The Flames of Shadam Khoreh (The Lays of Anuskaya)

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Authors: Bradley Beaulieu
realize any of that until it was taken away from me. I felt him growing over those years. I felt his awareness expanding. I thought it was my own understanding, my own connection to Adhiya and the world around me. But it wasn’t. It never was. It was Nasim’s, or what little he granted me of it.
    “On the Spar, when Nasim severed that connection, when he plunged that knife into me, that was all lost to me. Adhiya. The havahezhan. And Nasim. As strange as it sounds, he was like a son to me.” Ahead, the wind pulled up dirt from the desert floor, played with it. Nikandr pointedly ignored it. “While I was up on the cliff, I was thinking only of myself, but last night, lying in the tent, I realized how desperately I want to find Nasim.”
    Atiana glanced at him, stared deeply into his eyes, and then focused on the way ahead once more. “So that you can forge a new bond with him?”
    Nikandr shrugged. “Perhaps. But I think it’s more than that. We know that Nasim is one key to closing the rifts over Ghayavand. I felt as though, if I had some connection to him, I also had some power over the fate of the world.”
    “But you do. That’s why we’re here, to find him.”
    “I know, but this is different. There’s always been something about Nasim. I can’t explain it. It’s deep, and ancient. It’s power I’ve never had on my own.”
    Atiana was quiet for a time. The only sound came from the plodding of the ab-sair’s hooves. He thought he’d angered her, and he was just about to apologize for making a mess of things again when she began talking. “I know what you mean. I felt the same of Sariya.” She placed the flower behind her ear and urged her mount closer to his. She took his hand and squeezed tenderly. “There are times when I miss that as well.”
    She meant well by what she’d said, but it only served to remind them both that Sariya was dead. Nasim might be dead as well. They might be on a fool’s errand, coming to the desert, chasing Sariya’s daughter.
    “We’ll find him,” she said, squeezing his hand one last time.
    “I know,” he replied, but he wasn’t at all sure it was true.
    They continued on toward Andakhara, reaching its outskirts within the hour. When they came abreast of the first of the simple mudbrick homes, the ab-sair wailed. Perhaps in answer, a goat brayed, and a bell clanged, and then a female goat heavy with milk trundled out from behind the nearby home. Her two kids followed, ducking their heads and drawing sharply from their mother’s teats while the mother stared on. As they passed the house—little more than a single room with a thatched roof—a black-haired girl wearing a blue shayla poked her head out from behind a corner.
    Andakhara was more than just a caravanserai. There were enough homes for several thousand. On the edges of the village the houses littered the land like scrub brush—most of them with small fields of wheat or flax or bright orange gourds—but as they came closer to the central well, the houses were more tightly packed, including a cluster of larger buildings.
    As they continued down a shallow slope, the road wound back and forth through the homes until they could no longer see the desert behind them. Nikandr watched the houses carefully, expecting to see the barrel of a musket poke out from a darkened window. But nothing of the sort happened, and they made their way to the center of the caravanserai. There was one large open-walled structure there. The well house. A dozen or so men stood beneath the shelter of the roof, talking, but they stopped as Nikandr and the others approached. One of them, a thin man with dark brown skin and a wide smile with several missing teeth, broke away, snapping his fingers at two boys as he came. He wore a cap of embroidered wool and a striped kaftan of bright blue and grey. On his hands were silver rings with yellow gemstones—citrine, perhaps, or beryl.
    “The fates are kind,” he said in the dialect of

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