset, had sent an invitation to join him in his castle nearly a fortnight previous, with the cryptic message "I have a secret to share with you". Arivi had slept on it, and wondered if this was another of his brother's treasure hunting schemes. He waited many more nights, yet finally he decided 5 days ago that he would make his brother wait no longer. Saddling a camel, Arivi stocked his pack full of provisions and left at once for his brother Latava's castle.
Sweat poured down his brow, and Arivi had regretted his journey since the moment he first set foot in the Darudine Desert. An endless expanse of hot sand and deadly sandstorms, Arivi looked above at the blazing sun, wondering if he would ever see his brother - or any of his family - ever again. It was at this moment that Arivi crested the shifting sand dune that he had been climbing, and set tired eyes upon the rocky crags of Amahset. Though the sharp rocky landscape seemed desolate and uninviting, he knew that his brothers castle lay nestled and well protected, far from prying eyes.
Two horsemen rode out towards Arivi from Amahset, bearing down with great speed towards his position atop the dunes. He was tense, for he had his fair share of experience in dealing with bandits and raiders, both to his detriment and to their own. Arivi's apprehension was short lived, however, as he recognized the family crest of the counts of Amahset on their tabards, signifying their allegiance to his brother, Latava.
Arivi was surprised, however, to see that his brother had come personally to greet him so far from his walls.
"Hail, brother. It has been far too long since last we spoke", Latava spoke, false tenderness behind his serpentine eyes. Before Arivi had had left the safety of Amahset, Latava had always been a kind-hearted sibling, ill-suited to the hard decisions one must make as a ruler.
"I must admit I am surprised to have been greeted so far from your walls, Latava. I trust all is well in Amahset?" Arivi replied. He had hoped that his brother's urgent message was not one of veiled danger - he was exhausted, and would not be of much help to Latava without proper rest and nourishment.
"No, no, Arivi, I assure you that the news I have brings with it the promise of gold on its heels", his brother told him. A glint of greed shone in his eyes, and his grin seemed more hungry than happy, to Arivi. Latava had dismounted from his horse, holding a waterskin in his hand.
"But where are my manners, you must be parched. Drink, drink!" Water was poured down Arivi's throat, and he took heavy gulps that nearly drowned his lungs. As he sputtered for air, Latava laughed aloud, for life was always a joke to him. "You have forgotten how to drink! The sand has addled your brain, Arivi!" Latava's teeth shone white, a sharp contrast to the dull brown hues of the desert sand that surrounded them.
As he recovered from his violent fit of coughing, Arivi noticed that the second horseman who traveled with his brother had dismounted as well. He was cloaked from head to toe in a fine black robe, and flashes of crimson and gold outlined his cuffs and sash, respectively. Only his eyes showed, thought this was not uncommon in the middle of a sandstorm, it was an odd choice of attire to wear under any normal circumstances. Arivi was perplexed by this visitor, doubly so because he was not garbed in the traditional colours of the Amahset royal guard - white tabard with the purple desert rose stitched into the cloth.
A dark shadow fell over the sand dunes as the sun set behind the cliff-side. The temperatures would soon drop to near freezing, and the group would have to begin their trek to the relative safety and warmth of the castle. But Arivi relished the cool air, and the breeze that tickled his warm skin and soothed his feverish mind. He relaxed his tired muscles, and the sickness he had been feeling over the past two days of his quest to Amahset left him in waves. He did not know if it was the intense heat or the lack of hydration he experienced, but he was glad it was finally over. Now, the sweet respite of a soft bed and cold stone walls pressed their dreams into the back of Arivi's head.
The mysterious rider stepped forward, his hand outstretched to Arivi. They clasped forearms, recognizing each other as friends, and Arivi stared into his eyes. There were no dark pupils or colourful irises that greeted him though. Only dark clouds marred the man's vision, swirling and churning in an endless storm. It was frightening, and Arivi knew this man was more than he seemed.
"You have brought a demon before me!" Arivi jerked his arm away.
"I was hoping you would see through his disguise. There is always a tell-tale sign", his brother replied. He smirked, and gestured towards the horseman that he had asked to meet with Arivi. The robe around the hooded man began to unravel itself, strand by strand, to reveal a purple-skinned creature, its eyes glowing red.
"I am Razim, Djinn of the Red Western Desert", it said to Arivi. "I apologize for the deception, but I am required to gauge the perceptiveness of all those who greet me. It is required by the law of my people", Arivi gaped openly at the Djinn, for he never thought he would ever meet so mystical a being in his life.
"Why do you bring this creature with you, Latava?"
"He holds the secrets to finding the Black Diamond of Amahset, my brother. He only asks that we answer one riddle correctly, and all the riches of this desert shall be ours, together!" Latava's greedy grin gleamed in the night, and it reminded his brother of a sly serpent. It made him shudder.
"I need no promise of treasure to help you, Latava." He turned to the Djinn, "Tell me the riddle. There has not been a man, human or magical being that has ever stumped me."
"Your wish is my command", the Djinn smiled. "There were once five men who travelled to a church, when it started to rain. The four that ran swiftly inside got wet while the one that remained still, stayed dry. Which of these five men stayed dry?"
Arivi considered his answer for a moment, knowing too well the tricks that Djinn were said to play upon those slow of wit. But the answer came to him quickly, and he looked to his brother first, though Latava seemed thoroughly stumped.
"The man who stayed dry was the one carried within a coffin", Arivi answered. He was certain that this was the answer, and saw the look of understanding that dawned behind his brother's eyes.
The Djinn declared, "You are correct. Your brother did not lie to me when he spoke grand tales of your intelligence, and it has been many moons since an answer has rung true for my riddles. You and your brother truly deserve this treasure", the Djinn smiled slyly, like a cat that watched its prey.
Small tendrils of lightning and sparking magic floated through the air, and the clouds that swam across the Djinn's eyes slowly began to fade away. In their place, a bright golden glow shone out like a hundred chandeliers, their crystalline structures reflecting the light of the moon from within the Djinn's body.
Arivi had prepared himself for this sorcery, but even he could help himself from feeling a little fear -and awe - at the power the Djinn so clearly possessed. The electricity began to crackle, and it singed the skin of all present, including the horses. They jolted, running away from the group while they wildly neighed into the night.
With a dull crack and a blinding flash of light, the Djinn was gone. Only smoke trailed the ground where once his feet had been firmly planted in the sand. Even his boot prints had disappeared, a mere memory now in the brothers minds. Something heavy pressed itself into Arivi's hand, and when he looked down he discovered an ornate, beautifully carven golden key.
Latava looked to his brother to discover that they now held exact copies of a golden key in each others hands. Dark amethysts were set in the keys, and the brothers could feel the magic pulsing from the cool metal.
They had done it.
A smile plastered Latava's face, and the Count slinked towards his brother with arms outstretched, "We have done it, Arivi. The treasure is ours now, and nothing will stand in my way from claiming my birthright of this desert".
"This is why you wanted the treasure, brother? A campaign of war?" Arivi curled his lip into a sneer. This was the exact reason he had left the court of Amahset all those years ago. His brother's endless ambition had grown intolerable, and though he had hoped that Latava would have put these dreams aside, it seemed he would never change.
"Brother please, you don't underst-" Latava began.
"I understand perfectly. And so long as I live you will never have this treasure, or your wars", Arivi stalked away, the knowledge that the Djinn had given him secure in his mind. The Black Diamond of Amahset would remain locked away, hopefully for eternity.
But it would not be so.
Many years later, Latava, the Count of Amahset has discovered the location of Arivi, and the golden key he still held. Latava was now an old man, but his ambition still burned strong. He needed the Black Diamond, and all the riches that it would produce for him, or he would never see his dream of a great desert kingdom realized.
A small man stood to his side and his face was a portrait of stone. He was a loyal servant to nobody but the golden coin, and he served his master diligently. Cloaked in black, if Latava had not sent for him he would never have known he was there in the shadows.
"Are you capable of this task, Csal?" Latava whispered breathlessly. This was the only decision left open to him now.
"As long as I return to my weight in gold, all will unravel as it should, my lord", Csal rasped. He was growing weary of the endless planning.
"My brother's death shall bring you the reward you deserve, Csal. Now begone."
Csal bowed mockingly low, and stalked out of the Great Hall. The orders were crystallized in his mind, and he had never once failed his master. The simplest of tasks sometimes bring the greatest of rewards, he mused.
Latava smiled to himself. Finally, his ambitions would be realized.
Author's note: Hey guys, hope you enjoyed my story! Please vote for me in the WCC for January, my first contest entry! :) Any fans I may have reading this, you guys are awesome, keep up the good work! (If you are doing any work?)