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The Boy in the Black Hood (From “The House in the Woods” [novel in progress])

In the end, let’s face it, I have always been and will always be a manga fan. I love the characters, I love the outlandish concepts and I love the violence. I love their sense of humour and I love their ideas of romance. I genuinely believe that some of the ideals and values anime companies such as Shonen Jump propagate are actually exactly what Africa needs; a sense of honor, responsibility and loyalty.

I am currently developing a similar style for Africa. A kind of Afro-manga if you will. Obviously though, I am not an artist. What I am, is a writer. So indulge me if you will. Below is a short section of a novel I’m working on titled “The House in the Woods,” which is basically about a team of socially rejected magicians who go around capturing (or assassinating) evil wizards. Hope you enjoy it.

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In the Southern State of Ghali, there was a tiny village by the name of Djawale. Djawale was not a particularly impressive village, nor was it particularly distinct. Its buildings were clay, and its rooftops were thatched. It had a market place where traders squabbled over prices, and a royal palace for overfeeding chiefs. Its people wore woven cloth. The wealthy added leather sandals. There was nothing that set the village of Djawale apart, and yet, as fate would have it, it was the point of origin for events so cataclysmic, they would remold the course of history.

But I am getting ahead of myself.

In the streets of this village, a hooded figure made his way around, his steps as silent as a cat’s. It should have been a strange sight to behold—this boy cloaked in black, weaving between villagers at high noon. But the boy had been doing this job for years; he had learned the art of obscurity at six.

Around and between the clay buildings he went, till he was on his street of destination. Down that lane, a crowd had formed. The hooded figure paused by the gathering, just long enough to see what all the fuss was about. At the centre of the circle, two girls danced, their movements fluid and precise as they begged for alms. The boy watched them for a moment, entranced. Then, remembering he had business to attend to, he moved on.

Ten paces from the crowd, he turned right and slipped into Al-Baba’s, the only double storied inn in the village. The keeper was at his post, chewing a handful of cola nuts. “Hey,” the keeper barely said to the boy, before being swiftly downed with a sleeping spell. The boy turned to the narrow stairs, and started to climb.

Al-Baba’s was a fine inn. The clay of the walls was well evened, and silk and vines hung from the high ceilings. It catered well to the assortment of people who lived there—flamboyant merchants and wealthy adventurers from other states. The majority of Al-Baba’s guests though were, to be honest, criminals: robbers, swindlers and child traffickers whose purses bulged from illicit businesses. And tempted as the boy was to pay unexpected visits to all these miscreants, there was only one name on his list that afternoon.

“Here Chuqu, Chuqu, Chuqu, Chuqu…” the boy cooed as he strolled down the corridor. “Here Chuqu.” He stopped at one room, hesitated, then spun around to the opposite room decidedly. “Ah, there you are.” He pulled aside the curtain to the room.

Inside the room, sitting crossed legged at its centre, a large, bald man appeared to be sleeping. He wore a sheeny crimson robe, poorly tailored for a creature of his size. Tattoos of strange words and symbols adorned his bulging muscles. And had one listened carefully, they would have heard the faint vibration in the air: the sound of radiating magic.

Without opening his eyes, the sorcerer, Chuqu Wasilleh uttered, “You have come to kill me.”

The boy sighed with relief and relaxed against the door. “Gods be thanked that you figured that out. I was worried this was going to be awkward, having to reveal the purpose of my visit and what not. I was dreading it all morning.”

Chuqu chuckled incredulously. “Has the House of Dua sunk so low? That now it has nothing but errand boys to do the work of grown men?”

“No, we have elders,” said the boy, his tone rather sincere. “But in my House, you are not big enough a threat to merit their time.”

Chuqu’s eyes flashed open, his orbs glowing purple with rage. But it was as though the boy had not noticed Chuqu’s reaction. In fact, rather, he was ignoring it. “I’m not saying you’re not a big enough nuisance,” the boy continued thoughtfully, and altogether casually. “You are Chuqu, the flesh eater after all. We hear infants are your favorite snack. Obviously, we can’t have people with your sort of dietary preferences roaming around the Southern State. But I’m just saying—you’re barely a water-class sorcerer. I myself grumbled a bit when I got picked to deal with you, I admit. Lost a silly wager, you see…”

Chuqu attacked with a roar, exploding with blinding hot flames. The room was set ablaze in an instant, and everything flammable disintegrated into nothingness. The sleeping mats, the wall hangings the flowery vines, everything. Everything, except the walls, silver pots, and the calm, collected boy in the black hood.

Stretching out his hand, the boy commanded, “Cease.” The crackling flames jumped from the walls, swirling fluidly around his wrist and collecting into his palm. Then they died.

Chuqu’s eyes widened with fear.

“Sorry,” the boy said, pulling a small blade out of the sheath at his hip, “but I have to be back at the House by sundown.” And in one swift movement, he dashed to Chuqu’s side and slit his throat. The sorcerer slumped to the ground, gurgling.

The boy bowed politely and sheathed his weapon. “It was nice meeting you.”

He stepped out of the charred room. In the corridor, several guests had exited their rooms to investigate the tremor that had ripped through the building. However, upon seeing the hooded figure exit Chuqu’s room, many guessed the dark sorcerer’s fate and returned to minding their own business. Avenging colleagues was not a popular concept amongst criminals in the Southern State.

Thus, as quietly as the hooded boy had entered Al-Baba’s Inn, he left.

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