Tumult: Twenty

Allamu and Sabit worked together to haul Illi out of the river and onto the ship. The massive champion’s throat was bruised and bloodied from where he had tried to strangle himself to feed the hunger of the ghosts. Qays handed his mother, Qaansoole, a scrap of cloth to press against the big man’s wound.

The ship’s captain, Melcior, made what room he could aboard the stout ship. Several of the former hostages had drowned in the tunnel. The Magistrate had not been the only one to offer up his own life to the bottomless appetite of the ghosts. A number of champions had died by their own blades, consumed by the loathing within their own hearts.

In the distance, a plume of black smoke rose from the Magistrate’s house. The sounds of battle echoed through the ruins of Vert as the mercenary bands turned on one another to claim the most valuable loot.

Sabit watched the smoke, like an ugly scar across the sky, grow smaller as the ship made its way downstream.

Allamu laid his hand on her shoulder. “I saw such terrible things in that tunnel, Sabit. But they were not true. Lies in the dark cannot stand the kiss of daylight.”

Sabit’s face remained impassive. “Those visions bit so deeply because they were grown from the seed of truth.”

“Truth may have been the tiny seeds that gave rise to those awful sights,” Allamu replied, “but it was secrets that provided the fertile ground for them to root.”

“We all have secrets,” Sabit said, a weariness in her voice like one who has been awake so long that she has forgotten the feel of the sweet kiss of slumber.

“Perhaps we do,” said Allamu, “but I would have one less. Let me tell you the real reason I brought us to Vert.”

—END—

 

—–

Wayfarings of Sabit: Tumult 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/

Tumult: Nineteen

No matter how many battles Sabit had won, the people she loved most were always the ones to suffer. Fighting never solved anything. Yet, fighting was all that Sabit could do. It was what she always did, even in the face of oblivion.

Oblivion was here. Sabit could see the skeletal faces of the ravenous ghosts coming for her. Sinking down beneath the cold water did not deter them, their lipless grins only grew wider. Her chest burned for air.

Sabit’s hand brushed against cold metal. Her fingers quickly grasped the bar sticking up from the stone floor. She pulled, but the metal did not move. The ghosts pulled closer. A roar rose in her ears.

Turning from the ghosts, Sabit grabbed the bar with her other hand. Planting her feet on solid rock, she heaved with all her might. The metal refused to bend.

But the ancient mortar fastening the bar to the rock cracked and crumbled. The bar came loose. Before Sabit could swing her improvised weapon at the ghosts, a surge of water and crying, screaming bodies washed over her. Sabit fell backwards through the opening that was no longer blocked by the metal grate.

She splashed into the river, beneath the open sky.

 

—–

Wayfarings of Sabit: Tumult 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/

Tumult: Fourteen thru Eighteen

Note: I have been under the weather recently, thus am posting an entire week’s flash fiction at once. Enjoy!

14

CONTENT WARNING: Violence against children

Qaansoole the archer made her way carefully and quickly through the watery tunnel. She knew that the champions behind her relied upon her leadership, but they were strong. Her son, Qays, had been with Allamu—whose scream had already echoed through the tight space. Sabit had charged after him only to let forth a cry of anguish as well. Qaansoole’s heart filled with dread.

Despite her fear and worry, Qaansoole moved with care, making certain her sandals did not slip on the wet stones. She had learned the hunting arts at her father’s knee and knew that skill filled more cookpots than did strength or speed. Even Qaansoole’s marriage to the warlord Athar—Qays’ father—had arisen from a skillful negotiation. Her voluntary sacrifice had kept his rampaging war-band away from the forested home of her people. Qaansoole could feel the smooth bark on her bare feet as she recalled perching on a tree branch, talking down to the mounted warlord below.

Qaansoole was several years and hundreds of parasangs away from her homeland when she learned the true character of Athar. Qays was just mastering the use of his legs when the war-band held its first culling. All the children who had seen six summers were gathered, armed with knives crafted for their tiny hands, and herded into a corral. Only when half the young lay slain upon the ground was the corral opened and the survivors welcomed to the war-band. Athar rejoiced that his son would know his mother’s fierceness and prosper in the culling.

During the culling festival, Qaansoole had taken Qays and fled—across plain and forest and desert to ensure that no son of hers would hold murder in his heart. Qaansoole felt once more every struggle and sacrifice she had made for her beloved son.

Catching sight of him ahead, she hurried to his side. Qays turned to her, bloody knife held high, a grin of joy on the boy’s face.

Qaansoole screamed.

 

15

In the delirium of his twisted memory, Allamu fell to his knees, awash in horror at his deeds. The foul tricks and wicked lies he had used to steer Sabit to this wretched city of Vert weighed upon his heart like a stone dragging him to the unfathomable depths of the ocean.

Before his fevered eyes, Allamu saw Sabit’s body aflame as she fought in the arena as one of the Magistrate’s champions.* The numberless crowds of spectators roared their adulation like surf pounding on a rocky shore. He could not pull his gaze away from the feats of strength and skill she performed, although her every moment was wracked by fiery suffering.

And yet, no flame bit deeper than the betrayal Allamu could see in Sabit’s eyes when his grandest lie played out before her. As Allamu posed as Qaansoole’s lover, he could see Sabit’s face consumed by more than just the flame. The agony in her eyes burned like acid, dissolving Sabit from within.

Allamu had been the one to put it there. It was his fault their group had ever come to Vert. After all the times Sabit had saved Allamu’s worthless life, he repaid her heroism with lies and betrayal. The exultant crowds at her toppling of the Magistrate let out cheers that rang out hollow.

«What does a man deserve when he has betrayed those he loves ?» came a voice formed of roaring crowds and churning waters and ancient hate.

Allamu had no words weighty enough to answer—only action. Pitching forward in the waist-deep waters of the narrow tunnel beneath the Magistrate’s house, Allamu threw himself beneath the surface, the silence engulfing him. He felt metal bars ahead.

Wedging his head beneath the bars, Allamu waited to end the curse of his betrayal, to drown, to join the hungry ghosts that whispered in his ears.

 

*-Sabit’s time as a champion is detailed in Wayfarings of Sabit: Broken Justice.

 

16

Qaansoole leaped through her twisted memory, arms reaching for her son, Qays. Taking the boy in her arms, she tried to pry the bloody knife from his grasp. Qays’ small fingers held the weapon with the strength of stone. Qaansoole’s grip could find no purchase, her hands slipping in the gouts of blood covering the boy’s hands.

“Qays, you are no murderer,” Qaansoole cried out, trying to reach the kind soul that she knew lay behind the boy’s hate-filled smile.

“Of course I am,” replied Qays, gleefully. “I am my mother’s son. I have learned your ways well.”

In a flash, Qays hurled the bloody knife. Qaansoole recognized the grace and power of the movement: they were her own. The flying blade lodged itself in the Magistrate’s neck, and he crumpled to the ground.

Qays lifted Qaansoole’s bow and let loose an arrow. Embedding deep in Sabit’s eye, the shaft drove the spear woman backward until she landed on the hard stone, unmoving. The next arrow struck Allamu through the heart.

As Qaansoole’s former betrothed collapsed in bloody, twitching agony, she heard a watery voice—thick with agony and envy. «What else could the boy have learned from you besides the art of killing? How much more murder do you want to teach him?»

The blood from Qays’ slaughter ran deep and strangely cool around Qaansoole’s waist. She had poisoned her son’s heart with her each word and every touch. Qaansoole would set him free. Throwing herself head-first into the coursing stream of blood, Qaansoole buried herself beneath the heap of corpses and waited to die.

 

17

Sabit’s twisted memory of holding Ishum’s skull in her hands was filled with cacophony. Her throat ached from screaming. The roar of the wind surrounded her—howling through the rocky badlands where Ishum had died. The churn and splash and gurgle of the water flowing around her legs echoed in the tight tunnel beneath the Magistrate’s house. Sobbing and screams from her fellow champions and the former hostages seemed to reach her ears from an unfathomable distance.

Pulling the skull up from its undignified grave amidst the roots, Sabit begged for that which could never be. “Ishum, you must not love me. I betray all who trust in me.”

The roaring of the water grew louder, like the flooding caverns of the god Batuul beneath a distant island.* Washing past her feet, Sabit saw the drowned corpse of stubborn Wensa, who had never been tempted by Batuul’s empty promises. Sabit had led the young woman into danger and it was at Sabit’s feet that the blame of her death came to rest.

Stumbling backward, Sabit fell upon Qaansoole. Her lifeless body was curled around the innocent corpse of her son—the archer was another who had often questioned Sabit and was now condemned to die for Sabit’s failure; her son was another innocent youth whose life Sabit had snipped before it could blossom.

“Allamu!” Sabit cried. A strangled cry of agony answered. Turning, Sabit saw the prince of Urom’s face twist into a mask of agony as a mercenary cut him down from behind. The bald warrior with the long moustaches—the one Sabit had failed to kill during the siege—stepped over Allamu’s bloody corpse.

«You fail to defeat your enemies, and visit suffering upon your friends. Is it any wonder you are hated and feared by all?» came a voice as old and warped as the stones themselves.

Sabit fell upon her back before the approaching foe, into the rushing water. Her arms flailed blindly behind her, the spear woman’s hands seeking a weapon, a tool, a rock—anything to fend off her attacker and his dead-eyed stare.

Her hands found neither spear nor sword nor stone. But each stretch of her arms pulled Sabit deeper beneath the water, every effort to protect herself drew her closer to a watery grave.

 

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

 

18

Vert had not always been the city of justice. Tribes of fishermen and herdsmen had made their homes in this valley for ages unnumbered before the tradesmen brought coin and commerce from afar. When the trade had grown lucrative enough, the Vertan invaders caught the scent of wealth. Conquering the expanse of the valley, the foreigners constructed the splendor of the city and enshrined Verq, their patron lady of justice, as the true and only goddess.

For the simple folk whose roots in this land went deep, the broad, paved thoroughfares and glittering arcades and bustling forum held no place for them. Those people and their old gods were not welcome upon the surface. Far from the sight of the lady of justice and her rich, fat followers, the old ways found a new home—in the deep places, in sewers and catacombs and stinking piles of offal.

Even the gods and their ways change with time. The richer the Vertan conquerors grew, the more spiteful grew the teachings of the old gods, and the more envious grew the hearts of the conquered people. While Vert was at its height, they buried their dead in the secret, sacred places, deep beneath the city. Consecrating their graves with stark songs of hatred, they buried the wasted bones of their families, and kindled an unending hunger in their restless ghosts.

As Vert fell, the hungry ghosts relished every ounce of suffering wrung from their oppressors. But a thirst for suffering cannot be slaked by something so simple as the fall of a city, the collapse of a civilization, of an enemy’s defeat. The desperate need for pain goes on, ceaseless in its yearning.

Now, this fresh crop of outsiders suffered well. Long-dead ghosts feasted upon their fears, cracked open their hearts to devour the doubts within like the rich marrow of bones. Some were young, crackling with strong, bright terrors. Some were old, steeped in decades of regret. Some were strong, but their strength only fed their despair. Some were clever, but their skill only sharpened the barbs of hopelessness.

As this fresh crop of outsiders huddled in the murk of the tunnel, the hungry ghosts feasted. A banquet of anguish lay spread before the hungry ghosts as the living crawled under one another in the stream under the Magistrate’s house–bodies crushing bodies against the metal grate stretched across the opening to the river, nothing but thin bars blocking their way to the open sky. The dark dreams of the living kept them from seeing their plight, and drove them relentlessly toward the gullets of the hungry ghosts.

 

—–

Wayfarings of Sabit: Tumult 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/

Tumult: Three

The only thing the cellar of the Magistrate of Vert held a little of was open space. More casks of wine than could be drunk in a score of victory celebrations crowded next to bolts of enough fine silk to clothe every mercenary surrounding the house a dozen times over. Carpets and tapestries, carved wooden bedposts and finely-crafted chests all leaned upon one another in the cellar, threatening to collapse upon the small group gathered there. In one far corner, the incarnate chaos was made more acute with a pile of shattered plaster and a gaping hole at the base of a wall.
“The workmen told me the passageway was cursed, so they sealed it off,” said the Magistrate, his shackles jangling. His plump cheeks had the pallor of a man who knows the cost of his crimes is about to come due. “One less way for thieves to get into my house.”
“The biggest thief was already inside,” growled Sabit. “Where does it lead?”
Allamu crouched by the opening. “I can hear water flowing. It likely drains into the river. The distance might not be far if the passage takes a straight path.”
“But it’s cursed!” cried Illi. The pale-skinned champion’s bulk quivered with a fear he had never shown in the battles of the forum.
“It might be cursed,” snapped Sabit. “Those men will definitely overrun us if they make a real charge. We must take our chances down below.”
“If the champions can hold them off as long as possible,” suggested Allamu. “I’ll lead the others down the passageway and to the river. Maybe we can even offer a distr—”
“Listen!” Qaansoole hissed.
“I hear nothing,” said the Magistrate.
“Precisely,” answered Sabit, already moving. “The drums have stopped.”

—–
Wayfarings of Sabit: Tumult 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/

Tumult: Two

“You longed to see the wonders of Vert,” Sabit said to Allamu as the eastern sky grew pale with the first blush of dawn. Below, the besiegers arranged themselves in ranks, steps in time with the quickening drums. “Now you shall exult in its grandeur until your bones fall to dust. The white marble of these walls will make a fine tomb.”
In the predawn gloom, Sabit did not see the look of pain play across Allamu’s features. “Had I known what our trip would unleash … I cannot truly say what I would have done. There was a great wrong here, festering like a boil. Many people suffered.”
“From the look of those troops, our suffering will be over soon,” Sabit said, her gaze scanning the slowly-brightening surroundings for any path to freedom. Her search was in vain, as it had been every morning since the troops’ arrival. “You always worry about the suffering of those who mean nothing to you, Allamu.”
“It was more than that,” Allamu said, his voice tight with the desire that Sabit might understand his heart. “I had reasons—good reasons, noble reasons.”
The spear woman turned to face him. “What good and noble reason could have been worth all this?”
“Sabit!” called a voice from within the house. Qaansoole stepped onto the balcony, her slight form gliding like a cat in the morning breeze. “Allamu! I’m glad I found you both. You must come to the cellar. We may have found an escape.”

—–
Wayfarings of Sabit: Tumult 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/

Tumult: One

The sound of the war drums never ceased. For three nights and three days, their inexorable rhythm had assaulted Sabit’s weary ears. Sometimes the drums beat soft and fast, sometimes they boomed loud and slow. Somehow the drummers seemed to know when the tall spear woman—or those trapped within the grand marble house with her—began to nod off into slumber. It was at that moment when their tempo would switch. It was at that moment that the defenders of what had been the Magistrate’s palace in the ancient, ruined city of Vert would stagger to their feet in the vain attempt to ready themselves for the oncoming attack.
Sometimes, the besieging troops—mercenaries who had been regarded as mere bandits the last time the moon showed its full face—charged the grand edifice of white marble, their guttural battle cries drowning out the drums with raw-throated howls for blood and treasure. The Magistrate’s treasure, the champion’s blood, the virtue of the women, the servitude of the men—the attackers wanted all of it. Every last drop.
For decades, the Magistrate of Vert had sold justice to the highest bidder. Luring the dissatisfied, the ambitious, the cruel, the desperate, and the innocent into the same forum that had once stood for justice and honesty, the Magistrate of Vert instead had auctioned off the blessings of the lady of justice to whichever oily contender crossed his palm with the most coin.
In the few short days since the champions of the forum had thrown off their shackles and pulled the Magistrate down from his tarnished throne, word had spread far and fast—igniting old grudges, long since settled like wildfire through the detritus of a forest. Every verdict that had ever fallen from the Magistrate’s lips was suspect. Everyone who had relied upon the arbitrary virtue of the forum knew in their bones they had been robbed. Their cases had been many and varied, born of different circumstances, rooted in different soils, bloomed in different years. There was but a single thing the dissatisfied contenders could agree upon.
They deserved everything the Magistrate had ever possessed. Every marble column was an monument of theft. Every bejeweled bauble was a pilfered ornament. Every slave was a kidnapped laborer.
And every champion who dared to stand against the mob as they had stood against the Magistrate was one more corpse to be tallied to the Magistrate’s bloated account.

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Wayfarings of Sabit: Tumult 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/