A twinge of pain echoed across his mouth as Dauntasi nervously bit his bottom lip. The soft pink flesh would soon be torn to bits if he continued pressing down any harder. This was the worst possible time for him to be feeling skittish, but old habits died hard. His former Shehu, Foukaru, would often chastise him about it. It was his tell, a clear sign that his mind wasn't entirely focused on the task at hand.
The blistering heat didn't help to ease his wandering mind either. The sun was exceptionally cruel today, peppering scorching rays at everything under its watchful gaze. Thick beads of sweat trickled down Dauntasi's strong mahogany skin forming slick pools in his pores. It was only noon, and he was already beginning to sweat through his bright red shuka. Draped over Dauntasi's right shoulder, the cotton fabric sizzled with heat as a probing finger touched it.
Though he was hidden safely, up high in the tallest of acacia trees, its lush green leaves failed to provide much relief from the sun. The dry season in the savanna had just begun, meaning no one would be spared from the heat. Light jingling was heard as Dauntasi's head swayed from side to side, the small, golden, metallic cuffs, in his long black dreadlocks, grazing one another as he furiously rubbed his face. Multiple droplets of greasy sweat had drizzled into his almond-brown eyes, much to his annoyance..
As his eyelids slowly fluttered back open, Dauntasi peered towards the shrubbery of tall elephant grass down below him. Dense, massive clumps of grass hid warriors who lurked behind their cover. A platoon of Adwene soldiers crouched low in between the large blades of grass. As best as the twenty-one year old could tell, there were about three dozen men present. Their hands gripped a variety of weapons: spears, bows, arrows, and swords, but truth be told – they didn't need them.
The Adwene were telekinetics or as so many other tribes called them – Psikala. That alone made them one of the most feared and revered tribes in all of Jarin. But their strength wasn't what they were most lauded for; it was their immense wealth. They hoarded riches, and the bars of gold they allegedly buried in the Visoke mountains were the source of many a griots tale.
The Adwene were usually adorned in gaudy bangles of thick gold, the kind so rich and pure it could fetch a king's ransom at the markets of Maem. Their distinctly patterned and colorful Kente cloths were the highlight of any room they stepped into. The Adwene could never be inconspicuous even if they tried. If not their flashy jewelry or style of dress, the ambrosial scents of their perfumes easily distinguished them. But today, none of their traditional opulence was on display, and they had been stripped down to the barest of minimums.
The men prowling the grass below were dressed in green bakatari's, their shade mirroring the locale around them. Their usually bright ankara shorts were the darkest hue of black. The garden print on them could barely be seen. On the tips of their sandals, they crouched, and the looks on their faces reflected Dauntasi's anxiousness.
Most of the platoon was much older than Dauntasi, and the creased lines on their hardened faces instantly gave away their age. Greying beards hung wildly on dark wrinkled skin. Smooth bald heads glistened under the beaming sunlight for all to see, shiny and lathered with the purest oils. These men belonged back home in their villages doing administrative duties, not on the battlefield. But that wasn't Dauntasi's call to make.
He'd been hired as a mercenary, and his opinion mattered little to his employer.
The only thing his employer had listened to him about was the strategy that they had enacted today. Back at their camp, three nights ago, the Adwene had received a tip that the Otjina tribe would be using this route on their march towards Adweneland. Bordered by the Visoke mountains, Adweneland was the ancestral homeland of the Adwene people. Lush green forests blanketed their vast lands with trees so tall and wide; they were rumored to have been planted by the Gods themselves. Dauntasi had never laid eyes on Adweneland, but his tongue had been doused in the crisp wines that their vineyards produced.
With their riches and the seemingly endless number of blessings that the gods had bestowed upon the Adwene, it was easy to see why the Otjina wanted to attack them. In Jarin, jealously and contempt were the most common reasons for warfare. One tribe was always attacking another for reasons Dauntasi didn't care to wrack his brain about. The Adwene's war with the Otjina was still fresh, having only begun mere weeks ago. Previously, the Adwene and the Otjina had an amicable relationship.
History was far from Dauntasi's favorite subject. In fact, schooling, in general, was something he found bothersome, not that he could afford it in during his adolescence anyways. But the Adwene had drummed the history of their tribe into his mind the same way his father loved to drum his djembe during local festivities. For generations, the Otjina had been the vassals of the Adwene. In times that were now long forgotten by the Otjina, their small tribe had required protection from the larger, more vicious tribes in Jarin.
The Otjina had cried for the Adwene's help, their ancient chieftain groveling on the marble floor of the Adwehene's palace as he begged. Or so the tale went. From that moment on, the Otjina had forever sworn fealty to the Adwene. But the recent death of the previous Otjina chieftain had brought about swift and rapid change. His young son and sole heir to the throne had taken reign of the tribe, and he was no longer content with the ancient pact.
His disposition was a violent one, calling for an immediate end to the terms of their former agreement. The Otjina had followed their chieftain's call to arms raising their weapons alongside his. The flames of war were first stoked when the Otjina massacred a group of innocent Adwene traders who were supposed to have been safe in the lands of their allies. The Adwehene was furious when word of the slaughter reached the palace. He immediately sent a scouting party along with a messenger to get to the bottom of the matter.
But upon the scouting party's arrival in the Otjina's barren lands, they were ambushed. The scouts were completely butchered before they even met with the Otjina chieftain. Their gruesome corpses were strewn across withering pastures and left for vultures to devour. The only communication the Adwene received came in the form of their ensanguined messenger's head, which was hung on a decaying tree near their borders. From that point on, the time for amends was over, and war was declared.
There was a massive discrepancy regarding the sizes of the two tribes. The Adwene had nearly triple the population of the Otjina. There was a reason the Adwene were counted among the Mafifichi, the five great tribes of Jarin. But in truth, the luster and shine of the Adwene name had dwindled considerably. The Otjina's recent uprising was proof of that.
Success had nurtured complacency amongst the Adwene people. The Adwehene still ruled, but in truth, lethargy was their crowned king. Their once fearsome warrior caste had grown old, and their young successors were unproven in these recent times of peace. It was part of the reason why Dauntasi had even been hired for this job - the Adwene needed the extra muscle. He counted his lucky stars that this job had fortunately fallen into place for him.
But as Dauntasi mused on his thoughts, the hazy outline of something large loomed in the distance of the sizzling savanna. Dauntasi's eyes narrowed, his neck straining as he leaned against a thick tree branch in support of a better view. The mercenary's eyebrows rose alarmingly, crinkles on his forehead forming as he saw what it was. Elephants! Large regal elephants.
One by one, they slowly came into proper view, each trudging along like a young child straggling after their mother. The grass was flattened as they walked, massive feet weaving a trail of destruction behind them. Their raucous trumpeting echoed loudly, slicing through the still air and awaking birds from their nests. They were breathtaking creatures, but Dauntasi could ill afford to be distracted now.
His enemies had finally arrived.
The Adwene soldiers down below stirred, shifting in the grass as they tactfully moved to examine their combatants more closely. Atop the elephant's midsections, in tall Howdahs that were as white as ivory, sat the Otjina warriors. The rectangular stone Howdahs were only large enough to fit two men inside, but a third tribesman sat mere inches away from the ears of each elephant, hands outstretched as they steered them. Large thick brown ropes were knotted tightly underneath to keep each Howdah in place as the elephants proceeded forward. There were roughly forty men in total.
Dark burgundy paint as red as sickly blood was outlined in the shape of a giant gecko on the sides of each elephant. Dauntasi quickly deduced that was the sigil of their tribe. Every tribe, regardless of their size or notoriety, had one; the Gods mandated it. The Adwene sigil was a dark gold ring with an interlocking spider web which, under normal circumstances, would have been displayed proudly on a flag at the front of their platoon. But subtlety was of the essence today, and the Otjina were not supposed to be aware of the looming attack.
As the elephants continued to saunter forward, Dauntasi noticed that one man, in particular, seemed to be directing the march. A long, skinny, chestnut-colored finger was outstretched, pointing at something far in the distance that Dauntasi couldn't discern. Orders were barked in an unfamiliar language. This was not Yare, the common language that all men spoke. The words appeared to be harsh, judging from the scornful reaction of the Otjina soldiers, but the language sounded soft and soothing like light drops of rain on a canopy.
Dauntasi sighed frustratedly, as he wished he could understand what was being said, or at least read the lips of the man who was uttering them. But unfortunately, the man in question was covered from the nose down. A pecan brown pelt, made from the hide of an animal, hung loosely from his body. From his nose to his elbows, it stretched, partially covering his torso but leaving a clear view of his chiseled abdomen. The pelt was frayed and tattered, having seen far better days but was worn with immense pride by its owner.
None of the other Otjina soldiers wore coverings or shirts for that matter. Their bare skins, which ranged from amber to ebony tones, glistened with sweat, helping to outline the shapes of their hardened muscles. Red loincloths that were barely above the knee were worn by all the warriors. Their heads were shaved on all sides, save for a single large braid which extended to the backs of their skulls. And some men, more than others, had skins that were tinged with red giving them a deep ruddy color.
Dauntasi wanted to inspect them further but was forced to give pause as the parade of elephants suddenly came to a halt. What's going on? Dauntasi thought to himself as he watched one of the elephant riders slither off his animal. It was the rider on the left side of the short man who was currently barking out orders. He was tall, brawny, and brutish. In comparison to the rest of his tribe, he was a veritable giant. The other warriors were slender and fit, but he built like a slab of stone.
The beefy man strolled forward, head darting around with the keenest of black-onyx eyes, scrutinizing his surroundings. The Adwene choked their weapons tighter and tighter with every massive step the man took. He covered ground quickly, and before they knew it, he was a mere eighty yards away from their platoon. The profuse sweat on their skin was thick as oil as they wordlessly tried to communicate with one another. The slightest bit of incorrect movement would give away their position, and that could not be afforded.
Dauntasi's throat ran dry as the giant of a man abruptly stopped and cocked his head, glaring at the largest acacia tree in the savanna. The same acacia tree Dauntasi was laying in. Acacia trees were sprinkled throughout the savanna, of all differing shapes and sizes, but this specific acacia tree was by far the largest. It loomed over the nearby grass and cast a daunting shadow under its umbrella. Dauntasi had done his best to remain hidden in the tree's feather-like leaves, his body stiffening in place once the Otjina soldiers had come into view.
If he had somehow been spotted, then this man had the eyes of the Goddess B'adug. The man's gaze remained firm, glaring with such ferocious intensity that Dauntasi briefly considered leaping out from his cover and attacking him now. But oddly, the man suddenly resigned, and with the quick flip of his hips, he was on his way to once again join his troop. Sighs of relief washed over the Adwene as the man climbed aboard his elephant, but Dauntasi couldn't mirror their emotion. The hairs on his skin were now raised, and bells of cautious alarm were ringing.
He knows where I am, I'm sure of it! So why is he playing this –
Dauntasi's thoughts were interrupted as an eagle suddenly zoomed by; it's majestic wings flapping at a speed that shouldn't have been possible. His eyes watched curiously as it landed on the wrist of that very same Otjina soldier. The bird's bushy black head shook as it opened it's beak and screeched. It continued to do so several times. The soldier leaned over with an attentive ear, listening to the sounds, and he seemingly understood what was being said.
After about two more screeches, the bird finally stopped. It was at that moment when Dauntasi realized something was terribly wrong. Grating, rapid, shouts were suddenly blared in that strange language of theirs as the Otjina commander quickly directed his squadron. Before Dauntasi or any of the Adwene soldiers could react, the herd of elephants was stampeding towards them. Loud, angry cursing was heard from the Adwene men as they rose from their crouched positions and rushed into battle, speeding through the towering grass.
The first wave of the Adwene platoon met the elephants halfway. Their faces were fraught with fear, eyes widening to the size of calabash bowls as they came ever closer to the behemoths. As they drew nearer and nearer, it seemed that they would be casually crushed under the feet of the elephants and be left as nothing more than crumpled pieces of flesh on the battlefield. But miraculously, the elephant's charge was stopped in mid-air.
A seemingly invisible force slammed against the elephants. Their trouts flailed wildly as they thrashed angrily. At least a third of the elephant riders were thrust from their seats as that imperceptible force grew stronger, actually managing to shove some of the elephants back. Dauntasi's mouth hung agape, blinking in disbelief as he watched ten Adwene soldiers perform the feat. He'd seen brief displays of their power before but nothing on this grand of a scale.
The Adwene men strained, veins bulging in their polished bald heads, as they struggled to keep the elephants in place. A feat like this was surely depleting their Nyama in droves – they needed to move to the offensive quickly. They were forced to, rather than by choice, as the elephant riders who were knocked down to the ground regained themselves and charged with the anger of a stampeding bull. Their hands held no weapons, but fearlessly, they marched onwards to assured deaths, and like blurs, the Adwene men from the left flank moved to greet them.
Dauntasi expected to see the air filled with crimson, and it was, but it was the blood of the Adwene men instead. They were chopped down instantly, their heads loosening from their shoulders as misty geysers of dark scarlet painted the once lush green grass. With a plop, their heads rolled, dilating pupils taking their last glimpses of the world. Dauntasi was stunned as he softly rustled in the tree. It shouldn't have been possible; they hadn't even drawn a blade! But it was then that he saw it.
As the Adwene bodies slumped to the ground, Dauntasi was given view of the energy that danced on their fingers. It was Nyama, that much was clear, but its hue was strikingly unfamiliar. It was dark purple, almost the shade of eggplant. Nyama was the energy that every tribe harnassed for their abilities. The Adwene's Nyama was a clear white, appearing almost invisible to the naked and untrained eye. Nyama came in a multiplicity of colors, and Dauntasi was fortunate to have seen their variances on his travels throughout Jarin, but this purple was completely foreign to his eyes.
The Otjina warriors fashioned it into the shape of a claw, and as Dauntasi's gaze lingered, it dawned on him that it resembled the eagle's claw that had sped by earlier. The next group of Adwene men was more cautious in their approach. They chose wisely to remain at a distance and attacked with weapons that were propelled at their enemies by means of levitation. Some made it further than others, but they were all sliced into iron fragments before any real damage could be done. But in the process of doing that, they failed to notice the web of cracks forming underneath their feet.
The earth was torn asunder, grass, and dirt uprooted, as the ground underneath the Otjina warrior's feet began to cave inwardly. Terror sucked the breaths from their lungs. The men tried to scream, but not a peep was heard as their ebony skins disappeared into the uneven soil. A tidal wave of anger washed over the remaining riders, causing most of them to leap off their elephants and jump into the fray. But oddly, their commander remained seated on his steed, unflinching even as Adwene soldiers continued to telekinetically apply pressure to his elephant. Like a monsoon, the sweat from the Adwene warrior's skins was showering the grass around them, and Dauntasi was unsure how long they would be able to remain steadfast.
The Otjina riders moved with surprising speed, blitzing the Adwene men who had attacked from the left flank. Dauntasi's eyes had trouble keeping up with their pace as their blurs of a body zipped through through the grass. It was a beautiful but grotesque dance, and Adwene body parts fell wherever their attackers strode. A pair of gouged eyes here, a severed arm there - it was a gory sight that was enough to bring bile to a man's mouth. Blood rained without discretion, dampening the ground, and adding a slippery texture to it.
A grim scowl spread across Dauntasi's face as he deliberated what to do. The Adwene's strategy was contingent on secrecy, particularly his secrecy. Originally, this was supposed to have been a quick and efficient ambush, but things had taken a turn for the worse. The Otjina had no knowledge of his involvement in their dispute, nor were they aware of his abilities. The Adwene had planned on springing him loose during a crucial moment of the battle.
He wasn't supposed to act until he was signaled for, or it was deemed that his services were necessary. But as he watched the Adwene men get torn through like chaff in the wind, he sincerely questioned that plan. He had helped to devise it but was forced to admit that it hadn't been the wisest in hindsight. If he didn't act soon, there would be no one left to even fight for. Dauntasi readied himself, strengthing his resolve as he prepared to descend into the conflict, but was waved off by the Adwene Asafohene, whose quick icy glare told him "not yet."
Dauntasi froze in place, not understanding why, but complied as he retracted back into the maze of tree branches. The Asafohene was the captain of the platoon. His features fondly reminded Dauntasi of his father. Togbe was tall, slim as sugar cane, with gangly arms that dangled by his sides as he walked. But most of all, he was dark.
He was a shade of dark that could only be produced by years of hard labor under the sun. The Asafohene was by far the oldest man on the battlefield. His speckled gray beard quivered in the wind as he dashed to meet incoming attackers. Four Otjina warriors charged at a blistering pace, and for a moment, Dauntasi's blood ran cold as they circled the Asafohene. Unlike the other Adwene, Togbe had treated him with the utmost respect, rather than a sellsword who could be bought by the highest bidder.
Dauntasi preferred that he didn't die.
There wasn't an ounce of fear in Togbe's eyes, even as the four Otjina warriors pounced on him in unison. They sprang at the Asafohene but were tossed into one another as Togbe used his telekinesis to redirect their attacks. As they lay sprawled on the ground, Togbe quickly attacked before they could compose themselves. Loud gurgling noises erupted from the Otjina men's throats once The Aasfohene began to clench and unclench his hands.
The veins in his neck swelled, and even from a distance up high in the acacia tree, Dauntasi could see the stress he was putting on his body. Ruby red rivulets of blood ran down the Otjina soldiers now pale faces. Their bodies convulsed, twitching violently, like lightning was surging through their bones. They spoke no dying words as their windpipes were brutally crushed. And with that, the Adwene captain dropped to a knee, taking weary breaths as he tried to steady himself.
He wasn't as young as he used to be, and exploits like that drained his Nyama quicker than he liked to admit. But the Asafohene couldn't rest for too long, the battle was still raging, and the Otjina surged around his men with renewed vigor. Violent skirmishes broke out across the savanna. The Otjina men worked to separate the Adwene soldiers from one another. Their telekinesis was powerful, but their abilities worked best in conjunction with one another, and they had to thin the Adwene wall, which was still holding so many of their warriors in place.
The Adwene's telekinesis offered an abundance of techniques and possibilities, but there was a glaring weakness that Dauntasi was increasingly noticing. The larger the feat was, the larger the output of Nyama had to be. The output of that much Nyama required great strain and concentration, a concentration that their enemies wouldn't allow them. Dauntasi could now see the Adwene slowly beginning to falter under the brunt of their enemies attacks. It wouldn't be much longer until the Adwene men, who were at the forefront holding the elephants back, gave into exhaustion.
Togbe did his best to assist his fellow soldiers. He had since recovered from his earlier scuffle and was bolting through Otjina warrior's one by one. He used his telekinesis proficiently, applying it in the most subtle of ways. Stronger shows of force, such as merely crushing enemy windpipes, would exhaust him once more. Togbe smartly used the terrain to his advantage and undercut his opponent's footing before they could properly engage him.
Once they lost stable ground, the Asafohene surgically slit their throats with a sword that he'd plucked from the corpse of one of his fallen brethren. The Otjina commander couldn't help but take note as his men fell by Togbe's hands. His expressionless magenta eyes burned with anger as they narrowed. As that quiet rage boiled beneath his skin, he summoned a profound strength that Dauntasi didn't know he had.
The Otjina commander suddenly roared off his elephant. The telekinetic pressure banging against him didn't seem to phase him one bit as he casually shrugged it off. A poor Adwene soldier was instantly flattened as the Otjina commander landed atop him. Panicked, worried, looks were shared by the rest of the Adwene men who were detaining the elephants. They were spurred into action once the Otjina commander set his sights on them.
The nearest Adwene soldier attempted to engage the Otjina commander, releasing his grip on an elephant as he turned to face him. But before he could even blink, his neck was ripped from his shoulders by a punch that sent his head soaring into a cloudless sky. The Adwene soldiers watched, horrified, as blood began to spurt everywhere, and before their brethren's head could even land, the commander was on the move again. This time on his left, he struck.
An Adwene soldier was punched was such force that his legs collapsed beneath him. Luckily for him, though, no body parts were severed this time, but jets of blood squirted from his ears as his head crashed into the ground. Otjina warriors began to descend from their Howdahs, adding to the chaos as Adwene warriors lost their bout against exhaustion. The Adwene line of defense was crumbling almost as fast as it had been arranged, and as Togbe used his wrist to wipe his temples, he saw the last of his men at the forefront perish.
The Otjina commander screamed in that foreign language of theirs as he urged his men forward, leading the charge. The Adwene warriors did their best to keep them at bay. Several Otjina soldiers were flung back by telekinetic blasts, which sent them tumbling. But the speed and the almost overwhelming strength of the Otjina was too much to bear. The Adwene fought valiantly but were losing ground and bodies.
Realizing something had to done quickly, Togbe set his eyes on the Otjina commander, who had just finished gutting a nearby Adwene soldier. He sprinted as fast as his weary legs would take him, using his telekinesis to chart a clear trail to his destination. Otjina and Adwene warriors were both victims of his warpath as they were haphazardly propelled out of the way. The Asafohene nearly caught the Otjina commander off guard but missed, as the commander ducked underneath his sword's slice.
Togbe was, in turn, met with a kick that squeezed the air from his windpipes. The Asafohene was sure he'd felt bones snap under the weight of such force. He endured the pain and attacked again, this time using his telekinesis to grab his enemies throat. Togbe knew he didn't have much Nyama left but was willing to use it all on this final attack if meant defeating a foe like this. He tried to apply pressure to the telekinetic hold but suddenly froze as he felt something tear through his flesh.
His vision became blurry, hands shaking uncontrollably, as he looked down and saw a gaping hole, fresh with oozing blood in his chest. Togbe didn't know how or why it happened, and before he could utter any final words, the world tilted on its axis. He collapsed in a bloody heap, taking the Adwene's hopes for winning this battle along with him as he died. The Asafohene couldn't have predicted the attack from his rear that had taken him down.
The Otjina commander leaned over, slowly massaging his aching throat as he thanked the soldier that had just saved him. It had been the same Otjina warrior who had earlier gone to scout the area. As they exchanged pleasantries, it was then that Dauntasi struck. No signal was needed now; the Asafohene was dead. He leaped from the acacia tree, parachuting down into an unsuspecting battlefield. It seemed even some Adwene soldiers had forgotten about his presence as they gazed skyward at his descent.
With a hard thud, the mercenary landed in a handstand. Two bloodsoaked Otjina warriors dashed to seize him but were cut down as spikes projected from his shins. His legs twisted like a whirlwind, hacking away at the men's throats as he glided through the grass. Their bodies dropped, cueing him to stop. Dauntasi flipped onto his feet and realized he was surrounded.
The Otjina circled around him like hyenas, the bloodlust gleaming in their magenta eyes as they bared snarling teeth. Dauntasi couldn't help but laugh at the situation, a wry smile wiggling onto his face. He let them draw closer, inching towards him until they were in arms reach. Punches, kicks, and claws, all sailed towards his body but were parried by bones that suddenly emerged from all over his skin.
Out of Dauntasi's pores, the bones rose. They were white as snow, thick as bricks, sharp as stalagmite, and encased the mercenary's entire being. His assailants backed far away, their eyebrows arching high with worry. Their reaction was typical; Dauntasi had seen it numerous times before. It was an unusual ability, even in a fantastical land like Jarin.
With fear still gripping his opponent's hearts, Dauntasi took the opportunity to strike. He struck at the enemy closest to him and lunged with a jagged fist at his stomach. But the Otjina warrior wouldn't die without a whimper and threw a fist of his own in retaliation. His skin was bitterly torn through as his knuckles contacted Dauntasi's protruding bones. What was even worse was the fact that the bones didn't break, they scraped the remaining skin from his fist in anguishing slices.
The Otjina soldier crumpled to the ground, waving his bleeding stump of a hand like the wind would soothe it. His frightened eyes were finally closed as Dauntasi graciously slit his throat, and fresh blood stained his chalk-white bones. If there was anything the mercenary hated the most about his powers, it was the mess they created. As he wiped the blood clean, he crossed gazes with the Otjina commander.
Dauntasi expected his eyes to bubble with rage at the loss of another life, but they didn't. His enemy's eyes conveyed nothing. They were blank, expressionless, orbs that only began to blink once Dauntasi stampeded towards him. The mercenary braced himself for what was sure to be an epic confrontation but stopped on his heels as he saw the Otjina commander frantically motioning his hands towards his troop. Words didn't need to be spoken for Dauntasi to recognize what was occurring; they were retreating.