“She is coming,” Taiji says, walking into the camp, towards Tanko. There’s haste in both his eyes and movements, and desperation lies comfortably in his voice.
Tanko knew it was only a matter of time. Zainab, that girl, was bound by doggedness to find them. It was sooner or later. He had hoped such was not the case, that, that child would leave everything behind and for herself make a life out of the misery which now marked her family name.
The desert sun burns bright and its heat feels like it would fry a bag of beans given the chance. Tanko turns to Taiji, tiredness seated in his gaze. They had been out in the desert for days, and his mission as directed by the Sultan has neither been accomplished nor stayed fair to him. He missed the cold weather of Jos, the warmth of his farmland, and the pleasant sight of his ranch. But duties come before pleasure, he always tells himself.
There they are, Zainab exhales. Wrapped in her cloak with a scarf covering almost all of her face from dust, she stands staring into the distance before her. Just half a meter away lies over twenty camps, with the biggest behind them from the angle she stands, but at the center from the sky’s view. The closer she gets to him, the more her heart aches and bitterness drenches her in cold rain. Today, after four long and painful years, she is going to avenge her parents.
She replays in her mind the last memories of her papa. Hiding just behind a large vas of plants with her maid holding her mouth from screaming, she had watched Tanko take on her papa, cut his arm off and put his sword through his throat, leaving him to die. He torched their mansion, letting everything burn to the ground. Her mother in fright of this ran into her own death, at the tip of a mere soldier’s drawn sword.
Somehow she survived. She lived with the memories, the nightmare. The anguish. She learned to summon her chì and trained for this very day. She was daughter to the desert god, Àjà, just like her papa. Today, with the torture of reliving that horrible memory, it has scarred her forever but she has learned that very technique. That move. How he’d swung the sword, how it’d pierced her papa’s throat, enough to make him die slowly but surely. That is what she plans to do to him.
She spreads her arms, eyes closed as she summons her chì. Her arms illuminate, and so does the sand symbols on it. The desert responds to her call, and from its dust, the sands swirled into a huge storm, rising thirty feet into the air and widening, and she pushes it forward.
“Why do you look perturbed?” Tanko says, rises to his feet and walks over the table just a few yards from him. On it are papers and writing inks, each with recent documentations of his findings since his arrival here. He picks the now warm cup of milk on the table, places it in his mouth and sighs in distaste for the warmth. Placing his hand over it, his hand illuminates, symbols of the sun which are tattooed on it glows brighter. The milk within the cup bubbles and the warmth in it disperses, leaving it cold as ice. He drinks from it, gulping it all down and exhaling in satisfaction which still doesn’t reach his eyes.
“Sir, she’s the daughter of Alhaji Nazir Tafawa. She is dangerous, even if alone. Especially in a place like this.” Taiji’s sentiments meet Tanko as justified but irrelevant. But before his response would leave his lips, another soldier rushes into the camp, terrified.
“My Lord, a huge sandstorm is headed this way,” he says, nervous.
Tanko sighs. He had not expected she’d grown enough to control sand that large, and enough to create a sand storm. It made him wonder if pain and suffering were always necessary to push people into being better or worse of themselves. He coughs harshly. “Give me my medicine.”
The storm razes down the camps, soldiers, screams, weapons, camels, flying into the spinning air of sand, swallowed by its thick swirl. It moves like one with a mind of its own, destroying everything but the main camp, and as everything lies in ruin, the storm disperses, leaving nothing but a sea of displaced hot sand and planks everywhere.
Zainab pants. Creating and maintaining that amount of storm has depleted her chì. But she has enough reserve to finish what she started. She wriggles her wrist and debris within the air forms around her grip, creating a bow in its place.
From the camp, out walks Tanko, and by his side Taiji, sword already drawn and awaiting orders to fight. Taking sight of him, Zainab growls, stabbed in the chest by the painful memories flooding her head. The dead look in his eyes, his indifferent disposition. She wonders if at all his sin against her family gives him sleepless nights. If the face of her papa, his best friend, haunts him. It does her, and it begs her for revenge.
“You shouldn’t have come here, Kyakkyawan,” he sighs. Both his arms are tied behind his back, and his sword, that very sword, black with a golden handle, hangs in its sheath around his waist. The wind loosely hits him, shaking his thick grey beard which is as full as that dark night she had lost everything.
She fumes. That was all she called her as a child. He was her bag of beauty. He was her everything. He was her model. Aside her papa, he was someone she wanted to be like. He had named her. And his daughter then was like a blood sister to her.
“You took everything from me,” she pants. Her face furrows.
He cuts in almost as the words ends on her lips. “I took only that which I needed to take, hence why you are still breathing.”
He let her live. Just to torture her. To ridicule her. For all she has been through, it all was his intention. She is sure. He wanted to put a deep scar in her heart. But why? She thinks within herself, boiling. What did she do wrong? What did they do wrong?
“Why?” She struggles to voice the words as anger chokes her. Her tattoos glow, and the sands around her begin to rise. “Why did you do it?”
“The Sultan gave the orders, and your father had it coming,” Tanko says, intrigued by her ability to subconsciously give life to the sand with just her emotions. Indeed, he affirms his position, she has even more potential than her father did. “He had his chance to take your family away so you don’t witness his fall by my sword, but he didn’t. And for that, he was a fool. He ruined your life.”
Zainab sparks. She snarls as her arm lines. The bow drags back, sand forms arrows in her hand and she fires. Tanko moved his arm, creating his shield of flames, repelling her attack effortlessly.
“Yashi!” She goes on her knees, screams atop her voice. From the swirling sand around her, desert wolves, made of sand, gain life, lurching towards Tanko. Her arms thrust forward. The sands on the ground rise and thicken, spreading.
Tanko finds his legs swallowed and trapped by the thickened sand around him, restricting his movements. The wolves leap for him, snarling. He crosses his arms, their tattoos glow, and he roars. Fire spits off his breath like a storm, spreading, devouring everything.
Zainab raises a shield statue, covering her as the large gust of fire blasts through everything. She gasps at the incoming movements. Something hits her shield from the front, it cracks. Impossible, her eyes widen. A streak of fire and burning steel cuts through it. The black sword pierces in and goes straight her chest.
She pivots, but the blade cuts through her arm instead. She screams, punches the shield, and it replicates her punch into an arm of sand, ramming into whoever holds the sword before her it.
“I had hoped I wouldn’t have to do this.”
Behind her. She spins around, shocked, eyes wide. He stands there, backing the scorching sun, arm raised towards her, palms spread and glowing. Her scream rises into the desert as the flames burn through her skin.
Tanko watches her lie there, arms burned, clothes torn and her scarf now dust. She pants, exhausted, yet struggles to stand to her feet, for one last fight. Unwilling to lose to him. Unwilling to let her father down.
“Your death is certain,” he says. “While the desert is your strength, the heat that sustains it is mine.” He walks past her to his sword lying in a pool of sand. “I had hoped you wouldn’t make the same mistakes your father did. Always reckless.”
She tries to stand, falling each time.
“Didn’t they teach you to conserve your chì?” He walks back to her. “Why let rage make you burn everything up even before your victory grows a chance?”
“I— will kill you,” she cries from the pain. The burn and the hot sand making it all hurt. “You took my papa, my mother, everything!”
“I take no blame for Minna’s death. She ran when not chased, and thus into a death not hers. Her fear was her choice to feel. It already was certain I came for your father, not you or your mother.” He stops just where she kneels, and with his hand he pushes her back against the ground. “I let you live because your father was my friend and you were like a daughter to me. I hoped, though disappointed, that you would live past this. Become better. Maximise your potential. Not buy into your father’s selfish desires for revenge. Shame that this is your legacy you created for yourself, Kyakkyawan.”
He swings his sword for her neck. And as her blood spits into the air and onto his garment, he sighs, disappointed. He turns back to Taiji who is headed his way with relief in his eyes.
“Dig the ground, eight feet deep. I want her buried with honour. Like I did my daughter.”