I hear whispers in the darkness.
Soft voices that come slowly into my mind as I keep my eyes shut - my breathing even.
The warmth of the blanket and the bulk of it hide me from sight, but the heat that is trapped inside the cloth is stifling. I want it off. I want to open my eyes.
But the voices stop me.
“News is traveling fast of what happened.”
“Good,” Roarks’ whisper reaches me as I keep still.
“No action has been done?”
“He is mad...that much is true…”
I hear laughter from the Great Leader at Tuva’s words.
The soft sounds of the rain is making it harder for my ears to catch their words. The reason for why I am wrapped in so many blankets, cocooned against their whispers. For why I had been forced to be trapped in the Great Leader’s tent this night, seeking shelter from the crying sky.
I thought it ironic that the week after our slaughter, the heavens of the desert had opened up to unleash its sorrow.
No one else of the Onism tribe saw such a thing.
Only the blessing of rain in the dryness.
A sign that the red they had spilled should be rightfully met in gratitude from the sky.
Not that the world itself would be washing away their sins, pushing aside their deaths, and letting the dirt be cleaned, from the stains it had received.
Lightning clashes in the distant, the thunder of its noise causing a boldness to arise in Tuva and Roarks’ words as the volume of their voices rose to be heard over nature.
“The Elephant King won’t take action until it’s necessary.”
I can almost sense the tension of Tuva’s next words as he speaks, “Great Leader, what...is...what will…”
“I know what needs to be done.”
There is silence.
I am straining my ears. So much so that I am able to hear the noise of approaching footsteps.
It is just in time that I do so.
His hand reaches for me. Softley. Lightly.
I do not move as his fingers trace my face for his eyes.
“Oh, my lioness…”
I try to ease the tension from my shoulders as I feel his arms reach for me and wrap around my frame. As a cage of steel locks me in tighter.
I gasp, knowing I cannot pretend to be asleep any longer with him so close. “Shhh Mikabellum...sleep.”
I shiver against him, my actions making him wrap the blankets more securely around my body.
My eyes remained open for the rest of the night.
And I never, ever would tell him, that it was not the cold, that invaded my body.
In the days of travels, I thought often of those whispered words. Soleia stayed by my side. I could feel Khalid in the background - his shadow falling upon my back, giving me relief.
“Soleia, you explained the Kingdoms to me...what Kingdom are we in currently?”It might be my imagination, but I see her shoulders tense as she stops suddenly to stare at me. But then the moment of doubt is over, and she smiles.
“The Elephant King. We are in the land of Davinson.”
I hear movement behind me and look back to see that Khalid has taken an interest in our topic. His eyes are smiling - an action rare for Khalid.
Soleia does not notice as she stares at the distance.
“Where do you come from, Khalid?”
He moves closer to me, still walking behind, but now at a distance where I can look up and see the expression of his eyes.
“Your land. What land did you grow up in?”
He shakes his head, “I have always been Onism.”
I feel my eyes widen in surprise, “always?”
He nods, “my father and his father...we are of the original. The onismal.”
“I did not know that,” Soleia whispers, a new look of something close to awe in her eyes now.
I look back and forth between them, taking in the exchange.
Soleia registers my confusion and clears her throat, “from what I know, the original Onism are few now...they are considered the...pure...of the tribe…Not of another tribe blood or descent.”
I can read from Soleia’s words that this is something regarded with both awe and hatred. To be part of the original. One of the few who could claim to be a true member of the tribe.
“How many are there?” I asked, curiosity getting the better of me.
Khalid’s eyes look uncertain, “I do not know, Mikabellum. Only a few carry the onismal symbol...but I cannot tell who or how many.” He looks down at his covered body.
“There is you and the Great Leader...who else could there be?”
Khalid tenses. Soleia tenses.
They both stay silent as we continue walking forward.
But their silence speaks for all as I finally registered the mistake of my words.
When the night hits the tribe, I am summoned to his tent.
My feet drag to their destination, both reluctant and tired.
He is waiting.
Him and his men are once again surrounded at a table, a map stretched in front of them.
Fear claws into me that he will ask me to choose.
Choose who we will murder. Kill.
He looks up at my approach and motions me to come towards him.
I walk softly around the men, their eyes holding emotions I cannot comprehend.
Some have fear. Some have awe. Some are filled with lust, and others are indifferent.
I stand by Roark, looking down to examine the map that is laid out. There is no marker of a destination that has been set. Fear is coming back to me at what he will ask next.
I look down at the table.
I only knew where we were at because of the red x that had been drawn. An x for death.
The x had clearly been marked in someone’s blood, the crimson now a dull color from the once red it had when full of life.
“Mikabellum.”The men are growing restless. They want action.
They want war.
I cannot close my eyes and condemn them again.
“The goddess of war, should decide where death goes.”
One of the men from our group has spoken. I look up, trying to see who has said such words, but none claim them.
I only watch them. They shrink back, and it hits me then the power that I do have. The power that I should not underestimate.
And then Roark reaches for me, his eyes burning into my skin as he takes my hand and points it upon the map.
I pull my hand back, startled at what he has done. He looks down at me. I know he is grinning. I know it. I know that he is in the thrall of anticipation, his eyes almost rolling in their sockets for the taste and feel of blood again.
How do you feed a monster?
When is its appetite satisfied?
They do not say a word. Some of the males look uncomfortable that my power of choice had so easily been taken over.
Others look like their Great Leader.
I look back down and wish I knew of the place we were going to. What land he had picked, what tribe would soon fall. But I do not know. I do not know whose lives I have condemned, with my own hands.
Their excited whispers are nothing but dull roars to my ears as I stare down at the speck that would soon be ruin.
I don’t register their departure. I do not register that soon it is just the great leader and I - standing still with the map stretched out before us.
“Look at this land,” he whispers in my ear, “Look at what is ours.”
With the carnage of the fighting and victory unfolded around such an event, the true suffering of the Fallen had been forgotten.
My reputation returned once more, with whispers and stares as I traveled to the place of the forgotten and left behind.
The males almost seemed ready for me. Eager- some expectant of my arrival. I had not disappointed them.
I had disappointed myself, however.
It had been over a week, and truth be told, their suffering had easily slipped out of my mind to be replaced with my own.
I was here now though.
I was with them now.
How many had truly fallen while we had been traveling? How many had gritted their teeth, forcing themselves to shuffle along, with just the hope of my arrival hanging by a thread to ease their suffering?
I soothed them now.
I eased their burden, as in turn, they helped ease mine.
And the wreckage continued.
I knew with every step we took, our destination of the next battle grew closer. I knew with every night, a warrior within the tribe could cross off another moon seen, counting down until it was their last.
Maybe even me.
Maybe even I would perish in the battle. Taken by strangers again.
“You are tired, my Mikabellum.”
Roarks’ hand brushes the circles below my eyes, the crescents that seemed a constant feature to my face now.
I looked deep into his own eyes, trying and failing to find genuine concern. He masked it well. But his words were something any would expect to hear. Want to hear.
“How many more days?”
At my words, a genuine emotion does surface from him - happiness. The thought of such an event unfolding again, makes his eyes glaze over as if he is looking into the sun.
“Soon my lioness. Soon I will unleash you onto another pitiful tribe.”
My answering smile is weak.
But he is already looking away, gazing at the horizon that housed the future of his desires. I look with him, seeing the unfolding dryness and heat that I had become used to in these few weeks. It had made my skin peel and crack, forcing soleia to sooth the irritation with a lotion the females used.
I stared at my body- the parts that showed- taking in how much decay was slowing overcoming it.
Roark notices where my eyes have traveled, as he too looks with me.
“Are you in pain?”
He brushes my shoulders, staring at the red marks.
“No,” I lie, looking up to smile at him.
His head tilts, a thought stuck within his mind.
“Your skin should not look this way.”
“It’s the sun,” I point out, eyeing carefully his actions.
He shakes his head, fingers still dancing upon me.
“Such beautiful skin…” his whisper is almost missed. Maybe it should have been. Not for my ears to hear. Not for any ears. Only his own thoughts as he lost himself in the beauty of what once was.
His eyes seem to come back to reality as he steps back and releases his hold on me. We both exhale out deeply, unknowingly holding our breaths for something.
I watch as he turns and walks away, taking in his shaking head, and wondering what thoughts he had been thinking, just a second ago.
Soleia finds me before the sun sets. She has a look that I am used to now, one that she wears when she wants to avoid any hardships. She slips to stand by my side, her whispered words quiet for only me to hear, “You are summoned to the Great Leader’s tent.”
How could this be happening again?
I had already chosen a place for him to rip apart. I thought that would appease his bloodthirst until the next time. And the next.
But Soleia avoids my eyes, her own staring at the ground as she remains silent.
I slowly make my way there, trying to stretch out the time between.
I feel the shadow of Khalid on me, his presence the courage I needed. It was a false hope. A strange one, because we both knew he could offer no real protection.
My walk had lasted so long, that I had allowed time for the stars to come into place. I see a familiar sight as I approach.
Hirog, Jester, and Nash are once more seated around a flame in front of the Great Leader’s tent.
Nash rises, nodding his head slightly to me. I can see a hardness enter the males' eyes as they take in Khalid.
I stand before them, waiting for whatever had prompted my summons.
But Nash only sits back down before the flames, patting the ground next to him for me to join.
“Where is he?”
Hirog looks up, his brown eyes almost gold with the reflection of flames, “gone. We are to watch you.”
“I have my own guard to protect me.” I motion to Khalid, stopping short at the sudden tension that has come over him as he stares at the males.
I turn to find that Hirog and Jesper have risen to their feet, a wary motion in their arms.
A sudden flash of memory.
Jesper as he followed the single nod of the Great leader - the only action needed to approve of him killing a row of surrendered and defenseless men.
It is their actions that cause me to slowly sit with them.
I feel Khalid still behind me.
After several hours I finally ask, “Where is the Great Leader?”
They do not answer.
Nash only responds by asking if I would like some sweet wine.
I sit there all night with them, their eyes taking on a coldness that I had never noticed. They resembled the features of their master. Savage dogs that had been taken off their chains when the owner was away.
Where was Roark?
I remember Hirog saying so. He had left after our conversation this afternoon? Left the tribe?
But he would be back. That much was clear. The only question now was when?
Did he fear me that much to take me away from the others, to seperate me out, and then have his top men’s eyes stay to watch me?
Was it revolution and defiance that made his actions so bold, or...fear…
The sun soon is rising.
I stand, and as I do so, all three males mimic my action.
“I am going to find Soleia.”
“You are staying here Mikabellum,” Jesper whispers.
I turn to look at Khalid. There is something in his eyes. A message I cannot read.
I turn back to look at them, my heart failing in my body, my mind seizing at what action needed to be taken.
I toss my head to the side, letting their eyes follow the flow of the golden movement as I step closer to their shadows and whisper back, “No.”
Jesper takes a step closer.
I have met evil. I have seen it in the Great Leader’s eyes. I have seen it in the eyes of men of my village- women even of this tribe. The humans who carried that edge in their stare that told of horrors that would be provoked upon the wrong step.
But looking now into Jespers own eyes, there was nothing that caused a connection between us. It was not the action that the Onism so talked about when saying the eyes were windows to the soul.
I realized then, that there were many types of evil, that could walk this world.
That single step was a threat. A promise for the arrival of pain and darkness. For Cruelty.
“No.” My repeated word does not carry the same meaning. I say it while backing away from Jesper’s arm as he reaches for me, taking me, grabbing me.
I quickly turn to face Khalid, but Hirog and Nash have beat me.
He is already gone, dragged to someplace that is far away from me.
His absence is what provokes me to struggle against Jesper. Irrational. Thoughtless to pit myself against these males.
I do not even see it. It happens before I can fully process the occurrence as the pain blossoms upon the side of my face from Jesper’s hand.
I feel dazed at the blow, stunned.
Jespers grabs me and pulls me into the Great Leader’s tent to hide away our show. The morning was still early, no one was up, and no one had seen their goddess fall.
Maybe it was the fact that someone from the tribe had actually raised a hand against me. I had grown so comfortable in my role, that the threats of the world seemed to be on the outside of the cage - not within. But I was immobile after that. Whatever trust I had falsely amounted within these males was gone.
There was nothing.
“I am following the Great Leader’s orders.” Jesper drags me to the corner of the tent, his words a reasoning for me.
Something breaks in me.
And I laugh.
Jesper lets go of me as if my skin has become something hot, something that he cannot contain or handle. He steps back, eyeing my frame as tears collect and build within my eyes.
How dare they.
It’s the single thought I have as I grin up at him.
His wide eyes only make my smile widen. Only make my laughter come out with ease.
“He’s going to kill you.”Jesper freezes as I sit up and point to him.
“He’s going to kill you. You know it. Oh but if he doesn’t, then you know I will.”
His cruel eyes show the emotion I have been searching for as fear leaks into the grey of his vision.
The fragile remains that I had managed to scrape together - since my capture, since my first day, since riding out dressed as a crimson wave- since it all. It was falling. It was breaking. Bit by bit the reality of my world was becoming something confusing and useless to me as I let go of everything I once knew. I had tried so hard to keep that piece of my sanity that had been my thread of hope for me to look at- to know that I really was acting out a part.
But my laughter seemed real. It was genuine as I continued to screech at this male before me.
“He’s going to kill you, he’s going to kill you! He’s going to kill you!”
Jesper slowly was stepping away from me and to the entrance of the tent. His eyes were strange as they looked at me. But I could only think of that single amazing thought, going around and around in my head.