26.1

It was well past dusk and time to go. Unaware of the new source of danger that was creeping toward them, Mia and Rex packed their bags. They didn't want to get to Sheikh Ramzi's when it was too late. A guard there might turn them away saying their employer had retired to bed. They would be asking for a place to sleep there, too, and if they were refused and it was late, it'd be impossible to make any other plan. They would then be totally screwed, what with today's weather.

"You got everything packed, your paranormal eye and stick key?"

"I could never forget those," Mia said. "What would have been the point of coming here?"

Because they were going to use the street, they would exit by way of the front door this time. What would be the point anyway of sneaking out through the back, when they still were going to walk in public.

Mia was cautious, however. She opened the blinds and gave the street a quick appraisal. "All clear, except for a bit of fog," she said, donning her efe.

"Good," said Rex, putting on his as well. It saddened him to see the demeaning metal crescent dangle on Mia's neck but this was not the time to argue with things. Hopefully in future when Qmalian power was destroyed, no one would ever be forced to wear such a lowly badge again. It pleased him to imagine they'd already taken the first step toward achieving such an epic feat.

Rex picked up his duffel bag. Mia creaked the front door open. She stepped out. Rex followed and closed the door behind him.

Things seemed okay for now. The street's darkened pavement snaked in front of the shrine, maybe about twenty yards away. There wasn't even a hint of anything moving. Only a slight wind broke the neighborhood's quietness. Up in the sky not a star shone; the blanket of clouds had not lifted. Despite the tranquility, a sense of fear still however crept into Rex. You never could be sure what the dark could hold. Danger could be lying in wait anywhere and succeeding to reach Ramzi's estate could not be guaranteed.

Going back into the cottage to put up another night in hiding was no option, though. They'd already gotten what they wanted here and another world out there waited to be discovered. 'Qamala Vuyiza, Ogaidan Inxhu Antwi.' Those words seemed to hold a lot of meaning. If they got to Ramzi's, and he was willing to assist, they could end up with a lot of knowledge.

"Hope all goes well," he spoke to the night air.

"Take heart. Together we are strong."

"I love you, Mia." He kissed her on the doorstep.

"I love you, too."

Because of the intermittent drizzle, the front porch concrete was still wet. Rex's boots fought with the moisture as they hit the walkway. Mia's sneakers squeaked as she stepped alongside him. Tonight she'd changed into the blouse and skirt he'd bought her at Mshikashika. She also wore the cowboy hat he'd given her so she would not be easy to identify.

They were going to foot it down to Kwaax, cross the bridge and then walk all the way to Egodad Station. From there they would catch a bus to the east side of town. And hopefully if nothing bad happened they would reach Ramzi's estate and ask for help.

"How long will it be to the station?" a tang of concern laced Mia's voice.

"Slightly less than an hour."

"That should be good, then."

"It should be," Rex nodded, even as a fear of the unknown still gripped him.

26.2

The imitation army-gear he wore made Slasher imagine he was a real soldier going to combat. He felt heroic. The Qmalian army was a glory thing he could have joined but the fates had worked differently for him. Now clad in the same bush-green and out on a mission to destroy a lesser creation, this was his way of earning a medal for bravery for himself. Nothing would stand between him and his goal. The pain that'd been troubling him had lessened, too, and that made his chances brighter.

His mode of transport tonight was going to be his trike—which he kept parked in one of Ishobad's sheds. On a rain-washed night like this, something that didn't expose him to the open air would have been better but he didn't have any—and so the trike should do. He picked up his butcher knife and slid it into its sheath, which was tied to his belt. No one could separate him from his knife again. Its sheath swung about as he strode out of his house.

Before he marched to the shed, Slasher thought to pay Rex's shack a visit. He wanted to pack more anger inside of him. That little dirty cabin was where this conflict began. And that, too, was where he first heard the Nsuka. It would be necessary to glimpse that battlefield again, and he'd rededicate himself to the Qmalian cause.

Rex's door was not closed. Slasher did not even need to go in anyway because the blood he left on Rex's stoep hadn't been completely washed away. Seeing the wet stains caused his anger to peak. Just like he wanted. That was Qmalian royal blood shed by a mere earthling. This was unheard of. No earthling who drew Qmalian blood like that would ever live long, and Rex wasn't going to.

Fighting his remaining pains, Slasher padded with determination to the parking sheds. The weather today, apart from the drizzles, was also breezy and cool, but like Slasher had decided he would still go. Turning back because of the weather was out of the question—only sissies would do that. Strong fighters like him would brave the wind and succeed.

His key was in the ignition. He gave the starter a kick and the engine droned. A brief glance into the mirror revealed to him his bandaged face. That was all good because he was at war—although the bandages might make the guard at the gate ask where he was going in that condition—a question that really would be hard to answer but Slasher would find a way to explain. He wouldn't give away his mission of course, because only he needed to know. Rex and the purchase had committed a grievous crime against a Qmalian and Slasher would avenge himself without the aid of law enforcement.

The scattered lights in Ishobad's yard caused the grass and bushes to glow with a certain magical iridescence. Did battlefields glow like this? Okay, Rex and the purchase would be no match for him so it wasn't going to be exactly a battle, but just rather an execution. Still, the thought of shedding blood excited him. Tonight, wherever he met Rex and his accomplice, the grass, or bushes, or pavement, or whatever they stood on would be colored red. A wet glistening red.

His knife dangled on his waist, as he rode toward the exit. 'Qmalo strong, Earth weak.'

"Are you well enough to ride out, chief?" the guard at the gate asked in a predictable fashion.

"Qmalo strong," Slasher replied cryptically, and then rode out.

The last bit he'd gotten from Aha Ishobad was that Rex and the purchase had disappeared somewhere northwest of Egodad. Slasher had no reason to doubt the esteemed lord's intimations, although he had no clue where the Aha got that info from. What he was sure of, though, was that fugitives, to increase their chances of remaining uncaught, generally avoided staying in one location for too long. So, Rex and his accomplice might want to look for another place to hide. And with no car, they would have to use public transport. And a safe time to travel would be at night when there weren't so many people around. Slasher would check out the bus and train stations of the west and perchance he might succeed. He pressed on his gas pedal and his trike speeded up. The wind singing against his helmet was like glorious like war music. And Nsuka tagged along. Go, warrior, go; arise and shine.