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Amira lay in her bed as she tried to shut out the pain form her leg. It didn't quite want to listen to her voice of reason. She could still feel the pathway the bullet had taken from upper hip to just before her knee. It felt like fire burned right through her muscle, it did.

It would get better. For Allah would reward the faithful. And she was a pure woman who walked in the righteous fear of the one true God. Even though she couldn't actually walk at the moment.

There was a knock on her door. "Come in," she let out. The door swung open to reveal Ashka, first cousin by her father's sister. A good man. He'd been one to try and protect her honor at the checkpoint stop. One could not be too careful in walking the true path in these times. With the coming of the Mahdi -- surely it was true this time -- the final days were drawing close.

No one had thought the guard had been so hot blooded and inexperienced as to pull his trigger at the wrong moment. In an eyeblink, a tiny piece of hot metal shot forth from a barrel and through the tender flesh of her thigh, crippling her. So here she lay. Untouched by a man but at the same time pierced by hot jacketed lead. How would she find a suitable husband now? She should resign herself to maidenhood now, never knowing the hot touch of a lover's carress in the loving approval of Allah's blessing.

"Ashka," she said.

"Amira," he replied. "I hope you are feeling well and I am sorry to tell you in your condition that we have a visitor. Do you feel well enough to entertain him?"

A visitor? Amira brought herself upright in the bed. It took some effort, but she managed to gain her footing. She wrapped her hijab around herself and grasped for the wooden cane near her bed. "Who seeks us at this hour?"

Ashka gave her a chagrined look. "You aren't going to believe me if I tell you."
Their arrival in Kuwait City was an unexpected turn of events as far as the local authorities were concerned. However, the Ascendancy's plane touched down with adequate security measures having already been undertaken. Surprise visits were not out of the ordinary for him, as sudden changes in plan generally served to heighten his safety, but by the time Nikolai walked the tarmac at Kuwait City International Airport, his motorcade was ready to be on the move.

By then, his presence was no longer a secret. The press corps that traveled with him snapped pictures up until the very moment the door wrapped him in the sleek steel tank that was his limousine. He heard no shortage of speculations spoken hastily into a dozen ear pieces along the way, each expanding on his destination. Almost everyone uttered the words 'Bayan Palace' at one point or another- and he could picture reporters coordinating with their local correspondents to prepare for a massive showing in the city center. However, from the quiet comfort of his vehicle, he took the time during the drive to study up on conditions, events, and specifics of the actual destination: a residence south of the city wherein lived an ordinary family placed in extraordinary circumstances.

Mubarak Al-Kabeer Governorate was vaguely as he remembered. The district consisted of a narrow strip primarily made up of residential neighborhoods positioned between the Persian coast to the east and empty desert to the west. He did not recall, however, there being another Hard Rock Cafe last time he was here - and unlike the popular franchise in the city center, this one was designed in the shape of a mosque. At that, he smiled briefly to himself.

A couple of men had appeared in the doorways to their homes by the time their vehicles rolled to a stop. They stopped in the center of a street which was little wider than an alley. Early morning sun had yet to crest the tops of the modest, two-story homes that ran the length of the block. Trash bins were shoved to the curb, awaiting trucks that had yet to empty them. Otherwise, the street was tidy, but barren and aged. The pairs of heavily armored cars were quite out of place here, gleaming black and pristine while surrounded by sandy stone and white-washed walls.

Alric stayed with him while agents from the adjacent car knocked on the appropriate door. They spoke briefly with the man who answered it, but when he peered around their shoulders, Nikolai could tell the exact moment he recognized the dual flags positioned proud on the hood. Though the standards hung limp in windless air, the familiar star of Dominance Five on the left swayed, fringed in blue, while the Ascendancy's Double Crescent fringed in gold waited on the right.

He emerged at that very moment, and from the distance, immediately met the man's eye. But this was no game. It was one thing to speak of someone, to hear their voice - but it was life changing to look them in the face. The man visibly paled.

The atmosphere indoors was quiet, but promising: a pot of water immediately before boiling. After sharing firm handshakes with everyone in the room, the Ascendancy shared a few words of comfort with the men of the house. The household was otherwise extremely hospitable and generous. He accepted a cup of tea, but was careful to sip only enough to not be disrespectful, but hopefully not swallow enough to kill him should it be laced with poison. The concern was nothing personal, but try to kill a man enough times and he generally assumes a certain, baseline level of care.

Amira herself was walked in while balanced on the arm by one of the young men Nikolai recognized as an infamous cousin. It was her that he'd really come to see, but to witness with his own eyes her general state of health was only part of the goal. She'd survive, he quickly deduced, but if a woman with a limp was as good as useless, then it was a fault of a perverse and backward culture that Nikolai could no sooner alter than he could the brightness of the sun. He could, however, give her a gift no other could present: the attention of the media - by the time Nikolai was back to his plane, Amira would likely be the recipient of a movie contract - do with it as she will.

She was otherwise a lovely young woman with a narrow, thoughtful face and wide eyes emphasized by a silk draped hijab. Nikolai bowed his head for her, and once presented, strode across the room rather than force her to take another painful step. He clasped his hands over hers in greeting, and expressed a desire that she heal swiftly. He was careful, however, to share concerns rather than apologies. Though unfortunate, her injuries were not the Custody's fault no matter who fired the weapon.
The camera loved Amira. More specifically, it loved to capture the emotion of a world frequently denied to them; hidden behind the veil of propriety. A carefully selected member of the Custody Press Corps was responsible for recording the extraordinary meeting. The most powerful people in the world shared tea and condolences with a family that quickly came to represent all of Dominance V. Nikolai was more than fully aware of the the symbolism of it all. Westerners would adore the image of a prince rescuing the damsel in distress. Easterners would focus on the deference the Arabs displayed to their Ascendancy - a man they claimed as one of their own - and representing all which Moscow had conquered. From the citizens of the Dominance itself, Nikolai attempted to purchase sympathy. The coldest and most narrow-minded would always remain isolated on the islands at the edge of a great cultural bell-curve, but the majority should remember why they invited him into their homes in the first place; as welcome and beloved as the figment of their imaginations to which they prayed so diligently.

The men of the household receded when it became clear that the Ascendancy was focusing on the collateral damage to the conflict uselessly brewing across their lands. Such was Nikolai's emphasis to the crowd of reporters that had flocked to the street by the time they emerged. With Amira at his side, the Ascendancy's hand laid fatherly on her shoulder, they stood side by side, promising the camera that together, they could outlast the extremists that were shattering the land's painfully purchased peace. That Amira would not be joined by countless others be they men, women, or children, wounded by hate.

"As Amira is free to pursue her dreams, so also will I pursue the dream we all share together on her behalf: for that of a civilized society built with the bricks of tolerance and rights. I go to Mecca to heal the cracks threatening our precious globe. Pray with me that I will be met by men and women as willing as I am to find resolution. So that no others will be wounded by hate."
He ended the impromptu speech by bowing his head as though dedicating the words to Amira herself, and when she smiled back at him, he knew it might as well have been the smile of the entire city.

Kuwait City was his once more. By the time his plane took the skies, his gaze was already shifted westward.
Barely able to stand as she was, Amira's good leg threatened to give way as the Ascendancy -- Nikolai -- strode across the room and grasped her hands. Firm, strong hands gently gripping her own, so warm and unlike anything she had felt before. She'd never been touched by any man not tied to her by blood before. Goosebumps prickled her flesh and her stomach fluttered as those intense eyes locked with hers and he spoke soft wordds to her. She barely remembered what she said in response, only that it came out in a whisper.

The visit was brief, but enough to last a lifetime for her. The man's presence and attention had awoken a flame within Amira. Cameras and reporters would come later from time to time, and they found a different woman than the broken young girl they had expected to pity. She flashed her smiles for them, and spoke of how wonderful her brief time with the Ascendancy was. The world raved of her beauty and ate up the touching story of a young girl harmed but not broken, desirring to shed her cocoon of seclusion and take flight like the butterfly she was at heart.

* * *

Ashka scowled as he watched the latest news team drive away. It was scandalous how Amira was flashing her face across the airwaves for the whole world to see like some western harlot of a movie star. She had always been one to watch for fear she would cast away her modesty, but now things had gone too far. He and Rasha had tried to keep the news crews away at first, but they had tried doing even worse by camping outside and watch for activity by the windows -- and she would try to encourage them with rare glimpses of herself beyond the curtain!

It was all that man's fault. He'd behaved so inappropriately -- calling on an unmarried woman unannounced, speaking softly to her, touching her hand? -- he had obviously corrupted her just as he was corrupting the whole land. Kuwait had never been a propr place to raise a young girl but it seemed one could no longer even make the attempt to follow the will of God without outside influence. The devil was everywhere and he had found his way into Amira.

Ashka found Rasha sitting alone in the small living room. He approached and took his brother's hand. "Brother, where is Amira?"

Rasha scowled. "She has left with one of those reporters. I forbade it unless one of us went with her, and she laughed at me! Told me there was no law against it and she was free to do as she wished. Threatened to have a Custodian come."

Ashka sighed. Did she truly no longer care about the highest law, the comand of Allah? "Brother, we made a promise to her father before he passed. We said we would keep her pure of heart and body. If we do not do something, she is going to call down the wrath of Allah upon our whole family for generations."

Rasha nodded, and a tear escaped one eye and ran down the side of his smooth cheek.

* * *

The media firestorm that surrounded Amira was set off anew once her body was found on the steps of the mosque, wrapped in clean white linen. The was no question who was to blame. Her cousins were immediately taken into custody and they did not attempt to hide what they had done. Honor slayings had long been forbidden even before the rise of Dominance V, and they were expected to be put to death for their crime.

The Dominance mourned Amira, and as with any great tragedy in the media, whispers of hindsight and second guessing grew. Who was culpable for this terrible act? Although her cousins had been the ones to commit the act, whispers rew from speculation that none of this would have happened if Nikolai Brandon hadn't decided to visit this girl and propel her into the spotlight. And those whispers refuse to die, instead spreading and gaining wings of their own: the fact of the matter was, he was a foreigner who failed to understand the ways of the peoples he claimed to rule, and he had blundered in his ignorance.

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