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: Thirteen

A man’s scream echoed off the dripping stone of the waterway. Sabit had leaped over the Magistrate’s corpse and was charging toward the sound before last echo faded. She had not fought so hard and so long to see Allamu die here. He would not meet his end in a grimy tunnel beneath the house of the Magistrate of Vert. Sabit would not allow it.
Sabit’s legs were driven by her need to save Allamu, but her strides were slowed by the deepening stream. Where the water had been ankle-deep, it now rose to her knees—just like the fountain at the palace of Ghabar. Sabit had not been to the palace in years, but she remembered how the sky was always so intensely blue over the courtyard. Sabit could see the azure sky as pure as her memory of it. She waded in the water to cool herself from the bright sun overhead. Across her shoulders rested the mantel of the captain of the guard of Ghabar, a title Sabit had earned a dozen times over.
On this day in her memory,* the weight of the mantel was almost more than she could bear. Ishum, the son of the Prioress of Ghabar, walked beside her. The sixteen-year-old was tall and thin, his cheeks still bearing the fullness of youth. On his brow sat a princely circlet in ivory and jade. Ishum stood with his spine straight and his shoulders back, trying to look like the grown man he wished he were—the grown man that could earn Sabit’s love.
Sabit knew which day she was remembering—and dreaded it to her core. The Prioress had decided that her son’s affection for the captain of the guard was unacceptable. She had commanded Sabit to break all ties with Ishum—to break the prince’s heart to save his future.
As Sabit felt her throat speak the words that would send him away, she tried to claw them back. As she saw the shattered expression on Ishum’s face, she longed to offer a word or a hand of comfort.
As Ishum turned to run, he fell to the dusty ground. It was not part of Sabit’s memory to see Ishum lying motionless on the sun-baked ground of the badlands. She reached out to touch his shoulder, and his body crumbled. All that remained was a lifeless skull, a circlet of ivory and jade tilted upon its brow—tiny pink roots grew from its surface, leading up to the dark green stalk of the wicked plant that had devoured Ishum’s life.
Sabit screamed.

—-
*-Sabit’s past with Ishum is detailed in Wayfarings of Sabit: Blossom of Ruin.

—–
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: Twelve

Allamu heard rushing water all around, but it was not the cramped, dank tunnel to the river. Instead, the sound was the roar of the ocean as he stood on the dock in the bustling port city of Kelmaars. Nearby, Sabit and Melcior surveyed the crew loading supplies onto the ship, preparing for its voyage that would take them well past the bay of Vert on their way to Allamu’s home of Urom.
Allamu stood apart from his fellows, huddled with a hooded figure. They spoke in hushed voices.
“Why would Qaansoole send you to me?” Allamu asked. “I expected she would never want to see me again. How can I trust your message?”
The other produced a golden coin. In size and shape, it matched the rom pieces traded by the merchants of Urom. However, where the rom bore the face of the king on one side and the sacred elephant on the other, this specimen showed an identical pachyderm on each face. “You once gave her this gift on a riverbank, coated with mud. Qaansoole is in great peril and beseeches you to go to the city of Vert to aid her.”
Allamu studied the intricate workmanship. There could be no mistaking its provenance. “I hardly command the ship. I cannot force them to go where I will.”
“You have always been resourceful,” the cloaked figure replied.
Days later, Allamu stood on the deck of the ship, anchored in the bay of Vert.* The sun shone in this memory, yet now, Allamu felt cold. He strode the deck and spoke to Sabit and to the crew. He convinced them to go up the river to Vert. His words were stirring and golden, yet sounded hollow to his ears.
Allamu could not change a single syllable of what he had said, of the lies he had told to entice the crew to go to the fabled city of Vert. Watching the faces of the crew as he spoke. Allamu could see the exact moment when his tales of the glory of Vert sank into their heart and they sided with him.
Here, in this twisted memory, when the first crewman was swayed to the cause of Vert, Allamu saw the man’s throat slit from ear to ear. From the next one, a spear burst through her chest.
One by one, Allamu saw his words—his lies—lead these people to their deaths. And he could not alter what he had already done.
When the fateful coin spun in the air, Allamu knew how it would fall—both sides bore the image of Urom’s sacred elephant. He could not lose—he would not allow it. They were going to Vert.
As the coin spun in the air, Allamu looked at Sabit—tall and proud and beautiful. She would never choose to go to Vert. Allamu’s lies were the only thing dragging her there.
The coin landed.
Sabit burst into flames.
Allamu screamed.


*-Allamu convincing the crew to go to Vert is detailed in Wayfarings of Sabit: Broken Justice.

—–
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: Eleven

As they withdrew, the champions scattered the Magistrate’s treasures beside their path. Torn sacks of coins and golden cups and bejeweled rings tempted the pursuing mercenaries into shadowed alcoves on either side of their route. This slowed the chase as the greedy mercenaries stooped to claim these baubles. Before she climbed down the narrow stairs into the cellar, Sabit had witnessed three fights erupt between mercenaries over their share of the bounty.
In the tight space of the cellar, the remaining champions bound up their wounds. In the corner there lay a broken shackle where the Magistrate had been chained. Murmurs of a hunt for their former captor rippled throughout the champions.
“The mercenaries will not be delayed forever,” Sabit said. “The Magistrate’s escape must not curtail our own.”
The mighty champions gazed into the dark hole where the others had left. The damp, chill air seemed to instill greater fear in these fighters than had the horde of mercenaries above.
Her eyes flashing with anger, Sabit seized a torch and marched into the tunnel. Qaansoole followed. One by one, the others came after them, Illi barely able to squeeze his girth through the narrow opening.
Sabit came to the bottom of the rough-hewn passage, her feet splashing in the water. Not two steps later, her stride stopped at something in the water, neither cold nor stony. The Magistrate’s body lay cooling in the stream. A dagger protruded from the man’s throat, its ruby-studded hilt still gripped tightly in his right hand.
Sabit would never have called the Magistrate a brave man, but he was not one to underestimate the value of his own life. What could have driven him to discard it?

—–
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: Nine

“You will die before you chain me,” Sabit growled as the five slave-catchers approached her, spreading out in an effort to surround the spear woman.
“You are not the first to make such a boast,” replied the bald mercenary, brandishing his staff. “And you will not be the last to be silenced by the chain.”
Without retort, Sabit charged him before the other four could ready their ropes and nets. The bald mercenary raised his inevitable staff to block the strike of Sabit’s iron-tipped spear.
The strike never came. At the final moment, Sabit reversed her grip, planted the butt of her spear, and vaulted herself over her foe. One of the rope-men cast his lasso at her. The bald mercenary changed tactics, thrusting his staff upward, but a moment too late. Sabit landed hard behind him, and tumbled to the floor. He spun, stepped toward her, and growled.
The lasso snapped taut. The bald mercenary fell, his fellow’s rope wrapped tightly around his neck.
Another slave-catcher raised a net to hurl at Sabit when a fish-shaped mallet slammed into his skull. Illi stepped over the man’s crumpled form in time to see Qaansoole sink her blade into the side of another slave-catcher.
A battle cry echoed from the mercenaries at the broken door. Reinforcements were moments away. Sabit shouted, “Champions! Fall back!”

—–
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: Eight

Beds and couches leaned against the massive front doors of the Magistrate’s house, bracing it against the impact of the attackers’ battering ram. Each thud from outside splintered more of the fine-grained dark wood of the door. Qaansoole and Sabit—short sword and stout spear in hand—took their place with the other champions in the foyer of the great house.
“Watch for the weak point of the door,” Sabit shouted. “When they come through, fill the opening with the bodies of their dead.”
Smash followed crash followed thunk followed clunk, the battering ram doing its inexorable work. The door’s left side cracked along its grain, sunlight streaming through into the dim foyer. One more blow and the left half of the door shattered, wooden splinters whizzing through the air.
A left-handed mercenary charged through the crack and promptly died under the champions’ blows. Two swordsmen followed, then four men with spears. Illi, the massive champion, knocked the men aside with his hammer shaped like a great fish. More men clambered over the broken bodies.
Mercenaries attached metal hooks to the remaining door and pulled it down from the outside. A wave of fighters surged through the opening, driving the champions back. Qaansoole’s sword struck swift and true, but there was always another man to replace the fallen. Sabit’s spear dripped red with the blood of her foes. But the weight of numbers weighed heavy against the defenders.
A mercenary with a shaved head and long moustaches blocked Illi’s hammer with his long, thin staff, channeling the momentum to strike Illi’s knee. The massive champion crashed to the ground. Qaansoole charged the bald man, bronze blade high and red in her grasp. He elegantly deflected her attack, landed a knee in her gut, and sent her sprawling into a shadowed alcove.
Whistling, the bald mercenary summoned four of his men to his side, bearing the ropes and nets of the slave-catcher’s trade. In close formation, the five strode toward the heart of the chaotic battle. There, three swordsmen were striving against their foe. One by one the swordsmen fell before their enemy, until none stood between the bald mercenary and his quarry: Sabit.

—–
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: Seven

In the cavern in the cellar, the voice was everywhere. Its growling, guttural utterances shook the stone beneath Allamu’s feet, vibrated the chill air he breathed, and bored into the marrow of his bones. It was the sound of a predator about to feast, a fire devouring its fuel, a hook gutting a body. Although there were no true words within the storm of sound, Allamu had no doubt of its meaning.
«Trespassers!»
Qays pulled against Allamu’s grip, trying desperately to flee back the way they had come. Allamu clambered up the passageway on the boy’s heels, his wet sandals sliding on the rough stone. The terrible sound ceased the moment they left the cavern behind, but none of the throng slowed their flight until they crowded into the cellar once more.
As the children and servants caught their breath, the sounds of battle echoed from the house above. There was a loud thud, and the snap of cracking wood. Sabit’s voice echoed down, shouting desperate orders.
Allamu checked his charges. None had been hurt. None were missing. All were terrified. Looking into the eyes of the gathered people, Allamu said, “It was only a noise. With the likes of you by my side, how could I let a noise dictate my actions? I am going to the river.”
Lifting Qays in his arms, Allamu started down the passageway once more.

—–
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: Six

“We should have thrown the Magistrate to them days ago,” Qaansoole said as she loosed an arrow into the onrushing horde.
“If there was a chance they would have been satisfied, I would have done so personally,” Sabit answered as she lifted another javelin. It still bore the scrollwork of the ornate cabinet it had been scavenged from. “But this lot will not rest until all of us are in chains or in the grave.”
Both projectiles found their marks with deadly accuracy. Two mercenaries at the forefront of the charge fell, impaled. The momentum of a full third of the charge was broken as the men behind tripped and staggered around their fallen leaders.
The other two-thirds of the line closed on the front door of the Magistrate’s house. Sabit caught sight of a battering ram being hauled toward the front. Qaansoole fired an arrow toward the front man carrying the ram. He fell, but another took his place without hesitation. The mercenaries hauled the battering ram toward the front of the house, out of sight of the two women on the side balcony.
Within moments, a loud thud reverberated from inside the house. The doors were barred, but would not last long. Sabit and Qaansoole rushed inside.

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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/