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And The Stars Remain

Chapter Text

The sun rose in the east, casting a bright and loving glow upon the city of Jerusalem. The rays of light escaped over the mountains, eager to engulf the earth in a pleasant glow and to chase away all the evils of the night. The light found my face and kissed it, as if it could not stand being away from me another second. The feeling was not mutual.

I detested the daytime. It meant the stars were dead for the time being, and I was no longer able to hide away from the people. It meant I, like all the other flaws of this wretched city, was exposed, naked and raw, for Allah and everyone to gawk at. Or, in my case, to be ignored and pushed around, like a clod of dirt kicked into dust. The streets of Jerusalem were the epitome of filth, disease and crime.

The wind picked up, the comfortable chill of the night giving a dying breath before the heat of the day overwhelmed everything in sight. Yet another reason I hated daylight hours. Along with the heat came the smells of the market. Spices, fresh fruit and vegetables, cured meats and bread, almost anything that the stomach desired lay in neat rows for people to buy. Or for the unfortunate like me, to stare and wonder what all that food must surely taste like.

My belly gave a hollow moan. The meager supper of an apple and stale piece of bread last night had clearly not satisfied me. I rubbed it, offering my consolations, but the only answer came in a growl.

I suppose one could gather that I had no money. I had not held coins in my hand in years. With that in mind, I had taken up digging in the garbage for leftover scraps or on worse days, depending sheerly on the good grace of the people, which was something everyone had less and less of with each passing day.

Only on rare occasions would I ever steal directly from someone. I was lucky the guards never caught me, for who knows what they would do to a girl such as myself? I have seen what they do to those who cannot defend themselves. Torture is an applicable word, but not nearly descriptive enough.

I stole from those who held an air of worth about them. A risky gamble, but nonetheless, worth it. I had needed the food, but the guilt that tore me up afterwards made me question my self-worth. I would be damned, but I needed to eat. It was always an endless banter between what I knew was wrong in my own mind and my will to survive. So I only stole when my situation was so dire I had no other choice.

I could hear the people beginning to flood the streets, jockeying and bustling to reach the market before all the good picks of the day were cleaned out. I leaned over from my little cubby in the church ledge and observed the mob of people flocking towards the pillar of smoke that came from the nearest market.

I did not want to mingle with the morning crowd that guaranteed me to be shoved into a wall or pushed flat on my face. But my snarling stomach suggested otherwise. I'd pay for it if I did not obey. I made it to my feet, stretching out the aches and pains of another sleepless night. My back end was numb from having remained in a sitting position for so long.

The roof of the church was already seething with the ever rising heat and I could feel the skin on my bare feet getting scorched. Maybe, with any luck, the crowd would thin out so I would not have to travel by rooftop for long. The only good thing about the roofs was that I could be more readily hidden and they kept me away from the humans crawling about the streets like the rotten insects they were. And it was especially here, on top of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, that I felt I was closer to the stars.

I picked up my pace, leaping from one roof to another with ease while keeping a sharp eye out for archers who were ready to make me the first casualty of the day. I approached the market cautiously, maintaining my distance as to not alert anyone. Alas, that is not what Allah had in mind for me, for when I decided to jump down from the roof, I did so in the clumsiest manner possible.

A sentry spotted me just as I was about to make my exit, and in a panic, I hurled myself blindly off the gable right in the middle of a huddle of guards. A slew of nasty remarks were thrown in my direction as I picked myself up off the ground and continued on my merry way. Mercifully, they had better things to do other than harass a bumbling, inept, homeless girl. My heart gave many thanks as I saw them turn away and continue on with their conversation before I rudely interrupted.

I made my way inside the bazaar, hoping that maybe it would be my lucky day. I admired the crates of crisp fruit, warm, fresh bread and the scent of a seasoned meat wafting through the air that tormented my aching belly. It was all I could do to not seize the food in front of me and scarf it down then and there... Just one bite would do...

Someone bumped into me roughly, knocking me forward. I could feel the plated armor against my back, the clanking of a sword in its holder. I froze, not daring to move a muscle in fear that may have been one of the guards I accidently flung myself into. Or perhaps it was just one combing through the mob, looking for suspicious individuals that had intent on robbing the market.

I could not hear anything above my own heartbeat, the adrenaline that lined my bloodstream. It was the point where I had to decide whether to run or stay. Flee and starve to death, or remain and possibly have myself arrested, for someone of my class should not have even been allowed within sight of the marketplace. Neither option sounded appealing. But there were no other choices, especially when I glanced through a screen in my hair to find the guard looking towards me. I was uncertain if his gaze was fixated straight upon me, but leaving was out of the question. That was asking to arouse suspicion.

Rooted to my spot by renewed fear, I decided to attempt to act normal and reached to inspect a piece of bread. It was only when I actually had it in my grasp that I noticed how much my hands were trembling.

The heat of the bread was extreme as well, causing me to nearly drop it. But I clutched it tightly, clinging to something that may possibly give me life. My fingers dug deeply into the crust and slowly, I lifted it to my nose, inhaling the rich, luscious aroma.

My whole body cried out for that piece of lifesaving grace that was in my possession. I needed that vital piece of life. I craved it. But one look at that guard made all my hunger go away, replaced by butterflies that filled me to the brim. I could not eat it there, let alone steal it to save for later. It was a death wish.

It had never pained me that much to do anything in my life, but I placed the bread back in the crate, ignoring the wails of protest from my stomach, and turned away. Joining a small gathering of persons leaving the market, I left the area. I had to regroup. There were more guards around than there were earlier and I knew there was no going back the way I came. A bubble of dismay floated in my empty stomach.

Nothing was going according to plan. Not that I even had a plan to begin with, but I knew I had just passed up an excellent opportunity. All because of that damned sentinel. I could have easily slipped that bread down my shirt and there would not have been anything anyone could do about it. But that moment had been clouded with panic and uncertainty and it was too late to change it.

The guards were thick in numbers that day. I was not sure why, though it may have been due to that fact that there had been a strange man dressed in white robes running around the city, killing important officials. An Assassin, they called him. There was always one to be found everywhere. I stayed away from all that trouble. All the protection seemed trivial for just one man. How dangerous could he be?

Very dangerous apparently, in the eyes of those protecting Jerusalem, and though the fortified security may have meant good for the citizens and their leaders, it did me none whatsoever.

As my group led me through the streets, I began to contemplate what to do. I imagined all the town markets were heavily guarded, so it was safe to assume stealing food was a good way to get myself killed. It would take a miracle to get in safely even if I had money. If only I had money...

I know not what drew my attention to him out of all people. He had appeared out of nowhere, like a specter. More like a demon, I daresay, given his dark robe. His hood cast a black shadow around his head, so I could not make out much of his face.

What intrigued me more was that the stump of his left arm was pressed tightly against his side, the sleeve stitched up to his shoulder. He walked with an air of knowing what he was, but also knowing that he was not the strongest of his kind. He was an Assassin, but not the one the guards were on the lookout for that day.

A mysterious, troubled man he was. How he got around with only one appendage, I had not an idea. I may have felt more sorry for him had I not noticed the bulge in his coat pocket as he strode past. The man may not have had two arms, but he had coin. A lot of it, too, as the swell in his pocket indicated.

My instincts overrode everything else. He couldn't be that much of a threat. One arm had to be crippling on him. On the other hand, he was an Assassin and two arms or not, he'd been trained to fight, and no doubt probably knew and mastered one hundred different ways to kill a man. Half of which probably did not even involve any sort of weapon, only his own powerful fist.

But it did not matter then, as my mind had already labeled him as weak. The urge to steal was far too great to pass up, the prospect of having money and food too irresistible.

I did not pause to give thought to the predicament I was already in and broke away from my group, immediately subjecting myself to exposure. I matched the footfalls of the handicapped Assassin as to not tip him off that he had a tail. My heart was beating so hard against my chest I thought it may burst through my ribcage.

I trailed closer to the man until he was an arm's length away. A few steps more and I could have traced my fingertips lightly over his robes.

Two steps more and I was almost pressed right up against him. I was already beginning to regret it. A surge of guilt was threatening to overwhelm me for stealing from the poor man, but there was no time to back out as my hand was already shakily reaching into his coat pocket. I wrapped my fingers around the thick, burlap pouch and swiftly yanked it out of his robe.

I did not remember who saw me first, the Assassin or the guards trailing behind us that I had failed to notice beforehand. Like lightning, the Assassin flipped around, holding a knife to my neck. I was so stunned I forgot how to breathe or move. The cold blade of the dagger effectively cut off my air supply as the man studied my face.

"Well, well. It seems the dirty thief chose the wrong man to steal from today." He spoke my thoughts nonchalantly in a husky, thick Syrian accent.

I had seriously underestimated the man. He knew very well how to wield a blade. I was too rattled to speak, so instead I took to analyzing his face, or what I could see of it anyway. The lower half of his face was covered in black stubble. Shadows casted down from his hood prevented all else from being observed, apart from the glassy reflection of two dark eyes staring at me with animosity.

"Do you have anything to say to justify what you have done? Or has someone else gone through the trouble of cutting out your tongue so I do not have to?!" He demanded sharply.

I was about to spit in his face when I felt a slash of pain run up my leg. I shrieked in surprise. I figured, somehow, the man holding me was trying to force words from my mouth by cutting my lower leg off. Then it dawned on me; the one arm he had was preoccupied holding a knife to my throat.

And that was when he pushed me down. The stones of the street slammed into the back of my head. My vision fell into blackness, but only for about two seconds when I felt a foot drive hard into my shoulder blade and the clashes of swordfight ringing to life around me.

I impulsively rolled to the side to escape and covered my head, waiting for the next earth-shattering blow. But it never came. I peeked through the crook in my elbow to see a swarm of guards had taken to the Assassin like bees to honey. One man with one arm against six eager to beat him into the ground.

My vision began to fade in and out because of the pain, but I caught glimpses of the battlefield. One guard fell, and then another and another until all but one had fallen to the Assassin's wrath. I could not catch all the details as to how each one died, it all happened too suddenly for that, but the last demise made up for all the others.

The Assassin danced around the sentinel, deadly and calculating as a snake, anticipating the move of the other man. He lunged out of the way as the guard stabbed for a strike at his shoulder, and that was a fatal error. The Assassin struck; lodging his blade in the jugular of the opponent with so much force he beheaded the man in one slice.

Blood splattered everywhere, on my face and down the road several feet. I gasped at the warm sticky fluid and buried my face as I heard the man hit the ground with a wet thud.

My stomach heaved, but there was nothing to throw up, thankfully. I would not have to replace what could have been in my stomach. There were footsteps coming towards me and I froze, pretending to be dead so the man may perhaps leave me be.

"I know you are alive. Stand up." The throaty voice commanded. I felt a warm substance drop onto my arm and I peeked out of my cove of safety.

There was the Assassin, towering above me with the dagger pointed in my face, the blood from the beheading still fresh. Another plump droplet of blood plummeted to the ground, splashing into the street and running through the crevices between the bricks, never to be seen again.

"Get up, I said." The man growled, holding an unspoken threat that he might remove my head in the same manner should I not comply.

I was unsure if my leg would bear my weight, but I did not dare let him know that. I rose slowly, testing my knee and finding the gash to be more excruciating than I had originally thought, but I could walk. I had to.

I observed the battleground. The bodies of the guards were strewn about, the street slick with the blood and gore still oozing from their wounds. The mysterious, hooded man stood in front of me, the point of the knife still inches from my face. He was a head or so taller than me and, given how quickly he had slain those men, very swift on his feet. I could not misjudge him again, or I too, like those guards, would pay severely for it.

There we stood, facing each other down for several moments, searching for the weakness of the other. He knew I could not run with an injured leg, nor could I probably outrun him with both good legs. That most likely encouraged him.

With a flick of his blade, he motioned for me to go to the right, down a narrow side street. I was confused as to what his intentions were. I was not sure whether he was letting me go free or he was going to follow me to a directed location. Something inside me conveyed it was the latter, as I was still clutching his money sack. I could have given it back, but the sinister glint in his eyes notified me he was not going to play games or let me go at that stage. So I went along with his wishes.

The presence of the man behind me caused me to worry about every incessant thing. If his intent was to intimidate me, he was doing an excellent job. If I fumbled or tripped, I feared he would not hesitate to jab his knife into my back. Maybe that was for the better. I would not have to witness the coldness of his eyes as he did so.

I was deeply afraid. I did not know what this man had plans for, but I knew they could not possibly be good. Not with how my luck had been. I did not think that I had ever heard my heart scream that loudly in fear. That, in turn caused my leg to bleed out profusely. Soon, it began to throb so badly I was in fear of passing out. I could only hope our destination was not far.

I had to give my strength credit, though. It had lasted me the long walk, though almost halfway there did it fail me. I could hold myself up no longer. My leg gave out and I crumpled to the ground. The pain bombarded me, washing over me in waves that were impossible not to drown in. My world was spinning and I closed my eyes, panting, desperate to escape.

I heard the man sigh, but the sound was muffled, almost as if I were hearing it through a tunnel. "Stand up, thief! We are nearly there. A few more steps are all you must overcome."

That last statement did not exactly make me want to spring to my feet. I wanted to tell the man to take a flying leap, but I think that was something he had probably done all the time, if he was anything like the man in white I'd seen, who cascaded down from the top of the Dome of the Rock as easily as if he were walking down stairs.

I lacked the strength to even lift my head and acknowledge his presence, but I could hear him sigh again, obviously exasperated. He stomped his way over to my body, the vibrations of his footfalls killing off any hope that he considered me a lost cause.

I prepared for a smack to the head or a kick in the stomach to get me to my feet, like a sick animal. But I was, needless to say, pleasantly surprised when I felt myself being hoisted into the air, a strong arm wrapping itself around my waist. The Assassin had flung me over his left shoulder and I lay there, dangling helplessly, weakly beating him with my limp fists. He ignored my protests and continued walking.

What idiocy the man possessed! How dare he do this to me! I did not know what made him think that he could just kidnap me! I just prayed to Allah that I might see the light of day again.

Wherever it was we were going, we made it as I heard a door being opened and shut, darkness immediately consuming my sight. Or maybe that was because I had passed out.

I came to when I felt myself being let down to the floor gently. I hit something soft, but I was in too much pain to care where I was. I sank into the soft pillows, pressing my cheek against the cool wall. Sweat drenched every inch of my body as I tried to push away the throbbing that agonized my poor leg.

I parted my eyes to get a glimpse of my surroundings and found my captor crouching beside me dangerously, observing my condition. I immediately curled myself as close together as I could.

"Who are you?!" I whispered violently, my voice raspy.

"Ah. So it seems the little thief has a tongue." The man smirked, removing his hood and revealing his face to me for the first time. I was effectively taken aback by how much younger he was then I had made him out to be.

His short, black hair was slightly ruffled, with thick, dark stubble around his chin, blended well with his tanned skin. His lower lip pouched out slightly more than his upper and thick eyebrows framed his eyes, those of which were a shadowy night, obscure and gleaming.

He was attractive, perhaps in his mid-twenties. But that did not change the fact that he was an Assassin, my captor, one who could kill me very easily, whose intentions may or may not be pure.

"You.....You did not answer my question."

He simply scoffed at my reaction. "I am just a Samaritan who was concerned enough to not leave you dying like a dog in the street."

If he had any intellect about him, he would have left me there to rot.

"I would think you would want me dead." I muttered, watching as his eyes took on a sheen of cruel sarcasm.

"Well, I can decide I do not possess the medical expertise to save your leg and just let it become infected and perhaps have it amputated." His words held an air of truth in them, even with the icy contempt lacing every syllable.

The man, assassin, whatever he went by, was, without a doubt, the definition of merciless. Maybe that may be the very reason he was missing an arm. Some unfortunate soul must have fallen victim to his wrath and grew tired of his insults and chopped it right off. At least, that is what I would like to think happened.

"No different than yourself!" I retorted angrily.

But the man straightened, walking away from me, holding his finger up to silence anything I may have to say. "Except I can walk. Your days of thievery would come to an end quickly with one leg, would they not, young one? So perhaps," he paused, turning around with a counterfeit smile forged upon his face, "Perhaps you will do me a favor and silence yourself while I treat you so you do not bleed all over my bureau."

He shrugged his proposal, and then spun on his heel and went into a doorway across from me and disappeared. The only thing I could do was just sit there, completely staggered at the manner in which he treated me. Perhaps I deserved it. I did steal his money. But I was also injured, so one would think, since he dragged me all the way here, that he might take pity on me.

"Asshole." I growled under my breath, closing my eyes and pressing my head against the coolness of the wall. What I had failed to note was that he had been walking through the doorway right as I spoke.

"No different than yourself."

My eyes snapped open to find him crouching in front of me, carrying rags, a pot of water, some herbs and some gauze. His expression was smug. Such a jackass... And he flaunted it. I flashed him a glare before leaning back against the wall.

He wiped away the blood, the rag returning crimson-stained. I winced when he touched the wound itself, shocks of pure torture flying throughout my body. I jerked my leg back, but he caught my ankle, his grip strong.

"Hold still." His command was intense, yet held an undertone of gentleness that I most likely falsely detected. I relaxed my leg. I trusted he knew what he was doing. I had to. He was my only hope at that point.

"So where might your parents be, child?" I flinched slightly as he rubbed herbs on my wound, struggling to hold my leg in place.

"Dead," I answered breathlessly, "Does it matter?!" I added this harshly, not in the mood at the moment to answer his interrogations. But he, however, was not going to let it go.

"Yes, it does when you are stealing out of my pocket," It was then he noticed I was still in custody of his coins. "You can keep holding onto that for dear life if you like it."

His eyes flittered back and forth between the bag and my face.

"I will. Thank you very much for your concern."

He shook his head and chuckled, eyes drenched with disbelief.

"You steal to survive. Where are your morals, young one?" He then began to wrap my leg with thick, white gauze, too concentrated on his work to look up at me.

I was stunned he made an assumption like that. "I only steal when I absolutely have to. And I have morals. Not that you deserve to see that many of them." I retorted. He did not know me from Eve. What gave him the right to judge me? He was not Allah. At least, not the version I had in mind. I did not believe Allah was quite that much of an ass.

"And I just so happened to be your lucky target?"

I could feel his gaze on me as I lowered my head, letting my hair disguise my face as I grunted out an answer, "Yes, only I was not that lucky," I paused, peering up at his dusky eyes. "I underestimated you greatly." That was the biggest understatement of the entire century.

"You did, indeed." He replied, and I swore I caught a hint of haughtiness slither onto his face as he spoke. Of course, as I tried to analyze it, it disappeared into a mask of approval as he observed his handiwork. "There, that should do it."

His next question caught me off guard. "Do you have anybody you reside with?" He looked back at me, awaiting my response.

I had not lived with another person in years. I did not know what gave him the impression that I was anything but homeless. My clothes were baggy and torn, I had no shoes, no food, and no possessions. Unkempt did not even begin to describe what I looked like. Also, why would I have stolen from him in the first place anyway?

"No... I do not have a home. I stay on the roofs, as far from the people as I can stand." I did not care for the majority of people. Nor did they care for me. It was a relationship that had remained unchanged for years.

My reaction did not seem to shock him. "You are a recluse. No different than me, it seems." I stared at the side of his face as he gazed off in the other direction, wondering why he said that.

Perhaps he spent all his time in his bureau. Quite the lonely lifestyle, but I had no right to condemn him. I was in a no better situation. There was a long silence as I tried to figure him out.

"Perhaps, you should stay here so I can make sure that your leg stays intact."

I was not sure I heard what he said correctly. He was really offering to let me, me of all people, who had stolen his money and caused a fight in the city, stay with him. No matter what I gave him, it would not be enough to repay him for his kindness. I had not rested inside a building in.... who knows how long. It almost felt unnatural.

"But –"I started to protest his actions when he held up his hand to silence me.

"Do not question me. It is for the best, believe me."

I could not understand the turning of my luck, but before I could dwell on that, he continued, "I assume you are hungry."

With the pain dimming, I could almost hear my stomach singing its opinion. I nodded slightly, afraid if I did anything too dramatic, everything would disappear with a poof of smoke. "Yes sir, I am."

"Then you will not be much longer."

The man stood to leave and strode slowly to the doorway where he'd come out of earlier. I could not discern his actions. He was callous at times, but he acted like he cared. He was the first person to notice me in so long without pity or anger in his eyes. Annoyance, yes, but not pure rage. Not like the sentinels, whose tempers flew off the handle if one simply brushed past them. I wanted to know why he was different.

"Sir...." I blurted out, causing the Assassin to turn his head slightly to hear me out. A few moments went by as I formed the sentence in my head, "Why are you treating me with such kindness?"

He had to take the time to formulate an answer. In the end, he spoke, "I am not heartless."

That made no sense to me. I was a thief, a beggar. Why feel sorry for me when no one ever did?

"But I stole your money," I glanced down at the bag still in my grip. "I still have your money." The coins jingled in the pouch against my thigh, as if to prove my point.

But the man remained quiet, fixated on a point beyond my head, lost in a vision I had no sight of. His eyes were haunting, an uncanny, mournful glow that held a past that was far more miserable than I was able to comprehend.

"There is a reason you are not telling me." A shot in the dark I was taking, but my presumption was not far from the truth.

"There are some doors that should never be opened, young thief. There are some doors that hold secrets that should never be revealed," His voice was dead, like that of a phantom speaking through his body, desperate for a message to be heard. His gloomy eyes took hold of mine and did not let go. "So, perhaps," he continued, "We should keep our histories to ourselves, shall we?"

His gaze did not take leave of mine until I agreed, making sure his point was clear. "Yes, sir..."

And with that, he vanished into the darkness of the room opposite me. The man's speech unnerved me. What had I been dragged into?

To distract myself from the eeriness of that conversation, I observed my surroundings. The first thing that struck me was that the room lacked a door. The only escape I could see was on the roof. How had we gotten in here?!

My only guess was that the front entrance must have been in that room across from me. Perhaps the rooftop entry was for the Assassins to actually gain entrance without arousing suspicion. The guards would not be able to find it easily and the bureau's real purpose could remain undetected.

Underneath the grated lattice, to my left, on the wall was a giant crest carved to look like the outline of the Assassin hood, similar to the one that man wore when I first saw him. Ivy clambered up the wall to cling to the grating. Below that was a fountain that spouted water into a small basin for drinking.

There were no other rooms, save for the one across from me, where the man was at the moment. I did not dare venture to look inside, as my leg would likely have given out on me and the man may not have appreciated my snooping.

Everything had darkened somewhat when the man came back, which alerted me that it was now evening. He carried a bowl, with steam billowing out of it, and handed it to me carefully.

"Thank you, sir." He nodded curtly, going back to bring a second bowl for himself before taking a seat next to me. The smell of the soup was overwhelming, the dull ache in my leg instantly forgotten. I could not remember the last time I had such a feast in my hands. I hesitated, almost sure it would evaporate in my grasp.

"It is not that terrible. It will not bring harm to you." I looked up at him slowly, almost startled by his comment. No, that was not it at all. I was not afraid of him poisoning me.

"Sir.... I just have not eaten anything like this for a long time." I smiled half-heartedly, hoping he understood.

"It is fine. It is better to be strong than emaciated." He looked at me with concerned eyes, every bit as serious as I was. And I knew he was right. I had to eat to sustain what little health I kept.

I lifted a spoonful to my mouth slowly, curls of steam drifting lazily away as I blew on it. I took a small bite and found it to be piping hot. When the heat passed, I could taste the spiciness dancing across my taste buds like fire. It was neither overpowering nor dull, rushing down my throat to my stomach in a euphoric frenzy. I had never felt more satisfaction. I threw down two more spoonfuls before turning to nod quickly at the Assassin, smiling my appreciation. He smirked back at me and proceeded to work on his own bowl.

It began to dawn on me that I did not have a name for the man who saved me. "Sir-"I began to ask, before immediately being cut off by his annoyed voice.

"Please do not hold me in such high regard. Call me Malik."

The irony left me dumbfounded. I laughed slightly. "I was just going to ask you what you called yourself." I could see the smirk creeping across his features.

"Great minds think alike." He mused.

Malik. I found I liked his name, the way it rolled off of my tongue and fell from my lips. Quite a beautiful name.

I also may have been misunderstanding my hearing, but I caught that little note of mockery laced within that last remark. How could a poor thief like me have a great mind?

"I have no such thing, considering all of the turmoil I have caused today." I looked down sheepishly and took another careful bite, awaiting his cruel agreement. But instead, he had only reassurance in store for me.

"No more trouble than what is normally caused these days in this city. It seems we will never have peace here." He looked quite dejected. What he said was true. There had always been some sort of unrest within this city and being in the position I was, it was difficult to avoid said mayhem.

"No, especially not in my world," I agreed, "Not ever." I shook my head. There would likely never be peace within Jerusalem. Not as long as I lived, anyway.

"And you?"

I looked back up at Malik, who eyed me curiously, trying to pry information from me. "What do you go by in these parts?"

I let my head bow, my hair concealing my face. "Rajah."

"And how old are you, Rajah?"

"I am nineteen." I mumbled.

"And you have been alone for nineteen years?" He presumed. I was slightly irritated. I did not know why he felt the need to play guessing games about my life, especially with what he himself said earlier.

"I thought we were not going to divulge our pasts." It came out sharper than my original intent. I could see the slight embarrassment coloring his eyes before he looked away.

"I apologize." He said quietly, still not meeting my gaze. I felt guilty and awkward for griping at him. In reality, he had just saved me from certain death and I just blew him off. I owed him everything, my life mainly.

"It is fine. I just do not care for double standards." I clarified, smiling slightly. He raised his head and examined me with inquiring eyes. There were secrets hidden deep within those doors of darkness. Secrets I may never know, but tried to figure out anyway. His gaze drifted to my empty bowl.

"Are you finished?" He asked, breaking my reverie. All I could do was nod and hand him my bowl, as I was slightly shaken from the intensity and temptation of mysteries trapped behind those obscure eyes.

As he stood, he spoke again, "You rest here tonight. I will be in that room over there," he gestured to the doorway across from me, the inside dim and unknown. "Rouse me if you require anything."

With that, he began to stride towards the other chamber. I looked down at my lap absentmindedly and saw the money bag, wrinkled beyond belief. I held it in my hands, pondering how it was the reason that I was in the situation I was in. The things that money will do to a person....

The man was just about to disappear when I called him back in. He came, setting the bowls down somewhere and stood in the doorway, his cloak shadowing him. He only had about two seconds to react as the coin bag sailed in a graceful arc towards him. It should have gone over his head and out of his reach, but his quick reflexes set in and in a blurry motion, his skilled fingers wrapped securely around the pouch. He looked vaguely confused, his eyes looking to mine for a reason.

"Thank you sir- I mean Malik."

My correction made a quite alluring smile come across his face, his eyes gleaming with a knowing expression. He nodded his thanks.

"Sleep well, Rajah." His soft voice echoed as he melted into the wall of darkness.

I lay back on the pillows, and for the first time in my life, did not feel the least bit insecure about my location. My leg pulsated every now and again, but for the most part, I felt content, with a full belly and safety enveloping me. The noises of the night quieted and I felt myself slipping away to the welcoming arms of sleep. And resist, I did not.