Thursday, 31 October 2013

Read Chapter One of Outcast, Sacred Amulet Series


Outcast

Sacred Amulet, part one

       Kiru Taye

  

Chapter 1 Excerpt


 
 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and

incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are

used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any

resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or

persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

 

Outcast

Copyright© 2013 Kiru Taye

 

Editor: Kristie L. McKinley

Cover artist: Mina Carter

 

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be used

or reproduced electronically or in print without written

permission, except in the case of brief quotations

embodied in reviews.

KT Press



 

Chapter One


 

Help me...Do whatever it takes...Keep the gates of Alammuo sealed.

Darkness tugged at him and threatened to pull him into its murky depths. With a jerk, Ebube sat up on his pallet. The creaking wood and thumping of his heart echoed in his acutely responsive ears.

Danger seeped from the nightmare he couldn’t remember into the air, leaden and oppressive. His breath heaved as he choked, his throat clogged with the fetid stench of death.

On reflex, he extended his right arm, grabbing the scabbard he always kept within reach, the pitch shadow no hindrance for his sharp eyesight. As a leopard-shifter, his vision was excellent, night and day. He didn't need to look at his hands to see the extended claws. Sharp tips dug into his palm. He ignored the sting and his awkward grip on the carved wooden hilt of the single edge sword.

His beast came to the fore, clawing to take over, an instinctive response to potential threats. Muscles tensed, Ebube fought the shift. Sweat streaked down his body in rivulets. He swiped his face with his left palm, stopping the liquid from dripping into his eyes.

Sweeping his gaze across the large, airy chamber of his sparsely-decorated home, he sought the source of danger setting off his internal alarm.

Apart from the raised bamboo sleeping platform covered in padded deer hide and the wooden trunk that stored his personal belongings, the only other items were his tools of warfare – his spears, shields, machetes and scabbards. They hung on the single-rung mantel against the burnt-umber rock wall, gleaming with polish and sharpness, ready for use.  Undisturbed.

A tingle ran up his spinal column, the way it always did when he sensed something out of place. Something terribly wrong. He swung his legs around. Cool unglazed stone flooring met his bare feet. The muscles on his back tensed, primed for action. Slowly, he stood to his full height and walked through the room.

His home consisted of two chambers, one for sleeping and the other for entertaining guests. Though as a guardian, a special warrior of the gods, he could live as luxuriously as the gods did, they had agreed communally to live as simply as humans of the era so as not to draw attention to themselves as supernatural beings.

Nothing was out of place in his rooms, no stray, malevolent being in the vicinity. Yet the tingling in his bones didn't dissipate. When he found nothing inside, he grabbed the wooden knob, opened the door and walked onto the corridor linking his residence to the rest of his family's. Their homes were hewn out of Amauwa rocks, a hill range in the middle of the rain forest.

He stopped in front of the last house, the tension on his shoulders increasing. Nothing lurked inside it, living or inanimate. Yet the memory of the previous occupant flooded his mind, hitting him low in the abdomen, spreading pain through his body. Gritting his teeth, he shook his head and turned his back to the building and its unwelcome memories.

Outside the tunnel, a tenebrous cloud obscured the moon. The dark grey eastern horizon indicated the approaching dawn.

He tilted his head backward and sniffed the air. The scent of morning dew—cut grass, upturned earth and ripe fruits—drifted in the light breeze.

 A patch of clearing formed a courtyard, the wind ruffling the leaves of the ugu plants on his mother's vegetable garden to the left. Tall palm and coconut trees lined the end of the glade.

The prickling sensation increased. Around him nothing stirred for a moment. Not a leaf in the trees or grass on the earth. In the tomblike stillness, cold shivers travelled down his spine.

Death had visited someone tonight.

Strange. Impossible. Shaking his head, he dispelled the sense of gloom washing over him.

All Ure guardians were part-human, part-god; the seeds of liaisons between gods and humans when the deities walked the earth, before the separation of realms. So while they all had some powers of gods, they were limited by the susceptibilities of humans.

As demi-gods, the guardians had been granted immortality by the Celestia god council. They could live on the earth realm forever. Life was sacred. Crossing over was only allowed after permission had been granted and a special ritual performed.

Deciding to investigate, Ebube walked the outer perimeter. As gatekeepers of the earth and spirit realm, they lived peacefully, for the most part. Crime was a rarity, the punishment for an offense harsh and instantaneous. No one wanted to be locked away in Alammuo for eternity. Without parole.

In recent weeks there'd been a spate of unusual incidents–unruly children fighting, things going missing, someone getting stabbed accidently.

Ikenga, their leader, had seen all the events as an omen of something bad on the way. He’d instructed everyone to become extra vigilant, to be on the alert for more strange occurrences. He’d also ordered extra patrols at night.

 Ebube didn’t have to. Still, he wouldn’t be able to sleep again if he returned indoor. He had to check out his suspicion in case something had gone wrong.

A single widened pathway ran through the centre of the settlement, joining the smaller footpaths leading to more homes carved out of the mountain. His ability to perceive auras indicated their occupants slept peacefully.

The branches and leaves of the trees swayed in the pre-dawn breeze. He smelt rain in the air. It was getting closer and would pour down before the sun rose high in the sky.

At the square, a clearing used for gatherings as well as on market days, he met Onorue, a fellow warrior and chief sentinel, striding towards him from the opposite end.

"Ututu oma," they greeted each other.

"I didn’t realize you were also on duty this morning," Onorue said as they grasped each other’s arms. The best of friends, they had grown up and trained together. Onorue was only slightly shorter than Ebube. While Ebube was known for his speed and agility in battle, Onorue was reputed for his strength and ferocity.

The closest person to a brother Ebube had given that his own blood sibling had turned rogue. Hot fury sliced through him.

No. I no longer have a blood brother.

Taking a deep breath, Ebube swallowed the growl bubbling in his belly and calmed his body before he spoke.

"I had an uneasy night and woke up sensing danger. I decided to check it out. Have you seen anything strange tonight?"

Ebube was glad his voice was even, hiding the troubling thoughts in his mind. If Onorue probed him, the shape shifter wouldn’t be able to hide the truth from his friend.

"I haven’t seen anything," his friend said. "We are all alert tonight. Ominous clouds have blocked out the moon for most of the night, something unseen until now.  Even Ikenga came out for a stroll before settling back in his hut."

"In which case, we must remain on guard. I’ll join you in the patrol and hopefully we're just being overly cautious and it’s nothing to worry about."

He joined Onorue and they traversed the boundaries and tunnels, his eyes searching the darkness for anything out of position, his senses honed to pick up the slightest displacement in the atmosphere. They accounted for every guard on duty.

"When the morning breaks, we'll go and see Ikenga," Ebube said. "Something big is about to happen." If it hasn't happened already.

Onorue nodded. "I agree. We need to prepare for whatever lies ahead."

Fat rain drops battered his bare skin, his feet squelched in muddy earth, reminding him he'd left his home without footwear or clothing apart from the loincloth he slept in.

Ebube returned to his chambers. After lighting a wicker lamp, he flung a drying linen and fresh clothes over his shoulder. He carried the items down the stone steps leading to the washroom.

At the bottom, light reflected off the small clear pool and the gentle lapping sound of water echoed off the limestone walls of the cavern. An underground river had been funneled into channels, flowing into individually carved-out basins to form bathing pools. The overflow from each pool washed down another tunnel sluicing all the effluence into a latrine. Each family quarter had a bathroom similar to this.

He placed the lamp and his clothes on a raised rock, stripped off before walking into the pool large enough to accommodate two people

In the middle, the water reached his hips. He scrubbed his body with the black molded soap and dipped in the pool to wash it off. Urgency stopped him from lingering. He stepped out of the water, dried his body with the linen and dressed without delay.

In the corridor at the top of the bathroom, his sister Oma greeted him. As the guardian of light, she was delicate, graceful and radiated positivity. Yet this morning her usual glow dimmed, a frown creasing her ethereal face.

His body tensed with concern. Though they'd accepted it as fate, their family still hadn’t recovered from losing a sibling. This made him more overprotective of his sister.

"I saw the light and knew you were downstairs and decided to wait for you," she said in a soft voice.

"What worries you this early morning, Oma?" he asked.

"I didn’t sleep well last night," she replied. "I had a strange dream that I can’t interpret and seem to have woken up feeling depressed this morning."

She shook her head as if to dispel the sensation. "I just don’t understand it."

Her words set alarm bells off within his mind. It was one thing for him to sense that something was wrong.  He was a warrior, naturally sensitive and suspicious. But when his sister sensed similar things, then it was no longer just a hunch. It was reality. Something bad had already happened. It would soon become obvious.

"Last night I didn’t sleep properly either," he said. "I’m getting ready to see Ikenga this morning. Even he senses that something is wrong. We need to discuss how to proceed." His hand rested on his scabbard hanging on his waist.

"Good. Then you should go and see him immediately. This thing upon us cannot be taken lightly." She put her hand on his arm. "Be careful."

Oma's warning ringing in his ears, he return to his room, took his spear and walked toward Ikenga’s house.

The air was fresh and cool after the heavy rain. The golden rising sun reflected in the puddles. People going about their morning chores greeted him. As usual.

Their leader's abode occupied a vantage point, large and situated on several levels. From the top room, he could oversee the entire settlement.

As Ebube approached it, his natural ability to sense another guardian failed him. Every guardian possessed the ability to sense the presence of another without sight. It was a combination of smell and a sixth sense. Yet Ebube couldn’t sense Ikenga’s aura after sniffing the air outside their leader's house.

Before he could knock, the wooden door swung inward. Ikenga stood on the threshold.

Instinctively, Ebube stepped back. The being standing in front of him looked like Ikenga—short dark hair, rugged face and tall, muscular body honed by daily warrior practice. But, something wasn't quite right.

"Good morning, Ebube. What brings you to my hut this early morning?"

He certainly sounded like Ikenga. But his aura was different. In fact, Ebube couldn’t sense any aura from the man-god standing before him; it was cloaked in an impermeable sheath. To prevent rogue guardians as they’ve had in the past, they were not allowed to cloak their auras or thoughts from each other.

Ebube tipped his head in respect but kept his eyes focused on Ikenga and cloaked his thoughts "It's been a strange night in Amauwa. I wanted to talk to you about calling a meeting of the warriors."

"Strange night? You must tell me what has happened. I'll bring out some chairs so we can discuss it out here."

Ikenga strode back in.

"Will it not be better if we talked inside?" Suspicions heightened, Ebube peered into the hallway, wondering why he hadn't heard Ikenga's wife or children.

"No. It is cooler outside this morning," Ikenga replied as he dragged two hand-carved wooden chairs out.

"Did you notice anything last night when you were out for a stroll?"

"Last night?" Frown lines creased Ikenga's forehead, his black eyes glazing over. "I didn’t go for a stroll last night."

Alarm rang through Ebube. On the exterior, he maintained a relaxed stance. The being he was speaking with was not Ikenga. Something evil had happened to Ikenga and his family. The silence around the house clanged loud in his mind, a warning gong.

He noticed it then. The Sacred Amulet was missing from Ikenga's neckline.

Ebube wrapped his left palm around the amulet around his neck. Each warrior in Ure wore a mini bronze sculpture of the head of Kalu which identified them as demi-gods, sons and daughters of the deities.

While Ebube's talisman was important to him personally, it was nothing compared to the one Ikenga usually wore around his neck, the Sacred Amulet of Uwa, the key to the gates between the realms.

The metal in his palm radiated sharp heat in rapid pulses, another indicator of trouble. The implication of this discovery was terrible. Deadly. He couldn’t challenge Ikenga's impostor. Not yet. He needed to find out his purpose first. Then draw him out.

"Oh, didn’t you? Onorue mentioned that you were out last night. Maybe I misunderstood him." He shrugged nonchalantly. "I must summon him. He should be at this meeting also. Let me check why he has been delayed."

Ebube stood up and took a few steps, poised for anything. He didn’t trust his back to a being that could pose as the leader of the guardians and almost get away with it. When he heard a hissing sound, he swung around quickly.

Two fangs bared in a lipless mouth and with eyes as black as soot, the demon leapt at him. Ebube side-stepped, swinging his arms and missing out on the slicing knife aimed at his chest. They circled each other.

Ebube controlled his shift, letting his eyes take on the amber sharpness of his beast, baring his elongated canines. He snarled and pounced. They both hit the ground in a tangle, the metal of their connected machetes jangling. Avoiding the poisonous tips of the demon's teeth, Ebube knocked his knife out of his hands. Its bellow ripped into the dawn air as Ebube sank his knife into its neck decapitating it.

Ebube lifted his head and roared. Running feet pounded against the damp earth. Still tense from the adrenaline pumping through his body, he swung around machete still raised. Onorue raised his hands and approached him cautiously.

"What happened here?" Onorue asked when he saw the beheaded demon, his gaze darting around, his stance prepared for battle.

Pointing at the being on the ground, Ebube spat out. "That thing was posing as Ikenga. He cloaked his aura so we couldn’t detect its wicked spirit."

"What?" Onorue paced up and down. "So, if that wasn’t Ikenga, then where is he?"

The words jarred Ebube into action.  They both rushed into the house and found the bodies of Ikenga’s mutilated wife and children in the sleeping chambers. But Ikenga wasn't there.

Dread traced its cold fingers down Ebube's spine, his stomach knotting with sorrow at the devastation. Ikenga had two young boys and his wife had been expecting a third child.

"For what purpose would anyone kill innocent children?"

Ebube stepped into the empty hallway, panting to draw in air as guilt racked his mind.  If only I'd come here when I woke, I could've prevented this.

"But I’m sure I saw Ikenga last night." Onorue's words reflected his remorse.

"Are you sure it was Ikenga? Did you sense his aura?" Ebube asked, remembering the demon had cloaked its aura. Only potent gods could cloak their auras. Still, a demon had managed it which meant it had help from a powerful deity.

Onorue's face screwed up in a sad frown as he shook his head. "I'd been so disturbed by what I could sense in the atmosphere that I didn’t bother to register Ikenga’s aura. He had appeared normal on an abnormal night. I paid him little heed."

"It's possible it wasn’t him you saw last night. It could've been this thing outside. We need to find out how it got here and who sent it. We need to find out what happened to Ikenga."

Onorue expression became distressed, his hands folded in front of his in supplication.

"I’m sorry if I may have caused the death of Ikenga’s family. Surely, if I had noticed the stranger in our midst then this would have been prevented."

Ebube place his hand on his friend’s shoulders. "You shouldn’t blame yourself for this. Evil came into our midst last night for a purpose. We shall find out what that purpose is and eliminate it. This is our sole focus for now."

"Right. I will call a meeting of the elders immediately." Onorue nodded and walked out of the dwelling.

Ebube covered up the bodies. A special crossing-over ritual would have to be performed to ensure their spirits passed over to the next realm and didn't turn malevolent. Outside, he paced, his mind littered with multitude of thoughts while he waited for the council to gather.

Several things needed to be done. Of utmost importance, was to find Ikenga. Without the leader of the Ure warriors, the Sacred Amulet was lost. In the wrong hands it could spell the end of the earth as they knew it.