Chapter 1: Modern, and Crusades

Ali stepped out of the portal and took in his surroundings. Before him was a city with its own port. On three sides of him there was nothing but sand as far as the eye could see. In his eyes it was obvious where he needed to go. Looking over his garb he saw that he was dressed like the Bedouin of the desert. His face at the moment was uncovered, but he quickly corrected that: Ali had no intention of letting anyone see his face unless he wanted them to.

Heading into the city gates the knightly guards eyed him, but didn't stop him. There were plenty of other Arab dressed similar to Ali that he was easily able to blend in with the crowd. Among his clothes were a dagger and a sword, the dagger he kept carefully hidden while wearing his sword openly as was custom. Once inside the city he found a quiet corner and produced the dagger. He had already checked both weapons, but now he would need money and his guide had not given him any. Careful not to keep it visible as he held it Ali walked into the crowd. When he saw a fat money bag hanging from a man's waist he cut it quietly and slipped into the crowd. The owner of course immediately noticed, but Ali knew how to lose himself in a group of people. As a child he had learned to become an accomplished thief out of necessity. Left alone in the world he had been forced to provide for himself, and a child who had been forced into a militia didn't have a lot of conventional talents.

In a few grabs he had earned himself enough to provide for food and lodging. At a nearby inn he paid for a meal and room. While he ate he checked the crowd and noticed a few individuals giving him the occasional glance. When he caught them in the act the last time they quickly looked away. Ali guessed they were fellow thieves and one or two might have noticed his handy work. He recognized the one farthest from him as he turned away from the last fat merchant he had taken a heavy money bag from. The man hadn't intervened, so Ali knew he wasn't a body guard. Either way Ali didn't like the idea of someone like these men knowing where he lived.

In most cities thieves didn't like competition, and some even became violent when someone else stepped on their turf. It would be better for Ali to move and not take the risk of upsetting anyone. Finishing his meal he started to get up when he saw the three men head toward him. Ali knew that if he ran someone outside would think he had done something wrong, so he checked himself. None of the strangers had drawn a weapon yet.

"Greetings stranger, I am Azim, and these are my compatriots Beru and Kar. You have some talent." Azim said with a pleasant smile.

"I'm sure I don't know what you mean, but it was a pleasure meeting you. Excuse me." Ali said but Beru bared his way, giving him a nasty smile.

"I take it I have given some offense of which I am unaware of, and for that I apologize." Ali said eyeing each of them.

Already he was judging the distance between him and each man if things escalated.

"I'm afraid you'll have to do more than that. My friend here has a daughter who is very sick. You could improve your standing by offering to help." Azim replied.

"And this "gift" would no doubt be a sizable sum so I might help this very sick child." Ali suggested.

"Now you have." Azim said with a friendly smile, but in Ali's mind the threat was clear: these men were prepared to hurt or even kill him if he refused.

Doubtless they thought that because he was surrounded that he would surrender without a fight, but Ali hadn't started his life out as a thief: even he didn't like being backed into a corner. Smiling he looked at each of them as he acted like he was going for his money purse. Without warning his right hand shot out in the form of a balled fist and caught Azim in the throat. The thin bearded man gripped his throat and fell backwards, causing both his comrades to turn their gaze away from their quarry in surprise. Neither of them had expected it and the distraction provided Ali his opening. Rushing one he kneed him in the balls and put him between Ali and Beru who now moved to attack. Seeing the knife at Kar's belt Ali unsheathed it. One quick cut to the man's hamstring brought him down, leaving only the scared Beru, who reached for his own. Ali was far too quick and had no intention of letting his enemy defend himself. Leaping on top of the kneeling Kar, he sprang at his target bringing the blade down with a slash. Beru's face was cut and he screamed. Ali crouched down in front of the blinded man and stabbed upward between his legs. Blood spurted everywhere and the man fell to the side gripping his privates. As he bled out Ali finished Azim with a slash to the throat.

Ducking out the back Ali avoided the patrol who came to find out what was going on. Using a stack of boxes he found a way to the roof of the next building and hid up there. Once the patrol came out the back door they split up in hopes of finding him. It was at that moment that Ali decided that his new career as a cut purse had just ended. Staying on the roof tops until dark he snuck down to a well to wash off the blood. With that done he found another inn and fell asleep.

The following morning he awoke to the sound of loud voices downstairs, "Where is he?"

"I don't know who you are talking about sir." The innkeeper said, but Ali had a feeling he did.

Quickly dressing Ali climbed out the window and jumped down into a bail of hay below. Rolling to his feet he made it into the crowd. Ali could only think of one explanation for this close call: the thieves in the city had given him up to the law to remove the troublemaker. Unfortunately for them by painting a target on his back, they in turn had painted targets on the backs of their leaders.

When one knew what to look for it was quite easy to track a group of inexperienced thieves. Watching them from a nearby roof he followed them back to their boss' residence when they paid him his share. That night he approached the ground entrance in the guise of a blind beggar. When he was within striking distance of the two men standing guard at the door, he produced two throwing knives and threw them with deadly accuracy. As both of them dropped with almost no sound, Ali snuck into the building, making his way upstairs he found their boss sleeping. Drawing his sword he pressed it against the exposed throat of his victim. The cold touch of steel awoke the man, and he immediately froze when he realized what was happening.

"Allow me to introduce myself: I'm Ali Barai, the man you sent that patrol after earlier this week. You needn't bother to call for help due to the fact I've already killed your guards. Even someone else does here you you'll be dead long before they get here." Ali said.

"What do you want?" The helpless man said.

"I want you to pay me to kill your fellows. The same ones who wanted me dead or captured just like you. On the plus side this will leave you as the head thief in this place." Ali replied.

"And if I refuse?" He asked.

"Since I originally planned to kill you anyway I'll just dispatch you and offer one of the others the same deal. It doesn't really matter which one of you makes the deal. You just got the luck of the draw." Ali explained.

"I don't see I have much choice." He said.

"I imagine you don't." Ali replied.

Ali went into the service of Halid, the man who he had spared that night. If the man ever came to question the wisdom of his decision that night he had only to look at what had happened to his former rivals. One by one they fell to Ali's poisoned blade. Some died in their beds, while others died in crowded streets after being stabbed out of nowhere and left to die. Not one survived, Ali was nothing but thorough. He chose only the deadliest of poisons that would guarantee the death of his targets. By the time anyone figured out what was happening it was too late. When anyone else challenged Halid's authority Ali found them and silenced them. Since everyone had bodyguards at all times, he found more creative ways to kill.

A middle-aged man named Mustafa proved one of the most difficult to eliminate, so Ali found a place on a roof top nearby. From his firing position he launched an arrow into the man's window with a small sack of gunpowder attached. Already lit it went off inside the room. As guards rushed upstairs Ali continued to fire until he heard the screams of dying men. It was a fairly inaccurate way of killing, but Barai's main purpose was not to kill. Mustafa survived that night, but just barely, and he had the scars to prove it. The message either way had been delivered: no one was out of Ali's reach, and it encouraged Mustafa to re-think things. Once he had healed he paid a visit to Halid and offered him his due tribute.

Halid himself was so pleased that he offered Barai an additional bonus for not only scaring Mustafa, but anyone else who had been causing Halid trouble. The local lord tried to shut down the criminal enterprise, but Ali wasn't about to see his only source of income put out of business. Hiding more gunpowder among barrels of wine, he wheeled a cart to the city armory. No one bothered to stop him, as he had paid off the man who normally delivered the wine and used his cart. Once safely away he fired a flaming arrow from a hidden location and watched the cart explode, taking out the guards and the armory.

Leaving the symbol of a jackal and a written warning near the scene, Ali made it perfectly clear what would happen if the foreign noble kept pushing. In an effort to stave off further damage the noble left Halid alone from then on. Halid became practically untouchable, and the Jackal's fame began to spread. Jobs came in from other cities and towns, and Halid tried to play the part of a middle man. Unfortunately Barai now felt like branching out on his own. He was done killing two-bit criminals and was eager for greater challenges, while Halid wanted to keep their current arrangement. Barai in response quietly slipped away.

He had enough money now that he didn't need Halid's business anymore. In the port city of Tyre he started an information business where he trained spies to gather whatever he thought might prove useful to him. Money wasn't his only goal now, now he wanted power and influence as well. His favorite target was a corrupt official. It didn't matter if they were a priest or a noble. If one of them stepped out of line Ali's spies would be there to catch them in the act. His usual method of dealing with them when he had gathered enough evidence was to blackmail the official for money or favors. Through the corrupt men he had an in into the system of government and could effect how policies and orders were carried out.

None of the Crusaders could make a move without him knowing about it first. Saracen spies hearing about this network approached Ali to find out if he could offer them the intel they wanted. Ali made the spies go through several intermediaries as a way of protecting himself. He allowed no outsider to ever meet him directly so no one in Tyre knew his face.

When one of his spies reported to him the spy said, "The Saracens wonder if we could pass on troop movements."

"If we can?" Ali asked inside his dining room where they both stood in the middle of the night.

"They will deliver the usual amount of money in whatever method we deem necessary for our security." The spy said.

He was an older man dressed as a dock worker. Khazeem was the most experienced of his spies and a trusted operator.

"Speak with them again and tell them that we can provide the services they require for half the usual amount. When they ask why tell him that your employer would be honored to meet with theirs if at all possible. Of course this would after you are satisfied that our quality of service is good. One must take pride in his work of course." Ali said.

Khazeem nodded, understanding that he was to use his master's exact wording when he delivered the message. Ali didn't have to wait long for the response to come in, as the Saracens were eager to get the intelligence. Salah-ud-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub or as he was known by Christians Saladin was intrigued by the offer and when the troop movements proved very accurate the king asked to meet this Jackal. The meeting happened at the camp of the Saracen army deep in the desert.

Ali waited outside of the tent dressed as a black garbed Bedouin and fully armed. The guards resisted when he tried to enter the command tent.

"You will have to give up your arms to enter." The guard said.

"That was not the agreement, but if that is the price of admission so be it." Ali said.

"That will not be necessary. Let him in." A voice came from inside the tent.

"Yes sire." The guard on the left said though he gave Ali a warning look.

Ali seemed unaffected by the gesture and entered the tent to meet Saladin. One of the bearded men he saw matched the description his spies had given him of the Saracen king.

Heading straight to him Ali bowed at the waist and greeted him, "I am Ali Barai also known as the Jackal."

Saladin was not dressed in the clothing of a king or was wearing armor, so he was quite surprised to be recognized in his plain black robes.

"How do you know me?" Saladin asked.

"We have never met." Ali told him.

"Then you have a spy in my army. Someone who has actually seen my face." Saladin said with a look of admiration.

"I like to be well prepared before I meet anyone." Ali answered.

"But you will not confirm if you have a spy in my midst?" Saladin ventured.

"Who is to say when someone saw your face? Do you pay attention to every servant or passerby? My reach is long sire and I am very good at what I do." Ali replied.

"If you were in my service I could order it." Saladin commented.

"Then sadly I would be forced to end any possible relationship between us, and neither would benefit." Ali said.

"And yet you would do it anyway?" Saladin asked watching Ali's face.

"Without loyalty to my people, what is to keep them from betraying me?" Ali asked in response.

"I can respect that, and as a sign of respect I would like to make you an offer Ali." Saladin said.

"I'm listening sire." Ali replied.

"Good I too have done research on you and have heard tales of your exploits against my enemies. I would like you to remain here in camp and direct the gathering of information." Saladin said.

"Begging your pardon sire but I can offer you so much more." Ali said.

"How so?" Saladin asked.

"Establishing independent units in multiple cities gathering intelligence and disrupting enemy operations, training soldiers in the field that could effectively make each of your soldier far more effective, and lessen your rate of casualties." Ali offered.

"Tell me more." Saladin said offering him a stool to sit down on while he himself took a seat on his own.

"Imagine your enemies marching across the desert. Because of their armor they are tired and overheating. If you draw up traditional battle lines they have time to stop and recuperate, but if you attack them immediately then you will catch them unprepared and at their worst." Ali explained.

"And how do you plan to accomplish that? In the open desert a large army cannot hide behind dunes." Saladin replied.

"Let me show you." Ali said with a smile.

Saladin watched with his staff as a mock battle was about to commence. A traditional column of troops was marching through a group of dunes when suddenly the men in the column started to panic kicking up dirt. For a moment Saladin almost forgot that this was practice instead of real. While both sides had been told that this was fake the defending force had not been told how this battle with happen. The cries he heard were real as men were caught by surprise as men jumped out of pits or from under shallow hiding places in the sand and immediately attacked. Men fell down as they had been trained after being struck. Very few attackers fell while many more defenders died, and when a second group of horsemen attacked from behind a group of nearby the defenders were routed.

"Amazing!" Saladin said.

"With practice you will be able to put out more of these units into the field and stack the odds further against your enemies, but this is good enough to get the point across." Ali said eyeing the battlefield with a critical eye. Men began to get up and joined their fellows, the victors congratulating themselves.

"You have more than proven your point on this. What else can you show me?" Saladin asked.

Ali shrugged and said, "I may a few more tricks to show you."

A week later Saladin stood outside on a sunny day waiting next to a catapult. Saladin waited with growing curiosity as a crew load a large metal ball with a substance called "gunpowder" inside it along with a fuse. When the crew was finished most of them stepped away, while one of them stepped in to light the long fuse.

"Fire!" Ali ordered standing beside Saladin.

Pulling the leveler one of the crewman activated the catapult firing mechanism and sent the projectile on it downrange. When it hit the ground it exploded with a great impact sending dirt and metal shards flying in all directions. Saladin and his generals stood there speechless for a few minutes.

"Imagine that hitting a wall or a battle line." Ali said prompting Saladin back to the present.

"What? Oh ... yes. You can recreate this?" Saladin said.

"Chemistry is among my talents. I have found it useful at times. If you would prefer I can begin training your crews so they can begin experimenting with ranges and fuse lengths using these new bombs." Ali said.

"I don't understand what that will do." Saladin commented.

Ali ordered another bomb to be loaded. When it was up there and ready Ali stopped them from lighting it and walked over to where the fuse hung towards the ground. Taking out his knife he eyed the fuse for a moment and made a cut, tossing away the portion he had cut off.

"Prepare to fire." Ali said stepping away.

When the fuse was lit he said, "Fire!"

The new bomb was sent flying, but this time instead of exploding on impact with the ground, it exploded just around chest level.

"Hmm ... I was a little off." Ali said with a critical eye.

"That was certainly impressive!" Saladin exclaimed.

"Despite my error in judgment it still increased the level of impact it would have made on a target. That hit would have certainly caused a great deal more casualties due to bits of metal slicing through flesh." Ali said.

"With this weapon victory is assured!" One of the Saracen generals said.

Ali said nothing and merely walked back toward his tent.

"Wait!" Saladin called out after him and Ali obediently waited.

"Yes sire?" Ali said.

"You didn't respond to his comment. Why?" Saladin asked.

"The weapon will certainly provide you with a significant advantage if used correctly." Ali replied.

"But?" Saladin asked.

"You may regret using it." Ali said.

It wasn't until after the first battle using the new weapon Saladin understood Ali's last comment: seeing the bodies of both the dead and dying cut open Saladin thought he would be sick. It was awful sight that made even many of the hardened men on both sides would have rather have never seen again. A number of the wounded begged for death rather than deal with the agony and horror of their wounds.

"May Allah forgive me." Saladin said as he walked away from the battlefield with Ali at his side.

"After seeing things like this it easy for me not to believe in him." Ali commented.

"You have no regrets, though you knew I would." Saladin realized.

"Simply because I no longer feel something doesn't mean I don't remember what it felt like." Ali replied.

"How did you get this way?" Saladin asked.

"I was taken from my mother's arms at a young age and taught to show no mercy to my new masters' enemies, when other's hesitated I followed my orders. I even killed former friends because they didn't obey. If you knew the things I've done that you would hate me just as your god would if he existed." Ali said turning his gaze to the sky where vultures circled above them.

The following morning Saladin called Ali to his tent and had his guest take a seat when he arrived, "Your skills have been invaluable to this army, but your words yesterday concern me."

"You believe I lack a conscious?" Ali asked.

"No, your demeanor shows otherwise, but it is my belief that every man must believe in something. Is there anything you hold dear?" Saladin said.

"My own life and professional pride." Ali said with a shrug.

"Nothing more? No wife or children?" Saladin said.

"In the past I have been able to fake it, but the truth is I've never felt the need to start a family on my own." Ali confessed.

"Why?" Saladin said.

"Would you trust me with your children?" Ali asked.

"Yes." Saladin answered.

Ali blinked in shock before replying, "You surprise me yet again."

"It is my opinion that you are not an evil man Ali Barai, merely a man who has been forced to do things that no one else would do and now you are dealing with the consequences. May ask a difficult service of you? One that will stretch you even more than you ever have been?" Saladin said.

"I will try. What is your will sire?" Ali answered.

"How do you feel about politics?" Saladin asked.

Ali rode into the newly conquered city of Tripoli as its new lord. In the past few months the Muslims had managed several sound defeats of the Christian armies out in the field, before laying siege to one of the port cities that so many crusaders entered the Holy Land through. Ali was given the responsibility of ruling and protecting it from being retaken by the enemy. He immediately set out to repair the damage from the siege and improved the defenses as best as he could. While this was in progress he began organizing an organization that he called medics. Each of them would be trained to stabilize their patients as best as they could until a doctor could arrive to treat them. Their main duties included patching wounds, taking vitals, and using mild pain killers. Ali then divided them into part time and full time. While both would be on call in the case of an attack the part timers served one day each week where they would man a clinic setup in the city's market. The full time medics were assigned shifts everyday. The end result was an increase in public health since the common citizen could now bring serious and life threatening injuries to the clinic to treat.

Ali found side projects like the medics a welcome break from day to day politics bored him to no end.

Nasim, his head adviser one morning said, "Your pardon my lord, but messenger is waiting outside from Saladin is waiting outside."

Ali turned back to the two squabbling merchants in front of him and said, "I'm sorry gentlemen but it seems we will have to deal with your issue at another time. Please leave your concerns with my clerk outside the door and he will try to arrange another time for a ruling. Now if you'll excuse me."

"Of course Lord Barai." Both men said before taking their leave.

When they were gone Ali sighed saying, "Thank god that is over!"

"I take it you want to meet with the messenger immediately my lord?" Nasim said.

"Yes, yes send him in." Ali ordered with a wave of his hand.

When the messenger entered he presented himself to Barai and said, "My master, King Salah-ud-Din sends his vassal Lord Ali Barai news that a new wave of crusaders are entering the Holy Land Baldwin IV is still waging war with my master in the north a crusader army is heading this way to retake this city."

"Who is leading it? Do you know?" Ali asked leaning back.

"Our sources say a man by the name of Richard of..." The messenger began to say.

"Of England." Ali finished.

"How did you know that my lord?" The messenger asked.

"Let's just say I've heard of him. Anyone else?" Ali asked.

"A Philip Augustus of France, and Frederick Barbarossa of Germany. Our reports indicate they plan to join forces before they arrive." The messenger answered.

"When can I expect aid?" Ali asked.

"The king believes that he will be able arrive three days after." The messenger said with a worried look on his face.

Ali as usual kept his facial features composed, "You mean after the enemy will arrive at my city gates?"

"Yes ... my ... lord." The messenger answered nervously expecting Ali to be very angry.

"Please return to our master and ask on behalf of his faithful servant to please make haste with all speed while I try to do my duty, and hold this city against the invaders as he commanded me." Ali said getting up and leaving the relieved messenger behind.

Nasim soon caught up with him, "What do you plan to do?"

"Form a militia to bolster our garrison and prepare as best I can for what is to come as I just promised my king." Ali said.

As part of rebuilding the city's defenses Ali had begun training two new types of soldiers: demolitions and grenadiers. These individuals were trained to in one of two specific skills: using grenades safely and setting landmines. Each was dangerous work despite the high quality Ali was able to produce himself. The triggering mechanism was kept internally to cut out the risk of a stray spark that an inventor of the time might produce if they tried to make their own. Despite these very handy features there was still the problem of accidently blowing yourself up if you weren't careful. Landmines were buried in the sand around the walls for hundreds of yards. For safety the mines were planted from the outside going in with a path going straight to the gate so Ali's people could safely set them and walk back without blowing themselves up. The grenadiers trained at both daytime and at night so they could throw quite accurately. If that weren't bad enough there was one more thing Ali had been able to build, more like an entire set of things actually: cannons. Spread across the walls he had two of them setup to cover the clear path to the main gate.

When the Crusaders showed up Ali was quite satisfied to wait behind his city's wall and not meet the much larger enemy army outside it. Richard King of England drew up his battle lines, bringing his siege towers and ladders to the forefront. Catapults from the Crusaders began launching rocks at the city as midday neared, but the defenders didn't fire back as Ali had ordered them not to. When the enemy began to advance the reason became clear as randomly spaced landmines began to go off as they were triggered by the wheels of the towers or the feet of marching troops. To the enemy it looked like the ground itself was trying to kill them. As dozens of men began to die in the space of a few yards men began to panic and tried to retreat. By the time the enemy was a quarter of the way into the mine field Richard was unable to keep his lines stable and had to lead his men in an organized retreat or risk a total route. That night the barrage began again, but the defenders were in high spirits after their victory that day, while the Crusaders on the other hand were in low spirits.

"Amazing sire! Surely we could hold them off for a week without facing the threat of anything but their catapults. I saw two of their towers damaged beyond repair, and now they are stuck out there abandoned." Nasim exclaimed jubilantly.

"Until they figure out that there is a clear straight path that they can approach our gates by." Ali replied.

"I hadn't thought of that." Nasim said with a sudden look on his face.

"I have." Ali said.

"And yet you don't seem worried sire." Nasim commented.

"Because I left that path there for more than one reason. When the enemy tries to attack us down it you'll see why." Ali said turning his back on the sight of his enemy's campfires.

It took an entire day of searching before the crusaders found the path Ali had described. Richard himself led the charge but it was his men who took the brunt of it as Ali ordered his gun crews to fire behind the enemy leader. The effect was a splitting of the enemy forces behind the barrage men ground to a halt as specific area was pummeled. Few of them wanted to step into it, remembering how many they had lost in the last battle. Those who did were widdled down to almost nothing as balls of metal crushed and smashed into the bodies of the attackers. Through his spy glass Ali watched a head disappear from a man's shoulders in the space of a second.

"Keep firing!" Ali ordered as he saw the determined Richard continue his charge.

Despite being cutoff the English king had managed bring many men with him, which still made him a threat, but Ali didn't intend for this to last long.

"Arrows!" Ali shouted.

Archers with their arms already strained from holding their bows taunt released a hail of arrows into Richard's men. Some men slowed as they had to step over the bodies of their comrades. Anyone who strayed too far to the right or the left triggered a mine that blew off a leg or killed the individual outright. Frederick refusing to leave his ally to the slaughter charged across the no man's land with his most loyal men close behind. Half of them made it across leaving him with only a thousand. By this time Richard was almost at the walls ordering the battering ram forward.

"Grenades!" Ali ordered hearing his men pass it down the line.

Grenadiers pulled the pins and tossed the explosives down on the crusaders pushing the battering ram. Most bounced off, while others rolled down the shelter that was supposed to protect the men pushing, but both proved deadly. The grenades that rolled blew up on the roof creating holes for archers to fire into, and raining shrapnel down on the men underneath. The grenades that bounced off landed among men who watched and waited since none of the siege ladders had made it through. When they tried to flee they found themselves hemmed in by their own troops or by the mines that were just as deadly to them. When the dead began to pile up Richard limping from a piece of shrapnel in his calf ordered the retreat. Frederick could do little to help him as Richard's men stood between the other king and his ally because of the tight quarters. Ali made sure that the enemy were far from the walls before he ordered his men to stand down.

"Take any wounded we have below and have them treated. I don't imagine the enemy will be back tonight." Ali said closing the spyglass with a snap.

Ali was tempted to send a messenger of his own to find out what had happened to his relief after two more days had passed, and the crusaders had resorted to trying to breaking their defenses down from a distance. Until they could exploit some obvious breach approaching the walls of Ali's city seemed incredibly risky at best. It would in fact be another day before Ali saw the banner of his master coming up behind the enemy army. Beaten and demoralized the crusaders were not in a position to fight a superior force so Richard ordered a retreat and to Ali's surprise Saladin seemed be willing to let them go.

Turning to Nasim Ali said, "Send out a messenger so my master will know about the minefield and that I will soon go out to meet him."

Nasim nodded and headed off to carry out his lord's orders. When Ali Barai rode into the Saracen camp he was surprised to not find his master waiting for him, instead he was led to the command tent where he met Saladin's generals.

"Our master is dead. He was killed by one of the Assassins." One of the generals said.

The Assassins as they were called were a native group from the Holy Land who saw Saladin as an enemy which made them a de facto ally of the crusaders. As Saladin proved himself to be a growing threat they had increased their attempts to assassinate him, and had managed to succeed this last time.

"He took Jerusalem before he was slain in his bed, and he named you his successor." The general said.

Ali caught the furtive glance one of the other generals gave his comrade, and then Ali remembered most of these men had not liked him: they might have even thought he was responsible for their master's death given his former profession and skill set.

"Let me guess: you think I handed over your master to his death so I could take his place." Ali said, and by the nervous looks they gave him and each other he knew he had hit the mark.

"Allow me to walk out of here and return to my city and you may have our former master's mandate. I don't want any part of it. This one charge I agreed to take, not my late king's kingdom. But if you attack me then not one of you will leave this tent alive." Ali said looking at the faces of each of them.

A slower man might have been taken by surprise, but Ali was already like a loaded spring when the first man went for his sword. Before it had even cleared the scabbard a throwing knife sank into his throat. The surprised man choked and fell backward, his fingers clawing at the weapon. Unleashed Ali drew his sword and attacked and took the fight two men. Two more men were down before the others tried to fight back, but now there was only three left and they weren't enough to even keep him at bay. Their blades had to score solid hits, while his were coated with poison and only needed small cuts, and the substance was fast acting. The final general fell with his throat, while the other two died from the poison with only two tiny cuts to face and arms of each of them. Keeping his sword out Ali walked out the tent flap to find two guards waiting with their spears pointed at them.

"I have killed your masters because they tried to kill me for a crime I never committed. Make the same mistake and theirs will not be the only blood on my blade." Ali said.

The guards looked at each other before putting up their weapons and getting out of his way. Ali found his horse still tied up and rode back into Tripoli. The Saracen army was now practically leaderless and the surviving officers after finding out what had happened sought to meet Ali under a banner of truce. This time he brought a large bodyguard and none argued. It took a lot of convincing, but eventually he agreed to be Saladin's successor until another could be found to replace.

His first move Ali made was the last one anyone expected. Instead of pulling back to consolidate his power he attacked, and not just in conventional means. Using unconventional warfare he harried his enemy wherever they were, often using teams of specially trained men and women to attack at night. Tents were set aflame, while many men were stabbed in their sleep. The commitment of Ali's people was such that it put the Assassins to shame. People tired of the atrocities of the crusaders and the interference of the Assassins joined Ali's ranks and soon the new leader was attacking on two fronts. The Assassins once the hunters found that they too could die by a blade in the night.

When they tried to sue for peace Ali gave them his terms, "Present me your leaders that I may execute them for their crimes, and the rest may live so long as you swear fealty to me."

Seeing no other way out the leaders agreed as they considered the fact that more than half of them had been killed already, and it was only a matter of time before Ali found the rest. Their execution was public so all could see "Saladin's murderers". With the Assassins now under his control Ali sent them against the strategic port cities, where his enemy entered the Holy Land. When the third or fourth lord died in a row, most of them sued for peace and Ali allowed their armies to return home. While this was happening Ali was fighting the last of the crusader armies and slew the kings of the nation's before he forced Richard now called "The Lionhearted" to accept a peace treaty that would only allow a small force of the Europeans to remain in the Holy Land, but on the condition that they made no further trouble.

By this time many new supporters who saw Ali Barai as a skilled military and political leader urged him to take the kingdom for his own. To keep things stable Ali agreed and adopted Saladin's family into his own. Ali still hating politics, despite his talent in it proved be somewhat unpredictable when he chose two very different wives: Saladin's sister Sittah, and Queen Theodora Komnene who had ruled Acre before Ali had taken it from her late husband. She was barely fifteen so Ali with a very 20th Century westernized attitude chose not to bring her into his bed. Instead he would spend his time with her riding or conversing over literature and current events. Encouraging her education he provided her with whatever tutors or books she wanted.

No one could understand why one would have such a beautiful wife if you seemed to have no intention to sleep with her, but whenever asked about it Ali would say, "The benefit of being a king is that I get to follow my council when I wish so I'll ask you to kindly keep yourself out of my affairs."

When Ali became a Christian after a long argument with his wife that lasted several hours his supporters became alarmed. With the Crusades barely behind them the idea of having a Christian monarch in charge was disconcerting to say the least. Without meaning to assuage their fears Ali proved that he wouldn't be a typical Christian like the ones in Europe when the Pope eager to take advantage of the situation offered to visit. Barai's response, though polite was a refusal in the form of pointing out that it might be considered bad manners after the previous conflict. This however did not stop some from wishing that their monarch had married another Muslim instead of a Christian. A number of these individuals approached Sittah to seek her husbands favor after the birth of their son Yussef. If this could be accomplished it would guarantee the eldest child's right to succession over any child Theodora might later produce, but Sittah refused.

"You don't know my husband as I do. I knew him while my brother still lived and I know Ali killed and conquered to honor Saladin who he respected. I have seen the way he looks at Theodora, and while I'm sure he does not realize it yet, I am sure he loves her. I have no intention of tempting the wrath of such a man, especially when my position is not set in stone." Sittah said.

As far as she was concerned Sittah was quite content with her current station in life. She was married to one of the most powerful men in the world, and she had born a son by him. The fact that she loved him, but he didn't love her was a private matter Sittah kept to herself. True, part of her envied Theodora, but it was not enough for Sittah to risk Ali thinking less of her. She watched as Ali and Theodora grew closer and closer though they had still not had not consummated their marriage. On Theodora's 18th birthday she and Ali were going to church when a man carrying a knife came out of the crowd and tried to stab his wife. Purposely stepping in the way just in time, Ali took the hit on his back. The blade hit the shoulder blade. The assassin quickly escapes by rushing back into the crowd as guards rush to the aid of their king. This escape would prove short lived as Ali, even as he was being patched up by doctors ordered the capture of anyone directly involved or knew about it to be placed under arrest. During the course of the investigation some of the guilty parties pointed to Sittah's possible involvement. When Ali looked into it personally he called Sittah after performing a thorough investigation.

"You have been accused of taking part in the attempted assassination of a member of this family." Ali said his face serious, but not emotional.

Sittah was well aware that her husband never did this anymore unless he intended to appear intimidating, instead he usually fooled his opponents with a smile and reasonable tone. This behavior was always a setup while he moved his pieces behind the scenes or while he already had you in his sights with him ready to pull the trigger.

"Surely you know I had nothing to do with it?" Sittah asked.

"Do I? Did you have any suspicions that it would happen?" Ali asked.

Sittah was surprised by her answer when she said, "Yes I had some suspicions."

"Then you have made my next decision all that easier. I will take my wife Theodora and my loyal followers to the coast, where I will rule the cities I conquered, and are mine by right. In my absence you may rule as regent until Yussef until is of age or if you wish you can appoint another. I care not which. This is my last act as your husband. Be glad that your betrayal has gotten you the throne you wanted, and you get to keep your life, but know that from now on we are enemies. Never come into my sight again on pain of death." Ali said.

For a moment Sittah was speechless. Never in her worst nightmares did she foresee this event. At this moment death would be kind when compared to cold tone in his voice. With tears streaming down her face Sittah lost all strength in her legs and crumbled to the ground.

"Forgive me husband!" Sittah said as she watched him walk away, "Please!"

Unfortunately Ali did not listen and kept walking. Upon arriving in his new kingdom Ali began military research into: in deadlier warships, guns, and barbed wire, Ali's main goal being anything that would bolster defense. He created a Core of Engineers to dig trenches, build and maintain walls, and lay barbed wire. Setting them up like the medics as either part time or full time Ali was able to make sure he had plenty of personnel to do the job and do it well. He even made cannons mobile by putting them on wheels or making special carts to carry one or two of them in. Paved roads were established between cities to make it easier to move supplies and men.

Christian was born almost nine months after Theodora's 18th birthday. As he held his second son Ali couldn't deny the connection he felt for Christian just as he had for Yussef. The problem was it was until recently that he was learning to accept it.

"You're making that face again." Theodora said as she rested in the bed after the birth.

Ali smiled as he held their son, "What face?"

"The blank face. You do it when you feel uncomfortable so people can't read you." Theodora said.

"And what led you to that conclusion?" Ali asked he glanced down at his son who yawned.

"You educated me remember?" Theodora said with a smile, "Not only did you provide me with many books and teachers, but you taught me a bit of the art of reading people."

"Odd that I didn't think how difficult it would make it to hide things from you." Ali said.

"I can be quite charming." Theodora said.

"Stop your teasing." Ali said giving her an obviously fake look of displeasure.

"I thought you liked my teasing." Theodora said.

Ali was trying to keep his face composed, "You're not going to get me to laugh."

"Are you sure?" Theodora said with a gleam in her eye refusing to give up.

Ali finally gave up and a smile broke across his face and he started laughing, "Damn you."

"Language my husband." Theodora scolded him playfully.

"On that note I shall take my leave so our son can spend more time with his mother." Ali said before handing the baby over to her.

While all was going well with one side of his family Sittah and Yussef were in a great deal of trouble. With Ali's absence the Pope saw an opportunity to regain the Holy Land since its former king had abdicated. Even the Syrians made their move and invaded so it could gain new territory. Sittah did her best to muster her army but her generals and some of her advisors resisted her direction because she was a woman. Desperate to protect her son's kingdom and stop the ineffectual defense of her country, Sittah risked what she considered almost certain death to beseech Ali's aid in person.

Standing before him she was still in love with the man who she had seen in more than a year, "Take my life if you must. Perhaps I deserve it, but do not punish your son or my people for any crime I may have committed."

Ali nodded for a moment after some consideration, "I will order the mustering of an army. In the mean time a message will be sent, calling for your generals and your advisors here while my generals go out to hold the enemy at bay."

His former generals, happy to have their master met his capital of Acre.

Once they were at the capital Ali had them arrested and brought before him saying, "You swore to serve me and my line, which included your regent. For your treason I sentence all of you to death."

Each man was beheaded publicly after there crimes had been spoken aloud to a watching crowd. After that anyone who might have resisted the new order of things quickly fell in line and Sittah headed back to the capital, while Ali took over command of the army. Guerilla teams attacked the enemy, holding them in strategic cities, so Ali could move his army into position. Using cannons, trebuchets armed with bombs, and his new guns he could put enough firepower on a field to grind any army to a halt. In his most decisive victory Ali ordered seven volleys of rifle fire into the charging enemy, before cannons and bombs were lobbed at the survivors until almost none were left standing after the smoke cleared.

Richard had commanded the crusader army and he could not help but admire by the man who had now beaten him in two separate campaigns. Seeing the Fourth Crusade as a failure now that Ali had returned Richard accepted the inevitable and returned home in peace on one of Ali's ships which could get him home in no time compared to other methods of transportation that Richard previously had access to. The ship and the fleet of warships it sailed in had their intended effect: impressing Barai's enemies. A crowd gathered as the ship came into port, and all were awed by the size of it and the weapons displayed on its decks. Despite the fact that it was more like a caravel than a galleon the ship had two rows of guns, along with a flamethrower set on both its port and starboard side attached to a pump. Below deck was a reservoir that held the flammable liquid that fueled the flame and allowed the weapon to light ships and men on fire. Since fire was such a terrifying weapon Ali was interested in using it. The fact that water couldn't put out the chemical fire made it all the more frightening. Any sailor caught on the ship would go up with the burning craft, or drown if there was no land in sight. Word spread about how formidable the warships ships look and the Muslim kingdom gained notable prestige.

After the ships had set off Ali had taken his army and headed straight towards Syria. When the Syrians heard about this they tried to head him off, but he easily smashed through and marched on their capital. When the enemy refused to surrender when he presented his demands Ali ordered firing to commence. Focusing their fire on the gate his crew punched a hold that Barai's troops could march through. The city fell in the space of a day and the rest of Syria fell soon afterwards. Setting up a provisional Ali returned to Jerusalem to rest and regroup his army. While the Saracen army hadn't lost many troops in comparison to the crusaders and Syrians, they had lost enough that Ali felt the need to recruit more troops. He had considered this problem before setting out to face the two invading armies and his people begin collecting dogs for his main army. Since his teams had been very successful in keeping his enemies busy he established training camps that would provide him what he considered the heart and core of his army, the "Janan". While the Europeans were still reeling Ali marched his army out with the new "war hounds" towards the Byzantine border.

To make sure he didn't panic the emperor Barai sent messengers and envoys on ahead so his ally would know why Ali was marching towards him. Barai's reasons for the march were clear. While the Byzantine Empire had not joined in the Crusades it had let the last one through its lands. Ali knew this because the only other countries to come into the Holy Land over land were through an unfriendly Muslim country, which obviously wasn't an option. He couldn't blame his ally for allowing it as the empire would be hard pressed to take on all of Christendom. Ally main goal was to remove that threat. Once he reached the Byzantine's western he showed how he planned to do it by invading Hungary. The Hungarians do their best to fight back, but by now Ali has perfected the use of his new weapons and took their country from them piece by piece. When the last of the Hungarian resistance was put down Ali established a friendly government and relocated Arab peoples from his land to the new buffer territory. These people with the help of his engineers began building forts and other fortification in preparation for future attacks by his enemies.

He quickly organizes mining and logging companies led by Arabs to begin gathering resources. His objective is not trade, but to gain the resources he needs build the weapons and armies he needs. Once again he gathers up all the dogs he can and trains them so he can use them in battle. Fast moving attackers the dogs were intimidating, plus they made excellent sentries they could detect enemies human sentries couldn't normally sense. In secret he began another recruiting drive: more guerilla teams. Unlike the Janan these teams were recruited from Europeans. Ali offered money for them or their families should they be killed. He even sought out Byzantines, though he never let his ally figure out what he was doing. Each new agent was given a cover if they didn't already have one and sent them further into Europe to situate himself. It was a long term plan for a strong possibility.

When the attack finally came, his agents were in position and noticing troop movements in their key cities they began to cause havoc: causing explosions, setting fires, assassinations, and even kidnappings. Armed with the ability to make and use explosive they were self-sufficient and moved about with impunity, as the Europeans didn't know what to make of them. At first the attacks were attributed to a rash outbreak of crime, but as months went on they needed to call back troops from the front just to try to patrol and secure their own lands. Hungary was easily defended thanks to the fort, and with the use of barbed wire enemies could be cheaply kept around the defenders' walls keeping them at bay while cannons other anti-infantry weapons widdled the enemy down.

No European army got past Hungary, especially when they couldn't commit the full weight of their military power because of the teams. Any country who forgot that found several guerilla groups putting their infrastructure to the torch. Ali had given them permission to destroy fields of crops and granaries to cut off supplies and turn public opinion against the government of each country. As people started to go hungry they clamored for the war to end. Ali knew this would take a long time to accomplish any sort of peace, but it helped buy him valuable time as it served as a distraction. His actual objective was far more ambitious. For a year Barai had been preparing and when he was ready he launched an attack of his own at the heart of Christendom: The Vatican.

Landing an amphibious force Ali led them ahead of the regular army and began setting fire to every field within easy riding distance of Rome. The army was drawn out into the field and Ali hid with the guerillas while the enemy turned their attention to the main army Ali made his move. Sneaking in through sewer system they made their way to the Vatican Palace. Under cover of night they came out to the street and silently breached the grounds. Guards largely there to keep out thieves were taken by surprise and Ali and his team made there way out with their hostage: The Pope.

Once outside they quickly hid in the woods until their contact brought a wagon and they used it to bring their prisoner to the safety of the main army before bringing him to the Holy Land.

Back in Jerusalem Ali said to the Pope in his throne room, "Well your grace you wanted me to bring you here. I'm sorry you accommodations from now on may not be up to your high standards. Had you not given me little choice then we would not both be here."

"You can't get away with this. You are a Christian and the others will stop you!" Pope said.

"Which Christians? Are you speaking of the thousands your Crusades have murdered on both sides so far, are you referring to the thousands more you are planning to kill?" Ali said.

"What are you talking about?" The Pope declared.

"I'm talking about your holy war and the needless suffering it has caused, and for what? My skin is a darker color than yours, yet I still have faith in Christ. Must we truly look the same to share in the glory of God's kingdom? What makes you better than us? If this war continues the Christian church in my kingdom will cease to exist after my death, and I won't let that happen if I can help it. I will give you a choice: you can be the leader that everyone needs you to be, or you can spend the rest of your life hoping that someone comes to your rescue, because frankly either way I don't plan on giving you up and the longer you resist me the longer you will spend time in a cell." Ali told him.

The Pope was taken to his cell to give him time to think it over. In the mean time Ali kept up military training and weapon research. Coming up with gun designs he then turned them over to weapon researchers. When a design showed promise it was given to volunteer units of soldiers for them to test in the field during war drills. If it passed that test with flying colors it was put into general production. Since distance was the name of the game at that point Ali focused his weapon research and designs on rifles, because they were made specifically for long range. Ali even created the first scope when the first long range shells were created. Another weapon Ali was interested was grenade launchers. Rockets and more advanced weapons he only so much experiences in. Sure he could use a rocket launcher or RPG, but it wasn't the same as creating such a complicated weapon that wouldn't blow up in your face.

In response to comments that the Byzantines had done little to help his country in the war effort Ali setup an agreement with the emperor to have Ali mine, and gather resources in return for Saracen military aid. Since the Byzantine Empire was now the safest it had been in centuries, Ali's ally saw little reason not to accept the generous offer, especially when it put Byzantines to work. To cut down on costs the most advanced weapons were provided to his special teams, not to the regular army. The first grenade launcher was never even seen by the regular army while it was being tested in the field. Target practice was usually done against wooden targets shaped like human beings, at least at first. Ali often had special teams shoot dead animals so they could become accustomed to the damage each weapon could do.

Each team member was among the most fit of Ali's army; his best of the best. To make sure they were well armed if they got into trouble Ali decided to also provided them with pistols and an early version of the shotgun. Semi-automatics were still a problem to mass produce. While himself might be able to produce a fine quality weapon with practice, but few others would even come close to him. Seeing firearms as a type of weapon that would keep his nation safe much longer than anything else Ali began to transfer his political duties to his two wives leaving him in the position of Royal Adviser and consort. At first most of his citizens didn't like this as they knew and trusted Ali as excellent military commander. Ali had even received reports from his spies that some people in power wanted to expand the kingdoms borders, making it an empire. Why not when they finally had such an obvious advantage? By purposely demoting himself Ali was removing that possibility, since he knew neither of his spouses had any such ambitions. Since both of them were equals as monarchs each could work independently of each other if they wanted to. Theodora named her kingdom Barai after her husband while Sittah named hers the Saracen Kingdom. Both kingdoms grew in military power and economic power as no nation had the resources to match them in either arena.

During this time of success Ali continued to build arms and one clear summer morning he was out in the field test firing one of them. Looking through the scope Ali fired, hitting the target dead center before lowering the weapon.

"An excellent shot." A voice came from behind him.

Shocked that anyone had managed to sneak up behind him Ali whirled around to see Alex watching him.

"I didn't mean to startle you." Alex said.

"Yes you did. Even before I came here I knew how to sense a lie." Ali said letting his body relax.

Alex smiled, "What gave me away?"

Ali loaded another bullet into the gun, "Wouldn't you like to know."

Glancing down at the gun Alex said, "That's a bolt action rifle, and a single fire one by the look of it."

"I haven't figured out semi-auto yet." Ali confessed.

"That is because you are spreading yourself thin. Focus on one invention at a time and it will improve your results." Alex told him.

"You say that as if you've done it." Ali joked.

"Because I have." Alex replied.

Ali looked at Alex in surprise, "You were like me?"

"I suppose you could say that I was similar to you as far as being able to invent things." Alex said.

"Really? What would you say is the difference between us?" Ali asked.

"When I was going through this I had a tendency challenge myself by advancing technology at an extremely fast rate. It tended to get me into trouble." Alex answered.

"Why would it do that?" Ali asked.

"May I try shooting it?" Alex said pointing at the gun.

"Of course..." Ali said a little confused by the change of subject.

Aiming through the scope Alex fired, hitting the target just off dead center to the right.

"Very good." Ali said hiding a grin.

"Don't patronize me. I use to be able to hit dead center like you did." Alex said with mock annoyance.

"How long has it been?" Ali asked.

"I would say at least a few life times since I practiced seriously. May I ask you a question?" Alex said.

"Sure, go ahead." Ali answered taking the gun back and reloading it.

"Why are you so resistant to ruling a nation or being a conqueror?" Alex asked.

"Excuse me?" Ali responded.

"While both your wives are capable rulers they aren't you. Neither of them was chosen for this challenge. What does that tell you?" Alex said.

"The truth?" Ali replied with a thoughtful face.

"Please." Alex said.

"I am not comfortable being "the man"." Ali confessed.

"By "the man" I'm guessing you are referring to the establishment, not that you are a male." Alex said with a raised eyebrow.

"You have it correct." Ali said.

"You've spent most of your life fighting against government. I understand how difficult this must be for you, but I should point out that the alternative won't be good." Alex said.

"What do you mean?" Ali asked.

"What happened in your life as a mercenary? How did it end?" Alex asked.

"I was forced out because I was too good at my job which threatened everyone else in the business." Ali said.

"And because you were one person you were able to disappear and change your profession. You were a teacher when I found you, your days of glory behind you." Alex said.

"I recognize you are being a blunt on purpose." Ali commented.

"A nation cannot hide as easily as a man." Alex said.

"You think I don't know that?" Ali replied.

"I was beginning to wonder. If you faced another merc who kept stealing your marks what would you do?" Alex asked.

"The old me would have killed them." Ali answered.

"Your faith has changed you." Alex noted.

"It is difficult..." Ali said.

"Life usually is. Sometimes I think it was designed to specifically force you to make the hard choices, but that is not the question." Alex told him.

"Then what is?" Ali asked.

"How much do you love the people in your life? How much to you care for the people that count on you? By becoming a leader, even for a time you took on responsibility for all of them." Alex said looking him in the eye.

"Tell me what to do." Ali said feeling a terrible sickness in his stomach.

"I can only be your guide my friend. I cannot live your life for you." Alex said.

"I'm asking for your counsel. I will do what needs to be done." Ali said.

"To put it simply be prepared to do what needs to be done. In a holy war there is only madness. Now your enemies will be convinced they must stop you. They will make you a monster or devil to slay. It is easy to do so when you have a population who has been brought up not to ask questions." Alex counseled.

"Then I will force them to question. I will make them fear me as I show them the depths of my devotion." Alex said.

Alex soon left him, and Ali went to each of his wives asking for the use of the teams. Both gave him permission to do whatever he wished with him after he told them his plan. Theodora and Sittah sent out invitations for an alliance with nations both in Europe and the Middle-East. Anyone who refused or stalled they noted, including the Seljuq Turks who had a grievance against Barai because he had killed their kinsman when he invaded Syria. The Sultan's family had been exiled to Persia after that, now they waited for their chance at revenge.

"If they wish to wait for me to fall into a pit and pounce on me like a nest of vipers then I will show them that I too have fangs." Ali was heard to say.

His attack came unexpectedly in the form of a several key assassinations. One by one he wiped out the adult male royals of Persia. He left the women alive for one reason: it was a male dominated society and just like with Sittah any female royal who tried to take power would be resisted by her own people. The oldest male heir would be a child and untested, not worthy to face the more experienced Ali. Using his agents Ali spread word that the Saracen army had invaded Persia and was on the way to their town or city. The result was a predictable panic that frustrated any efforts by the government to maintain any shred of control. Using his special units Ali not only attacked the Persian, but he also captured merchants and used them to send a message.

"If any town or city stays out of the fight against me, and does not supply the loyalists, I will spare you. Fail to do so and I will burn down your homes and kill any man who tries to escape. Your women and children will be spared, but they will be made homeless. Through me you will have a chance at peace and good fortune, but challenge my resolve and I will rain destruction upon you." Ali said in the message.

Every merchant had to memorize it word for word before they were released so there would be no chance at confusion. Towns without walls were eager to follow his instructions, but anyplace with walls did not, thinking that they could hold out until help arrived. Ali having already scouted out one of the larger cities made his attack at night. Covered in camouflaged paint he scaled one of the walls with his men and took care of the sentries. As more men climbed up Ali loaded his grenade launcher, waiting for his men to open the gate from the inside. When all were in place behind decent cover he aimed the launcher from the wall and fired at one of the nearest houses.

The explosion hushed any sound. The second explosion coming from another house he fired upon on the same street. Reloading he waited, but it didn't take long: people began rush out of their homes to see what had happened, only for the men to be cut down from sniper fire. Snipers stationed on the walls performed their task with mechanical precision until not a single adult man remained standing. The rest of the populace was herded out of the city before every building was put to the torch. In an act of mercy Ali had his men shoot the mortally wounded so they would not have to face an agonizing death. He only had to repeat the process in two more cities before the point was made and Persia sent emissaries to the Saracen Kingdom signaling their surrender. Though it was clear by that time that there was no regular army in their territory, the people of Persia understood that the Saracens didn't need to send one: they had already been beaten.

Ali comforted himself with the thought that he had saved thousands more on both sides by executing those men, but though he didn't feel guilt, he did understand what he did was wrong somehow. Called a, "Terror from the Holy Land" Ali forced all to accept either joining the alliance or join the conquered throughout the Middle-East. These lands spread from Egypt to the Indian border from east to west, and from the Black Sea to what is now Yemen from North to South. The lands that the Turks had captured was now friendly to Ali and thus no longer a threat to the Byzantine Empire. While Ali had been busy fighting off the Europeans the Turks had regained the territory they had lost to them, which had put the Turks on the Byzantine's eastern border. Taking command of the Turks territory Barai began to modernize the military and demoted or arrested anyone who resisted. To lower the amount of resistance Ali allowed a quarter of his army to keep their old weapons. The rest he organized into Active and Reserve service, following his pattern of full time and part time.

The majority of his army would come from common citizens. In return each town or city that sent volunteers to join the army got a decrease in taxes. When he had gathered 20,000 troops Ali took his army and borrowed and built every ship he would need to cross the black sea. When all was ready set off with his invasion fleet and landed well inside Hungary to insure its safety. Once they made a safe landing Ali gathered all the wagons he could for supplies and then ordered them into Europe. The Holy Roman Empire was the first army to meet them in the field. Though they had adapted by changing their army to mostly cavalry and archers, it was not enough. Ali had no intention of fighting fair. Using his snipers as forward skirmishers he had them pick off the archers while the snipers remained unseen as they remained hidden in their environment. Defensive cannon fire forced the cavalry and infantry to hold their ground, helpless to stop their comrades from being slaughtered in front of their eyes. The effect was demoralizing and to save what remained of his men the enemy general retreated.

The snipers followed and the rest of Barai's army wasn't far behind. Harried all the way back to the capital the enemy was ready to break. A well placed shot killed the general in charge and the other army scattered. Ali took the capital and established a supply train from Hungary to his army until he had enough supplies to move on. The French tried to use siege engines to close the gap, but again snipers proved the bane of their existence as the snipers kept their crews pinned down while Ali's cannons moved into position and began firing on them. This was the way most of mainland Europe fell to the Arab army. Only the British Isles, what is now Russia and the Byzantine Empire remained free of Ali's control, but that was mostly out of respect for Richard's memory. King Richard had been captured on his way back to England by an unfriendly Christian country, and while his brother Prince John tried to ransom him out, he could not put up the funds needed to get Richard out without making England bankrupt.

Prince John was greatly relieved when Ali Barai offered him a peace treaty of mutual non-aggression. Now John could spend the rest of his life in peace and focus on rebuilding his country after the damage done by the heavy taxes of his late brother.

Europe expected Ali to be a monster who taxed them into submission, but instead his social programs bettering their lives. To lesson the risk of rebellion Ali setup military bases next to small towns and villages, and didn't allow the native Europeans to join the modern part of his army. Instead they could only have small defense forces using the traditional weapons of the day, thus keeping his military advantage over them. Every nation under his controlled was required to allow freedom of religion, lessening religious fanaticism and thus any chance of another religious war. The only real drawback as far as Ali was concerned was his distance between him and his family. With Theodora and Sittah ruling and raising his children so far away Ali felt quite alone.

He tried to increase the number of visits between them, but this only seemed to increase the ache of their loss when he wasn't around them. To solve the problem he transferred some of the funds that went to military advancement and put it towards transportation. Since he wasn't an automotive engineer, trains seemed to be an easier route to go. Putting forward general designs he handed them over to the best scientists in both Europe and the Middle-East, promising a sizable sum to any individual or group that came up with the first successful model. In the mean time he ordered tracks from the capital of the Holy Roman Empire to the border of the Byzantine Empire. Using military grade explosives he was able to speed up production by blasting tunnels through mountains and hills, they wouldn't have to go around them. Half of the European troops were even added to the workforce. A year later a group near Vienna had working model ready for use. Ali had a passenger car hitched to it and became the first monarch to travel by train from the middle of Europe to inside Hungary were the tracks ended at the time.

This cut down travel not only for him but also for merchants and his troops. When he stepped off the train eager merchants wanting to get their products to their destinations in record time loaded their goods onto newly constructed train cars. Everyone benefitted and it gave Europeans the encouragement they needed to make more. Since coal was the fuel used the native peoples began to create their own mining companies to mine the precious resource. In two years train tracks were laid from Spain to just inside Russian and as far south as the Northern border of the Holy Land.

Without the earlier resistance to the printing press literature could be spread throughout the empire, and with the knowledge available in each book. Ali encouraged the creation of newspapers to increase the spread of information further. Fearing the spread of the plague Ali introduced the idea of vaccines and what he considered general hygiene. He started with something as simple as bathing at least once everyday, followed by brushing your teeth with new toothbrushes he introduced made out of horse hair sterilized in alcohol.

Dentists were introduced as an aid to keep teeth and mouths healthy. Switching his inventive mind to medical care he wanted to bolster it as much as possible to keep him busy when he was away from his loved ones. Microscopes and medical alcohol were the first of his contributions. Through the lens new doctors and medics could see microscopic organisms for the first time and begin to understand the implications of their presence inside the human body. Ali organized medical conferences at the capital and invited any medical workers who wanted to come. Doctors and medics from multiple countries showed up and were able to pass on and discuss common ailments with their peers. This helped lead to new types of doctors who specialized in the fields: immunology, surgery, and obstetrics. With his knowledge of anatomy Barai was actually the foremost medical expert of Europe.

Ali began writing books which included: general nutrition, first-aid, the scientific method as it related to medical observation, and human anatomy. The information inside came from his own experience studying in school, as a patient in hospitals, and reading medical books, which had been something of a hobby for him. Since his memory was so good he was able to put down a lot of valuable information that educated the general public on how they could improve their own health. These same texts became the standard sources of information for potential medical students entering colleges. They were considered prerequisites for more advanced studies and they helped weed out individuals who might do more harm than good.

Of course Ali had plenty of other things to distract him even after he had established regional governors holding such a vast empire together wasn't easy. While Ali had won over many Europeans with his efforts, not everyone saw him as someone looking out for their best interests. There were many rebellions he had to put down before they could take root, and a few fanatics had made a few assassination attempts. He had to keep his own subordinates in check so they did not go out of bounds and round up the innocent along with the guilty. Setting up the Imperial Court System Ali kept it out the jurisdiction of local and regional leaders to cut out the chance of political influence. Law enforcement agencies that answered to him alone had the authority to cross any border in the Empire.

Any ruler who threatened to bring the government down through illegal or improper action found themselves charged with the crimes they were guilty of and presented to an imperial court. All were subject to the law, even the military. Barai even proved that when he ordered the prosecution of two Saracen soldiers for separate counts of rape, and sentenced them each to twenty-five years in a military jail. Ali's detractors were immediately quieted as they didn't want to look like the bad guys. Ali knew who they were and could easily take them out whenever he wanted, but instead he chose to learn as much as he could about these individuals so he could use that information against them.

Some he won over by offering them positions, others he offered money or the finest medical care for a family member when they became sick or injured. Bit by bit he eroded the will of anyone arrayed against him. Few knew how much he influenced things behind things. When he thought it would be best for a European to come up with an idea rather than himself, Barai found a willing or unsuspecting puppet to deliver the idea. No one was ever the wiser and Ali was able to start things like standardizing currency or choosing a common language that could be spoken across the empire and understood by all but the most isolated village.

Next he focused on communication by creating telegraph poles and lines openly and roughly designed radio stations and relays secretly. Ali had a lot experience with radio technology, though he wasn't really a technician. He had fixed or blown up enough of them to understand how they worked. The reason for this soon became clear when he passed laws giving youth and women thirteen years of age up the right to vote in local elections.

"Why should either group be cut out of the decision-making process? Let each citizen have a representative they can talk to that the needs of all might be met." Ali said.

Men both common and in power rebelled openly. They tried to gather together to raise an army, but Ali was ready for them. None of them truly understood how these new forms of communication, but Ali and his agents did. When the first of them began to make their move his people immediately began to report back to him. Using this knowledge he quickly arrested the nobles, thus removing a lot of the leadership in the rebellion. Next he surprised everyone who knew him when he didn't crush the revolts before they had begun. The truth was Ali wanted to teach every one of his subjects a hard lesson: question his rule if you wanted to within the system that was fine, but he wanted to discourage any more threats of violence.

After the rebels had mobilized their army, Barai put his into the field. When the two clashed a new Gatling Gun was used, which operated on a cranking system to that allowed the weapon to fire at a faster rate. Spent shells spilled out of the weapons, sending hot projectiles through the front lines, until peasants were forced to run for cover or be totally slaughtered. When they retreated to the wilderness he chased them, and when they panicked after two days in a row they found their sentries dead those who were left tried to return to their hometowns and go into hiding. This of course didn't work since Ali was easily able to find them and arrest the transgressors. While most of the rebels were arrested and thrown into prison, the ring leaders were beheaded or hanged, depending on the local magistrate's preference. The news was spread far and wide by newspapers, and the new postal service he established to deliver mail and packages in conjunction with the rail road when it was available. Any further resistance to his new laws was silenced and peace returned to his empire. To celebrate he ordered games held in every capital on the same day as a show of unity.

Even after this celebration Ali kept a watchful eye on his governors and saw evidence of a new kind of corruption: the input from representatives was not being passed up once it reached many of the governors. This was done to keep the people out of the decision-making process. Recognizing this threat to stability Ali took steps to halt it. First he ordered a new voting process that elected a representative of the people to work in the capital near Ali. To ensure there would be no unproductive rivalries between the representatives and governors, Barai created a system of checks and balances so neither had the authority to oust the other directly without the Emperor's approval. Indirectly any government official voted in could bring in evidence against other government officials, even the emperor, and the special court could find out if there was any truth to their case. Special investigators were assigned to the court and like everyone else involved in such cases they were carefully chosen for their talent and integrity. Ali made their appointments for life so that no governor or emperor could replace them without solid proof of criminal activity or senility.

For Ali Barai this was still not good enough. While in his office he created to be alone with his work Ali drew up plans for a written constitution. This was how Alex found him.

"Keep this up and people will think you trust no one." Alex said.

"I trust very few people. Have you come here to warn me off from this path?" Ali said.

"No, actually I'm quite impressed. I too tried to change people's minds, but it appears you may succeed where I failed." Alex said.

"You think too much of me, but I am curious: how did you fail?" Ali asked.

"I believed that if I made their lives better I could convince them to do the right thing on their own." Alex said.

Ali smiled at that, "You were an idealist. I would not classify myself as such. My lack of trust comes from fighting the powers that be. I would create a government that would long survive me. Even if my sons and grandchildren do not become arrogant and power-hungry I suspect a bad apple will eventually show up. I don't want later generations suffering from my mistakes."

"I hope you are right. I'll leave you to it." Alex said with a bow and a smile.

Ali turned back to his draft and replied, "I hope so too."

When his final draft was finished he had copies of it sent to printing presses across the empire to be posted at every school, town hall, and religious building. Not believing one act was ever enough Ali took more steps to educate the people on their laws and government. Step two was to order every school to a class on how their government worked, and step three was creating public radio stations that could be heard near schools from radios Ali himself designed off the ones the military was already using. They were of lower quality, but still worked. Commercial companies were given plans so they could eventually make more and Ali used the radio stations to give monthly announcements on what was being discussed at the capital and what it would mean to the people. At each announcement people who were able to travel went and eagerly listened to their emperor's voice and the miracle of gift he had given them. The constitution he had given them protected the smallest infant who took their first breath to oldest person who took their last. The rule of law protected everyone and anyone if they needed it. This was part of Ali's intended legacy.

When his sons were seventeen and sixteen Yussef and Christian joined him at his capital, to spend most of the year with him. Both were excited when he showed them there first football game. As a way of giving countries across the empire something to unite them he introduced games like: football, soccer, baseball, and basketball, archery, hurdling, running, hockey, and even war games where countries could pit their troops against each other with blunted weapons to greatly cut down on the chance of fatalities. Crowds cheered as they saw their favorite competitors battle it out as they watched from the stands. Yussef wanted to joust and join in the melees, but his father refused.

"A prince must think of more than himself. If you were to be killed or gravely injured then the empire and your mother's kingdom will lose a potential future king, and she and I will lose a beloved son." Ali said to him.

It was a sobering moment for Yussef, "I'm sorry father."

"It is common for young men to seek excitement." Ali said.

"My mother told me stories about you. You fought amazing battles. Would you deny me any challenge? Any chance at glory?" Yussef asked.

"What do think I do everyday Yussef? Do think it is easy being an emperor? Everyday I have to watch vast collection of nations that have bad histories with each other and me. I took these lands by force which means I must put down any possible rebellion or lose the empire bit by bit." Ali explained.

"So you are saying that I have a lot more to worry about." Yussef stated.

"To put it simply." Ali agreed.

"What is your will?" Yussef asked.

"Your brother has shown an interest in intelligence. The Janen have already agreed to take him into their number." Ali told him.

"Who are the Janen?" Yussef asked, having never heard of them before.

"They are the eyes that allowed me to protect my loved ones and see the weaknesses of my enemies. Now Christian will help analyze the information they provide so I can continue to do so. People like him; both men and women will be the future of intelligence work. You asked my will, now I give it: I want you to be my voice to foreign nations. I want trade with nations with Africa, Russia, India, and China. You will be provided with our fastest ships and a sizable military escort to keep you safe. Will you accept my will or do you choose another path for yourself?" Ali asked.

"It is my honor to serve my family and the empire." Yussef said.

Ali nodded looking at his son proudly. Both sons served their father well and the Empire's influence spread all the way to the Yellow Sea. China at first had been suspicious of the foreigners who appeared on their western doorstep. It took all of Yussef's newly acquired diplomatic skills just to convince the Chinese that the empire meant them no harm.

"My father only wants to trade and share knowledge with you. There is much our two great societies could offer each other, and we would be honored to call your people friends." Yussef told them.

New advancements that the Chinese were interested were artificial limbs and psychology: the metal and wooden replacements had been developed to help old veterans who had lost hands, legs, and arms. Psychology had branched out of Ali's scientific method and the new doctors were already making great headway in learning how to treat the human mind. During his time in China Yussef met the woman he was going to marry and brought her home to meet his family before they became man and wife. Her name was Shang Xiang and she became one of the most popular painter in the empire. Bringing eastern art to the west she inspired new artists who began to venture away from the classic medieval style.

Christian married a cousin of Prince John, bringing the two families closer and was a precursor to a new trade agreement that gave the English a preferred trading status with the empire. Through his two sons Ali and his wives had many grandchildren providing a secure hereditary line. Yussef was given command of the empire when his father stepped down while Christian was made heir to Sittah and Theodora, taking over when they retired. Ali spent eight quiet years with his ladies before Theodora died of a stroke. Mourning her loss greatly Ali became obsessed with death, studying the anatomy of dead bodies on his own, and giving credit to fallen rivals like the late King Baldwin, who was a leper causing to respect man even more. Using advanced prevention procedures involving plastic gloves, aprons, and face shields, he minimized the chance of exposure to himself and was never infected. Many who knew him became afraid for his health, but no one could convince him to stop. From morning in to night he practiced surgery techniques and took detailed notes which doctors across the empire clamored for. The trouble was Ali seemed to have no interest in selling so the books of notes that were circulated were stolen copies that sold like gold. Yussef opened a school to honor his father, though Ali never visited it. Ali survived day by day through his loss and was eager to leave when Alex finally appeared late one afternoon while Ali went out for a ride. Stepping through the portal he left the pain of that life behind.

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