Christel Saan was not the only thief in Eden who used a hideout, and this place, while it was not much to look at, was the closest thing to a home that Hazel had. It rested just outside Eden, where the liveliness of the city met inconspicuously with the emptiness of the desert.
Unlike Christel, Hazel had actually bothered to furnish her place. Well, she had plenty of comfy mats and cushions to sit on, and so, when she was home, she was actually reminded of home, and not Taelliwey or some other place.
She had brought herself a piano for her nineteenth birthday, and even though she didn’t know how to play, she had always wanted one, so she got one. Every time she returned home she had to wipe the dust off and make it look nice and clean again.
She slept in the same room as where she kept all of her collectibles – they were nice and close that way. Every morning she would sit up from her silk blankets and stare at everything that she had achieved. The sun crept into the room and rested over her trophies in a way that brought the gold to life.
Hazel liked the golden statue-head most of all. She couldn’t say whose head it was but he sure must have been worth a lot of money. It’s not every day that someone makes a golden statue of themself. It had belonged to a rich man named Arthur something, she recalled, and he lived in the centre of the city. The man shared no comparison to the statue – his head was long and skinny and the statue’s head was broad and square. Maybe it was a grandfather or great grandfather. The statue was positioned in Arthur’s estate so that everyone who walked by could witness his wealth – a rookie mistake in a city full of thieves. The owner was humiliated when he awoke one morning to find the people gawking and laughing at his headless prize.
Hazel had been home for no more than a day and no matter how hard she tried to avoid it, she was stuck meddling in her own thoughts. Christel. The name was constantly creeping back into her mind. What if I had gone with him? Maybe this time would have been different. The golden statue head stared back at her like it was alive. No, I made the right decision, for both our sakes. Besides, there’s no going back now.
The thought that she could never change her mind made her terribly sad. Argh, what am I doing? I need to go out and do something before I go crazy. She still had a few weeks before she’d have to move again. It was never safe to stay in one place for too long, but she’d just got here and now she wanted to move. Where would I go? She wondered. It struck Hazel that she didn’t have anywhere to go. I’ll go for a walk.
Outside, the sun was hot and the wind was dry as she headed down to the markets outside the city. She wore a loose green flowery dress and she had let her hair down. Sand climbed over her sandals and sunk around her feet with every step that she took. It was the one thing that Hazel could say she definitely belonged to – the sand of Eden. It wasn’t much, but it was something, and it was home.
There was a shortcut that she always took to get into the city from where she lived. It was a pass created by a rock formation, fashioning two walls that towered up high above her as she walked. At first she thought the place would have been too dangerous to cross, but the area was normally quite busy with merchants and pilgrims going by. Today, however, it was as silent as the rocks and the sand.
I don’t like this. She began to think. I’m going home. But it was too late, and as she turned around, she faced a group of three men. They were all ugly, but the one in the middle was the worst. His face was black and brown with dirt and probably blood. He was missing part of his upper lip so that his yellow teeth peered through, and he had a massive scar across his chin. He wore a rag over his head, and his messy dirty hair spilled out from under it. “Well what’ve we got ‘ere.” His voice was ghastly. “Now you’re a pretty thing.”
Hazel turned around again. Two more of them had appeared behind her, and they were all armed with swords.
Dammit, she cursed, I left my sword at home. All I have is my knife. I can’t take them all on.
The leader stepped closer and Hazel lashed out at him, driving the knife at his chest. He jumped back and caught her hand in a powerful meaty grip.
“Whoh-oh,” he cried, “we got a feisty one ‘ere, boys.” He laid another hand over Hazel’s so that she couldn’t escape. “Now, now. We ain’t ‘ere to hurt you. We’d be mere robbers, is all. So why don’t ya just gives us yer coin, an’ we all have us a good day, aye?”
Hazel couldn’t stand the smell of him. “Go to hell,” she whimpered, before kneeing him in the groin and breaking free of his grasp. The man cried out and Hazel had just enough time to duck under a sword and skip past the two other bandits. Now run!
She knew that even if she ran with all her might, they’d still catch her eventually. She had to hide – where the wall breaks off, she’d go there.
There was a crevice, and as soon as she was out of their line of sight she climbed up and hid. The rocks were sharp as they pressed against her body and the space was so tight that she felt she could barely breath. But when she saw the bandits run past her she felt her heart beating again. One… two… three… four…
The fifth one had stopped. It was the leader. He had stopped so suddenly, it was almost as if he sensed her. No! Hazel cried in her mind.
The leader glanced around suspiciously, like a hound sniffing for a scent.
Don’t move. She told herself. If you move they’ll find you. Don’t move. Don’t move. Don’t even breath.
But then the rock beneath her foot gave way, and it tumbled noisily down the cliff-face to land at the bandit’s feet. His eyes veered up towards her and his mangled lips twisted into a sick smile. Fear shot through her veins, freezing her body so that she couldn’t move, and clutching her heart so that she couldn’t breathe.
“I see you, my pretty,” he shouted to her. “I’m gonna make you regret what you did back there.”
Hazel was stuck. There was no way out this time. Shit. What do I do? She couldn’t fight all five of them. She couldn’t run. She couldn’t hide. Christel, help me! She didn’t know what she was thinking. She was alone and Christel was gone. Please! Hazel knew that at that precise moment, she had given up hope.
And then she heard a voice. It must have been her imagination falling into despair, although, no imagination could yell so loud. His voice was desperate and full of anger, and so powerful that it boomed up into the heavens – “Hazel!”
The bandit leader lowered his sword and turned his face towards the shout. A fist was likely the last thing that he saw that day, as he was struck in the jaw so hard that his body followed and was sent bounding into the rock wall with a hard crash.
Christel Saan shook his bleeding hand and winced as he tried to get rid of the pain. “God dammit!” he cried. “That guy’s face was like iron. Geez! Are you okay, Hazel?”
“I’m fine,” she called down in utter disbelief. “Christel, what are you doing here?”
He smiled that smile he only used on her. “It’s kind of a long story…”
The rest of the bandits had seen their leader get knocked down and now they charged at Christel.
“Look out!” Hazel cried, pointing at the attackers.
Christel drew his blade. “Okay, who’s next!”
He immediately parried the first blow, tilting his hand, and cutting the enemy across the wrists. He jumped forward and bashed the man across the back of the head with the hilt of he sword. He won’t be getting up soon.
Another blade came at him fast. He swept it aside and rammed the enemy with his shoulder, knocking him out of the way so he could deal with the next man, who’s blows were so heavy that Christel almost lost his sword. But he smashed the blade with all his might and the enemy’s torso was exposed. He slashed across it with two quick strokes before swinging his sword up, and cutting off the man’s fingers. That’s another one down.
Christel didn’t even hear him cry before the man he had shouldered came at him full force. Christel parried a series of blows but one eventually got him, leaving a trickle of blood down his left arm. That was when the enemy screwed up, and while he watched the thief’s sword so carefully, Christel was able to punch him in the mouth with his left fist, smashing his teeth and sending him to the ground. Just one left.
Christel dashed aside from a thrusting blade. He expected a fight, but the opening was right there. He jumped and drove his blade into the final enemy’s ribs. The man stopped, coughed up blood as Christel withdrew his blade, and then he was dead. Sorry friend, if only you had chosen a different path, then maybe I wouldn’t have had to kill you. But then again, maybe it was just fate, in which case, I am still sorry.
Hazel climbed down from her hiding place. Her skin was all dirty and her dress was ruined, but she didn’t seem to care. Christel ran to her and they embraced for longer than either of them wanted to count. It was a passionate embrace, for Hazel completely believed that she was done for. But eventually she spoke. “You came back.” There was a tender innocence in her voice now. It sounded almost like a question.
“Of course I did.” Christel laughed. “I mean look at you. You can’t even get to the market without my help.”
“But how did you know where I was?” she asked.
Oh right, she doesn’t know about Ariana yet. Wow, she definitely would be confused. He hesitated for a moment. “… Like I said, it’s a long story. I’ll tell you on the way.” He started off down the path again.
“What do you mean ‘on the way?’”
“I found us a new job,” he remarked. “I’m going to need your help on this one.”
For a split second there he thought that she was going to say no. But then she smiled, and he knew.
Their initial goal was to speak with chief Kaizin – who was the leader of the djann at Al’Obeiid. As it happened, Christel was good friends with him. They went way back, and now it was time to ask him for a favour.
Christel knew that the temple in Mt. Khallem was considered holy ground for the djann, so it only seemed natural to ask permission first before going. But other than that, he needed advice about where he stood with Ariana, and he knew that if anyone would know the answers, it would be Kaizin.
As he strolled through the sandy open streets of Al’Obeiid, he was glad to know that the war hadn’t changed the city at all. Mothers played with and cared for their children, fathers strolled back and forth with their work, and even the sand turtles were fine.
For a race of bloodthirsty savages the djann sure as hell knew how to be happy. It was something that Christel thought humans would never understand. True happiness.
He was happy to see Hazel’s reaction as they trotted on horseback through the city. She had never before been so deep in the territory of the djann, and the way her hazel eyes lit up was something that Christel would always remember for the rest of his days.
She smiled at the sight of a giant sand turtle waddling by like it didn’t have a worry in the world. She laughed as the djann children played tag and dashed between little yellow stone buildings. “This is amazing,” she gasped.
Christel couldn’t help but smile. “You’ll never hear about any of this in Taelliwey.”
Speaking of Taelliwey, Christel just happened to stumble upon the most unlikely of surprises. A man and a woman both locked in cages, and by the look of them, they hadn’t been there long. Hazel didn’t seem to understand Christel’s expression, until she too made the connection. “No way,” she whispered.
Christel breathed an amused laugh. “Well I’ll be a son-of-a-bitch,” he muttered. “Samuel Ford, is that really you?”ns 220.127.116.11da2