Aphelion Issue 242, Volume 23
August 2019
 
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Scimitar Moon

by J.G. Grimmer




Emrail Ibn Aziz glanced forlornly from the shimmering stars in the night sky and their promised warmth, to the glowing lights of the round city of Baghdad the Abbasid Caliphate of his Sultan Haroun al-Rashid; where the real warmth of a woman and a fire beckoned like a cruel harlot, offering then denying her services.

He and his men had been tracking a band of Banu Sasan at the behest of his Sultan; who for many nights have been physically assaulting and robbing the Sultan's friends. Once a poet, Ibn Aziz found his services were suddenly no longer appreciated by his patron. He turned rogue and now made a fine living through his other natural gifts, as spy and sahib ba 'j--killer.

He'd prepared camp; saw to the camels and the fire at which he was rubbing his smooth hands while his three cohorts Al bin-Shil, Hamad, and Abu el Jawb scouted ahead on foot. Hamad, the best tracker he'd ever known believed the Banu Sasan band to be close--very close. Even better, Ibn Aziz thought; a prolonged chase over the sands of this accursed wasteland would take him farther from the comforts of home, and possibly displease his Sultan who charged him with the apprehension of the brigands, as well as their swift and bloody end.

"Bring their heads to me," Ibn Aziz recalled his Sultan saying in all his perfumed finery surrounded by the comforts of his palace. "After all, an example must be made to discourage this kind of behavior."

Informant and eyewitness reports agreed that the band was made up of no more than four individuals--all very professional, in some cases polite yet having no scruples or hesitation in the use of brutality. Men after my own black heart, Ibn Aziz thought, his storm cloud gray eyes searching the darkness beyond the glow of his fire, hand on the hilt of his sword awaiting his companions' return. The exception of course being, he thought, that a man makes many more dinars in blood work than in thieving.

Or poetry.

The desert winds which at high sun shrieked across the blistered barren ground with a velocity that could scrape the beard from a man's face had abated with the darkness. Now all was still. His fingers tingled with the first nips of chill that would soon become icy bites penetrating to the bone. The desert was closed on all sides in the frozen grip of Shaitan. Ibn Aziz moved closer to the fire that despite a fire's appearance gave off all the warmth of a painting of a fire.

The camels huddled close together against the cold made indecent disgusting noises downwind of him; mere shadows now except where the feeble light of the fire managed to illuminate a patch of tawny hair, or reflected dully off black long lashed eyes. Ibn Aziz longed for a cup of his favorite mint tisane, while turning the plain copper and iron band round and around the small finger of his left hand. He wrapped the tail of his turban about his face until only his eyes were visible beneath his helmet.

The crescent moon hung low over the horizon. It was intensely bright, like a blade reflecting the sun, its sharp wickedly curved edge poised as if to disembowel the Earth itself. Emrail Ibn Aziz shivered--a combination of the hunger for battle, the cold and the unnaturally bright moon. One of the camels produced a series of noises that Ibn Aziz immediately recognized as an alert call. Then he heard them.

Hyenas.

Their unnerving cackling like that of a desert hermit mystic deranged by the crushing solitude emanated just beyond the firelight. Drawing his sword and commending his soul to the Prophet, Ibn Aziz stood ready.

Ready for silence.

The hyenas fell silent. The camels settled down, undisturbed, unconcerned as quickly as a maiden closing a shutter to discourage prying eyes. Ibn Aziz stood sword ready, dumbfounded yet still expecting an attack by snarling hyenas.

"This is how you greet your brothers?" Hamad asked, stepping into the fire glow, clutching by the hair the head of one of the Banu Sasan band which he casually swung like a pendulum at his side. "Sword ready?"

"I should feel insulted," said Al bin-Shil, also carrying a severed head, "however with the reward surely awaiting us for the heads of these bandits I shall let it pass--for now."

"Not I," proclaimed Abu el Jawb sarcastically, his hands holding two heads. "For behold we have done all the work while our leader sits with the camels." he said, smiling broadly.

Emrail Ibn Aziz attempted to maintain a stern expression, but could not. "All the work? From where I'm standing, it is obvious the three of you took them by surprise. Not one of you has a scratch," he said, returning his sword to the baldric strapped about his waist.

The three regarded the severed heads in their hands, each other, and then Ibn Aziz. "It is true my lord," Hamad admitted sheepishly. "We came upon their camp..."

"And found..." Al bin-Shil said, then turned to his companion.

"The bandits sleeping," Abu el Jawb said taking up the story, then burst out in equal measure laughter and spittle. "The numbskulls did not even post a guard!" he exclaimed, tears in his eyes. All started laughing.

"Come let us warm ourselves by the fire," Ibn Aziz said jovially. "Regale me with the account of your 'Raid on the Camp of the Sleeping Dunces' before we return home."

The scimitar moon hovered just above and behind the heads of the three "raiders," its sun-like brightness sharply silhouetting their forms against the flickering firelight, casting strange shadows. Ibn Aziz felt strangely lulled, then suddenly profoundly sleepy. What appeared to be sooty black smoke as from an oil lamp puffed up intermittently from the shoulders of the three men facing him. Each face in turn warped and distorted grotesquely as they engaged in a conversation Ibn Aziz could not make out, although he thought he heard the hyenas again.

Of course, that was absurd.

Hamad in the center silenced Al bin-Shil and Abu el Jawb with a decidedly hyena-like snarl. "Enough sisters, I am the eldest and I have decided!" he said, decidedly unlike Hamad, and then turned his bald head and wild black bearded face to stare at Ibn Aziz. "This one is mine!" His eyes, the color of lapis lazuli, which had overcome the inhibitions of many women, shimmered as he smiled.

Until they began to melt.

The whites ran down his cheeks in milky rivulets followed by the rest revealing black orbs that reflected the firelight. Then Hamad's skin began to droop like pulled taffy until it hit the sand with wet sounds, there to mingle with clumps of beard.

Likewise the faces of Al bin-Shil and Abu el Jawb dissolved away in the same manner. Their skin hitting the sand sounded like roasting fat on a spit, until they not only cackled like hyenas, they took their form, and then darted off like shadows. The startled, panicked bellowing and bleating of the camels was soon replaced by sounds of ripping--chewing.

Mesmerized by the black eyes flecked with orange fire-glow, the terrible sounds of what was befalling the camels seemed far away; much like a forgotten memory triggered by an aroma, or color, or landmark. Emrail Ibn Aziz felt embraced in the depthless, lightless void. Enveloped--cared for.

Content.

The face around those obsidian eyes no longer Hamad's was obscured by oily black smoke which dissipated slowly, like veils taken away one by one to reveal a beautiful woman. She stood up and casually kicked aside the body-less head. "Now my sweet, let's have a look at you." She said and proceeded to walk into and through the fire which rippled slightly, but did not affect her in any way.

How often does one find a beautiful woman out in the middle of the desert, let alone one who sounds like a hyena and walks through fire without injury? The voice of his better judgment cried out softly, somehow penetrating the abyssal depths he found himself in. Although the words made sense Emrail Ibn Aziz found himself unable to move.

The woman clad just below bare shoulders in the puffy black smoke gave tantalizing glimpses at the form beneath knelt before him, her face inches away. Delicate fingers with long dangerously sharp nails worked nimbly to remove the turban tail he'd wrapped around his face. As her fingers brushed his iron-bronze helmet there was a sharp intake of breath followed by a cobra-like hiss of pain. She looked at him and smiled, her perfect ruby-red lips parting to reveal horrible bloodstained arrowhead teeth, studded here and there with bits of gore.

He shivered as she caressed his smooth cheek with her fingernail, and then carefully removed his helmet in a flash of her talons, exposing his bald head. Sitting back the woman cooed. Completely hairless from birth Ibn Aziz had always thought himself apart from a world that equated masculinity and virility with flowing locks and cascading beards.

The woman's gaze crawled over him like a dozen spiders. "You will do nicely," she said still cooing, "husband." Her black eyes glittering like onyx.

"Oooh he is pretty, sister." The poser of Al bin-Shil said suddenly on his left, her chin wet with blood. Casually she tossed a camel eye in the air than caught it as if it were a coin.

"Pretty, yes," the third sister imposter of Abu el Jawb whispered in Aziz's right ear, startling him. "Presentation is important, but I am more interested in how good he tastes." The camel eye sailed by him in a graceful arc landing squarely in the third sister's mouth, which closed around it with a pop.

Free of the helmet and its' self imposed constraints, Aziz's mind cleared, no longer subject to the hypnotic thrall of the ghul; blissfully unaware of the change in their situation--Soon, ignorant creatures, he thought, the fire inside him building. Even though his every move was noted none of them saw him surreptitiously remove the last impediment--his ring, so quick was he.

The third sister who was lightly raking his scalp with her long fingernails was the first to notice. Her pitch-colored eyes widened in alarm, but as her mouth opened to alert the others, a thin line raced across her neck. The same line appeared on the neck of the second sister--both sat mute as if frozen until their heads rolled at his feet.

The eldest sister tried to snarl at him, but only a feeble fleeting gurgle escaped as he held the tip of his scimitar to her throat. The blade reflected the intense light of the moon into her face casting away the glamour magic and revealing her true hideous nature, the mottled gray face of a corpse come to life; gaping hole in place of a nose, hollowed cheeks, mostly bald except for a few strands of spider-web-like hair, prominent well-used teeth, and those soul suffocating black eyes--the skeletal body.

"I have been charged by the Lord of the Kaf, Ruler of the Realm of the Emerald Mountains to end your reign of terror in this realm." Aziz said.

"You are Aziz, the One who Walks Between Both Worlds--the High Executioner of the Lord of the Kaf." The ghula said, her voice trembling. "But what wrong have we done, you would kill us for acting as our nature dictates?"

"You and your sisters have become wild, feral--threatening the Kaf Lord's designs for the Human Realm." Aziz replied, and then removed her head with the slightest effort. He placed the heads of the Banu Sasan band on pikes for the Sultan discharging his duty to the Humans and then carried the heads of the ghula like a shadow, bound for the Realm of the Emerald Mountains.

Longing to return home.


THE END


2015 J.G. Grimmer

Bio: Mr. Grimmer has previously appeared in Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine.

E-mail: J.G. Grimmer

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