A Crime

First March

Chapter 1

“Imma punch you in the pussy till you die.”
There were few things Serano hated more than being told what to do. She glared at the navy-blue face of her ‘best friend’ who simply stared with the most adorable eyes. It was enough to make anyone want to gauge them out with their bare hands.   “I would love that. Sounds amazing.” She purred.   “Okay , I’m about to.”   Serano got up and immediately Nontasasa jumped back, flinging herself out the tent as Serano stepped after.   The world opened to dozens upon dozens of wool suits, shades of milky white fuzz, moving around and picking up and collecting any clue of their presence.   First rays of morning light started to show, revealing the outer camp which had already started packing, forming a circle, closing in. A grandeur nonexistent from the outside, raising to the center which was lined in silk.   A score of women wielding heavy axes larger than their skulls surrounded her.   “Commander.” The tallest called. “She doing it again?” Serano simply returned to the tent.
“Hey now, it’s really not what you think.” Nontasasa yelled before the sound of tussling and screaming filled the air.   Serano’s sigh hissed free of her tongue, there’d be no time to sleep again, pulling from her bedding a stack of letters thick enough to be confused for a brick. She didn’t read them, instead staring, a smile breaking out of her cold scowl. She packed them into a leather case, before strapping it to back.   “Commander!” came a panicked cry.   A shockingly short woman sprinted in.   “Scout. Is there a reason you’re here?”   “Emergency, there are dozens of potential bandits coming.”   Serano simply started packing her things.   “I’m curious, why do they seem like bandits? You not sure?”   The woman hesitated.   “Er, I- they didn’t attack or retreat upon seeing us?”   “Naturally, I’m guessing they had banners?”   “I- yes, but I don’t know of whom.”   “So before getting too close, you decided to raise a silent alarm. That’s a good thing, I guess, means my girls taught you something and you have some common sense, your name?”   “Zimkhitha,”   “Yes?”   “Ma’am?”   “Last name?”   “Wetroot.”   Serano’s eyes lit up.   “You a flatlander?”   Zimkhita’s eyes nearly popped out her head. It looked as though she’d made some kind of mistake and needed a moment to figure out what it was.   “Very exciting, I can’t believe I would start seeing flatlanders willing to get up and do something outside of North Sibini.”
  “Ma’am” She looked both terrified and blank, the blankness giving off a ‘conflicted’ vibe.   Serano was sure there was a reply that’d been organized and shaped by life. It was fun to watch! Serano getting lost in the weeds and knew it.   “Okay, let’s pack up, you can call your commander. I’d love to talk about it with her, quick question, wait, let me see your feet.”   Zimkhita just looked at her, face more blank than ever. Serano’s grin couldn’t have been wider without tearing skin. “Okay, then… go!”   The girl took off sprinting, it was a good moment.   Packing was quick, the sound of activity exploding the center warriors fully active. The walls around her raised, there were the army of onyx skinned women at work. Smiled as hands entered her personal space and her things were lifted. There was a bright red furred giant of a woman ahead at attention, Warhammer in hand.   The woman looked genuinely stunned.   “I remember you, Afeziwe, right?”   Serano’s heart fluttered and threw her arms around the woman.   “You don’t remember? I won’t lie, that’s a little heart breaking. Maybe if… ”     She thought for a moment, before clapping her hands, then slapped her chest upon her heart. A beat started to form, catchy enough turn heads and perk ears. The Khetshe woman squinted, she was broad in every way, her shoulders and even her face. Which had become a series of angular features like rock until out of nowhere it widened.   “It can’t! It can’t be!”   She immediately dropped a knee, eyes down. Serano grinned and turned to the score of women staring wide eyed.    Midday hit with Serano in front of a marching order of hundreds of women and Naliru moving in order. The creatures were large, towering just over their heads, dense white and black fur shivered as it pulled a huge carriage, wooden gears at the corners. Next to it were over a hundred women marching, some tall, dark with long necks, others broader coated in their own natural fur, the rest were boring like Serano. The red fur next to her shivered.   “Afez, I have little doubt that you surprised my people.”   “Didn’t mean to.”   “I know. But I’d have done nothing if I hadn’t expected it.” Serano chortled, it was a really good day, “It’s good to see you still follow the way.”   “It’s a must right? I mean you just proved it’s a way that must always be followed. You saw me before I even saw you. You could have punished me and-”   “Stop! Don’t even go there. The philosophy of the way was to keep those like us from going back there. It’s not about mastering it or being caught and punished. Please tell me you understand.”   She said putting a hand on her shoulder. Her fingers dug into her silky uniform, natural ones.   She nodded and Serano sighed.   “Good, so then, what happened to those you were in chained with?   The walk became quite silent.   “My cousin’s dead. She stole gold from the Ndlovu house, one of her crew accidentally killed a servant, apparently tied to the merchant’s guild.”   “I’m sorry to hear that, your cousin had red fur like you?”   “No, that’s my sister.”   “Oh, I’m sorry, my deepest. And your sister?”   “She’s here actually.” Serano’s head twisted despite how dumb it was. She saw, Zimkhitha jogging just behind the line of commanders, holding Serano’s and Afez’s equipment.   “She’s somewhere in the group.”   “Oh, I really do know little about the people under me.”   “It doesn’t matter if those under are close enough, those at the bottom can be anyone.”   “Ha! The bottom you say? I asked for her commander and you showed up. That’s amazing, I’m so proud right now.”   “Oh come on. It came at a cost. A lot of my family were destroyed when my crew was caught and chained.”   “True, but all of this is to make up for it. Right?”   Afez said nothing. Serano understood, instead the group, just kept marching.   A whistle blew, bodies straightened across the board, bags shifting from two shoulders, to one, weapons and shields being freed up. At least fifty women in shields and some of the longest pikes she’d ever seen. Serano whistled, her hand opening, fingers splayed.   “They kept their bags and raised theirs weapons, the wide net of women closing into a tight diamond formation.   “Take my weapons,”   “You’re going barehanded?”   “Yes, can’t you see the banners?”   “You have great eyes for someone who’s Chui?”   “I should say thank you. But… Not keen to.” Afez chortled, taking everything, “get behind the tall one,” She said looking back, the Flatlander one of us?”   “No”   “That’s what I thought, but I’m sure there’s more, right?”   The woman only smiled, clapping and rubbing her hands together, blowing into them. Cool steam flowed, between her fingers.   Serano bounced on her heels.   The Nobu-Ganga house. Tied, lip to asshole under the banner of the Ndlovu House, so tight they’d always be where the Ndlovu were.   At their feet was thick, dense soil and thick dense wood chips, creatures spread out from under the foliage, slithering out of the way, tiny spikes burst out of their shells. The spikes dug into her sandals, bouncing off her skin. Both hands raised and the entire marching order stopped behind her.   Dozens upon dozens of Ufele had broken out of the main contingencies and marched with the group, Yamaka’s were at their side, she hadn’t expected so many. It went beyond just showing off, was it a declaration of… power?   Was it?   It was nothing to seeing as many as many as five males. How often, in her life had she seen more males in a group? It could have fit in one hand. They stopped in front of her. These were clearly nobility, but she didn’t know them, they’d get a courtesy and damn well like it.   “Good day, good sirs. I couldn’t help but notice, your procession blocking our path.”   The oldest one, a Chui like her stepped forwards and extended his hand.   “The name is Mahlubandile Nobu-Ganga, it is a pleasure.” He trailed there.   “Serano Raider”   “Such a pleasure. We aren’t here to block your path, but to escort you to the Ndlovu House.”   “Do you have papers?”   “Of course.”   “Not identification, but of escort. Anything meant for me?”   His smile widened; he clearly had not expected that. But pulled out an envelope with a crest of the Ndlovu house, she half expected him to reveal a weapon. It was, in a way, her turn to be surprised.
Stepping back she turned to read before sighing, she gave it back, to let him read it. He didn’t, instead passing it along. It said more than any letter.   “Okay, I believe you, unless there’s another message hidden in some crevasse.”   He grinned.   “Oh, no, we’ll be in your care.”   “Here’s what we’ll do, we’ll be the core, this is still a Ndlovu escort of the highest value. So we can have you in front but only a third of this contingency, the rest can cover the sides or disappear entirely. Is that fine with you?”   “Perfectly, is there any hope of-“   “You entering the circle to see the target.”   “Target is such a crass word, makes it seem like I might have ulterior motives.”   “Indeed, how could anyone treat such a show of force as anything less than pure of motives. I would never besmirch the Nobu-Ganga house.”   Both grinned.   He looked over her shoulder, beyond her. She waited, knowing he wouldn’t find what he was looking for, their eyes met and he shook her hand, nodding and turning away. She walked away after giving a quick bow.   Serano blinked and realized she was in the heart of a circle of her women. Nontasasa was right in front of her, Afez right behind.   “What’s going on commander? You seem upset.” Nontasasa asked.   Serano said nothing for the longest time.   “Fucking asshole?” She slowed, putting a hand on Nontasasa’s head. She grimaced when she was squeezed. “You keep that man alive, no matter what. I don’t know how they’re going to do it, but they’re going to kill him before our commission ends.”

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