I can sense the change.
Originally, I had forgotten the purpose of our travels. For me, the endless trekking upon unmarked roads meant nothing but a day of wandering. I had let it slip from my mind that the wandering would eventually amount to something.
Maybe it had been the chaos of my own thoughts that made me unaware of the shift in the atmosphere.
Now I can sense it.
The warriors were distant.
The females were harder. Rougher.
Soleia did not speak to me.
She stayed by Tuva’s side, never leaving him. Forcing me to tread alone among the watching eyes.
I could sense it.
What was coming.
What I had forgotten and never should have erased.
The purpose for why I was here.
Even the great leader did not seem as aware of me as he used to be.
Since that day in the hot springs, I had tried to avoid him. I did not know what to do with his gift, but I kept it close to me. It was a reminder. Out of all the things that I would never forget, he made sure, with that gift alone, that that would not be one of them.
Khalid though did not leave my side.
Nor did the guard that had pledged themselves to me.
In a way, Khalid had become one of them, taking on the role of approaching me as their middleman. He was the only one who seemed capable of being near me without shrinking away from fear.
“When will we arrive?”
Khalid thought for a moment, “A day.”
I tried to gain my bearings. A day.
A day and then we would be in the midst of battle.
What would be my role?
I wanted to ask Khalid, but even he would not know.
As if it was instinct, I knew already that only the great leader would know the role I would be playing.
Khalid could read my thoughts though. I could feel his unease growing as day became dusk and the moon settled in.
“The night is usually not spent resting...”
I look up from the saddle to stare at him. His eyes are looking ahead, scanning out to some distant place I am unaware of.
“He will want you.”
He will want you.
Khalid looks down then. Is that pity in his eyes? Is it sorrow? What emotion did he contain?
He looks away from me, unable to hold my gaze.
“I will bring you to him.”
I don’t want that.
I want the silence that Khalid brings. I want the ease that his presence carried, with me knowing in complete absolution that no harm would fall to myself in his presence.
No. I wanted to whisper. Don’t take me to that demon.
But my body betrayed my thoughts.
Khalid felt the shiver of anticipation that coursed through me.
We both ignored it, both kept our silence that we had been able to maintain these past few days.
He rides ahead, searching for the Great Leader.
I see him before Khalid does.
Or maybe I don’t.
Maybe Khalid sees him but ignores for a few moments more, the same as how I never did voice out my sighting.
It’s Roark who notices our presence and approaches.
“Warrior. You did as I told you.”
I sharply look up at Khalid, betrayal leaking to my mind without warning at the great leader’s words.
Khalid bows his head, “Great Leader. I brought her.”
He does not look at me as Roark reaches across to take my waist, lifting me and dragging me down to stand by his side.
“Come Mikabellum. There is much that needs to be done before our battle tomorrow.”
I look up at Khalid for one last time, but his head is still bowed.
Again. I had been reminded again, that there was no one I should trust in this desolate, and forsaken place.
I sit in silence in the Great leader’s tent.
Several women are upon their knees, their faces down to the ground.
Roark stands before them, his arms crossed as he inspects their prostrated form.
“You are the ones Tuva has chosen?”
The women do not answer.
Ah. I want to smile as I watch them. They already knew well not to answer.
Roark looks at them before turning to stare at me. His gaze is unnerving. It is without me knowing a reason for such a look. I avoid his eyes, not meeting them. It seemed cowardly to me, and I realize a few seconds later, that it was the wrong thing to do.
The women seem startled at his order.
One hesitantly raises her head, her features fighting with each other as she processes what words she will say in response.
But before she can, the great leader descends upon them, his eyes blazing with a black fire that promises nothing but death as he leans close and whispers in the quiet- “now.”
Without another word they rush out, tripping over the other to be the first to leave.
I watch in amazement at their retreat.
I did not even know why they had been requested in the first place.
Roark goes to the tent opening and pulls a long cord, letting the flaps of the cover close and cut the outside world from sight.
He stalks to the other side, doing the same thing.
I slowly stand, easing to the corner of the tend as I realize that he is trapping me in with him- alone.
He turns around and looks at me.
Laughter escapes from him as he watches my weary movements.
“You say you are not afraid of me. But your actions always say differently, Mikabellum.”
“What are you doing?” My demand is ignored as he goes to a trunk in the corner and opens the lid.
My heart skips in its rhythm.
He turns around, no question in his gaze.
“Take it off. I know that is not a challenge for you.” I see a light of amusement in his eyes as he turns back to pull whatever it was from the trunk.
I’m still standing in shock, not moving. My heart is racing in its place. What do I do?
I look at the entrance and exit. Both closed off. He was in the middle. He would catch me if I tried to run.
If I screamed, would anyone come?
Does a Goddess scream?
He stands, holding something in his arms. I look at it, the material suddenly making sense his request.
It was a cloth of red and gold. I had never seen anything as beautiful as it. Never. He holds it up, walking closer to me as he presses it gently against my skin.
“To see you in this...”
He laughs, “I did not want those females to be the first to see you.”
He goes back to the trunk, slowly placing the cloth back down.
“These are the robes of Mikabellum...the gown of your blessing made for when your men ride into battle.”
His takes the gloves off his hands, slowly edging the black away to reveal skin.
I try to repress my gasp of surprise at his action. The naked fingers dance across the robes he is admiring as he skims over the surface.
“Do as I say Mikabellum. There is a process that must be followed in order to put such a beautiful robe on something so divine.”
I have lost my voice. It’s runaway from me as I repeat the actions I had done those days ago in the cave.
It is because of the change that can be felt within the air. He does not turn to watch me. His eyes are still upon the robes. The seriousness of this moment has hit me. I know what he is implying with his actions.
I step towards him, bare and exposed. But his gaze does not linger.
He only glances up, his eyes scanning before falling back to continue the ceremony that he had started in his mind.
I close my eyes and hear the sound of his approach. The smoothness of silk slides over my skin.
His fingers pull my hair out from the robe. They brush the skin of my neck, lingering there. He is taking his time, absorbing the moment as he calmly moves on to the next item.
The garment is heavy.
It has layer after layer.
Each new addition causes a sensation of running fingers to dance across my skin. It never is rough. Only gentle and soft as if touching something made from glass.
“Open your eyes Mikabellum.”
I do as he says, looking down immediately.
I know now why these are the clothing for a goddess. The fineness, the divinity. Pure holy power radiates off of the material from the red of victory, the gold of triumph.
“What is it?” I am afraid to touch the embroidery- my fingers stop from grazing something that has the essence of divinity sewn into its existence. Something that did not need to act out its part in order to be believed.
“Not a Lioness?”
I look up to meet his eyes as he watches me.
“No Mikabellum. You are the Lioness. The Phoenix is what surrounds you. You are the one who wears fire upon her skin as you sink your teeth into this burning world.”
His eyes crinkle around the corner, a clear sign that he is smiling.
“This is what I have been most looking forward to.”
He steps closer and raises his hand, the bare skin exposed for me to take in. I see red dripping from their tips. Before I have time to question or shrink away, he is leaving a trail of destruction across my eyes, masking me to see the world in pain.
“I won’t allow another male...nor female’s...blood to be on you Mikabellum...”
I want to wash it off.
I almost gag from the smell as it collides so close to my nose. As I take in fully the dripping red that covers his cut palm.
He walks to the trunk and looks down into it.
“We are almost done. Almost.”
From it, he pulls only two items.
A red veil. And a glorious headset of gold, the shape reminding me of the raising rays to a newborn sun.
The veil he puts on first, hiding his mark he has made on me. Letting me know that I was the only one who would be conscious of such a claim.
To keep the material in place the sun is placed upon my head.
I am nothing now, but a figure of red and gold. A colliding mixture of myth and legend and reality and dreams.
He had taken and hidden me, putting away that which looked mortal to show something that was from the heavens.
I was of the Onism warriors now. Hidden away to conceal my weakness.
“Now. You are ready.”
He steps aside and opens the tent.
The sun was coming to scratch the surface of the world.
Where had the night gone? Had the shelter of darkness abandoned me in my time of need, to leave me exposed?
I stand at the open way, still looking at him.
He is not looking at me though.
His eyes are only fixed on that which is before him.
It is hard to walk in the robes.
But they serve as a shield. No one can touch me. No one will dare touch me.
My name rings out from their lips as they scream for me to bless them. Bless them. Bless them.
As they scream for a divine power that I only had from their own giving.
Bless us. Bless us. Bless us.
The Great Leader is in front of me, leading the way to wherever we are going. Through the veil, I see only the shadow of shapes.
I watch him stop. Watch as his body turns to me and listen as he screams for the tribe to listen. I don’t follow his command.
I don’t listen.
My world is crumbling at my feet.
When will it be that I become used to and adjusted to the things he throws at me?
One moment I am in front, serving judgment. Another moment I am trailing behind, giving deliverance.
“Mikabellum rides with me!”
The world cracked.
The last piece that I had fallen apart leaving me stranded.
She rides with me.
She rides with me.
I knew where he was riding into.
She rides with me.