The wraiths took to the walls, melting with the shadows of the obsidian. They moved with the grain of the stone, with no one’s noticing them. They were clothed in what seemed to be shadow, as well. The soft black fabric of their suits had no seam, and their contrast with the walls was non-existent as they expertly and silently scaled the thick barricade that stood between them and their targets.
After all, the Yīnyǐng were known to be silent and invisible.
From the Unreachable Provinces, the Yīnyǐng hunters were unknown to all except the Underworlders, which Breixo prided himself in being. The Údaen mercenary was the reason behind getting the Yīnyǐng after his brother, and finding the queen and her petty babysitters was a bonus.
There were ten wraiths in each company, and they split by celestial shadow. If one were to see them closely, he would see that their suits were different shades of grey and black to match the time of day. The Evening Yīnyǐng, the darkest shade, hopped onto the side of the castle farthest from the sun, and so on and so forth. Each company had a different job to do, each at a different time of day.
The leader of the Dusks smirked underneath his cowl.
“This is going to be easy.”
In Úda, one could say it was silent. The Dhahab was the pride of Úda, with soaring, lean towers that pierced the cloudless skies. The national sign of the sovereign country, a Manhunter going in for a pounce, embellished the countless spires, still in the windless heights. Ornate passages, halls, and courtyard fountains snaked through the gargantuan palace. Vibrant motifs splayed across the roofs and the occasional outdoor arena.
The true crown jewel of the love letter to the exotic had to be the library, where Commander Toryalai was running presently.
Commonly known as Tory, the commander reprimanded himself for waiting this long.
“Kitab!” he hissed, coming into the library. “Kitab, wake up!”
The old librarian moaned and groggily appeared from behind a large stack of scrolls. He was a short man of seventy with beady black eyes and two well rounded chins. He wore a robe tied off with a leather belt that hardly held his large stomach.
“Morning of Sunrise,” he yawned, “what’s-”
“Where is the Eye and the Book of Alqudama?” Tory asked quickly.
Toryalai Samara was quite the opposite of Kitab; his rank as a commanding officer kept him in perfect shape, and to the women of his village Reff-Baduun, he was a rajul wasim- the dream man, with sparkling hazel eyes to get lost in and a smile to melt hearts. He was also tall, but not very broad, with olive skin and thick, sun bleached brown hair that used to be black. He wore the black linen tunic of a commander of the Steward Guard, buckled off with a thick leather belt, and deep green pants loose enough to ride and run comfortably. They were tucked into thick black boots.
Kitab’s already small eyes disappeared under a bushy white, furrowed brow for a moment, then they widened with dawning comprehension.
Tory, to his own surprise, had trouble keeping up with the deceptively spry old man. As a boy, the commander would wander the halls of the Dhahab, but he always found is way to the Hall of the Book of Alqudama, which happened to be the largest library in all of the known world. Countless scrolls and parchment books - which were a Destrean specialty - found refuge in the freshly polished cedar and rosewood shelves from the harsh elements of Úda.
“Have you found yourself lost in thought?” mused Kitab, stopping.
Sure enough, Tory had wandered without thinking, to the opposite side of the library. Kitab waited for him. His cheeks reddening, Tory told himself he was to pay more attention.
“Right here.” Kitab stopped in front of an intricately laced, golden lattice door, which seemed to let off a warm and welcoming glow. “Do you- do you truly need them?”
Tory nodded. “Empress Skadi of Alpene has called them from Úda and Venéra. There's need for them to be together again.” His gaze shifted to the door, which Kitab began to open.
The only contents behind the alcove door were a silver tiara embellished with a teardrop shaped amethyst and a worn, ancient book with a leather cover, bound shut by a strand of silk. The book itself was small, just about the size of his hand. Its cover was etched with black dragons and an illumination of a man hung on a tree.
The Book of Alqudama.
Mesmerized by the beauty beheld in such a small place - as the commander was young enough to have since forgotten what the crown looked like - he reached out to touch them.
“No!” exclaimed Kitab, snatching the young officer’s hand away. “The Eye will reject you. You’re not a Keeper.”
Tory gave the librarian a confused look and carefully, warily brought his hand back. “A Keeper?” he echoed, prodding the old man to elaborate.
Kitab wordlessly tucked a sheepskin around the tiara and the book, careful not to touch them with his weathered, leathery bare hands. When they were properly hidden in the woolly leather, he tied an extra silk around it like a parcel. Tightly bound, Kitab dutifully gave it to the commander.
“Remember the disappearance of the Princess Ritabsa Masuma and Queen Aqilanisa?” inquired Kitab, moving fluidly through the ornate passages.
Toryalai nodded grimly. Eight years ago, during a surprise attack of Sábháiltean slavers, the beloved queen of the Southern Allahm-hen Provinces of Úda and her daughter had gone missing, with no confirmation that they were actually taken away by the white men. No one knew where they were.
“Those two were our last Keepers.”
Tory followed the old man, dodging the bookcases and the countless shelves along their way. “What’s a Keeper?” he asked, “Please elaborate, old friend.”
Kitab stopped in his tracks and turned, facing the commander. “Look,” he sighed, “this is dangerous information, do you believe me?” He was answered with a slow nod. “Keepers are the holders of the Eyes.”
Tory frowned. “All right,” he mumbled. He shifted the sheepskin into his tunic pocket. “Any history?”
Kitab made a little laugh and swept a hand out, presenting the library to the young man. “You’re in the home of knowledge and you ask that question.” His expression turned more serious. “What was your education, Commander Samara?”
Tory shrugged. “Humble but present.”
Toryalai grew up a tailor’s son, only learning when they could afford it. Most of his lessons were comprised of his father’s favorite readings of the Book of Alqudama. He finished whatever education he had in the Steward Academy, who so graciously took him in at no charge.
Kitab nodded. “Were you ever taught the legend 0f the Amethyst?”
Tory affirmed. “It was taught to me when I was a boy.”
The librarian smiled cordially. “Then tell me of Princess Mahin Darya.”
They both sat down at a low tea table between two rows of books. Toryalai tucked his feet underneath him and sighed. “She was the Third Queen of the Second Kingdom of Úda, correct?”
Kitab nodded. Údaen history was so long and complicated that it was surprising a man from humble background such as his own would know who Princess Mahin Darya was.
“What Kingdom are we sitting in currently?” asked Kitab.
Tory paused, squinted, then recited, “The Eleventh Kingdom of the Second Covenant, correct?”
Kitab smiled. “Which means Princess Mahin Darya was how many years ago…?”
“One hundred ten thousand years ago,” Tory muttered thoughtfully. “Princess Mahin Darya was of the Ancient Time, and she was of humble background. The daughter of a carpenter, so says the Book.” He shrugged. “Anyway, she was the mother to the Man of the First Coming. Since her relation with him, her advice was sought after and her story was precious to the world. To spread it, she was brought into the Second Kingdom and she soared to the head of the Palace, and she was adopted into the royal family, and she became the princess. Her most prized possessions - all given to her by the Man of the First Coming - were gems. One sapphire, one emerald, one ruby, and one amethyst. They were given to the Twelve Scribes, who composed the Book of Alqudama. While the Book is considered of the male line, the gems - now called the Eyes of Alqudama of the Eyes of Vårthjem - are considered of the female line. Only girls are able to carry them as Keepers.” Tory frowned. “That’s why you kept me from touching it.”
Kitab nodded. “Good. Very good.” He sighed. “Soon enough, if the Eyes have been called, then our Keeper has to show herself.”
Tory nodded. “I’ll make it a quest.” He stood and helped up his old friend. “I’ll go out and find our Keeper, and she will carry the Eye and I will bring the Book to Alpene.”
The librarian’s brow shot up. “Why,” he breathed, “no one’s tried.”
The commander smiled. “First for everything.”
As they wound through the labyrinthine palace, Tory and Kitab made it to the Manhunter stables. There before him was his Manhunter, Abyad. After years of trying, the Steward Guard found a way to tame and breed domesticated wolves, all of which were large enough to ride. Instead of sand-kicking stallions or merchant’s camels, the High Guard rode the regal, white-furred beasts.
Tory stroked Abyad’s fur and hopped into the saddle. Kitab stopped before the wolf’s flank and nodded to the commander.
“May the Protector grant you wings,” said Kitab.
“And may He grant you peace,” replied Tory. He whipped Abyad’s reigns and they burst out of the stables, towards the north border, on their newborn quest.
The Dhahab (DAY-hub) is based off of the Alhambra in Andalusia, Granada, Spain, which was made during the rule of the Moors | Toryalai: (tor-YUH-luh-ee) OR (tor-EE-al-EYE) the commander of the Steward Guard of Uda | Yinying: (YIN-yuhng) the army of mercenaries from the Unreachable Provinces, past Osaka and Anahera | Aqilanisa: (uh-KEE-leh-NEE-sah) the vanishing queen | Ritabsa Masuma: (REE-tub-sah muh-SOOM-mah) the vanishing princess of the Allahm-hen Provinces of the Sovereign Nation of Uda | Allahm-hen: (ah-LAHM hen) the Southern Provinces of Uda | Kitab: (KEE-tahb) the royal librarian (his name literally means 'book' in Arabic) | Princess Mahin Darya (MAH-een dair-EE-ah) Third Queen of the Second Udaen Kingdom