The History Thief of Azeri
By Ephy Yunan
The gate keeper’s onyx skin shone as it reflected the first rays of the morning sun. His short temper contrasted sharply with his tall and bulky build.
“Tourists are not allowed in Azeri. We only allow merchants and even they only come in for trade.” The gatekeeper said, crossing his hands against his chest to better emphasize his point.
I was starting to feel uncomfortable arguing with the burly man outside the gates of Azeri when Mina, my companion came to join us with her half eaten pineapple still in her hand. “These merchants sell the best pineapples the land has ever seen. No wonder the people of Azeri hide their produce within these giant walls…why are you here and not inside the gate already?” She took a break from her rambling, fixing the gate keeper with a nasty glare because she probably understood the situation at a glance.
“We are guests of the chief and have been invited here to solve a crime. Allow us in this very moment or we will be glad to tell the chief of your rudeness.” Mina said in a confrontational tone, trying not to appear concerned about the fact that we were not dressed like investigators at all. Crossing the dessert had a way of re- arranging ones taste in clothes.
The gate keeper reluctantly opened the gate to allow us in. Mina’s argument had saved us again, my only regret was that she did not join me earlier so we would have entered the gate half an hour earlier but Mina was Mina, she had to stop for food first.
We walked aimlessly for a while before a man offered to guide us to the council hall inside Azeri Proper. The deeper we went into town, the more vibrant the color fabrics and spicy aromas became. Even the streets were lined with festive decorations. At some point the festivity in the air became too apparent to ignore so I asked our guide what was going on.
The man turned to me with a smile and said, “Tonight we will be celebrating the remembrance of Aurora Ludwig, our town’s founder. We celebrate it every year. I thought that is what you were here for.”
“We are here for quite a different matter,” Mina spoke before I could say a word, “the council has a rather pressing matter to share with us.” The man went on to explain the inner workings of the council as we walked on. At some point, he mentioned the chief of the council’s family having been descended from the founder but some of his words were swallowed up in the noise of the people in the street.
The people of Azeri were a proud lot, guarding their culture like gold. It was part of the reason why they did not allow tourists.
By the time we arrived at the council hall, we found a meeting in process thus we had to wait shortly for it to end, much to Mina’s chagrin.
The hall was a beautiful place with curved ceilings and a glass floor. In the middle of the room, there was a grand table at whose head a man with long black hair sat. Everyone else in the room seemed to have been dwarfed by his presence and his clothes seemed to tow the line between stylishness and absurdness. All around the table were the six remaining council members who seemed tense . The only person who did not seem to be affected by the tension was the regal chief. Even Mina seemed to thaw a little in the man’s presence.
“We are quite sorry for keeping you waiting, ladies but as you know by now, there are matters that have to be looked into. It is the culture of the people of Azeri to entrust the history books to the council. We have realized lately that major events have been erased from the book. Now, history is the most precious thing among the people of this town. A people cannot maintain their identity if they do not know where they come from. We want the thief found. That is why we called you here. ”
There was a disorganized noise as the all the members joined in to give voice to their opinions. Nearly all of them were furious with the outrage they had previously been keeping bottled. It took me a while to understand that it was probably a sign of disrespect for someone to edit the book just beneath their noses and that the rest of the people in Azeri probably had no idea of what was going on.
“Silence, silence,” the chief yelled over their incessant murmurs, effectively silencing all of them. The man spoke in the tone of a man accustomed to command. Definitely cultured, but not authoritative. “Since you will be the ones protecting the book from the thief, there are things you need to know about the room where it is kept. It is protected by six wolves on all its sides. We fear that if the history thief were to attack, he would probably attack tonight. Tonight is the full moon therefore the wolves will be reduced to little or no vigilance making it the night the book of history is most vulnerable. We have tried posting guards in the absence of the wolves for the last few years but for some unknown reason, the thief always finds a way into the room. “
At the mention of an unknown way, my instinct sensed money. Guards could be bribed but wolves couldn’t. But in the absence of the wolves, the guards could not be trusted thus the need for Mina and I. whoever the thief was, he had to be in power to be rich enough to bribe anyone he chose to. I had a sneaking suspicion that the thief was in the very same room as we were.
At the celebration that night, everyone was elated. Mina was guarding the entrance of the room while I was at the celebration, trying to find anything that was amiss. Of the two of us, she was the fighter.
The people were a joyous lot, all caught up in the thrill of celebration but I enjoyed not interacting with them, I was accustomed to solitude. I spent my time alone even in a room full of people.
Everyone’s attention was captured at midnight when the chief took to the stage to address the people.
“My fellow patriarchs, a people have two things: their identity and their dignity. If you take one then you take both. Tonight we want to celebrate the spirit of the people of Azeri and the effort it has taken to protect our culture so far. As we celebrate Aurora Ludwig, our founder, we want to celebrate our history. I wish you all happy festivities and may Azeri stand forever.” The chief finished speaking and with a slight bow, left the stage. He did not take many steps away from the podium before he was descended upon by many people, each wishing to deliver their best wishes in person.
One minute the chief was speaking to an important looking man and woman in the town square and the next he was lost amidst the hundreds of revelers in the square. Deciding to seek him out, I spotted his colorful print scarf somewhere in the distance for a millisecond. I tried to follow his trail but only came to find myself next to his chambers.
“I am looking for the chief of the council, have you seen him?” I asked a guard. The guard nodded pointing me to the corridor to his left. “The red door.” He said. I thanked him, running along to find the chief. Something was wrong with the way none of the council members were present at the celebration except him.
I was almost to the end of the corridor when a corner materialized at the end. Cursing, I rounded the corner only to find myself in another long corner. There were doors, brown doors, mahogany doors and grey steel doors but none of them were painted red. I was about to give up and return to the festivities when I spotted the red door just ahead. The green door opposite the red door was half ajar. Out of sheer curiosity, I peeped into the room. My eyes first landed on a woman, dead asleep on a chair. I did not think much of it until I realized she looked familiar. I had seen her at the council meeting earlier in the day; she was one of the council members. I was going to try and wake her and ask her where the rest of the council was but my question answered itself because at that very moment that I pushed the door open, I saw the rest of the council, deep asleep too. None of them would wake up no matter how much I shook them.
It was not hard to figure it out by the way their fingers had turned into an ugly shade of grey that someone had given them nightshade. The nightshade was not enough to kill them but just enough to send them deep into sleep.
I run to the opposite room, trying to get help from the chief but all I found were the clothes he had been wearing. I did not know if what was done to the council members was his action or if he, too was a victim. Not finding him anywhere, I run back outside to the celebration only to find chaos.
People were shouting in outrage and decorations were being ripped off in fury. Everyone was angry and chairs were being flung around. It occurred to me that maybe it was tradition to turn feline after midnight in Azeri but the purely outraged expressions gave me pause; it was hard to imagine that these people had been celebrating a few moments ago. I asked a woman who was spotting a frown away from the bloodthirsty mob what had happened.
“The house Ludwig lied to us, Aurora Ludwig was not the founder, and she was a heretic who was banished. We just found the stolen pages of the history book. They were hidden in the council room. They are going to the council room to get the book themselves.” She said.
I wrestled my way through the outraged crowd to try and get to the council hall in order to check on Mina ahead of the angry mob. If they found her there guarding the book, there was no telling what would happen to her.
I was trying my best to stay ahead of the crowd without being obvious when I ran straight into a wall of flesh. Aurora.
Running into her made her lose her grip on the person she was forcibly dragging out. The person was dressed in black from head to toe and was trying to get away through the thick crowd. His ripped clothes indicated that Mina’s warrior skills had been put to good use tonight though the birds mask on his face still stayed intact.
“Catch that person!” Aurora screamed in panic as a few men in the mob ran to catch the man with the ripped clothes. “He is the history thief.”
Although the man in ripped clothes was fast, he was not fast enough to outrun an entire mob. He received a thousand blows and kicks before reason reasserted itself and the people decided to use the law on him.
“Every thief that is caught is taken to the chief,” a man yelled, “let us take him to the chief.”
I watched the people of Azeri match to the chief’s compound, hoping that he would unmask the thief. I watched the people of Azeri grow impatient after failing to find the chief himself and I watched them decide to unmask the thief themselves.
When the mask was peeled off, the face behind it turned out to be no one else’s but the chief of the council. That is the day that the great city of Azeri fell.