rusting crowns

Upload: ismeme

Post on 05-Apr-2018

234 views

Category:

Documents


0 download

TRANSCRIPT

  • 7/31/2019 Rusting Crowns

    1/26

    Day 1

    Jave could barely keep his eyes open. Sweat dripped down his face and the sun's rays penetrated his sight

    and made every detail of the long sandy horizon available to view. His muscles ached, begging him to

    stop, but he knew that if he gave in it would mean certain death. So he kept going.How had it come to this? It had only been a few days since he left the palace. Everything had

    happened so quickly, his world flipped around in just one night. He kept replaying the events in his head,

    reminding himself why he had chosen to go to this ghastly place at all. But he had a mission, a reason,something to keep him going. There was no turning back now.

    It was moments like this that he was glad he was raised in the middle east. Not only could he

    handle the heat much better than most, but his mocha skin kept him from burning to a crisp. His visionblurred and he stumbled every few steps, his footing loose as he trotted over the smooth sandy slopes that

    made up the Sahara. There were no towns or villages in sight, and with his water quickly running out, he

    needed to find shelter soon.One, two, one, two. One foot in front of the other. One, two, one, one, two, one...he bent over and

    took a breath, forcing his vision to align. He wouldn't give up now. He couldn't. Pulling up the small sack

    at his side, he held the container up to have a drink. Nothing. No more water. That was it, then. Without

    water, he had no chances of survival, and there was no sign of civilization anywhere. He was going to dieout here.

    How had it come to this? He kept asking himself that. His life hadn't been perfect, but it was still

    nice. A big house, delicious food, a royal title most people would die for. And then it all just changed.Maybe it was his fault. No one had said he needed to travel into the desert. But what other choice did he

    have? Sometimes he wondered if he ever had a choice.

    His breathing was sharp and the sun relentlessly beat against his skin. He lied on the sand andstared at the sky, thinking about anything but his inevitable death. Somewhere far away there was a large

    bird soaring in the sky, the first sign of life he'd seen all day. His vision was too blurry to make out it's

    exact shape, but it appeared to be getting closer. Maybe a vulture or some other bird had come to finish

    him off. Not like he could fight it.His heart picked up speed and his body began losing heat quickly. Drowsiness washed over him

    and he fought to stay awake. The bird got closer and closer, dipping down towards him. He could make it

    out better now, large black wings and an oddly long body. His eyes slowly dropped shut as the bird shottowards him. Before he passed out, he saw it, saw it land and crawl towards him.

    And if he didn't know any better, he'd say there was a human attached to those wings.

    Was he dead? No, he couldn't be dead. Not yet, anyways. The scent of various fruits filled his nose and

    his stomach churn. His mind was still groggy and had trouble keeping up with his surroundings. He

    forced his fingers to clench and unclench, before shifting his body. Life jolted back into him and heforced his eyes open.

    The first thing he processed is that he was definitely no longer in the desert. To his right was a

    small table with a little wood angel sculpture perched on it. He was lying in a cheap bed, a thin sheet

    draped over him and a torn pillow under his head. The room was small and cozy, the walls and floormade out of wood, with no windows in sight. Slowly, he crawled out of bed and made way for the door.

    He felt rejuvenated, all signs of his previous dehydration erased, his muscles rested and ready to take on

    what was ahead of him.The door pulled open with a small creak. Outside was a short hall, with his right leading to a dead

    end and his left turning and leading into who knows what. There was one other door beside him, but he

    resisted the temptation to open it. As quietly as he could muster, he tip toed down the hall and into theliving room the hall lead to.

    It wasn't much different than the room. Furniture was scarce, save for a low table and rugged

    couch. At the front of the room was a large bookshelf, with books of every shape and size in languages he

  • 7/31/2019 Rusting Crowns

    2/26

    had never seen. Part of the room was dedicated to an open kitchen, and beside it, the front door. Unsure

    of what to do next, he walked up to the bookshelf and examined it, hoping to find some clues as to where

    he was at.

    Most of the books were in foreign languages, and at the top of the shelf were several little angeldecorations much like the one in his room. One in particular, a thin glass one, caught his eye. He reached

    out for it and nearly had a heart attack when suddenly a voice broke through the silence.

    I wouldn't touch that. He jumped back and whipped around to where the voice was at. But nothing wasthere except for the same rugged couch and table.

    Over here. The voice said. He turned his attention to the kitchen, where a girl was perched on the

    counters.She was a darker woman, with mocha skin similar to his, and features that gave him the clue that

    she was from somewhere in India. Like most of the women, she had light eyes and dark hair, which she

    pulled off quite well. Jave stared in shock.Hasn't anyone ever told you that it's rude to stare? Her legs were crossed and her chin was in her palms,

    and despite the reprimand, she seemed more curious than anything.

    Ummm...Sorry. He retracted his hand from the shelf and awkwardly turned to her.

    Where am I? He asked as politely as the situation would allow.What does it look like? You're in my house. She responded curtly.

    Oh. He had never been good around people, and this was no exception. It didn't help that she did

    nothing but stare him down.So...how did I get here? He finally asked after the silence had become suffocating.

    You were dying in the desert when I found you. It's a good thing I did, or you wouldn't even be in this

    world anymore. He thought about this. The only sign of life he had seen all day had been that bird,meaning he had stopped just short of shelter or she had dragged him a long way. Comparing the fact that

    she saved his life, he wasn't going to ask.

    Well, thanks. He said. She cracked a smile.

    You're not very good with people, are you?Not really. He said.

    That's okay. I'm not exactly an expertise anyways. Oh, I almost forgot. We never introduced ourselves.

    She offered a smile and wave. I'm Aarya.Jave. He held out his hand, but she didn't reach out to shake it.

    Jave. That's an interesting name. She offered him another smile, which he was glad to return.

    There was a moment of silence before Aarya dashed into the kitchen. She shuffled through thecupboards, desperately looking for something. She pulled out a bowl of fruit and set it on the small

    wooden table in the living room.

    You hungry? She asked, holding out an apple.Sure. He took the fruit and retreated to the corner.

    So tell me, how didyou wind up in the desert? Jave leaned against the wall and thought about the best

    way to explain his situation.

    It's a long story. His genius strikes again.So? I've got plenty of time. She paused. Do you?

    Did he have plenty of time? It was hard to say. Maybe he did, maybe he didn't. Time wasn't the

    biggest thing on his mind when he took off.I'm not sure. He said.

    You know, you're not giving me much to work with. She complained.

    I know. I'm sorry. A lot of things had happened, and I wouldn't know where to begin.She nodded in understanding. Sucks to hear that. Must have been quite a lot to force you to travel

    through the desert.

    It was. He said. So what about you? Where are you from?

  • 7/31/2019 Rusting Crowns

    3/26

    Me? That's hard to say. I've been in this desert a long time. She responded.

    Why?

    Why what?

    Why have you been in the desert? Where were you before?Where I was before is irrelevant. But the reason I've come to the desert and stayed so long is because

    I've been waiting for someone.

    Waiting? For who?It's hard to say. I know what I'm looking for, but I don't know who they are. At least not yet. He

    nodded. If he had to guess, he'd say something bad drove her out here, just like him.

    So, if you can't tell me where you came from, can you at least tell me where you're going? Aarya asked.He shrugged. It couldn't hurt to tell her. It's kind of complicated.

    I'm listening.

    Well, you know about the legend of King Ba'al, right? Jave said. She nodded, a small smile playing atthe corners of her lips.

    My plan is to find his crown, which is still supposed to be laying around somewhere in his castle.

    She gave him a skeptical look. And what do you want with the crown?

    I want to take it home to my family. She stared him down, as if hoping he would reveal more, but hesaid nothing.

    That's interesting. So how are you going to find his castle? No one had reported seeing it in decades.

    I'm not sure yet. I was hoping I could do some research while I was out here. Aarya resisted the urge toask him why he didn't study before leaving.

    Well, good luck with that then. She leaned back on the couch and took a bite of her fruit.

    Can you tell me where I could find a place to research? He asked. Despite his hunger, he had yet totake a bite of his apple.

    Actually, you're in luck. I happen to have the only library in town. She motioned to the large bookcase

    in the front of the room.

    Is that it? He asked.Of course. What do expect? We're in a giant sandy desert. Most of the people here are more worried

    about finding water than they are about collecting books. His weary eyes grazed the book titles, but

    none looked like they would be very helpful.He sighed. I guess I'll make the most of it.

    Well, when you say it so sadly, it's hard not to show you.

    Show me what? Before he finished his sentence Aarya smirked and dashed down the hallway. Thesounds of moving furniture came from the first room before she quickly returned with a large, worn out

    book in her hands.

    What's that? He asked.A guide, to everything you could need to know about the desert and it's locations, including King Ba'al's

    castle. She set the book down on the table and he raced over to examine it.

    Is it accurate?

    I assume so. It hasn't failed me yet. And if it doesn't work, there's always intuition. He picked up thebook and flipped it open. The pictures were surprisingly detailed, and he knew if anything would save his

    life out here, it would be this book.

    It looks great. Can I use it? He hated to keep imposing on her, but he really could use the help.Sure. But on one condition. He gave her a doubting look.

    What?

    You have to take me with you. He stared at her, waiting for her to flash a smile and say she was joking.But she looked dead serious. She would be helpful out in the desert, especially considering he had no one

    else to help him, but the idea just didn't sit well with him.

    Why?

  • 7/31/2019 Rusting Crowns

    4/26

    Well, for a start, it's my book. You could also use all the help you could get, and I've been looking for an

    adventure for a long time. And who knows, maybe I'll find the person I'm looking for while I'm out. It

    was difficult to argue. She had him caught.

    Are you sure? What if we run into trouble?I can promise you, I'm not as weak as I look. I've lived out here long enough to realize the dangers. Let's

    face it, if anything bad happens, chances are you'll be the first to go. He couldn't find it in himself to

    disagree.Fine. I guess I can't argue. Jave said.

    Good. Look, it's only been an hour, and we're already making friends. She pointed to the little wooden

    clock that hung on the wall.I guess so.

    You guess a lot of things. He gave her an offended look, to which she chuckled.

    Don't be offended. I was just joking. She stood up and waltzed into the kitchen. His legs begin to ache,and seeing as he was hardly even a guest anymore, he took a seat on the couch.

    So, how about dinner? Aarya asked him. He nodded and picked up the book that would be their guide

    through the desert. It had only been an hour, and yet his course had already been completely changed. It's

    funny how life worked like that.

    Jave stretched his worn limbs. Drowsiness was creeping up on him, and he barely had the energy to keep

    reading. Outside, the sun had set and the inside of the house was bathed in the moon's glow. On the endof the couch Aarya was perched with her legs pulled up to her chest and her nose buried in a book. It was

    in some language he had never seen before. His book was the classic One Thousand and One Nights,

    which was one of the only things on the book shelf that caught his interest. He set the book down andturned to Aarya.

    She noticed his stare and peaked at him over the book. They had stopped talking a long time ago,

    and she probably caught the hint that it was getting late.

    Yes? She asked.I think it's time to go to bed. Jave said. She smiled and set down the book.

    Okay. And where do you plan on sleeping?

    Can't just sleep in the same bed I woke up in?Sure. I'll take the couch then. He paused.

    Wait, that isn't your bed, is it? She smiled.

    What do you think? Of course. He should have guessed. She lived alone and probably never hadguests, so it seemed logical that she would only have one bed.

    Oh, I'm sorry. If you want, I can take the couch.

    Or we both could. He gave her a bewildered look.I mean, we could both sleep on it. I only have one blanket anyways, so unless one of us wants to freeze

    we're probably going to have to share. He nodded.

    Alright. She stood and dragged out the pillow and blanket. He rejected her offer to give him the pillow,

    and with a little work, they both managed to fit onto the couch, Jave facing one way and Aarya facing theother. She was careful to keep her limbs from touching his, though he wasn't sure why.

    Isn't this comfy? Aarya joked. He smiled and pulled his arm up to make a pillow.

    They both closed their eyes and were silent for several moments until Jave spoke up.Aarya?

    Yes?

    Why are you helping me?I don't know. She said. Maybe because you might help me find the person I'm looking for.

    He must have been satisfied with that answer, because he didn't push the topic any further.

    His eyelids began sinking down and the world faded from his view. He was anxious to find out

  • 7/31/2019 Rusting Crowns

    5/26

    what would happen tomorrow, and even in his exhausted state the thought plagued him. If so much had

    happened today, what was going to happen to him tomorrow? How did he even know if he was going to

    succeed? The last question was the hardest t answer. He pushed the thoughts off his mind and focused on

    getting some sleep. He would need all he could get for the journey tomorrow. Even as his consciousfaded, he could never even guess how quickly his fate would be changed.

    Day 2When Jave opened his eyes the next morning, the sun had risen over the horizon and altered everyone of

    a new day. He was stretched out more then when he went to sleep, and at the other end Aarya was curled

    into a ball, the blanket wrapped firmly around her. He considered waking her up, but figured it would bebest to let her sleep. They had a long day ahead.

    Slowly getting up he made a bee line for the kitchen. He was starving, and couldn't wait until she

    woke up to eat something. He opened the cupboards and was met with nothing but empty space. He triedagain on a different one, but still nothing. He looked through every cupboard, but every one was just as

    empty as the last. On the table, the bowl of fruit was still sitting out, meaning it had to be the only food in

    the house. It was so odd. How could she survive on only a bowl of fruit?

    He walked over and picked out a pear, biting down and surveying the room. There wasn't much todo here, other than read the books and sit around. Without thinking, he had wandered down the hall, and

    before he knew it he was standing in front of the first room in the hall, the same one Aarya had gotten

    their guide book from. What was in there? He knew it wasn't nice to go peaking around someone's house,especially when they had been so courteous, but he couldn't resist the temptation. How bad could it be,

    really?

    He cracked open the door, flinching as it squeaked. Luckily, Aarya didn't notice, and without asound he slipped inside.

    If he thought the living room was under furnished, then this place was a desert. The only thing in

    the room was one large mahogany desk that sat to the very back. He slowly walked over and pulled open

    one of the drawers. Like the cupboards, it was empty. He tried with another, but still, nothing. How coulda person live like this? Wouldn't she own at least some personal possessions? He opened drawer after

    drawer, but found nothing. He was about to give up when he opened the top one and something caught

    his eye.It appeared to be a ring, made out of gold with something carved onto it. Gently he picked it up

    and brought it close to his eyes. The ring was definitely a woman's, the small size and roundish shape

    gave that away. Silently, he read the inscription.I love you, Mihika. ~ Yaquib.

    Jave nearly dropped the ring. Yaquib? Like his father, Yaquib? No, that couldn't be right. He was

    miles and miles from home, there was no way a ring from him would wind up all the way out here.Maybe it was someone else with the same name. It had to be. But who was Mihika? And why did Aarya

    have this ring? Why, in the entire room, was this the only possession?

    Outside, he could hear the sounds of creaking as Aarya slowly woke. Without a thought, he

    slipped the ring into his pocket and rushed out the door, slowly shutting it behind him. He tried to seemcasual as he rounded the corner. Aarya was awake and offered him her usual smile.

    Have a nice night? She asked groggily.

    It wasn't bad. He said. She chuckled and stood.I'm guessing you've already figured there's nothing in the cupboards. He gave her a quizzical look.

    Without realizing it, he had slipped into the kitchen.

    Oh, ya. He said awkwardly. She laughed, obviously enjoying his embarrassment.Well, how about we finish this bowl and head out to find a town? Chances are we won't be back for a

    while, so might as well finish it all now. He nodded and picked another fruit out of the bowl. She

    unwrapped the blanket and set it between him, giving him a sheepish smile and biting into her apple.

  • 7/31/2019 Rusting Crowns

    6/26

    They ate in silence, occasionally sneaking peaks at each other from the corners of their eyes. It

    didn't take long for the fruit to disappear. Aarya stretched and tossed the bowl into a bin.

    How delicious. Hopefully the next town has some real food. She joked. He gave a sheepish smiled and

    stood up.So what now? When are we going to take off? He asked anxiously.

    Don't freak out on me now. She stood to meet his eyes. She was several inches shorter than him, but he

    had no doubt she could be intimidating if she wanted to be.We can leave any time you want. I've got nothing stopping me. Aarya said. And by the looks of her

    house, she wasn't lying.

    Now, then. Jave said. She gave him a skeptical look, but nonetheless shrugged and followed him outthe door.

    Before she left, she grabbed the survival book and a small pouch of money. Jave had refilled his

    water container last night, and other than that, there wasn't much left to take.This is gonna be fun. Aarya said as Jave opened the door.

    The heat tore through their skin the moment they stepped outside. Compared to the outside the

    house had been a freezer. Jave scanned his surroundings for any clue of life. There were no other homes

    or animals around, just a smooth trail of desert every direction in sight. But what interested him was thetracks. There was no sign that Aarya had dragged him over the dirt, and the only marks were right outside

    her house. Now that was definitely odd.

    Are you just going to stand there or are you going to start moving? Aarya asked. She was alreadyseveral yards from the house, and in his distraction he had been left behind.

    I'm coming! He rushed to catch up with her. She didn't seem to mind his inattentiveness. If anything,

    she seemed amused.So, where are we going? Jave asked.

    There should be a large village about a mile up from here. It's usually where I get my food. We can buy

    camels and other things for the trip there. He nodded.

    The desert sun continued to pound on him, and after enough time his steps began to get heavierand heavier. Aarya didn't seem to mind as much she had probably gotten used to the heat but he knew

    he could only keep this up for so long. The town couldn't get here soon enough.

    Jave wiped the sweat from his forehead and kept trudging through the desert. They had to have been

    walking for at least an hour now, or at least it felt like it. Even Aarya was beginning to look exhausted.

    The sun had just gotten worse with the passing hour and Jave was close to suggesting a break when hesaw it.

    Over the horizon, he could see the outline of several tall buildings. They were mostly mud houses,

    but it was a still sign of civilization, which was enough to make Jave pick up his pace. As he got closerthe town looked larger and larger, and he knew that this was the place Aarya had been talking about. He

    shot ahead of her and before he knew it was approaching the main street.

    Hey! Don't leave me behind! Aarya shouted as she struggled to catch up with him.

    Sorry. They trotted down the street as Aarya lead them to the market place. At this time, it wasrelatively empty, as most shopping was done at night when the air had cooled. He saw carts for all sorts

    of things, and was tempted to buy something from all of them, but she kept leading them forward.

    Where are we going? Jave asked.Here. Aarya pointed to the small mud building in front of them. It wasn't particularly note worthy, the

    only thing separating it from the rest being the small sign above the door that read Tavern.

    They stepped inside and were immediately greeted by a rush of cool air. Inside were a few smalltables and a poorly constructed bar to the right. Behind it stood a man who looked to be in his late forties,

    and when he spotted them he offered a cheerful smile.

    Aarya! It's good to see you again. Long time no see. She smiled and took a seat at the bar along side

  • 7/31/2019 Rusting Crowns

    7/26

    Jave.

    Same for you, Abagwa. How's the family?

    Good. He smiled and gave a curious look to Jave. It was rare that the village had visitors, especially

    ones who looked as foreign as him.So who's your friend? He asked.

    This is Jave. Me and him are traveling through the desert and stopped to pick up some things.

    Oh, finally found yourself a mate? I knew it would happen eventually. It was only a matter of time.Abagwa pulled out two cups and poured them a drink.

    No, it's not like that- Aarya interrupted Jave.

    It's not what you think, Abagwa. He's out here in the hopes of finding King Ba'al's crown, and I knewhe'd die without someone who knew their way around, so now I'm stuck with him. Anyways, you're crazy

    if you think anyone can tame me. She smirked and took a drink.

    Oh, of course. I forgot, you don't need a man. He chuckled. So, what's this about King Ba'al's crown?Instead of saying anything, Aarya just stared at Jave, waiting for him to say something. He wasn't

    sure what to do. He didn't want to tell anyone about his mission in the first place, but it didn't look like he

    had much of a choice.

    It's... He began. Once again, Aarya interrupted him.A long story, I know. But can you at least tell us why you want the crown in the first place?

    He fidgeted. Like I said, I want to take it back home to my family.

    Because...Because I was falsely accused of something I didn't do. I need the crown to clear my name and give me

    back my honor. He paused and look down at the counter.

    And? Aarya stared at him intently. There was something else he wasn't saying.Don't worry about it. It doesn't matter. But I'm determined to find the crown, no matter what. He took a

    drink, ending the conversation.

    Hm. I've give him points, he seems honest. Abagwa said. So how are you going to find the castle?

    Aarya held up the guide book.Good choice. Well, I don't think there's much more I can say. He paused, as if thinking about

    something.

    Actually, I change my mind. There is something I want to say.What? Jave asked.

    It's about the legend of King Ba'al. Now, you know I'm not a superstitious person, but if the legend does

    turn out to be true, then you know what that means, right?No. It had been years since he last heard the entire legend, so he was shaky on the details.

    Well, you know how it goes. If-

    Just tell us the entire story, Abagwa. We could probably use the refresher anyways. Aarya said.Alright, if you insist. It starts like this: King Ba'al was born a regular boy, and grew up with a regular

    childhood and had a regular family. But there was one thing that set him apart from the rest: He wanted

    power, and would do anything to get it. So one day an angel offered him a deal. In exchange for his soul,

    he could have the power to rule over his land forever. He could keep his soul for now, under the conditionthat he always be kind and just, and if he broke that rule the angel would return and take his soul. He

    agreed, and the deal was set. For many years, things went perfectly, Ba'al was a kind king who ruled over

    his land a gentle hand. But eventually he became paranoid and obsessed over gaining more power. Hisrule quickly turned to one of tyranny and terror. Seeing this, the angel returned to collect his soul. Ba'al

    knew he was in trouble, and had to act quickly. He summoned another angel, this one more corrupt than

    the last, and made a deal with her. He would give her his powers in exchange for breaking the contractwith the other angel and remaining immortal. The only condition was that he would only lose his

    immortality if someone else put on his crown and gained his powers. So the deal was made. The king fell

    from power and famine spread over the land, leading to one of the darkest periods in history. The country

  • 7/31/2019 Rusting Crowns

    8/26

    eventually recovered and King Ba'al was left to be something of legend. No one has seen him or his

    castle since. Abagwa took a deep breath. Even he was surprised he still remembered the tale.

    What, so what's the issue? Jave asked.

    You see, if the legend is true, that means that King Ba'al is still alive and inside the castle. Meaning, ifyou do find the crown, you'll also find King Ba'al. Abagwa said.

    But what makes you think he'll still be in his castle? Jave asked.

    Why wouldn't he be? He's probably guarding the crown, waiting to see who will take it.And how do you know that someone hasn't already taken it?

    You sure ask a lot of questions, don't you? Jave gave a sheepish smile.

    Like I said, I don't know if it's true. It may not be. I'm just warning you that if it is, don't be too surprisedat the things you may find. Abagwa said. Jave nodded and looked down at his drink.

    Well, I think we better get a move on. It was good seeing you again. Aarya pulled out her pouch.

    Abagwa held up his hands.No, no. It's on the house.

    Thanks. Aarya smiled and made way for the door.

    See ya. Jave waved, which Abagwa returned.

    Outside, the market was slightly more busy, with lunch quickly approaching. Men and women inlong garbs bustled this way and that while Jave and Aarya weaved from cart to cart. They each filled their

    bags with the necessities before heading out to get the most important piece of all: two camels to carry

    them through the desert.A short man in white garbs was attending the camels when they approached. The stable was small

    and surrounded by a low fence, with several camels herded inside. It wasn't the nicest place in town, but

    it was the only place to get what they need. Aarya immediately scowled when the man turned around.What is it? He asked. His already sharp frown deepened the moment he spotted Aarya.

    Oh, it's you. What do you want? He said.

    Two camels. Aarya answered sharply. They stared at each other for a moment, forcing Jave to

    uncomfortably break the silence.Um, is something wrong? He asked.

    No. The man turned on his heel and shepherd out two camels.

    Will these two do? He grumbled.Fine. She took the reins and tossed him some money. Without even hooking up her bag, she hopped on

    and took off.

    Hey! Wait! Jave jumped on and struggled to catch up with her. He had ridden horses when he wasyounger, but the camel proved to be much more difficult.

    What was that about? Jave asked as he came up alongside her.

    Nothing. He's just... She trailed off.What?

    An idiot. He constantly complains about the way I dress, because god forbid I don't cover myself head

    to toe, and then when he's not complaining about that he's either obsessed with my 'bad manners' or

    something else. He's lucky my manners aren't bad enough to show what I really think of him. Herknuckles tightened around the reins.

    Oh. I'm sorry to hear that. He stared ahead at the open desert. The sun beat down on him and he

    suddenly missed the tavern very much.Though they moved faster than on foot, it still felt like forever as they moved through the glowing

    desert. The town quickly turned into nothing but a dot on the horizon before completely disappearing

    from sight. He hated having to leave, but he needed to complete his mission, no matter what the cost.Time in the desert varied between bright and brighter, and with the time just dragging along Jave

    found himself going insane. The silence was stifling and finally he couldn't take it anymore.

    So... He said, not sure where to start the conversation.

  • 7/31/2019 Rusting Crowns

    9/26

    What? Aarya flashed him a questioning look.

    I'm bored. There was no point in dodging it. Aarya chuckled.

    Is that so?

    Yes.Then how about I tell you a story? She offered.

    It depends. Will I walk away feeling like I need to take a scalding bath after words?

    No promises.Fine then. Story away. She paused for a moment, as if gathering all she would say, before she began.

    A long time ago scratch that, not that long ago, but still long before now there was a noble Arabian

    boy.I already know my story. I've been here too. Jave interrupted. He waited for her to continue, but instead

    she just smiled at him.

    What? He asked.You were noble? How interesting. We're learning new things already. He felt silly for having revealed

    that so mindlessly.

    Well, back to the story. This Arabian boy lived a good life, bathing in his families wealth, but sadly

    things aren't always as perfect as they appeared. The family was quickly falling from nobility and neededto save their hinds soon or fall into poverty. The boy was unaware of this fact until one day he went on a

    trip to visit another noble family. They had decided that they would marry him off in the hopes of

    regaining their fortune through combining the blood lines.Wait. Jave said.

    What? Aarya turned to him. He paused, as if something was troubling him, but let it go.

    Nothing. He retracted. She stared at him. He was so unpredictable sometimes. She couldn't help butwonder what he was hiding.

    Okay. So this boy was sentenced to be married off to another noble. While he wasn't worried about

    getting married, he was worried about the reasons behind the marriage, having finally realized what it

    really meant. After meeting the woman in question he was appalled by her horrible attitude and knew hecouldn't live with her. He was a stubborn child, and decided there had to be another way to save his

    family. So he approached his father and made a deal with him: he would travel to the Sahara and find

    King Tut's crown in exchange for not having to marry his horrible finance.Stop. Jave said again. He looked incredibly bothered by something.

    What? Is it too gory for you? Aarya joked. He didn't say anything.

    Seeing that the tale was really bothering him, she quit. Maybe she'd bring it up later, when the sunwasn't beating down on them and ruining the mood. Even as she waited for his scowl to fade or signs of

    his regular self to return, he continued to stare straight ahead. And for the rest of the ride, she knew that

    his mind was somewhere else.

    Even the longest of days eventually come to an end. After hours of riding the sun finally dipped over the

    horizon and they stopped to set up camp. Jave's worry look had all but faded now and it only took them a

    few minutes to set up and get relaxed. There was no wood to start a fire, so they dragged out theirblankets and sat on the sand covered ground, staring at the stars.

    So, want to tell me what all that was about? Aarya asked. Jave flashed her a look.

    What do you mean?I mean earlier, when I was telling the story. It really seemed to bother you. Care to spill the beans?

    He sighed and turned back to the stars. Maybe tomorrow. Was his only response. She didn't like it, but

    it was better than 'it's a long story'.For a while, they sat there in silence, before Jave turned to her.

    Can you keep going? He asked.

    Keep what going?

  • 7/31/2019 Rusting Crowns

    10/26

    The story. He said. She smiled.

    Fine. Where was I...oh ya, making the deal with his father. So he made the deal and took off from the

    palace into the desert. It was incredibly difficult for him: not only did he not know the land scape, but he

    barely escaped death on several occasions. After months of searching he was close to giving up, when amiracle happened. While traveling through the desert he spotted a large bird, with black wings and a long

    body, that led him right to the palace. The castle was more amazing than he could have imagined: despite

    being abandoned for years, it was still one of the finest places he had ever seen. He searched the castle fordays, wondering through it's corridors and admiring the treasures that lay there. But treasures were not his

    goal. He wanted the crown more than anything, and after enough waddling he began searching for it.

    Everyday he was at the castle the bird watched him. This fact didn't escape him and after several days atthe castle he decided he wanted a better look at this bird.

    She paused and took a deep breath.

    Then what?He planned it out and one morning, while the bird was still sleeping, snuck away and crawled to the

    place where the bird was usually perched. It was facing out towards the horizon with it's wings wrapped

    around it's body. It was easily the same size as him and had wings large enough to stretch across a room.

    As quietly as he could, he crawled out towards it, a hand extended. He brushed the back just the slightest.It jolted awake and shot around to see the intruder. The boy couldn't believe what he saw.

    Hm?

    A woman. At the end of the wings was a grown woman, roughly his age. They stared at each other inshock. What he had seen hadn't been a bird at all, but instead, an angel.

    Jave chuckled.

    What? Aarya said.Nothing. I think I'm just now catching on that this may not be a true story.

    Instead of getting offended, she just smirked. Believe what you want.

    So, getting back to the point. They stared at each other in shock, and before the boy could say anything,

    the girl shot off. He tried desperately to find her, but to no avail. For the next few days he didn't see heragain, and for a while he thought what he had seen had just been his imagination. But when looking for

    the crown one day he ran into a trap, and since he was all alone, there was no one to save him. Except for

    the angel. She destroyed the trap and nursed his wound when he passed out. The next time he woke upshe was standing over him, still nursing the wound. She immediately took off when she realized she had

    been spotted. But he wouldn't lose her again. He chased after her and with enough coaxing convinced her

    to approach him. He reached out to her, and to his surprise, she reached back. She stopped.Is that it? Jave looked disappointed in the sudden end.

    No, of course not. But I'm tired. Maybe tomorrow. She smiled at his shock of having his own words

    thrown back at him. It was pretty obvious that she wouldn't tell him more if he didn't.Jave sighed. Fine. I'm tired too. He lied down and wrapped the blanket around him, and Aarya

    mimicked him.

    Their backs were faced towards each other, but they were still close enough to feel the others

    body heat. The moon was large and full in the sky, basking the landscape in a beautiful glow. The desertcould be a horrible place at day, but at night, it was an amazing sight. It was depressing that they couldn't

    travel during that time, but sleeping in the sun meant risking dehydration.

    Jave closed his eyes and felt his muscles relax. Today was tiring, and the sun was relentless, butwho knows,maybe tomorrow would be better. Even if the sun did have to come up, at least they could

    count on there still being a night after words. With that thought, he fell asleep, with the moon still sitting

    there, waiting for another day.

    Day 3

  • 7/31/2019 Rusting Crowns

    11/26

    The sound of panicked steps woke Jave the next morning. He shot up and inspected his surroundings,

    expecting attackers. Instead of a bunch of bandits, it was the camels, who were becoming uneasy and

    pulling against their reins. Aarya was inches from their panicked feet, and before they could crush her

    head Jave grabbed her and yanked her back.Don't eat me! She shouted as she jolted awake.

    What? He gave her a look like she was insane, which fairly speaking, she might have been.

    Nothing. She blushed.The camels got more uneasy and pulled the staff they were tied to out of the ground. Aarya was

    quick to grab the reins and Jave saved their bags.

    What's wrong with them? Jave asked. He fixed their bags, from which many of their things had fallenout in the panic.

    Jave. Aarya said. He turned to her, but she was looking somewhere else, over the horizon with a

    shocked look. He turned, and almost couldn't believe his eyes.Now, they had dust storms in Arabia, but never like this. This thing had to be hundreds of feet tall,

    and the sand created a wall so thick that it nearly blocked out the sun. It was rapidly approaching them.

    What the...? Jave had no clue how to respond.

    That's it. We're screwed. Aarya collapsed on the sand.Wait, seriously!? He did not want to believe that he came all this way only to be killed by a bunch of

    dust.

    Well, we could...What?

    She pulled down the bags and looked through them, hoping for something they could use to help.

    Nothing really good stuck out, and she felt stupid for not having prepared for this kind of thing. Thengenius struck. In one move, she slipped the bag over her head.

    What are you doing? She mumbled something he couldn't hear.

    What?

    She yanked the bag off. You come up with a better idea!He shook his head and took out his bag. It didn't look like he had much of a choice.

    Wait! What about the camels? The dust storm was quickly approaching.

    Aarya ripped out her blanket and tied it around the camels head, and Jave repeated. The duststorm was closer now, and they quickly slipped the bags back over their head, hoping that this worked.

    Little rocks pounded against their skin and the occasional sand slipped through, but overall, it

    wasn't as bad as it could be. They sat there for several minutes, waiting for the storm to pass, and after aneternity it finally disappeared. Jave yanked the bag off his head and took a deep breath.

    To their backs, the storm continued to rage, racing over the ground and picking up more dust as it

    went along. Jave coughed up some of the sand he had inhaled, removing the blankets from the camelshead and falling to the ground.

    Well, it could have been worse. Aarya said. Jave didn't respond.

    Aarya hopped on the camel and and reattached her bag. Jave did the same, ready to just get out of

    this desert once and for all.So, where now? He asked. Aarya pointed in the direction of the dust storm.

    We're following that. He looked at her like she had lost her marbles.

    That thing? You want to follow a dust storm?Yes. She responded curtly. Just trust me. She took off after the storm.

    Seeing as he had no way to navigate the desert, he wasn't left with much of a choice but to follow

    her.They raced after the storm, staying just enough of a distance to avoid the raging storm. They

    didn't say anything as the day passed, but eventually the storm died out, and they were back to wandering

    the desert again.

  • 7/31/2019 Rusting Crowns

    12/26

    Why the storm? Jave asked.

    What do you mean?

    I mean, why were we following the storm?

    Didn't I say to just trust me? She cracked a smile and Jave knew he wasn't going to get an answer.So what about you? Aarya said after a moment of silence.

    Hm?

    I mean, you said you'd tell me more about yourself tomorrow. She paused. It's tomorrow.He sighed and knew it was best to just give in. If he said 'it's a long story' one more time she would

    probably murder him. Anyways, she hadn't given him a reason not to trust her.

    What do you want to know? Jave asked.She thought for a moment. How did you wind up here?

    It's - never mind. You see, my mom isn't exactly the kindest woman on earth. She's always had

    something out for me, and I've never really understood why.Sounds like a real bitch.

    Jave chuckled. Ya. So, one day we were traveling, planning to stay at another nobles house. I didn't

    know it at the time, but they were planning on setting me up with the family's daughter, Suri. I didn't

    really care, though I was a bit shocked, I knew getting married off was inevitable. Things weren't a bigdeal, but everything changed really quickly. You see, Dabir, my 'finances' father, had this extremely

    important book. It was the only kind in the entire world, and his most prized possession. So guess what

    happened?What?

    It got burned to ashes. He went completely maniacal, demanding to know who had done it. They

    searched the entire castle, every servant and even my parents, but nothing. Then they looked at me.You?

    Yes. And guess what, they found traces of moot on my hands, despite the fact that I was still in bed.

    They were willing to give me the benefit of the doubt, and I had almost convinced them I was innocent

    when my mother piped up.Wait, were you innocent?

    Of course I was. But no one knew that. So my mother piped up and claimed that she had seen me burn

    the book, saying she just couldn't hold it in any longer. I fought against it, but it was my mother's wordagainst mine. And guess what, she won.

    So then what happened?

    They threatened to destroy our family and me and Suri would never get married, so on and so forth.When things got bad I ran away and retreated into one of the local taverns. Oh, but wait, I almost left out

    the best part: before I left, I noticed that my mom was wearing gloves, and at the very bottom I could see

    the hint of a burn mark.Oh snap! Jave chuckled.

    I should have expected it. So I was in the tavern... He trailed off.

    What?

    I decided I would find King Tut's crown to restore my honor, which leads me to where I am now. Aaryagave him a skeptical look. She knew he was skipping over something, but couldn't figure out what. What

    had happened in that tavern?

    Interesting story. She said. He probably wouldn't tell her anyways, so there was no point in pushing it.So how about the rest of that story? Jave asked.

    Maybe tonight. I think I may be getting heat stroke. She leaned back and pretended to faint.

    Always complaining. Jave joked, and they laughed as if old friends.

    Night came much more quickly that day, and before they knew it the sun was setting over the horizon.

    Jave hopped off his camel and prepared to make camp, but to his surprise, Aarya didn't follow. He gave

  • 7/31/2019 Rusting Crowns

    13/26

    her a quizzical look, but she kept going. Hopping back on, he continued to follow her.

    What? No sleep tonight? Jave said as he caught up to her.

    We're close. She responded.

    How do you know?I can feel it. He couldn't believe it. Had they really found the castle? No, she was probably just tired

    and fooling herself into thinking it was near. But he didn't argue.

    So, does that also mean no story? He asked.You are the only guy I know who's desperate to listen to a woman talk.

    What can I say? I'm a ladies man. She chuckled and began the tale.

    Well, I believe I left off at the part where they met each other. So the angel reached back to him, butbefore they could contact, she pulled away.

    Why?

    Because she was an angel. If an angel touches a human, they immediately die, that's an absolute rule.The angel was still shy, but the boy was determined. After several hours he convinced her to come stay

    the night with him. The next morning, she was back on her place on the tower, but when he approached,

    she didn't run away. Eventually they fell into a schedule, and finally, after several nights of knowing each

    other, she told him her name.Which was?

    Mihika.

    Jave balked. The memory of his first morning at the house came rushing to his mind in full force.The ring, the only object in the entire desk, with his father's and a mysterious girl's name imprinted on it.

    Reflexively, he reached into his pocket. Sure enough, the ring was still there. He couldn't believe. He

    refused to.You alright? Aarya asked.

    Ya, I'm fine. Just keep going. She nodded and turned away.

    The boy knew that the angel wouldn't tell him her name without trusting him. At this point, he had been

    at the castle for several weeks, but the crown had long escaped his mind. Feelings for Mihika rose insidehim and she felt the same way. But, as with most tragic loves, it couldn't be that simple. She was

    immortal and unable to make contact with humans. The boy couldn't believe this. He remembered the

    legend of King Tut, how he made a deal with an angel in exchanged for power. So he decided it was timeto make a deal with his angel.

    She took a breath.

    Instead of power, he wanted love. The conditions were simple: he would gain the ability to be with herforever, to touch and love her like he couldn't now, the condition being that he never betray her. Should

    he break that rule, she would take away his soul. She agreed and it was set. Things started out perfectly.

    Then tragedy struck.Aarya stopped and stared straight ahead.

    What? What happened? Jave asked. She didn't say anything. He turned his attention to the right, at the

    building that had caught her eye.

    They had done it. In front of them, less than a half mile away, was a large castle made out of solidtan brick. Had it not been dark out, it might have blended in with the sand, but with the moon casting it's

    glow it was easy to see. Around them were remnants of old statues and small houses. Jave had been so

    distracted by the tale he failed to notice them. They had really done it. In less than a few days, they hadfound King Tut's castle.

    Jave trotted forward towards the castle, but was stopped by Aarya.

    Wait. He turned to her.What?

    We should stop here. She looked almost dazed.

    Why?

  • 7/31/2019 Rusting Crowns

    14/26

    I just think it would be best. She jumped off the camel and began unloading her things.

    There was no arguing then. They would see the castle tomorrow.

    Jave sighed and began unpacking his things. Aarya seemed bothered by something, though it was

    hard to guess what. They settled onto their blankets and stared at the stars. No words were exchanged, asboth of them were lost in their own thoughts. Now that things had settled down, something struck Jave,

    something he hadn't realized before. How hadthey found the castle so quickly? Some people spent their

    entire lives looking for it and never even once saw it. Yet they found it in two days. Something wasn'tright. Jave's eyes flashed to Aarya, but she was already fast asleep.

    Why had she wanted to camp outside the castle? How had she known about the tale of the angel

    and the boy? Why did she have that ring? What was she? All these questions flashed through Jave's mind,but none of them had answers, only confusing clues. He forced it off his mind. Maybe he was just being

    paranoid. Or maybe, just maybe, there was more to Aarya than there appeared.

    Day 4That morning was much more peaceful than the last: Jave woke to the sun creeping over the horizon and

    the sound of footsteps on smooth sand. He was surprised to see that Aarya was already awake and

    moving about. She had packed their stuff and the moment he sat up, she turned to him with a sweetexpression.

    Have a nice night? She asked. He shook his head. Last night she had looked so worried and dazed,

    what could have caused the sudden change.Ya, I guess so. Was Jave's only response. He helped her pack up the things and within a few minutes

    they were heading towards the castle.

    It only looked better as they got closer. At every corner there was a large tower that peaked intothe skies and windows were dotted everywhere. It was made of a solid gray brick and must have taken

    years to make. At the front was a large door, the only easy entrance into the castle, and as they slowly

    approached the large palace they hopped off and walked up to it.

    How do we get it open? Jave asked. Aarya looked just as unsure as him, but after a moment ofcontemplating, she spoke.

    Close your eyes. She said.

    Why?Just do it. Reluctantly, he obeyed and shut his eyes.

    He couldn't hear much of what she was doing, except for the occasional creak of the walls, but

    before he could guess she was by his side again and allowed him to reopen his eyes.The door didn't look any different than before, and Jave wondered what she could have done.

    Open it. She commanded. He didn't bother asking questions, instead walking up and giving the large

    door a little tug. Sure enough, it creaked open.There. Didn't I say you could trust me? Aarya smirked and slipped through the large door. Jave couldn't

    even begin to guess what she had done, which didn't help his already growing suspicions of her.

    The first thing they saw in the castle was what appeared to be a large greeting room. It wasn't very

    furnished save for a few small tables and antiques, and to their very front was a large hallway, with twogrand staircases on either side. It sort of reminded him of the castle he had been staying at before he took

    off. There was one big noticeable difference, though. This one, unlike the other, looked like no one had

    lived in it for centuries.Aarya walked forward into the large hall in front of them and Jave reluctantly followed.

    Everything in the house was dusty and ragged, and many of the walls had decayed from decades of sand

    storms. The large hall led twisted and turned, taking them into several rooms of the house, and it seemedthat no matter how long they walked there was always something new around the corner. You had to give

    the builders some credit, it was very intricately designed.

    Finally, they came to a stop in one of the larger dining rooms. It had windows that gave it a

  • 7/31/2019 Rusting Crowns

    15/26

    brighter feel compared to some of the gloomier rooms. Aarya stopped to examine it before turning to

    Jave.

    Now what? She asked.

    Why are you asking me? Jave returned.Well, this was your idea. So what do you say we do now? Jave stopped to think. Honestly speaking, he

    hadn't planned this thing out very well. He never even really thought he'd find the place, and if he did, it

    would take more time. Had it not been for Aarya he'd probably still be wandering the desert, or worse,dead.

    How about we just look around? I mean, we don't have to find it right away. He suggested. Aarya

    shrugged.Sounds good to me. With that said, they took off deeper into the castle.

    Jave stretched his muscles and lied back on the decaying pillows. Today had definitely been a long day;he and Aarya had covered dozens of rooms and Jave was sure that they had yet to even see the castle. The

    halls were so intricate that it didn't take them long to get lost, until eventually they found a large room to

    rest in. They had a small fire going in the fire place and we both propped up against some of the old

    pillows they had found.Fun day, eh? Aarya said as she pulled her blanket over her. Jave chuckled.

    Ya, exploring old soggy rooms all day and getting lost within a few minutes. Fun.

    Hey, I never said we were lost. I just said that it wouldn't be easy finding our way back. She joked. Heshook his his head.

    There was several minutes of silence before Jave got up the guts to say something.

    Aarya?Yes?

    How did we find the castle so fast? Aarya gave him an unreadable look, before turning over and pulling

    out the guide book.

    This, of course. She said like it was the most obvious thing in the world.But how did you get that? How come no one else has one?

    You ask too many questions. Aarya chuckled, but Jave wasn't deterred.

    Knowing that he wasn't going to get a straight answer, Jave let the topic drop, but regardless itstill sat at the back of his mind.

    So...? He said.

    So what? Aarya asked.So how about that story? Aarya cracked a smile. You had to see that coming.

    Fine. Where was I?

    Something about tragedy striking. Jave said.Oh, yes! Okay, so the boy made a deal with the angel, blah blah blah, and things were going perfectly.

    Then comes the tragic part. While the boy was away, his parents died. They were killed by a jealous

    family who immediately took care of them after the boy left. But he didn't realize this, at least not right

    away. Things were going well in the castle, though he had yet to find the crown, but supplies wererunning low. So he ventured into town promising to return as soon as possible. A message had been sent

    to nearly every desert village in hopes of the boy finding it, and sure enough, he did. He was shocked at

    the news, but was even more devastated at what it meant. With his parents dead there was no one left tolead the family. If he didn't return soon they risked falling from nobility. But since he hadn't found the

    crown this meant that the only way to save his family was to marry the vicious woman he had been

    betrothed to. Of course, this caused an obvious dilemma. He stilled loved Mihika, and knew she would bebrokenhearted if he married another woman. So he was left with a choice: stay with Mihika and forever

    lose his nobility or return home to save his family by marrying a terrible woman.

    So what did he do?

  • 7/31/2019 Rusting Crowns

    16/26

    Sadly, despite the promises he made to Mihika, greed still won out. Instead of heading back to the castle,

    he took off back for home in the middle east. When he didn't show up Mihika grew worried and began

    searching for him everywhere, concerned that something may have happened to him. Back home, he

    reclaimed his title and married his 'fiancee'. Though he was upset over what happened with Mihika, hedidn't dwell on it, figuring she wouldn't find out about what happened, and even if she did, there was

    nothing she could do about it. He was wrong.

    Then what? Jave asked eagerly. Aarya shrugged.I'll tell you more tomorrow. For now let's call it a day. She turned over and closed her eyes.

    Jave sighed. Why did she always feel the need to leave off at the best parts?

    He turned over and pretended to not care. But the story still stuck with him. He was in the samecastle the story supposedly takes place, with the same mission the boy had. He had been in this castle for

    months and never found the crown, so what chance did Jave have? Then again, he never thought he'd find

    the castle, but look where he was. Maybe he would get lucky. Or maybe, like the boy, his story was aboutto take a tragic turn.

    Day 5

    A sharp jab to the stomach catapulted Jave awake. Aarya was standing over him with her usual smirk, andit took him a second to recollect himself. He stretched his limbs and stood to attention. Though the whole

    thing had seemed like a dream, but sure enough, he was still inside the castle.

    Ready? Aarya asked with an unnaturally cheery demeanor.Ready for what?

    To explore the castle. What else are we going to do? She elbowed him and motioned for him to follow.

    Whatever you say. Jave said, following her out the door. Before he left, he quickly dashed back to hisbag and pulled out a hand full of marbles. Aarya gave him a quizzical look.

    What are those for? She asked. He didn't respond, instead walking into the hall with her and setting one

    down by the door.

    So we don't get lost. He said, setting one down as they passed another door. Aarya shrugged.They continued down the twisting halls, passing rooms of all sizes zooming by and tables covered

    in jewels unlike anything Jave had seen before. He was tempted to take some, but thought better of it.

    Anyways, if they got stuck in the desert, it would only way him down. Unlike before, Jave was leadingthem this time, and very little progress was being made. Though they found what was probably the

    servants quarters and even the king's room, there was no sign of where the crown might be.

    Jave was getting frustrated. He had passed the same room three times now. He was literally goingin a circle. On impulse, he quickly changed direction, forcing through the nearest door. To his surprise,

    the first thing that met his eyes was the sun.

    Back in it's day, the court must have been pretty nice. Tall trees, fresh grass attended by servants,small benches to lounge on. But not anymore. The elements had taken their toll and now much of the

    foliage was dead and the furniture was rotting. Jave strolled into the center of the court, hoping to get a

    better view. Aarya followed, plopping down on a decaying bench.

    See anything interesting? She asked.Surprisingly, he did. Though it was difficult to see, he could make out many of the castle's taller

    towers and the windows of rooms that peered into the yard. The castle looked much more comforting

    from this angle, less fortified and more homelike. He didn't want to stay in the court too much longer, asthe heat was getting to him, so he searched for a good place to explore. Then he spotted it.

    How about there? Jave asked, pointing to one of the castle's tallest towers. It was built differently than

    the rest, with large windows at the very top. Aarya turned her head to get a look. Instead of responding,she just smirked.

    Now, getting to the tower was no easy task. Jave abandoned his marbles, both literally and

    figuratively, heading directly east towards the tower. The halls didn't seem as haunting now that he had a

  • 7/31/2019 Rusting Crowns

    17/26

    mission. Given, it would probably be for moot, but it was better than nothing.

    After what felt like hours of navigating they reached what appeared to be the towers main door.

    Jave forced it open and was met with a large spiraling staircase. He looked back at Aarya for reassurance.

    She nodded. He stepped forward and began climbing the stairs, Aarya right on his heels.It seemed simple enough. They kept going and going, reaching higher and higher, until it

    just...stopped. No, they weren't at the top yet, but Jave could see the sun peaking in through the large

    window. But before they were high enough to reach the top, the staircase just stopped.What the...? Jave wasn't sure what to do now.

    Aarya elbowed him, pointing to a thick rope that hung not to far from them. Something about it

    was odd. It looked newer than most of the castle's objects, not nearly as decayed. Like someone, not toolong ago, had been where they were now.

    Come on. Aarya said, pulling herself up and crawling into the top floor of the tower. Jave followed.

    Wow. He mumbled.He had definitely chosen right. The tower was tall and allowed for a view of not only the entire

    castle but also the surrounding desert. From here he could see the remnants of times passed scattered

    across the desert. He could imagine the small city that once surrounded this mighty castle, only to be

    blown away by centuries of dust storms.Aarya smiled. Pretty nice, huh? Jave nodded.

    He turned his attention to the castle, scanning it's perimeters for anything he might not have

    noticed before. Something to the very left of the tower caught his eye. It was a large open-roof room,with little to no furniture inside, save for...wait, what was that? Jave leaned in closer, as if that would

    actually help. He could make out a rustled blanket and what appeared to be a man-made fire pit.

    Belongings were scattered here and there, as if someone had taken their traveling bag and just dumped it'scontents. A chill crawled up Jave's spine.

    The angel had watched the boy from a high tower, keeping tabs on him day and night. This tower

    was the only one with a clear view of the room, and judging from it's contents someone had recently been

    here. Jave flashed Aarya a concerned look. She didn't notice, instead distracted by the view. Now that hethought about it, he never had asked where she heard the legend.

    Without realizing it, Jave had reached into his pocket and pulled out the ring. I love you, Mihika.

    ~ Yaquib. With each day, this little piece of gold bothered him more. One name was that of the angel fromAarya's tale, the other was his father's. But surely it had to be a coincidence? Wouldn't his father had told

    him about something like that? No, he was just being paranoid. Jave slipped the ring back into his pocket

    and forced it off his mind.So where now, hot shot? Aarya asked. If she noticed how bothered he was, she didn't say anything.

    Over there. Jave pointed to the roofless room to their left. Aarya's expression was unreadable for a

    moment, but she quickly recovered.Jave jumped down from the tower and landed gracefully on the staircase. Turning around, he held

    out his arms for Arya. She quirked an eyebrow.

    What? He asked.

    No touching, remember? She responded.Oh. He retracted his arms and in one leap she was next to him.

    You lead the way. She said.

    Jave marched down the staircase and out the large tower door. He turned left and continuedheading straight, hoping that would lead him straight to the room. The castle was large and the journey to

    the room was going to take longer than he hoped. But worst of all was Aarya's devious smirk. She knew

    something he didn't. He could feel it.

    After another terrible hour of navigating the halls the guy who designed this place had a sick sense of

    humor they finally reached the large roofless room. Jave slipped through the door and slowly

  • 7/31/2019 Rusting Crowns

    18/26

    approached one of the scattered camp pieces.

    Everything of importance was here. Blanket, pillows, bag, clothes, even containers of food. Aarya

    sat down in the corner and watched Jave dig through the contents of the camp. She seemed oddly

    indifferent, which was saying something for her. Jave sat down on the blanket and looked around forclues. While it was fishy, there was nothing to confirm that the boy from the legend had been the one to

    set this up.

    Having fun? Aarya asked. Jave sighed and sat down next to her.How long do you think it will take? He said after a moment of silence.

    How long what will take?

    Finding the crown. He said. Aarya thought about this.Who knows. Maybe a few days, maybe a few months. It's hard to tell.

    Jave thought about what to say next. Finally, he forced the words out.

    Where did you hear that legend? He blurted out. Aarya gave him an odd look that he couldn't pin down.Why do you want to know?

    Why wouldn't I? Jave said. Aarya turned and stared at the wall.

    It depends, I guess.

    Depends on what? She shrugged. Jave rubbed his eyes. This was not going to be easy.Okay, if you can't tell me where you heard it, can you at least tell me what happens next? Jave finally

    asked. Aarya gave a crooked smile. To his surprise, it seemed sincere.

    Her eyes turned up to the sky, where the sun was reaching lower over the horizon. They still hadseveral hours of daylight, but Jave knew it would pass quickly. From what he had seen in the tower they

    had only covered a small portion of the castle. Aarya sighed and stood up.

    Let's get back to camp. She said, not waiting for his response as she marched out the door. Jave gaveone last look at the scattered scene before following.

    Jave collapsed on the old pillows. Today had been a long day and he knew tomorrow would be no

    different. Aarya sat down next to him, her demeanor back to it's usual playful self.So how about that story? Jave asked.

    I don't like the way you said that.

    And how was I supposed to say it?Please, Aarya, tell me the story. She mocked.

    Fine. Oh pretty please, tell me the story. He repeated in a high voice. She chuckled and leaned into the

    pillows.Okay. So, the boy goes home to marry the terrible woman, and the angel is left back at the castle all

    alone. She grows worried, he doesn't care, etc. So in her worry the angel goes out looking for the boy. For

    a while, her search is useless, until she gets the brilliant idea to check his home. Sure enough, there hewas, with his wife and fancy castle. You can guess how she took the news.

    Uh oh.

    Yep. So she confronts him one day out in the court yard, demanding an explanation for all this. He tries

    to explain it in the best way possible, but there's nothing he can do. Now, you remember their deal, right?He gets to stay with her forever, on the condition he never betray her. He thought he was innocent, but

    Mihika saw it otherwise. She threatened to take his soul for breaking their contract. He pleaded with her,

    but to no avail. It looked like karma was finally there to bite him. But his luck wasn't out yet.What do you mean?

    You see, there was a second angel. Now, she was much more corrupt than Mihika, and seeing the boy's

    desperation she made him an offer. She would override his contract with Mihika, allowing him to keephis immortality, in exchange for the soul of his closest relative. The only condition was that they had to

    come willingly, and if they didn't, it would cost the boy his soul. He saw a golden opportunity and took it.

    His only remaining relative was his wife, and getting rid of her would just make everything perfect. Not

  • 7/31/2019 Rusting Crowns

    19/26

    only was he immortal, but he had an excuse to get rid of her. So the deal was set. After hearing about this

    Mihika was heartbroken and ran away. But before she did, she visited the boy one last time. He refused to

    see her out of fear, which was horrible mistake on his part, because he never could have imagined what

    showed up on his doorstep that night.Now let me guess. Your going to leave off here? Jave asked. It was almost becoming predictable.

    Sure, why not. She leaned back and closed her eyes, and he mimicked.

    If it makes you feel any better, there's only one part left before it's over. She murmured. Before Javecould respond, she was fast asleep.

    Why did that bother him so much? It was just a story. But something wasn't right. Things just

    didn't add up. Why was Aarya telling him this story, anyways? An ominous chill crept over him, keepinghim from falling asleep. Jave stood and made way for the door. It was almost like he had lost control of

    his body, acting on instinct.

    He crept down the halls, navigating them with surprising ease. Before he could guess where hisfeet were taking him, he was back in the large roofless room, where the stars overhead now shined bright.

    He tip toed to the center of the room and examined it. What was that feeling? It looked no different than

    earlier, but something about this place wasn't right. Jave sat down on the blanket and turned his head

    towards the tower where he had first spotted the room. It was almost impossible to believe his eyes.Perched on the roof at the edge of the room was an angel. He shook his head, but the image didn't

    disappear. She was close enough to make out the basic features, but the dark night hid many of her

    details. Her wings were long and pitch black, much like that of the bird he had seen in the desert all thosenights ago. She didn't say anything, instead just staring at him, almost as if she couldn't believe she was

    seeing him.

    He was speechless. This was impossible. He had to be delusional, or dreaming. He shifted hisposition just the slightest, but she didn't move a muscle. He focused in on her features. She had mocha

    skin similar to his, with soft features and beautiful green eyes. Beautiful green eyes. Just like his. Jave

    shook his head again. Nope, she was still there. Jave opened his mouth, prepared to say anything to break

    the silence. She put a finger to her lips and shhh-ed him.The angel sighed and stood up, giving him an expression of love and pity. She stretched out her

    magnificent wings, which were nearly twice her body length, but instead of approaching him she

    crouched, ready to take off. He wanted to say something, but was speechless. The angel pointed to him.No, not to him, to his pocket. Jave reached in and pulled out the ring.I love you, Mihika. ~ Yaquib. He

    read the inscription and turned to the angel with a confused expression. But she was gone.

    Jave dropped the ring and raced down the halls, anxious to get back to Aarya. This was anightmare. The castle and it's presence finally getting to him. He crashed back into his room, where

    Aarya still lay fast asleep. He closed the door gently behind him and lied down on the pillows. This was

    just a dream. He would wake up in the morning, and things would be back to normal. He just needed torelax.

    Morning couldn't come quick enough.

    Day 6Jave woke up early that day, though as expected the sun was still high into the sky by this time. The

    dream from last night was still fresh on his mind, but he forced it off. He couldn't let every little

    nightmare get to him. Aarya heard his stirring and slowly came around, stretching out her arms andgiving him her usual smile.

    So what are we doing today? She asked. Jave leaned back and shrugged.

    Nothing.What do you mean nothing?

    I mean nothing. I've spent the last week traveling and working. Now I just want to relax. He put his

    hands behind his head and closed his eyes.

  • 7/31/2019 Rusting Crowns

    20/26

    Fine. I don't know about you, but I refuse to waste a day sitting around. Anyways, I thought you wanted

    to get back home as soon as possible? Aarya teased.

    Jave sighed. Why couldn't he trust her? She had helped him so much over these past few days,

    and seeing as they were probably going to be stuck in this place for a long time he might as well tell her.He sat up and turned to Aarya.

    Listen, there's something I've got to tell you.

    She seemed curious. What?You know how I told you about how I wound up here? About being married off to Suri and being

    framed by my mom for burning the book?

    Ya, I remember.Well, I left something out. He said. Aarya smiled and leaned in.

    You see, after I realized I had been framed, I ran away to one of the local taverns. But something

    happened there. You see, ever since I was little, I had this servant named Shasta. She's been like a motherto me, since my real...wait, let's get back to the point. So she was in the tavern that night, and I took a seat

    beside her. She told me how she pleaded with them that I wasn't guilty, and I believed her. That night had

    been pretty bad and I could tell she had something on her mind. She had also realized that my mom had

    framed me, but there was something else she needed to say. You see, Shasta had known my father sinceshe was a girl. She watched him marry Nafeesa and watched me grow into a man. But she also knew my

    father's darkest secrets because of this, and that night she decided to tell me one of his biggest ones.

    What?I'm an illegitimate child. Apparently I had been left in my father's care by a woman he was having an

    affair with, and he barely convinced Nafeesa, my 'mom', to keep me. It definitely explained why she

    hated me so much.So what did you do?

    I didn't know what to do. I confronted my father that night, demanding to know who my real mother

    was. He wouldn't tell me anything except that he met her while he was traveling in the Sahara. I was so

    upset at everything that had happened, and decided that I wanted to find out more about my real mom. SoI made up a story about King Ba'al's crown and wound up here. Jave sighed. It felt good to finally get

    that off his chest.

    Hm. Interesting story. Aarya smiled.So how about you? How did you wind up in the Sahara? Jave asked.

    It doesn't matter.

    Why not?It just doesn't. She said. Jave sighed. She could be difficult sometimes.

    What about that person you're looking for?

    Aarya balked. I'm surprised you still remember that. But as for the person I'm looking for...What?

    She smiled. I don't think it's a problem anymore. Of course. What kind of response was he expecting?

    Aarya stood up without another word and marched out the door. Jave reluctantly rose from his

    bed of pillows and followed her. There was still much of the castle left to explore, and it looked like hewasn't going to get any luck any time soon. So much for relaxing.

    They had probably gone in circles at least a dozen times now, but today was still working out to be muchmore interesting than the last. They had found several rooms full of prized jewels, and despite how nice

    they looked they knew they couldn't take any. So they got another idea. Every time they found something

    fragile they'd toss it and most of the time break it, and seeing as no one was here to scold them, it wasactually kind of fun. Jave felt like a child again, using odd objects to satisfy his boredom.

    The day was probably more than halfway over when they reached the roofless room again. It

    looked as it usually did, but Jave still felt chills creep up his spine at the sight of it. Aarya stepped

  • 7/31/2019 Rusting Crowns

    21/26

    forward and lied down on the pillows, and Jave was reluctant to follow.

    Something bothering you? Aarya asked. Jave didn't say anything.

    Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted something. The sun reflected off of it and gave it a

    piercing shine that was hard to miss. Jave walked forward and examined the object closely. The glaremade it hard to see, so Jave reached out and picked up the burning piece of metal, bringing it up to his

    eyes. Jave couldn't believe it. It was the ring.

    He dropped it on the ground and stumbled back. No, no, that couldn't be right. That had just beena dream. Jave sunk against the wall and cradled his head. If he thought his world was a mess, then now it

    was officially falling apart.

    Hey, you alright? Aarya asked, crouching down next to him. He just curled up further.She reached down and picked up the fallen ring. She read the inscription and smiled.

    Oh, I see you took this with us. I hope it's the only thing you took from my house? Aarya tossed the

    ring behind her and took a seat next to him.What? Not a jewelry person? She joked. Once again, he didn't say anything.

    Come on? Is there anything I can do? She pleaded. Jave raised his head just the slightest.

    Can you tell me how the story ends? He asked. Unlike the many other times he asked her, he had a

    different reason for wanting to know.Sure. She smiled.

    So, the boy made a deal with a second angel and got to keep his soul. Mihika was heartbroken and

    decided to visit him one last time before she disappeared. Instead of saying goodbye, there wassomething she wanted to give him, something important.

    A baby? Jave finished. Aarya reeled back.

    How did you know that?Just keep going.

    Okay. Yes, you're right, a baby. He refused to see her and because of this she left the baby in his room,

    for it to be wonderfully found by his wife. It only took one look at the child to know it was his. Mihika

    had been pregnant over the time he disappeared to marry his wife, and now that the baby was here shehad no choice but to leave it in his possession.

    Jave was silent, his head buried in his arms.

    Are you sure you're alright? She asked. He didn't say anything, so she continued.He managed to convince his wife to keep the child. But nothing went without consequences. Once again

    he didn't think through his contract with an angel and now he was going to pay the price. The contract

    had said that the angel would receive the soul of his closest relative, but only if they came willing. He hadthought that meant his wife, but that was before he realized that he had a son. Now he was going to pay

    dearly for it.

    Jave sighed and stood up. He didn't even turn to look at Aarya as he walked out the door anddown the halls. Aarya followed on his heels and before she knew it they were back at camp. Jave lied

    back on the pillows, a blank look in his eyes.

    Something the matter? Aarya asked, getting unnaturally close to his face.

    Don't you see it?See what?

    The legend. I don't know why I didn't realize it before. I'm that child, Aarya. The boy from the tale is my

    father. It explains everything. The ring, who my mom is, why my dad was in the Sahara, everything.Are you sure? I thought you didn't believe in angels.

    I didn't. But last night... He trailed off. His whole world had been turned upside down. He didn't know

    what to do.Know what you need? A good night's rest. The stress must be getting to you. Aarya stood up and

    grabbed a blanket.

    Wait! Wait, just wait. I want to know how the story ends. Please. He held out his hand to stop her. She

  • 7/31/2019 Rusting Crowns

    22/26

  • 7/31/2019 Rusting Crowns

    23/26

    and the same thing happened. It was a line: several marbles spread out like a trail. A trail someone wanted

    him to follow.

    He slowly walked down the halls, keeping close tabs on the marbles as they lead him back down

    the halls towards what he recognized to be the front of the castle, the same place they had first entered.Finally, they led him all the way out to the grand front door, which was propped open just the slightest.

    The marbles stopped right at the door's crack. Jave yanked it open and to his surprise, the trail continued.

    Instead of marbles it looked like someone had dragged their feet in the sand. He followed it as itlead him farther from the castle and into the surrounding ruins.

    How long was this going to be? The castle got smaller and smaller behind him as he continued to

    follow the streaks of disrupted sand. After following it for several minutes it finally stopped, but not at ahouse or even an artifact, it just...stopped. He walked around several times, as there was something he

    was missing. He must be going insane. There was nothing here.

    He stopped. What was that sound? He walked forward and heard it again; the sound of footstepsatop wood. His footsteps. He looked down at his feet. He was standing on something. He banged his foot

    and could hear the vibrations of the wood, and after clearing it could make out the rotting floor. But it

    wasn't a floor...it was a roof.

    Jave stomped his feet, jumping up and down, hoping to get some leverage. After several momentsof heavy creaking, the wood gave out and sent him crashing into the room below.

    There was nothing very interesting about it. It was completely empty, a fact that was easy to see

    now that the roof had a gaping hole in it. Jave coughed as some of the sand whirled around him andfinally settled. He blinked a few times and gave the room a good look. Then he saw it.

    A door. Nothing amazing about it, just a regular stone door. He walked forward and gave it a

    closer look. It was blank save for three words:Do not enter. Had he had any common sense, he mighthave just walked away right then and there. But instead he stepped forward and pushed open the door just

    the slightest.

    He carefully slipped through and coughed as a cob web caught him. He brushed it off and stood

    by the wall as the door slowly crept shut.There were no decorations on the walls, no furniture, no antiques, nothing. But the room wasn't

    empty. At the very center sat a throne, beautiful and covered and dust, and on it sat a creature straight out

    of a nightmare. His skin was brown and parched, wrinkled like a prune and shriveled like a raisin. He wascovered in a thick fur robe and on his head sat a simple jeweled crown. A crown. The crown Jave had

    been looking for.

    Jave walked forward to get a better look. This had to be it. The crown of King Ba'al. And theman...wait. If that was the crown, that could only mean...

    Before Jave had time to figure it out, the mummies eyes cracked open. Jave jumped back so

    quickly his back slammed into the wall and brought up a cloud of dust. The mummies eyes followed hisevery move, but the body remained completely still. Given the way he looked, chances are he couldn't

    even move if he wanted to.

    Jave felt his heart pound in his ears. For a moment, he thought he was delusional. But why? If he

    could believe that his mother was an angel, then why couldn't he believe that Ba'al was still alive? Hestood up and forced the fear down his throat.

    The king didn't do anything, just watched him like a hungry old hawk. What was he supposed to

    do?Are you...? Jave could barely force the words out. This whole thing seemed so surreal.

    The king didn't need to say anything for Jave to know he was right. The recognition was right in

    his eyes.So this was it, then. He had really found King Ba'al and his crown. It was a wonder nobody found

    it; unlike the legend says, the crown was not inside he castle, but instead hidden out in the desert. People

    had probably found the castle before, but on not finding the crown were probably too ashamed to admit

  • 7/31/2019 Rusting Crowns

    24/26

    they were in the castle. It didn't matter anymore though. Because he had found it.

    Jave cautiously stepped forward until he was uncomfortably close to the king.

    Can I...? Jave motioned towards the crown. There was no way he was stealing from an immortal

    mummy.Once again, his eyes said it all. They were pleading, begging. Jave knew the answer. The king

    wanted to be set free.

    Jave slowly reached forward and gently lifted the crown from the king's head. It felt oddly light inhis hands. He stepped back and admired it.

    The king's eyes watched him anxiously, begging him to put it on. Jave looked it over closely

    before holding it over his head.What do you think you're doing? The sudden voice startled Jave so much that the crown fell to the

    floor with a little clink. His head whipped around the room, searching for Aarya.

    Come on, am I that hard to see? His head whipped back around to the throne. Sure enough, right aboveKing Ba'al's head was perched Aarya.

    Now he knew he was hallucinating. Aarya looked as she always did, save for one major

    difference. On her back were curled two giant black wings, just like the angel from the night before, and

    just like the bird he had seen before he first met her.Aarya...what...? He had never been at such a loss for words.

    Do I look that bad? She teased. He didn't know what to say. Shaking his head, he forced his words out.

    What's going on?You don't catch a hint, do you? Big black wings, angel? She smirked.

    How...?

    I don't know. Why were you born a human? No one really knows.But you were human...

    I never said I was human. Given, that doesn't mean I said I wasn't, but still, you get the point.

    Jave stumbled back and sunk against the wall.

    Wait, wait. This doesn't make any sense. Why are you an angel?I just said. I don't know. I was just born like that. You don't listen very well.

    Jave took a deep breath and forced his mind to straighten.

    So does that mean I was right? About my mom being an angel? I mean, if you exist...She just smirked.

    Wait, are you my mom?

    Aarya looked horrified.No, no! Definitely not. But I can tell you you've met her.

    Jave thought about the night before; about the angel with the pitying expression and green eyes

    like his. So that had been his mother. Would it have killed her to say something?That woman from the castle. He said.

    Bingo.

    Jave gave Aarya a closer look. Even though things just barely made sense now, one thing just

    didn't add up.Wait, if your an angel, then why were you with me? Why are you just revealing yourself now? Why did

    you tell me about my parents?

    Whoa! One question at a time! She joked. Jave did not look amused.Aarya gave him a compassionate look and hopped down from the throne. She crawled towards

    him the same way the bird from a week ago had, and with that Jave realized exactly who that bird had

    really been. She stopped in front of him and squatted, her large wings keeping her from being able to takea seat.

    Can you tell me anything? Jave pleaded. Aarya had been the only person he thought he could trust, and

    even now that was ruined.

  • 7/31/2019 Rusting Crowns

    25/26

    Alright. Ask away. She looked sincere.

    Why were you helping me? Jave wanted to ask a million others, but that seemed like a good start.

    I have a better idea. You can answer all your questions. Just think. If the boy is your father, and Mihika

    is your mother, then who's left?My mom, Nafeesa.

    And?

    He thought hard about this. The other angel.For a moment, the words just sat there, until it finally clicked. Aarya was that other angel.

    With that realization all the questions clicked into place. His father had made a deal with the angel

    Aarya that she would receive the soul his closest relative, meaning Jave. That's why she wasfollowing him. That's why she told him the story. She was explaining everything. But not everything

    made sense.