Sisterhood of the Lioness: Six

Days later, Sabit crouched behind the curving stone wall of a village hut, her trusty iron-tipped spear in her hand. Dessine and the other members of the Pride crouched close behind her. The group of warriors took care to silence their movements through the unseasonably cool mud of the village roads.

They need not have bothered. Nearby, the village’s goats screamed and rammed the stone walls of their pens. And yet, despite the desperate fury of the animals’ panicked protests, the sound that could not be drowned out was a slow, deep chant of dozens of united voices. The song—if it could be called that—suffused the air, emanated from the sky and the earth at once, and shook the very stones. Yet, the rising and falling pitches never quite resolved themselves into words.

Sabit craned her neck around the curve of the hut. In the village clearing, dozens of people stood shoulder by shoulder, their voices raised in inhuman song. At the center of the throng, a lone figure stood upon a barrel. His naked flesh was covered in twisting patterns of bright yellow and blood red—the sinuous lines weaving themselves into eldritch symbols that clawed at Sabit’s mind to look upon. The sorcerer’s upraised arms sheltered a roiling cloud—dark and pregnant with something other than rain—floating between his hands and growing with every rise and fall of the song.

Sabit stepped from behind the wall and pulled back her arm, spear at the ready.

The sorcerer snapped his gaze away from the otherworldly mass gathering above his head. He locked eyes with Sabit, and screamed in fury.

 

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Wayfarings of Sabit: Sisterhood of the Lioness 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/

Sisterhood of the Lioness: Five

The next morning, Sabit was roused from her slumber while the sun still hung low in the sky. The warriors of the Pride gathered their newest members in front of their stronghold. The head of the entire Sisterhood, Meriama, had arrived.

Walking quickly through the gate from the outer courtyard, the head of the Sisterhood of the Lioness cut a striking figure. Standing nearly as tall as the chief huntress Dessine, she walked with the swift, driven step of one who has no patience for fools. Years of harsh sun and harder work had pulled her skin tight across muscle and bone—save for her right arm, which hung scarred and shriveled from a sling across her chest. Meriama’s simple linen dress was marked with soot and mud along the hem. Her hair was cut short and unkempt—a frizzy cloud of deepest black with a single, thick streak of steel gray on the right side. Meriama’s eyes surveyed the row of young women, sparking hard and cold like flints.

“Where are these so-called ‘hunters’ you have for me, Dessine?” the head of the Sisterhood called in a sour voice. “We have not had a mouthful of meat outside your stronghold for days!”

The chief huntress stepped forward. “The initiates dared not wander too far afield, Meriama. There are assassins and mercenaries from the king of Bahteel along every road, seeking your head. They would not hesitate to capture any of the Sisterhood who fell into their clutches.”

Meriama looked at Sabit and the other initiates with contempt. “When I formed the Pride, my warriors had courage. They knew what they risked and they knew why they risked it. If this lot will not support the Sisterhood, perhaps the Sisterhood would be better off without them.”

 

—–

Wayfarings of Sabit: Sisterhood of the Lioness 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/

Sisterhood of the Lioness: Four

That night, Sabit danced with her fellow initiates into the small hours. Still weary from the hunt, her steps were clumsy. Always stubborn, Sabit made up for her lack of skill with a bottomless energy that outstripped the stamina of even the fully-established Sisters who had not hunted. By the time the bonfires burned low, Sabit was the only one still dancing—if her staggering gait could still merit the description.

As Sabit collapsed to her bedroll, nerves frayed and skin drenched in sweat, she remembered her last night with Kehnan, eight days before. Sabit had also dropped to the bed, dripping with sweat, when her lover had told her, “The Sisterhood of the Lioness wants to overthrow the king of Bahteel.”

“What matter is that of ours?” Sabit had asked.

“The reward that the king offers for the head of the Sisterhood isn’t matter enough?”

“I have heard of no reward,” Sabit said, rolling away from Kehnan. “The king speaks well of the Sisterhood.”

“Of course he must speak well of them. They have many allies,” Kehnan crawled behind Sabit and whispered in her ear. “Privately, he has offered an enormous sum for Meriama’s head.”

“I am neither assassin nor mercenary,” Sabit said.

“Of course you aren’t. The Sisterhood has caught and killed every assassin sent after them. They grow bold. Meriama claims she is unkillable. They have taken three villages in the west. In their arrogance, they tied every man in those villages to posts in the ground, as food for the jackals and vultures. Not a child of those villages has been seen since. What will Meriama do in the mighty city of Bahteel when she pulls the king from his throne?” Kehnan fell silent, allowing his words to roost in Sabit’s ear.

When Sabit did not respond, Kehnan rolled away from her, saying, “It’s no matter for us, though. No one can kill Meriama anyway. The finest fighters have tried and failed. The innocents of Bahteel will simply be at her mercy soon. No one can stop her. It’s impossible.” Kehnan closed his eyes and waited.

For a moment, Kehnan worried that Sabit had fallen asleep.

Her words filled the darkness. “I could stop her.”

 

—–

Wayfarings of Sabit: Sisterhood of the Lioness 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/

Sisterhood of the Lioness: Three

Chief huntress was her title, but Dassine bore the cold, reserved gaze of one who had slain more than beasts and fowl in her day. Her right cheek showed the roaring lioness, the tattoo ink dark against her tan skin. A torc of gleaming copper cradled her throat, the only adornment of her garb—yellow tunic of wool and a wide leather sword belt. Her limbs showed only the ropey muscles and scars born of years of hard fighting. Dassine was not the leader of the Sisterhood—none questioned the righteous honor of Meriama—but she was every inch its war-chief.

Dassine regarded the gathered initiates with a stern gaze, studying each kill. When she spotted Sabit crouching over the ibex carcass, she said, “Partnerships were forbidden in this hunt. Which of you have defied my will?”

Sabit rose to her full height, half a head taller than Dassine. “I killed it. I brought it out of the hills myself. I had no partner.”

Dassine stepped closer, eyes narrowed. “No less than three parasangs separate us from the nearest grazing land of the ibex. You would have me believe you carried this carcass such a distant without help?”

Sabit held the Sister’s challenging gaze. “I would have you believe the truth.”

Dassine answered with a silence that stretched a long time. Finally, she spoke. “Welcome to the Pride, Sabit.”

 

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Wayfarings of Sabit: Sisterhood of the Lioness 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/

Sisterhood of the Lioness: Two

The Sisterhood of the Lioness allowed only the strongest initiates to join the ranks of their most honored warriors: The Pride. The hunt was the final task of five days of trials the initiates faces. Walking the gauntlet of the established warriors was the last part of the hunt.

Sabit took a slow, deliberate step between the first of the two warriors. The sharp whistle of their switches cut through the air. Each blow delivered a stripe of stinging pain to the exposed skin of Sabit’s arms and legs. Her face set in stern expression, Sabit betrayed no hint of pain in her visage. She held to her stately gait, giving each of the Sisters ample opportunity for their blows.

As Sabit gritted her teeth at the torment, she held the eyes of each of the Sisters as she passed. Perhaps it was a show of defiance, or respect. Perhaps she imagined gutting them with the horns of the ibex she bore on her shoulders. Whatever the cause, her gaze did not falter.

Once she reached the end, Sabit laid down her burden. The ibex carcass hit the ground at the same moment the bell rang announcing sunset. Before Sabit stood a pair of plain wooden doors bearing no ornament other than the crude yellow line in the shape of a lioness’s roaring head. The last knell of sunset still hung in the air as those doors burst forth.

The chief huntress of the Sisterhood had arrived.

 

—–

Wayfarings of Sabit: Sisterhood of the Lioness 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/

Sisterhood of the Lioness: One

Sabit struggled under the weight of the ibex carcass draped across her shoulders. She had walked half the day up and down steep ridges and rocky slopes bearing the prize of her hunt. With only a stone knife and her innate stealth, Sabit had tracked the ibex herd through the night. Careful to keep herself downwind of the skittish creatures, Sabit had surveyed their numbers—the herd large and growing. The knot of does in the center nursed young kids. Hampered by the small steps of the young, the mothers could have made an easy target for the hunter. But what would there be to hunt next year?

Instead, she spotted a large buck with horns curling and shoulder broad. Stalking the animal over rocks and between boulders, Sabit had been upon the beast with her stone knife before it had a moment to bleat. Its razor-sharp horns flailed uselessly as its lifeblood drained from the deep neck wound of Sabit’s knife.

Leaving its entrails as an offering to the sacred Buzzard, Sabit had hauled the massive beast back to the compound of the Sisters of the Lioness. It was nearly dusk by the time she arrived. The guards were about to close the outer gate, the other initiates having already returned from their hunts long before. Sabit did not pause to regard them as she strode past, her feet and legs burning with fatigue from the long, hard journey.

In the outer courtyard, gaunt-cheeked women watched Sabit’s passage with hungry eyes. Young children pointed and whispered, but kept well clear of her.

Through the second gate, Sabit saw the other initiates, each covered with long, thin welts of dull purple on their arms and legs. Having finished their hunts, these women dressed their prizes to impress the full-fledged Sisters: a clutch of plump dormice, a dozen sleek fish, an ibex kid with a malformed leg, a long serpent stretched and flayed before the Mother’s tent on the far side of the compound. Even at this distance, Sabit could see that her kill held more meat than all the others put together.

The issue was getting it to the dressing-area. between Sabit and her goal stood two dozen of the Sisterhood’s strongest warriors, each with a long switch at the ready.

 

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Wayfarings of Sabit: Sisterhood of the Lioness 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: Twenty

Several days later, Sabit stood on the eastern wall of Bahteel. The morning sun bathed the fields of ripening grain in a crimson light. The packed earth line of the great eastern road cut through the blood-red fields like an open wound.

Where the dark brown expanse of road met the wall—gleaming a white-gold light off its ancient bricks—a caravan spilled out of the newly-opened gate. Two dozen mules laden with cargo took to the early morning road, attendants on foot at their side for the long walk to the great city of Urom.

Sabit looked down on three of those attendants: A small woman with a bow across one shoulder, her son moving drowsily at her side, and a man of middling height in a tunic of crimson and white. Allamu had begun his journey—away from Sabit and the doom the clung to her.

The caravan had not gone a dozen steps from the gate when Allamu turned back to look up at the wall. The harsh morning sunlight crown his frizzy hair with red-gold tips, but hid his face in shadow.

Sabit drank in her last look of Allamu and turned away from the sunlight. The scar on her wrist throbbed gently as she walked down the steps into the city, each stair plunging her deeper into the darkness.

—END—

 

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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: Nineteen

“You heard Sabit, little man,” Kehnan’s voice thundered over the rising hubbub of the bazaar. “Leave her alone.”

The big man laid a hand on Allamu’s shoulder—Kehnan’s scarred knuckles contrasted the crisp crimson and white lines of Allamu’s tunic. The man from Urom lowered his voice, “Do not touch me. Do not touch her.” The threatening tone was unmistakable.

Kehnan pulled Allamu up. The smaller man spun to face his tormentor, eyes blazing. Allamu held himself ready to strike, unquailed by Kehnan’s tall, muscular form.

“Go away, Allamu,” Sabit said. Rarely had three simple words wrung such agony from her heart.

Allamu turned back to Sabit, eyebrows pinched in a look of confusion. “Sabit, whatever is wrong can be mended. We have been friends too long to part over a few rash words.” As as Sabit rose to her feet, Allamu’s cheeks rose in a warm smile.

In that smile, Sabit saw Allamu’s death. His loyalty had been tested too many times. It had never faltered. Allamu would not abandon her, no matter what.

That loyalty would be his doom.

Sabit would not allow it. She had seen such devotion before. Years ago, Sabit had faced the still-living Ishum and broken his heart.* To save the young prince of Ghabar,  she had used every cruel word she knew to smother the infatuation that burned in his heart. But her words were not enough, and Ishum had died. Words were not Sabit’s strength.

With the back of her hand, Sabit struck Allamu across the face. As he staggered back from the blow, Sabit placed both hands on his chest. She shoved him, hard. Taking the spear from her shoulder, she leveled its deadly iron tip at Allamu’s chest.

“We were never friends!” Sabit roared with a desperation as if a life depended on the fury of her words. “Get from my sight, you spineless, pampered, fool. If I ever see you or that scrawny archer again, I will drive my spear through your heart!”

 

———

*-Sabit’s past with the prince of Ghabar is detailed in Wayfarings of Sabit: Blossom of Ruin.

 

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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: Eighteen

Sabit felt Allamu’s warm hand on her face. The scar at her wrist felt so cold, it burned. Bright sunshine glowed red through her eyelids. The babble of the bazaar seemed far away.

Forcing her eyes open, Sabit saw Allamu kneeling over her, a look of concern on his noble features. She smiled to see him again. Surely her harsh words could still be mended. She might still fulfill her implied promise and protect him on the road to Urom.

The road to Urom—the mountain road she had walked in the lands of the dead. Ishum’s words echoed in her mind, chilling her blood. “You will kill your friends,” Ishum had said, foretelling the fate that awaited Allamu if she stayed with him. Everyone knew the dead never lied, Allamu could die at any moment. It was just as the old woman had discerned from her tea leaves: Sabit’s choice would mean life or death for a man she cared about.

Allamu took Sabit’s hand, “Strength, my friend.”

Sabit pulled her hand back as if bitten. “Get away from me, Allamu!”

 

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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: Seventeen

Sabit walked the lands of the dead.

*

Alone.

Sabit at a great height. An unsteady road beneath her feet. Not mud. Not sand. Not stones.

Bones.

A mountain of all slain by Sabit—every single man and woman.

And child.

Ishum, the dead prince of Ghabar, at Sabit’s side.* Ishum, barely the years to be called a man. Ishum, killed by his boyish infatuation.  “You should not be here, Sabit. You have much to live for, my beloved. You have much to do in my memory, my love.”

“Ishum, you died and I could not save you. I would have protected you if I could. But there are others I might still help, in the world of the living.”

Ishum’s dead face, aflame with jealousy. “You think you can save your other loves when you could not save me? You are a curse, Sabit. The rank stench of death clings to you, smothering all who come close. Any who stand by your side will join me here in the quiet lands all too soon! You can add their blood to the tally of your slaughter. You will kill your friends.”

Cheers and groans from the heap of corpses. “Hail, Sabit! Hail the murderer! Hail the love-killer! Hail—”

*

“—Sabit!” Allamu’s voice beckoned to her from beyond the lands of the dead.

 

———

*-Sabit’s past with the prince of Ghabar is detailed in Wayfarings of Sabit: Blossom of Ruin.

 

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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/