“Before I forget,” said Mandla inserting the car-key into the ignition, “Phylum Inc just roped in a fresh crop of game developers. They are throwing ideas around. Since you’re here, I have this idea to first release a Graphic Novel to which the game will become the tie-in.”
“Disclaimer,” she said, “I write what I like, not because I’m good at writing.'”
“Just drop it like it’s hot.”
“Maropeng. South African Cradle of Humankind. I don’t have a theme, so I give you carte blanche.”
Within thirty minutes of their ride to his place, she completed a draft in a form of a graphic novel about Maropeng Clans. She went for a stock script that Hollywood would entertain.
Set it in some realmic cusp. The oracle of the clan. Call it Cæsura.
Ñoko. Our teen femme fatale. Her sickly huntress mother is exiled from the clan with nothing but a bow and an arrow. She raises her in the caves. Now they echo with her stern voice about poisonous fauna and flora—ever since she passed away. An earthquake? She thinks as the rumbling cave rattles her out of sleep one winter night. This event brings about Crop Circles of Litema Tsa Dinoko, which require messengers of distant clans from the four winds to bring together tattooed patterns (a year long event) of their respective Crop Circles, piece them together and divine their message.
In the morning, across the river she discovers a sad baby Porcupine among countless carcasses of its kind. The elephants stamepede. She braids her hair using thorns from an Acacia thorn tree. We’re now a clan, she says, as an insect lands on the clear well, rippling the reflection of her cradling her newfound sibling, and her spiny royal headdress.
Whilst hunting she gives up chasing after a game, flustered. Her mother’s bow is twice her size, making hunting cumbersome. She closes her eyes, mutters an apology to her, and proceed to snap it in half. She only keeps the string. Hunters would regale the village with a teenage girl from a clan unknown. They’d spot her dangling her leg at the edge of a promontory known to sway precariously near the cliffs with death-defying waterfall below. Others claimed to have spotted her from a distance, alone in the parts of the woods where even warriors dare not to venture into, playing Cat’s Cradle. Unbeknownst to them, she was armed with a multi-threaded ambidex bow.
Whilst negotiating the jungle Neytiri-esque, she picks a strange scent. With stealth she backs into a foliage, as the peacock-feather-covered body (weaved painstakingly by her mother) turns into a camouflage, blending her into the colorful flora. Ballet-like, her hands rise to remain poised above. It happens to be boy a little older than her chasing a duka-deer.
She comes out of hiding, and with uncanny prowess turns her body sideways, like a brisstled animal. A strange stand off, he thinks. All he sees before him is a barely weaned gazelle. I’m holding the strongest bow of the Maropeng Clans, and she looks poised to entertain me? Girls, tsk-tsk. With feline’s grace she launches into an aerial pirouette and returns on one knee, as if to take a bow. That’s it, mocks the young warrior. The branch above him rustles, and an African python slumps into a heap on his feet. Its head was pierced through by an Acacia thorn. While still gathering his faculties, like a leopard she stalks him. She closes her eyes to heighten her other senses. As she sniffs the air around him, it gets too close for his comfort. As if stalked by a prey, he feels fear seeping into him. Only the Equinox Games warrior, the best of the best, have a fearless heart.
Thinking she can’t talk, he prattles along on her heels wondering about her. Your speech is a sound of a waterfall, she says. He learns that she utters a sentence or two for the day. Any arising matter, if important, will be addressed curtly the next day. He learns also that her big brilliant eyes don’t move with its target. She’d spot a game, and remain stationary, looking pensive as if her field of vision went idle. A sharp pivot of her torso, and a whiz of an Acacia thorn in the air, would bring down a game which had long left her field of vision.
Around her he finds himself having to check his tone. I must put my foot down, he’d mutter to himself. It was unbecoming of a future warrior, so come what may. He’d pick up his bow and arrow and point it at her. Talk when I tell you, for many moons hence I’ll be a Maropeng warrior! Though she’d be enjoying the view of the fecund river delta below, the intent in her Vrksasana rise from the see-sawing promontory would cut his entitlement hissyfit short. She’d gently place her other foot down, walk towards the edge of the promontory, and half-commit a Bakasana. The promontory would totter dangerously. You are not bold enough, she’d say and take a death defying plunge. Heaving, he’d run towards the edge. Closing one eye, he’d pull his taut bow with all his might, and follow her free fall. With her arms outstretched, her slow backspin on the long way down wouldn’t complete its degree, for she’d disappear inside the mist of the waterfall.
That’s a signature aerial move he comes to know her by—begrudgingly and conflicted. Midair, just when it seemed she won’t be able flip all the way in time for landing, she’d suddenly hold her knees to her chest, launch into a second quick flip, latch onto the nearest branch, and land like a cheetah. He’d shout, I’m still a warrior! A kebab in the form of his taut arrow and three seagulls flapping limply would stick in the tuft behind her. With her back turned to him, she’d merely turn her head sideways with a feminine touch. Sensing her hinted smirk, he’d clamber down the rocky shore where she left him, and catch a glimpse of her vanishing inside the jungle as if she owned it. He’d both hate and want her more. His voice would echo indistinctly along the shore, I’m the warrior who fears no day of the horn!
Gradually, they forge an unbreakable bond, but he dare not risk being spotted with her. Two warriors-to-be of his age happened upon them, and their whereabouts are unknown by the Maropeng Clan.
A year later, she happens upon a conversation of Maropeng women. She hears that the queen gives women the option to either go into exile or groom their virgin daughters in the event should the horn go off (the horn hasn’t gone off for many moons now). Whoever avows exile has to drink from the queens horn for luck before leaving. She has earned the name, Queen of Orphans, for they come far and wide to serve her.
In the middle of the night the village hears Ñoko’s far off keening. She had gathered what made her mother sick. The caves echo eerily, causing her Porcupine to run for cover. She heads to the valley of dead Porcupines the very night.
The first twilight gradually reveals Ñoko standing in the middle of Maropeng dancing grounds. The long quills between her fingers had combed the earth, leaving trails of whence she came. A white belt of Acacia thorns slants menacingly around her waist. Her headdress bristles along her back, as she slowly heaves, readying her voice.
— Who is the matriarch of this clan?!
— We didn’t hear the horn… who’d dare challenge me and my finest warriors whose arrows are feared among neighboring clans?
The queen, along with the village, come out to see this spectacle. What a hardy fool this little outcast is, thought the villagers. All have bows across their chest like a satchel bag strap. The girl is not even decorated with a single Tema ya Dinoko on her bare arms. She would not last a single cock’s crow in the Equinox Games. Many young warriors return with tails between their legs, dragging their hunting gears behind.
Four arrows whiz past Ñoko’s ears. Without flinching, she weaves her Cat’s Cradle kung-fu-like at the flick of her wrists. The first wave of warriors drop dead in their tracks. She metes out a spiny salvo onto another mob rushing towards her. The remaining warriors’ feet grow cold. Maropeng Clan murmurs with disbelief.
With her back to the throne, she pulls out two quils from her headdress and closes her eyes. Alas, she senses a familiar presence between her and the queen. Her bae is the queen’s son. Confusion and resignation weigh her down. Why bold today? she says to him and falls on her knees.
The queen puts out her arm, and a warrior scrambles to her four more arrows for her double stringed bow. Her son rushes to stand before Ñoko. With disbelief in her eyes, the queen lowers her bow. Âugrab, how dare you shield an outcast, my son! You’ve now deprived your father, the great warrior chief, of rest beyond the river of life! She commands the warriors to strip Ñoko of the headdress.
They bind her around the judgement totem-pole. Her head droops, and she breaths with difficulty. Âugrab’s shame is like a river that has now spread into many streams. His father’s legacy. The dissipating boldness. The contempt with which the warriors gaze at him. The strangely pleasant fire in his chest for Ñoko.
While the council is deciding the severity of her punishment, from atop a mountain the village hugs, a horn goes off. The whole village panics. Immediately, the council’s tone changes. A decorated, but aged warrior stands on his feet.
— The Besiegers are ruthless, my queen. Each of their warriors is led by two salivating hynas on a leash. The outcast, the princess of Porcupines, can lead us into battle.
— For once, we might keep our virgin daughters for our sons!
Four arrows whistle in the air. The aged warriors’ bodies are dragged unceremoniously and fed to the queen’s big eared wild dogs. All look away, as the dogs savagely tear at them. The queen is conflicted between winning the war, face Ñoko thereafter, or giving to the demands of the Besiegers.
“I have to enrich it with Deep Ecology and add more details on the Crop Circles thingy. I don’t know, deepen universal themes, too? Oh, up the ante regarding their cultural quirks as well. I’ll complete it in a month.”
He stopped sketching and downed the gear when the green glare suffused the car interior. “Take your time.”
“Ooh-ooh, almost forgot, I have to go full throttle on the exotic sartorial front.”
As she vocally transcribed vocally the work in progress, Mandla was busy sketching the exotic femme fatale based on her description. He handed her his Linux Ubuntu tablet, asking her to color the sketch. Ñoko resembled the aerial pose of the Europa Corp title sequence. At the end of her outward stretched arms were sharp quills from the Cat’s Cradle webbing her fingers. The Samba and Muscogee war-bonnet of elaborate Ostrich feathers and Porcupine quills composite filled two-thirds of the screen, dwarfing her petite frame. A bold ‘Atelerix’ was emblazoned on top.
“Is Atelerix her official titular name? Just change the font to Ambages,” she sensed his surprised look. He asked if she’s been studying fonts along with Senza. She ignored him. “Atelerix. I like it.”
Atelerix’s iridiscent plumage-clad body bent over backward gracefully, hiding her face from view. Two bandoliers with primitive clips (Acacia thorns woven together with grass) criss-crossed her chest to complete the ensemble. She appeared to be momentarily scaling the primordial jungle like a Phoenix, before returning to wreck carnage below.
“In the narrative, give her plumage a latent holographic effect,” he said stopping at another red lights. “She uses shafts of sunlight in the forests to her advantage. The sun rays bounce off the plumage, causing refraction of her position. What you’re left with is an after-image.”
He snatched his Ubuntu Tablet from her and super imposed a severe lens flare that looked like a planetary alignment across Atelerix. “It’ll translate well onto the Xbox.”
“It looks like a poster for some Trance festival.”
Her thumbs twiddled silently at lightning speed, barely touching the screen, as her Slate Tablet pulsed with Sperm Whale clicks. Every period elicited trails of squeaky whistles of a dolphin, which reminded her of Senza’s pitched vinyl scratches.
“Forget a month. Give me a week to finish.”
This story is an excerpt of a longer manuscript titled 36 Views Of Brandwag (Book 2).
Post image adapted from an original image by Xandriss Single Line Artist via Flickr.
About the Author:
Phinithi Ntelekoa is a Graphic Design enthusiast staying in the squatter camps of South Africa, Free State. Because he’s Youtube-tutored, he continues to volunteer his graphic design services to budding authors. He can’t charge a fee without credentials, but he finds promoting literature rewarding. This saw him invited to France, Paris invited by lecturer and author, Brigitte Poirson. Both are responsible for two poetry anthologies – Via Grapevine I and II. A local newspaper, Free State News, wrote a caricatural article on him, https://ow.ly/XHQQ3000SaD dubbing him “a genius”. He researched, wrote, and completed both his books on his smartphone. Besides studying Graphic Design, his dream is to be discovered by Brittle Paper, and become NYT Bestseller.