This poem began with my post about "Always Chaotic Evil" races in fantasy, which led to marina_bonomi's thoughtful discussion, and between us we came up with the core ideas for this piece of "sword and soul."
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Kande was skinning a lion
when her little sister Panyin
ran crying into the village all by herself.
"Demons have taken Atsú!" wept Panyin
as she flung herself upon Kande.
"What do you mean, demons?"
Kande demanded. "Tell me more!"
"They were horrible!" said Panyin.
"Their bodies were smooth and unmarked,
like blobs of raw dough, tall and broad.
They had noses like axe blades,
so sharp and hooked they could chop wood.
They had no lips, just a slash of mouth
full of sharp twisted teeth.
They had no eyes, just empty holes
where the sky shone through."
The little girl burst into tears again.
"Hush your weeping and speak,"
Kande urged her. "What did they do?"
"We were gathering fruit," said Panyin.
"The demons burst from a hole in the ground.
One of them pulled Atsú down there.
Their leader waved a magic staff
that threw lightning and thunder!
I ran, Kande -- I prayed that the ancestors
would give me the speed of a gazelle
and I ran away and I left him with them."
This time when Panyin resumed sobbing,
she could not be consoled, but now
Kande knew what she needed to know.
"You did the right thing," Kande said.
"You are still a little girl, Panyin.
There is no way you could have saved Atsú.
At least you escaped to tell us of the danger."
Kande looked at the corpse of the lion
that had threatened her father's herd of cows.
She picked up her spear, still red with the lion's blood.
Then she stood up and left the dead lion behind,
carrying the spear in her strong right hand.
Kande led Panyin through the gathering crowd of villagers
and into the hut belonging to their great-grandmother.
The old woman's skin was as wrinkled as the shell of a kola nut,
while her hair was as white as the seed-fluff of a cotton plant.
"I hear such a noise outside," Morowa said to them.
"Tell me what is happening, children."
"Demons ambushed Panyin and Atsú," Kande said.
"They captured Atsú, but Panyin managed to get away."
"That is terrible news," said Morowa.
Panyin crawled into her lap, still crying,
and Morowa patted her great-granddaughter's hand.
"We must sit and think what to do about this,"
Morowa said as more people crowded into her hut.
"We should bring everyone in from the bush,"
said Kande's grandfather Agyeman.
"We should place guards around the village,"
said Kande's aunt Dufie.
"That is a good beginning," said Morowa,
"but what shall we do about the demons themselves?
The future is a deep lake, not a shallow puddle.
We must think about more than tonight and tomorrow."
"We should move the village,"
said Kande's father Donkor.
"I have heard of those demons from traders.
Once they come, they will not stop
until they have taken or killed everyone.
They are like a mighty storm --
you cannot stop them, only get out of their way."
"What will you do when there is nowhere left to run,
my son?" Morowa said to Donkor.
Kande's father folded his hands in his lap
and fell silent, unable to answer.
"I don't care about all of that,"
said Kande's mother Nshira.
"What are we going to do about Atsú?"
"We must accept that Atsú is gone,"
Donkor said, his voice heavy.
"If we send anyone after him,
the demons will just take them as well."
"You are a fool and a coward, Donkor,"
snapped Nshira. "Whyever did I marry you?
I want my little boy back!"
Kande missed her baby brother fiercely.
"Family is the blanket that keeps us warm
against the storms of the world," she said.
"If there is a hole in the blanket,
it must be mended."
"Well, who is going to mend it?"
asked Agyeman, lifting his hands.
"Donkor has made good points about the dangers.
We need to protect our village first."
Kande touched the rows of beauty-marks
that starred her cheeks, souvenirs of
her menarche rites from three years ago.
"I am a woman," she said, then dropped her hand
to the proud chevrons of scar tissue between her breasts.
"I am a warrior," she continued, "and I am his eldest sister.
I will go and rescue my little brother from the demons."
Much protest then arose from the other young warriors,
Kande's older cousins especially.
Morowa lifted her wrinkled hands and declared,
"Kande has spoken first. It is her right to go."
The grumbles gradually faded away
as everyone bowed to the old woman's wisdom.
Kande went to find her war elephant, Ivory Hammer.
He was bathing in the river with two of his wives.
Ivory Hammer greeted her with a wave of his silly little tail, and
turned to lumber up the muddy bank, huge ears fanning slowly.
He had two great tusks curling up from his lower jaw,
and two more curling down from his upper jaw.
His powerful trunk ended in two sensitive fingers
which now reached out to stroke her cheek.
"O my friend and my ally," Kande said to him,
"demons have stolen my baby brother Atsú
who helps you wash behind your ears
and snitches coconut cakes to share with you."
Ivory Hammer snorted though his trunk
and raised his tail straight up in threat.
"I am going to rescue him," said Kande.
"Will you come with me?"
Ivory Hammer knelt so that
she might climb onto this back.
They rode back to the village together.
Kande packed up her weapons and supplies.
She said farewell to her other sisters and brothers,
kissed her mother and father goodbye,
and begged a blessing from her great-grandmother.
She painted Ivory Hammer with adinkra symbols
in bold stripes of red and yellow paint:
dwenini aben upon his ears,
the ram's horns of protection;
sepow upon his forehead, the knife
thrust through the cheeks of a man to be executed;
aya the fern all down his trunk to say
"I am not afraid of you."
"Let the demons be afraid of us,"
Kande said grimly as she mounted Ivory Hammer.
The great war elephant raised his trunk
and bugled a challenge as they rode out of the village.