Fantasy

Stoneskin

By

This book will launch on Jun 12, 2020. Currently, only those with the link can see it. 🔒

Worth reading 😎

Personally, I have never read a piece of fantasy that ingrains itself in African heritage like this, and it broadened my horizons.

Synopsis

Long ago, before the end of the gods, a curse was set upon glass fragments strewn about the world. These objects were blessing and curse both. Within them held the power of the gods yet their core plagued the user with a heinous blight.

Faced against an empire helming warships against a village manning fishing boats, Jelani had no choice the day he decided to use the powerful yet vicious Gods’ Glass.

His reward for his heroism is paid in a disease that slowly consumes his body in welts of stone. To all who know it, brewmasters and scholars alike, it’s a death sentence. It’s only a matter of time before the stone takes his body whole, and with it, his mind and sanity, leaving him nothing more than a raging beast.

But there is rumor of a cure, a potion that can keep the plague at bay, though it comes with a price heavier than gold…

Delve into this prequel novella to By Sea & Sky, a pirate fantasy inspired by East African and Arabian myth and folklore.

‘Stoneskin: Lost Tales of Esown’ by Antoine Bandele is a refreshing piece of fantasy. I, personally, have never read a piece of fantasy that ingrains itself in African heritage like this and it broadened my horizons. I have always been an advocate that fantasy should have real world connotations and, therefore it is not only enjoyable, but educational. Aside from this, the story is strong and unpredictable, giving twists that kept me on my toes until the end. The characters make this story believable as well, with their distinct nature. There are some less positive aspects to the use of characters, but it would be unfair to focus too heavily on these, as the story was compelling and kept me reading.


I feel it is important to start with the influence for this book. For me, it is the main draw. There is only a certain amount I can say, because I am by no means an expert on African history. However, it is evident that the story is not written from a totally western viewpoint, as a lot of fantasy is, and this adds to the appeal and fascination when reading. The language and dialects in particular add depth to the world and lore in which it is part, and I look forward to reading other editions that add to the magic and religion around the Oni’baro and their way of life. Fantasy is not just the story being told, but the world in which it is set.


The characters within the book, also add to its success. The protagonist Jelani and his wife, Zala, are characters that can be easily routed for, as their personalities are infectious – particularly Zala, who’s determination and feistiness drew me in. Supporting characters such as the Brewmaster and Ganaji also exemplify the deeper motivations behind people. These characters shine a light on issues around political intrigue, personal greed and first impressions. Stories need these thematic blankets, particularly fantasy that has to keep a connection to real life in order to maintain relevance. ‘Stoneskin’ does this well.


Despite the books positives, there are some issues over the way the characters are used. Although they are strong and believable, there are times in which their intricacies are let down. It felt there were times in which the story came to a dead end and the only way to get out was for a character to make an uncharacteristic choice, or to engage in some uncharacteristic dialogue. This prevents the characters from obtaining a level of fullness they otherwise could have. There thoughts are also, on occasion, expressed too blatantly. Some of the joy for a reader is to interpret through the layers and motivations of a character, and spelling out these motivations too obviously robs the reader of some of this enjoyment.


Nonetheless, that is me nit-picking and overall the book was enjoyable and engrossing. The refreshing nature of the African influence on the story was something that educated as well as entertained and with the accompaniment of characters you can’t help but route for, the book delivered exactly what is hoped from fantasy – in fact, it delivered with a pinch extra. 

Reviewed by

I have recently started a job in marketing, but have engaged in writing since the start of my time at university. This varies from short stories, poetry and book reviews. I am, of course, an avid book reader. I am also active, playing tennis regularly and attending my local gym.

Synopsis

Long ago, before the end of the gods, a curse was set upon glass fragments strewn about the world. These objects were blessing and curse both. Within them held the power of the gods yet their core plagued the user with a heinous blight.

Faced against an empire helming warships against a village manning fishing boats, Jelani had no choice the day he decided to use the powerful yet vicious Gods’ Glass.

His reward for his heroism is paid in a disease that slowly consumes his body in welts of stone. To all who know it, brewmasters and scholars alike, it’s a death sentence. It’s only a matter of time before the stone takes his body whole, and with it, his mind and sanity, leaving him nothing more than a raging beast.

But there is rumor of a cure, a potion that can keep the plague at bay, though it comes with a price heavier than gold…

Delve into this prequel novella to By Sea & Sky, a pirate fantasy inspired by East African and Arabian myth and folklore.

Jelani

Jelani shouted at his feet to move faster, but they wouldn’t listen. They couldn’t find proper purchase on the loose sands, and he stumbled for it. It didn’t matter, though. He had to get to the beach, get to the cove. Thick rain thumped down against his shoulders like a thousand tiny blows against his skin. He cursed and pushed on.

As he cleared the coastal tree line, he saw a half dozen Vaaji warships against an angry ocean of slate. Jelani barely even noticed the puny boats bobbing before the giant vessels. The little dhows looked like dragonflies before a group of beasts. Huge cannons and pointed bowsprits outfitted each hulking man-o-war. The people of the island were not prepared for this. 

Jelani was not prepared for this. 

Cannonballs ripped like thunder across the waves as they claimed the hull of yet another fishing boat.

By the Gods, no. 

The break of white-capped waves swallowed the tiny vessel whole, and Jelani’s stomach dropped. The torrent of the storm did nothing to mask the screams of Jelani’s countrymen, men and women he knew by name, children who he had known since they were mere babes. They needed his help; they wouldn’t last without him. But his damned legs just wouldn’t go fast enough. 

Where there should have been soldiers, there were only common villagers, every one of them having dropped their normal routines. They were supposed to be setting their morning traps and nets in the low tide; now, instead, their corpses tumbled onto the sands, their clumped bodies looking like beached whales. 

The sight of one particular body stopped Jelani in his tracks. A boy lay crumpled on the beach, his lifeless eyes staring up at the heavens blankly. Those eyes were the same ones that had glinted in the firelight mere hours ago when Jelani paid the child extra for the grilled fish that still sat on the table back at his shanty. Ziggy was his nickname, the boy had told Jelani. 

Another corpse ripped his attention from the boy. This one was furred, however, an ash-brown and black pattern of a pakka—the cat-people who had come to call the island home in recent years. Jelani’s heart clogged in his throat, frightened to find the face that belonged to this pakka. But the streaks of black fur down the front of the cat’s face were not the markings he feared to recognize. His breath shot out in one long gasp. 

Staving off the latent fatigue threatening to claim him, he took off again toward the thick of the battle. It shouldn’t have turned out this way. It was the charge of the golden lord and his tide lords to protect the island, yet there was no aid, nor was there time to call for it. Jelani could only hope he could buy the survivors enough time. Maybe if they could hold out long enough… that’s all he could hope for.

A few paces from the first group of villagers along the beach, Jelani stopped, closed his eyes, and focused, his mind reaching into the sea. He could never quite explain it to a non-mystic—the sensation of melding with the spirit of a sea creature. But it was like nothing else.  

A ripple lurched through his chest, and he found a large octopus racing to the depths of the ocean in an attempt to flee the chaos of the surface. Jelani stretched out his hand, touching the creature’s mind with his own through a’bara

Forgive me, friend.

He banished its survival instincts and replaced them with rage. Reckless fury directed the octopus to halt then twist to the monstrous shapes above it. Jelani felt the creature speed toward a ship headed for the beach. It launched itself out of the water and attacked the Vaaji helmsman, pulling the sailor under the waves. 

Jelani squeezed his foe with the tentacles of the octopus, feeling the creature’s sinewy muscles ripple and flex as if they were his own. The helmsman clawed at the tentacles, desperately trying to free himself from the death grip. Then the painful sensation of a blade piercing rubbery flesh seized Jelani and he was jerked back into his own body. 

Jelani’s body went hollow as he felt the creature’s life fade away. He frowned, a short prayer of grief already leaving his lips when—

A boom rocked his eardrums. Jelani spun. The foreign ship blasted a devastating hole into the cliffside above. The impact shook everything around him. Rocks larger than horses rushed straight for his head. A shadow flew at his side. It threw him bodily into the air and onto the sands.

“What took you so long, kijana?” Above him stood Tafari, his friend—and now savior. “Caught ya takin’ a shit?” 

The pakka stuck out his hand for Jelani to grab, his feline snout turned in a scowl that might have appeared terrifying to some, but Jelani knew was actually teasing. 

Jelani shook his head as he was lifted to his feet, amazed that the pakka could maintain his sense of humor even in dire straits like this. He lifted the spiral necklace resting against his collar bone. Its stone still glowed a faint forest green—a call for help from one oni’baro to another. 

“I only now got the message. Came as soon as I saw the smoke,” he said in his Southern Isle Pakwan dialect. He hunched over to rest his hands on his knees to catch his breath. 

A group of his fellow sea-speaking oni’baro fought fiercely by the water, impressing their will upon the creatures of the sea to aid them in their struggle against the enemy.

“The right side of the beach is almost gone,” Jelani said, sighing through labored breaths. “If we don’t do something fast, everyone here—oni’baro or not—is gonna get slaughtered.”

A huge bellow brought both of their attentions back to the beach. The roar came from Elder Djimon, who swung his hands in an outward spiral, the ocean’s waves mirroring his movement in a mystical hold. The break rotated forward and out to halt the enemy’s advance.  

Jelani’s heart skipped. The small man appeared even smaller without his signature cloak—which must have been shed at some point in the conflict. After loosing his latest wave, the elder turned to Jelani with a weary expression. 

While slight of build, the elder had never come across as a frail man. He had always shone bright with a vitality that even younger men seemed to envy. But that morning, Djimon looked drawn and haggard. It was as if the battle had aged him fifteen years in just a few moments. Maybe it had. 

"So many lost.” Djimon sighed gravely. “Why? Why do the Vaaji attack us?" He stared at Jelani like he was expecting an answer, but Jelani had none.

“They ain’t declare what they want?” Jelani asked as he rubbed the back of his head free of sand.

Tafari dipped his head low. “Long story short: we found them snooping in the cove, and mining our Gods’ Glass on top of it. That first ship there was our answer to the interlopers.” He pointed along the beach to where Jelani had come across the only sunken ship to the Vaaji’s name. 

“We have no choice, brothers and sisters!” Kujala shouted over the first roar of thunder that rolled over the beach. Her mass of curly hair swayed in the wind, and her words were sharp as they always were. “I don’t see any other way,” she went on through staccato breaths. “We must summon the kubahari!” 

Using her a’bara to channel her own sea-speaking powers, she summoned a group of razorfish and guided them to leap onto the decks of the enemy ships to attack the invading soldiers. Jelani could feel Kujala’s a’bara flowing from her into the sea, just like he could feel that of every other oni’baro on the beach. Each of their efforts was more desperate than the last as they used their gifts to save their people, their island. But none of it was working. 

Kujala cried out as a cannonball slammed into the ground by her feet, sending rock and sharp debris flying around her body. She fell to her knees in the sand. Her breaths came jagged and harsh as she lost the connection and the razorfish dove back into the break of white-capped waves.   

“Rashidi, watch that right flank!” Elder Djimon shouted.

Another oni’baro, an elemental like the elder, reformed a wave to protect them at their side. “Yes—I mean… I got it. Sorry, sorry. Won’t happen again, Elder.”

Elder Djimon leaned on his staff and shook his bald head slowly, the gray hairs peppering his beard twisting as he scowled beneath it. 

Jelani wished the elder’s stick was more than just baobab wood. Were it a mystical staff, they might have been able to turn the tides in the fight.

“You know what could happen if we unleash the kubahari so close to home,” Djimon said in a hoarse voice. “She could destroy all of Kidogo.”

“Better to meet our ends at her doing than at theirs!” Kujala snapped, pointing at the nearest Vaaji ship looming ever closer. 

Djimon normally would not have tolerated such disrespect from his second, but now, under stiff breaths and a moist brow, he simply sighed. “Very well. This will be a very dangerous summoning. We may not even pull it off. No one’s summon the kubahari for many generations, and our numbers are too few. We will need a large shard of Gods’ Glass if we are to do this.”

Jelani shuddered. That was a power too great for any of them, even with their number. They’d more likely die themselves than summon the great sea creature. But that wasn’t all.

“That’s against our way,” he said darkly as another oni’baro flung out her hands toward a school of large barracudas. The fish leapt from the water and smashed a Vaaji soldier overboard. “We can’t just remove Gods’ Glass from its restin’ place. It’s blasphemy, a crime against the Gods.”

Kujala came up to support the attack of her sister with her own outstretched hand as she shouted over her shoulder, “We can’t just sit here and let them take the beach either. Yem will forgive us.” 

“Where will we get that much glass?” Jelani retorted. “The cove is too deep, the water too rough. By the time one of us snags it, the Vaaji will have destroyed us."

“Jelani and I can be doing it.” Jelani almost groaned as he heard Tafari’s voice pipe up. He knew what was coming next. His friend pointed down the eastern shore, the wind blowing the brown and black fur on his arm back. “It's a mere sprint away. I am the fastest, and Jelani’s our strongest swimmer. We can run there, break a shard from the walls, and be back before you even notice we were gone.”

Jelani shook his head. “Even with us goin’ full sprint, gettin’ to the cavern and back will take an hour at least.” 

“Are you seeing better choices here, Brother?” Tafari asked. 

A cannon blast impacted one of the cove’s rocks just feet away. Jelani shielded his eyes from the blow. Shrapnel rattled down around them. 

He and Tafari exchanged a look, and they both knew what had to be done. Still, he hated when Tafari made suggestions. They always seemed to involve Jelani risking his life, even when there wasn’t a war raging around them.

Djimon scowled and turned back to Jelani and Tafari. "We can give you an hour, but only just. Can you do it?"

Jelani peered over the elder’s shoulder to the first of the Vaaji ships. They were less than half a league away, but his fellow oni’baro were keeping the Vaaji at bay without a single casualty on their side. He couldn’t say the same for the fishermen, though. “I don't know where the larger shards are at, but Tafari does. He runs around the caves all the time. He can find a piece big enough. I’ll help him break it of, then we’ll carry it back together.”

“Thank you, my sons,” Djimon said. He made a hand motion in the air towards each of them, writing an invisible symbol in the air. “May the ancestors protect you and may Her waves be merciful." 

Tafari and Jelani bowed their heads to accept the elder’s blessing. In unison, they replied, “May Her waves be merciful.”

“Now go!” Djimon cried out as another explosion erupted the ground nearby, showering them with sand and sharp rocks. "Go before these savages become our undoing!”

Tafari spun to face the distant cave, tail twitching as he crouched down to the ground. His pointed ears laid flat against the top of his head and a glint sparkled in his green eyes. 

“Time to be heroes!” he said mischievously, winking at Jelani. 

They took off across the beach. Their run became a sort of dance, bodies twisting as they dodged projectiles from the enemy ships and leaped over smoldering wreckage and burning bodies in their path. Tafari’s pakka physique allowed him to pull ahead of Jelani almost immediately, galloping across the beach on all fours like the giant cats his kind descended from. 

“Lookin’ kinda slow there! What’s wrong, Jelani? Zala feeding you too much?”

“You leave my wife out of this,” Jelani snapped. “Not my fault I can only run on two feet.”

There had been no time to see Zala before he headed off. But it wouldn’t matter so long as he got back to her, so long as they won the fight. One step after the other, that’s all it would take. 

Get the glass, call the kubahari, force the Vaaji away. 

That’s all that mattered right now.

Jelani felt a pang of irritation when he heard Tafari whoop loudly with glee as if this was just another morning race he always won. But Jelani saw no joy in his old friend’s bounding stride, only grim determination. No matter how many jokes he made, Jelani knew the gravity of the situation had not escaped him. He was just warding off nerves. 

* * *

More than a few laboring strides later, they reached the cave without sustaining any injuries, save for sore calves and constricted lungs. Breathing hard, Jelani followed Tafari into the cavern, his skin prickling when the cold of the cave greeted him with its cool breath. Tafari suddenly seemed far less enthused in the face of the pool that led into the underwater cove.

“You sure you’re up for this, cat?” Jelani asked, his voice echoing off the crags and lapping water. “I know your kind ain’t fond of the swim.”

“It’s not the swimming that bothers me. It’s the wet and cold.” Tafari flashed a smile, but it faltered when another round of cannon fire rumbled in the distance. “But considering the circumstances… I will be managing it.”

“All right, then.” Jelani pulled off his loose shirt. “Try to keep up.” 

He dove headfirst and hands out, his body straight as a spear through the air and into the dark blue. The rush of water over his bald head felt as natural and smooth as breathing fresh morning air. 

When his family discovered his mystical abilities as a sea speaker during childhood, they wondered if he might have been descended from the ancient merfolk. The fact that he had a raw talent for swimming on top of it only added to the fervor around his magical powers. 

He moved under the black waters, heart thrumming in his chest, then he broke through the surface of the water and into the cave that housed the Gods’ Glass. The ground looked like black-stoned teeth from some ancient rock beast, into whose maw they had unwittingly wandered. It was a small space, more like an antechamber lined with sparkling shards with hues ranging from sapphire to violet. 

At the edge of the pool lay a quartet of dead soldiers. The red, white, and green colors wrapped around their padded armor told him they were Vaaji. Only a few paces away was another body, one more familiar to Jelani. Knobby knees, wizened face, and a full head of long locs. Ice trickled through his insides. The corpse could only belong to Elder Lakicia.

“That’s why Elder Djimon is so angry, I am thinking,” came the voice of Tafari as he finally swam out of the pool. “I would be too if those dikala killed my sister.” 

Jelani couldn’t take his eyes off her body. It was so still. In life, she had been so full of joy and laughter, never standing in one spot for too long despite her age. He crouched next to her, clasping her cold hand in both of his own. 

“Why…?” Jelani asked, his voice barely a whisper.

Tafari, soaking wet fur matted around his arms and paws, shook himself vigorously before joining Jelani at the elder’s side. He closed Lakicia’s open eyes before murmuring, “Elder Djimon said she wanted to check on a ship docked on the northeast beach. She figured it was pirates. But… well I’m sure you can figure it out without me saying.” He nodded at a few glass shards strewn about the rocky ground next to the dead soldiers, and then to the open chasm at the cave’s far end. 

“How in Yem’s name did the damn Vaaji get through?” Jelani shook his head as he moved to examine the opening. Only he and the other oni’baro were supposed to know how to break the seal leading to their isle’s natural resource.

“We don’t know,” Tafari said. “They must have been here for moons trying to figure out the Old Tongue that would get it open.”

Jelani spun on his heel. “How did we not know?” 

“There’s no time, friend. We can’t do anything for her, and we don’t have the time to figure out how the bloody dikala did it. These lot paid for it.” Tafari gestured at the dead soldiers. “Elder Lakicia saw to that. But now we have to help the others.”

Jelani’s mind raced with questions. So many things didn’t make sense. Why were the Vaaji attacking? They were supposed to be a peaceful people—at least when it came to their relations with Kidogo and the other Sapphire Isles. And Elder Lakicia dead? This was all too much. 

Tafari squeezed his shoulder. “I get it, Jelani. It’s a lot. But I need you to focus. Our brothers and sisters won’t hold out much longer.”

“Right…” Jelani murmured. “Right.”

With legs that didn’t want to walk and arms that didn’t want to move, Jelani started searching for a shard of glass that could power the summoning. But he could only see glass belonging to the trickster god and the sky god, neither of which would help them. 

“There’s no Glass of Yem here,” Jelani said as he scanned the cave ceiling. It was covered with stalactites but little else. In fact, there were many bald spots surrounding the sapphire shimmer of the skyglass. “There’s a lot missing… mostly Ula’s Glass.”

“That’s the Vaaji’s doing,” Tafari said, approaching Jelani’s shoulder. “Come, we’ll have to go deeper to find what we need. Aquaglass will do the trick, yes?”

Jelani nodded. Tafari disappeared into the recesses of the cave and straight into the dark chasm. Jelani couldn’t see him past a few paces. He realized that he did not have a torch or any other light source he could use to scan the cavern. Jelani tried to push through the slip of the cave, but it was far too tight for his rigid human body. 

“I can’t get through. What do your cat eyes see, my friend?" Jelani asked the gaping maw of the cave. No answer came. The once faint sounds of the battle thumped closer and louder. He tried to venture into the darkness but his foot slipped on a slimy patch of stone. Jelani winced as his knee slammed into the rocky cave floor. He cursed under his breath and rubbed his knee, annoyance seeping into his voice. "Tafari!"

Still, no answer. Did the pakka fall? Was he so deep that his cry for help couldn’t be heard? Jelani spun on his heel, looking for anything that could help. But what could he do in the end but shout? And shout he did. 

“Tafari!

A minute passed. Then another. Jelani tried to channel out all other sounds, the distant cannon blasts, the lapping of water in the pool behind him, as he strained his ears to hear anything he could.

What if he lost Tafari? He’d known him for all his adult life. He could remember the first day he and his family came to the island when they fled from the Great War in the East. Just a refugee then, a closed-off recluse, spirit shattered by horror and bloodshed. Jelani had almost forgotten about that Tafari—a far step removed from the one he knew today: The life of the festival. The jester without a court. 

Someone like that couldn’t die. The Gods would never permit it.

But there were a lot of things the Gods should have never allowed. 

“I got it!” Tafari’s cry echoed from the darkness. Jelani breathed easier, the tightness in his chest coming loose. “Apologies, friend. I had to go real-real deep.”  

The outline of the cat approached him, staggering slightly under the weight of something heavy in his arms. Tafari got close enough for the dim light cast from the glass around them to reveal his face. He cradled the most massive shard of Yem’s glass Jelani had ever seen. It was enormous, the size of a small melon, a jagged crystal that reflected every shade of blue: azure, cerulean, turquoise, and sapphire. It was like looking into the depths of the ocean itself.  

Well, when a job needs gettin’ done, Tafari sure as the stars will do it.

Jelani never tired of the sight of the glass, transfixed by its ebb and flow. It was like looking at a piece of the Great Mother of the Ocean Herself. He could have sworn he heard a voice emanating from its surface, like the old songs of merfolk. It was truly a wonder to behold. 

But then he looked past the colorful reflections, listened beyond the faint music, and saw the foreboding blackness deep at its core. The black eye seemed to pulsate with menace. 

Beautiful and deadly.

“Well, are you going to stare at it all day or are you going to help me?” Tafari snapped. “This thing is heavy!”

“Shit, my fault.” Jelani shot his hands forward to share the weight. Though the shard was no larger than a melon, it felt like it weighed more than thirty stones. 

The two of them intertwined their arms into a cradle underneath the shard. Oddly, the aquaglass seemed entirely weightless once they dipped back into the pool, not unlike the way Jelani felt when he was enveloped by the ocean’s embrace. 

As soon as he and Tafari settled into a stable position, they pushed forward into the water, gripping the shard carefully. And a short swim later, they were back to the first pool and cave, where the storm against the rocks and the cannon blasts outside rocked their ears once more. 

As they pushed forward Jelani couldn’t help thinking of the power at the shard’s center. If anyone were to draw upon the power for too long, the crystal would dissolve and expose its core. There was a reason its use was deemed sacrilege. But he also knew that this was an oni’baro’s duty, to protect the isle at all costs, both spiritually and physically. And receiving the curse in this manner was truly nothing but honorable. 

* * *

Perhaps it was because Jelani was deep in his dark thoughts, but the run back—if one could call their awkward sidelong jog a run—took much longer than before.

“Oh, my,” Djimon murmured as they arrived and handed the glass to the elder oni’baro. He ran his hand over the rough surface of the shard. “May Her waves be merciful. We’ve no other choice, Great Mother.”

“No disrespect, Elder, but we need to begin the ritual now,” Kujala said tersely, a new cut split between her forehead and nose, her huge curly hair falling in wet clumps around her brows. Blood trickled between her eyes as she glared at the shard with steely resolve. The closest Vaaji ship—far too close for comfort—loomed large and dark behind her through the shroud of rain. 

Djimon nodded. “Of course. Gather around, my fellow oni’baro. Remember the teachings. The fate of our home is in our hands. Elementals,” Djimon ordered as the sea speakers gathered, “keep your strength up on those waves. Only a few moments more. Don’t let the enemy make it to the beach.” 

The rest of the sea speakers, some twenty remaining, gathered around the elder: some kneeling, some leaning forward, others reaching over from behind those shorter than them, everyone managing to touch the Gods’ Glass with at least one fingertip, if not more.

Jelani knelt in the sand, his entire right palm supporting the bottom of the shard, its weight evenly distributed among the others. He couldn't help but feel slightly suffocated, the weight and pressure of all those bodies surrounding him muffling the sounds of the world—but thankfully blocking his view of the carnage. 

Despite himself, he was relieved that the battle felt that much further away. But this was their last shot. If they failed now, they would all die on the beach together. Surely the soldiers would make their beach landing soon.

Jelani narrowed his eyes, focusing on the glass. Almost in unison, a low chanting swelled from the circle of oni’baro. Jelani knew the incantation well. He had often fantasized about summoning the beast when he was younger and the elders had first taught him the ritual. But, in the face of such death, he couldn’t help thinking of his youthful musings as just that. Shame tempered his childish dreams, and fear reminded him not to let his thoughts stray too far from the magic, lest the ritual fail and doom them all.

He struggled to still his hand from shaking, the consequences of the summoning looming in his mind. Every oni’baro casting the spell knew touching the core meant the end of their lives. But as Jelani looked between the faces of his brothers and sisters, human and pakka alike, none of them seemed to share his concerns. They knew what was at stake. Jelani couldn’t afford to let them down.

As their chant picked up in speed and intensity, Jelani felt the shard grow warm and slowly change shape, becoming smaller and lighter with each passing moment, rounder and smoother with each passing second. 

Continuing to chant, Jelani opened his eyes and saw the shard visibly diminishing. Even in its refined form, the lights of blue and white swirled within it like a raging ocean. He stared as the colors disappeared, bleeding from the shard and flowing in sinuous beams into the air around them. It gave way to the black mass at the shard’s center. He turned to the others. Their eyes turned a stark and glowing white, and he could feel the white-heat behind his own.

A shock ran through his spine and he shuddered. He knew what would happen when that mass was exposed to the air and their flesh. It was the price for tampering with the Gods’ Magic. 

As the power swirled around them and the black core came closer to making contact with them all, Jelani thought about his wife Zala. She was expecting him to come home. She didn’t even know where he was now. What would she do if he didn’t return to her? Could she survive on her own? Jelani snorted. Of course, she could. But she didn’t deserve to never see him again. 

Did he have to sacrifice his life in order to protect the village? And where was the damn tide lord and his ships? Why did it weigh on Jelani and the others to shoulder the burden? 

The oni’baro’s chanting reached a crescendo. Eyebrows knitted, Jelani watched as their collective incantation consumed the shard, transforming its crystalline power into a mystical vortex that funneled above them. 

Between the gaps of his brothers and sisters, he could see the enemy ships turning their cannons to them. The elementals’ control over the waves had finally diminished. They had done the best they could, but now, Jelani could only assume they were dead too. Cannon blast after cannon blast rocked the ocean. But no cannonball or arrow or bolt ever found its mark, bouncing harmlessly off of the shining braid of light the ritual had created around them.

Just a few more words.

Jelani bared his teeth against the pull of a’bara binding he and his fellow oni’baro together and filtering back out in a mystical cyclone. 

The heat on his hand was almost unbearable, and the shard had gone from a large and beautiful mosaic of flashing hues of blue to a black orb of death. There couldn't be more than a few seconds remaining before the last layer of the glass burned away. The closer his hand got to the core, the more the air crackled. 

All Jelani could think of was Zala.

Djimon spoke the final word of the incantation and the other oni’baro opened their mouths to echo his words, bringing the ritual to a close. Before the last syllable of the ultimate word left his lips, Jelani pulled his hand back like a child coming too close to a bonfire, but not before an icy chill spread through his middle finger and made his whole body go stiff. 

A burst of light emanated from the group of oni’baro, knocking them all to the ground. Jelani could sense it cover the entire island in a rapidly expanding ring that swept across the ocean until it could no longer be seen. 

The cannon fire stopped and a hush hit the beach. Jelani raised his head and peered at the militia who had made it to the island. They stood in the sands, looking at each other in confusion. Even the storm seemed to subside, as though the Rain Gods themselves were cowering before a great monstrosity. 

A large guttural sound bubbled from the ocean like a war horn cutting through a battlefield. 

Before any of them—Vaaji or villagers—could regroup, a whirlpool formed between the warships and the coastline. With an otherworldly howl, a gargantuan mass emerged from the undercurrent. 

Jelani could barely make out the creature’s head from its body, its surface area too great to comprehend. All he saw at first were teeth—or maybe horns—each one longer than the mast of the tallest Vaaji ship. Tentacles of different shapes and girth thrashed and splashed waves larger than hills. Fishing dhows and warships alike tousled like leaves in the wind. Those closest to the ancient were broken and swallowed underwater within seconds. 

Through the break of water, Jelani thought he saw a gigantic eye, milky and unseeing. It blinked in the early morning gray, looking almost confused, like it didn’t understand why it was there.

The imperial ships fired on the kubahari, maiming its ancient skin. There was simply too much of it though, its mass too great. Another shriek forced Jelani to cover his ears. It reverberated across the ocean, and the colossal tentacles sprang into action. They whipped back-and-forth, demolishing more boats and ships in one or two blows. The smaller tentacles grabbed individual sailors, ripping them apart limb from limb. 

The creature didn’t care if its victims were foreign or native. 

Jelani winced at the terrified screams that now came from the ships, the same screams he had heard from the beach just a few minutes before: the shouts of men and women facing death from an indefeatable adversary. 

The few Vaaji who made it to the beach and the villagers who defended the shoreline retreated closer to the cliffside as the kubahari’s waves gathered momentum and transformed the low tide to high. 

Vaaji ships not initially caught by the ancient beast’s first assault turned back to the open ocean, fleeing the isle. Cheers from the beach eventually drowned out the screams as the kubahari finished off the ships still in range. And as the shoreline cleared of warships Jelani saw, finally, a trio of Tide Lord Moti’s own ships approaching, black and blue flags flapping majestically against the bright morning gray. They may have been late, but at least they came. 

The villagers pumped their fists into the air in triumph as the kubahari sunk back below the depths of the oceans, taking the wreckage of the enemy fleet with it. Jelani smiled, allowing himself to fall back. 

It’s over. 

The thought had barely crossed his mind when his gaze fell on Tafari sitting on the beach. The cat’s head hung low and his shoulders heaved with ragged breaths. Jelani didn’t understand why Tafari looked so defeated until his eyes cleared properly.

Then he gasped. 

Half of Tafari’s fur was gone, replaced by a hard gray scab-like substance laced with cracks and pulsing veins. The curse of Gods’ Glass. Stoneskin.

About the author

Antoine lives in Los Angeles, CA with his girlfriend. He is a YouTuber, producing work for his own channel and others, such as JustKiddingFilms, Fanalysis, and more. Whenever he has the time, he’s writing books inspired by African folklore, mythology, and history. view profile

Published on June 12, 2020

40000 words

Contains explicit content ⚠️

Worked with a Reedsy professional 🏆

Genre: Fantasy

Reviewed by

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