Àjà Phantasm

by Dexter Joseph

The air was clinched with apprehensive intensity and haggard with the rigid fill suited for a war-torn field littered with bodies of the dead and the living, one trampling upon the other to take others down for a trample all over again. The clang of knives, gash, slash of spears, roars of rage and those of death, soaked the wind with sweat and blood of over a thousand warriors lurching into each other’s faces, stained with blood in both their faces and armours and their knives.

Amari panted, eyes wide and sharp as an eagle’s, fierce as a serpent’s, and face rigid with wroth, with the stain of blood from those she’d sent to the other side since the war began two hours earlier. Trumping over the unfortunate warrior before her, she overwhelmed and subdued him with superior strength and skill, bringing him to his knees quicker than a second, and in one quick swing of her knife, she snatched his life off his lungs, leaving him and his splattering blood to drop onto the dozens of bodies which had been knifed down before him, each fallen like sacks of onion.

Quickly, she swerved off the way to a swift right just as an attack from behind, which she’d not seen but reacted to nonetheless, slashed past where she’d stood half a second earlier. With a snarl and a single blow from her blade she sent both the warrior’s armed limb and his head flying ten feet into the air, watching his body fall on its knees, then slump to the ground.

“There’s no end to this!” she scowled, taking down another, then another, sustaining a slash to the arm, yet taking out the warrior who’d inflicted it.

“When is the Prince coming? He should’ve been here by now,” Jidenkeagu said with struggle, next to Amari but with eyes on his victim to whom, with bare, large hands he crushed his skull.

Glaring around them, all to Amari’s acclivitous distraught, they were six hundred warriors, now waning as she lost more men to the Gambi Tribes, who in fact originally outnumbered them three to one each at the start. The Prince, though very young, was meant to bring a balance in the scale of the war for this land of gold to which they battled for, but he was taking longer time than had been hoped for. They had placed so many plans on his return from the Vale of Ash with a formidable Phantasm.

If anything however perturbed her anymore than losing this war, it was having the young prince-regent anywhere near the battle and risk him being exposed to harm. By default one was to think that if he appeared here, it meant he’d become an anchor for a Phantasm, and having acquired the title of anchor, he was of course almost invincible. She however, never had intents of seeing him as an anchor of a Phantasm above the future and Prince-regent of Azùzù.

The war had started off on their side, and with momentum, but in time a man was bound to get weak. She was losing men faster than she’d hoped for, and more lands in the process. This wasn’t the crux of her annoyance however. The Gambi Tribes strangely had two Phantasms on their side, one being Melli‘s Anyaaladị, the estimated sixth in rank amongst known Phantasms, which sadly signified that Melli had either lost the war against the Gambi Tribes or had willingly offered their strength to Gambi to avert a total annihilation, both which still meant they had lost their war.

Amari groused, eyes ahead, watching the Phantasm shake the ground as it moved. The ten feet entity with body made of rocks, its layers having rifts which burned with reddish light. It carried large bludgeons on both hands, and even with its weight and size, was flexible with its swings. How Melli easily lost in a space of two days even whilst having that Phantasm as their ultimate weapon, made Amari wonder. She knew of the Gambi Tribes’ Ishiọbara, the Phantasm of shadows, considered dangerous and almost feared as those perceived to be above it. She had not once seen it in a fight but had heard stories of its power. That power was enough to win this war for the Gambi Tribes.

In all admittance, the only reason Azùzù got into war with the Gambi Tribes now was because at the other side they were at a fierce conquest against Melli, thus with vitiated and split armed force. In no way had she imagined Ishiọbara would be here, yet Melli lost still.

“Commander, we have to retreat!” Jidenkeagu screamed atop his voice. Anyaaladị was finally moving forward and the Gambi warriors were backing away. Its hand was raised, fist clenched, and with each movement, Gambi warriors scampered away for safety.

“Archers!” Amari roared. This was a futile move and was at best going to cost her lives of her men, yet she called to them anyway. Phantasm or not, she thought, Azùzù was never cowering in fright to the Gambi people, even if they all died to that pride.

Arms lined and so did arrows. It didn’t matter the fear, it didn’t matter the outcome. The call had been made, and it wasn’t one for a retreat. Ten, fifteen, twenty archers from various locations of the battle field stretched and aimed for the Phantasm as it moved in, grey smoke oozing all around its frame and the rifts on its skin glowing brighter.

“Fire!”

The strings of the bows sang through the air like a choir’s cry. The arrows launched forward in their dozens. Anyaaladị roared, its arm punched against the ground. The earth quivered, rifts spread about, and ruptures blasted their way forward. The ruptures moved fast, stabbing, slicing, killing everything it rumbled and spiked past with every covered meter. Screams spread across the field, blood and bodies dropped and cluttered around. Warriors from both sides.

“Amari! We need to back away for now!” Jidenkeagu rose to his feet, arm bleeding from the cut he’d sustained from evading the attack. He hurried towards Amari whose gaze still remained on the Phantasm, locked to it as though she could think out a way around it. “There are two Phantasms out there and one isn’t even fighting yet, without the Prince and whatever Phantasm he returns with, we don’t stand a chance against one, let alone two of those.”

“Yes, we do,” Amari shook her head, obstinacy unwavering in her eyes. Her fists were clutched tight to both her knife and her shield, watching bitingly as the Phantasm powered itself for another attack. She cursed, furious. Why was it so powerful? She growled.

Jidenkeagu pressured on. “Melli warriors haven’t even joined the fight yet. Let go of that stubbornness and give the order to retreat.”

“Retreat to where? If we run, we die anyway, most of us. And we still lose this land. Curse be on me that the King or the Prince returns and beholds that we lost this war, and did so like weaklings,” she scowled.

Jidenkeagu understood her point. Their defeat grew by the second inevitable, but Amari would rather they died with pride than to run. He sighed. His sentiments were different, but it didn’t mean she was wrong. It was time to do his work. He turned and walked hurriedly away, eyes darting about, thinking, knives in hand but walking past the others, searching for something.

Amari turned to her men. Fear, that daunting emotion which she took with contempt, was on all their faces. The best of her men, each trained and bred under her command. That feeling of weakness, she knew, was expected; it was justified, but it wasn’t needed.

“Warriors of Azùzù!” she roared at them. Their eyes moved to her, waiting for what she was going to say. She panted, like a wounded rhino. “This is no man’s place to die, and where it is, it is no place to cower to the intimidation of these rotters from the pits of the dead’s graveyard. We are here by the decree of the Prince, with the will of the King and for the good of Azùzù! This curve is ours, for ten years it has been and for a lifetime it will remain! The Prince is risking his life to find aid; this is where we risk ours to buy him time. He will never quit, and we will never fall. Am I clear?!”

“Yar!” The echoes filled the air, so loud the base of the allied forces of Gambi and Melli could hear their roar.

“Am I clear?!”

“Yar!”

Anyaaladị slapped its hands into the ground. The earth around it glowed, boulders carved up and launched off the ground, whooshing through the air and towards the stand of the warriors of Azùzù.

“Before you fall, take as much of these lowlifes as you can!” she roared, her knife punching forward for a march. The warriors, now fueled with peppiness echoed a scream in response. “Kill them all!”

The race began. A new strength was manifest; ferocity marched back to what it had been during the beginning of the war. As they moved, the rocks plunged down like rainstorm, crushing men and the earth itself. The ruptures of the impacts rose into the air, and so did the lives of many. The warriors marched on anyway, evading those they could and falling for those they couldn’t.

Amari picked up a spear, whistled for a rhino and leaped onto it as it sped forward, towards the enemy, swerving away from as much impact as she could until one came in so fast there was no means to move around it. She leaped away from the rhino just as the rock crushed it. She was on her feet, running still.

Jidenkeagu looked around in search for a haven against as much casualties as possible if they got overwhelmed. The entire spread of the Gold curve was void of trees, dense with rocks and hard narrow edges, safe for just sturdy plants and rocks that were bare to any form of attack as huge as would be caused by a Phantasm. He was going to scowl and curse when something at the top of the hill just a few meters from the part of the pass where he stood, stole his attention. His eyes widened, first with surprise, then with awe. The figure took a dive off the hill’s cliff, twenty feet into the air like a launched spear, straight towards the war front.

“Death be damned,” he muttered, then hurried back towards it, towards the fight.

Everyone screamed. Dust spurts wafted into the air and the strong wind from the strange impact, certainly not from Anyaaladị, shook the ground. Those around fell, toppled over even, many rose and fled from the site unsure what within the thick dust and debris has crashed. The dust dispersed, and from it, someone walked out.

Young, face rough and covered with strain and cuts, yet on his lips sat a smug of satisfaction. His chest was bare, his waist housing a leathered belt with pockets housing short daggers and a blade latched behind his back. Breathing and oozing around him was a faint dark and violet smoke, and just behind him, from whom he’d leaped down from his shoulder, encased in dissipating debris, was a Phantasm, twelve foot tall, muscular, chest bare and thick with symbols marked around them, bones stretched, yet with most part of its blackened frame masked in thick violet and neon smoke which wafted about it like they were alive. It had no eyes, merely a face cloaked with a black shell and encased by the same thick energy coursing around it.

The young lad standing next to the Phantasm as its anchor had his eyes on the enemy Phantasm from where it stood, screeching, bubbling with energy and readied to launch another attack.

“Prince —Prince Ejila?” one of the warriors muttered.

“The Prince is here!” another screamed.

Then another, and another sang on.

An uproar rose into the air, one of excitement, of thrill and surging desire for more fight. Amari heard it, and for the first time, she felt more relieved than she was worried.

Ọ́nụmaagha,” Ejila muttered, pushed his hand forward, towards their enemies. “Go.”

The Phantasm stretched its hand and from it a long spear took form. It clasped its grip around it as the colour changed. Then it crouched and blasted off the ground, straight for Anyaaladị. One quick thrust, the ground quivered, screams followed, rocks, sand and bodies flew across the air and into their deaths. A deep crater, seven feet in depth formed where Ọ́nụmaagha had thrust its spear, but it’d missed. Ducking the spear’s attack, Anyaaladị’s bludgeon swung for Ọ́nụmaagha’s skull, who swerved aside thrice faster than the swing. Ọ́nụmaagha spun with the spear with blinding speed. Anyaaladị crashed into the ground as weapon met its face before it could react. Leaping onto it in half-second, Ọ́nụmaagha pierced Anyaaladị’s throat with the spear and a force which shattered the ground.

Anyaaladị burst into glittering energy, dispersing in defeat. The Berserker roared against the heavens, his voice causing a shock wave. Gambi Tribes’ warriors fled in terror, even as the roar of victory from Ọ́nụmaagha continued. Amari panted, strained, yet delighted. She watched their warriors jubilate with following roars, and saw the hundreds of warriors from Gambi and Melli rapidly retreat. They had won, irrespective of the cost.

They had won.

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