Amani crashes through the thicket, branches clawing at his skin. He almost trips on an exposed root, but rights himself before toppling over. His spear is almost caught between branches, but he wrenches it through and holds it close. He stops, closes his eyes, and focuses on listening – there is no point trying to see them through the tangle of branches surrounding him, but he can hear them; their hoots and hollers echo in the red dusk. It’s difficult to tell exactly where they’re being made. Some of the calls are the creatures communicating, trying to coordinate their hunt. Others, the chilling cackles, Amani knows are for his benefit. The impisi like to play with their food before devouring it.
Even so, Amani does not fear. He has faced their kind before and has found that, time and again, he is their better. He begins to move again and the thicket gives way field of reed grass, much of which is taller than Amani. The dusk goes silent; the impisi have stopped their cries. Amani tenses; this usually meant that they’re closing in, preparing to attack. Amani presses forward, slowly lowering each foot so as not to give away his position. He needn’t have bothered. A great snarl cuts through the silence and Amani turns just in time to see an impisi warrior bound out of the grasses for him. Amani isn’t able to get his spear tip up in time, but he uses the handle to redirect the beast, tossing him to the side. Amani doesn’t give it a chance to right itself, driving his spear through its eye. He knows he is not safe, however. If that one knew where he was, others do as well. The time for moving carefully is over. Amani sprints once again, hoping he hasn’t been turned around by the lack of vision. Two impisi stumble into his path hoping to drag him down, but he leaps over the first and side-steps the second. They give chase. Amani stops suddenly and turns, driving his spear into the chest of the first; it spasms and its momentum takes it forward, twisting the spear from Amani’s hand. The second lashes out with a crude blade fashioned from bone. Amani ducks beneath it and then drives his elbow upward into the impisi’s snout; it yelps but presses forward, slashing again with its weapon. This time Amani doesn’t duck; he blocks the blow with his forearm. Both Amani and the impisi are bathed in the golden light of Ngame, which has formed a shield around Amani’s arm. She has come to him once more. The impisi is unimpressed and attempts to rend Amani with it’s other hand, but Amani steps backward and grabs the creature by the wrist. The impisi howls in pain as it is burned by the light of Ngame. It tries to free itself but Amani draws it closer. A moment later and it has been cast aside, burned and battered by Ngami’s light. Amani grabs his spear and continues through the grass. He comes to a clearing and four of the creatures leap from the grass hoping to circle him. Amani cries out as he hurls his spear. The moment it leaves his hand it erupts into a bolt of lightning and each of the impisi is struck down. The spear returns to his hand and Amani silently dedicates their death to Ngami.
There is another flash of light; sudden and bright. Agami is standing on a great mountain. The Great Mountain. Around him are the pillars of M’banu, and below him he can see the whole of Khadar stretching toward the infinite horizon. He realises who has called him there and the realisition his him like a bolt from her skies. And She’s there. Ngame. She who brings the rain and the spear. She who lights the sky with lightning and calls Her followers with thunder. Amani throws himself to one knee in reverence, laying his weapon by his side, “My goddess!”
She smiles and runs her hand over his head; her touch sends vibrations through Amani’s body, “There is no need to kneel, young one. Stand, please.”
Amani looks up but he doesn’t stand. He is speechless. Why has she called him? Is he dead? His mind whirrs as he tries to remember the etiquette, or even if this has ever happened before. What does one do when one meets their Reason? Ngame sits and a stone throne forms beneath her. Her smile is genuine. Cheerful. “I have been watching you, my wanderer. You have brought me great joy.”
Amani’s heart races. He’s almost overcome. “My Queen, I…” he can’t even finish a sentence. Ngami lets out a small laugh in response, “Please, Amani. Stand. Do not feel deference here. I have not called on you to make me feel worshipped.”
Now Amani does stand, and stands tall. “My Queen. I have tried to be your instrument. I have driven your spears into the darkness. I have driven back the…”
“Savage hordes.” Ngami interrupts, finishing his sentence. “You have brought my light to the plains and sheltered my people from the horrors of barbarity. Yes, you have. For your whole life you have lived my commandments. You have been them. That is why…” Ngami stops. Her smile remains, but dims. “That is why I have called you here. So that we could meet. And I could thank you.”
Amani nods. He wants to say that the deeds are thanks enough. That, for the direction and purpose she has given his life, he should be thanking her. But he says nothing. For a moment the pair regard each other in silence. It is Ngami, no longer smiling, who breaks it, “We’re leaving.”
Something about her tone tells Amani that she’s not talking about the pair of them, “Leaving?”
Ngami sighs, “All of us. Well, most of us. I’ve no doubt that some will try to remain, despite everything. As for where – it doesn’t matter. It won’t be here.” She stands and the throne melts away. She goes to Amani and holds out her hands. He takes them and the pair stand close to each other. She reads his face, “I know you don’t understand; that is a burden of being mortal. I want you to know that it hasn’t been a simple decision. Had the circumstances been different we would have stayed. All of us. But it’s impossible.”
Amani is having difficulty processing what he’s being told. “And when will you return?”
Ngami cradles his cheek in her hand and smiles sadly, “You were always my favourite, Amani. I am going to miss you.”
He holds her hand and presses it harder against his face. Tears fall unhindered from his eyes as the electricity of her touch fades. Within moments She is gone, along with The Great Mountain, and Amani is once again alone. Night has come and Amani looks round, vainly. Something above catches his eye; looking up he can see the night sky is filled with little lights. They shudder in the darkness, far removed. Normally it would be beautiful for Amani, a wondrous sight, but instead it leaves him cold; he knows that it’s them. All of them. Gone. He searches for Ngami, tries to pick her out of the mass, but it’s impossible. They all shine equally splendidly. Equally distant.
A chilling cackle brings him back to his present. There’s another nearby. He can hear them in the darkness; the impisi. They circle him, unseen. He bends and picks up his spear. It feels unusually heavy in his hand. He casts one glance back to the newly formed stars before he prepares himself for attack. Alone.