Blossom of Ruin: Three

A day’s walk along the river—with more attentive step—brought Sabit to a crossroads.  Several eastbound travelers filled their skins, amphorae, and jars with as much water as the containers would hold. Westbound travelers tarried in the cool waters, drinking as much as their bellies would hold.

A caravan of well-provisioned eastbound merchants—their wagons laden with bolts of brightly-colored cloth—had much trouble speaking with Sabit. With thick accents and soft voices, they leaned close to her to make themselves heard. They were poised to venture onto the hard road that wound through days of badlands before reaching the fabled oasis at Elpasné. The reasons for such a hard trek were unclear, but certainly of utmost urgency. The caravan held no position for an experienced guard, particularly a woman like Sabit. As soon as the wagon-boys had filled the last waterskins, the merchants were off.

Some of the other travelers spoke the tongue of the trade routes. Sabit learned of the new silver vein now coining rich men in the mountain town of Dzenik to the west. The plague in the northern city of Vlardin had only grown worse in recent months. Sabit shared as much of the tale of her time in the southern land of Ghabar as she dared among strangers. None knew of solid prospects for a woman skilled with a spear.

As the sun sank, Sabit laid down for the night. Perhaps tomorrow would bring better prospects. However, she found the inner lining of her belt was soft and empty. The thick silver necklace she had found in the river was gone!

Only the eastbound merchants had approached close enough to have taken it. They had half a day’s lead on the road. There were nearly a dozen of them, armed with long knives. The necklace was as good as gone now. The wisest course was a good night’s sleep and better prospects tomorrow. She should pay it no mind. What claim did she truly have on a bauble pulled from the wild river?

The western sky still glowed a reddish hue as Sabit filled her waterskin, held her spear in hand, and strode onto the Elpasné road with a determined pace.

—–

Wayfarings of Sabit: Blossom of Ruin is copyright (c) 2016 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

Blossom of Ruin: Two

The river was chill, but not cold. The current was swift, but not torrential. Sabit made her way quickly toward the bank.

Finding purchase on a boulder half-submerged, Sabit’s eye caught something out of place, reflecting the sunlight from beneath the murky water’s surface. Swimming closer, she grasped a necklace of finely-wrought silver chains as thick as her thumb. It felt like a month of warm food, perhaps more.

The bauble was wedged between two large rocks, held there by the force of the current for years without number. Sabit fished a bit of twine from a drenched pouch and secured the necklace to her wrist. With legs braced against one stony surface, back pressed against another, and the skilled application of her spear as a lever, Sabit pushed.

The rocks held still. Water surged over her face.

The rocks held still. Sabit strained until stars spotted her vision.

The rocks rewarded such effort with the tiniest of budges. It was enough.

Clambering onto the shore, Sabit found the shelter of a fallen tree and hung her wet skirts and drenched belongings to dry in the afternoon sunlight, clear and strong. The necklace she kept close. Its constellation of seven-pointed charms and minute chain links had tasted wilderness. Sabit was sure they would rebel against her continued possession, given half a chance.

The day was troubled, but not ruined. Her journey was delayed, but not despoiled. In the sunshine, Sabit considered her options.

—–

Wayfarings of Sabit: Blossom of Ruin is copyright (c) 2016 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

Blossom of Ruin: One

Sabit’s reverie nearly ended her life.

The warrior’s foot was poised to step upon a sleeping bear cub when the mother’s roar shook Sabit from her thoughts. Instinct lowered her iron-tipped spear to face the mother’s charge, the butt set firm against a root. The hillside was steep. The mother bear charged up through underbrush toward the narrow path where Sabit stood. There would be another half-dozen heartbeats before the spear’s metal point would face the enraged ursine’s jaws.

At five heartbeats, Sabit made a decision.

At four heartbeats she lifted her spear and charged down the embankment, toward the raging beast.

At three heartbeats, she ran like the breeze itself.

At two heartbeats, Sabit thrust the spear-butt to the ground, grasped near the wicked iron tip with her hands, and vaulted into the air. The bear lunged with its body, swiped with its claws, snapped with its teeth. Sabit smelt the bloody salmon on its breath.

Catching a tree branch, Sabit yanked the spear to her by a leather thong. She climbed quickly over the river where the mother bear had been fishing. The branch bent and creaked at her weight.

Another roar filled the air. The mother bear stood at the base of the tree trunk, poised to ascend. Sabit cursed her luck and whatever goddess had “gifted” her with a wandering mind.

With all her might, Sabit leapt toward the branch of a tree on the river’s far bank.

Her right hand caught the branch. The branch snapped. Sabit fell.

Nothing cleared the mind of distraction quite like a swim.

—–

Wayfarings of Sabit: Blossom of Ruin is copyright (c) 2016 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

New story starts November 1st

sabit-cover-01-01

The first tale of Sabit the Wayfarer, Blossom of Ruin, starts on Tuesday.

Blurb: Sabit lives by her wits and her spear. When a cutpurse makes off with a bauble, what will Sabit risk to regain what is hers? What bitter, uncanny fruit will bloom from her thirst for vengeance, or justice?

This story will span the month of November. A new story will start December 1.

You can follow the story:

You can always follow Sabit’s adventures here on ipressgames.com.

You can support this and other sword-and-sorcery fiction on Patreon: https://patreon.com/michaelsmiller

“A Life Worth Dying For”, a Tale of Oshala the Hex, now available

A Life Worth Dying For cover
The next sword-and-sorcery tale of Oshala the Hex is now available.

This tale includes the fate of a past love, the fate of a dark future, otherworldly slave-drivers, feats of acrobatic skill, travel to realm of dreams, a cursed graveyard, an ancient tower of learning, a twisted prophesy, close combat on the top of a spire, a people freed of their fetters, and a broken heart.

From the blurb:
A world of dark sorcery—a time of sharpened bronze.

The pale tower of the Academy has governed the city of Lytrops with wisdom and learning for centuries. When Oshala the Hex finds the entire city forced into menial labor and her lover beset by restless spirits, what price will she pay to break their chains?

This is a 6,900-word short story in the sword-and-sorcery genre.

The story is now available for purchase at these fine retailers:

Seven Samurai and Genre Expectations

I watched Seven Samurai last night for the first time. It is, of course, masterfully done. The visuals are so rich and the story is so well-told.

We watched it on Hulu, where it’s part of the Criterion Collection. So after the feature they had a short documentary about the film, its inspirations, its impact on the genre, and its context in Japanese history. Although I had know that it was one of those “masterpiece films” that everybody talks about, I hadn’t realized that it came out only a few years after the end of the American Occupation and how that informed what was going on in the film. Kurosawa was not just making a brilliant genre picture, he was taking bits and pieces of samurai genre conventions and remixing them in a way that applied to the new reality of post-war, post-occupation Japan. There are no questions of loyalty to one’s lord in this story; the samurai are hired by the common people, collectively. While the samurai do display stereotypical traits drawn from the genre, they are each an individual. The end shows the villagers victorious, and the samurai as dying off, with no place in society. To say these things less than a decade after the Japanese militarists had used ideas of bushido to rally the people to greater sacrifice in a losing war was, and still is, powerful stuff.

I’ve been thinking along similar lines myself about this sword-and-sorcery fiction I’ve been writing. There are so many horrible genre conventions in sword-and-sorcery, from “might makes right” to issues of gender to legitimate authority deriving from birth. But I feel there is also power in the genre, and virtue can be found there. A world so big and vast that you will only ever scratch the surface of it, no matter how much you study; and yet, still being able to have an impact. The idea that your future is in your own hands. The idea that individual actions are the root of positive change. I’d like to remix sword-and-sorcery into something relevant for the 21st century, much like Kurosawa did for samurai film.

Anyway, yeah, a really great film. Got me thinking.

“The Mercy We Make” the first tale of Oshala the Hex, now available

The Mercy We Make Cover
My first foray into sword-and-sorcery fiction is now available!

I’ve never found the “sword” quite as compelling as the “sorcery”, so the main character of my stories, Oshala the Hex, is a sorceress who has sacrificed part of herself in exchange for magical power that few others possess.

In this first short story, “The Mercy We Make”, Oshala the Hex is a solitary figure who breaches the stoic mountain fastness of a long-forgotten emperor in search of an ancient artifact. The undying spirits within welcome a new, living soul to torment. But who will get the better of whom? Can Oshala the Hex escape where multitudes have fallen? Will her mission of mercy end in triumph, or eons of unending torment?

Check back next month for a new tale of Oshala the Hex.

The first 5,000-word tale is now available from these fine retailers:

The Cold, Hard Truth [fiction]

I woke up with an idea for a story. It’s set in the Liberty League universe that I have used for my With Great Power… convention events. What do you think?

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THE STALWART

in

“The Cold, Hard Truth”

by Michael S. Miller

The Armor of Truth was going to fail. Already a dent in the shoulder plate kept me from raising my left arm. Soon, even the enchantments of Veracity that held the mystic metal together would not be able to ward off the blows of The Crusher’s reptilian fists. The Armor was going to fail.

When the Armor failed, nothing would be able to stop The Crusher from killing Constance Carrier. His genetically enhanced muscles, razor-sharp scales, and sinuous snake-like tail would work quickly. Smart, funny, beautiful Connie would die. And it would be all my fault.

The whistling of another thrown car headed my way snapped my attention back to the problems at hand. The car was headed straight for a group of panicked bystanders. I soared over, hitting the car squarely with the my still-solid right shoulder plate. Steel screeched against mystic metal and I could feel the armor tearing against itself–tearing against my soul.

The car and I crashed into a truck near the bystanders. They fled, unharmed, as I pulled myself from the wreckage. What would Wayne do? I wondered. The Armor sharpened my memory. It was as though in that instant I could see Wayne Mason–my mentor, the closest thing to a father I ever knew–standing before me.

“Even with the Armor of Truth at full power,” Wayne had lectured, “I can’t go toe-to-toe with a behemoth like The Crusher. The Armor isn’t that type of weapon. The Truth is neither the hammer, nor the anvil, Earnest. The Truth is the fire of the forge itself.”

Wayne was always saying things like that. And I thought I understood his wisdom. I thought I could take up The Stalwart’s mantel after Wayne died. I thought I could protect people. I thought I could protect Connie. I was wrong.

I looked up and saw The Crusher rip open the side of a van, near where I had stashed Connie. It was now or never. But how could I be “the fire of the forge itself”? Fires brought heat. Heat only enhanced the reptilian DNA in The Crusher, made him faster and stronger. Unless…

I knew what to do. As The Crusher’s ten-foot-tall form loomed over the SUV that I had hidden Connie underneath, I soared over to land on its roof. “If you want the girl, Crusher, you’re going to have to go through me.”

The Crusher’s snake-like mouth twisted into something approaching a grin. “I thought you’d never ask. Yer gonna be the ‘smear of truth’ when I get done with you.” Both his arms lunged at me, wrapping around my already-battered shoulders. With no legs, The Crusher’s long tail wrapped around my legs and began to squeeze. I could feel the mystic metal squeal under the assault. The Armor would fail in a minute, at most.

With The Crusher anchored firmly to me and not the ground, I took to the skies. We weren’t far from the Central Park Reservoir. It was still early spring. I plunged into the water with The Crusher coiled around me. I felt a rib crack under the pressure.

The ice had just melted, but at the bottom of the reservoir the water was still just a few degrees above freezing. The Armor kept me insulated from the cold, but The Crusher had no such protection. I was betting that the bone-chilling cold would sap his irresistible strength, maybe even send him into some sort of hibernation. But would it work fast enough to save me?

Seconds passed. The crushing force did not let up. My left shoulder plate gave way, crumpling like paper.

My shoulder exploded with pain.

I screamed.

And then, the squeezing stopped.

The Crusher released his grip and began to swim weakly for the surface. With my good right arm, I grabbed his tail and held him until I was sure that all his strength was gone. Although every move was agony, I hauled him to the surface, and checked that he was still breathing.

The city was safe. Connie was safe. The Armor of Truth had not failed. And I swore, I would not fail the Armor. Not again.