They were outnumbered, badly, and they’d all die if they didn’t disengage. He kept running but couldn’t get to his colonel before Dayo took the point of a long-hafted spear to the side and went down. The closest soldier killed the native who had dealt the blow, and Tsiory, running full tilt, slammed into two others, sending them to the ground.
On top of them, he pulled his dagger from his belt and rammed it into the closest man’s eye. The other one, struggling beneath him, reached for a trapped weapon, but Tsiory shoved his sword hilt against the man’s throat, using his weight to press it down. He heard the bones in the man’s neck crack, and the savage went still.
Tsiory got to his feet and grabbed Dayo, “Go!”
Dayo, bleeding everywhere, went.
“Back to the beach!” Tsiory ordered the soldiers near him. “Back to the ships!”
Tsiory ran with his men, looking back to see how they’d been undone. The savages were using gifts to mask themselves in broad daylight. As he ran, he saw more and more of them stepping out of what his eyes told him were empty spaces among the trees. The trick had allowed them to move an attacking force past the front lines and right up to Tsiory’s command tent.
Tsiory forced himself to move faster. He had to get to the reserves and order a defensive posture. His heart hammered in his chest and it wasn’t from running. If the savages had a large enough force, this surprise attack could kill everyone. They’d still have the front-line army, but the women, men, and children they were meant to protect would be dead.
Tsiory heard galloping. It was an Ingonyama, riding double with his Gifted, on one of the few horses put on the ships when they fled Osonte. The Ingonyama spotted Tsiory and rode for him.
“Champion,” the man said, dismounting with his Gifted. “Take the horse. I will allow the others to escape.”
Tsiory mounted, saluted before galloping away, and looked back. The Gifted, a young woman, little more than a girl, closed her eyes and focused, and the Ingonyama began to change, slowly at first, but with increasing speed.
The warrior grew taller. His skin, deep black, darkened further, and, moving like a million worms writhing beneath his flesh, the man’s muscles re-formed thicker and stronger. The soldier, a Greater Noble of the Omehi, was already powerful and deadly, but now that his Gifted’s powers flowed through him, he was a colossus.
The Ingonyama let out a spine-chilling howl and launched himself at his enemies. The savages tried to hold, but there was little any man, no matter how skilled, could do against an Enraged Ingonyama.
The Ingonyama shattered a man’s skull with his sword pommel, and in the same swing, he split another from collarbone to waist. Grabbing a third heathen by the arm, he threw him ten strides.
Strain evident on her face, the Gifted did all she could to maintain her Ingonyama’s transformation. “The champion has called a retreat,” she shouted to the Omehi soldiers within earshot. “Get back to the ships!”
The girl—she was too young for Tsiory to think of her as much else—gritted her teeth, pouring energy into the enraged warrior, struggling as six more savages descended on him.
The first of the savages staggered back, his chest collapsed inward by the Ingonyama’s fist. The second, third, and fourth leapt on him together, stabbing at him in concert. Tsiory could see the Gifted staggering with each blow her Ingonyama took. She held on, though, brave thing, as the target of her powers fought and killed.
It’s enough, thought Tsiory, leave. It’s enough.
The Ingonyama didn’t. They almost never did. The colossus was surrounded, swarmed, mobbed, and the savages did so much damage to him that he had to end his connection to the Gifted or kill her too.
The severing was visible as two flashes of light emanating from the bodies of both the Ingonyama and the Gifted. It was difficult to watch what happened next. Unpowered, the Ingonyama’s body shrank and his strength faded. The next blow cut into his flesh and, given time, would have killed him.