Authors: Karen Prince
Tags: #Young adult fantasy adventure
A Young Adult Fantasy Adventure
By Karen Prince
for downloadable map of The Lost Kingdoms of Karibu.
This book is dedicated to Christopher, Lloyd, Michael, Robbie and Pamela. You guys are the best and I thank you for your patience and encouragement without which there would have been no book.
Published by: Karen Prince
Paperback ISBN: 978-1491255094
Cover design: Karen Prince
Copyright © 2012 Karen Prince. All rights reserved. This book or any part thereof may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without permission in writing from the publisher, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
This book is a work of fiction. All of the names, characters and incidents that bear any resemblance to actual people or events are entirely coincidental.
The high priest, Drogba, sat beside his meditation cave halfway up the mountain gazing disconsolately at his people as they went about their business in the valley far below. He had not jumped for a long time. Such a long time, in fact, that his body — which had not been that young when he got it — had reached an advanced stage of decrepitude. He wondered what would happen if he were still in it when it expired. Would he be reincarnated like everybody else, and not remember his past lives? Or would he finally be gone? Judging by the dreadful wheezing noise coming from his chest, he suspected that if he procrastinated... er... meditated any longer he was about to find out.
Now he faced a terrible choice. It was not that he liked what he could do, but strong magic pulled him; he was going to have to jump somebody soon.
The trouble was, he’d allowed himself to become too attached to his people over the last seventy-odd years. Once he’d got to know them it was hard to sacrifice a nice harmless person to provide him with a new body, even if it was for the greater good. He’d vacillated over Anuk occasionally. Now there was a man who was not exactly harmless, or particularly amicable, but Anuk had not looked after his body and it was almost as elderly as Drogba’s. Drogba was looking forward to something more robust; something that could travel a long distance. He had to weigh his options carefully before he made his choice, which was why he was up in the mountains, in this cave, carefully observing the villagers when providence provided a body.
His eyes darted towards a furtive movement at the edge of the forest where a dark shadow glided towards him on silent feet. “Who is th–” he started to say, then stopped, his eyes widening. It was not quite the body he had in mind but he supposed he would get used to it; he always had. Clutching his robe around himself Drogba rose rather unsteadily to his feet, and stepped forwards, a dangerous chuckle escaping from his weak old throat that would have frozen the marrow in your bones if you had been close enough to hear.
I haven’t quite lost my touch then,
he thought, vaguely surprised. He hadn’t tried that in a long time. Then, before he could have second thoughts about the whole thing, he pounced.
The old witch poked a finger in her ear and wiggled it up and down, then cocked her head to one side to listen properly. She hadn’t been aware of the cicadas singing till they stopped. The sudden silence in the forest raised the little grey hairs on the backs of her arms. She wasn’t afraid, exactly. Gogo Maya was never afraid of anything, and she wasn’t going to start now. Still, something felt oddly unsettling.
Hunkering back on her haunches, she ran a sharp black eye over the ancient forest. She could have sworn she had glimpsed a movement out the corner of her eye, almost as if something was creeping up on her. Then she smiled and shook her head. It couldn’t be. Predators living in the forest had the sense to hunt in the rift valley below the escarpment, rather than eat anyone who had access to the magic in the water up here on the plateau. The more magic a creature ingested the more bitter they tasted, and if one magic creature ate another, the consequences could be most disturbing. Gogo Maya snorted. It would be pretty disturbing if anyone ate
over the years she had ingested a lot of magic.
It was unlikely that anyone would have ventured up from the valley either. The disgraceful Almohad saw to that by spreading spine-chilling rumours about dark happenings in the forest to keep the valley tribes away from the magic. If anyone was heroic enough to come looking for it, the Almohad promptly captured them, fulfilling some of those dark prophecies. She didn’t suppose the Almohad themselves would bother her. Everyone knew witches made terrible slaves, and they wouldn’t kill her because the Almohad had that silly superstition that witches could suck up their souls and take them with to the afterlife.
She let her breath out softly, and bent down once more to dig, but spun around moments later to confront the sound of a soft plop. The branches on the one side of a giant red mango tree on the edge of the clearing snapped up, then gently settled into place again, leaving an enormous mango on the ground.
In the uneasy silence that followed, she wondered if she should abandon her foraging and go back to her village, but she had come a long way, and if she hurried, she had just enough time to dig one last mbogo root out of the ground before the storm broke. Gripping her nose firmly between thumb and forefinger to block the pungent smell, Gogo Maya brushed a misshapen bloom aside and steeled herself to dig up a root from underneath. The roots were diabolically vile, but she needed them to enhance her magic. A cloud of mosquitoes took to the air, disturbed by the movement.
“Drat!” she muttered, letting go of her nose to swat at them, then gasped as she was almost fumigated by the dirty-sock smell.
Someone definitely sniggered.
She whirled around to face him, shaking her trowel at him, but as fearsome as her grimace was, it did not frighten him into revealing himself. Sighing heavily, she stood up, hefted her root basket onto her hip, picked her way out of the mbogo patch, and strode down the trail with as much haughtiness as she could muster. She would not give him the satisfaction of seeing her look over her shoulder.
After a few steps she turned suddenly, her hands on her hips, elbows poking out defiantly, and glared down the path. Still, she couldn’t see anyone. What she should have done in the first place, she supposed, was lie down under a nice safe bush and search for his mind pattern. A quick glance at the thunderheads rolling in above told her she was already too late, so she turned back and walked on.
Gradually, a low hair-raising chant drifted towards her, turning into a war cry, and she spun around to confront...
Only, this nothing had left a wide path of flattened undergrowth in its wake. Gogo Maya lobbed her digging trowel in its general direction, hiked up handfuls of her voluminous black skirt, and in a frightful din of jangly bangles and ankle bracelets, took flight down the path, her long grey dreadlocks streaming out behind her.
With a grunt she heaved herself up onto the trunk of a huge tree that lay fallen across the track and sat straddling it, scrambling to untangle her skirt that had snagged amongst the branches. She thought momentarily of untying the garment and abandoning it, but the loss would be too great. Her life was in the pockets of that skirt.
In the hope that her leopard familiar, Salih, was at least within hearing, she placed two shaky fingers into either side of her mouth, rolled her tongue back and blew, but her mouth was too dry to produce a whistle.
“Salih!” she yelled as a last resort.
A phosphorescent flash lit up the forest, followed almost immediately by a clap of thunder. Gogo Maya blinked and peered through the afterimage to see a scar of flattened grass snaking towards her. It came to rest before the fallen tree trunk and hesitated.
Grabbing a handful of her skirt, she ripped it off the snags and scrambled down the far side of the tree trunk, painfully scraping her bottom. She landed with a grunt, ducked under a bough and continued her headlong charge into the forest. She flinched as a trail of little treasures scattered out of her torn pockets behind her. There was no use worrying about it now, she thought, as long as she hadn’t dropped her amulet. It would be an unmitigated disaster if that fell onto the wrong hands.
Rummaging amongst the throwing bones, skinning knives and lucky charms in her pockets for the amulet as she ran, she tried to remember when last she had seen it. It had been so long since she’d used it. She doubled over to relieve the stitch in her side, just as large drops of rain began to patter down, and within seconds she could barely see an arm’s length in front of her face.
“Ugh!” She tried to push her dreadlocks away from her face and wipe the water out of her eyes with her skirt, while looking around for a shelter. The undergrowth would have to do, she decided, and scrambled under a shrub, hugging her knees to her chest to make herself small. Screwing her eyes shut, she tried to empty her mind before reaching out to find the mental pattern of the beast, but for the longest moment she could only think about thinking about nothing.
Now was not the time to panic, she told herself grimly, and taking a hold of herself, calmed her mind. Within moments Gogo Maya’s eyes flew open at the bewildering muddle of tiny, sharp thoughts, and then they were upon her.
“Me first. Me first. Out my way!” lisped one.
“Charge!” yelled another.
“No biting, remember, we only got to catch her.”
There were so many of them. They came hurtling through the air, landing all over her in a blur of sharp elbows and knees. Nothing like what she had imagined. Not a big beast at all. Silhouetted against the rain, she thought she caught glimpses of the knee-high, hairy Tokoloshe that lived in the forest. They certainly lisped like them. Only, when one of them revealed himself fully for a moment, he didn’t look entirely Tokoloshe. He was a translucent amber color. The long thick hair on his back bounced up and down as he moved, almost as if it was made of soft rubber.
There was nothing soft about the one she managed to get a grip on. She hurled him into the undergrowth where he bounced up again and came running back to join in the attack.
“I got her! I got her,” he shouted, even as she pulled her slippery wet arm out of his grip.
“Get your elbows out of my face,” wailed another one.
“Somebody bit me.”
A length of vine bounced up and down a foot above the ground, making its way towards Gogo Maya. She could almost make out the shapes of the shimmering wet little creatures carrying it.
“What do you think you’re doing, chasing a nice old lady like this?” she spluttered, aiming a vicious kick along the length of the vine, hoping to strike down a few of them. It was like kicking a large warthog. Pain shot up her leg, reverberating through her body. One of them rammed a peeled mango into her mouth while it was open, stifling her shriek and nearly choking her. Before her hands could fly up to her mouth, some of the others got a firm grip on them, and tied them up behind her back with the vine. Gogo Maya struggled to sit up, fighting for breath as the heavy rain trickled up her nose. She coughed weakly, spluttered, and then glared at her attackers; her jaw, if it had not been jammed open, would have been set defiantly.
“Okay, lady, you going to walk with us a bit, or we going to tie up your feet and drag you?” lisped the little leader. She could see him quite clearly now. He stood bristling before her, completely visible but translucent – a couple of shades darker than honey. He was surrounded by about fifty of his band in various stages of transition back to visibility.