The City of Brass

Nahri has never believed in magic. Certainly, she has power; on the streets of eighteenth-century Cairo, she’s a con woman of unsurpassed talent. But she knows better than anyone that the trades she uses to get by—palm readings, zars, and a mysterious gift for healing—are all tricks, both the means to the delightful end of swindling Ottoman nobles and a reliable way to survive.

But when Nahri accidentally summons Dara, an equally sly, darkly mysterious djinn warrior, to her side during one of her cons, she’s forced to reconsider her beliefs. For Dara tells Nahri an extraordinary tale: across hot, windswept sands teeming with creatures of fire and rivers where the mythical marid sleep, past ruins of once-magnificent human metropolises and mountains where the circling birds of prey are more than what they seem, lies Daevabad, the legendary city of brass—a city to which Nahri is irrevocably bound.

In Daevabad, within gilded brass walls laced with enchantments and behind the six gates of the six djinn tribes, old resentments run deep. And when Nahri decides to enter this world, her arrival threatens to ignite a war that has been simmering for centuries.

The City of Brass, the debut novel from S. A. Chakraborty, is available November 14th from Harper Voyager. Read an excerpt below, and continue with a free download of chapters 1-3 here.

 

 

ALI

“You’re going easy on me.”

Ali glanced across the training-room floor. “What?”

Jamshid e-Pramukh gave him a wry smile. “I’ve seen you spar with a zulfiqar before—you’re going easy on me.”

Ali’s gaze ran down the other man’s attire. Jamshid was dressed in the same sparring uniform as Ali, bleached white to highlight every strike of the fiery sword, but while Ali’s clothes were untouched, the Daeva guard’s uniform was scorched and covered in charcoal smudges. His lip was bleeding and his right cheek swollen from one of the times Ali had sent him crashing to the floor.

Ali raised an eyebrow. “You have an interesting idea of easy.”

“Nah,” Jamshid said in Divasti. Like his father, he retained a slight accent when speaking Djinnistani, a hint of the years they’d spent in outer Daevastana. “I should be in far worse shape. Little burning pieces of Jamshid e-Pramukh all over the floor.”

Ali sighed. “I don’t like fighting a foreigner with a zulfiqar,” he confessed. “Even if we’re just using training blades. It doesn’t feel fair. And Muntadhir won’t be happy if he returns to Daevabad to find his closest friend in little burning pieces.”

Jamshid shrugged. “He’ll know to blame me. I’ve been asking him for years to find a zulfiqari willing to train me.”

Ali frowned. “But why? You’re excellent with a broadsword, even better with a bow. Why learn to use a weapon you can never properly wield?”

“A blade is a blade. I might not be able to summon its poisoned flames like a Geziri man, but if I fight alongside your tribesmen, it stands to reason I should have some familiarity with their weapons.” Jamshid shrugged. “At least enough not to jump away every time they burst into flames.”

“I’m not sure that’s an instinct you should suppress.”

Jamshid laughed. “Fair enough.” He raised his blade. “Shall we continue?”

Ali shrugged. “If you insist.” He swept his zulfiqar through the air. Flames burst between his fingers and licked up the copper blade as he willed them, scorching the forked tip and activating the deadly poisons that coated its sharp edge. Or would have, if the weapon were real. The blade he held had been stripped of its poisons for training purposes, and Ali could smell the difference in the air. Most men couldn’t, but then again most men hadn’t obsessively practiced with the weapon since they were seven.

Jamshid charged forward, and Ali easily ducked, landing a blow on the Daeva’s collar before spinning off his own momentum.

Jamshid whirled to face Ali, trying to block his next parry. “It doesn’t help that you move like a damn hummingbird,” he complained good-naturedly. “Are you sure you aren’t half peri?”

Ali couldn’t help but smile. Strangely enough, he’d been enjoying his time with Jamshid. There was something easy about his demeanor; he behaved as though they were equals—showing neither the subservience most djinn did around a Qahtani prince nor the Daeva tribe’s typical snobbery. It was refreshing—no wonder Muntadhir kept him so close. It was hard to even believe he was Kaveh’s son. He was nothing like the prickly grand wazir.

“Keep your weapon higher,” Ali advised. “The zulfiqar isn’t like most swords; it’s less a thrusting and jabbing motion, more quick slashes and side strikes. Remember the blade is typically poisoned; you only need to inflict a minor injury.” He swung his zulfiqar around his head, the flames soared, and Jamshid veered back as expected. Ali took advantage of the distraction to duck, aiming another blow at his hips.

Jamshid leaped back with a frustrated snort, and Ali easily cornered him against the opposing wall. “How many times would you have killed me by now?” Jamshid asked. “Twenty? Thirty?”

More. A real zulfiqar was one of the deadliest weapons in the world. “Not more than a dozen,” Ali lied.

They continued sparring. Jamshid wasn’t improving much, but Ali was impressed by his grit. The visibly exhausted Daeva man was covered in ash and blood but refused a break.

Ali had his blade at Jamshid’s throat for the third time and was about to insist they stop when the sound of voices drew his attention. He glanced up as Kaveh e-Pramukh, clearly in friendly conversation with someone behind him, stepped into the training room.

The grand wazir froze. His eyes locked on the zulfiqar at his son’s throat, and Ali heard him make a small, strangled noise. “Jamshid?”

Ali immediately lowered his weapon, and Jamshid spun around. “Baba?” He sounded surprised. “What are you doing here?”

“Nothing,” Kaveh said quickly. He stepped back, oddly enough looking more anxious than before as he tried to pull the door shut. “Forgive me. I didn’t—”

The door pushed past his hand, and Darayavahoush e-Afshin strolled into the room.

He entered like it was his own tent, his hands clasped behind his back, and stopped when he noticed them. “Sahzadeh Alizayd,” he greeted Ali calmly in Divasti.

Ali was not calm, he was speechless. He blinked, half expecting to see another man in the Afshin’s place. What in God’s name was Darayavahoush doing here? He was supposed to be in Babili with Muntadhir, far away on the other side of Daevastana!

The Afshin studied the room like a general surveying a battlefield; his green eyes scanned the wall of weapons and swept over the various dummies, targets, and other miscellany cluttering the floor. He glanced back at Ali. “Naeda pouru mejnoas.”

What? “ I… I don’t speak Divasti,” Ali stammered out.

Darayavahoush tilted his head, his eyes brightening with surprise. “You don’t speak the language of the city you rule?” he asked in heavily accented Djinnistani. He turned to Kaveh and jerked a thumb in Ali’s direction, looking amused. “Spa snasatiy nu hyat vaken gezr?”

Jamshid went pale, and Kaveh hurried between Ali and Darayavahoush, open fear on his face. “Forgive our intrusion, Prince Alizayd. I didn’t realize you were the one training Jamshid.” He placed his hand on Darayavahoush’s wrist. “Come, Afshin, we should be leaving.”

Darayavahoush shook free. “Nonsense. That would be rude.” The Afshin wore a sleeveless tunic that revealed the black tattoo swirling around his arm. That he didn’t cover it said a great deal, but perhaps Ali shouldn’t be surprised—the Afshin had been an accomplished murderer long before he had been enslaved by the ifrit.

Ali watched as he ran a hand along the cracked marble lattice lining the windows and gazed at the multicolored paint chips clinging to the ancient stone walls. “Your people have not maintained our palace very well,” he remarked.

Our palace? Ali’s mouth dropped open, and he gave Kaveh an incredulous glance, but the grand wazir just lifted his shoulders, looking helpless.

“What are you doing here, Afshin?” Ali snapped. “Your expedition was not due back for weeks.”

“I left.” Darayavahoush said simply. “I was eager to return to my lady’s service, and your brother seemed perfectly capable of managing without me.”

“And Emir Muntadhir agreed?”

“I did not ask.” Darayavahoush grinned at Kaveh. “And now here I am, getting a rather informative tour of my old home.”

“The Afshin wished to see the Banu Nahida,” Kaveh said, carefully meeting Ali’s gaze. “I told him that unfortunately her time is occupied with training. And indeed, on that note, Afshin, I fear we must leave. I am due to meet—”

“You should go,” Darayavahoush interrupted. “I can find my way out. I defended the palace for years—I know it like the back of my hand.” He let the words lie for a moment and then turned his attention to Jamshid. His gaze lingered on the young Daeva’s wounds. “You were the one who stopped the riot, yes?”

Jamshid looked positively awed that the Afshin was speaking to him. “I… uh… yes. But I was just—”

“You are an excellent shot.” The Afshin looked the younger man over and clapped him on the back. “You should train with me. I can make you even better.”

“Really?” Jamshid burst out. “That would be wonderful!”

Darayavahoush smiled and then deftly snatched the zulfiqar away from Kaveh’s son. “Certainly. Leave this to the Geziri.” He raised the blade and twisted it, watching as it sparkled in the sunlight. “So this is the famous zulfiqar.” He tested the weight, looking it over with a practiced eye and then glanced at Ali. “Do you mind? I would not wish for the hands of a—what is it you call us? Fire worshipper?—to contaminate something so sacred to your people.”

“Afshin—” Kaveh started, his voice thick with warning.

“You may go, Kaveh,” Darayavahoush said, dismissing him. “Jamshid, why don’t you join him? Let me take your place and spar a bit with Prince Alizayd. I have heard such great talk of his skills.”

Jamshid glanced at Ali, looking apologetic and lost for words. Ali didn’t blame him; if Zaydi al Qahtani came back to life and complimented his skill with a zulfiqar, Ali would also be speechless. Besides, the arrogant gleam in Darayavahoush’s green eyes was fraying his last nerve. If the man wanted to challenge him with a weapon he’d never so much as held, so be it.

“It’s fine, Jamshid. Go with your father.”

“Prince Alizayd, that’s not a—”

“Good day, Grand Wazir,” Ali said sharply. He didn’t take his eyes off Darayavahoush. He heard Kaveh sigh, but there was no disobeying a direct order from one of the Qahtanis. Jamshid reluctantly followed his father out.

The Afshin shot him a much cooler look once the Pramukhs were gone. “You did quite a bit of damage to the grand wazir’s son.”

Ali flushed. “Have you never injured a man while training?”

“Not with a weapon I knew my opponent could never properly use.” Darayavahoush raised the zulfiqar to examine it as he circled Ali. “This is much lighter than I imagined. By the Creator, you would not believe the rumors about these things during the war. My people were terrified of them, said Zaydi stole them from the very angels guarding Paradise.”

“That’s the way of things, isn’t it?” Ali asked. “The legend outweighing the flesh-and-blood figure?”

His meaning was clearly not lost on the Afshin, who looked amused. “You are probably right.”

He charged then at Ali with a hard right strike that, if it had been a broadsword, would have knocked his head off from the force alone. But the zulfiqar was not that, and Ali easily ducked, taking advantage of Darayavahoush’s stumble to sweep the broad side of his blade on his back.

“I’ve wanted to meet you for some time, Prince Alizayd,” Darayavahoush continued, sidestepping Ali’s next thrust. “Your brother’s men were always talking about you; I’ve heard you’re the best zulfiqari in your generation, as talented and as fast as Zaydi himself. Even Muntadhir agreed; he says you move like a dancer and strike like a viper.” He laughed. “He’s so proud. It’s sweet. You rarely hear a man speak of his rival with such affection.”

“I’m not his rival,” Ali snapped.

“No? Then who becomes king after your father if something should happen to Muntadhir?”

Ali drew up. “What? Why?” A briefly irrational fear seized his heart. “Did you—”

“Yes,” Darayavahoush said, his voice thick with sarcasm. “I murdered the emir and then decided to return to Daevabad and crow about it because I always wondered what it would be like to have my head on a spike.”

Ali felt his face grow warm. “Aye, don’t fret, little prince,” the Afshin continued. “I enjoyed your brother’s company. Muntadhir has a taste for life’s pleasures and talks too much when he’s in his cups… what’s not to like about that?”

The comment threw him—as it was presumably meant to— and Ali was unprepared when the Afshin raised his zulfiqar and rushed him again. The Afshin feinted left and then spun—faster than Ali had ever seen a man move—before bringing the blade down hard. Ali blocked him but just barely, his own zulfiqar ringing with the force of the hit. He tried to push back, but the Afshin didn’t budge. He held the zulfiqar with only one hand, not showing a hint of weariness.

Ali held tight, but his hands trembled on the hilt as the Afshin’s blade neared his face. Darayavahoush leaned close, putting his weight into the sword.

Brighten. Ali’s zulfiqar burst into flames, and Darayavahoush instinctively jerked back. But the Afshin recovered quickly, swinging his zulfiqar toward Ali’s neck. Ali ducked, feeling the whiz of the blade as it passed just over his head. He stayed low to aim a fiery blow at the backs of the Afshin’s knees. Darayavahoush stumbled, and Ali darted up and away.

He could kill me, Ali realized. One misstep was all it would take; Darayavahoush could claim it was an accident, and who would be able to dispute it? The Pramukhs were the only witnesses, and Kaveh would probably be overjoyed to cover up Ali’s murder.

You’re being paranoid. But when Darayavahoush struck out again, Ali met his advance with a bit more gusto, finally forcing him back across the room.

The Afshin lowered his zulfiqar with a wide grin. “Not bad, Zaydi. You fight very well for a boy your age.”

Ali was getting sick of that smug smile. “My name isn’t Zaydi.”

“Muntadhir calls you that.”

He narrowed his eyes. “You’re not my brother.”

“No,” Darayavahoush agreed. “I am certainly not. But you do remind me of your namesake.”

Considering that the original Zaydi and Darayavahoush had been mortal enemies in a century-long war that wiped out whole swaths of their race, Ali knew that wasn’t a compliment, but took it as such anyway. “Thank you.”

The Afshin studied the zulfiqar again, holding it so that the copper blade gleamed in the sunlight streaming through the windows. “Don’t thank me. The Zaydi al Qahtani I knew was a blood- thirsty rebel fanatic, not the saint your people have turned him into.”

Ali bristled at the insult. “He was bloodthirsty? Your Nahid Council was burning shafit alive in the midan when he rebelled.”

Darayavahoush lifted one of his dark eyebrows. “Do you know so much about the way things were a millennium before your birth?”

“Our records tell us—”

“Your records?” The Afshin laughed, a mirthless sound. “Oh, how I would love to know what those say. Can the Geziri even write? I thought all you did out there in your sandpits was feud and beg for human table scraps.”

Ali’s temper flashed. He opened his mouth to argue and then stopped, realizing just how carefully Darayavahoush was watching him. How intentionally he’d chosen his insults. The Afshin was trying to provoke him, and Ali would be damned if he was going to go along with it. He took a deep breath. “I can go sit in a Daeva tavern if I want to hear my tribe insulted,” he said dismissively. “I thought you wanted to spar.”

Something twinkled in the Afshin’s bright eyes. “Right you are, boy.” He raised his blade.

Ali met his next thrust with a clash of their blades, but the Afshin was good, improving at a frighteningly fast rate, as if he could literally absorb each of Ali’s actions. He moved quicker and struck harder than anyone Ali had ever fought, had ever even imagined possible. The room grew hot. Ali’s brow felt oddly damp—but of course that wasn’t possible. Pureblooded djinn didn’t sweat.

The power behind the Afshin’s blows made it feel like sparring with a statue. Ali’s wrists ached; it was getting difficult to maintain his grip.

Darayavahoush was backing him into a tight corner when he abruptly broke away and lowered his zulfiqar. He sighed as he admired the blade. “Ah, I have missed this… Peacetime may have its virtues, but there’s nothing like the rush and clash of your weapon against the enemy’s.”

Ali took the moment to catch his breath. “I’m not your enemy,” he said through gritted teeth, though he very much disagreed with the sentiment right now. “The war is over.”

“So people keep telling me.” The Afshin turned away, strolling slowly across the room and deliberately leaving his back unprotected. Ali’s fingers twitched on his zulfiqar. He forced himself to push away the strong temptation to attack the other man. Darayavahoush wouldn’t have put himself in such a position if he were not entirely confident he could defend it.

“Was it your father’s idea to keep us separated?” the Afshin asked. “I was surprised by how eager he was to see me gone from Daevabad, even offering up his firstborn as collateral. And yet I’m still blocked from seeing my Banu Nahida. I was told there’s a waiting list for appointments the length of my arm.”

Ali hesitated, thrown by the abrupt change in subject. “Your arrival was unexpected, and she’s busy. Perhaps—”

“That order did not come from Nahri,” Darayavahoush snapped, and in an instant Ali felt the room grow hotter. The torch opposite him flared, but the Afshin didn’t seem to notice, his gaze fixed on the wall. It was where most of the weapons were stored, a hundred varieties of death hanging from hooks and chains.

Ali couldn’t help himself. “Looking for a scourge?”

Darayavahoush turned back around. His green eyes were bright with anger. Too bright. Ali had never seen anything like it, and the Afshin was not the first freed slave he’d met. He glanced again at the blazing torches, watching as they flickered wildly, almost as though they were reaching for the former slave.

The light faded from the Afshin’s eyes, leaving a calculating expression on his face. “I hear your father intends to marry Banu Nahri to your brother.”

Ali’s mouth fell open. Where had Darayavahoush learned that? He pressed his lips together, trying to hide the surprise in his face. Kaveh, it had to have been. Considering the way those fire worshippers were whispering together when they entered the training room, Kaveh was probably spilling every secret he knew. “Did the grand wazir tell you that?”

“No. You just did.” Darayavahoush paused long enough to enjoy the shock on Ali’s face. “Your father strikes me as a pragmatic man, and marrying them would be a most astute political move. Besides, you are rumored to be some sort of religious fanatic, but according to Kaveh, you’re spending a great deal of time with her. That would hardly be appropriate unless she was meant to join your family.” His eyes lingered on Ali’s body. “And Ghassan clearly doesn’t mind crossing tribal lines himself.”

Ali was speechless, his face warm with embarrassment. His father was going to murder him when he found out that Ali had let slip such information.

He thought fast, trying to come up with a way to undo the damage. “Banu Nahri is a guest in my father’s home, Afshin,” he started. “I’m simply trying to be kind. She wished to learn to read—I would scarcely say there’s anything inappropriate about that.”

The Afshin drew closer, but he wasn’t smiling now. “And what are you teaching her to read? Those same Geziri records that demonize her ancestors?”

“No,” Ali shot back. “She wanted to learn about economics. Though I’m sure you filled her ears with plenty of lies about us.”

“I told the truth. She had a right to know how your people stole her birthright and nearly destroyed our world.”

“And what of your part in such things?” Ali challenged. “Did you tell her that, Darayavahoush? Does she know why you’re called the Scourge?”

There was silence. And then—for the first time since the Afshin entered the room with his smug smile and laughing eyes— Ali saw a trace of uncertainty in his face.

She doesn’t know. Ali had suspected as much, though Nahri was always careful not to speak of the Afshin in his presence. Oddly enough, he was relieved. They’d been meeting for a few weeks now, and Ali was enjoying her company. He didn’t like thinking that his future sister-in-law would be loyal to such a monster had she known the truth.

Darayavahoush shrugged, but there was a flash of warning in his bright eyes. “I was just following orders.”

“That is not true.”

The Afshin lifted one of his dark eyebrows. “No? Then tell me what your sand-fly histories say of me.”

Ali could hear his father’s warning in his mind, but he didn’t hold back. “They speak of Qui-zi for one.” The Afshin’s face twitched. “And you were taking no orders once Daevabad fell and the Nahid Council was overthrown. You led the uprising in Daevastana. If you can call such indiscriminate butchery an uprising.”

“Indiscriminate butchery?” Darayavahoush drew himself up, his expression scornful. “Your ancestors slaughtered my family, sacked my city, and tried to exterminate my tribe—you have great nerve to judge my actions.”

“You exaggerate,” Ali said dismissively. “No one tried to exterminate your tribe. The Daevas survived just fine without you around to destroy mixed villages and bury innocent djinn alive.”

The Afshin snorted. “Yes, we survived to become second-class citizens in our own city, forced to bow and scrape to the rest of you.”

“An opinion formed after spending, what, two days in Daevabad?” Ali rolled his eyes. “Your tribe is wealthy and well-connected, and their quarter is the cleanest and most finely run in the city. You know who are second-class citizens? The shafit who—”

Darayavahoush rolled his eyes. “Ah, there it is. It’s not a discussion with a djinn until they start bemoaning the poor, sad shafit they can’t stop creating. Suleiman’s eye, find a goat if you can’t control yourselves. They’re comparable enough to humans.”

Ali’s hands tightened on the zulfiqar. He wanted to hurt this man. “Do you know what else the histories say about you?”

“Enlighten me, djinn.”

“That you could have done it.” Darayavahoush frowned, and Ali continued. “Most scholars believe you could have defended an independent Daevastana for a long time. Long enough to free a few of the surviving Nahids. Perhaps even long enough to retake Daevabad.”

The Afshin went still, and Ali could tell he had struck a nerve. He stared at the prince, and when he spoke his voice was soft, his words intent. “It sounds like your family was very lucky the ifrit killed me when they did, then.”

Ali didn’t break away from the other man’s cold gaze. “God provides.” It was cruel, but he didn’t care. Darayavahoush was a monster.

Darayavahoush lifted his chin and then smiled, a sharp smile that reminded Ali more of a snarling dog than a man. “And here we are discussing ancient history again when I promised you a challenge.” He raised the zulfiqar.

It burst into flames, and Ali’s eyes went wide.

No non-Geziri man should have ever been able to do that.

The Afshin looked more intrigued than surprised. He gazed at the flames, the fire reflected in his bright eyes. “Ah… now isn’t that fascinating?”

It was the only warning Ali got.

Darayavahoush charged him, and Ali whirled away, flames licking down his own zulfiqar. Their weapons met with a crash, and Darayavahoush shoved his blade up and along Ali’s until the hilt caught his hands. Then he kicked him hard in the stomach.

Ali fell back, rolling quickly away when Darayavahoush slashed down in a motion that would have sliced his chest open if he hadn’t moved fast enough. Well, I suppose Abba was right, he thought, jumping up as the Afshin swept his zulfiqar at his feet. Darayavahoush and I probably wouldn’t have made very good travel companions.

The Afshin’s calm was gone and with it, much of the reserve Ali now realized the other man had been showing. He was actually an even better fighter than he’d let on.

But the zulfiqar was a Geziri weapon, and Ali would be damned if some Daeva butcher was going to beat him with it. He let the Afshin pursue him across the training room, their fiery blades clashing and sizzling. Though he was taller than Darayavahoush, the other man was probably twice his bulk, and he was hoping his youth and agility would eventually turn the duel in his favor.

And yet that didn’t appear to be happening. Ali dodged blow after blow, becoming increasingly exhausted—and a little afraid. As he blocked another charge, he caught sight of a khanjar glinting on a sunny window shelf across the room. The dagger peeked out among a pile of random supplies—the training room was notoriously messy, overseen by a kindly yet absentminded old Geziri warrior no one had the heart to replace.

An idea sparked in Ali’s head. As they fought, he started letting his fatigue show—along with his fear. He wasn’t acting, and he could see a glimmer of triumph in the Afshin’s eyes. He was clearly enjoying the opportunity to put the stupid young son of a hated enemy in his place.

Darayavahoush’s forceful blows shook his entire body, but Ali kept his zulfiqar up as the Afshin followed his lead toward the windows. Their fiery blades hissed against each other as Ali was pushed hard against the glass. The Afshin smiled. Behind his head, the torches flared and danced against the wall like they’d been doused in oil.

Ali abruptly let go of his zulfiqar.

He snatched the khanjar and dropped to the ground as Darayavahoush stumbled. Ali rolled to his feet and was on the Afshin before the other man recovered. He pressed the dagger to his throat, breathing hard, but went no further. “Are we done?”

The Afshin spat. “Go to hell, sand fly.”

And then every weapon in the room flew at him.

Ali threw himself to the floor as the weapons wall purged itself. A spinning mace whooshed over his head, and a Tukharistani pole arm speared his sleeve to the ground. It was over in a matter of seconds, but before Ali could process what had happened, the Afshin stomped hard on his right wrist.

It took every bit of self-control not to scream as Darayavahoush ground the heel of his boot into the bones of Ali’s wrist. He heard something crack and a searing pain rushed through him. His fingers went numb, and Darayavahoush kicked the khanjar away.

The zulfiqar was at his throat. “Get up,” the Afshin hissed.

Ali did so, cradling his injured wrist through the ripped sleeve. Weapons littered the floor, the chains and hooks that had held them dangling broken on the opposite wall. A chill went down Ali’s back. It was the rare djinn who could summon a single object—and that was with far more focus over a shorter distance. But this? And so soon after drawing flames from the zulfiqar?

He shouldn’t be able to do any of this.

Darayavahoush didn’t seem bothered. Instead, he gave Ali a coolly appraising look. “I wouldn’t have thought such a trick your style.”

Ali gritted his teeth, trying to ignore the pain in his wrist. “I suppose I’m full of surprises.”

Darayavahoush looked at him for a long moment. “No,” he finally said. “You’re not. You’re exactly what I would expect.” He picked up Ali’s zulfiqar and tossed it over; surprised, Ali caught it with his good hand. “Thank you for the lesson, but sadly, the weapon did not live up to its fearsome reputation.”

Ali sheathed his zulfiqar, offended on its behalf. “Sorry to disappoint you,” he said sarcastically.

“I didn’t say I was disappointed.” Darayavahoush ran his hand over a war ax protruding from one of the stone columns. “Your charming and cultured brother, your pragmatic father… I was starting to wonder what happened to the Qahtanis I knew… starting to fear my memories of the zulfiqar-wielding fanatics who destroyed my world were wrong.” He eyed Ali. “Thank you for this reminder.”

“I…” Ali was lost for words, suddenly fearing he’d done far worse than reveal his father’s plans regarding Nahri. “You misunderstand me.”

“Not at all.” The Afshin gave him another sharp smile. “I was also once a young warrior from the ruling tribe. It’s a privileged position. Such utter confidence in the rightness of your people, such unwavering belief in your faith.” His smile faded; he sounded wistful. Regretful. “Enjoy it.”

“I am nothing like you,” Ali shot back. “I would never do the things you did.”

The Afshin pulled open the door. “Pray you’re never asked to, Zaydi.”

Excerpted from The City of Brass, copyright © 2017 by S. A. Chakraborty.

1 Comment

Subscribe to this thread

Post a Comment

All comments must meet the community standards outlined in Tor.com's Moderation Policy or be subject to moderation. Thank you for keeping the discussion, and our community, civil and respectful.

Hate the CAPTCHA? Tor.com members can edit comments, skip the preview, and never have to prove they're not robots. Join now!