Sneak Peek!!! Versatile Layer book 5: The Guilty Path.


1. The Princess

Planet Samael: A.L. 08 (After Lhasa)


Shalak emptied her lungs into a large horn that she held with both hands. It was a warning to the other bandits in her camp. They had sacked Haka Ragam village 2 days ago. They stole most of the crops, burned huts, and kidnapped the chieftain’s son. It was curious that they expected to get a hefty ransom from a farming village but bandits were not known for their intelligence. They snatched the young boy on a whim, then decided to ransom him off as an afterthought.


Shalak was on lookout this night at the bandit camp. The camp was of a primitive design, with high wooden walls. She wasn’t a particularly good lookout. She just happened to catch sight of something suspicious out of the corner of her eye, as she was getting drunk in the crudely constructed watch tower. Someone was riding atop a beast, at full speed, on a collision course with the camp. Shalak fell over as she turned to pick up the horn from the floor. All of the drinking she had done earlier had thrown off her balance. She jumped up holding the horn with puffed out cheeks. They deflated as she sounded it.


Shalak was struck in the abdomen by an arrow but she wasn’t pierced. The tip of the arrow wasn’t a point. It was a flat surface that stuck to her skin. She attempted to pull the arrow off by the shaft. Electricity coursed throughout her body and she fell to the floor, unconscious. The bandit camp was active now. The horn had roused the bandits from their slumber and they were preparing for a fight. A man with a white mohawk, that extended into a braided mullet at the back of his head, yelled out. “Get the gate closed! Ready your weapons!”


The thick wooden gates were pulled closed by two of the bandits. The leader and the group waited. There had to be at least 15 of them in the makeshift fort. They felt the ground rumble, as whatever was out there, was rushing toward the gate. The mohawked man nervously held a curved blade in his left hand, as a bead of sweat rolled down his brow. The women on his left and right readied their bows.


A beast the size of a rhino crashed through the gate, sending shards of wood in all directions. The beast had shaggy fur, a snout similar to a dog, and curved horns protruding from the sides of its head. It was a full grown Nihoru. Before the two women with bows could fire upon the beast, they were struck down by non-lethal arrows, the same as the lookout. Electricity coursed through their bodies as they fell.


The Mohawked man looked to the watch tower. A woman with wild and curly purple hair stood there, drawing her bow. “The Princess?!” he yelled out.


The skilled woman with the bow was known as the Princess. Her true name was Adeola M’falme. She was the banished daughter of Emperor Boq III, the ruler of planet Samael. She was the former disciple of Master Bidae Akoo, who was arguably the greatest martial artist in history. She was the sole practitioner of the executioner’s fist, Udongo Sipu. She tamed a sacred beast. She was the crownless one. She who had climbed the treacherous Mount Susanoo as a mere teen. This was the reputation that preceded Adeola M’falme, and though some of it was exaggerated, none of it was false.


Adeola was wearing a dark purple cape. She had white wrappings over her breasts with a leather-like strap that wrapped around her shoulders and held a quiver in place on her back. Her muscular midriff was exposed above the few pouches that hung from the thick belt on her hips. She wore loose fitting purple pants that hung low between her hips and tapered tightly as they reached her calves. Adeola never wore armor into battle. Armor would reduce her mobility and reaction time.


The bandit leader’s knees were knocking together at the mere sight of Adeola. He was nearly struck by an arrow but he ducked in the nick of time. The arrow struck another bandit and she shook as she collapsed onto the ground. He ran for the hole in the gate. He was knocked down as the Nihoru raced past him and mowed down a group of his minions.


Adeola continued to shoot arrows into the crowd of bandits. She whistled and then yelled, “Pap Pap, you are being too rough! Go!”


The leader picked himself up from the ground. He narrowly dodged the Nihoru as it charged back past him on its way out of the camp. He looked up to the tower. The Princess was gone. He felt the poke of a finger at the base of his spine and his body went limp. He was still conscious but he was paralyzed. This was Udongo Sipu. The ability to immobilize, render unconscious, or even kill an opponent via the use of pressure points.

Adeola caught him by his fur cape before he could fall. She slid her foot behind his heels so she could maneuver him in place, and use him as a shield to deter the others from firing arrows at her. Her quiver was already empty. Three archers approached together with their arrows drawn. They opened fire at their leader without the slightest hesitation. Adeola let him drop to safety, as she jumped and rolled away. “That was cold of them.” She was surprised that the others were willing to kill their own leader without so much as a standoff first.


Adeola twirled her bow, in front of her, to deflect more incoming arrows. The bow straightened into a meter-long staff as she twirled it. She skillfully deflected more arrows with the staff as she inched closer to the three archers. When she was close enough, she took them all down in three quick strikes of the staff. Was that all of them?


A knife slashed Adeola’s right forearm. As she turned to counter the attack, a second dagger was already nearing her hands at the center of the staff. She had to release the staff or risk losing fingers. As this final combatant pressed their advantage, Adeola kicked the falling staff towards her to slow their advance.


The final attacker slid onto the ground, on her knees. She leaned back to avoid the pole altogether. She swung her blades in a large horizontal, circular, motion towards Adeola’s feet. Adeola had to back-flip to avoid being cut.


They squared off. The female bandit wore loose fitting orange robes with large wooden beads around her neck. Her head was shaved bald and she had drawn patterns onto her face and skull with blue paint. She crouched into a wide stance with one blade held high above her head and the other held out to her side. Adeola noticed chains connected to the hilts of the blades.


Adeola squinter her eyes, “What is a Buurtan Monk doing cavorting with bandits?”

“I left the order moons ago. My skills were going to waste, sweeping a dusty old temple.”


“That is still no reason to align yourself with scoundrels.”


“A means to an end.” The woman smiled, “With talent like mine, I can take whatever pleasure I desire in this world.”


“So, you are a perverted monk.”


“I am Agulaz the Exiled. And I am your end princess.” She charged forward, slashing with her twin blades.


Adeola shifted into a bare-hand fighting stance, “We will see about that monk.”


The chieftain’s son was locked inside of a cage within a nearby hut. He could hear the fierce fighting happening outside. There was a bandit standing watch next to the cage. She would nervously peek through the blanket hanging over the exit from time to time. She had been checking to see how her comrades were fairing in the battle earlier. Each time she had checked there were less and less of her compatriots standing. The last time she checked, the only ones left standing were The Princess and Agulaz the Exiled.


The sound of the fighting came to an end. The bandit backed up next to the cage and waited. Her hand was shaking as she held onto a machete. She pointed the weapon towards the entrance. A hand peeled the blanket hanging over the doorway open. Agulaz stepped inside with an odd expression on her face.


The bandit was relieved, “Agulaz, you won?!”


The monk’s eyes rolled back into her head and she fell, face first down onto the floor.

Adeola walked in after her. She stood there in silence as she applied a bandage to her bleeding arm. She squinted her eyes at the last bandit. “I am in no mood right now.” She said.


The woman stared at Adeola for a while before tossing her weapon down onto the floor. She dropped to her knees and held out her wrists. Adeola pulled a block from her cape and then locked it around the woman’s wrists. “Thank you.” Adeola said as she rolled her eyes. “The authorities will be here to arrest you by morning. Understood?”


The woman just nodded her head.


“Good.” Adeola walked over to the cage. She pulled out the locking pin and released the captive boy within. The scared child remained inside. He was too frightened to move. Adeola crouched down in front of the open cage, “Hello,” she smiled in an attempt to put the boy at ease. “Your father sent me to save you.”


The boy still wouldn’t move.


“It will be difficult to get you home if you will not come out. But I must admit.” She looked around within the cramped cage, “It is a lot nicer in here than I expected.”


The boy finally made eye contact.


“What is your name?”


The boy replied after a prolonged silence. “Kup.”


“That is a nice name. Do you know what a Nihoru is, Kup?” The boy nodded and Adeola continued. “I am friends with a Nihoru. His name is Pap Pap. I can take you for a ride on his back, if you would like. But you will have to come out.” She extended her hand to him. “It is far too small in here for him to fit.”


With some hesitation Kup took Adeola’s hand and stepped out of the cage.


“You see? You are brave.” She escorted him towards the exit by the hand. “Now, let us get

you home.”


***


Adeola and Kup arrived at the boy’s village by sunrise. He held her around the waist as they rode on Pap Pap’s back. The village chieftain ran out from his hut to meet them. Other members of the community came outside as well. Adeola jumped down in front of the chieftain. She helped Kup off of Pap Pap’s back.


“Here is your boy, safe and sound.” She said with a smile.


“Oh, thank Mars. Bless you, young lady.” The chieftain exclaimed. He pulled his son close. He beamed at her and she smiled back.


“All in a day’s work.” Adeola replied. They continued to smile at each other in silence until things got awkward. “So… my payment?”


“Oh? We are a poor village...”


“Do not do this.” She grumbled under her breath.


“And we just got raided.”


“Really chief?”


“We appreciate what you have done for us but…”


“Allow me to stop you right there.” Adeola had heard this we are a poor village speech a thousand times. “I am barely charging you for this job. Between my travel and my equipment, I am basically breaking even.”


“I understand but…”


“Shock-arrows are not cheap. And I used quite a few on this task, because someone downplayed how many bandits I would be facing at the camp.” Adeola walked over to Pap Pap and grabbed a scroll from a satchel. She unfurled it and held it in front of the chieftain. “I am not running a charity. It is expensive to fight bandits.”


He waved his hands, “I understand but we do not have that kind of currency. I am sorry.”


“No, I am sorry. I must be paid for this job.”


“Well, what will you do? Take my son back to the bandits?”


Adeola squinted her eyes at him. She looked like she was considering taking the boy back to the camp. The chieftain pulled his boy closer with a nervous expression. Adeola tossed the scroll at his feet and then crossed her arms, “I cannot force you to pay.” She said. The chieftain got an almost smug look on his face. “But we Farasi do talk. You will need another Farasi someday and they will know that you do not honor debts.” The Farasi were adventurers for hire. Samael didn’t have a policing body. If you needed a dangerous task done, or a criminal brought to justice. You would hire a Farasi to do so.


“This is blackmail!”


“This is business! Good luck getting any Farasi to aid you in the future once I tell them what transpired today.”


The chieftain had a sour expression as he pulled a handful of orbs from a pouch on his waist. “Fine.”


Adeola cupped her hands and accepted them. She counted them as she poured them into her own pouch. “You do not seem as poor as you say.”


“We are done here.” He said through his teeth. He turned to walk off.


“Wait.” Adeola held up an index finger.


“What is it now!”


“You forgot my tip which is 20 percent extra.”


“We did not agree to a tip!”


“We did not agree to there being more than 7 bandits either. Do not be stingy chief. I generously risked my life to get your boy back.”


“It would have been cheaper to just pay the bandits.” The chieftain counted out more orbs then tossed them to Adeola. His intent was for them to sail past her so she would be forced to pick them up from the ground. Instead, she skillfully snatched the orbs from the air in one swipe. His eyes went wide in surprise.


“Unlike the bandits, I actually got your boy home to you. They would have just killed him after you paid their ransom.” Adeola smiled as she climbed onto Pap Pap’s back. She looked down at the innocent little boy holding onto his father’s cloak. She once had eyes like his. Her smile faded as she thought of her own childhood. “It was nice doing business with you chief.” She rode the beast towards the village exit. “I will tell the other Farasi of your generosity.”


“I thought you were not like the other royals.” He called out after her, “I thought you wanted to change things.”


Adeola stopped and looked back at him. “That was a long time ago.” She patted Pap Pap’s fur and he took off out of the village. “I know better now.” She whispered to herself.



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