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Blood of The Levant - OUT NOW
My Debut Science Fiction Novel, Blood of The Levant, is now available for purchase! Here's a Preview:
IN THE NAME OF ALLAH, THE MOST GRACIOUS, THE MOST MERCIFUL,
I hear his footsteps above me. I feel them against these stones as he descends to the dungeons that he allows to become a fetid bog to spite me. My brother is not sane nor well, but neither am I. My wrath comes to me in waves as I traverse this enclosure, torn between cursing myself and praying for a way out. When it envelops me, I am a sick man, a furious man, a resentful man…ever since I accepted Allah into my heart, I prayed for one that was free of the smoldering anger that has estranged me from my brother; that has left my son without a father, my wife without a husband, my beloved sister suffering so wretchedly. Every night I hear her cries, a torture which I endure alongside her yet am powerless to end.
But still, we suffer far less than most prisoners. My brother keeps me fed, and each night he comes down here to torment me. Or so he thinks, but really, he does me the favor of keeping me company before I must suffer the hellscape of my dreams. Something tells me that despite ruling much of the world, he is still drawn to this tiny part of it because he feels lonelier than ever before. When our dreams were no longer one, when the bond was severed in favor of our sister…it broke him. It was easy for me to recover, as I still had someone to be bonded with, but he was left with no one to re-attach to, not even father whom he so closely resembled. Even now since he is bonded with his youngest son, he is still not aware of it. Though, that is something that seems to have come to our benefit.
The honorable Imam Abu Hanifa, may Allah rest his soul, suffered far worse than I. He too was imprisoned by a vicious tyrant, but Allah has tested him with a severity I do not know because he lived to be a man I could not be. He did not deserve his torment yet accepted it in favor of what Allah had in store for him beyond this life. I deserve my fate and more, so to not accept this upon myself is the same as blasphemy in my eyes.
Here he comes. He takes his time as he descends, seeing me is as much an addiction to his shadow than he realizes. I bid this hidden journal farewell, and if it is ever found long after the demise of my tyrant brother, it is thanks to the young Zeke that I have it in the first place. Truly a blessed child, may Allah protect him,
The man’s writing was interrupted by a heavy knock on the tall door of the dungeon. He hurried to take out the loose stone he hid his letters behind. It was made stronger than steel and it shined like obsidian, the only part of his enclosure that looked new and untouched. The mesmerizing movement of the lock’s mechanism caught his eye once more as he struggled to shove back the stone after the journal he tossed inside. The door swung open. The prisoner had come to classify each visit by his brother’s level of sobriety, on a scale of zero to ten. Now however, it was not his brother, whose dread would come spurling out regardless of his sobriety, but a friend.
“Tell me, Seer, of the hearts that lie intertwined. Of the man who fights himself believing it to be another, of the woman that loves him believing it to be a single soul whose eyes she peers through. Tell me of their troubles and their joys, their tears and their laughter. Only if you tell me will I be able to do what is necessary when the hour comes, and spare those I can.”
The heavy door shut behind this familiar face, now the inquirer. It wasn’t his first time asking this. Each full moon he’d come to the Seer, and each time he’d claim to be knowing in all but what he asks. Except now, there was a different air about him that rejuvenated his presence. He was no longer the deathly spirit that haunted his underground, he was a young man again with a story to tell. The Seer stood and grasped his chest, almost tripping as he looked out wide-eyed to the man asking. He hobbled to the inquirer with his stick until he was just a few inches away and put a burning hand on his chest.
“I know of a boy. I see him now as he struggles, and so he will for much of his life. He suffers a confusion that will last for days, a feverish state that will strike him to the depths of his eternal soul. He will see ghosts spun up from the roots of his homeland, relics of a past he deemed forgotten. They beg for him to join them; they wrap around his arms like chains to pull him to the muddy earth. He falls with his head striking the ground, amid debris soaked with the acidic fires of a hell he has shaped to the last coal. Ashes fall on him that despite their heat, remain colder than the rage of a berserker that engulfs him from the heart, and branches outwards like a tree spreading its roots. Still, he will stand back up, tread forth even further than the thousands of leagues that have already separated him from his home. His demon sinks its claws further into his flesh urging him to continue no matter the cost. His screams are a volcanic force, born from the innocence that was stomped on and ripped apart limb from limb! A bayonet sticks out from his back, bullet holes riddle his body from top to bottom. The rounds of a Gatling gun are like fireflies to him, the smell of burning bodies swirl into the air and fill his heaving nostrils. But even as he strides and fights, the blood of a thousand enemies coating every exposed inch of his skin; he remembers the words of his dearest friend, lost through both time and distance as he marches alone.”
The man inquiring grabbed the Seer’s hand. He brought the hand to his lips and smiled, for after many years he was finally given a coherent answer. Though filled with riddles and mysteries, it was the best he’d gotten yet.
“And when will he reach us?”
“When the daughter of mystery emerges from the abyss discovered, and when the lost son finds his way home once more.”
The man sighed. The old bastard was too deep in his riddles again.
“And this first boy, the one in battle, will he have allies?”
“Friends and foes, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters all come and go for him. Of those that remain, each will know pain as great as he.”
“And what is his goal?”
“To find your father.”
The man moved with a fervent anger he kept under a tight lid, enthralled with cryptic desires he had no one else to express them with. His eyes were bulging as he grabbed the Seers bony shoulders and pulled him close.
“He wants to kill my father, doesn’t he?”
“Worse, he wants to take from him what he holds dearest in this world.”
The inquirer giggled, causing the Seer to drop his head. “I’m sorry uncle Hal, that was just too good.”
“You’re a class act Zeke, even better than last time. What’s your father up to?”
“Brooding, drinking, brooding some more. Mother is busy tormenting the nobles, as usual.”
“And your brothers?”
“None are here on the island if that’s what you’re asking. I have a question, uncle.”
“Ask, dear nephew.”
“What if this doesn’t work? What if Father finds out, perhaps like you have?”
Hal looked around his cell, the chains he was bound by, and the orange cat that lay on the chair near him. “Because I have faith, Zeke. Your father will meet my children. God has not granted me vision of the unseen as he has come to believe; but I know it in my heart, as I know that among the ninety-nine names of my Lord, The Just is one of them!”
CHAPTER 1 - SNOWBALLS AND TEA
On a freezing morning in December of 1873, a boy of six in the Syrian village of Deir Ezzor stepped into the snow. It was the first time he’d seen it. He marveled at the falling particles, each pure white landing onto his face and clothes. He stepped out and felt the biting dampness that reached up his knees. Then, as he heard that sweet, familiar voice behind him he began running away as fast as he could. “Omar, wait!” she yelled out, her voice excited yet soothing to all who heard it. His mother lifted her dress just an inch above her ankles to run after him, but he was already a few yards ahead laughing and looking back. He tried his best to get away, eventually came the firm, yet gentle hands that wrapped around him. Omar turned to see Mama smiling down at him gasping for air. Her ebony hair swept up in the frigid wind, crouching down to eye level with her boy. She tilted her head at how adorable and round he looked, all bundled up to near suffocation.
“You’re off to play with Kinan?”
“Yeah!” Omar nodded.
“And if any of those Empire soldiers come by again and try to talk to you, what do you say?”
He brought his finger to his chin, tilting his head down.
“Um, ‘my mother’s waiting for me, I have to go home?’ then I run.”
“Exactly. You run back and don’t speak to anyone else on the way. Even if they run after you, lead them to me and I’ll scare them off like I always do,” she said, reaching a finger out and tapping his nose. She hugged him, then landed one final kiss on his forehead before sending him off.
“Salam, be safe.”
Omar escaped her grip, his desire to play overcame him as he began to skip off again at greater speed. Once he reached the outer corner of his sand brick home, he felt the welcomed warmth of sunlight piercing through the clouds. In the distance, he heard the laughter of both children and adults getting louder. He was heading to the center of the village, near the unfinished bridge that would connect them to the east bank of the Euphrates River. He agreed with Kinan and Selma to meet there and play their new game there the night before, the surprise white coat from the sky added to that excitement.
He kept walking, the layer of snow at his feet became thinner. The village folk waved and greeted him as he hurried past. Surrounding merchants and children knew him through his mother when she strung him along for her errands, who was kind to just about everyone. She was known for brutal honesty, which soon earned her a distinct reputation not just in Deir Ezzor, but their surrounding villages as well. The boy waved and greeted them back, always with a bright and continuous laugh on his face.
He got to the village square and took a minute to look around, people passing and children making snowballs and throwing them at each other. He felt a wintry blast hit his shoulder; white powder scattered through the air in front of him. Not even a few seconds passed until he was tackled to the ground, with the muffled voice of a little girl heard through the snow that got into his hat.
“It’s real! This whole time I thought you were lying!” the black-haired girl yelled, a bright green scarf wrapped around her neck with its tail flying with the light winds. She stepped away and started to scoop more snow in her pale hands.
“Of course I wasn’t! Books don’t lie.”
“So are the dragons real too?”
Omar got up and tackled her back, tossing her to the ground with ease. She laughed at the harmless impact, and as soon as the boy got up she threw the next snowball in her hand, landing right on his face. He smiled at her, took his hat off to toss the snow that got in. As he did, he noticed her nose had turned bright red. Selma was one of two friends he played with every day. He heard his mother say often that friendships between boys and girls were inappropriate and his local adventures with the girl were only allowed due to their early age. Someday they’d have to cut it out. Selma was years younger than him, but with the solemn attitude and confidence of a girl much older. Her dark brown eyes beamed in the short glares of light that broke between the clouds as the morning went by.
Without much said after that, they kept chasing and playing around the square with the other children until Kinan came. After a while, the sun’s rays shone freely, and amidst their play the boy stopped to admire the clear skies.
* * *
On May 5th, 1895, a man in his late twenties turned his gaze from the clear summer skies that enraptured him for many minutes. He walked from the docks across to the Port of London, a car he recognized waiting for him. It was a black Rolls-Royce, on its hood was a gold-plated emblem conveying the status of its passenger. He nodded to the chauffeur who gave a sharp stare from afar, a soldier like him. Then leaning on the car was someone he gave a conflicted smile upon seeing.
“Back from the dead once more!” he said as he walked with his arms crossed, only opening his arms once Omar was close enough to embrace with the warmth of a long-awaited reunion. Omar let go of his bag and hugged him back, noticing his dear Major had lost some weight over the years he was gone.
“Hello Major, you look healthy.”
“Not for long if they keep this ring on me.”
“Is that why you had me come all the way from Jerusalem?” Omar said with a hand over Walter’s shoulder.
“It’s related. I’m not sick anymore, don’t worry. But much has happened since you left, we have a lot to discuss. I wouldn’t have written if it wasn’t my last choice.”
Omar’s look of unease worsened as he got in the car. On the ride to downtown London, he had a chance to get a better look at his commanding officer, and the many changes that transformed him as the years passed. Walter Braun was German by origin, Briton by upbringing. He was now forty-six by Omar’s estimate. His ebony black hair had grayed to a salt and pepper mix. His deep, accusing brown eyes had lost their edge and softened to a merciful demeanor and the clean-shaven porcelain skin on his face was losing its sharp angles. The scar that ran from his forehead across his left eye (which he saw perfectly with) and all the way down to his jawline seemed to settle quite well, compensating for the violent luster lost in his stare.
“Are we heading to La Grande Tour now?”
“No. There’s a café I want to pass by first.”
“They can serve you tea in the tower.”
“Their tea is shit. I think there’s something in the water.”
“You’re still on about that? Good Lord.”
Omar laughed with Walter as the car swerved its way around the London streets rarely touched by warm weather, both peasants and aristocrats took advantage of the clear air and blaring sun to do their errands out in the open. Many who would have driven walked, and those who rode horses enjoyed their work for the first time this season. Soon they’d be parked near one of the most lavish streets in Kensington, where Omar was accustomed to never seeing anyone darker than Walter. The pair walked along the side of the street, civilians making way for them as they came by, sometimes with a gasp or an outright look of shock. Omar glanced at the buildings, the vibrant colors of the flowers and walls that surrounded them in each street and balcony caught his eye. Mothers walked by dragging their troublesome children along, lovers passed by the shops, and the working people marched on to their next venture. Yet despite the wholesome joys of life making themselves apparent at every turn, Omar could only muster a rigid look of impatience.
“Have you heard from Arno?”
“He’s moved with his mother back to her hometown in Normandy, not too far from my family’s Chateau. He writes that he’s quite happy there, actually…” Walter smiled as he took a folded-up letter out of his breast pocket and showed Omar. He put his hand over the messy, incoherent handwriting that he pictured the boy writing in with great effort.
“I miss his father and uncle every day,” Omar said as his smile faded.
“As do I. We should visit them sometime.”
Omar felt a cold rush when he saw the new gear sported by fellow legion soldiers, who gave a warm greeting to Walter and him as they walked past. He could tell even from a yard away the changed geometry and exquisite metals that made them up. It was no surprise though, myriads of new technology and gadgets had been developed for the sake of Europa’s bottomless conquest, and he witnessed it all come into play firsthand in his youth. It started with Iceland in the 1870’s, when the first deposits of Ichor Metal were discovered. A metal stronger yet more malleable than anything they’d ever seen, with uses and applications that fueled every sector of technological innovation in Europa. Industry, medicine, and weapons, all were being revolutionized by Ichor metal. Unfortunately, they ran dry in less than a year, prompting the never-ending search for the earth’s greatest resource. Russia was not ignorant to the Ichor’s magic either, and thus the regular wars that were fought over just territory between them and Europa had intensified beyond prior belief.
“Here we are. I’ve come to this place for the past year.”
There was an empty table in the middle of the shop, despite the busy hour. Walter walked slow and deliberately, looking around on his way. He held a faint smile when a young lady with chestnut brown hair wearing an apron from the back kitchen came in. She smiled back, greeting him as he reached the table.
“Major Braun! Welcome back. Who is this you’ve brought along?” she asked, her eyes darting nervously towards Omar.
The woman got awkward when the Arab Captain caught her sight, recognizing him. It was something he had gotten used to ages ago.
“Anna; this is Omar, the man you’ve seen and heard so much about. The youngest Captain the Royal Legion has had in its history, knighted before he was even thirty.”
Omar heard and felt a violent ringing during the high praise. Shouting from the back of his mind, a curled-up memory spiraled out that made the compliments seem more like little stings to his spirit than a wave of joy to his ego. He found his seat across from Walter and didn’t seem to care much for the lady conversing with them, taking off his military cap. He looked up when he heard his name, finding the woman staring at him with a frazzled look.
Omar had black hair of mid-length and a thick beard that he shortened regularly. He took each step with a command that made the unprepared to his height and presence shudder. There was breadth to him where it was desired, and leanness where it was not. The Mediterranean tan of his childhood vanished, with the contrast of his hair giving him an aristocratic glow. He always held a natural smirk that showed his eagerness to wrestle with life’s many dangers, on a face that though mangled with a few scars kept its rugged handsomeness. He looked at her with eyes that all but shot out sparks of fire, with their one-of-a-kind color that was akin to amber jewels with hints of red in them.
Her lips parted, but she refrained from speaking. His look of indifference silenced her from saying more than she had to. The young woman smiled as she greeted him; her gaze stuck to him even as she turned away.
“Madame,” he nodded his head, rewarding her curiosity with his ever-present lack of interest, and turned away.
“It’s a pleasure to have a war hero come here, Captain. I’ll have someone come by in just a moment.”
“Thank you,” he said, grateful she didn’t harass him with questions like the others. He took out a box of cigars that he hadn’t yet finished on the boat. The lady scurried off to the kitchen, and a minute later a bit of commotion could be heard. Now the rest of the customers enjoying their meals and drinks had their attention caught by the line of employees gazing out the door to see him, chatting amongst themselves, and soon most of the cafe had noticed the famous foreigner in their midst. Omar didn’t react, shifting his hair over his ear as he took his watch out of his front pocket to check the time, tapping the table on occasion out of impatience as he smoked his cigar.
“I know you’re married, but a little flattery won’t kill you. The people love you here, remember? Especially the women,” Walter said as he sat back like he had all the time in the world.
“Order your tea so we can get this over with. Why did you summon me?”
“Let your guard down for just a moment. Relax, you’re home.”
“No, I was home. I’ll relax when you tell me why you dragged me from it.”
“I doubt you will, believe me.”
“So what is it then? Another brewing war with Russia, of the God-knows how many either of us started?”
“I wouldn’t call it a war. We have a plan so we don’t get a repeat of Scandinavia.”
The last sentence caught Omar’s attention and he perked up. Another cryptic hint as usual, or was it as simple as he could have put it? He was careful not to say anything compromising, they were in a public place after all. Another lady came by with a brass kettle and two cups. The young Captain sighed, knowing deep down he would have come no matter what Walter had written in his letter.