A Dying Planet (Excerpt)

Nnamdi had already detected spirits at work—they were that powerful that their pungent stench nearly overwhelmed his senses. The others could not sense what he could. He had to put on a performance for them. He closed his eyes and sniffed the air, focusing on the distinct scent of the spirit world. The familiar fragrance of juniper and musk hung heavy in the atmosphere. He opened his eyes. “Brace yourself. This is no mortal beast you fight.”

“Look, there it is!”

All eyes turned towards the crest of the hill. A monstrous male lion, its thick mane discolored with splotches of fresh blood, looked down upon them. The fur on its back bristled. Its eyes gleamed with intensity and viciousness. Nnamdi also noticed intelligence in the lion’s glare.

“Take safety in the rear,” Memu said to Nnamdi, his eyes never leaving the menacing simba. Nnamdi did not hesitate to follow the general’s suggestion.

From behind the line of archers, Nnamdi could still see the lion on the hill. It stared down at them as if disgusted. Then the lion let out a tremendous roar.

Nnamdi covered his ears and braced himself as the ground shook beneath him. Indeed they faced no ordinary lion. Before them was a god.

When the ground stopped shaking, and his hearing returned to him, Nnamdi heard Memu order the archers to release. Nnamdi wanted to warn them against taking such rash action, but he couldn’t find his voice nor could he fathom any other strategy working against the enraged god. The lion’s scowl provided enough evidence that pleading with or appeasing him would be ineffective.

The arrows arched in the air. Most landed harmlessly on the sparse grass around the beast. Others imbedded themselves with a thud into the simba’s thick coat. He roared again. He shook his body; the embedded projectiles falling from his fur like twigs.

Before the archers could loose another volley, the lion had bounded down the hill towards them at an incredible speed. The first phalanx of warriors detached from the main force to intercept him. Nnamdi heard screams of the dying, saw bodies topple over like felled trees.

Nnamdi stuck his staff firmly into the earth. He reached for the leather pouch of charms that was tied to a cord around his neck. He jiggled the pouch over his open palm until the items he required tumbled from it. With one hand, he made a loose fist around the die-sized mice skull and a smooth onyx shard; with his other hand, he scooped up some dirt and sprinkled it onto the items. He cupped his free hand around the fist, and shook his fist in rhythm with his chant.

The battle against the simba was not going well for the warriors. The lion had already defeated two phalanxes, and a third had been decimated by two-thirds. Nnamdi could see the huge lion brush off assegai stabs as if bothersome flies, while his massive paws, large enough to rake a man from eyes to chest in a single swipe, dealt immense damage.

One warrior tried to duck and thrust her assegai into the beast’s underbelly, but got too close to the lion’s maw. The simba-god trapped the foolish soldier in his large jaws; his teeth piercing flesh like a row of swords, the strength of his jaws crushing bones like a war club swung by a mighty warrior. The lion waved the woman back and forth, his teeth sinking deeper into her skin as her death wail grew louder and then fainter. The image reminded Nnamdi of how a cat would torture a captured rodent or insect. The simba tossed the limp body onto the nearest three aggressors and sent them crumpling to the ground.

Nnamdi watched in horror as the fight continued—but he did not break concentration. He did not stumble over his incantations. The air above the lion- god shimmered. A fragment of the physical world pulled back, as if a scroll unrolling.

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