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

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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/.

Bandit Queen: Fifteen

“I told you we should have killed her while she slept,” said a young woman’s voice nearby Sabit.

Looking around, Sabit saw the broad circle of lean-tos of the bandit camp. The dusky red of the sky above signalled the onset of twilight. Verdandi still slept next to her in the center of the clearing, snoring softly. Nearby, four of the young bandits clustered together. The tallest girl, still half a head shorter than Sabit, glared at the spear woman.

Sabit raised herself from the ground, leaning on her spear as her body stretched itself awake. “Be glad your friends stopped you, girl. I have killed men twice your size that came upon me in slumber.”

The girl drew a long knife from her belt of braided hemp. “You are all words. Unlike the late king, you have no magic skin to protect you from our blades.”

The girl stepped forward, keeping her fellows at her back. The others also readied knives and clubs. The girl held the long knife straight out in front of her, its tip aimed at Sabit’s face like an arrow.

Sabit looked at the long spear in her hand. With a wry grin, she dropped it harmlessly to the ground next to Verdandi. Lowering herself into a half-crouch, Sabit spread her arms to face her challengers.

The girl closed quickly. Sabit’s eyes never left the girl’s shoulders. The girl lunged forward, thrusting the knife toward Sabit’s throat. Sabit leaned, the blade missing her throat by two finger-widths. She grabbed the girl’s wrist with one hand and pulled. As the girl toppled forward, Sabit’s other hand struck her hard on the chin.

The girl collapsed like a discarded child’s toy.

Taking the girl’s long knife in hand, Sabit closed on the three boys. Two stepped to the left, one to the right. With a low kick, Sabit knocked the legs from beneath the boy on the right. Before he hit the ground, one of his fellows swung a club in a wide arc toward her head. Rolling to the side, the club whistled past her ear. Sabit punched the boy in the gut. He dropped to his knees.

All that remained was Nerit, the boy she had questioned. He stumbled backward, the hungry leech tattoo twitching beneath his eye. Sabit made a quick lunge. Nerit fell back. Again and again she lunged. Again and again he gave ground, until their fight approached the clearing’s edge.

Sabit glanced over her shoulder. The girl lay on the ground, unmoving. The boy she had punched knelt, doubled-over, a puddle of vomit on the ground before him. The other boy had regained his feet and his knife, but stood motionless. His big, round eyes were locked on Nerit and Sabit. Other bandits watched from the edges of the camp.

Turning back to Nerit, Sabit suddenly switched her knife to her other hand. She lunged again, tipping Nerit off-balance. Sabit stepped forward, coming inside his defense. Planting a shoulder in his gut and standing, she flipped the boy over. Nerit landed hard on his back. In an instant Sabit was sitting upon his chest, the long knife resting on the boy’s throat.

“You are poor fighters,” Sabit said, her voice ringing out for all the bandits to hear. “I have much to teach you.”

Sabit stood up. She looked down at Nerit lying in the dirt. She offered him a hand.

 

———

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: Fourteen

Lying in the clearing at the center of the bandit camp, sunlight warming her flesh, Sabit dreamt.

*

A mighty fortress. Battlements ready, save for soldiers. At the gate, no one. On the wall, no one. In the courtyard, no one. From outside, the din of siege engines. Beset at every side. Within the walls, Sabit alone. Her troops around the next corner? No. Behind this door? No. Within this barracks? No. Only the emptiness where soldiers once stood.

A beautiful palace. Gardens lush with zinnia blooms, but no admirers.  Libraries stuffed with books, but no readers. Amphitheaters bright and beautiful, but no hearers. Sabit wandering down hidden hallways, alone. Sabit pushing past curtains, alone. Sabit crawling through yawning windows, alone.

A crowded cave. Chests and barrels and boxes of every type. No eyes for their carved beauty, save Sabit. No fingers for their clever locks, save Sabit. No hands for their bountiful treasure, save Sabit.

No ears for the mournful cries of Sabit’s solitude.

Alone.

*

Sabit startled herself to wakefulness, a hand shooting to Verdandi’s side. The older woman was warm. She breathed. Sabit was not alone.

 

———

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: Thirteen

Sabit strode into the bandit camp like a conquering general. Word of the bandit king’s watery death at her hands had preceded her arrival. In every corner of the camp, fear spread like wildfire. In lopsided lean-tos, bandits grabbed blankets. In the central lodge of rough-cut timber, graspers filled their bags with the bandit king’s gold. As Sabit stepped from the dense forest into the broad clearing that housed the camp, a pair of bandits dropped the ripe hand of bananas they had filched and sprinted for the treeline.

“I have seen demons given warmer welcomes than this,” Verdandi said, a smile in her voice.

Sabit leaned on her spear, the fatigue of her battle still heavy on her limbs. “These people were ruled by a demon. Why should they expect the demon-slayer to be any better?”

Two dozen pairs of eyes watched her from the makeshift camp. Fear shone in every face, most of them painfully young. She pointed to the young bandit she had faced earlier that day, who bore a tattoo of a hungry leech beneath his left eye. “You, boy! What is your name?”

He looked to his fellows before stepping forward. “I am Nerit the Mighty!” Instinct urged him to puff out his chest, but a prudent second thought turned the movement into an awkward stretch.

“How did you earn the death mark, Nerit?” Sabit said, her gaze steady on the boy’s face.

“I stained the streets with the blood of my …” Nerit’s voice died in his throat. “I stole a sack of rice from the market. For my family.”

Sabit nodded. She turned to face the others. “I am Sabit. Your king is dead. If you cross me, you will join him. If you wish to seek your own fortune upon the road, I will not pursue you. If you stay, you will do as I say. If you stay, you will eat better than stealing rice from the market. I will see to it.”

She called for a blanket and laid it on the rocky ground in the center of camp. Verdandi sat down at her side. With all the bandits staring in wonderment, Sabit went to sleep.

 

———

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: Twelve

The crack of the lash echoed throughout the dungeons of the king of Bahteel. The coppery tang of blood wafted on the breeze as each stripe opened more flesh on Kehnan’s back. The hulking warrior strained against the thick iron chains binding his arms to a wide archway. His massive thews flexed to the point of bursting, yet even his strength could not win him respite from the unrelenting whip.

The torturer stopped to rest his arm. Kehnan’s breath came like a horse, echoing through the cavernous dungeons. He growled, “I vow that I will tear your heart from your chest, Lovro!”

“Is that supposed to frighten me, Kehnan?” asked the smaller man. The fine silks of his robes marked him as a man unused to the hard labor of beating a man to death. “You gave me your vow that I would have the skull of the leader of the Sisterhood of the Lioness on a post by now.* And you vowed that the champion Sabit would be my willing captive by now.** Yet both of them roam free! Your vows mean nothing!”

Kehnan glared at his captor. “I have sown the seeds, but you do not allow them the time to ripen! Even now, Sabit hunts Meriama for you. She has never failed to bring down her quarry. Once the leader of the Sisterhood is dead, then I will resume draining Sabit’s essence until she accepts you with open arms. Give me time!”

“You think me a fool, Kehnan?” replied Lovro. “The Sisterhood banished Sabit nearly a fortnight ago, yet Meriama still breathes! She has made a fool of you.”

Kehnan’s eyes grew wide as the news of Sabit’s betrayal wormed its way into his mind. Lovro smiled to see the mighty warrior struck dumb by the actions of a woman. He sauntered back to his whipping spot, letting the long leather lash unspool upon the floor.

Suddenly, Kehnan let out a roar like a wild beast. Pulling tight on the chains that held his arms spread, Kehnan kicked his legs forward and his head back. With a speed that defied his size, the big man braced his thick sandals on the top of the stone archway, his long black hair hanging so low as to touch the flagstones. Hanging upside-down, he pushed with massive legs while pulling his bound arms together. His whole body trembled with the effort. His wounds bled down his back, over his neck and scalp, dripping from the tips of his hair.

The groan of bending iron rang out as the iron staples holding the chain to the wall gave way. Kehnan fell in a cloud of dust. Lovro stepped away, terrified at the strength of his former prisoner.

From the warrior’s fallen form came a voice as dark as the grave, “No one makes a fool of Kehnan and lives! Sabit will pay for this!”

 

——

*-Sabit’s mission is detailed in Wayfarings of Sabit: Sisterhood of the Lioness.

**-Kehnan’s attempts to weaken Sabit are detailed in Wayfarings of Sabit: Bazaar of Death.

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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: Eleven

Shrieking with effort, Sabit kicked with all her might. Braced against the bandit king’s chest, her powerful legs shoved him backwards, lifting him off the bridge. Sabit rolled aside as the bandit king toppled over the edge. The rope around his neck went taut. Pulled by the rope, the leather sack of adze-heads slid along the flat bed of the cart. The bandit king disappeared beneath the churning, brown river. The sack of bronze tools toppled off the cart, striking the edge of the bridge forcefully as it fell. The river swallowed it, too.

Sabit watched the water until her breathing began to slow. The river showed not so much as a ripple to mark the bandit king’s presence.

Wrapping her aching hands around the spokes of the cartwheel, Sabit pulled herself upright. Every muscle trembled with fatigue and pain. The bridge seemed to wobble beneath her feet. Through force of will alone, Sabit raised herself to her full height.

Surveying the bridge head, Sabit saw a number of figures. Verdandi stood at the center, a proud smile on her face. A few steps onto bridge stood the three young bandits she had disarmed earlier. They and half a dozen other youths stared slack-jawed at the river’s brown surface. Although each one held a weapon in their hands, Sabit saw the newborn fear in the bandits’ eyes.

She spoke in loud voice, “Your unbeatable king attends the court of the river goddess in her muddy palace. Any who would join him, step forward. I am keen to send you on your way.”

Despite the pull of exhaustion and the angry throb of her injuries, Sabit did not allow her gaze to falter as she looked at each of the young bandits in turn. The next move was theirs.

 

———

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/.