Home of Sword and Soul
The Tyrak dhow eased close to the Auxite coast on a humid, moonless night. Omari stood on the deck with his clan, straining his eyes to see where the ocean ended and the shore began. His efforts were in vain. It was a dangerous night to attempt a landing, but a perfect night to begin a mission. Omari took inventory, patting his body as he counted his weapons. His hand ended on the etched metal of his hand cannon. He opted to bring the weapon at the last minute. It was cumbersome, loud and inaccurate, but if their task was discovered and their situation desperate it would be a powerful distraction.
The Tyrak lowered their boat over the side then climbed down and entered the warm water. Dumi patted each of them on the shoulder, lingering for a moment before Omari.
“Odu deliver us, either to our home or to her bosom,” he said.
Omari and the clan repeated his words. It was a morbid thing to say before going on a mission, but it was the Ndoko way. They followed the Tyrak over the side, lowering themselves into the waiting boat on thick ropes. There were no oars; the Tyrak decided to tow the boat to avoid the noise of oars against the waters. The guardians of the Cleave prove themselves more than capable. Omari had to grip the side of the boat to keep from toppling backwards when the Tyrak swimmers swam toward the shore. In moment they slipped into shallow water, the Tyrak standing on their broad feet as they pulled the boat close to shore. Omari eased into the water then waded to the rocky shore. The Tyrak offered them no words as they trotted to the sparse brush; by the time they settled their deliverers had melded into darkness.
“Rekit,” Dumi said. “Lead us.”
Omari trotted into the darkness. Though the details were obscure he’d memorized the map. They traveled the entire night then found shelter among a stand of prickly shrubs during the day. It was their pattern for the next week. They covered the miles at a pace that would have worn down the strongest man except the exceptionally long winded Kenjans. Omari would have been included with those incapable if not for his constant playing with his clan members. That was the true purpose of the game; to build endurance and strength for missions such as this. They avoided cities and settlements except when food and water was needed. Omari’s body remembered what his mind had forgotten; by the time the Qweran citadel loomed before them he was primed for action.
The fort loomed over the sparsely forested valley from a slab of granite extending from the nearby mountain like an open palm. One narrow road undulated from the cluster of villages along the river to the mountain. The road was easily defended. Its narrowness prevented mass attack and the fort’s position gave its defenders plenty of opportunity to shower death on attacking hordes. Omari chewed on a kola nut as he and the others waited for darkness, ruminating on the citadel’s interior details. A servant had been bribed into providing the details and Omari committed them to memory as he had the route to Qwera. The Ndoko sat motionless, holding their infamous serrated edge scimitars in each hand. The sight of them made him reach absently for his left side. Long ago he’d been on the wrong end of one of those blades and almost died. He didn’t envy the Auxites they would encounter soon. Dumi watched the sun slowly settle behind the horizon with intense eyes. As soon as the last portion of light disappeared under the horizon he looked at Omari then nodded.
Omari sprang to his feet the sprinted full speed to the citadel walls, his clan brothers close behind. There was no hesitation for Qwera was far in the interior of its province and feared no attacks from its enemies and local villagers. When they reached the base of the walls they took the ropes and grappling hooks from around their waists then threw them up into the ramparts. Omari stepped aside as the Ndoko sped up the ropes. No matter how much he’d trained he couldn’t match their natural abilities. He waited until the last Ndoko was on his way up before he climbed. His progress was amazing for a man, but slow compared to his clan. When he reached the top his brothers feigned sleep. It always amazed him how the Ndoko always chose to display their limited sense of humor in the most dangerous situations.
“It is good you decided to join us,” Dumi said to him. “Can we continue now?”
Omari grinned then led the Ndoko down the ramparts to the citadel entrance. According to his internal map the hallway behind the door lead to the main corridor which in turn led to the kandak.
“Intruders! To the Kandak! Hurry!”
The urgent voices came from behind them. Omari looked at the door to the ramparts then to the gilded portals of the kandak’s chamber.
“Go,’ Dumi said. “It only takes one Ndoko. We will hold here.”
The rampart door crashed open and Auxite soldiers spilled in like water from a failed dam. The Ndoko twisted, somersaulted and leapt it the mass, striking like a sharp fist. Omari sprinted to the kandak’s chamber. He smashed his shoulder against the door but it did not budge.
“Damn it to the Cleave!” he hissed.
He swung his hand cannon from his back the loaded the weapon with a double charge. He braced it against the chest then prepared for the recoil, not knowing exactly what would happen. He discovered the answer moment later. The charge exploded; Omari sailed through the air then landed hard at the heels of his fighting comrades. He stumbled to his feet then ran back to the kandak’s chamber. The doors were open, a splintered hole where his shot struck. Five bodyguards sprawled on the marble. Three were definitely dead, two too wounded to stop him. The five remaining guards stood before the smirking kandak, blades drawn and spears lowered.
“Sonnai sends his greetings,” the kandak said.
“Can’t trust a mercenary,” Omari whispered as he attacked. He threw his hand cannon at the guards as he sprinted, slowing them down just enough to gain more speed. As the warriors converged, Omari jumped. He cleared them then tucked his body and flipped twice before landing on his feet before the startled kandak. His sword was in and out of the man’s throat before he recovered.
The guards had failed but they were determined to avenge their kandak. Their fury made them clumsy; Omari deftly worked through them with sword and dagger, staying close to take away the spearmen advantage. He kicked the last man off his sword then looked into the hallway. The Ndoko still held the soldiers back, though not without a price. Two lay dead on the stone.
Omari looked about the room and found the window. He began unraveling the rope around his waist as he sauntered to the opening. This was even better than he imagined. He could escape alone, leaving the Ndoko to die the noble death. As the only survivor with confirmation that the kandak was dead he’s be the wealthiest merchant in Peba. Forget a drinking house; he’d purchase a mooring, a warehouse and a couple of dhows. He was part Kiswala after all. Trading was in his blood.
The pain struck suddenly. He clutched at his chest scar as he fell to his knees, overwhelmed by the excruciating sensation. The wound swelled and pulsated against his sweating hands. Omari tried to stand but the pain increased. It surged through him, taking away his sight, his feeling and his voice. The kandak’s chamber faded into an empty darkness.
“You would leave my children?” a female voice asked.
A female form emerged from the dark. Amber eyes opened before him, followed by a solemn smile. There was no doubt that this was the most beautiful woman Omari had seen. But then she was not a woman.
“Odu?” he managed to say.
Her smile removed his pain and filled him with joy.
“You belong to me, Omari Ket,” she said. “You became mine in Wadantu.”
“How?” Omari rose from where he lay to his knees.
“When I gave life back to you.”
So he did die in Wadantu. He remembered everything at that moment. Three old women stood between him, Sebe and Kadira. He drew his sword to kill them and Kadira tried to stop him. Then one of the women stabbed him with her staff. The next thing he remembered he lay at their feet, the woman holding the idol they sought.
“I was dead?”
“Yes,” Odu answered.
“You gave me my life back,” Omari said. “Why?”
“Kadira asked me.”
“Kadira belongs to you, too?”
“Yes, although she is not aware of it.”
Omari stood. He didn’t like belonging to anyone or anything, not even a beautiful goddess.
“Would you prefer I rescind my gift?” she asked.
“No, no!” Omari spat. He was trapped, in debt to a goddess. There was no way out of this one, which irritated him.
He sighed. “So what must I do?”
“Save my children, then wait for me to come to you again.”
"How long will that take?"
Odu smiled. "You will see."
Omari dropped his head. “So be it.”
Light flooded the room. Omari stood by the dead kandak, his sword and dagger in his hands. He sheathed them then collected the kandak's golden cap, medallion and one ear to prove the deed was done. He jammed the items in a pouch then secured it to his waist, his anger rising with each second. He didn't ask to be saved. He didn't ask for this mission. He didn't ask to be bound to a goddess. He picked up his hand cannon, reloaded it then stomped his way to the melee at the end of the hall. By the time he was in the hand cannon's effective range he was furious.