Nasir and Maarika Chronicles
First Edition February 19th 2016
©2017 James Mullins
This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in this book are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously
August 2nd, 636 Arabia Province, Byzantium
Several hours after Nasir and Maarika=s northward journey on the Aqaba road began, sweat glistened on their foreheads. The heat from the merciless Sun above made them feel like they were slowly cooking in a large fire. The road, nicely paved and showing little wear despite its age of 500 years and little maintenance since, was surrounded on both sides by tall cliffs. The cliffs were varying shades of brown with the occasional patch of reddish looking stone. Fortunately for the pair, the cliffs provided shade from the Sun=s rays and they avoided the worst of its effects.
As the pair walked Maarika turned to Nasir and asked, AHave you ever heard of the prophecy of the [email protected]
Nasir nodding replied, AAye, it was said that one day the people would turn away from Bismillah. When that day came a horrific plague would be released upon the people. The accursed plague would make the people forever hungry. Husbands would eat their wives. Mothers would consume their own children and the living would become as a feast to the dead. The hungry ones would ravage the world until the people turned back to Bismillah. When that day comes, a hero would emerge to put an end to the people=s curse of [email protected]
Maarika smiled, AI=m glad you did not lose touch with your people as you served the [email protected]
Nasir, grinning replied, AThe Romans are very accepting of other peoples and cultures. As long as you recognize that Emperor Heraclius as God=s Vice Reagent on earth, equal to the Apostles and that you follow the truth faith as laid out by the Council of [email protected]
Maarika pondered Nasir=s words for several moments and replied, AThis God the Romans are obsessed with. Is he greater than our god Bismillah?
Nasir responded, AIn my heart the answer is yes. Though if you ever gather a group of twenty priests and ask the same question you will get twenty different [email protected]
Maarika snorted derisively and said, AThese priests should spend more time working and less time pondering I [email protected]
AI guess you Romans are rich beyond imagination if you can afford to have so many not [email protected]
Nasir laughed, AIndeed, I=ve never really thought of it like that. Sadly all the priests seem to do is think up reasons that divide [email protected]
AThat seems silly. How can such a rich people be so [email protected]
Nasir shrugged his shoulders, AIf we ever figure that out the Empire will become true [email protected]
The two fell silent as they each pondered the wisdom of the other=s words. They continued following the trail of what they had come to call the plagued ones. As they followed the Roman Road to Aqaba, they came upon the occasional body part or piece of flesh. These pieces of the plagued ones were not the result of violence but seem to have just fallen off of their own accord.
After a while Maarika broke the silence, AThe legend said that the hero would be of pale skin and come from a place far to the [email protected]
Nasir pondered this for several moments then asked, ADid it give any more [email protected]
Maarika sifted through her memories trying to remember bits and pieces of the story that seemed just out of reach. She hadn=t heard this story since she was a little girl, AThe place would have [email protected] She pondered another moment and added, ANot like our mountains barren, brown, and lifeless, but mountains with immense trees upon [email protected]
AI=ve heard about several places that fit that description. The closest is a part of a land called Phoenicia. At least it used to be. There aren=t many trees left in the mountains [email protected] Nasir said.
AHmmm, that name doesn=t sound familiar at [email protected] Maarika replied.
Nasir sifted through his memories of conversations he had with officers from the north, AThe next possibility is a part of a land called [email protected]
Frustrated, Maarika said. AI just don=t remember what the hero=s homeland was named in the [email protected]
As the Sun set the pair found an outcropping of rocks to sleep under. This ensured that they were out of sight should some of the plagued ones reverse their course and come upon them in the night. After eating a meal consisting of warm water from their water skins and the fresh bread that Maarika had baked earlier that morning, they fell asleep. The night was filled with faint sounds of the wind pushing through the cracks and crevices of the cliffs. The both slept, their dreams filled with the horrors they recently witnessed. Fortunately, no other being or creature bothered them that night, only the imaginary ones of their nightmares.
The following day around noon they emerged from the mountain pass. They did not have any encounters with the plagued ones that morning but continued to see evidence of their passing as they walked. As they emerged from the pass, they saw an imposing stone structure off in the distance set upon a hill. The structure, along with several smaller ones, was surrounded by a stone wall. The wall, crumbling in places, was about as tall as two men. The hill, like the surrounding terrain, was filled with various shades of tan and brown, comprising equal parts of sand and gravel.
Nasir frowned at what he saw and said, AOdd, usually there are guards on the [email protected]
Maarika replied, ALook at the trail of the plagued ones. It leads right toward the [email protected]
AThat=s not a city, it=s a [email protected] He pointed at the front gate. Still, bared shut, despite no evidence of occupants, AWhy is the gate still shut and barred if the fort has fallen to the plagued [email protected]
Maarika frowning said, AI know not the answer to that [email protected]
Nasir gazed over the rest of the fort. In addition to the imposing central barracks building the fort had a smithy used to repair armor and weapons. Next to the smithy was a supply depot that stored food. The food supplied both the occupants of the fort and the various border posts in the region, which included Nasir=s.
AWe need to get in there and see what [email protected] Nasir said.
Without waiting for a response, he set off in the direction of the fort. As they drew close, they could hear the buzzing of thousands of flies. The battlements had several of the plagued ones laying where they were struck down. The fort=s walls at one time were covered in limestone and shear. The passage of centuries had caused the limestone to decay in many places and the underlying bricks now shown through the remaining patches of limestone.
Nasir and Maarika arrived at the imposing gate and pushed on it. It did not yield. The stout wooden doors, cracked and pitted from many years in the desert, was barred from the other side.
Nodding Nasir said, AAye, I must find out what happened and to check for survivors. Surely someone survived the onslaught of the plagued ones. With luck we can obtain some horses from the stables and try to get ahead of the plagued ones so we can warn Aqaba of their [email protected]
Nasir started to walk to the right of the imposing wooden door. Looking up he saw a spot on the wall not to far from the door where the limestone had fallen off in a giant sheet exposing the bricks underneath. Years of scouring sand had done their work on the exposed bricks and worn away much of the masonry around them to make the surface rough and uneven.
ADo you think you can climb the wall and open the gate from the [email protected] Nasir asked.
AYes, that surface looks easier to climb than some of the cliff faces I climbed as a [email protected]
Nasir smiled and pulled his dagger out of its sheath. Handing it to Maarika, he said, [email protected] Pointing to his left shoulder he added, AI took a spear in my shoulder a number of years back during a punitive expedition. Damned Camel thieves. Now I can=t lift my arm above my shoulder so I don=t think I can make that [email protected]
Maarika laughed at him, AIt=s a good thing I came along when I did. Many more months of living with nothing but other men and you would have fallen completely [email protected]
Too late Maarika realized she had reminded Nasir of his fallen men. Unable to hold back the pain any longer Nasir fell to his knees and started weeping. He struck the sand with his fist over and over asking one question, AWhy [email protected]
Maarika knelt down beside him and put her arms around him. The metal bands of his armor dug into her as she held him but she ignored the pain, AShhh I=m sorry. Please forgive me for causing you [email protected]
Nasir continued weeping for several more minutes but drew tremendous comfort from Maarika=s embrace. During the exchange they had become oblivious to the world around them. They didn=t notice the creature until it snarled and leapt on them. The creature crashed into Nasir=s back, wrapped its arms around him, and pulled his neck toward teeth eager to rip his flesh.
Maarika screamed in surprise at the sudden attack. Without thinking she grabbed the dagger off the ground and shoved it into the mouth of the plagued one a moment before its teeth would have sunk into the soft flesh of Nasir=s neck, where it joined his right shoulder. Impaled, the creature let out a noise which rattled in its throat.
Nasir grabbed the creature and threw it on the ground in front of him. Before it had a chance to recover, he drew his Spatha and slid it into the plagued one=s left eye socket, AThank you for saving me once [email protected] Nasir said.
Maarika smiled, pulled him close by placing both of her hands on his face and kissed him passionately, AYou=re welcome. The least I could do after reminding you what befell your [email protected]
Nasir smiled and said, AThink nothing of it. I should be stronger than [email protected]
Maarika replied, AMy brave soldier, you are strong and mighty indeed but at the end of the day you are still an imperfect being of flesh and [email protected]
AI know [email protected]
AShhh, you couldn=t have saved them. You would have simply died with them and where would that leave me? Steel yourself for battle soldier, I=ll get up the wall and unbar the [email protected]
ABe careful, I know we just met two days ago, but I don=t think I could bear to lose you [email protected]
AI will [email protected]
Maarika placed the dagger in her mouth and began scaling the wall. Nasir admired her posterior as she climbed. When she reached the top, she disappeared over the top. Then she screamed.
Nasir, horrified that he was going to lose her, tried to climb the wall himself. He clawed at it uselessly trying to pull himself up the wall and yelled, [email protected]
Maarika=s head peaked over the top of the wall and she said, ASorry, when I hopped over the wall I landed on a half-eaten soldier. It frightened [email protected]
AFor a moment I thought I had lost you. Please . . . @ His voice trailed off and he held back a sob.
Nasir struggled for several moments to bring his emotions back under control. During that time Maarika had found her way down to the ground. After a few more additional moments, she located the wooden bar that sealed the gate. She placed both of her hands on the bar and started pushing up. It didn=t budge. The sounds of her efforts attracted the unwanted attention of one of the fort=s residents.
Maarika continued trying to force the bar of the gate upward, so she could open it. Crazed by hunger, the creature, now only ten feet from her exposed back, let out a triumphant growl as the smell of her sweet living fleshed overpowered its senses. Upon hearing the noise Maarika whirled around and saw the hungry one bearing down on her. The thing was in full chain mail, its lips stuck into a permanent leer, making the face all the more sinister as its teeth clicked together constantly.
Maarika lunged to her left just as the thing crashed into the door where she had just been a moment before. The abomination instantly recovered and turned swiftly to face her. Getting back to her feet she grabbed the dagger Nasir had given her as it charged. A moment before its grasping hands grabbed her, she fell to her knees and slashed at its exposed knee partially severing the leg. She then rolled away again to her left as the creature reached for her as it toppled to the dirt. She came out of her lunge, regained her feet, moved behind it as it struggled to reach her, and stabbed it in the back of the head.
The plagued one, now on its knees, fell forward making a crashing noise as its armor struck the ground.
Nasir called out, [email protected]
AI=m fine love. Shuush now so you don=t attract anymore,@ she responded.
Maarika looked around the fort to ensure that no more plagued ones had been attracted by the commotion. The courtyard of the fort was a house of horrors. It was dotted by spots of dried blood that had turned black in the merciless Arabian sun. In addition to the blood there were body parts in various states of decay, and empty suits of armor were everywhere. Some of the suits of armor still had the bones of the soldiers that wore them in life within.
As Maarika took in the courtyard, she gasped out loud at the horrors her eyes beheld. She closed her eyes just wishing it would all go away and that she was back in her families= tent. She imagined being a little girl again and being rocked gently to sleep by her mother.
The moment of reflection was interrupted by Nasir, AWhat=s wrong, are you [email protected]
AI=m fine. The site of this place frightened me is [email protected] she replied.
Confirming that no other plagued ones wanted to make a meal of her, she turned back to the task at hand. Once again she pushed up against the bar that held the door fast with all her strength, she couldn=t budge it, AOk now [email protected] she thought to herself. She turned around and leaned up against the door to catch her breath. As she did so she looked around the courtyard for a solution. Her eyes settled on the gladius, still in its sheath, of the hungry one she had just slain.
Maarika slowly drew the weapon from its sheath so as not to make a noise. She then slid the blade between the bar and the iron latch of the right door that held it in place. It took her several minutes to slowly work the blade into place.
Growing impatient with the delay Nasir asked, AIs everything ok? What=s going [email protected]
AI=m fine love. Just trying to get this bar off the thrice cursed door. It=s stuck and I can=t seem to budge it,@ Maarika replied.
Nasir pondered for several moments and replied, AYou might be able to find an axe in the [email protected]
AI=ve got a gladius up under the bar between it and the latch holding it in place. I=m going to try and use it as a [email protected]
AClever [email protected] Nasir said.
Smiling at his compliment, she grabbed the pommel of the gladius with both hands and pushed up with all her strength. Nothing happened. She paused and took a minute to catch her breath after her unsuccessful effort. Again she put all of her strength into pushing up onto the pommel of the sword. The bar moved a quarter of an inch.
Exhausted, she leaned up against the door to catch her breath. She glanced over her shoulder to ensure there were no hungry ones trying to sneak up on her. There weren=t.
AI think using the sword as a lever is going to [email protected] Maarika stated.
[email protected] Nasir stated, an edge of impatience in his voice.
Maarika pushed up on the pommel as hard as she could. Once again she felt the bar moving ever so slightly upward. Without warning, the blade loudly snapped in two and fell to the earth. The voice of a plagued one echoed off the fort=s walls as the sound woke it up. She whirled around and saw it stumble out of the stables.
Maarika frantically looked for the dagger Nasir had given her. It was still embedded in the back of the creature=s head that she had slain several minutes prior. As the hungry creature stumbled toward her, teeth clicking together rapidly in anticipation of the feast her succulent soft flesh would soon provide, she yanked on the dagger trying to pull it free. It was stuck fast in the skull.
She glanced up at the thing that was approaching her. It was dressed in the tattered remains of clothing typically worn by stable boys. She yanked again on the dagger. It didn=t budge. The hungry one had drawn within ten feet of her as she glanced at it again. She had one final opportunity to pull on the dagger and get it out. Gripping the pommel of the blade as hard as she could she pulled with all her might. Her strength, fueled by the adrenaline rushing through her system failed. It still didn=t come out.
The hungry one crashed into her as she leaned over the corpse trying to pull the dagger out. The thing=s knee struck her chest knocking the wind out of her. As she gasped for air, it grabbed her left arm and pulled it toward its mouth. Maarika, gasping for air, fell to her knees as the full weight of the creature pressed down on her back.
[email protected] Nasir yelled.
Frantically she searched around for something, anything that would help. At that same moment Nasir crashed into the gate with his shoulder, it didn=t even move. Her fingers wrapped around the pommel of the broken sword. She raised the broken blade and plunged it into the foot of the plagued one on top of her, pinning it to the ground. She then yanked her left arm out of it=s grasped and rolled free.
Nasir crashed into the gate again. The jolt from his effort caused the bar to slide back into place, nullifying the progress Maarika made with the sword. As she frantically looked around the courtyard for another weapon, a second hungry one emerged from the smithy, drawn by the noise of Nasir efforts. The thing was wearing the thick leather apron of a blacksmith. She took off running in the opposite direction toward the stable, AMaybe I can find a pitch fork there,@ she thought to herself.
Maarika covered the distance to the stables in a few seconds with the former blacksmith in close pursuit. Without pausing she ran into the stables. She had to come to an immediate halt as there was a long row of stalls in front of her. Looking to her left, she spotted a pitchfork hanging on the far wall. She accelerated into a sprint just as the black smith reached for her. Unable to correct in time he crashed into the stall door just in front of him with a dull thump.
The blacksmith turned and spotted Maarika running away. Within its dim consciousness it registered the fact that she was trapped and could not escape him. He thought of how good it would be to feel her soft flesh sliding down his throat and he let out a noise of pure delight. To Maarika the noise sounded like a cross between a growl and an attempt at speech.
Reaching the pitch fork Maarika grabbed it off the wall and spun around to face the charging blacksmith. As it drew close, she held the pitchfork over her head with both hands. The blacksmith closed to within five feet of her and he lifted up his arms to grab her. She thrust the sharp tines of the pitch fork into his head. He came to an abrupt stop and fell to the ground yanking the pitchfork from her grasp.
Sighing audibly with relief she placed her foot onto the blacksmith=s head and yanked the pitchfork out. As she did so she noticed his leather belt, it appeared to be made out of goat skin. Holding her breath to minimize the putrid smell invading her nostrils, she undid the belt and pulled it off of the blacksmith=s corpse. Sticking the pitch fork into the dirt floor, she held the supple leather strap in her hands and went through the motion of slinging a stone, AThis will work great, I just need to find some stones and I=ll be able to kill these bastards without getting my hands [email protected]
Maarika tied the goatskin belt around her own waist, yanked the pitchfork out of the ground. Holding the pitchfork in front of her with both of her hands, she crept silently over to the smithy. As she entered the smithy she looked around to see if any more of the blacksmith=s friends wanted to turn her into a meal, she didn=t see any, AAnyone [email protected] she asked.
The only thing Maarika heard in response was the faint rustle of the wind. Satisfied, she was alone she searched around the smithy until she found what she was looking for, an axe. It was not the kind of axe used to chop wood. Instead, designed for war, it was meant chop down human opponents in armor, AThis should work [email protected] She thought to herself.
Maarika set the pitchfork down on the dirt floor of the smithy, careful to be silent, and took the axe. Like the pitch fork she held it with both hands, ready to use it on anything else that wanted to turn her into a meal. Exiting the smithy, she looked around for a stone. Finding what she was looking for, she bent over and picked it up. The stone was perfect for what she had in mind.
As Maarika approached the gate the hungry one, she had stabbed with the broken gladius was still stuck fast to the ground. She took out the leather strap she had taken from the black smith with her right hand. With her left hand she placed the stone onto the strap where it formed a natural u as she held it. She then twirled the belt over her head with all her strength and flung it at the hungry one. The stone sailed true and struck the thing right in the forehead easily piercing it and the thing fell to the ground with a dull thump.
Reaching the gate she said, AI=ve found an [email protected]
AThank [email protected] Nasir responded.
Maarika stood in front of the gate with her legs spread apart to provide extra balance. With her right hand she grasped the top potion of the axe handle and with her left hand she held the lower portion of the axe handle. She swung the axe over her head and brought the head down upon the wood bar. It struck with a thunk sound and sank about two inches into the bar. She jerked the axe loose, turned around, and waited several seconds. Nothing but the sound of the wind rustling the sand on the ground.
Satisfied that she wasn=t going to be attacked, she kept swinging the axe at the bar until with a loud cracking sound it broke. The bar severed roughly in its middle fell to the ground in two separate pieces. Nasir hearing the bar break, pushed on the gate from the outside. Maarika stepped back as the gate opened inwardly into the fort.
Nasir saw her and with a smile ran to her and hugged her, AI thought I had lost you to those damned things several [email protected]
With a scoff Maarika said, AThen who would be around to keep you [email protected]
Before Maarika could get anything else out his lips met hers. Relishing the taste of his mouth, she kissed him back fervently and reached down. She felt his manhood stir at her touch. Stepping back from the embrace Nasir said, ANot yet love. Let us make sure the fort is secure. I=d hate to end up inside the stomach of one of the hungry. When we are joined, the rest of the world ceases to exist for [email protected]
Maarika pulled him close to her again and gave him a pouting look. Nasir tried to speak again but she placed a finger on his lips. The pout changed to a smile and she said, AThat is quite a [email protected]
Nasir kissed her again for several more seconds. He then took a step back from her and looked around the fort, AWhat a [email protected]
[email protected] Maarika responded.
AAre there any of the hungry ones around that you know [email protected]
ANo, all of the ones I=m aware of are with [email protected]
AStay behind me and lets clear this place. Hopefully we can find someone alive that can tell us what happened [email protected]
One by one the pair checked the out buildings for the hungry. There were none left. They were disappointed to find that all of the horses had been eaten. Finally, Nasir=s eyes settled on the main barracks building. The stout oak door was shut. Nasir yanked on the door handle while Maarika stood by ready to slay anything that emerged with the axe. The door didn=t budge.
ALet=s circle around and see if there is another entrance that isn=t barred from the [email protected] Nasir said.
Maarika nodded in reply. Together they crept around the barracks building looking for a back door or a window that they could crawl through. They found the window=s shutters closed tight and locked and no other doors.
AI don=t like the idea of using the axe on one of the shutters and then crawling through the window. Whoever goes first will be in a very vulnerable state until their eyes adjust to the [email protected]
Maarika replied, AThat sounds like a good precaution. I guess we can use the axe on the front [email protected]
The two returned to the front door. Maarika looked around for more stones in the courtyard. She found several good ones and also took a pouch from the body of a fallen soldier nearby. Using the man=s belt, she fastened it to her waist over her dress. She then dropped the stones into the pouch, handed Nasir his dagger back, and looted one from another fallen soldier nearby. She then positioned herself about twenty feet from the door. Satisfied she said, AOk, I=m [email protected]
AGood, if there are any inside, the sounds of the axe striking the door will cause them to gather. It is likely that they will push the door [email protected]
Maarika took a deep breath and said, ALet=s get this over [email protected]
Nasir struck the door with the axe. The axe sank deeply into the door with a loud thunk noise. Instantly they could hear the sounds of several of the hungry ones call out. Nasir swung the axe again at the door and knocked a large chunk of wood loose.
The door held fast as he continued to swing at it again and again, while those inside went berserk over the noise it created. They could hear the sounds of several creatures clawing at the door from the other side. Finally Nasir=s efforts began to tell and with a final blow the hungry soldiers burst forth from the door.
Nasir was swept to the side by the force of the group and they failed to notice him as the group of six charged straight toward Maarika. In the space it took them to run eight feet she dropped one with a precisely placed shot to the head using her sling. In the second it took her to reload and fire, they had closed to within five feet of her. She killed the second of the six and turned to run.
In those precious few seconds Nasir recovered and gave chase. Just as Maarika dodged to the right to avoid the onslaught, he sank the axe into the back of the head of the last one in line. They were all wearing the armor of Roman Skutatoi heavy infantry. Luckily for the pair none of them had helmets on.
As the third hungry fell to Nasir=s axe blade, Maarika dodged to her right to avoid their charge. Two of them were unable to correct in time for her change in position but the last soldier, a smaller more dexterous one, managed the turn despite his armor. He crashed into her and knocked her over. As he pulled her left leg toward his gaping, hungry maw, she smashed its face with her right foot. The bottom of her sandaled foot smashed his teeth and he spat several of them out. The teeth went flying in multiple directions. Dazed for a moment, he lost his grip on her left calf.
As the larger hungry turned around and ran toward Maarika, prone and vulnerable on the ground Nasir bellowed, AOver hear you hungry [email protected]
The sounds of his scream caused them to change directions and charge toward him instead. As they reached him, he brought his axe down on the head of the first one killing it, but the second one knocked him over and tried to sink its teeth into his throat.
Before Maarika could reach her feet and scramble away the smaller soldier grabbed her calf again and bit her. She screamed in surprise. As she felt the pressure of the thing=s jaws on her soft flesh, she drew her dagger and sank it, up to the hilt, in its head. Instantly, it stopped and collapsed on top of her leg.
At the same time Nasir held off the last of the hungry with his left arm. He could smell the thing=s fetid breath as it crept ever closer to the flesh of his neck. With his right hand he drew his gladius and shoved it into the side of the hungry=s skull. It made a loud death rattle as it collapsed on top of him.
Nasir pushed the corpse off of him and sat up. He looked over at Maarika and was horrified by what he saw, her left leg was covered in blood. Their eyes met and she said, AI=m [email protected]
Thank you for reading the second episode of the Nasir and Maarika Chronicles. I hope you are enjoying the story!.
The Nasir and Maarika Chronicles are based in the Byzantium Infected Universe which also includes the short story Jibreel’s Curse and the full length novel Scourge of Byzantium.
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Nasir and Maarika are of one people but two worlds. Nasir grew up inside Byzantium's Arabia Province where his family prospered. Head filled with the stories of military glories, he decided to turn his back on the family business. Now in command of a remote outpost on the border of the Arabian Desert, his life will forever change when an unspeakable evil emerges from the desert. Maarika grew up in the open deserts of Arabia. Her family struggled to survive as they moved from place to place to find the sustenance needed to keep their small herd of goats alive. Her life was destroyed when they came, their appetites insatiable. Forced to flee she hopes to find safety within the borders of the Roman Empire. Nasir and Maarika will be brought together by tragedy that will forever change both of their lives. This is their story. The Nasir and Maarika Chronicles are set in the Byzantium Infected Universe which begins with the shorty story Jibreel's Curse and continues in the full length novel Scourge of Byzantium.