The Mirror & the Maze

By: Renee Ahdieh

A STORM’S FURY


THE CITY BURNED BRIGHT FROM LEAGUES AWAY. Khalid could see it just as he and his men made the final turn toward home.

There, on the horizon . . . a colossal ember stretched high into the sky, pulsing and alive in its warmth, even from a distance. Its fires raged as the smoke collected above it. Billowed into a plume. A darkening shadow across an already black sky.

The cold grip of fear snaked around Khalid’s heart.

Followed by pure, unmitigated fury.

It could not be possible. Salim Ali el-Sharif would not dare attack Rey. Would not dare lay siege to the greatest city in all of Khorasan.

Would not dare put his years of threats into action.

The fear clutched tight in Khalid’s chest.

Everything and everyone he loved was in that city. His cousin. His uncle.

Shahrzad.

Everything. Khalid had left everything behind in Rey. Now it was burning.

“And I shall take from you these lives, a thousandfold.”

Khalid pulled on his reins, and Ardeshir reared back in response, the stallion’s eyes wild.

The soldiers around Khalid drew close, their murmurs rising, their confusion mounting. Their panic palpable.

For they, too, had family in Rey. They, too, had left behind all they held dear.

What could possibly have brought about the destruction of an entire city in so short a time? What kind of weapon was this?

What kind of evil.

“And I shall take from you these lives, a thousandfold.”

Though a litany of questions rang through his mind, Khalid did not pause for further consideration. With a determined set to his face, he spurred his stallion through the sand.

Despite Ardeshir’s sudden burst in speed, Khalid could not help but will his horse to move faster. Could not help but will the men at his side to take action now. There were only one hundred of them, all told. It should not be a feat of difficulty for his men to assemble with all haste.

Not with their city at stake.

Khalid felt urgency crackle through and around him as soon as he spurred his black stallion even faster, into a full gallop. The muscles in Ardeshir’s back flattened as his neck stretched forward. As his dark mane whipped about him. His speed grew to a pace that was nearly uncontrollable. Behind Khalid, the sound of hooves pummeling through the sand curled into the night sky. No orders had been given on Khalid’s part, yet the men now at his back pushed their tired mounts to new speeds with dire need. Pushed them through the dry brush and over the rising dunes.

Soon they could smell the burning city. Could taste the gritty bite of ash coating their tongues. The scent of scorched wood and earth mixed with the remnants of a recent storm. With the remnants of burning flesh.

Still, Khalid said nothing. He only prodded Ardeshir all the more.

As they neared the main thoroughfare leading to the city gates, Khalid caught sight of masses of people fleeing from the fire at their backs. Fleeing with all they could carry. They pushed through the city gates and streamed onto the road, like rats from rising water.

It was chaos. Screams and mournful wails took shape around them. People called for missing loved ones as they continued to run at a feverish pace.

“Sayyidi!” One of his Royal Guards pressed his steed closer, his voice coarse with alarm. “The main roads are clogged with survivors. Is it possible that . . . ?” He trailed off, his unspoken question clear.

How could they breach this wall of panicked denizens?

Immediately, Khalid reared his horse to a halt, then tugged his reins to one side. “The east road!” Khalid yelled back over his left shoulder.

They made a sharp turn through the sands toward an older roadway—one not as well maintained or well traversed as the others. Fallen stones and scorched debris littered the path. The men skirted the wreckage as though they were working their way around an ancient labyrinth. Khalid’s frustration grew at their stalled pace.

Soon they pushed past several stragglers and into the city proper. As they wound their way through its outskirts, the proof of all that had been lost drove them silent.

Drove them still for a gut-wrenching moment.

Much of Rey was still burning. Now it was no longer a ruined labyrinth but rather a maze of destruction. A maze to mirror his thoughts—lost. Directionless. The smoke and the smell clogged Khalid’s throat. The heat caused him to pull his dark rida’ back from his head. He took in the sight, even as many of his men’s horses whickered away from the blaze in fear. Scorched metal lay melting at their feet, further halting their progress.

▶ Also By Renee Ahdieh

▶ Hot Read

▶ Last Updated

▶ Recommend

Top Books