The pale light of dawn made the darkness dissipate and three people on horseback galloped towards the Ika Tribe in the glow of morning. They’d ridden all night and only rested for not more than two hours in between, mostly for the horses to rest. The three of them did not sleep.
They soon exited the desert land and their horses stepped on a dirt path. Fields of poppies were planted along this path and they were in the season where the plants were green and lush.
“The Ika Tribe is ten kilometres further ahead.” Dayetia pointed in front of them. “We rest in the Ika Tribe for a bit, then continue on. We can return to our tribe after three days.”
“That’s quick.” Xia Lei sighed with feeling. “Chieftain Dayetia, please release my friends immediately after we get back to the tribe.”
“No problem. I’ll let them go once we get back.” A sinister smile appeared in the corners of Dayetia’s mouth.
Szlamy looked anxious, deeply worried and sick in heart.
Xia Lei moved his horse close to Dayetia and stretched out a hand to her. Dayetia hesitated, then reached out to shake his hand. When their hands touched, Xia Lei pulled her forward so that she was leaning towards him, turning the handshake into a hug. At that same time, his other hand slipped something into her collar…
They separated and Xia Lei smiled. “May our friendship be everlasting.”
“Hah!” Dayetia cracked her whip, urging her horse forward.
Xia Lei urged his horse after her.
Szlamy bit her cherry-plump lip. “Should I tell him the truth? He’s a dummy. A dummy!”
Xia Lei suddenly looked back and smiled as he waved at her.
Szlamy stared blankly for a bit, then squeezed her horse’s belly, driving it forward to catch up with them.
Ten kilometres was quickly covered and a town appeared in their view. The town was in the centre with smaller villages surrounding it, and poppy fields which stretched out around it like rolling hills. Xia Lei had been here before; it was the Ika Tribe.
The armed tribesmen of the Ika Tribe stopped them before they got to the town. Dayetia informed them of her identity and the armed tribesmen let them pass, even leading them into the town.
They were led to a courtyard with fairly high walls and a security net around it. Behind the wall was a wide moat and behind that was a two-storey building. The chieftain of the Ika Tribe, Abutulu, lived in that building. Xia Lei and Szlamy had only waited outside the last time they were here and had not gone in at all.
“You two stay outside and wait a while for me. I’ll be right out after talking with Chieftain Abutulu,” said Dayetia.
“Okay, we’ll wait for you outside,” said Xia Lei.
Szlamy and Dayetia’s gazes met and there seemed to be some clash in the air between them; one could almost smell gunpowder in the air.
Dayetia did not speak to Szlamy. She gave her a look, and entered the courtyard. She seemed to have made some sort of decision and she was frosty-cold.
The gates to the courtyard closed and the goings-on inside could not be seen from outside.
But this was no obstacle to Xia Lei. His left eye twitched and the thick gates disappeared. He saw armed tribesmen lead the way to a room.
“Xia, will you be sad for me if I die?” Szlamy asked suddenly.
“What are you saying? You’re still so young; your life is just beginning,” said Xia Lei.
“I’m serious. I want to know. Tell me.” Szlamy was fairly mature in that instant, different from her usual self.
Xia Lei was quiet for a bit before saying, “I will. I definitely will. I’ll be very sad if you die. I will honour your memory, and burn paper clothing for you on the fifteenth day of the seventh month of every year*.”
Szlamy blinked her large eyes. “What does it mean to burn paper clothing for me on the fifteenth day of the seventh month of every year?”
“It’s our tradition. A ceremony to pay homage to the dead,” said Xia Lei.
Szlamy laughed. “Wow, a ceremony too, huh. You’d better not be joking. You must burn some for me.”
It didn’t seem like a laugh from the heart; Xia Lei sensed sadness and a decided-ness from her. She seemed to have realised something and was emotionally prepared.
Dayetia went into a room in the building and the Ika tribesman who had led the way closed the door and stood outside it, on guard.
Xia Lei’s gaze went to the room door, and he strengthened his X-ray power. The door disappeared from his view too. Dayetia was greeting an elderly person respectfully, and the elderly person invited her to have a seat with a smile. The elderly person had a headscarf on his head. His beard was at least a foot long, and his face was long and thin, giving one an impression of great wisdom.
This old man was Abutulu, the chieftain of the Ika Tribe.
Xia Lei locked his gaze on them and took out two receivers. He shoved one in his ear and the other in Szlamy’s ear.
“What’s this?” Szlamy looked at Xia Lei uncomprehendingly.
“Shh. Listen,” said Xia Lei.
Dayetia seated herself and started talking with Abutulu. Their voices were transmitted to Xia Lei and Szlamy’s ears over the receivers.
“Respected Chieftain Abutulu, I have returned. I thank you for the help you have given. I will not forget it. Come autumn, I shall send over a hundred goats and two young female slaves,” said Dayetia.
“Good, good. Our two tribes are not so far away so we should show some mutual support. How long is your stay this time, and what do you need? Don’t hesitate to ask. I’ll get someone to prepare it for you.” Abutulu was all smiles. A hundred goats was a huge sum to a poor tribe. The two young female slaves were for him, he knew.
Slavery was a dark time in the history of humans but it still had not been completely eradicated though humans had entered a global market economy. Slavery still existed in poor, backward places.
“I need you to do me a favour.”
“What do you need me to do?”
“I have a Chinese man with me and a disobedient underling. I’d like you to help me take care of those two. Also, I need a phone I can contact the Americans with. A mobile phone,” said Dayetia.
Abutulu looked straight at Dayetia. “Who is that Chinese man? Why do you want to hand him to the Americans?”
“You don’t have to know. Do me this favour and I will pay you 100,000 US dollars when it’s done,” said Dayetia.
“100,000 US dollars?” Abutulu was so surprised his jaw dropped.
“100,000 US dollars. You just need to tell your men to take down that Chinese man and my underling. This is your territory, so this is not anything too difficult for you. It is just one Chinese man so you don’t have to worry about drawing trouble either.”
“Sounds good, but I want to know why you’re not doing it yourself. Besides, he’s just one man.”
“He is powerful. I wouldn’t offer you 100,000 US dollars otherwise. Make your decision. If you’re not willing to do it then I’ll take him back to my tribe and take him down there,” said Dayetia.
“Heh heh.” Abutulu laughed. “I can tell. That Chinese man is not just powerful - you have no chance and no certainty in moving against him. He is a big problem. You don’t want to take him to your tribe and make your move there, huh?”
“Are you not willing?”
“200,000 US dollars.”
“Deal.” Dayetia added, “But I have one condition. Kill my disobedient underling.”
“No problem. I shall decide how your underling is to die.” A twisted smile appeared in the corners of Abutulu’s lips.
No man in this world would bear to just shoot a baby-faced, H-cup beauty just like that, eh?
At the gates, Xia Lei stopped using his X-ray vision.
“That bitch Dayetia wants to kill me…” Szlamy was livid.
Xia Lei suddenly thrust his lips on hers, just for a while, to smother her voice before he moved his mouth away from hers. He pulled Szlamy towards their warhorses on one side of the wall.
Two armed Ika tribesmen stood next to the three warhorses. One of them called out sternly, “What are you doing?”
“Going out on a ride.” Xia Lei let go of Szlamy’s hand. His steps quickened.
Every second was precious now.
One armed tribesman spoke. “Who permitted…”
Before he could finish, Xia Lei moved against him, dashing forward and punching him in the carotid artery with Nail Fist.
The other tribesman reacted after seeing that and hurriedly raised his AK47 to his shoulder. Unfortunately, he was too slow. Xia Lei spun around and was next to him in an instant, punching him in his Taiyang acupressure point with a Nail Fist.
The two Ika tribesmen fell to the ground at almost the same time.
Szlamy’s jaw dropped. She’d planned on fighting too and had the dagger out from her belt but the two targets had been taken down by Xia Lei in the time she’d taken to draw it; it hadn’t been two seconds!
“Mount!” Xia Lei mounted swiftly.
Szlamy did not hesitate this time. She mounted quickly, then squeezed her horse’s sides, galloping out of the town behind Xia Lei.
In the room in the building, Dayetia got to her feet and said, “You can make your move now, Chieftain Abutulu.”
“Easily.” Abutulu clapped.
The Ika tribesman guarding the door opened it and stood quietly in the doorway, waiting for his instruction.
“Get some men to take down those two at the gates,” said Abutulu.
“Yes, Chieftain.” The armed Ika tribesman turned and went off in the direction of the gates.
A cold smile surfaced in the corners of Dayetia’s mouth. “Do not blame me for this, Szlamy. This is for the good of the tribe. Blame your own willfulness if you must. You should not have fallen for that Xia, and you should not have challenged my authority!”
The tribesman who’d received orders got quickly to the gates. He opened them but there was no one outside. He then looked outside the walls and spotted the two tribesmen who had been knocked out.
“They’ve run away!” yelled the tribesman.
“What?” Dayetia rushed out of the building, her face as dark as can be.
Abutulu also ran out and cried angrily, “Gather all the men. Catch those two and bring them to me!”
Ika tribesmen came swarming out of their nest minutes later.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
*In reference to the Ghost Festival.