Bazaar of Death: Fifteen

Sabit seized the hand on her shoulder and yanked. Bracing her hip, she pulled the bigger man forward, tipping him off-balance. Controlling his fall by twisting the arm she held, Sabit put the man on his back in the dust of the bazaar. Putting her knee on his chest, Sabit looked down at Kehnan. “Don’t call me ‘Mongoose.’”

The big man laughed. “What else can I call you when you defeat a larger foe so quickly? Let me up and I’ll buy you a meal worthy of your exploits. I owe you for all the millet beer we drank last night.”

Sabit hadn’t remembered buying the drinks. She didn’t remember anything. But how could she ask Kehnan about her memory and the scar without revealing her weakness to him?

Sabit helped Kehnan to his feet without saying a word. Draping a muscular arm over Sabit’s shoulder, Kehnan guided her deeper into the crowded bazaar. The fortune teller’s tent faded quickly from view.

“Who dares to defy death itself?” came a man’s booming voice from the back of a cart. A crowd gathered close, listening to his every word. “Who is brave enough to walk the lightless lands beyond the Buzzard’s beak and return to the world of the living? Who wants to know the glory of the next world and return here to tell us the tale? Twenty bronze gersh and you, too, shall defeat death!”

Behind the huckster, a contraption filled the cart—metal clasps, inscribed stones, globes of smoked glass, feathers of rare birds, tubes and flasks of soot-smeared copper over sputtering candles. At the top of it all, a crude bracelet of beaten bronze revolved over a shallow funnel. A thin fluid the color of sunlight oozed from grooves in the bracelet’s surface, dripping into the funnel. From the funnel, the liquid flowed through tubes, filtered through feathers, warmed in flasks, and finally made its way out of a spout at the bottom of the device. The liquid that emerged was the color of a starless night. A dozen tiny porcelain cups were filled with the stuff, looking like the richest tea ever brewed.

The slowly turning bracely seized Sabit’s attention. The grooves along its surface were harsh and jagged—just like the scar on her wrist. The bracelet itself was oblong and hollow—just like the hole in her memory.

“Who will spit in death’s eye to truly live?” came the barker’s call.

Sabit took a step forward.

 

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Wayfarings of Sabit: Bazaar of Death 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/

Bazaar of Death: Fourteen

In the open air, the searing pain of Sabit’s scar faded quickly. Allowing her feet to take her where they would, Sabit tried to quiet the turmoil in her mind and heart.

Her memories of last night were still like a gaping hole—a wound in her psyche, leaking blood that stained the impressions of all that came before the gap the color of death. Qaansoole had never been an ally, only another helpless innocent in need of Sabit’s protection. For all Allamu’s talk of friendship, he was merely—

The fortune teller’s tent was across the street. Sabit remembered the blue and green silk, the cool interior, and the refreshing tea. Her aimless wanderings had brought her back to the bazaar, to this particular place. Perhaps the wise woman might have some answers to the questions gnawing at Sabit from within.

Sabit had barely taken a step toward the tent when there was a broad, strong hand on her shoulder. “There you are! You left so early, Mongoose!”

 

—–

Wayfarings of Sabit: Bazaar of Death 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/

Bazaar of Death: Thirteen

“You gave Allamu your vow that you would return him home to Urom,” Qaansoole said, rising from her seat to confront Sabit’s casual announcement that she would not go to that far-off city.

“I also vowed to protect the prince of Ghabar.* And to serve the god Batuul beneath the Wicked Rocks.* And to protect all the champions and hostages of Vert.*** And to meet you at the gate last night with provisions!” Sabit roared, taking to her feet. Her movement was so sudden that the small table toppled over, the glazed bowl of broth shattering on the packed earth floor. “Betraying my vows should come as no surprise to anyone paying attention!”

Qaansoole closed the distance to Sabit, the little archer glaring at the spear woman with eyes full of threat, despite being more than a head shorter. “I have trusted you with my life and with the life of my son. Now you blithely declare yourself an oathbreaker? I should—”

“Sabit made me no vow,” Allamu’s voice was soft and steady, and yet seemed to chase all other words from the room.

Both the fighting women turned to face him, sitting cross-legged on the floor. He continued, “Sabit saved me from captivity and death.* I offered her a reward from my father’s coffers for her to return me to Urom. If she does  not want the reward, she does not need to take me. There was no vow. No oath. No promise. There is nothing between us, save a bond of friendship.” He smiled beneath sad eyes.

The new faded scar at Sabit’s wrist flared with pain like a burning brand. Allamu’s gaze was cool and forgiving, but even his eyes could not quench the fiery agony at her wrist. “Consider the bond of friendship one more thing I have broken.” Taking her spear and her satchel, Sabit left the room.

 

——

*-Sabit’s past in Ghabar and her first meeting with Allamu are detailed in Wayfarings of Sabit: Blossom of Ruin.

**-Sabit’s time with Batuul is detailed in Wayfarings of Sabit: Isle of the Wicked.

***-Sabit’s time leading the champions of Vert is detailed in Wayfarings of Sabit: Tumult.

 

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Wayfarings of Sabit: Bazaar of Death 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/

Bazaar of Death: Twelve

“Allamu has secured a place in a large, well-guarded caravan headed for Urom,” Qaansoole said as Sabit savored a bowl of fragrant broth. “We have at least five days before they leave, so there is plenty of time to arrange provisions. One night’s reunion with an acquaintance of old will hardly delay our journey.”

The archer smiled kindly at Sabit. Her eyes held no hint of reproach. Yet, Sabit looked away quickly, her gaze sweeping over tidy chamber that Qaansoole’s relations had provided for the small group’s comfort. In the corner, Allamu listened closely to Qaansoole’s son, Qays, as the boy fought his way through the twisting vowels and consonants of a parchment held in his tiny hands.

Allamu had barely spared any vowels and consonants for Sabit since their belated meeting in the marketplace. His all-night vigil spoke to his loyalty, but was his silence a sign that that loyalty had been pushed too far?

“Why do you allow him to teach the boy to read?” Sabit asked Qaansoole.

“Despite my current relations with his father, Qays is of a royal line,” Qaansoole replied. “Allamu—also born a prince—says that good kings have many scribes to keep their books, but great kings rely on no one to learn whatever knowledge they will.”

Sabit stared at the back of Allamu’s head. “‘Knowledge’?” she spat out the word like a rotten apricot, the new scar on her wrist throbbing. “Reading leads to the ways of dark magic.” Allamu’s neck tensed, but he said nothing.

Sabit slurped her broth. Qaansoole mended a torn tunic. Qays’s reedy voice tripped over the words of an ancient poem. Time passed. Allamu said nothing.

“I am not going to Urom,” Sabit declared.

 

—–

Wayfarings of Sabit: Bazaar of Death 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/

Bazaar of Death: Eleven

“What happened to you?” Allamu asked, rising from the dusty ground at the foot of the city wall. “We were to meet here at sunset. Are you hurt?”

Sabit opened her parched mouth to speak. What had happened to her? She had been in the bazaar. She had looked for provisions. She had met Kehnan. Had they gotten a drink? Sabit was so thirsty. The new, faded scar at her wrist burned like a flame as she struggled for the memory.

“I met an old friend,” Sabit said slowly, her tongue thick and clumsy in her mouth. There was a hole in her mind where the memory of last night ought to be. Not the fuzzy hollowness of half-recalled images and emotions that sometimes followed a night too deep in her cups, but a stark, yawning abyss, as if the hours had been cut from her soul with a knife.

“Old friends are a blessing,” Allamu said. “Why didn’t you bring her? Qaansoole’s relations are very accommodating.”

Why hadn’t Sabit brought Kehnan here to meet them? Why hadn’t she gotten the provisions she promised? None of it made sense. Her whole arm trembled with the pain at her wrist. Allamu’s questions only made everything worse.

When Sabit said nothing, Allamu continued, “I sat here all night waiting for you.”

“Then you are a greater fool than I thought you were,” Sabit spat.

Allamu’s face fell. He opened his mouth to reply, but no words came out. Gesturing for Sabit to follow, he turned away from the gate, moving slowly, as if stunned in battle. The pain of Sabit’s wrist faded with the silence, as she focused on what lay before her. Turning away from the gate, she did not look back.

 

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Wayfarings of Sabit: Bazaar of Death 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/

Bazaar of Death: Ten

A shaft of morning sunlight bathed Sabit’s closed eyelids in a scarlet glow, like the fire of a demon’s heart. Her head ached like a walnut about to crack. Every muscle throbbed as though she had pulled an elephant up a mountain. Her tongue was fused to the roof of her mouth, as dry as the salted meat she had seen in the marketplace.

The salted meat she had not secured. The promise to her friends she had tossed aside. The duty she had failed.

Forcing her eyes open, the sunlight assaulted her senses like a dagger in her head. Sabit found herself in an unfamiliar room, sparsely furnished. There was no sign of Kehnan. She dressed quickly, every motion wracked with stiffness and regret. Every movement brought a sharp pain in her wrist where a dark, faded scar Sabit had never seen before marred her brown skin. How could she have failed so badly?

Steeling herself for the pain, as before a battle, Sabit went out into the bright, sunlit street. She had no idea where Qaansoole and Allamu might be. They were all supposed to meet at the east gate at dusk—Allamu with news of transportation to Urom, Qaansoole with accommodations for their stay in Bahteel, Sabit with provisions for the trip. In her revelry with Kehnan, she had paid no mind to the setting sun. How long had they waited before giving up? How long until they knew her for the failure she was?

Sabit pushed through the crush of merchants and mendicants at east gate. She scanned the crowd despite the throbbing pain in her skull, and her heart. Curled into himself at the base of the wall, huddled into the last patch of morning shade, lay a dark-skinned man garbed in a tunic striped crimson and white.

“Allamu?” Sabit said.

 

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Wayfarings of Sabit: Bazaar of Death 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/

Bazaar of Death: Nine

In the deepest reaches of the night, Sabit dreamt.

  • • •

A battlefield—littered with bodies, flowing with blood. The acrid tang of smoke. A vicious war-cry. Numberless ranks of foes. The taste of copper at Sabit’s lip. A brutal charge.

Everywhere, the dance of battle. Sabit’s spear—long and sharp and cruel. The iron tip piercing an enemy’s gut, another’s chest, another’s throat. Savagery on every side. Struggle at every turn.

Sabit, victorious against every foe.

Cheers from her fellows. Cheers from the carrion birds in the sky. Cheers from the dead at her feet. “Hail, Sabit! Hail, victory!”

The thrill of triumph—coursing through her every fiber, pulsing like her very blood. The scent of conquest in the wind. The color of mastery in the clouds. The rhythm of supremacy beneath her feet.

An old woman’s cackle.

All of it stripped away. Sabit—naked, worthless, alone.

  • • •

That night, she dreamt no more.

 

—–

Wayfarings of Sabit: Bazaar of Death 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/

Bazaar of Death: Eight

The man in the cloak lunged at Sabit, his bronze blade whistling toward her throat. Sabit dropped to a crouch, the strike that sought to take her head sailing uselessly above. She punched the man in the side with a fury that sent him lurching to the ground, vomit spewing from his mouth.

Kehnan dodged his assailant’s first swing. Drawing his own sword, he lunged hard, his greater reach allowing his blade to cut a deep gash across the cloaked man’s chest. With a strangely gurgling cry, the would-be robber collapsed at Kehnan’s feet.

Sabit kicked her puking attacker, sending him rolling toward his fellow. The other man leaped over the fleshy form, bringing his bronze blade down swiftly toward Sabit’s head. With a serpent’s speed, she grabbed his arm with both her hands. His blade hovered a mere finger length from Sabit’s face. Twisting the man’s arm behind his back, Sabit pushed his face into the stone wall of the alleyway. He stubbornly clenched the knife in his fist. Sabit pushed harder. There was a crack and a scream. The knife clattered to the ground.

Kehnan faced the last attacker in the darkness of the alley. The cloaked figure bore two blades. While neither had the reach of Kehnan’s long, straight sword, together they wove a defense the bigger man could not seem to bypass. Metal clanged on metal as the two jabbed and parried.

Between exchanges, the two fighters studied one another’s movements, eyes alert to the slightest opening from their foe. A flash of moonlight. A small bronze dagger sunk deep in the cloaked figure’s eye. He dropped to the ground—a pile of dead flesh.

“He was mine, Mongoose!” Kehnan roared, turning to Sabit.

The spear woman was catching her breath, a smear of blood glistening on her cheek. “You were taking too long. The time for fighting is done.”

Stepping over the dead and the dying, Sabit threw her arms around Kehnan in a passionate kiss.

 

—–

Wayfarings of Sabit: Bazaar of Death 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/

Bazaar of Death: Seven

“I have been dead these six years and never knew it,” Kehnan professed as he and Sabit wound their way through the tight alleyways of Bahteel. “I swear I have not felt my heart beat with the thrill of true life since we parted, Mongoose. But to see you make those blades dance again, it struck me alive as surely as you could strike me dead if you chose.”

“Ever the poet, Kehnan,” Sabit replied, leaning on a cool stone wall to keep the alley from spinning. She couldn’t remember how Kehnan had lost both his cloak and his shirt, but watching the pale moonlight fall across the knotted muscles of his back … pleased Sabit greatly. The spear woman had not heard the acclaim of raised voices for too long. She had not felt free of the burdens of duty—to the Prioress, to Allamu, to the champions, to her companions—in more moons that she could count. Exulting in her skill for the sake of no one else was more intoxicating than the mugs of beer she had downed.

There were other skills that Kehnan was versed in.

The shaft of moonlight showed only a thin strip of the alley, the rest as black as a beast’s gullet. Ahead of Kehnan, a cloaked figure appeared from the deepest shadows. Beside him, another stepped forward, a bronze blade in each hand. The moonlight could not cool the wicked edge of the blades’ reddish metal.

Behind Sabit came a voice. “Your coins. Now.” Behind her, two more cloaked figures approached. “Quickly, or you bleed.”

Kehnan looked to Sabit. He held his hands loose and far from his sides, but Sabit could see the battle-focus rise within him. She, too, tensed herself with every breath like a bow being slowly drawn to an archer’s cheek.

Sabit said, “I haven’t bled in a long time. Too long.”

 

—–

Wayfarings of Sabit: Bazaar of Death 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/

Bazaar of Death: Six

The crowd roared as the thrown dagger sunk deep between the eyes of the dead boar’s head propped up on a table at the far end of the bar room. Kehnan raised his arms, beckoning the crowd to greater acclaim. The cheers rose to chanting as he lifted his mug to his lips and swallowed a long pull from his mug of millet beer.

Looking to Sabit, Kehnan said, “It is no shame to be bested by one as skilled as I, Mongoose. None will think less of you for yielding a contest you cannot win.”

Sabit smiled at the taunt and drained her mug. Rising to her feet, Sabit picked up two of the small, bronze throwing daggers that Kehnan had purchased for the contest. His coin had also paid for the beer and rescued the boar’s head from the butcher’s wife’s cook pot.

Holding a dagger in each hand, Sabit faced the target. Kehnan beckoned the crowd to still its shouts, a smile on his face. The tense silence hung in the air like pungent smoke of a censer.

Giving a sharp shout, Sabit hurled both daggers with phenomenal speed. In the same instant, each struck an eye of the beast, biting deep into its dead flesh.

For a moment more, the crowd was silent. Then, a cheer erupted, ringing from the low, wooden rafters. How could mere wood and stone contain such exultation?

Of all the cheering voices, Kehnan’s was the loudest of all. Even as the crowd rushed forward, he never took his eyes from Sabit.

 

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Wayfarings of Sabit: Bazaar of Death 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/