Queen Taifa rushed from the main room of her cabin on the Targon. Her Vizier had interrupted a meeting with the Ruling Council, ushering her to the foredeck. The savages had launched another attack and, somehow, they had gotten around the Chosen’s front lines.
It had become difficult, dealing with the Council. They knew the Chosen couldn’t defeat the savages through strength of arms, even with their Gifted, and they reminded Taifa that she had promised Dragons. The coterie were nearing the end of their work, but it galled Taifa, having to explain Gifted matters to the Council’s women.
The last few days of discussion had made Taifa want to force them to her will. She could rule by fiat, but that was not her way. She thought of herself as a leader who ruled with consent and compromise, but a good ruler would not have let her people come to this, fighting for survival beyond the edge of the known world.
She decided to take a firmer hand with the Council. They needed leadership, not discussion, not compromise. Wasn’t that how the military worked? Wasn’t that how wars were won? The Chosen were at war.
Thinking of the military pulled her thoughts to Tsiory. She hadn’t seen him since she’d told him she was forming the coterie. She couldn’t help thinking his absence was a punishment.
She wanted to order him back, but knew she wouldn’t. Doing that would violate the unspoken rules of their relationship. She was his Queen, but he was her lover. With him, she wasn’t looking for a subject. She wanted an equal. He couldn’t be that in public, but in private they could blur the lines.
He’s too stubborn, she thought, stepping onto the deck of the Targon. But, she wouldn’t have— Queen Taifa Omehia of the Chosen didn’t finish the thought. She was looking at her worst nightmare, made real.
The beach was overrun and savages were everywhere. She couldn’t understand how so many of them had gotten past their front lines. She couldn’t— a Chosen man died on the beach, his chest opened up by a heathen’s spear. She looked away from the gruesome scene and saw two women, two of her people, run down by the enemy.
“What happened?” she asked. Her Queen’s Guard, her Vizier, and her Ruling Council, trailing her, said nothing.
She heard a war cry and the thunder of hooves. It came from the far side of one of her broken ships, the ones foraged for wood and resources. From the ribs of the scavenged vessel pounded a dozen horses, ridden by a unit of Enraged Ingonyama.
Her heart stopped. Tsiory was leading them. Tsiory was Enraged.
“No,” she said, her voice a whisper.
The Ingonyama smashed into the thickest fighting and cleft through their enemies like a machete through grass. Savages scattered and died, but there were too few Ingonyama and too many savages.
“Gather the Gifted,” Queen Taifa told one of her messengers. “I want Enervators down there. Have them hit as many of the savages as they can. Bring the KaEid to me. We need the Dragons, now.”
The messenger, a Gifted Edifier, entered a trance and sent out the messages.
“Oh Goddess,” moaned Lady Panya as she took in the battle. “We’re undone.”
“Panya, you are a member of the Ruling Council,” Queen Taifa told the Royal-Noble without taking her eyes from Tsiory. “Carry yourself like one.” She couldn’t believe he was doing this to her. Every time he engaged the enemy she died a little. If he fell… “Where are the Enervators!” she yelled.
“There, Queen Taifa,” Lady Umi said, pointing with one of her long-fingered hands.
The Gifted were bunched up. Their positioning would reduce their effectiveness, but they were young, not fully trained. All her battle-tested Gifted were on the front lines. The same front lines that had been bypassed.
The Enervators tried to spread out, so they could do some good. Taifa saw the first few engage the enemy. They stood behind a wall of protective soldiers and raised their arms. Even from this distance, Taifa could see the wave of shimmering energy spring from their fingers and sweep towards the savages. The first heathens that were hit by the enervation dropped to their knees, helpless as Chosen soldiers fell on them.
Like all Gifted, Taifa had experienced the sting of enervation during her time as an initiate. She knew what it was like to be forced into Isihogo against your will, though she had never endured a demon’s assault, as these savages would. She leaned forward, distaste for her bloodlust warring with gratification, as she watched some of her enemies destroyed.
In the first days, after landfall, it had been the Enervators who had won the beach for the Chosen. The savages had not seen Gifts like these and didn’t know how to fight against them. It was different now. The savages, taught many deadly lessons, had proven clever students.
One of the savage war leaders split her fighters into several prongs and attacked that way. The young Enervators were inexperienced, scared. They splashed waves of enervation everywhere, often hitting their own men.
The Chosen soldiers, the ones not overcome by the savages’ numbers or incapacitated by the poorly aimed enervation, fought bravely and died badly. Half the Gifted in that skirmish, if Taifa had to guess, were killed when the savages’ counterattack broke through the protective wall of Indlovu soldiers.
Tsiory wasn’t faring much better. Most of the Ingonyama that had ridden out with him were dead and more savages spilled from the trees and onto the beach.
“Call for a surrender,” Lady Umi said. “It might not be too late.”
“We are Chosen,” Taifa said.
“We’ll all die.”
Without sparing her a glance, Taifa said, “Guards, place Nkosi Umi under arrest. Throw her in the ship’s prisons.”
Two of her guards grabbed the ancient Royal-Noble. Her eyes went wide with surprise.
“Are you mad?” Umi said, struggling against the iron grips of Taifa’s guard. “Queen Taifa, what is this? Are you so determined to rule over the end of your people.”
“Take her,” Taifa told the guards, letting her gaze flicker over the faces of the remaining members of the Ruling Council. The Council members remained impassive, but Taifa could tell her message had been received.
She returned her attention to the battle, despair ripping through her at a new threat. Savages had emerged from the tree line, riding massive beasts. The beasts were blue-skinned, tusked, horned, and they moved about on six tree-trunk thick legs.
“What on Osonte are those?” said Panya, her face filled with fear.
“Don’t do it,” whispered Taifa to the battlefield, to the Goddess, to Tsiory. “Please, don’t.”
Tsiory and his remaining Ingonyama charged.
“Queen Taifa,” said the KaEid, the leader of Taifa’s Gifted. She was out of breath. She had been running with four other Gifted. They must have run the entire way. “We’re ready.”
Taifa wasn’t listening. She watched the charge, saw the collision of horse and horror-beast, Ingonyama and savage. The nearest soldiers, both the gray-uniformed Ihashe and the larger black-garbed Indlovu joined the fight.
Swords flickered, flesh and bone broke, men died, and their blood filthied the sands of this alien shore. The few Gifted near the fight, low-level Entreaters, did what they could. They grabbed hold of the minds of the six-legged beasts, turning them against their riders and the other savages.
The creatures bucked their riders, goring and trampling the tattooed men and women around them. They stampeded, breaking the savages’ war formations and giving Tsiory’s Ingonyama brief reprieve. Still, the enemy were too numerous and Taifa could do nothing but watch as Tsiory fought and fought, until he took a horrible cut and went down.
“The Dragons, my Queen,” said the KaEid.
“We call to them,” Taifa ordered, weak with worry as she flung her soul to Isihogo, latching onto the KaEid and the rest of the Hex. As one, they sent out the distress call and, a breath later, she felt the Dragons stir and take flight.
Hurry, she thought to herself. Hurry.
Tsiory was back on his feet. She wished she could see him more clearly. Hurry. Was that blood on his face?
A savage, riding one of the six-legged monsters, threw a spear, bone-white and long-hafted, at Tsiory. He slapped the projectile away with his sword and stabbed the monster in its foremost leg. It reared, almost throwing its rider. When it came down, he severed the rider’s leg below the knee. A savage behind Tsiory stabbed for his spine. Taifa screamed, close to coming undone with worry, but one of Tsiory’s Ingonyama knocked the attack wide and chopped the offender in half.
Hurry. In her mind, Taifa could feel wings beating through the thick and hot air. She could feel the Dragon’s blazing anger, its worry, its bitter hate. Hurry.
In Isihogo, where half her mind was, she saw the dim glow of a shrouded soul. It was not one of her Gifted. It was a savage, drawing energy to bring to bear on the battlefield. Using her real body, her real eyes, Taifa searched for the Gifted heathen. She found him. He was just inside the tree line, not too far from where Tsiory fought. The heathen aimed his hands at the battle and the savages doubled in number.
Seeing this, Lady Panya fainted and one of Taifa’s guards, breaching protocol, shouted in surprise. Taifa blamed neither. She had never seen such a powerful Gift. It had created new life, new warriors to fight for her enemies. The battle was lost. They could not win against so many.
“There!” It was the same guard. Taifa looked where he pointed. One of the Enraged Ingonyama was slashing at the savages around him, his massive sword tearing through the hordes in front of him, like they were nothing but air.
Taifa closed her eyes, blocking out the things her senses told her, so she could see with her soul. She ignored the world and pressed more of herself into Isihogo. The Gifted savage was there. He was pulling incredible amounts of energy and his shroud was near to collapsing. She couldn’t wait for that.
It would have been impossible for any in her Hex, for any of her Gifted, but Taifa was of royal blood and it was not impossible for her. She split her mind in three, one-third in Uhmlaba, watching the battle, one-third continuing the call to the Dragon in flight, and the last third she used to attack the savage.
She drew more energy into herself and took aim. Across the distance, through Isihogo’s mists, she fired. Her bolt burning a path through the underworld’s fog like a comet streaking across the night sky. It struck the shrouded savage and, before he could react, expelled him from Isihogo, his link to the energies there broken.
Taifa heard shouts and gasps from the people around her. She opened her eyes. The illusions had vanished, and the savages that remained were real, flesh and blood, but there were still too many.
On the sands, she saw Tsiory stab one of the many-legged beasts. He killed its fallen rider and had to leap aside to avoid being trampled by the rampaging animal. An Ingonyama, along with three Indlovu soldiers, attacked the creature. It succumbed to their assault, collapsing, shuddering, still.
Tsiory yelled something to his men. They were about to be surrounded. He was telling them to retreat. If they could get to the ships, they might be able to reorganize.
A group of savages attacked. Tsiory fought them off, still yelling orders. He was hit once, twice, a few more times and then he did something Taifa would not forgive for the rest of her days. He severed his connection to his Gifted and lost the enraging.
Taifa knew he did this to save the Gifted. She had seen him take blow after blow. She knew the enormous amounts of energy the Gifted would have needed to pull from Isihogo to keep Tsiory safe. She knew he’d saved his Gifted’s life, when he cut the connection, and she didn’t care.
Tsiory took a spear through the back. Taifa screamed as it went in and was still screaming when the head of the spear burst through his chest and leather armor. Taifa saw the look of surprise on her lover’s face, saw it turn to pain. She saw him fall, mouth open and gasping for air that his torn lungs could no longer breathe.
The spear was ripped free and he looked, she swore he looked right at her. She watched him fall, fall onto this cursed lands’ unnaturally white sand.
Dimly, Taifa knew she had not stopped screaming, but that part of her felt far away when compared to the overwhelming presence of the Dragon that had come into her range. She merged with it.Get the Book or Continue to Part 4