Bandit Queen: Twenty-One

“That silver and black serpent’s hide will yield a mantle worthy of a queen,” Verdandi said to Sabit. The older woman sat next to Regida—recovering from the loss of her arm—in the central lodge of the bandit camp. Dabbing water on the young woman’s sleeping brow, she surveyed the flurry of activity throughout the camp. Several bandits butchered the massive snake’s bulk, cutting strips of pale meat the length of a man. Others built up the bonfire for tonight’s celebration. Still others tended to the minor hurts of their fellows.

A corner of Sabit’s mouth twitched upward at the sight. “The scales are tough. They will serve better to make half a dozen shields than to adorn my shoulders.”

“Won’t the burdens of authority keep you from taking to the road, Sabit?” Verdandi asked.

Before Sabit could respond, Nerit approached. With a swift bow of his head, the young man spoke, “The watchers of the eastern road have spied a caravan crossing the ridge. The wagons fly the standard of the King of Junjai. They should be on the forest road by tomorrow.”

Sabit pondered the news a moment. “Take two groups of seven—spearmen and archers—to greet the caravan. Leave at dawn so you have time to prepare the road. The king of Junjai has taken enough from these people, hasn’t he, Nerit? It is past time we take something back.”

Nerit withdrew, his shoulders back and head held high. Sabit turned to face Verdandi. “I did not seek to lead these people. They have withered beneath the angry glare of a tyrant. Shall we see how they thrive under the light of a different sun?”

 

———

Wayfarings of Sabit: Bandit Queen is copyright (c) 2017 by Michael S. Miller. All rights reserved. New chapters are posted on Monday and Thursday. You can support this and other stories on Patreon, https://patreon.com/michaelsmiller, or at http://ipressgames.com/fiction/.

Bandit Queen: Twenty

The massive coils of the Onyx Python looped around Regida’s body. Muscular beyond comprehension, they crushed the young bandit from all sides. Her arm, caught in the serpent’s hook-like teeth, wrenched hard to one side. Regida felt her arm bone snap, but could not draw the breath to scream. A roaring sound filled her ears. All the world was pain.

Then, Sabit was there. Raising her spear high into the air, she thrust down fast and hard. The sharp iron spearpoint bit deep into the black and silver scales of the beast’s head before it glanced off the snake’s thick skull.

Regida’s vision grew dim. She could not breathe. Did she see Sabit’s spear, still emerging from the Python’s head? Was that Sabit’s hand, thrusting a broken arrow into the serpent’s eye?

Reptilian muscles pulsed around Regida as the Python rolled away from Sabit’s furious attack. She drew a thimble-full of air. She had lost sight of Sabit’s lodged spear, vanished somewhere beneath the beast.

The squeezing began again. Regida felt a rib crack. Before her eyes went dim, her last sight was Sabit leaping upon the serpent’s head. She felt a sharp pain in her arm, impossibly far away.

A sudden jolt shook the snake’s body from tongue to tail-tip. The squeezing stopped. Regida fought to breathe. A pile of snake-flesh weighed down upon her, but its crush was nothing next to the deadly embrace of the Python’s coils.

Regida drank in a deep, shuddering lungful of air. She breathed and coughed and breathed once more. One of her arm blazed with agony, the other trapped beneath her torso. Her most desperate kicks were barely tremors beneath the dead beast’s bulk.

Then, the weight was gone. Regida looked up, blinking against the light.

“No one dies today, Regida,” said Sabit.

 

———

Wayfarings of Sabit: Bandit Queen is copyright (c) 2017 by Michael S. Miller. All rights reserved. New chapters are posted on Monday and Thursday. You can support this and other stories on Patreon, https://patreon.com/michaelsmiller, or at http://ipressgames.com/fiction/.

Bandit Queen: Nineteen

With blinding speed, the Onyx Python launched its massive head toward Sabit. Rows of inwardly-curved teeth—as large and deadly as daggers—hurtled through the air toward the fronds of fern Sabit had rolled beneath. Deep in the serpent’s cunning brain, it knew that such flimsy cover offered its prey no protection from its hungry jaws.

The ferns also offered the Onyx Python no protection from the row of obsidian-tipped spears held by Sabit’s troops. The spears used the force of the snake’s own strike to bite deeply into its black and silver head, sinking deeper than could even the strongest spearman. The blow knocked two of the bandits to the ground atop of Sabit. Three others felt their wicker shields shatter from the impact. Regida held her spear steady through the shock of its strike, even as three sharp, hooked teeth sank into her arm.

The Python pulled back, blood streaming from its wounds. Two spears protruded from its head. Regida hung from its jaws, fighting to free her arm.

From the far edge of the ravine, a volley of arrows leapt from the underbrush. A dozen shafts made a deadly arc through the forest air. Most went wide of the sinuous, scaled serpent, but three arrows drove their flint tips into the beast’s coils. It flailed with pain as red blood stained its black and silver hide.

In its flailing motion, one of its massive coils looped around Regida’s chest. Then, another around her waist. Then around her hips. In the blink of an eye, the bandit had vanished from view. The Python’s jaws stretched wide.

Sabit dashed toward the beast, shield discarded in her desperate rush.

 

———

Wayfarings of Sabit: Bandit Queen is copyright (c) 2017 by Michael S. Miller. All rights reserved. New chapters are posted on Monday and Thursday. You can support this and other stories on Patreon, https://patreon.com/michaelsmiller, or at http://ipressgames.com/fiction/.

Bandit Queen: Eighteen

Shedding  its heavy slumber like an old skin, the massive coils of the Onyx Python began to move. Muscles rippled beneath black and silver scales as coils the size of tree trunks unwound themselves. Despite the weight of the massive serpent, its body moved with grace and speed, a testament to the strength seated in every muscle of its sinuous form.

Sabit held her ground as the serpent unwound itself. Her wicker shield covered her from brow to ankle. Her sturdy spear rested snugly on the putrid ground below, its iron tip thirsty for blood.

Ascending from the heap of coils like an emperor rising from his couch, the head of the Onyx Python came into view. Black scales glittered as dappled sunlight slid across the massive head shaped like the head of a spear. The beast’s head was the size of a man’s chest, crowned by a pair of black, lidless eyes that shone with a merciless intelligence. A forked tongue, as pink and soft as a newborn’s arm, flicked from between the lipless jaws.

Sabit held the serpent’s hungry gaze. In ten thousand hunts, the Onyx Python had feasted ten thousand times. In a hundred battles, Sabit had … survived. She could conjure no memories of those fights,* only the unwavering resolve that with her weapons in hand and her troops by her side, she was ready for this battle.

The serpent held its head high, looming among the branches of the forest. Far out of range of Sabit’s weapon, the beast worked its neck to and fro seeking for a way around her shield and past her iron-tipped spear. Sabit matched every movement, careful to show no opening—

—until some bit of forest detritus grazed her ankle. Sabit toppled, sprawling onto the gore-encrusted floor of the ravine and rolling into the underbrush.

In that instant, the Onyx Python struck.

 

*-Sabit’s memory loss is detailed in The Wayfarings of Sabit: Road of Woe

———

Wayfarings of Sabit: Bandit Queen is copyright (c) 2017 by Michael S. Miller. All rights reserved. New chapters are posted on Monday and Thursday. You can support this and other stories on Patreon, https://patreon.com/michaelsmiller, or at http://ipressgames.com/fiction/.

Bandit Queen: Seventeen

In the darkest part of the forest, the bandits crept silently through the underbrush. Sabit looked to her right where Regida and her dozen troops carefully maneuvered their long spears and wicker shields between trees and through ferns, careful to avoid the slightest rustle that might give away their movement. On the far side of the ravine, she knew that Nerit and his archers made a similar approach—low and stealthy, just as Sabit had taught them over the past several weeks of constant drill.

The forest’s screeching, chattering, tweeting din was quieter here, even the birds and monkeys feared the beast that slumbered on the floor of the ravine. A steady breeze flung the hot stench of death into the faces of the bandits, rising from the gore that clung to the massive beast’s jaws and the vast boneyard of its many meals. Even as the acrid scent clawed at her throat and brought tears to her eyes, Sabit was grateful for the breeze. It would keep their scent from rousing the Onyx Python below.

Looking over the balls of rotting fur and teeth of its prey, Sabit lamented how many innocent travelers and troublesome bandits had been condemned to this beast’s gullet at the whim of the bandit king. Throwing bound prisoners into the ravine every few weeks may have kept the massive serpent from stalking its food in the bandit camp, but it also added to the bandit king’s litany of murders. Sabit hoped that his reception in the cold, clammy arms of the river was everything he deserved.

As they neared the shadowed floor of the ravine, Sabit could make out the slumbering shape of the beast amidst the gloom. Coils as thick as a man’s chest rested one atop the other in a heap of green-grey scales. A tail the size of Sabit’s leg twitched with every shift in the breeze. The Onyx Python’s head was nowhere to be seen.

Regida caught Sabit’s eye and pointed across the ravine. The white fletching of a single arrow wavered in front of a blackish-red tree trunk, the archer fully hidden behind the fronds of ferns. Sabit nodded. Nerit’s forces were in position. It was time to begin.

Sabit’s thick spear—its shaft formed from the woody husk of an undead prince*—felt steady and strong in her grip. Hefting a wicker shield, Sabit stepped out from the cover of the ferns. In a loud voice, she said, “Awaken, mighty Onyx Python. You have eaten your final meal.”

 

*-the making of Sabit’s spear is detailed in The Wayfarings of Sabit: Road of Woe

———

Wayfarings of Sabit: Bandit Queen is copyright (c) 2017 by Michael S. Miller. All rights reserved. New chapters are posted on Monday and Thursday. You can support this and other stories on Patreon, https://patreon.com/michaelsmiller, or at http://ipressgames.com/fiction/.

Bandit Queen: Sixteen

The four would-be assassins stood in the center of the camp, their hands empty and heads low. The other bandits clung to the edges of the clearing like monkeys, torn between curiosity and caution.

Between them stood Sabit, tall and stern. “I was alone—my only ally, a sleeping old woman. I cast my spear aside to face you weaponless. You were four. Your knives were sharp. Your clubs were heavy. Yet, I was victorious. Why?”

The tall girl, whose name was Regida, rolled her eyes. With a resentful drawl, she said, “Because you are an unbeatable warrior.”

“No!” Sabit snapped. “I have tasted defeat, and will choke on its bitter gall again some day. My skill and strength makes me more than a match for any one of you. But four? Had I faced four of you, I would have lost.” She looked at each of them in turn, daring them to speak.

Nerit was the first to find his courage. “But you did face four of us.”

“No,” Sabit said. “I won four battles. Each of you fought—and lost—alone.” She let the words hang in the air. “Your last king did not teach you to fight alongside your fellows. He did not teach you much. I cannot see why you followed him. Even though his magic protected him, you could have run away and been spared the bruises that still adorn your flesh.”

All the bandits hung their heads in fear and shame. Regida was the first to speak. “There are worse things than the bandit king that live in the forest. There is the Onyx Python.”

Sabit turned to the girl, alert to her every word. “Onyx Python? Just what is that?”

 

———

Wayfarings of Sabit: Bandit Queen is copyright (c) 2017 by Michael S. Miller. All rights reserved. New chapters are posted on Monday and Thursday. You can support this and other stories on Patreon, https://patreon.com/michaelsmiller, or at http://ipressgames.com/fiction/.