A birthday gift to a great friend of mine.
I apologize in advance for any mistakes made, both language and the character's personalities related.
Nothing belongs to me, I only borrowed bits and pieces and tried to glue them together.
Anet: Všechno nejlepší k tvým sedmnáctinám! Přeju ti hodně štěstí, zdraví a lásky, kupu dobrých přátel, co tě podrží, když to budeš potřebovat, a hlavně dostatek volného času, aby ses mohla pořádně věnovat věcem, co tě baví ^_^
Doufám, že se ti tahle malá věcička bude líbit a že jsem se aspoň trochu přiblížila správným charakterům jednotlivých postav ;)
Je to zcela upřímné AU, ale byla docela zábava to psát :D
A...původně to mělo být už k tvým šestnáctinám. Pak k Vánocům. Takže třetí pokus... ;)
Men taking deep breaths around him.
The stench of sweat in the air.
The reassuring weight of the sword in his hand.
Adrenaline roaring through his veins.
The heavy wooden gate in front of him opened and Alibaba shot forward with the rest of the fighters.
The sound of thousands of voices yelling and even more hands clapping hit him like a hammer as soon as his feet touched the sand of the arena, but Alibaba didn't even flinch. He'd fought in too many battles to be bothered by something as mundane as the audience.
Instead, he let his eyes adjust to the sunlight.
The moment they did he started surveying the space around him and his opponents at the other side of the arena.
It was dangerous, walking on the edge where one mistake could cost him his life, but it filled him with an inner fire he couldn't resist.
And so he picked his first target, a tall muscular man with a mane of black hair, and attacked.
A jump here, a stab there.
Like a dance, really.
The man fell down with a somewhat confused expression on his face.
Onto the next gladiator Alibaba went and once again, he defeated him. He didn't really care whether the people in his group survived or not, he just needed to know they weren't his targets.
Three more men fell under his deadly blade. He was beginning to wonder if they put complete idiots against him or if the odds were simply in his favor.
With every survived battle he was closer to freeing himself from the arena complex, closer to finally having a normal life.
Whatever that was.
He continued to fight. Sometimes he had to put more effort into defeating an opponent, sometimes it was just a matter of using the well-practiced moves.
The arena matches weren't always fight-to-the-death like this one. Usually there were duels or group fights, with the "first drop of blood" rule. However, every once in a while the Emperor decided he wanted a proper bloodbath, and so the gladiators obliged.
There were only a few people left in the arena when Alibaba realized he had no one else to kill in front of him. In his killing spree, he'd made his way to the other side of the stadium, while the rest of the fighters kept more to the centre.
Growling in frustration, Alibaba turned around and quickly scanned the arena. Almost immediately his eyes fell on a young woman with bright pink-red hair, currently stabbing a man twice her size. There was nothing strange about a woman in the arena - after all, they tended to be faster and more agile than most of the men.
In the end, it was always down to luck and reflexes anyway.
However, this woman in particular caught Alibaba's eye because she didn't have a single scratch on her. Almost no-one was that lucky - or that good.
And Alibaba did love a good challenge.
He ran towards her, feeling a grin forming on his face as she decapitated a red-eyed woman that tried to slit her throat.
Oh, this was going to be fun.
He wasn't really surprised when she blocked his first blow - it was more of a greeting gesture, a sign that he was going to attack. But then she kept blocking him and suddenly he was the one defending himself as she hacked and slashed with ferocity Alibaba thought only he possessed.
A small part of his brain not concentrated on the fight informed him they were the last people fighting. Others either went down, gained the Emperor's mercy after a duel ending in a draw or killed enough people to be allowed back into the training complex.
The fight between Alibaba and the pink-haired woman was getting even faster, each of the gladiators trying to make the other one bleed first. Their swords were mere blurs, clanking each time they collided, their faces masks of pure concentration.
And then the woman had her sword near his neck and no matter how hard Alibaba tried to push it away with his blade, all he could do was keep it a hair's width away from his skin.
People were shouting his name and something that was probably the name of his opponent, but he couldn't spare any attention to try and find out what it was.
A horn sounded across the arena, shushing everyone and everything.
The woman didn't move her sword an inch, but she stopped forcing it against Alibaba's neck.
He knew what was coming.
Careful not to cut his skin on the edge of the sword, he turned his head to the Emperor's lounge.
The Emperor himself, a little boy in a blue turban with a flute hanging from his neck, was chewing on a watermelon.
A tall bald man bent down and whispered something in his ear, to which the Emperor responded with a nod.
Almost immediately, the sound of the horn went up into the sky - three short blows, a signal for the voting to begin.
All around the arena people's thumbs went up and down.
Alibaba held his breath.
What was probably just a couple of seconds seemed like hours - and then the Emperor looked over the audience, smiled and slowly turned his thumb up.
Not a muscle moved on the woman's face as she stepped away from Alibaba and lowered her sword. Then she bowed and, the moment Alibaba returned the gesture, turned around and walked away.
Not sure what just happened, Alibaba stared at her back and just absent-mindedly waved the cheering crowd.
The training complex was huge, but Alibaba knew it better than his shoes. He also had a few people who owed him some favors, and by putting those two things together, he guessed it shouldn't take too long to find the mysterious woman from the arena.
He'd only been beaten a few times in his life and he always took it as a sign to get better, to improve - and so he did.
Of course, he usually proved it by defeating the person who beat him. There was no reason this should be any different - but for some reason, he wanted to know his opponent properly this time. He wasn't sure why, but there was this nagging voice in the back of his head that wouldn't shut up about that woman.
It was three days after the battle when his efforts finally paid off. Alibaba was just in the middle of a training session when one of the arena guards - a man covered in blue and red tattoo ornaments - appeared and motioned for him to come and talk.
"Her name's Morgiana and she's from the E block. A superb fighter, not friendly, quiet. That enough for ya?" he asked.
"Thanks," nodded Alibaba absently, motioning for him to go away. As he was slowly returning to the centre of the training room, a plan had already begun to form in his head.
I'm gonna get that girl.
Fighters usually weren't allowed to wander from one block to another, but Alibaba's reputation was enough to grant him some privileges. He didn't even have to bribe anyone - only to endure a few mocking comments from the guards.
"Hey, Al! Looking to get your ass kicked again? I can do that for you!"
"Are you so desperate to know what it feels like to actually touch an ass?" replied Alibaba, dodging as the guard threw an apple core at him.
You might want to apply cold water to that burn. Heheh.
As Alibaba ventured deeper into block E, he peeked into the cells on both sides of the hallways. The smallest, coldest ones at the beginning belonged to the least experienced fighters who had yet to earn their reputation - and with it, better quarters.
He didn't suppose this...Morgiana would be there, but taking in the fact he'd never seen her before, he wasn't taking any chances.
Most cells were empty, their inhabitants out - probably training. Deciding to drop the subtle approach, Alibaba threw open a random door and surprised a pointy-eared boy, no older than fourteen or fifteen. Alibaba was only a few years older, but then again, he started earlier than most people here.
"What are you - " the boy started, but Alibaba cut him off.
"Do you know which cell is Morgiana's?"
"Who?" asked the boy, completely thrown off his guard.
"Fast, red or pink hair, quiet, deadly," offered Ali a better description.
"Not sure about her cell, but I think she's training now," said the boy, clearly eager to get rid of the unwanted visitor.
Alibaba nodded and with a grunted thanks left. Since all the blocks were built in the same fashion, he had no trouble getting to the training room without seeming too much out of place.
He saw Morgiana immediately.
She was currently handling three attackers with a single sword in her hand. Making sure to stay in the shadows, Alibaba watched the fight.
Just like in the arena, Morgiana was wearing a white tunic of sorts and her face was like carved out of stone. Each movement precise, every strike with a deadly potential.
Alibaba was quite proud of his ability to find a weak spot in his opponent's fighting style, but Morgiana was quickly becoming a challenge.
In a way, it was...thrilling.
Soon, two of the gladiators fighting against the girl were lying on the ground, clutching various parts of their bodies. One of them had blood pouring out of his nose, thanks to a blow from Morgiana's elbow.
The girl swirled her sword and knocked her opponent's weapon from his hand. Before he could as much as blink, she pressed the blade against his neck. However, before either of them could say a word, Morgiana froze and all her muscles tensed.
Alibaba knew instantly what was going on. A guard or someone of that sort activated her collar and it sent a wave of pain through her body, rendering her powerless. The fact that she had a collar indicated that somebody thought she was dangerous - or perhaps that she tried to escape.
Or to kill someone.
Alibaba didn't understand why anyone was using it now. Fighters didn't kill each other during training. The punishment for that was...unpleasant. So whoever activated the collar simply wanted to remind Morgiana of her place.
And for some reason, it made Alibaba's blood boil.
Morgiana's opponent wasted no time, carefully stepped away from the blade and with a quick bow left the room.
The moment he did that Morgiana's shoulders slumped and her posture lost some of its sharpness.
Alibaba made his way over to the weapon rack and picked a sword. The he walked over to where she was standing, not taking his eyes off her for a second.
"You alright?" he asked.
Morgiana's eyes flashed as she took in his face. Instead of answering him, she assumed a fighting stance.
"Don't even have to ask, do I?" Alibaba grinned, mirroring her movements.
They attacked at the same time, their blades clashing together with such force they both had to take a step back. Alibaba was surprised the swords didn't break.
Morgiana's reactions were only a bit slower than when they fought in the arena. Maybe it was because of the collar activation, maybe it was something else - but it was enough for Alibaba to keep their fight balanced.
Faster and faster their strikes went, until Alibaba lurched forward and locked their swords between them, his face only a few inches from Morgiana's.
"Good fight," he winked at her.
Jerking his sword away, he jumped back to dodge hers. He stabbed his weapon into the sand to show he had no desire to keep fighting.
The deep bow he took before leaving the room was only a bit too theatrical - but the mixture of suspicion and irritation on Morgiana's face was simply priceless.
Alibaba started a new game (though he liked to call it strategy): he purposefully frequented the same places as Morgiana, winking, nodding and grinning at her whenever their eyes met. Then, when her annoyance started showing on her face, he saluted her and swaggered away.
Sometimes he even started whistling.
If his observations were right, those moments were the only time Morgiana actually acted like she had emotions and feelings.
In Alibaba's long-term plan, he wanted to use that fact to his advantage the next time their paths crossed in the arena, but...things happened.
One, he slowly started to realize he might feel a tiny little something towards the girl. Be it attraction, interest or just anger at whoever was pulling her strings.
And two, the pink-haired fighter changed their little game.
Well - more like cut it short.
Alibaba was woken up one night by something sharp and cold pressing into his neck. His first instinct was to push it aside, get up and fight, but he couldn't move. He was pinned down by what he realized was a person. As his eyes adjusted to the dim light of the hallway lamps mixed with the pale moonlight shining through the small window, he slowly became aware of long pink-red hair, hanging in front of his face and a pair of very angry eyes, staring right at him.
"Morgiana?" he asked slowly, careful not to move his neck much - he had no wish for the sharp object to be introduced to his veins.
"What the hell are you doing?" she growled.
"Trying not to move..?" replied Alibaba unsurely, searching her face for some kind of a clue.
"For the last three weeks you've been following me, annoying me and taunting me. Why?" Morgiana put more pressure on what now Alibaba recognized as a dagger, putting it uncomfortably close to Alibaba's skin.
"If you could just put the blade away so I won't cut my own throat while talking thank you?" he whispered. Morgiana stared at him as if contemplating the pros and cons of such a decision. After a moment, she slowly pulled the weapon away, but still kept it too close for Ali's liking.
"You...intrigue me. That's all, really. You shouldn't be surprised, I mean, look at you," grinned Alibaba, trying to diffuse the tension. His grin melted away under Morgiana's icy stare and he rather continued explaining, not too eager to feel the iron on his skin again.
"Were we not in the arena, I'd try to befriend you the old-fashioned way, but since all the foreseeable future holds for us is pain, blood and endless fighting, it's not really a safe option. But just so you know, this started as a mission to know my opponent. And now I want to know you more as a person rather than just as a fighter and honestly, can you blame me?"
An exhausting answer, in his opinion.
"I can damn well blame you if I want to," grimaced Morgiana.
"But that's all you can do, isn't it?" said Alibaba, well aware he was stepping into a dangerous territory. He couldn't help himself, though - that little nagging voice in the back of his head kept asking questions about Morgiana and her fate and he just had to try.
He was pretty sure she wouldn't kill him.
She wouldn't risk it.
As Alibaba's thoughts flashed through his head, Morgiana's face went absolutely blank. Her voice was practically pure ice as she asked: "Are you so convinced your mighty fighting skills can get you out of every situation or are you just an idiot?"
"A bit of both, I guess. And then some," replied Alibaba, unable to resist flashing a grin at the ice queen currently sitting atop of him.
But then he put on a more serious expression.
"But the thing is, not many people here have a collar. And even fewer are controlled the way you are."
He'd touched a sensitive subject, but he was counting on that. Reminding himself he could be just as well dealing with a trapped animal, ready to defend itself with everything it had, he carefully inquired: "Who's your master?"
"I have no mast-" Morgiana's angry response was cut off by a hiss of pain. Her hand flew to her neck where the collar itself, a simple silver chain with little red diamonds, rested on her skin.
The wheels in Alibaba's head started turning. He never heard about a collar that would react by itself - and to certain words to that.
But it made sense, if one took in Morgiana's apparent stubbornness and tried to imagine how she'd react if someone tried to control her.
The pain from the collar lasted only for a moment, but when it stopped, Morgiana visibly relaxed. Alibaba seized the opportunity and in one swift movement got out from under her. He quickly stepped away and raised his hands to let her know he wasn't going to attack her in any way.
Morgiana was standing in a fighting stance the moment he got away, but then she suddenly sighed and sat down on the bed, her form lumped as if she was a puppet and someone cut off the strings that held her upright.
She seemed tired, too tired for someone of her age.
Without thinking, Alibaba blurted out: "I want to help you."
"What?" Morgiana sounded genuinely shocked.
"I want to help you," repeated Alibaba. "It's not like I like this place, you know. Or haven't you ever thought about doing something about your life here? Don't you want to get out of this damned machinery?"
"Of course I do! But that's impossible," replied Morgiana angrily.
Alibaba felt another grin forming on his face.
Oh, how he loved that word.
For most people, it meant something out of their reach, a twist of fate they couldn't overcome.
For Alibaba, it simply meant no one yet had a crazy enough idea to actually make it work.
"Nah. Not impossible. Just on a really, really tight time schedule," he winked.
Two weeks and several secret meetings later, a plan was ready to be put in motion.
Alibaba still wasn't sure whether it would actually work or not, but every time he looked into Morgiana's eyes and saw the tiniest glimmer of hope in them, he found himself unable to voice any doubts he might've had.
Their main target was the mysterious man controlling Morgiana's collar who apparently went by the name of Hakuryuu.
He kept to himself and spent most of his time studying ancient scrolls in his quarters. The most important plan of the whole A&M escape plan was stealing the controlling device - and so Alibaba's skills from his younger days came in.
The tricky bit was security - Hakuryuu often watched Morgiana during her training sessions and Alibaba doubted he'd leave his chambers unprotected. The same went for fights in the arena. That left only one option - bath time.
They knew from Alibaba's observations that Hakuryuu really liked his washing procedures and usually spent quite some time in his rather sumptuous bathroom.
From Ali's point of view, it was a ridiculous and just plain stupid waste of time - but he guessed he'd have a different opinion had he not grown up on the streets.
The plan was simple: Alibaba would sneak out from the cell complex, wait for Hakuryuu to disappear under the layer of steam and bubbles and then, with a bit of luck, steal the controller. Morgiana wanted it to be destroyed right away, but Ali wasn't so eager. It was still a magical device and therefore highly unpredictable. It could blow Morgi's head off were he to snap it in half, for instance.
In the meantime, Morgiana would make sure the back entrance to the kitchens was clear.
And then they'd be off.
If Alibaba were to be honest, he could have tried to escape ages ago, but...there were guards. Not just inside the complex, but outside as well. And there were dogs. And a gate he couldn't open by himself.
Also, he had a feeling any fight they might get into during their escape was going to be much easier with them cooperating instead of trying to kill each other.
That was, incidentally, one of the reasons they might be the first people to escape the Arena. The guards didn't really think the fighters would be able to overcome their personal feelings, pride and paranoia in regards to each other. Alibaba wasn't really sure why he trusted Morgiana the way he did - but he really hoped he wouldn't have to regret it in the future.
This all went through Alibaba's head as he waited crouched in the shadows underneath Hakuryuu's window. The small garden it opened into was empty at this hour, which made Ali's task easier.
Finally he heard the sound of a door closing and water splashing. Alibaba stood up and with a little help from his dagger opened the window. Almost soundlessly he pulled himself up and jumped inside. Recalling his younger days, he looked around the room, calculating the worth of certain things at the back of his mind. He was here to steal anyway; what difference would one or two trinkets make? Still, he was cautious - if a man owned one magical toy, he might as well own ten more.
First things first, he told himself. It wasn't hard to locate the controller, as it matched the collar in decoration. A simple wand with silver ornaments and red diamonds placed along its length, it lay on what was apparently Hakuryuu's desk. Alibaba reached out to grab it, but stopped abruptly.
TRAPS, never forget the traps! said, from the depth of his mind, the voice of an old thief who taught him many valuable life lessons. Alibaba's eyes darted to a shelf above the desk, where a black arrow of approximately the same proportions as the controller was placed.
That would do.
A sudden sound of water draining coming from the bathroom made him look up in panic - that was not a part of the plan. Licking his lips nervously, Alibaba took a deep breath and in one swift movement took the controller and put the arrow in its place. For a fraction of a second he stood still, clutching the wand.
Ali allowed himself a sigh of relief, but then he turned on his heel and headed straight for the window. He pocketed, almost absent-mindedly, a few golden necklaces from a mirror stand along the way. A bloke needs to eat, he thought to himself as he sneaked outside and carefully returned the window to its original state.
Just in time, really, because the bathroom door opened and closed and a pair of feet padded across the room. Alibaba plastered himself against the wall as the window creaked slightly. He saw the windowpanes swinging forward.
His eyes fell on a large stone lying between the bushes next to him.
A few very quick thoughts ran through his head and he made a decision.
And so, when Hakuryuu looked out of the window, the stone collided with the side of his head, the power of the impact sending him to meet the wall. As he crumpled on the floor, unconscious, Alibaba let out a sigh of relief. At least for once the outcome was the desired one.
Though now he had another problem: Hakuryuu had to be tied up and secured.
Once more into the room it was, then.
As Ali used various pieces of rope and cloth from around the room to ensure the other man couldn't move, he pondered why Hakuryuu got out of the bath so early. The reason could turn out to be petty and unimportant, but that man had never broken this particular habit of his before.
Alibaba checked all the knots were in place and properly tied and for the fourth time this evening climbed through Hakuryuu's window. Keeping to the shadows, he made his way out of the garden and through the complex to meet Morgiana.
He only saw a flash of pink from the corner of his eye before he felt himself being dragged into a small storage room, one of many in this part of the Arena.
"We've got a problem," hissed a familiar voice before he had the chance to put up a fight.
Morgiana shut the door, leaving the two of them in complete darkness. The room was so small Alibaba felt the heat radiating off her body.
Did she run? Or fight? What happened?
He opened his mouth to voice his questions, but Morgi was faster.
"You can forget about the kitchen. The place is swarming with guards. I thought that might mean the front gate would be easier to penetrate, but a group of Emperor's personal assassins is stationed there. Those won't be so fun to play with," she said, the exasperation clear in her voice.
"Why are they here? Did you see the Emperor?" asked Alibaba quickly.
"Not personally, no. But he's bound to be here, otherwise what would the commotion be about?"
Alibaba went over a list of possible options in his head.
"We can still make a run for it," he said firmly after a moment. "If we can't go through the kitchens, we'll have to try the sewers. The entrance hatch shouldn't be heavily guarded. We'll still have to get over the outer gate once we climb out, but hopefully we won't have to say hi to the Emperor's pets."
Morgiana replied: "Then we should better get going. You've been here longer, so tell me - through the gardens or around the D block?" she asked.
"I'd say the gardens are a safer choice," replied Alibaba. Then he bit his lip: "There is, however, the slight problem of one Hakuryuu, currently tied up in his rooms. We can only hope he's still blissfully unaware of the world, otherwise we might have a problem."
Morgiana's sigh spoke volumes. Alibaba felt her move closer to the door, presumably to listen. Then she opened it slightly, peeked out and beckoned him to follow her.
Together they moved through the fortress, only once having to hide as to avoid a group of guards chattering in quiet voices. They all looked a bit nervous, which only made Ali and Morgi move faster.
They reached the gardens soon enough, both enjoying the feeling of fresh air on their faces.
It didn't last very long, though.
The hair on Alibaba's neck prickled. Next thing he knew, something sharp was digging into his kidneys and a man said in rough voice: "Hands up and start explaining your presence."
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Morgiana's expression. Her face once again looked as though carved from stone and Alibaba understood.
He moved at the same moment she did, both using a different technique to avoid being stabbed through.
Ali spotted a dagger at his opponent's belt and with shocking speed relocated it from there into the man's skull. As he pulled it out and let the body crumple to the ground, he heard a crunching sound and saw Morgiana's captor falling down. From what Alibaba knew, only owls could turn their neck at such an angle and keep living.
Only then Alibaba noticed the four men, holding a litter between them, standing just a few meters away from him. They were all wearing the same shocked expression.
Alibaba's eyes flickered between the black clothes of the dead men and the crest on the litter.
Yes, the universe hated him. It was official.
He didn't even have to look at Morgiana to know she was trying to answer the same question he did: What now?
Killing the litter-bearers wasn't exactly something Alibaba would write on his wish-list, but letting them live was too risky, considering who was sitting inside the litter. Strangely quiet, added the small voice in his head.
He almost moved forward, the dagger still in his hand, when Morgi stopped him.
"Let me try another way," she said quietly.
She approached the four men, her hands outstretched to show she was unarmed. Alibaba personally thought that wasn't very reassuring, seeing what she managed to do with those hands only moments ago, but he had to appreciate her effort.
"Relax. I'm not going to hurt you," she said.
The slaves visibly tensed, but remained still, eyeing her warily.
Then suddenly Morgiana moved as fast as an attacking cobra. In one swift movement, she jumped straight to the litter and threw open the hangings.
She pulled out a small blue-haired boy in a turban and threw him to the ground. He didn't stay down very long, though - almost immediately he was on his feet and placed a flute, hanging on a string from his neck, to his lips.
The hair on the back of Alibaba's neck stood up.
The Emperor - for it obviously was him, unless he had a twin brother - didn't play any music on the flute.
Instead, a huge arm appeared at the end of the instrument, closely followed by a second one.
Morgiana seemed too shocked to move.
Thoughts raged inside Alibaba's head, mainly consisting of 'OH MY GOD IT'S A FRIGGIN' JINN THEY ARE REAL I WANT ONE' and 'how on Earth will we stop that thing'.
Then his more sensible part kicked in and he lunged at the Emperor.
Just in time, really, because an enormous torso was joining the arms - which were already trying to grab Morgiana. This at least managed to snap her out of her state, though now she couldn't stop moving to avoid being crushed.
The nearby trees weren't so lucky.
The litter-bearers rather sensibly abandoned their posts and hid behind a nearby bench.
All of this Alibaba noticed as if it was a picture he was studying rather than a flash of colours and noise as his fist collided with the Emperor's jaw, knocking the flute out of his hands.
The jinn disappeared instantly.
Alibaba thought the Emperor would be seriously injured from a punch like that, but this close he realized the ruler wasn't exactly a small boy. He was short, yes, and with a chubby face that gave the impression of a very young age, but his eyes were cold and fierce when he wiped blood from his mouth and looked straight at Alibaba.
Ali didn't waste any time being a gentleman and letting his opponent get up - instead he kicked him hard in the ribs and ripped the flute from the string.
This seemed to shock the Emperor more than any physical damage.
He lay on the ground, gaping, holding his aching side.
Morgiana had a strange expression as she looked at the most powerful man in this part of the world lying helplessly in front of her. Then she crouched to be more or less on the Emperor's level and pulled out a thin dagger, the same one Alibaba felt on his neck so many weeks ago.
Ali wasn't exactly sure if she was planning to kill the Emperor or if it was a good idea if she was, but he knew they needed to get going.
And then the Emperor started laughing.
And Ali felt his hair standing up again.
And a smooth voice behind him said: "Aladdin, Aladdin. Letting yourself be beaten by a pair of street brawlers? You're getting old."
His thoughts didn't get to go any further.
Mainly because something hit him like a bull at full speed.
Up, up and away he went. Well, more like was thrown a few meters away, but that didn't sound so poetic, he decided as he hit the ground. He could feel several bruises forming.
He really, really hated magic.
He had to give a round of mental applause for Morgiana, who had grabbed the Emperor - Aladdin? Really? - in a firm headlock and placed the blade to his neck the moment Alibaba was attacked.
Speaking of which - Alibaba directed his gaze at the man standing on the garden path.
It was the same man he'd hit with a stone only half an hour earlier, and yet it wasn't.
Blue and white lines crossed his skin, intercepting and moving as though they were alive, and the reflection of the light from the garden torches dancing in his eyes only strengthened the impression.
The man continued talking, as though nothing had happened: "The two of you were quite unpredictable, I'll give you that. I even had to put some effort into moving the guards around as to get you somewhere quiet. There was the slight issue of someone trying to murder me," he frowned at Alibaba at this point, "but you still managed to make it here and even put up quite a show for our dear Emperor."
Alibaba tried to wrap his mind around what Hakuryuu was saying.
This was all a part of a plan? What was the point?
Hakuryuu laughed softly and Alibaba realized he'd said that out loud.
"You know, Morgiana, this was all a test. For you, imagine that!"
The look of pure hatred on Morgi's face was more intense than any emotion Alibaba'd seen her show so far.
She didn't say anything, but she pushed the blade against the Emperor's skin so a drop of blood appeared.
Hakuryuu frowned at her, like a disappointed teacher at his student.
"A test?" asked Alibaba finally, when the silence stretched out for too long for his liking.
"Not that complicated a word, I believe," Hakuryuu smirked. "You see, Morgiana here is quite the material for a personal bodyguard. Given what happened just moments ago, I'd say our Emperor could use a new one. Which means I'll have to ask you for the control rod you stole so stealthily," he finally turned to Alibaba, his smirk widening.
Ali felt fury rise up in the depths of his soul.
"The only way I'm giving the rod to you is if I'm ramming it up your arse," he growled, pulling himself up.
Ouch, ouch. Not a good idea, said the little voice in his head. Alibaba ignored it.
"Oh, very well then. I thought you might be less than keen to cooperate - "
"Will you never shut up?" said suddenly Morgiana, getting to her feet and dragging Aladdin up with her.
Alibaba was pretty sure the knife on the Emperor's neck was the only reason Hakuryuu kept himself in check.
Hakuryuu stared at Morgi, but when he spoke, it was actually to Alibaba.
"The guards will be here soon, thanks to all the noise you caused. But you can still leave. You don't owe anyone anything. I don't particulary care about your fate. Just...leave. Leave and be free like you always wanted. "
Some time ago, Hakuryuu's words would touch just the right string in Alibaba's heart. Some time ago, he would actually consider the possibility of accepting the offer.
But not now. Now, it only made him angrier.
Tentacles of light were making their way from the shining lines along Hakuryuu's arms to his hand, Alibaba noticed.
"No," he said firmly.
"No?" repeated Hakuryuu, his hand now balling into a fist.
He opened his mouth to add something, but then a crashing sound broke the quiet of the night. Hakuryuu fell down with a slightly surprised expression on his face.
Behind him stood one of the litter-bearers, a massive wooden pole still in his hands.
Alibaba, Morgiana and Aladdin stared at him.
"I once had a collar too," the man said quietly, his eyes darting to the silver chain on Morgiana's neck.
Alibaba wriggled as he tried to find a comfortable position. Soft as the pillows inside the litter were, the vehicle wasn't meant to hold three people.
Aladdin looked furious.
He was tied up with the upmost precision - and that included his own satin belt forced unceremoniously into his mouth.
Morgiana, on the other hand, looked quite satisfied with herself.
She had every right to be.
It was her who came up with the idea to use the litter as their way out and it was her who convinced the litter-bearers this was a chance for them, too.
They left Hakuryuu in the Arena, though they at least had the sense to move him from the gardens. Whether the sewers were a good or a bad idea was yet to be seen, hopefully without Alibaba's or Morgiana's actual presence there.
The litter moved swiftly forward.
They were now out of the complex itself and getting to the main gate, gathered Ali and Morgi from the flashes of their surroundings they saw through the slits in the hangings.
The Emperor's guards at the gate simply joined the litter without asking any questions. It was quite helpful, because it reduced the risk of being stopped and searched.
Alibaba actually held his breath as they passed under the gigantic archway that marked the entrance to the complex.
And then they were out.
Finally, finally free.
There was still their kidnapping of the Emperor, Hakuryuu, whose mental state after being hit repeatedly in the head couldn't be predicted accurately and the matter of removing Morgiana's collar, but...they would deal with it.
They had a very cool-looking litter, after all. And that, in Alibaba's opinion, was the thing that really mattered.