Khalid did not seem sad at all when I told him I would be riding with the great leader. If anything he seemed actually pleased.
“When you fell asleep…
“He wanted you to ride with him.”
I felt my teeth grind together at his words.
“Soleia convinced him otherwise, but when it came time to rest, there was no stopping him from carrying you.”
Khalid pauses, staring at me before shaking his head, “any female would be honored to have such attention given to them by the Chief.”
“I am not any female.”
Khalid immediately bows, “forgive my words Mikabellum.”
I sigh, unable to say anything else as Roark rides up.
He does not say anything. No words apparently are needed for him. His eyes only glare into Khalid, who remains bowed, head down now for the Chief.
I bend to pat his covered cheek quickly, trying to shake the feeling of unease that came to me at having to leave him.
Khalid stiffens but does not move.
Roark dismounts to help me. I chew upon the inside of my cheek, letting the pain settle me as he sits behind me.
“You touched him.”
I shrink away from his chest, the tone of his voice scaring me.
“I comforted him.”
Roark scoffs behind me, “does the male need constant comfort from you?”
“No. I just choose to give it to him.”
My words are enough to silence him as he harshly pushes his horse forward towards the front of the hoard.
I recognize the eyes of the riders that surround him, feeling a smile grace my face, “Hello Nash.”
“Mikabellum,” he bows his head, his formal greeting throwing me off slightly before I see a small wink slip by him to me.
“And where are Jesper and Hirog?”
“Jesper leads the body, while Hirog is in charge of the Heart.”
I don’t question the names he springs up on me.
Instead, Nash’s eyes widen as he glances past me. No doubt taking in Roark and whatever expression he was wearing.
“I need to check on something…” Nash never finishes his sentence as he urges his horse around.
I don’t dare turn back to look at what expression the great leader is holding.
His words soon confirm my thoughts though.
“You know my men’s names.”
It’s not said as a question.
“They introduced themselves to me.”
His arms stiffen around me, caging me in to press closer to him. I try to push away from the feel of his body. The clothes could only hide so much.
“You seem to know many males.”
“Many warriors,” I try to point the difference out to him.
He remains silent.
I take a different approach, “Jealousy does not sound well in your voice, Roark.”
He jerks back, something in my words throwing him off enough to visibly start.
A panic though enters that maybe I had done it again- I had said the wrong thing.
“That’s the first time you said my name.”
He’s right. It is.
“Would you prefer Chief?”
“No...no Catina, call me any name you so choose.”
I giggle at the bewildered tone in his voice.
“You said any name I so choose.”
I freeze when I feel his face fall dangerously close to my neck. If I were to turn my head, my lips could catch his eyes. What little skin was exposed.
The thought leaves me breathless as he growls low within my ear, “I will gladly be your Lion, my Lioness. But I will warn you ahead of time...I am not little.”
I blush at his words, unable to keep his gaze.
His hands leave the reigns.
I’m cut off as his fingers trace the soft curve of my side.
I inhale sharply, unable to hide the reaction quick enough. It only prompts him to take further action.
The horse, to my amazement, continues forward, no guidance necessary.
The wonder leaves my mind though when his fingers trace down.
I look around, panic spreading into me at what others were seeing. But we were near the front, leading the hoard. No one could see the great leader unless they rode next to him.
And no one dared ride next to him.
Maybe this was why he had pushed himself so far up to the front.
Then something unexpected happens.
He takes a glove off.
A wild gasp leaves me when I see his skin.
“Sshhh,” He whispers in my ear, but I don’t know why. The sound of the moving hoard drowned out any noise.
“I will hear you roar, my Lioness. Oh, but not today.”
His fingers swoop down my exposed stomach. This was a dangerous game he was playing. He must have been aware of it as well. The thrill of having skin touch skin- of being exposed, only created a rush from his actions.
I thought the sensation had reached its peak.
Until his fingers go further down.
I should stop this.
Something in me can’t. I don’t want to stop the feel of his skin against mine. Unknowingly I push against him, my lower body arching more to meet between his legs.
A hiss invades my ear when I move against him.
“Should I stop them, my Lioness, and demand for a tent to be made? I can barely keep track of the world when your scent is everywhere and you purr like that against me.”
“Denied again,” he laughs.
His fingers slip back up, lightly scratching my ribs before he reaches and covers it with his glove.
He laughs at whatever he is seeing from me.
“I like you riding with me, Mikabellum.”
I didn’t know if I could admit the same thing out loud.
The days of movement passed in a blur of shuffling motion. Heat, dust, and clinging sweat to combine all of it together on the skin, soon caused a slow irritation of dredging tiredness from me.
The hoard never stopped. They were used to this life of constant movement. Taking down their homes, traveling all day, setting up what they had destroyed and repeating the process over and over again.
It tired me. It made me feel a sense of weary longing for a permanent home. For the fresh, cool air of the mountains. For anything but the heat of the sun as we traveled further south towards the new land to conquer in the name of the Onism.
And with each passing day, a new feeling began to rise within me.
As the fear slipped back to bury into my mind, rage became the predominant fixture of my emotions. It and fear wrestled with each other, both wanting to be the main occupants of my thoughts, but only the red burning sense of injustice spread through my body like a fire.
Rage that such a thing should happen to me.
Rage that they should take me away from my home.
Part of me wished there was something to fuel my anger with. But the great leader, the tribe around me and the warriors- all treated me with awe and respect.
Something I had never received in my life.
As we neared toward the Wakin tribe, fear began to outgrow my volatile sense.
Almost a week and a half into our travels, was when my real test of a Goddess came.
I gasped as pain shot through my arm- Solia grabbing my bicep and pulling me quickly to her. It was later in the evening, the shadows dancing along the tents as fires started to spread here and there along the encampment.
“Listen to me.”
I had not had much chance to talk to Soleia in our travels. Roark had hidden me away, making me stay close to him. There were many times that I questioned if he still remembered my presence while he talked to his men. But the flash of his eyes meeting mine caused any doubt to leave me. I tried to listen to whatever words he said- tried to glean what I could of his plans. But he did not reveal much. Only his unending thirst for the world to fall at his feet. Any important information was spoken in a different tongue. A strange foreign language, that only a handful of Onism warriors used. The dialect of hunters, Roark told me once.
“Listen!” Soleia shook me hard, her grip becoming tighter around me as she pressed closer, interrupting my thoughts. “There is not much time to explain, but I heard word of something-,”
Her voice caught on the last word as the sound of drums interrupted.
Icey fear rushed into me from the tone of her despair.
Her two words sent all the air out of my lungs.
There could only be one thing she is talking about. Only one thing that could be doubted.
“They doubt that you are who you say you are. Your actions- visiting the fallen, staying with a weak warrior...They think you are nothing more but a pretty docile thing. They think you are the great leader’s woman. Something to admire but not to devote to. They doubt you Mikabellum. Make them doubt no more.”
“How?” Soleia’s face could barely be seen with the light of the fires. Shadows hid all of it as she looked up. Even without the light though, I could see the fear in her eyes that echoed my own.
“You are giving them kindness and love. These are things the Onism tribe can live without. Give them life. Give them air. Give them war.”
She pushes away, her eyes frantic. She looks as if she will say more, but in those few seconds, I hear the beginning roar of a name being chanted.
The name of the Goddess of war.
“Mikabellum! Mikabellum! Mikabellum!”
It rings through the encampment, spreading like a viper until it slithers towards me and finds its prey. Poison from the wounds of their words leak into my mind to release my own doubt.
“Survive,” Soleia’s words seem far away as she clings to my shoulders, “Don’t let them take you. Not in this desolate place. Not here.”
She pulls me again, this time towards the main pathways.
I see it then. The mass that has come towards the grand tent in the center. The tent of the Great Leader.
His voice rings out above all others as he joins in with the call of my name. It does not sound like a ring for praise. It sounds like a hunt. Like that of a hawk crying in delight when it sees its prey.
They turn to me, taking me in with eager eyes.
Don’t let them take you.
The crowd parts to create a pathway for me, splitting off until the end becomes clear. Waiting for me is the leader himself. His arms are crossed, body facing towards me.
Anger that I had been poking and prodding at all week suddenly explodes within me.
“Come Mikabellum.” He holds out his hand, but I know better than to take it.
The crowd consumes the path that I have walked upon, covering it back with their bodies until there is nothing but a circle of people around me. Men who are covered, their eyes darting around my body with anticipation- woman who mimic the great leader with crossed arms and doubtful expressions.
I realized then what Soleia had been trying to tell me.
I had failed to understand until it was too late.
I look up at the great leader, wondering if he too, had seen through my act and doubted it. He stands still, not joining with the crowd.
But also not stopping.
It occurs to me how foolish I had been to think I could have his protection.
It was clear now. I had learned it actually within this past week- he cared for only one thing. The domination of the world. The beginning of his rule.
I looked up and those black eyes showed the truth of what I was. What I always had been.
A tool to give him what he wanted.
And now this was a test to see if I really could be that tool. If I really was the answer to his solution.
Images flash through my mind of my village burning. What had happened to them after we rode off? Did he cut them down when my eyes looked away? Did he slaughter ever last one after he had found the jewel of his search? The rest were worthless stones.
A king had no need for stones. They did not make a crown.
Only a grave.
He motions behind him, stepping back to reveal something that I had missed.
A man on his knees, head bowed and arms secured behind him.
“Mikabellum, there is a judging for you.”
I don’t dare say anything, to lost on what was happening to try.
Roark walks towards the male.
An odd sense runs through me as I watch him stand over the helpless figure. If his face had not been covered, what shape would his lips form?
I see it in his eyes. They would be twisted in a savage grin, one thirsting for pain.
He turns towards the crowd, their silence something that just registered to me.
“This male was caught showing his skin to another female who was not his own.”
A collective gasp comes over the crowd. Eyes of disgust can be seen as women spit towards him and males shake their heads.
I gasp, my own sound mixing in well with the others. But it’s not out of surprise.
My eyes search the male, wondering if he was one of the males within the fallen.
No...I didn’t recognize him.
And his eyes as they briefly flicker up to me, only showed a blankness of acceptance.
I feel my sight wander around the crowd until they fall upon someone.
Khalid stares straight at me. It is only for a few seconds, but within those seconds, I see something flicker in the light of his eyes. Tears? Sorrow?
He bows to me, our eyes staying connected until the great leader’s voice pulls me away.
“Show us Mikabellum.”
I turn to find the great leader staring down at me. I look away from his eyes, down to his hands. He is presenting me a knife- silver and encrusted with red jewels. Disgust and shame wash to my mind that those hands touched me. That those hands escaped unharmed from an act that was now screaming for blood.
“Show us the punishment of the divine to mortals who are fools like this male.”
I stare at the instrument. He is waiting for me to take it.
Waiting for me to do something with it.
The name of war rings within the night. The chant for blood rises as they begin to scream at me. I turn to face the bloodthirsty crowd.
Soleia is pressed in the front, yelling the words with them. Her eyes hold a different emotion. Like Khalid, she nods- her eyes darting to the knife and then back to me.
I turn to the great leader. And walk past him.
A small noise escapes him as he watches me with narrowed eyes.
“Mikabellum…” it is a warning growl, one that holds too many promises of awaiting pain for whatever I had planned.
I lean to the kneeling male, falling to the ground before him.
He looks down, startled.
I didn’t ask him his name. It was selfish. Selfish because I did not have the courage to have such a word haunt me for the rest of my life.
“You showed your flesh to another.”
“Yes.” His eyes are downcast, his whispered confession falling between us.
“Forgive me Mikabellum.”
I pause. A hopeful gleam comes into him as he stares at me.
I feel the air stiffen. Feel the mass come closer. Closer. Reaching for me. Grabbing me. Wanting my own blood if they could not have his, but before hands can close around my neck-
The male’s hood comes off.
He howls, something close to a dying animal as his face is revealed.
Ah. But this was worse than asking for his name. Now, instead of having a mask to think of- I instead would close my eyes and see this face of fear. This face of pure agony.
The great leader starts behind me.
Screams rise from the crowd, mixing in with the male’s.
“Stop! Kill me! Kill me!”
His eyes are wild. Wild and frantic. They remind me of a trapped hare. Cowering. Shivering. Every part aware of the end.
I continue to strip him, feeling a numbness spread over me as the crowd screams their anguish with him. They had expected blood. They had expected pain.
Not a shame and horror that haunted all of their dreams.
I turn to them, holding the male's shirt that I had ripped with my own hands. They stare at me with a new horror.
Those closest to me who can hear, swallow their words- turning to hush others in the back.
I don’t want to turn to the great leader. But my eyes find his face and in it I see fascination.
I bare my teeth at him, wondering what he thought in this moment.
“Give me the knife.”
His eyes crinkle around their corners, a smile hiding behind his clothing as he bends down in offering.
The male before me is crying.
The sight unsettles me. I knew from watching them, that warriors of the Onism tribe did not cry.
Not unless they were in extreme agony.
The blade is heavier than I expected. It is cold to my touch, sending a chill to spread over me.
Slowly I turn back to the male.
Think like a Goddess.
I close my eyes.
This one second was all I had before I moved on. One second. Before I opened my eyes and shattered the old life behind me. Before I laid out my humanity and tossed it aside.
I opened them to take in the sobbing male.
My fingers trace the inking upon his skin.
His sobs subside, eyes widening as he looks up to me. I lean down to him, still tracing the story of his life.
“You are afraid of fire,” He doesn’t look away as my finger falls down to his stomach, splaying across to match the small red palm of a child.
The male shivers at my touch.
“Did you lose a child?”
He shakes his head, “a brother.”
I move closer, but am stopped by a hand upon my shoulder. Looking up, both the male and I take in Roark as he breathes fire down upon us.
I shove my shoulder away from his grip, “do not tell me what to do.” His eyes widen, startled by the venom in my voice.
I give him one last glare before turning back.
The male seems calm. Almost at peace as he looks down at me.
I raise the knife and slowly trace my own mark on his skin.
He inhales sharply. The crowd begins back their cheer as the crimson drops slowly come down.
A circle is upon his chest, right on his heart.
I stare down at the wound, thinking of what I had to do next.
The male leans forward pressing his skin to the blade.
His eyes are wide. Both our eyes are wide as slowly, his continues, his breath coming out to fast, his eyes gleaming over. The red coming out to fast.
Crimson was spreading to me.
And then it clicks what he is doing.
“Goodbye,” I whisper before I sink the blade fully into his heart.
The roar of the crowd drowns out my word.
They scream in approval as I continue to cut. Continue, even after his body falls, death has invaded his mind and carried him away.
Cut. Cut. Blood soaks my hands, down my arms.
His body is ruined. A wreck of nothing but pain. And then I see what he holds. My hand reaches for it.
I turn to the great leader, holding the male’s heart.
The tribe continues their scream. Continues their roar for more. I can give them no more.
I look for Soleia, desperate for something. Anything.
I do not see her.
The tribe screams. More. They were a monster that needed to consume more chaos in order to survive.
The great leader still watches me.
What would a goddess of war do?
I look down at the heart. And toss it to the flames.
A hush falls over as we all watch the burning flesh.
Something snaps with me.
I scream. I scream and face the tribe and watch as they scream with me. I raise my hands, blood falling to my face. Blood falling down my arms.
My hands run down my face, streaking my appearance with ruin and loss.
I turn to the great leader.
For once I see a flicker of something within his eyes as he stares down at me.
It heats me from within, swelling inside me that a male of his size and stature would fear me.
I step closer, grinning at him. Grinning at them all.
How dare they doubt me. How dare they think they could take me and think I would not fight for every breath?
They were wrong.
“Oh...Catina...you are glorious.”
“That is not my name fool.”
I step closer, pressing my body to his own, feeling every rise of muscle and flesh connect as I whisper.
“My name is Mikabellum. I am the goddess of war. That is the only name I know.”
His hands reach for me, a new light shining in those soulless black eyes.
But before he can enclose me, I step away.
The tribe stares in awe, stepping back to let me through. I do not look behind at him. I do not say another word to any of them.
And I do not hand back the knife, that now was rightfully mine.
I hope the real gods and goddess did not strike me down for such blatant lies. But part of me in that moment, as the blood soaked to my skin and became one with my flesh- part of me felt like there was no lie in my act at all.