Pursuit: Twenty-Three

The fabled tattooists of Utretope demand payment both excessive and exotic for their services. Baza the slave-catcher had never once regretted the years of labor and fortunes of gold they had required of him. Even the scars upon his soul he had considered to be a worthwhile investment for the boon of that tangled mass of blue lines inked into the flesh of his right hand. For nearly a decade, over dozens of hunts, not a man nor a woman nor a beast had Baza ever faced who could resist the debilitating touch of his right hand.

Until today.

Just like always, Baza felt the cold thrill of the tattoo lines roiling beneath his skin. Just as always, he felt the warmth of his victim’s life force flare beneath his palm—fluttering and delicate like a caged songbird.

Unlike every other capture he had made, the seven-pointed stars upon Sabit’s silver necklace all flashed in the sunlight at the same moment. The sparks of light seemed to pierce Baza’s hand. The pain was like grabbing a handful of stinging nettles. Baza screamed.

Sabit’s fist landed squarely on the slave-catcher’s jaw, ending his awareness of the pain. Baza fell into the water, as unmoving as a felled tree.

The last slaver had fallen beneath Qaansoole’s kicks, despite the archer’s arms still being yoked to a branch. Allamu, wrists still bound together, had clambered into the boat with Qays and was working the makeshift paddle to steer it out of the current. Sabit labored to roll Illi on his back, rewarded with the sound of his deep, steady breathing.

In the aftermath, ropes were cut and captives were freed. The bandits chose to withdraw quickly and quietly, rather than test the mettle of Sabit and her allies. The other former captives huddled around Allamu and Qaansoole, unsure of how to proceed.

When he recovered his strength, Illi hauled the slavers’ bodies onto the shore, piling them up to be burned. Sabit paddled the boat far downstream, eyes constantly vigilant. By the time nightfall caused her to call off the search, she had found neither body nor trail of the the slave-catcher known as Baza.

 

—END—

 

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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: Twenty-Two

“I’ll see you dead before you chain anyone else,” Sabit roared as she charged Baza, water flying from her strides like wings. With her spear point leveled at the slave-catcher’s chest, Sabit closed the distance in a matter of heartbeats.

Baza kept his gaze locked on Sabit’s eyes. At the last moment, he shifted his weight, stepping to one side of the thrust spear. Inside the reach of Sabit’s bloody, iron spear point, Baza moved quickly to strike—he held his tattooed hand at the ready, fingers cupped to wrap around the spear woman’s throat. He noted that a thick, silver necklace of many chains rested around that throat, its ornaments of seven-pointed stars something he had never seen before, bright against Sabit’s dark brown skin. He was ready to defeat her.

Sabit’s kick caught Baza solidly in the gut. Agony engulfed his world as he doubled over, staggering away from spear woman.

Sabit did not lose a moment pursuing her injured foe. Illi lay motionless, face down in the river. Planting her spear in the river mud, Sabit bent low to grab the massive man at shoulder and hip. Heaving with all her might, the spear woman began to roll his massive form onto his back, his insensate form heavy as a boulder. As Illi’s face broke the water’s surface, he gulped down a huge breath of air.

A streak of white-hot pain surged through Sabit as the third slaver’s whip cut a stripe across her back. Her hold on Illi faltered, and the big man slumped back into his prone position, his face again covered by the water.

Her face a mask of battle-fury, Sabit glowered at the slaver as she reached for her spear. Her hand found only air.

Sabit turned. Baza was upon her. He wrapped his right hand around her throat. Faded, blue tattoos writhed across his fingers with arcane might—like the surface of a lake churned by the feeding frenzy below the surface.

 

—–

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: Twenty-One

The slavers on the shore turned to see their leader collapse into the water beneath the newcomers’ boat. Qaansoole capitalized on their lapsed attention to kick the nearest slaver in the knee. Before he could recover his balance, the scab-faced bandit was upon him, swinging his bound fists to strike the slaver in the jaw. The other captives surged toward their captors, a mob of pent-up fury.

Three of the slavers waded quickly through the water toward the boat, whips at the ready. Illi seized the craft, holding it steady in the shallow river current despite his still-bound wrists. From the boat sprang Sabit with the grace of a panther. Her spear held high, she drove its iron tip deep into the nearest slaver’s chest. Landing with a splash in the shallow water, Sabit yanked the spear free of the man’s falling body.

As Sabit raised the red-stained spear point toward the other two slavers, the bearded one lashed out with his whip. A loud crack split the air as the leather whip wrapped tight around her spear’s wooden shaft. The man revealed a silver tooth as a cruel smile spread across his face. He yanked hard on the spear.

Sabit leaped forward at the same instant, lifting the spear butt high into the air before releasing it. The force of the whip yanked the spear straight toward the slaver, its sharp metal point careening into his throat. He fell into the river, his lifeblood flowing away with the current.

Behind Sabit came a loud splash and a child’s cry. Turning, Sabit saw the boat floating downriver, Qays shouting and pointing. Illi lay slumped in the water, unmoving.

Over the massive body of the former champion stood Baza, his thin staff at the ready. “Sabit, I must thank you for not dying. You have so much more value alive. My buyer is offering half your weight in gold to see you in chains!”

 

—–

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: Twenty

Illi was the first one into the river, trudging forward into the ford. Behind the mountain of a man came a long line of slaves, bound by thick ropes. Nearly two dozen shambled in bondage toward the water, Allamu and Qaansoole further back in line. Between them staggered the bandit that had kicked Qaansoole last night in the cave, his face a mess of fresh scabs.

The slavers clustered at the water’s edge, their whips ready to wrangle the mass of captives transitioning from the normal pace of the solid road to the careful step of fording the river. None of these rabble would be auctioned for their beauty, and the slavers were quick to remind their captives that they had no hesitation in using the whip.

The sun shone brightly in a cloudless sky, a pleasant breeze cutting the heat of the afternoon. On the far bank sat a merchant wagon festooned with brightly colored flags and pale-faced teamsters dozing in the shade of a tall fig tree. The murmur of the wide, shallow river smothered all but the loudest birdsong from the wooded banks.

Illi had crossed a bit more than halfway when he stopped walking. The big man carefully knelt down in the shallow river and stooped low to drink from the cool, clear water.

“Get moving!” Baza shouted, wading into the ford toward the kneeling man. “You should well know that neither your girth not your stubbornness will save you from another drubbing at my hands. Surely Illi the champion does not thirst for another defeat?”

Illi turned his head to lock eyes with the bald slave-catcher, water streaming from his long, black beard. “Your wicked sorcery can knock me flat. Truth. So do it! Tap me with that devil-fist of yours and steal the strength from my body. Do it! See how much coin you can wring from my drowned corpse!”

Baza glared downstream at the big man. Even kneeling, he was nearly eye-level with the slave-catcher. Baza hefted his thin, wooden staff. “I have other ways of making you suffer, Illi. Get up before I have to—”

Baza pitched forward as a small stone struck the back of his head, leaving a bloody cut in his scalp. Off-balance, he turned to face upstream a mere moment before the boat bearing Sabit and Qays crashed into him.

 

—–

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: Nineteen

The sun had set and the sky’s inky blackness had bloomed with the unconquerable light of a thousand stars when Baza called for a halt. Allamu, at the head of the line of captives, had given up on testing the ropes that bound his wrists and circled his throat. He had been walking since the sun had been high in the sky, without water or food. Behind him stretched a line of the slave-catcher’s other prizes: three bandits, then Qaansoole with her arms yoked to a thick branch and a short length of rope hobbling her steps. Behind her, another two bandits shambled along. Baza kept close watch on the procession, his thin staff ever at the ready to visit painful discipline upon the flesh of any straggler falling out of step.

Voices ahead called out in a tongue Allamu could not comprehend. Baza answered, and soon the rope line found itself in the camp of the slavers. The ground was level. A well-built lean-to offered shelter at the base of a small cliff in the hillside. This road—the main road leading into Bahteel from the east—saw many slaves traded along its length. Way stations like this one—boasting sturdy iron bars stretched across the a shallow cave in the cliff face—adorned the trade route like crimson stones of abject misery along a winding necklace of suffering.

After a swallow of water and lick of thin gruel, the bars were pulled aside and the captives were forced into the cave. They were not alone. Other slaves were already lodged there, the small space filled with odor of sweat and vomit, piss and filth.

Allamu tried to make his way toward Qaansoole, but too many bodies blocked the way. The bandit she had defeated by the river was quick to take advantage of the archer’s helpless state. His kick struck her hard in the back. Yoked to the branch as she was, Qaansoole could not keep from falling toward the other slaves. One cried out in anger as she struck him. In the darkness, Allamu could not make out the features of this new threat. All he could discern was the motion like a slab of rock rising to its feet, looming over the little, bound archer like a bear over a rabbit.

 

—–

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: 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.”

 

—–

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.

 

—–

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/