Pursuit: Eighteen

The sounds of the forest settled over the funnel-shaped pit of loose stones. The churn and rumble of the water over the falls. The calling of birds seeking mates.The creaking of trees flexing with every shift in the breeze.

Qays had listened to the quiet sounds for two hundred breaths after the last human voice had faded to silence. The boy had expected his mother to have called for him much sooner. He didn’t like the thoughts that kept filling his head of what he might find. There had been talk of a slave-catcher and Sabit’s death, and Allamu’s fall. What if—?

Scowling with determination, Qays forced himself to crawl out of the tight crevice where he had wedged himself.

Slowly making his way back to the pathway, Qays found a tangle of many footprints. Most of them headed up the muddy slope that he had seen Sabit climb just before he had slipped away from the bandits. At the base of the slope were the sure signs of struggle—footprints and some drops of blood. One of his mother’s arrows lay broken in the mud. Behind a large tuft of grass, Qays found Sabit’s spear lying on the ground, longer than he was tall.

The sound of rocks scattering silenced the birds. Qays looked around, but there was no sign of movement. The clatter of pebbles came again, and a grunt of frustration. The sound was coming from beyond the top of the slope.

Qays knew he ought to run and hide. That was what his mother had taught him. But what if she needed his help?

Sabit’s large spear in his small hands, Qays made his way up the slope. Peeking over the ridge, he saw a depression like a funnel, covered with loose pebbles. At the bottom of the funnel, emerging from a gaping hole in the ground, was a tall woman with brown skin. She wore a silver necklace around her neck, glinting in the sun. The woman struggled to find a handhold in the loose gravel on the slope. Every time she started to climb up, the pebbles slid out from beneath her.

“Sabit!” Qays cried out. “The slave-catcher said you were dead, but he’s gone now. So is mother and Allamu and the bandits. I have your spear.”

The spear woman looked up at the boy. “Well done, Qays. Run down to the boat and fetch that coil of rope I keep in my pack. I protect that which is mine. No matter the cost.”

 

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Wayfarings of Sabit: Pursuit is copyright (c) 2017 by Michael S. Miller. All rights reserved. New chapters post every weekday. You can support this and other stories on Patreon: https://patreon.com/michaelsmiller or http://ipressgames.com/fiction/

Pursuit: Seventeen

Baza the slave-catcher found himself at a dead end. The two large boulders that had offered him shelter from Qaansoole’s arrow leaned close together—too close for his muscular shoulders to fit through.

Without a moment’s hesitation, he pushed against both boulders with al his might, pulling himself off the ground. Using the slightest textures in the rock face as holds for his hands and feet, Baza climbed between the boulders.

Below him, Qaansoole rounded the corner just as he had reached the top of one of the rocks. With a mighty heave, Baza hauled his body over the edge as Qaansoole’s arrow whizzed through the air he had occupied a heartbeat earlier.

Atop the mound of boulders, Baza had a better view of the area, but no way of catching sight of Qaansoole. Keeping his head low to stay out of the range of her deadly arrows, Baza moved across the boulder field away from the river. The climbing was rough—made doubly so by the need to stay silent and to prevent his shadow from falling across any rocks that Qaansoole might see from her position below.

Soon enough, Baza perched atop the last large boulder before the long, muddy slope. Allamu lay on the ground below him, barely a fathom away from the bottom of the boulder.

For a moment, Baza strained his ears, but he could hear no movement. Qaansoole was too skilled for that. Picking up a small stone, Baza hurled it at Allamu, striking the unconscious man in the chest. Allamu let out a groan of pain. Waiting a few moments, Baza threw another stone and was rewarded with another loud protest.

A moment later, Qaansoole emerged from among the tangle of boulders, cautiously making her way toward Allamu. Leaping from the rock, Baza dove toward the archer. At the last moment, Qaansoole turned. Without a moment to aim or fire, she raised her bow to deflect the momentum of Baza’s dive. She succeeded—barely. The slave catcher landed in the mud at her feet, rather than on top of her.

Before Qaansoole could leap away, Baza grabbed her ankle. The faded, blue tattoos upon Baza’s hand rippled across the skin of his fingers like a writhing ball of serpents.

Without a sound, Qaansoole dropped to the ground, her bow falling away from her insensate fingers—useless.

 

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Wayfarings of Sabit: Pursuit is copyright (c) 2017 by Michael S. Miller. All rights reserved. New chapters post every weekday. You can support this and other stories on Patreon: https://patreon.com/michaelsmiller or http://ipressgames.com/fiction/

Pursuit: Sixteen

Qaansoole moved swiftly, but did not hurry. Her senses—honed over a childhood spent hunting game both large and small—swept over every pebble and blade of grass as she moved along the rough pathway between boulders. Although Qays was a different quarry than she was used to, and this a far different place than her forestland home, her son was far more difficult to track. Qaansoole had taught the boy the ways of trailcraft since he could walk. She had faith that her son had concealed himself somewhere quite safe until he was certain the danger had passed. Qaansoole continued toward the river—her bow nocked, but held loosely in both hands—checking that there were no other bandits concealed between the massive stones.

A scattering of pebbles drew Qaansoole’s attention. To the left side of the path, a small, dark opening could be seen between two towering boulders. Squatting before the opening, Qaansoole gazed into the inky shadows within. “There you are,” she whispered.

With a single motion, Qaansoole pivoted her body sharply and drew her arrow to her cheek. Barely four cubits behind her stood a slave-driver wielding a thin wooden staff. Qaansoole’s arrow did not waver from targeting his heart as she spoke. “I’ve seen you before. You’re one of the mercenaries from Vert. What are you doing here?”

The bald slave-catcher smiled, his twin mustaches twitching with the motion. “At the moment, I am mourning the death of Sabit.”

Qaansoole scowled. Without warning, the slave-catcher threw his staff at the archer, while at the same instant leaping behind an outcropping of rock.

Qaansoole’s arrow flew, shattering against the surface of a boulder.

 

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Wayfarings of Sabit: Pursuit is copyright (c) 2017 by Michael S. Miller. All rights reserved. New chapters post every weekday. You can support this and other stories on Patreon: https://patreon.com/michaelsmiller or http://ipressgames.com/fiction/

Pursuit: Fifteen

Allamu mounted the muddy path to the top of the rise where he had last seen Sabit. The area was strangely quiet. The distant rush of the waterfall and the huffing of his own breath were the only sounds Allamu heard on his climb.

Reaching the ridge of the hill, Allamu looked over the far side. A slope of loose pebbles, like a giant funnel, stretched out before him. At its base was a wide, dark hole.

“Keep away from the edge, unless you want to die like Sabit,” came a deep voice. Looking up, Allamu saw a tall man approaching. His head was shaved bald and he had a pair of long mustaches flowing from his lips. In his hand was a long wooden staff, the bottom end resting on the edge of the funnel of loose stones. He wore the chain-and-leather harness favored by slave drivers.

“Sabit isn’t dead,” Allamu growled, moving toward the man, the knife in his hand held loosely in a reverse grip.

“I wish it weren’t true,” the slave catcher said, watching the sharp tip of Allamu’s blade. “I stood to make a small fortune off of her. I’ll just have to content myself with selling you and the archer.”

With a sudden movement, he flicked the end of his staff into the air. A shower of pebbles and dirt pelted Allamu’s face. Raising his arms to shield his eyes, Allamu left himself open and blind for just a moment.

The slave catcher’s staff struck Allamu’s knee. The blow was light, but made up for its softness with precision. Allamu’s knee suffered no lasting injuring, but the impact caused it to bend, throwing the man from Urom off balance.

A sudden strike to the chest sent Allamu back down the muddy slope he had just climbed, tumbling to the bottom and lying very still.

 

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Wayfarings of Sabit: Pursuit is copyright (c) 2017 by Michael S. Miller. All rights reserved. New chapters post every weekday. You can support this and other stories on Patreon: https://patreon.com/michaelsmiller or http://ipressgames.com/fiction/

Pursuit: Fourteen

Qaansoole launched a kick at the tall bandit’s face. He moved Sabit’s spear to block her foot, but the kick was merely a feint. Striking low, the lithe archer landed a solid punch in the man’s gut. Doubled over in pain, the bandit lost his grip on the spear. A moment later, Qaansoole grabbed the falling spear before it could touch the ground. Swinging the butt-end in a high arc, she brought it across the back of the bandit’s skull. He collapsed to the ground in a heap.

Nearby, Allamu jabbed an antler toward the shorter bandit. Parrying it with his crossbow, the bandit leaped forward, tackling the man from Urom. Allamu landed hard on his back, the breath driven from his body. As the world spun before Allamu’s eyes, he felt fingers wrapping tight around his throat. In a fit of rage and panic, he pushed upward, his hands finding the bandit’s chest, then his neck. As darkness gnawed at the edge of his vision, Allamu pushed and squeezed with every ounce of strength he could muster. The pressure on his own throat slackened. He kept squeezing.

Qaansoole’s voice cut through the fury and fear that gripped Allamu’s heart. “Easy, friend.”

Releasing his grip, he let the short bandit’s body slump to the side. He didn’t care to check if the man still lived.

“Allamu,” Qaansoole seized his attention. “Go up the hill and find Sabit. I think she went over the side.” The archer pushed the knife that the bandit had taken from him into Allamu’s palm and turned toward the narrow gap between the rocks where they had ascended.

“Where are you going?” Allamu asked.

Qaansoole did not pause a single step as she spoke over her shoulder. “Qays is missing.”

 

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Wayfarings of Sabit: Pursuit is copyright (c) 2017 by Michael S. Miller. All rights reserved. New chapters post every weekday. You can support this and other stories on Patreon: https://patreon.com/michaelsmiller or http://ipressgames.com/fiction/

Pursuit: Thirteen

Baza the slave-catcher carefully made his way through the bandit camp, picking his way between the rough lean-tos of logs and branches. He had heard from whispers at the common house that there was a small pack of bandits, harrying lone travelers in this parts, but Baza had expected better than this savagery if they were giving trouble to Sabit. He hoped that she had not killed too many of them, as even bandits would fetch a few bronze gersh at the slave markets of Bahteel.

Shouts from nearby drew Baza’s attention, and he made his way swiftly along a narrow path out of the bandit camp. The path led along the side of a hill, and to a rocky outcropping that overlooked the river valley. The expansive vista would give the bandits a view of the main road leading to Bahteel, and significant warning of any travelers on the far side of the river.

Another shout echoed from very close by. Suddenly a crossbow bolt lodged in a tree within arm’s reach of Baza’s head. Looking to the bolt’s source, he saw two bandits locked in combat with two others. The slave-catcher immediately recognized Qaansoole—the former champion of the forum of justice was empty-handed, but her whirling, leaping attacks kept her spear-wielding opponent on the defensive, driving him back. The other man must be Sabit’s lover, swinging an antler like a sword to keep his foe at bay.

But where was Sabit?

Baza approached the struggle, keeping out of sight as much as possible. A panicked scream called him toward a ridge next to several piles of bones. Looking over, he saw a depression like a funnel, the slopes of loose pebbles giving no purchase to the two figures rapidly tumbling toward the dark hole at its bottom. A man in leather pants and an ill-fitting silk tunic fell into the hole with a panicked scream.

A moment later, he was joined in the inky depth by the falling body of Sabit.

 

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Wayfarings of Sabit: Pursuit is copyright (c) 2017 by Michael S. Miller. All rights reserved. New chapters post every weekday. You can support this and other stories on Patreon: https://patreon.com/michaelsmiller or http://ipressgames.com/fiction/

Pursuit: Twelve

From the far edge of the funnel, another bandit approached Sabit. He skirted along the top of the slope of pebbles, leaning on a fire-hardened wooden spear—crude but deadly sharp. He wore a fine silk traveling tunic, his wide shoulders nearly bursting through the garment cut for a lady’s torso. His pants of creamy leather were topped with three belts, each more decorative than the last. Five necklaces adorned his throat, including Sabit’s chain of silver.

Sabit kept her eyes locked on the man’s spear as he approached. “I bear you no ill will,” the bejewelled man said, “but the maimed scorpion ain’t had supper in three days. It’s mighty hungry.”

“The hunger of a beast is none of my concern,” Sabit growled. “Return to me my property and I will let you live.”

The bandit let out a derisive laugh. “You seem to forget who’s been captured and who’s done the capturing. Let’s make this quick. I hate to see women suffer.”

He thrust his crude spear toward Sabit, goading her to the top of the slope of pebbles. Sabit turned her shoulders to avoid the fire-hardened point. With the same motion, she grabbed the shaft of the spear and pulled with all her might.

The bandit toppled over the edge toward the slope of pebbles. Flailing as he fell, he caught an edge of Sabit’s sleeve in his fist. Both of them tumbled down the slope of loose pebbles, careening toward the deep, dark hole below.

 

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Wayfarings of Sabit: Pursuit is copyright (c) 2017 by Michael S. Miller. All rights reserved. New chapters post every weekday. You can support this and other stories on Patreon: https://patreon.com/michaelsmiller or http://ipressgames.com/fiction/

Pursuit: Eleven

“We don’t want any trouble,” Allamu said as the bandits herded their four captives through a narrow passageway between looming boulders. The path of mud-covered rocks sloped up, away from the river.

“You may not want it, but you’ve found it,” the shorter bandit said. He had a scar along the side of his face that ended in the scarred remains of half an ear on the right side.

One of us has found trouble,” Sabit growled as she ascended the slope at the head of the procession. Behind her came Qaansoole, then Allamu. The shorter bandit followed, his crossbow’s aim never straying far from the center of Allamu’s back. Behind him walked Qays, the taller bandit close on the boy’s heels. He had Qaansoole’s bow slung over one shoulder and Sabit’s spear over the other.

“What are your intentions?” Qaansoole asked as she climbed the muddy slope. She moved slowly, seeming to struggle with the slick surface. However, her careful footwork gave lie to the ruse, ensuring that she always had solid stone underfoot and was ready to leap into action at a moment’s notice.

“Our intentions don’t much matter,” the short bandit barked out. “It’s the intentions of the maimed scorpion that ought to worry you.” Both bandits shared a cruel laugh.

Sabit reached the top of the rise. On the far side of the ridge, a steep slope of loose pebbles fell away into dark hole in the ground, half again the size of a woman. The depression was like a massive funnel with a hungry maw in the middle.

Scattered around the edges of the funnel lay piles of bones. Amidst the heaps of deer ribs and sun-bleached antlers were mixed several long, straight thigh-bones and high-domed skulls that could be the remains of nothing but human beings.

 

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Wayfarings of Sabit: Pursuit is copyright (c) 2017 by Michael S. Miller. All rights reserved. New chapters post every weekday. You can support this and other stories on Patreon: https://patreon.com/michaelsmiller or http://ipressgames.com/fiction/

Pursuit: Ten

Exhausted from their desperate battle to escape the waterfall, Allamu and Qaansoole slouched in the little boat. Its squat shape had been pushed into the crevice behind the boulder, crowding the bandit raft to one side.

Sabit and Qays studied the collection of lashed-together logs covered with pitch that served as the bandit’s raft. The rough-cut logs turned up slightly at either end, giving the craft a broad, flat bottom. All the spaces between the logs were filled with thick pitch, leaving no opening that might conceal Sabit’s necklace. The only other feature was the two hand-carved paddles. Each had been sanded smooth and bore a carved image on the blade. Although each carving showed a unique artist’s talent, they both displayed a scorpion, tail raised to strike, displaying three jagged claws.

Sabit scowled seeing the carving. “What’s wrong with the picture?” Qays asked her as he held the other paddle in his two small hands.

“I have seen it before,” Sabit said, “and it has always brought me trouble.”

“I guess your luck holds true,” came a man’s gravelly voice from darkness within the deeper part of the crevice.

Two men emerged from the shadows. Their bodies wore the gauntness of poverty, covered by simple clothing threadbare and patched. Their pock-marked faces held eyes as cold as flint.

Sabit paid little heed to the men’s faces or raiment. She only watched the loaded crossbows they held, one trained on her, and one on Qays.

 

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Wayfarings of Sabit: Pursuit is copyright (c) 2017 by Michael S. Miller. All rights reserved. New chapters post every weekday. You can support this and other stories on Patreon: https://patreon.com/michaelsmiller or http://ipressgames.com/fiction/

Pursuit: Nine

The little boat hurtled toward the edge of the waterfall. Sabit plunged her branch into the river, but the bottom was too deep for it to find purchase. Allamu worked his makeshift paddle with all his might. Qays and Qaansoole leaned over the sides of the boat, clawing at the water with stark determination.

The waterfall loomed closer.

Sabit lifted her branch again to seek some solid surface to push off of. Something tugged, snagging on a poorly-cut offshoot. It felt thin and taut. Could it be a rope beneath the water, pulled taut in the current? It slipped off Sabit’s branch moments before she could bring it to the surface.

The roar of the waterfall was now too loud for speech. Sabit thrust the far end of her branch toward Qaansoole. The archer grabbed it. Holding tight to the branch, Sabit dove into the raging river.

The spear woman disappeared into the dark, choppy water. Moments passed. Allamu called out for her. The sound of the falls was deafening.

The branch went taut in Qaansoole’s grasp. The archer braced herself against the sides of the boat as it tipped sharply–the pole pulling it upstream while the current pushed it toward certain doom.

Sabit emerged from the water upstream. She held the branch in one hand, a thick rope in the other. Together, the crew pulled the little boat upstream. The rope led them to a shadowed crevice behind a large boulder, perfectly concealed from downstream travelers.

On the muddy ground within the crevice lay the bandits’ rough raft.

 

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Wayfarings of Sabit: Pursuit is copyright (c) 2017 by Michael S. Miller. All rights reserved. New chapters post every weekday. You can support this and other stories on Patreon: https://patreon.com/michaelsmiller or http://ipressgames.com/fiction/