“Stay close to me.”
There was nowhere I could go. I was astride with him on his horse. Where would I go?
“Take this off.”
It’s the first time I have spoken since our time in the tent.
He laughs at my request.
“Not yet my lioness. We do not want to show your beauty to the others.”
I feel like screaming at the helpless feeling that is rising in me.
That was the reason for his veil? The was the reason for why he cut off my sight?
He makes no promises of keeping me safe. Nothing of reassurance to let me feel at ease. He was not that kind of man to fill such empty words.
I feel the tension rise.
“What happened to the plan of taking them by surprise?”
“But why?” He sounds amused again as he laughs, “Why would we need to take them by surprise. We have you Mikabellum.”
So of course, he is whispering to me, so of course, we will win.
“You have your knife.”
Yes. I at least had that.
Unfortunately, the knife was buried under layers of ceremonial clothing, impossible for me to reach.
I can almost feel him waiting for me to bite against his words. But I hold my tongue. Now was not the time to show my true colors and cast away the title of deity.
I knew sooner or later, the day of my death would come.
At least I will look beautiful in my death, I thought, glancing down to take in the robes that adorned me.
The suddenness of the tension leaving me, grabs his attention.
“Are you scared Mikabellum?”
His words are pressed against the veil, my own clothing obscuring and meeting his covered lips.
It’s not what he wanted to hear.
Maybe he did want to hear my fear.
But if he did, I wouldn’t give him such satisfaction.
I feel the movement of the horse, the strides growing rougher and rougher as the beast moves its pace into a fast motion that sets us closer to our destination.
Closer to destruction.
Roark yells to those behind him.
What was that mass ahead?
Was that the other tribe?
Is this how battles are fought?
Like the suddenness of lightning? No waiting, no thought.
The noise of bodies colliding against another as one side collapses to not be two waves of men, but a tsunami of chaos...the noise was what first came into my senses.
And then Roark’s shouts.
His shouts of pure, unfiltered happiness.
A man who is in love will be blinded by the creature he is infatuated with, and the noise made a thought stick to me that I would never forget.
This male is in love with war.
I could barely hold on. The poor horse- its hair was twisted into my hands, the pain probably spurring the creature on to create even more violence than his master.
I wanted to scream, but no sound would come out.
I could hear my name in the distance. Those calling for me. But Roark was the only one who could receive my blessing. Selfishly, he had kept me close to his side to ensure his own rightful place of salvation.
Maybe it was not a curse that the veil had been placed over my eyes.
Maybe it was a blessing that I was not able to see such violence.
But as the thought rings over and over in my head, a force hits Roark, sending him off from his steed. I do not fall with him. Instead, the horse rushes forward, carrying me away.
My head whips to face the name I could barely recognize. But Roark’s voice is drowned in the sea of chaos. The horse continues.
I don’t know how to control it.
Soleia never taught me how to ride. Khalid had been too scared to teach me. And I had been too scared to ask Roark.
Now my own foolishness was coming back to haunt me.
I can escape.
It burns in my thoughts.
I’m away from him.
I have a horse.
I can escape.
I can leave.
I rip the headset from me, tossing it to the ground. With it, the veil slips off, the wind carrying it away.
With my eyes uncovered, I see what I had been unable to witness before.
I look behind, trying to grab back the veil, but it is too late.
Death was everywhere.
The smell hits me, odors that I never thought would be associated with war.
Did death have a smell? Was it something as obvious and foul as this?
I see no end in sight as I hold onto the horse. I put my trust in the animal, that maybe it will find its own way out of this chaos.
But my hope is to wishful.
The animal collapses, bringing me down with it.
I try to cough, winded from the fall. Looking to the side, I see an arrow has been lodged in the animal’s side.
I stand and continue running.
Males recognize me. Their astonishment distracts them away from their fight as they call out for me.
I ignore them.
I ignore their cries for help and pleads for a blessing.
Maybe the Wakin tribe thought them foolish for calling out to a helpless girl. Asking for salvation from something that needed to be saved.
I take shelter behind a grouping of rocks.
My breath is gone, coming in short sporadic bursts.
I don’t know what to do next.
But my decision is made for me as I look up and see two males staring down at me.
“What is this?”
They are not from the Onism tribe.
They are Wakin.
I back away slowly, but the rock stops my retreat.
One of the males takes a step with me.
They are different from the Onism tribe. Like all nomadic wanderers, they to have their customs and ways.
Blue dots adorn the male’s necks. They have multiple studs within their ears. Where the Onism covered all skin, these males dress similar to the tribe women. They take pride it seems, in showing their chests and arms- the masculinity that wraps around their features and creates a power in their frames.
They continue to advance.
I look up at their curious faces. They were readable. Readable.
I feel like crying when I am able to take in the facial features that they wear.
They still at my words.
I feel the tears that I had long repress slowly come down.
One male steps back.
I look at my hand and realize why.
The blood that Roark had put upon my face. The blood that now mingled with my tears.
My red tears that fell down my cheeks.
I was crying blood for them to see.
“You’re their...She’s that goddess they worship...”
“The Onism tribe Goddess?”
The male who had the most blue dots upon his neck nods. They both look so similar. It is hard to tell them apart, that they might as well have been the same person. Only the dots could be used to distinguish them.
The male looks around, taking in the noise of our surrounding.
“Why would I do that?”
He steps closer, sadness coming onto his face.
Without warning I push away from him, making his steps stumble.
I run without looking back, hearing their shouts behind me.
A sob rips through me when I look behind and see them pursuing. They would catch me. They would. The robes I wore were constricting and left me unable to be free.
Even with it though...
Another sob comes through me.
Mikabellum. You are not so weak.
Soleias’ voice comes into my mind.
No. I wasn’t.
I turn back to face them, taking the two males by surprise.
“Get away,” my order is met by confusion as they stare at my sudden change in demeanor.
“Get away from me.”
One male steps closer, his hand reaching out, but I move away, “You can’t touch me!”
They flinch from my scream, shock still shown so clearly on their faces.
“You think you can touch me?”
I start to laugh then.
So this is how I die.
“If this is really Mikabellum, then we could stop this battle by taking her,” one of the males whispers.
“I know,” the male with the most blue dots seems to be the leader of the two. He glares at the other, before facing me.
“You said you wanted to be saved?”
I hesitate before taking another step back.
“Just let me go.”
“Come with us, and we’ll save you.”
I step back. They step closer.
From my time with the Onism, I have learned at least one good thing.
I have learned to read when someone is lying, by looking into their eyes.
“Okay...” They both visibly relax.
I am violently shaking. My lip is trembling. Maybe that is why they don’t suspect a thing to happen to them. Why they let their guard down.
They turn their backs to me, walking away with the expectation that I will follow. That I had believed their words in me being safe.
I bend down, using both my arms to pick up a rock from the ground.
They never suspect what violence I could bring from my own two hands.
Without warning the rock comes crashing down, hitting the male with the most blue dots. He is knocked down, his companion taking seconds to long to figure out what has happened.
And then he joins his brother.
I make sure.
I make sure as my arms shake with the effort to lift the stone, again and again.
It is not just my eyes that red coats.
They had thought I believed in their words of me being safe.
I had learned another thing from the Onism tribe though.
Nowhere was safe.
I thought the battle would last days.
But it is only for a few hours.
A few hours to determine life or death.
I hear the noise dying down slowly. Bit by bit the chaos was crawling back into the deep confines of each male’s heart. Resting there for the next time it would resurface.
I hear my name being called in the distance.
I look out to the world surrounding me.
Had I really thought of such a foolish thing?
I rise and follow the voice.
Is he frantic?
Is he worried?
He sounds it.
“Mikabellum! Where is she? What did you do with her?”
I approach the scene slowly.
Males are lined up on their knees, heads bowed in silence as the Great Leader towers over them.
“Where is she?!”
Out of the prisoners of war, only one male has the courage to speak out.
“I saw her riding alone on a horse...”
Without warning the Great Leader draws his sword, and a deathly quiet follows as he slashes across, and leaves the male forever silent.
I am not shocked anymore.
Sorrow rises in me, from the fact that such a scene of violence no longer disturbed my mind.
Instead, I step forward.
He turns to me, dropping his sword and quickly walking to where I am.
He takes my hands, pressing them up to his forehead as he lowers himself to the ground, to kneel before me.
The other Onism members follow his example. Some are crying out of relief, tears coming through their eyes, and disappearing with their covered skin.
“I am fine.”
He pulls back but stops short at the sight of blood that covers my hands. His eyes trail up, and up, taking in the long streaks that have ruined the beautiful robes.
He searches my face, his fingers rising to trace the tears of sorrow that I had let slip.
I pull my hands out from his and walk towards the captured Wakin tribe members.
They are looking at me with fear in their eyes.
I reach for one of the males, and he flinches, his breath coming our more rapid as my fingers connect to his face.
“What do the dots on your skin mean?”
His eyes are wide. They are the same color as the land- a rich brown that reminds me of the Burnman mountains in the spring.
“How many...our...the number of kills...”
“Why would you mark such a cruel thing on your skin?”
The male does not speak.
Slowly I look at my fingers, some of the red still fresh.
“Is it like this?”
I smile down at him, taking my finger and pressing it against my neck.
“Is this what you mean?”
The males surrounding him begin to scream as I advance towards their line.
As my stained hands grab their necks and cover their marks.
“Should I be proud? Should I display this?”
I feel the eyes of the Onism on me as I ignore their gaze and continue talking to these fallen men.
“Where are your wives? Do they boast of your victory when you show them? Where are your children? Do they embrace death knowing they will live forever on the skin of another?”
The male I had addressed is crying. He is crying.
“Forgive me,” his eyes are gazing at me, but it is no longer in fear.
What emotion was this?
I only laugh, my soul to shattered to handle such a request.
“We should forgive each other.”
I gaze at their symbols and feel my own tears starting to come.
I wanted to whisper his words back to him.
Forgive me, because the markings upon my hands, my neck and face - they are of your people.
I step back and turn to the Onism.
They are still kneeling.
All but Roark.
He is standing and watching me, his gaze holding a thoughtful expression of fear again.
I walk towards him, and whisper, “will they become part of the tribe?”
“Some,” he looks out to the males, taking them in.
Suddenly he turns and shouts, “Khalid!”
Relief involuntarily floods into me that he is alive.
Khalid cautiously approaches the Great Leader.
Roark looks down at him, his gaze hard.
“Take her back.”
He nods and turns to me, his gaze pleading for me to listen.
I am too exhausted to argue. I want to be away from the scene before me of kneeling men who are crying for their fate, and dying men who are screaming in their pain.
I catch Roark’s eyes at the last second, and something in them makes me hesitate halfway.
Khalid turns to me, “please Mikabellum.”
I continue walking, but as the cover of the rocks comes closer, I stop and ease against them.
Khalid joins me, something frantic growing in his eyes.
“Mikabellum, please lets-,”
Something did not feel right.
The way Roark looked. The way the tribe looked.
How he sent me back.
And I get my confirmation.
Roark turns to a male beside him.
I recognize him. Jesper. One of the warriors whom I had sat and talked with that one night.
And then he turns to the line of men.
And slowly, one by one, cuts each of them down, until they are all dead.
The Onism tribe is in celebration.
While the men had been in battle, the women had already been preparing a feast for their victory.
The sheer confidence in their faces had been missed by me the first time due to the obstruction of the veil, but now I could take in their expressions.
They never once doubted their males.
They never once doubted the power of Mikabellum.
They had prepared not only a feast but a podium. Something to lift me high to be viewed for all.
I sat there now, watching their celebration.
I was numb. Not once, since the start of their festivities, had I moved. I had spoken to no one. Those around began to question my reaction. Why did Mikabellum stare like that into the distance?
But their thoughts were slurred with the drinks of victory.
No one seemed to question the blood that stained my skin.
How it came to be on there.
The tear marks that were etched upon my face.
Only once, in that night, was I able to see Soleia.
She had stared at me, fear obvious in her eyes.
I had become something she could not recognize. I had only nodded towards her in acknowledgment, before facing back to the front.
It was late into the night now.
Whatever they were consuming had made the tribe members bolder.
Some were approaching me, holding their hands out to me. They were pleading for something in garbled speech of males and women who had had too much to drink.
I never once saw Roark.
Eventually, I snapped. I had enough.
And Khalid- who had stayed by and guarded my side from any who wandered to close- sensed it.
“You are tired Mikabellum.”
He seems startled at my easy admittance but says nothing else as he helps from down from the podium I had been sitting upon.
The tribe largely ignores me. They are too consumed in their haze of victory to notice as I slip into the shadows.
Khalid follows closely behind me, but halfway through I turn back and stop him.
“Don’t follow me. I need to go somewhere.”
Khalid hesitates. I can sense that he wants to argue, but that is not in his nature.
He is just a soldier. Someone who lives and breathes for orders to take and follow.
He proves my thought by taking my words and walking away.
I turn around and continue walking.
My destination is easy enough to find.
I knew where it would be now, after visiting and being dragged to it so many times.
The Great Leader’s tent.
He had never surfaced to show himself. I knew the only other place he could be...
I open the flap of the tent without warning and stop short.
A male I do not recognize is staring back at me.
His mask has slipped lower than usual, showing a nose I had never seen before. High cheekbones that I could only imagine peak through.
Being surrounded by the tribe has made me hunger for whatever exposure of male skin I could find. The rare flashes were gifts.
This rare flash- this rare sight - I would consider it a gift now.
It only takes Roark a second to register my presence and pull his mask up fully.
He does not seem angry at my sudden entrance - or at how unguarded I have caught him.
Instead, his eyes crinkle around the corner, a black fire sparking at the sight of me.
Before I can correct him on the usage of my name, the tone of his voice hits me.
I stare in disbelief at the Great Leader.
The intoxicated Great Leader.
“Roark....you’ve been hiding in here drinking?”
He laughs, “how else can a warrior of Onism drink?”
I hesitate at the entrance, wanting to leave. But he grabs my wrist, pulling me closer to him.
Without warning, I fall and land within his lap.
He does not say a word as slowly, his hands touch the sacred robes that I wore.
“They are ruined.”
I look down at it, taking in the blood stains.
A pressure is felt on my chin as he uses a finger to raise my head and force our eyes to meet.
“What happened my lioness?”
I stay silent, not knowing how to tell him.
“Did they touch you?”
I shiver at the sudden darkness that has crossed his tone.
“No,” I said, looking away.
We both are silent.
I can’t stop the question though, from rolling off my lips.
“You killed them.”
I look up to see his dark gaze. There is no mercy or forgiveness in those eyes.
I do not even ask why.
He would have no answer to give me.
“I thought I said, that the blood of no other male would stain your skin?”
He raises my hand, staring at the smeared red that had mixed to my features.
Suddenly his grip tightens around me, pulling me in as the robes slide up to expose my legs.
He stares at them, before easing me to sit with my legs dangling upon either side of his frame.
The robe continues to be pushed up. Up and up until I am breathless from what he is doing.
We are back to that name.
“You rode away from me today.”
Something in me knows to stay quiet.
Now was not the time to speak.
“You rode away and I...” He looks up to stare at me as I look down.
“I felt very helpless.”
I swallow, my throat suddenly dry.
His face falls to land upon my shoulder. But it is suddenly jerked back up as he stares intensely at me.
“I can’t stand this.”
He lifts me before I can say anything else, and without warning starts to take off the ceremonial robes.
“I can’t have that staining you any longer.”
Did he mean the blood upon my hands?
Did he mean the blood he himself had put there, upon my face?
I am exposed once again as he takes apart what he had just hours ago, put together.
Once more, I stand before him bare.
I watch as he walks to the nearby table, taking the basin of water and a cloth.
I know what he is going to do. And I watch as he wets the cloth, ringing it out, before slowly running it along my features.
My arms, my hands.
Even my face.
He washes my neck, holding my hair above with one hand while I lean back against him and let him wash away his own destruction.
I look up to stare at him, as he contemplates something.
“Close your eyes. Keep them closed. Do not open them for any reason.”
I don’t question him as I do as he says.
It doesn’t even occur to me that he could do the most impossible thing- something I never thought him capable of.
I gasp, pushing away from him, but his hands hold me in place as the feel of lips - his lips- skim the surface of my neck.
“I have wanted to do that, since the first moment I saw you Mikabellum...” then he laughs, “well...more than that...”
I want to open my eyes. I want to turn around and take in his face. A face I have never seen before. What did he look like? What did those lips look like?
Before I can voice my thoughts, he is kissing my neck, his tongue tracing and cleaning spots he had missed.
Then they are gone.
A few seconds of silence pass before I am turned back around and facing him.
“You can open your eyes, Mikabellum.”
I slowly do so.
The expression in his own eyes takes my breath away.
There is a flame.
A flame that can consume the world.
Something in his eyes, the way they burn - how much destruction they can bring-
Something in them makes me remember what he had told me as I first gazed upon the robes of a deity, “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.”
I knew from the heat that crawled along my neck, in his lingering touch, just who the real phoenix that he had been referring to was.
Who really would be the one, to burn this world.