The fuzzy, pink dice danced erratically against the brass handlebars of the monowheel as Nandi peeled out of her driveway.
“Time for a little riding music.”
Nandi slipped a small, brown wax cylinder into the phonograph that lay mounted between the handlebars. Two brass horns protruded from the phonograph, out of which a smooth, baritone voice slid – butter-slick – up Nandi’s spine to her eagerly awaiting ears.
She sighed and then began to sing along – “I’d rather be with you-hoo, yeah.”
Nandi flexed her right wrist backward, revving the monowheel’s engine. She released the clutch, which was built into the left handlebar and shifted the monowheel into fourth gear with her left foot.
The engine hissed; the stack that protruded from it belched a cloud of steam and then the monowheel jetted forward.
Cold wind smacked Nandi’s body, pinning her soft, white cotton jumpsuit to her tall, sinewy frame. The large, triangular lapels of the jumpsuit fluttered against Nandi’s smooth, hazelnut-toned face.
Nandi reached up with her delicate fingers and patted her big afro back to its perfectly round shape.
Nandi cranked up the volume on the phonograph.
“I’d rather be with you until I’m through,
Oh, yes, I do.
I’d rather be with you until that day
I fly away.”
Nandi zipped through her bustling neighborhood in the heart of the Songhai District.
She pounded her chest in reverence as she rode past the bronze statue of Chief Sidi Khanga, founder of their great nation, Ki-Khanga – ‘The Land of Khanga’.
Every time she laid eyes upon the statue, she thought of her grandfather, Dr. Bomani Abike, who – like Chief Khanga – was a pioneer.
In 1933, Dr. Abike created the steam engine and began what he called the ‘Industrial Revolution’. In 1958, the genius inventor journeyed to Africa to bring Steam Technology to their homeland. And in 1963, he – and a contingent of Chinese Ki-Khangans from Kun-Lun District – travelled to Beijing and Shanghai to give them the gift of Steam Technology as well.
Now, eleven years later, the whole world has benefitted from her grandfather’s creation and Ki-Khanga has become the wealthiest colony on Earth.
Unfortunately, just as Chief Khanga did one hundred years before him, Dr. Abike went missing while exploring the Green Lands beyond The Great Wall of Ki-Khanga.
The First Nation inhabitants of Ki-Khanga warned him that the creatures in the Green Lands – monstrous offspring of the indigenous spirits and the dark spirits summoned by the Anglo-Witches who once lived beyond The Wall – were too dangerous…even for his Steam Tech weapons, First Nation divine magic and the newly developed Chinese Aether-Tech combined. Dr. Abike did not heed the warning and had not been seen since 1966.
Nandi quickly closed upon a towering, brass skeleton clock that loomed in the distance.
The aether torch at the apex of the clock – affectionately called ‘Shiny Bones’ by the inhabitants of the province of Center Gate – glowed with an intense, white light.
Shiny Bones also served as the lighthouse for the airships that patrolled the skies over Middle District.
Nandi darted into the Center Gate Constabulary’s parking lot, speeding past the fleet of steam-powered, horseless carriages into the section marked ‘Gatekeepers’.
Nandi slid into her parking space – lot number 010 – and then leapt from her seat.
Her platform shoes struck the pavement with a dull thud.
“Hey, Gatekeeper…what it is, what it was and what it will be?”
Nandi turned toward the source of the rich tenor voice. “Constable Kojoe! Nothing shakin’, sugar. How are you?”
Constable Kojoe’s lips curled upward into a broad grin. His brilliant, white teeth were in stark contrast to his nearly black skin. “I’m better, now that I’m laying eyes upon you.”
Nandi rolled her eyes and shook her head. “You better keep those peepers on Liu Fong, there, dig?”
The handcuffed giant standing at Constable Kojoe’s left flank leered at Nandi. “No worries, Gatekeeper; I’m a kinder…gentler man, now that I’m married and all.”
“You just broke your father-in-law’s jaw, four ribs and his right femur,” Constable Kojoe said, yanking on Liu Fong’s handcuffs.
“I didn’t kill him,” Liu Fong replied. “But I will kill you, if you yank on those cuffs again.”
“I am so afraid,” Constable Kojoe snickered, yanking the cuffs a bit harder.
Liu Fong snarled and clinched his fists. His massive forearms flexed, expanding his thick wrists. The handcuffs snapped open and fell to the ground.
The giant hammered his elbow into the back of the constable’s head.
Constable Kojoe collapsed to the ground.
Liu Fong turned and darted across the parking lot.
Nandi gave chase; her long, wiry legs propelling her toward the giant – a lone lioness running down a rhinoceros.
She exploded upward, pouncing onto Liu Fong’s massive back.
The giant tried to shake her loose, but Nandi already had her arms wrapped around his neck and her legs clamped about his waist, holding him in a boa constrictor-like grip.
Nandi squeezed hard with her arms, compressing Liu Fong’s neck to half its girth.
The giant’s scowling face went slack and then he collapsed to his knees.
Nandi released his neck and the giant fell, face down, onto the pavement.
“Sleep tight, Sugar,” Nandi said, patting Liu Fong on the top of his bald head.
She then sprinted over to Constable Kojoe, who was pulling himself to his knees as he gently massaged the lump on the back of his head.
“Did you get him?” Constable Kojoe asked.
“He’s out like a baby after breastfeedin’, dig?” Nandi replied.
“Solid!” Kojoe exclaimed.
Nandi helped the constable to his feet. “Go get him before he wakes up, Sugar.”
Constable Kojoe sprinted toward the unconscious giant. He paused for a second and called out to Nandi. “Let me repay you for this…how about dinner…tomorrow?”
Nandi blushed. “I usually eat dinner around seven.”
“I’ll pick you up at six,” the constable replied.
“Solid!” Nandi said, stepping through the Constabulary Station’s brass double doors.
Nandi sauntered toward the elevator. She reached into the breast pocket of her jumpsuit and withdrew a copper key. Nandi slipped the key into a hole in the elevator door and turned it counter clockwise.
The door slid open. Nandi hopped into the elevator. The door slid shut behind her. She slipped the key into the hole on the interior side of the door and turned the key clockwise. A hissing sound followed and the elevator began to rise.
The elevator came to a halt. The door slid open and Nandi stepped off and into a long corridor. Facing her was a door marked ‘Chief Constable’. Nandi pushed the door open and stepped inside of the capacious office.
Sitting before her was Chief Constable Magaska Hota. Sweat rolled down the furrows in his forehead and his reddish-brown skin had gone a bit pale.
Nandi raised her right fingertips to the corner of her brow in salute. The Chief Constable returned the salute and then pointed toward a chair that sat in front of his desk. “Take a seat, Nandi.”
Nandi lowered herself into the chair. “I got your message, Chief Constable. Is there a breach of The Wall?”
“We don’t know,” the Chief Constable sighed. “But Shi Yan Bo was found dead this morning.”
Nandi sat bolt upright, as if someone had struck her. “What? Since you called me in on this, it must be murder and the Council of Elders must think it’s related to the Green Lands.”
“He was most definitely murdered,” Chief Constable Magaska Hota replied. “And the Council wants to cover all the bases. I mean, damn…a monk…the father of Aether Tech…murdered? Wakantanka, help us all…Kun-Lun District is going to be up in arms.”
“When do you want me to go to Kun-Lun?”
“Yesterday,” the Chief replied.
Nandi rose from her seat. “I’m on it, Chief!”
She pushed the door open and prepared to leave. “Gotta pick up a few things from my locker first.”
“And, Nandi,” The Chief Constable called.
“Yeah, Chief?” Nandi said, peering over her shoulder.
“Try not to kill too many people or blow up too much stuff on this one.”
“You’re asking a lot, Chief,” Nandi replied. “But, I’ll try.”
She flashed the Chief a brilliant smile, waved and stepped into the lobby. Nandi turned to her left; just past the Chief Constable’s office was another door. She withdrew a small, silver key from her breast pocket and used it to unlock the door. She opened it and stepped into a room illuminated by aether light.
The walls of the room were lined with large, bronze lockers, each six feet in height and four feet wide. On the face of each locker was a brass plate with six tiny, bronze levers protruding from it. Using the tip of her well-manicured index finger, Nandi pushed the first lever to her left down; she pushed the second one up; the third up; and so on, until she had completed the combination.
A whirring noise came from inside the locker and then the door opened a crack.
Nandi pushed the door open and stepped inside the locker. The door shut behind her and she found herself in a pristine white room that seemed to run on forever. Before her were endless rows of weapons, armor and strange looking devices.
“Corset…shotgun…engram iconoscope,” she shouted.
A few minutes later, something in the distance sped toward her. As the speeding object drew close, a shiny, silver table came into view. Atop the table was a silver cage and inside the cage were a few items.
The table came to a smooth stop a yard from Nandi. Nandi approached the table and inspected the items in the cage. Satisfied, she removed them and the table sped off, disappearing into the alabaster distance.
Nandi wrapped the crimson, leather corset around her torso. The corset tightened around her body and then molded itself to fit her frame. Nandi loved it. Not because of how it enhanced her sensuality – which it most certainly did – but because it had protected her from many a bullet, claw and stinger.
She picked up the shotgun and admired it. The weapon – customized to her specifications half a decade ago – was as beautiful as it was deadly…like Nandi, which is why she named it “Junior”. The steam-powered, semi-automatic weapon was a masterwork of iron, bronze and brass. Nandi slipped a bronze ammunition drum into the weapon and then slapped it to lock it into place.
Nandi then picked up a copper box by its handle and walked toward the exit. The door flung open. She stepped out of the locker and the door slammed shut behind her.
Nandi exited the locker room and walked back to the elevator. After entering it, she slipped her key into the door and turned it clockwise.
The elevator rose higher. When the elevator stopped, Nandi removed her key and the door slid open. Nandi stepped out of the elevator onto the roof, where two dirigibles sat. One, with ‘Center Gate Constabulary’ – in brass plating – embossed on the mahogany frame of its carriage; the other, smaller dirigible, with ‘Gatekeeper One’ engraved into its bronze-framed carriage.
Sitting in a booth near the airships were a woman and two men. Their crisp, indigo uniforms and the trio of gold stripes on their sleeve cuffs informed their positions as airship pilots.
One of the men approached Nandi, raising his hand in salute. “Good afternoon, Gatekeeper Abike.”
“Good afternoon, sugar,” Nandi replied. I need to take the Ghetto Bird up…heading to Kun-Lun.
“I can take you, but I don’t speak Mandarin and Constable Yip is off today.” The pilot said.
“I speak enough Mandarin for the both of us, sugar,” Nandi replied. “Now, let’s roll.”
“I’m Constable Haokah,” the pilot said as he unlocked the door to the airship’s carriage.
“Wiyuskingyang wangchingyangke le,” Nandi said – “Pleased to meet you!”
“Your Lakota is excellent!” Constable Haokah said.
“Lila pilamalaye,” Nandi replied – “Thank you, very much.”
Nandi hopped up into the airship. Constable Haokah followed her, locking the door behind him.
“Have a seat and we’ll be on our way,” the pilot said.
Nandi placed her weapon and the engram iconoscope on the second bench and then took a seat in the first bench. The oxblood leather felt cool, soft and relaxing. She leaned back, resting her head on the plush cushion and slipped into sleep as the airship took to the skies.
“We will arrive in Kun-Lun in ten minutes, Gatekeeper,” Constable Haokah said.
Nandi stretched and then moved to the bench behind her to retrieve her belongings.
“I will be landing atop the Kun-Lun District constabulary station,” the constable said. “From there, a rickshaw will take you to the crime scene. It will also bring you back when you’re done.”
“Solid, sugar,” Nandi replied.
She peeked out of the portcullis and admired the view. Kun-Lun was a marvel of grand architecture. Residential towers, pagodas and watchtowers of crimson brick and black tiled roofs dotted the district. The imposing Elder House – the complex in which the two Elders from Kun-Lun, and their families, resided – sported roofs constructed of yellow tiles.
Kun-Lun was a place of great beauty and many secrets.
While the residents of Kun-Lun, of which ninety-nine percent of them were Chinese, were loyal to Ki-Khanga – after all, the unified African contingent that bought the African slaves out of bondage in America had also purchased the freedom of the Chinese from indentured servitude – they were still very close-knit and tight-lipped about the goings on in Kun-Lun.
Constable Haokah landed the dirigible upon the roof of the constabulary station. He then walked to the door and slid it open. “See you soon,” he said, giving Nandi a crisp salute.
Nandi returned the salute. “See you in a couple of hours, sugar.”
She exited the airship and ran toward the elevator.
Nandi took the elevator down to street level and then exited the constabulary station into its parking lot, where a rickshaw awaited her.
“Afternoon, Gatekeeper,” the rickshaw driver said, tilting his top-hat. His long, black hair fell over his youthful face.
“Wuan, sugar,” Nandi replied, stepping up into the single passenger, cycle rickshaw. “Ni hao ma?” – “Good afternoon, sugar. How are you?”
“Wo hen hao, ni ne?” – “I am fine, and you?” – The teenager replied.
“Wo hen hao, xie xie,” Nandi said – “I am fine, thank you.”
The rickshaw driver’s powerful legs moved like pistons on the pedals of the rickshaws front wheel and the rickshaw went sailing through traffic, passing other rickshaws, bicycles – and the occasional horse-drawn carriage – on the road.
A half hour later, the rickshaw passed through the red, wooden gates of the Lan Su Garden.
Nandi had visited this beautiful garden many times, but never on such terrible terms.
She had even shared tea at the Penjing exhibit with Shi Yan Bo once, when her grandfather took her along on one of his many meetings with the monk. The encounter was peaceful…serene. And now, very surreal, for Shi Yan Bo was now dead in nearly the same spot where they shared Long Jing tea.
The rickshaw driver stopped at the Penjing exhibit. “The world landscape in miniature”, Shi Yan Bo called it. And so it was – rocks, moss, plants, small figurines made of mud, boats, tiny rivers and miniscule buildings, or a tiny forest – all in one clay pot.
Lying face down amongst the tiny trees was Shi Yan Bo. His yellow, cotton robe was torn on the right side. Nandi inspected the area closer and found a large, black bruise on the monk’s right side. She pressed her fingers on the spot and the bruise sank in about an inch.
“Broken ribs,” someone said from behind her. “Four of them.”
Nandi peered over her shoulder. Standing behind her was a tall woman, dressed in a silk, royal blue tunic and matching trousers. Her skin was smooth and well-tanned and her straight, black hair was pulled back and braided in a single ponytail that fell to the middle of her back.
A light breeze blew the woman’s clothes against her body, revealing a well-toned body.
“You’re a Gatekeeper,” Nandi said.
“Yes,” the woman replied. “My name is Pei-Pei Ming.”
“You’re new,” Nandi said. “I’m Nandi Abike.”
“I know,” Pei said. “Your exploits are quite…celebrated.”
“Welcome aboard, Gatekeeper,” Nandi said, standing and giving Pei a warm hug. “Hell of a first case you got, sugar.”
“Indeed,” Pei said nodding.
“Four,” Pei answered. “I took the liberty of escorting them all to the teahouse.”
“Good work,” Nandi said, slipping her shotgun into the sheath on her back with one hand, while grabbing the engram iconoscope with the other. “Lead the way!”
Nandi followed Pei a short distance along a road that led to a stone bridge, which arched over a large pond filled with coy.
The two Gatekeepers crossed the bridge.
The spicy-sweet aroma of tea licked at Nandi’s nostrils.
The teahouse – an edifice constructed of black brick, with a roof of red tile – stood just before them.
Nandi sauntered into the teahouse. Inside sat five people, who sipped tea and chatted quietly.
Upon spotting Nandi, the teahouse fell silent.
“Ni hao,” Nandi said, in greeting, to the quintet of teahouse patrons.
They returned the greeting – “Ni hao.” – “Hello.”
“I am Gatekeeper Nandi Abike,” Nandi said, continuing to speak to them in Mandarin Chinese. “I knew Master Bo; my grandfather – Dr. Bomani Abike – and Master Bo were friends. We have all suffered a great loss today and I will do my best to find the person who did this and bring them to justice.”
“We already know who did it,” an elderly man spat. “One of your ‘blood brothers’.
“You’re saying the perpetrator was an African?”
“Of course,” the man replied. “Who, but an African would dress so…ridiculously gaudy?”
The other witnesses nodded in agreement.
Nandi closed her eyes and took in a deep breath. She concentrated on the beating of her heart – as the old masters taught her years ago – and slowed it down, calming herself. “I know you are all upset right now, but please, let us not turn this into a racial issue. We have worked together for over one hundred years and Ki-Khanga is now the wealthiest and most technologically advanced country in the world because of our unity.”
The faces of the witnesses shifted from scowls to masks of frustration and sorrow.
Nandi sat the engram iconoscope on a table and then pressed a small button in its handle. The device opened to reveal what looked like a large crystal ball with five silver nodes dotting its surface. On one side of this “ball”, a crystal rod protruded from it. At the end of the rod were four needles. Nandi removed four small plastic baggies – each containing another set of needles – and handed them to Pei.
“This is an engram iconoscope,” Nandi explained to the witnesses. “It records memories. Most people do not consciously recall all that they see, but the engram iconoscope will. All you have to do is think about the event; concentrate on it; the iconoscope will do the rest.”
Nandi pointed toward the needles at the tip of the rod. “I am going to insert these needles into acupuncture points at the base of your neck and it will record exactly what you saw. Most of you are familiar with acupuncture, so you know this procedure will be painless. Do you have any questions?”
“Can she do it?” A woman asked, nodding toward Gatekeeper Pei-Pei Ming.
“I can,” Pei replied. “However, Gatekeeper Abike has much more experience with such things. Respect her, please.”
“No, it’s fine,” Nandi said, handing the engram iconoscope to Pei. “I want you all to be comfortable.”
Pei nodded and then handed the packs of needles to Nandi. She then stepped behind the woman who requested that she do the procedure and slowly inserted the needles into the base of her neck.
Images swirled within the engram iconoscope’s ball, bonding to the aether within it. Slowly, the images steadied and grew clear. Shi Yan Bo knelt before a miniature tree, pruning it. From the angle, it was obvious the woman stood on the bridge watching the monk.
A moment later, a person seemed to fall from the sky, landing a yard or so from Master Bo. The person appeared to be a male approximately six feet tall and weighing between one hundred-eighty and two hundred pounds. He was dressed in a candy apple red, corduroy jumpsuit, red gloves and red platform boots. A huge, red fedora – with a peacock feather protruding from it – concealed his face.
Startled, the monk leapt to his feet.
The man in the red “pimp suit” exploded forward, whipping his rear leg in a wide arc toward the monk’s torso.
The man’s shin slammed into Shi Yan Bo’s ribcage. The monk’s robes shredded from the sheer power of the blow and he was sent tumbling sideways across the road.
The old monk struggled to his feet as the man-in-the-red-pimp-suit sauntered toward him.
Shi Yan Bo limped toward the bridge.
His assailant leapt toward him, reaching out toward the monk with outstretched fingers.
The man-in-the-red-pimp-suit thrust the fingers of one hand into Shi Yan Bo’s neck as his other hand grabbed a fistful of the monk’s long, white hair.
The man shoved Shi Yan Bo’s head forward as he pulled the fingers buried in the monk’s neck toward the old man’s spine.
A torrent of blood erupted from the four deep gashes in Shi Yan Bo’s neck.
The monk stumbled forward a few feet and then collapsed onto his face. He shuddered once and then lay still.
The man-in-the-red-pimp-suit turned away from Shi Yan Bo’s lifeless body and calmly walked off, eventually disappearing among the fir trees.
Each witness’ memory showed the same scene, but from different angles. However, none of them could see the killer’s face, so his identity – and ethnicity – remained a mystery.
“Thank you all,” Nandi said, packing up the engram iconoscope. “Gatekeeper Ming will stay here with you until the constabulary arrive.
“Actually, I am going with you,” Pei Ming said. “Orders from both of our Chief Constables; I received them while you were en route here.
“Two Gatekeepers working a homicide?” Nandi said, shaking her head.”The Council of Elders obviously want this case closed quicker than a hot chocolate stand in the Mojave Desert, ya dig?”
“I…dig,” Pei replied.
“Once this gets out to the public, things between Kun-Lun and Songhai could get tense,” Nandi said. “Let’s go!”
Nandi and Pei exited the teahouse. Nandi placed her hand on Pei Ming’s shoulder. “Wait; we have to call you some transport; I’m rolling in a single passenger rickshaw.”
“No problem,” Pei Ming said. “Upon initiation, the Masters gifted me with a subdermal temporal-spatial displacement engine.”
“Moving sideways through time, huh?”Nandi said. “That was just a theory when I went through my initiation.”
“Things have changed a lot since way back then,” Pei said. “Nowadays, we have spoons and everything!”
“Funny,” Nandi said, rolling her eyes. “Meet me on the roof of the constabulary station in forty-five minutes.”
A luminous, purple gash in the air appeared before Gatekeeper Ming. She thrust her right leg into the tear in the world. “I’ll be there in twenty.”
Pei stepped sideways into the gash, disappearing from view as it closed.
“Damn…I gotta get me one of those displacement engines!” Nandi said, shaking her head.
She sprinted to the rickshaw.
“Let’s roll,” Nandi said, leaping into her seat. “Get me to the station in less than twenty minutes and I’ll give you a thirty-shell tip!”
“What?!” The rickshaw driver gasped. “Thirty shells? Let’s go!”
The rickshaw driver pedaled harder than he had ever done before. The rickshaw sped out of the garden and hit the street. “Solid, sugar! Keep up this pace and I just might double that tip!”
“Another one?” Nandi sighed.
“Yes and this one is a child,” Chief Constable Magaska Hota replied.
“What?” Nandi gasped. “Where?”
“This is where it gets really bad,” the Chief Constable replied. “Her body was found in the stacks at the Sundiata Keita University Library. Witnesses say the murderer was Chinese.”
“We need to get there before the students start protesting and the press gets wind of this,” Pei-Pei Ming said.
“Too late,” Chief Constable Magaska Hota said. “The students started protesting about an hour ago. Several Chinese students have been attacked, as has a Dr. Doc-Fai Hung – a professor in the Chinese studies department. We have a squad of constables there keeping the situation under control, but I need you to take care of this…and fast!”
Nandi and Pei Ming saluted the Chief Constable and headed out the door of his office.
“We’re on it, Chief Constable,” Nandi said as she dashed out of the room. Pei-Pei Ming followed closely behind her.
“It’s rush hour, so we’ll take the airship again,” Nandi said. “Unless you wanna poof us over there with your displacement engine.”
“I can only transport myself,” Pei Ming said. “Myself, plus up to fifty pounds.”
“The airship it is then,” Nandi said. Let’s go, Gatekeeper.”
The dirigible landed on the grass-covered courtyard, which the schools and dormitories of Sundiata Keita University encircled.
Nandi leapt out of the dirigible. Pei-Pei Ming followed her.
A ring of constables pushed back a seething mass of students who shouted demands of justice.
Nandi and Pei pushed their way through the crowd. Recognizing Nandi, the constables parted for a moment to let them into the cordoned area outside of the library, where the girl’s body lay.
Inside the library, at the top level of the stacks, Constable Kojoe stood beside the corpse. He smiled upon seeing Nandi. “What’s happenin’, Gatekeeper Abike?”
“Nothing’s shakin’, sugar,” Nandi replied. “Constable Kojoe, this is my partner, Pee-pee Ming…Pee-pee, this is Constable Kojoe.”
“Pee-pee?” Constable Kojoe whispered.
“It’s Pei-Pei – pay…pay – not Pee-pee,” Pei Ming said, shaking her head. “Touché, partner.”
Nandi flashed Pei-Pei a sly smile as she knelt down beside the corpse, which – like Shi Yan Bo – lay face down.
“Who is she?” Nandi asked, as she inspected the girl’s mahogany face.
“Amut Sut Hotep,” Constable Kojoe said. “Sixteen years old; second year, pre-med major; straight A-student and Secretary of the Student Union.”
Amut Sut Hotep’s silk, turquoise blouse had been nearly completely torn from her body. Deep cuts were on her right forearm and her right baby finger was severed at the second joint. Carved deep into the girl’s back were three Chinese characters.
“War,” Pei-Pei Ming said, reading the blood-encrusted wounds.
“How many witnesses?” Nandi asked.
“Three,” Constable Kojoe replied. “They’re in a meeting room downstairs.”
“Let’s get this over with, then,” Nandi sighed.
Like the witnesses to the murder of Shi Yan Bo, the witnesses to Amut Sut Hotep’s tragic death were interfaced with the engram iconoscope. In the witnesses’ memories of the murder, Amut was reading Indaba, My Children – a favored classic throughout Ki-Khanga – when a man in a red, traditional silk Chinese tunic and silk trousers ascended the ladder that led up to the stacks. The man’s face was concealed by a crimson mask depicting a demon with bulging, yellow eyes, ears the size of bird wings and wicked-looking fangs in a snarling, twisted maw.
Spotting the man in the mask, Amut sprang to her feet and attempted to kick the man off the ladder, but he was too quick for her and leapt to the platform of the stack, landing beside her.
Amut tried to backpedal away from the man, but he closed on her and slashed at her neck with what appeared to be a jade-handled straight razor. The student threw up her arm to shield against the deadly strikes. She winced as – several times – her skin opened to reveal the flesh underneath. Blood sprayed with each wound, leaving a red mist in the air.
The man in the mask slammed his shoulder into Amut’s solar plexus and she collapsed to her knees as the air rushed from her lungs.
The man wrapped his fingers around Amut’s neck and then slammed her face into the floor. Blood trickled from her mouth as a bicuspid rolled from between her lips and bounced along the floor of the stack.
The man in the mask then mounted Amut’s back, straddling her waist with his knees and cut away her blouse with his weapon. He then proceeded to carve into her back with the razor.
Amut screamed as he mercilessly ripped at her young flesh with the razor. After a minute of agony, the girl fell still.
The man in the mask rose to his feet, looked around at the witnesses, waved to them and then descended the ladder. He sauntered toward the rear exit and a moment later he was gone.
With the information gathered from the witnesses, Nandi and Pei-Pei left the library as Constable Kojoe gathered written statements.
“Thoughts?” Nandi asked.
“I think we have definite Green activity,” Pei-Pei replied. “Possibly a Skin-Walker; maybe even a Wendigo.”
“A Skin-Walker? Maybe,” Nandi said. “A Wendigo? No…a Wendigo would have eaten them before their hearts stopped beating…they can’t help themselves. It might not be a Green at all, though. Center Gate hasn’t had a breach in the Wall in seven years and I put that one down with the quickness, dig?”
“One thing I do know is that whoever – or whatever – is committing these murders wants to set off a war between the Chinese and African communities,” Nandi said.
“Who stands to gain from such a war?” Pei asked.
“Two groups,” Nandi answered. “The Greens…and the First Nation community”
“The First Nation? You must mean Wabli Ska?” Pei Ming said. “You think he is behind this?”
“He’s the most vocal – and the most popular – separatist in Ki-Khanga,” Nandi said. “He believes the First Nation would have overcome the Europeans eventually, but when our forefathers built Ki-Khanga, they pushed the Europeans to retaliate by awakening the Old Ones from their thousand year slumber, which forced the First Nations to flee to Ki-Khanga in order to escape the Greens that invaded their lands.”
“He was once a constable was he not?” Pei asked.
“Yes,” Nandi replied. “And a close friend. That was a long time ago, though.”
“So, when do we bring him in for questioning?”
“We don’t,” Nandi answered. “Wabli Ska is the Chief Constable’s son…we don’t want to cause the Chief Constable unnecessary grief on a hunch. We’re going to Tipi Wowahwa District and interrogating him there.”
More students had gathered on the yard.
“Better use that displacement engine,” Nandi said. “Those students aren’t taking too kindly to Chinese faces right now.”
“Alright,” Pei-Pei Ming said, stepping into the tear in the world that had already formed. “I’ll see you onboard the airship.”
Nandi pushed her way past the students and jogged to the airship. She prayed that the perpetrator was, indeed, a Green. She would rather face a thousand Greens than be forced to execute someone she cared for.
Before entering the dirigible, she turned her gaze skyward. The clouds were a bright pink. The sun was going down. Darkness was falling upon Ki-Khanga.
Nandi looked down through a porthole. A herd of wild horses galloped across the vast, green plains that comprised the Tipi Wowahwa District.
The dirigible landed just outside of a small village of tipi, which were constructed of buffalo skin dyed red and indigo.
“Wabli Ska and his followers live here, but so do several elders and children,” Nandi said, firing up her monowheel, which was parked at the door of the airship. “Hopefully, things won’t get violent, but if they do, try hard to keep collateral damage to a minimum.”
Pei-Pei Ming peered out of the porthole next to the door. “Oh, things getting violent is highly likely.”
Nandi slid open the door. About fifty yards away – sitting atop white warhorses – were several men and women. Front and center – sitting atop a jet-black horse – was Wabli Ska. “I count thirty, in addition to Wabli Ska. We should be able to take them, but expect a few bumps and bruises.”
“A few bumps and bruises?” Pei Ming echoed, raising an eyebrow. “Umm…”
“Do you need me to come?” Constable Haokah shouted from the pilot’s seat.
“No,” Nandi replied. “A First Nation brother working for ‘The Man’ will just set these warriors off, sugar. Just keep this Ghetto Bird fired up!”
Nandi revved the engine of the monowheel and exploded out of the door.
Pei vanished, reappearing ten yards – her limit with each displacement – from the airship. She vanished again, reappearing after another ten yards. Pei repeated this process until she appeared beside Nandi who now stood beside her monowheel about five yards from Wabli Ska.
The warhorses were decorated in war-paint. Scarlet circles were painted around the animals’ eyes and nostrils; and green hand prints were drawn upon each horse’s hip. Each horse had a small leather medicine bag weaved into its bridle and black-tipped eagle feathers braided into its forelock and tail.
The warriors wore deerskin shirts and trousers. Their cheeks bore a red and crimson stripe and all but Wabli Ska wore two eagle feathers sewn into their hair.
Wabli wore a bonnet made of black eagle feathers with a white tip.
“What it is, what it was and what it will be, Wabli?” Nandi asked, raising her hand in greeting.
“Nothin’ shakin’,” Wabli answered. “Why are you here, Nandi?”
“We have two murders on our hands,” Nandi replied. “One is a Chinese monk; the other one is an African girl. The Chinese symbols for war were carved into the girl’s back.”
“What has any of that got to do with me?” Wabli said. “Or you, for that matter? Since when does a monster-hunter work homicide?”
“It could be a Green committing these crimes, but before we head out to the Green Lands, we need to weigh all of our options,” Nandi replied.
“And I’m n option? Wabli spat. “Get your ass out of here, Nandi, before you get yourself hurt!”
“We just want to talk, Wabli,” Nandi said. “You know me, sugar; you don’t want your people to die and I don’t want to hurt anyone, but if you make a move, I’ll kill you all.”
“I always wanted to see if a Gatekeeper was as bad-ass as they say,” a young warrior shouted. “Let me handle this, Chief!”
“Boy, shut up when grown folks is talkin’!” Wabli commanded. “I watched this woman kill two Wendigo with nothing but that damned shotgun on her back. You are not gonna fight her…”
Wabli drew his tomahawk with his right hand and raised it above his head. “We are!”
Wabli threw the tomahawk at Nandi’s head.
Nandi dropped to one knee, avoiding the weapon, as she drew her shotgun.
Pei-Pei Ming vanished. A moment later, she appeared, sitting behind the young warrior who wanted to fight Nandi. Pei grabbed his chin with one hand and the crest of his head with the other and then twisted forcefully. The young man fell from his horse and landed on his chest. His head – now turned backward – stared up at Pei with dead eyes.
Nandi fired a volley from her shotgun, blowing three warriors off their horses before they could string an arrow on their bows. She then leapt toward Wabli and struck him in the chest with the butt of the shotgun.
Wabli tumbled off the horse and landed, with a thud, onto his back. He recovered quickly, however, rolling to his feet and running toward the airship.
“He’s going for the airship,” Nandi shouted. “Stop him, Pei, but don’t kill him. We need to question him. I’ll clean up here.”
Pei nodded as she crushed a warrior’s windpipe with a swift chop. She vanished, leaving Nandi to deal with the warriors.
Nandi leapt high into the air as she fired the shotgun. A warrior’s head disappeared in a cloud of red mist.
She landed – rolling to avoid a volley of arrows – and then popped to her feet, squeezing the shotgun’s trigger in rapid succession.
Five more warrior’s fell.
The remaining warriors turned their horses around and retreated toward the village.
Nandi hopped on her monowheel and headed back to the airship. She arrived to find Wabli face down on the ground in handcuffs.
“Wabli, did you kill the monk and the girl?” Nandi asked.
“Yes,” Wabli confessed.
Nandi was stunned. “I’ll ask again…”
“No need,” Wabli said, interrupting her. “I did it.”
“Wabli, your father…”
“Don’t mention my father!” Wabli hissed. “Just…don’t…please.”
“Okay, Wabli,” Nandi said, pulling him to his feet. Let’s go.”
“I am so sorry, Chief Constable,” Nandi said, taking a seat in front of Chief Constable Magaska Hota’s desk. “I know how close you and Wabli are.”
“Yes, it saddens me,” the Chief Constable said. “But I am also happy the murderer has been brought to justice.”
Pei-Pei Ming handed Chief Constable Magaska Hota a form and a pen. “We just need you to sign the Writ of Execution and we will carry out the sentence.”
The Chief Constable took the pen in his left hand and signed the form. “Please, make it quick. I don’t want my son to suffer.”
“You misunderstand, Chief,” Nandi said. “Please read the name on the Writ of Execution carefully.”
The Chief Constable perused the form. “Is this a joke?”
“No joke, sir,” Nandi replied.
“Why is my name on this Writ?” The Chief Constable inquired.
“Because you are the murderer,” Nandi replied. “Shi Yan Bo suffered rib fractures to his right side, indicating a powerful left-legged strike. The damage on the left side of his neck came as the result of an attack from behind, with the assailant’s left hand.”
Nandi stood up. “The girl suffered defensive wounds on her right forearm, caused by a razor attack with the assailant’s left hand…and just now, you signed the Writ with your left hand, but when Wabli attacked me, he threw the tomahawk with his right hand.”
“You have a good son, former Chief Constable,” Pei-Pei Ming said. “He would rather die than see it happen to his father.”
“Oh, please,” Magaska Hota hissed, staring down at his desk. “He just wants to be a martyr. The fool thinks it will further his cause.”
Nandi drew her shotgun. “If you move your head one inch, you’ll lose it.”
Magaska Hota laughed gleefully and clapped his hand. “Oh, you are a smart one, aren’t you? You know what I am. Very good.”
“Yeah, sugar,” Nandi said. “You’re a Two-Face.
Nandi did not take her eyes – or her weapon – off of the monster as she addressed Pei Ming. “Pei-Pei, the gaze of a Two-Face paralyzes so it can drain its victims’ blood without them putting up a fight. They also like to cause war and strife…easier for them to hunt during the chaos.”
“Bingo!” Magaska Hota chuckled.
“What I don’t know is how you took possession of the Chief without breaching the Wall.”
“I have been with Magaska Hota since his family brought him here when he was twelve,” the creature replied. “I – of course – had to lay dormant in my host for quite a while before I could take over. During that time, the boy got married and conceived a son. Wabli and Magaska Hota were very close by the time I took over and Wabli noticed the change. I guess he hoped that his death would shock Magaska Hota into waking up and casting me out, but it’s too late. Magaska Hota’s soul is dead.”
Nandi pulled the trigger. “That’s all I needed to know.”
The Two-Face’s head was blown from its shoulders. A greenish-black ichor spewed from the creature’s neck. Its headless body shuddered and then collapsed onto the floor.
“He is going to cry,” Pei Ming sighed.
“Wabli Ska?” Nandi asked.
Pei shook her head. “No…the janitor when he sees this mess he has to clean up.”
Nandi dipped her pounded yam into the egusi stew and slid the mixture into her mouth. “Mm, this is delicious, sugar.”
Constable Kojoe smiled. “I told you, this is the best African restaurant in all of Ki-Khanga.
“You might just be right, but there is this place in North Gate that’ll make you…”
“Excuse the interruption.”
Nandi looked over her shoulder. “Pei-Pei! Have you come to join us?”
“I wish that were the case,” Pei answered. “But a Stone Coat has breached the Wall.”
“A Stone-Coat? I haven’t fought one of those in years!” Nandi said, rising from her chair. “This should be fun; the last one took out forty constables and a Gatekeeper before I could put it down.”
“Count me in!” Constable Conger said, wiping the corners of his mouth with a handkerchief.
“Then let’s roll, sugar,” Nandi said, heading for the restaurant’s exit. “We got monsters to kill!”