After an indeterminate span of time, a great stirring overtook my senses and from the clutches of death, I did arise. The first thing I could perceive at that time was the feeling of being tightly restrained, as if by rope, but in actuality, it was just the protective arms of Fundiswa wrapped taut around my frame. With each strained effort to move about my body ached, taxed by her grip and the ordeal we had endured. But simply falling back into that dark slumbering state was an unpragmatic prospect, for it was of the utmost importance that I secure a grasp on our present whereabouts.
With dogged persistence, I managed to craned my head in many a direction and catch glimpses of our surroundings. The sights I took in did nothing to elicit the feelings of comfort or familiarity that I had so desperately yearned for. The landscape was an arid desert of red sand, stretching on monotonously for miles into the horizon, garnished with sun-bleached grass and some form of cacti. The ground upon which we laid was one of the desert’s numerous narrow sand dunes. They all had a semblance of being stationary and sloped in a linear fashion like the ridged scales of a lizard. I can only speculate that their peculiar undulating formation was brought about a long time ago from wind blowing in two disparate directions at once.
The world at large kept shifting in and out of focus as I finally sensed the unbearable heat. Unlike the sand dunes, nothing in my mind would settle into place. Seeing as we were hitherto encircled by and seized within the confines of a sentient whirlwind, a rather agitated one at that, it stood to reason my body would not have made a swift recovery. Besides, Kikimorai are not naturally sturdy of body, unlike some hybridus humanoids. That I was ruggedly aware enough to discern my immediate surroundings and commit them to memory is nothing short of remarkable.
As my will to stand gradually capitulated to the dismal state of my health, I began to make out the sound of approaching footsteps. Judging by the sound of the sand being shifted I speculated that it was a group of people rather than an individual. Although, the prospect of it being an arthropod chimera was considered once my drooping canine ears started overhearing a curious series of guttural aspirations intermixed with deep clicking sounds.
The approach of those footsteps’ source was unobserved, advancing from the rear. Afore long a group of brown humanoid figures, seven if I recall correctly, crowded around us. It was at this point that my vision had inopportunely grown cloudy, the world around me out of focus. Among the seven figures standing over us, it seemed as though four of them were human males holding bows. The other three had a peculiar air to them, towering high above the men with quite extensive legs and possessed indistinct faces that struck me as artificial.
A quick series of glances were shared between them, surveying our bodies. Then they broke out into conversation, speaking that aforesaid unusual language peppered with clicks. This time I could make out words among the series of clicks – though their discussion was indecipherable to my canine ears, I could at the very least discern that those sounds acted as consonants. Days beforehand, Fundiswa told me that the Xhosa used clicks in much the same manner, though the clicks of these people were far more varied and numerous.
By the time I thought to address our would-be assailants, fate had already put its own plans into motion. One of the three seemingly giant women reached down and with nary a grunt of exertion began carrying both me and Fundiswa in their long arms. On my part, much straining was had in an attempt to speak, but the body was so taxed and incapacitated by our previous venture the words came out scrambled. Soon enough, the world within my vision grew from one unfocused and vague to one clouded by darkness.
The next thing I remember of that day is standing atop a grassy hill – but there was no sentiment of being lost. Instinctively, I recognized the scene to be the Russian Urals in the summertime. But what did raise apprehension in the conscious part of my mind was that the whole world seemed to conspicuously loom over me – the people, the trees, even the mountains were far larger than I had remembered them being. At first, I feared that I had been shrunk down in stature, but then quickly realized that my body was simply younger. With this realization in mind, relief washed over me. There was nary a questioning nor curiosity over how this circumstance was in discordance with all rational reality.
Looking down from atop the hill on which I stood there was a palpable view of the miners toiling away for copper. With conceited satisfaction I smiled at the squalid sight before me, innately knowing that these were my family’s serfs and that one day their servitude would be subject to my authority. I thought, how grateful these illiterate souls must feel to work under our lordship, having more guarantees and certainties in their lives than that of the Zadel’nyye Peasantry who struggle perpetually. Most undoubtedly better off than the mongrel Cossacks, who petulantly decry us as being worse than Ottoman slavers in our treatment of the serfs.
My thinking ceased as an electrifying shivering abruptly overtook my small frame, a frigid gale rushing pass, blowing with such intensity that I was whipped around and brought to face a mature woman. The woman wore a silky gown made of pure malachite, incongruously blowing gently in the breeze as if it weighed nothing. Stop her head was a luxurious, golden diadem inlaid with precious stones and a large chunk of malachite in its centre.
An enormous braid of deep black hair dangled down her back, emeralds embedded within it at various points and tied with copper ribbons. The braid rhythmically moved side to side as her tail swayed. Her human skin and reptilian scales were uniformly bronzed and shone like finely polished metal in the sunlight. Lastly, I peered down and noticed that there was a large assortment of serpents with golden scales slithering around her, unphased by the weather.
Anyone who reads my words will likely fall prey to envisioning a rather stunning lizard woman. And though bewitching she was, that appearance concealed an overwhelming malice which afflicts the beholder with unearthly terror. Her emerald eyes were so luridly abhorrent, they bespoke a fathomless desolation that left the material in question. She was a primaeval thing not thought to exist, not meant to exist, something from an old folktale – Gornaja matka.
The woman knelt down before me, brushing my hair to the side afore whispering to me in a churlish sneer, “Oh stubby golden doll, egg of Tula’s merchant kings, your soul has gone to your heels. Heed me well, you may empty my mountain of every bloodsoaked ore, but you will never be filled. The yearning never satisfied. For unlike the beautiful Urals, you are hollow-”
Overwhelmed with such a mountainous sense of dread and anguish, thoughts threatening to choke me, my body could no longer endure the state it was. But there was no surge in my movements, no springing from the sheets with a frantic fit of screams. Only a swift escape to the waking world, a cold opening of the eyes.
Regaining my bearings, I quickly noticed that the fitting of my dress felt quite unusual, but more pressingly it was apparent that someone was holding my hand. Thereafter, an attempt to discern my surroundings was postponed by the smothering of a lavish bosom unto my sides. The identity of this flesh was shortly realized, as a familiar voice cried overhead in joyful abandon, “Oh praise the ancestors! How merciful you be to me Mother, in spite of my forsaking you. ‘Tis so good to see you awake and sound of spirit my Lady Sashenka.”
Fundiswa’s slick ebony skin pressed against me for quite a span of time, her passionate embrace too enthused to know when it should cease. And as our embrace prolonged in silence, a warm flush came to assault my skin. It was an alien sensation, one I would come to feel again, pervading my being from the fluttering stomach to the ruddy face. Surely, I thought, the heat of these environs must be getting to me.
With flustered trepidation, my arms pushed back against her as I spoke, “For a mere hire, your kindness towards me warms my heart Fundiswa. Your fidelity is doubtless, yet inscrutable. The mind is left wondering if thy associate in Port Elizabeth would have been as loyal an interpreter as you. But I must implore you to release this iron grip.“
With a courteous nod, she respected my request and slid off the bed. Having room to breathe, I took this opportunity to inspect my surroundings. The building seemed single cell, with tall walls constructed out of sandstone, a labour-intensive material, unlike anything I have ever seen the Xhosa or Trekboere use. The wall across from me displayed a large mural of eland and antelope all walking rightward, a large tree with immense branches framing the spectacle, gradually transitioning to a row of humanoid figures with animal heads.
Glancing down, my eyes finally elucidated the queer feeling of my dress. Truthfully, my dress was nowhere in sight, instead replaced by a tight-fitted navy blue English tailcoat weaved with plain wool and fashioned with gold buttons. Beyond the waist, my legs had been fitted with trousers similar to those worn by Cossacks of Ukraine – despite how baggy they were, it still felt mightily uncomfortable to have my tail so confined. “Oh, devil take it!” I shouted. Such an indignity to befall me, to be fondled and undressed under the cover of vulnerable slumber.
There was a whoosh in the air as the chamber’s thatch door swung open. A towering feminine figure, roughly nine feet tall, strode inside with a long sleek pair of legs. The arms were so long that they could touch the knees without the need to bend down. Their face was obscured behind a white heart-shaped wooden mask, simplistic in design, embellished with a triangular nose and eyes slits so thin nothing could be outwardly glimpsed through them.
Her skin was of a rich tawny hue. Barring some paunch and a large accumulation of fat in her posterior that eluded gravity, she had a sturdy body adaptively suited for running and hunting in a hot desert climate such as this. As for her hair, it was bespeckled across her scalp in an array of tightly woven knots, evocative of peppercorn. The body exhibited no visible animal extremities, that is unless they were hidden by her clothes.
Draped over her left shoulder was a sort of large leather cloak, tied in the front, in addition to a smaller one beneath it – the Boers refer to this garment as a kaross. Numerous white beaded bracelets adorned her neck, biceps, knees, and ankles; four long strings of beads wrapped around her waist. She wore two waist aprons, together evocative of a wraparound skirt. One was a long fur-lined pelt that covered her rear, while the other was a short semi-circular piece of leather lined with beads that covered her crotch. Lastly, her feet were garbed in leather sandals, lacking any sort of heel cup or arch support.
With a right hand raised high above her head, the stranger spoke enthusiastically in – what I recall as being broken English, “Great sight! You wake, not fall to death like trickster Hare . . . Oh yes, forgot form.” She then gave a sort of curtsey before continuing, “My name be N!uhka, one who brought you back here, to !Xaus. What your name be?” While disclosing her name, between the ‘N’ and ‘-uhka’ she notably pulled her tongue sharply from the roof of her mouth, producing a sound similar to a wine cork popping.
At first, nothing came out, as I was taken aback by the woman speaking English. With some wise nudging from Fundiswa, my astonishment was put aside and senses were regathered. Now composed, I asked N!uhka, “You have my sincerest gratitude for seeing fit to rescue us. However, being an academic, I feel it necessary to inquire as to the name of your species as well as what is behind your mask.”
My inquiry garnered a blank stare from N!uhka, who was trying to work out what I had just said. Having no discernible face to look towards, I was forced to pay close attention to her body language. Eventually, N!uhka slightly jump and clapped her hands as she came to a realization. “Oh! You talk of my people. We called Aigamuxa,” she paused, her voice taking on a nervous tone, “as for mask. Well, you see, it worn so that . . .”
Just as she was about to answer that most pressing of curiosities, N!uhka was rudely thrust aside by the mass of a centaur. She strode in with a slow trot, her back straight and head held proudly high. With both arms stiffly in front of her, she carried a rather stuffed reticule.
A flowing celestial blue walking dress, with a isabelline satin floral design running along the bottom of either side, accompanied by an ivory coloured petticoat – left well nigh all of her grey equine body concealed. From my time in the United Kingdom, I could recognize the dress as being typical of British women and that her equine half bore a resemblance to the Irish Draught Horse. Hands and curly red hair were likewise obscured by limerick gloves and a celestial blue, hard crown bonnet, wrapped in three isabelline ribbons, respectively. Her face revealed a pale complexion and one ravaged by freckles at that. But most notably, jutting out from her forehead was a radiant, yellow spiral horn.
As the unicorn made her way across the room she spoke to us in Dutch – well, more so attempted to. It was such a painfully garbled, novice concoction of words that I struggled to recognize the language. Glancing aside, a grimace of nausea was likewise on Fundiswa’s face. Seeing it an injustice to allow this ignominy to continue any longer, I cried out, “Oh please, I implore you to stop dear. I speak the Queen’s English, so there is no need for straining your tongue!”
Once reaching the room’s dining table she drew a silver kettle and porcelain cups from her reticule. Flashing me an ecstatic smile, she then strode up and forcibly shook my hand while looking directly into my eyes. If those blue eyes weren’t a clear enough indication, the dialect verified her as being Scotch-Irish, “Oh, how embarrassing! Prithee allow me a reintroduction. Bout ye, my name is Deirdre Uí Dunsheath. Ah must say, ’tis splendid to see you alive and well dah’ling! Ah feared that it would be ages afore ah saw a fellow ‘civilized’ woman again.”
Tugging my hand, she ushered me to the table before continuing in exuberance, “C’mere, your nerves must be shaken dah’ling – Ah insist, you simply must sit down for tea with me. ‘Tis brewed from the leaves of a native plant called the rooibosch or ‘red bush.’ They say it alleviates pain and has the most fetching anti-ageing properties.”
Returning her enthused smile, I took a seat opposite of hers at the table on a low hardwood stool decorated in beads. Glancing down at the deep crimson liquid she was pouring, I quipped, “Well, how can one argue with eternal youth? And after all, they do say tea is a balm for the soul.” Deirdre, now laying on the floor, gleefully clapped her hands and turned to N!uhka, asking her to fetch us some ‘biltong’. Fundiswa chose to go help her, wanting to give us some time alone.
Setting the kettle back down, Deirdre remarked, “’tis so wonderful to have a Boer well versed in English. Being unable to converse would have been so dreadful.” There was no interval for correcting her, as she promptly exclaimed, “Oh! Aye, nearly forgot – Ah believe this belongs to you,” and presented me with my knapsack.
“Prithee, excuse me,” I muttered before rummageing through the bag to check its content. While occupied as such, Deirdre explained to me that it was, in fact, her who had removed my dress, on account of them being horridly ripped and torn asunder. My current attire belongs to her dandy husband, who she voyaged from Ulster with so as to ‘spread the light of God’ among South Africa’s heathen masses – specifically the Bosjesmen and Batswana; I vaguely recall reading of the Bosjesmen in the writings of Sir John Barrow and François Le Vaillant. Alas, I couldn’t meet her husband, for he was absent on a supply run.
With thankfully nothing amiss and none of my silver bullets pilfered, I proceeded to pull the 1809 officer’s flintlock out of my knapsack to admire it. There was nary a scratch nor dirty mark to be found on the stock. Inevitably, the present had to come crashing in with Deirdre remarking, “…and ah suppose things just haven’t been the same back home ever since High Queen Titania stoked the embers of Republicanism among the masses. Oh hey, now that’s a fancy firearm you got there. Looks nowt like what I’ve seen other Boers carry round.”
Carefully placing it down next to my tea, I stared intently across the table at her. “That my dear, is due to you making an erroneous assumption. No Boer blood courses through me, rather I am Russian born. And this beauty,” my outburst wavered as I ran a finger over the pistol’s ivory stock, “This was crafted in my hometown of Tula. Was a gift from my cousin Nikolay, who fought in the Patriotic War of 1812. As for my name, you can call me Princess Sashenka Pav-“
Deirdre cut in with a fit of riotously mocking laughter, howling to the point of equine whinnying. Gradually, she coaxed herself back down to a haughty composure. After catching her breath and wiping tears from the eye, Deirdre spoke once more with a complacent smile, “Lord have mercy – surely, my sincerest apologies must be extended dah’ling. ‘Tis just that the mere notion of a kikimora being nobility is so scandalously absurd! As far as ah have read or seen, your kind are nearly all lowly maids.”
I took a moment to drink the tea afore me, stewing over her offending words. It had a sweet, nutty flavour to it, with hints of caramel and a smokey essence. Drinking half the cup, I set it down and let out a sharp sigh. Eyes fixed over the table, I resumed the conversation, “Well, you aren’t entirely wrong. Barring the age of Mongol rule, the nobility of Russia has historically comprised of humans and zmeya – a regional species of dragon.”
Glancing at the flintlock once more, I ran a finger over the stock’s engraving of the family crest. “But when they first met in the charming, rural village of Staraya Ladoga. Well, my father cared not that she was an illiterate Zadel’nyye – I mean, emancipated serf – at first sight he was stricken with love.” Thankfully, this uncomfortable discussion was broken up by the timely arrival of Fundiswa and N!uhka with the ‘biltong’ in hand. It seemed to be strips of dried, cured meat.
“Quite a story Sashenka – anyhow, ah noticed you have been introduced to N!uhka. Prithee tell, she spoke no ill of me while you two were alone afore, did she? Ah swear, that lass can be such a rascal,” Deirdre retorted as she nibbled on a strip of meat. With ravenous hunger rearing its head, I sufficed with a shake of the head and offered the others to join us at the table before digging in. Fundiswa obliged, but N!uhka politely declined.
Wiping her lips with a handkerchief, Deirdre turned her attention towards the amazonian ogre, who reacted with a wince. A smirk on her face, she began, “Few days after we arrived to !Xaus village, ah took it upon myself to tutor this lass. ‘Twas my hope that inducting the daughter of the chieftainess to civilized speech would grease the wheels of my efforts.” Her composed disclosure of N!uhka’s noble status nearly brought me to choke upon my food.
Deirdre reached across the table to pour herself another cup of tea, but then hastily hesitated and her face, in turn, took on a sour note. With eyes closed, she spoke in a simmering vexed tone, “Aye, my efforts – in the short term, to cease their shamelessly promiscuous nature, analogous to that of vile baboons, and to cease their brazen display of the flesh with proper garments.”
Slowly, Deirdre rose to her hooves and produced from her reticule a riding crop. Clopping over to N!uhka, she lashed at her heels and knees, instructing the girl to stop slouching like a bore. Suppressing a snarl, N!uhka gave me a furtive glance. Deirdre took no notice, rolling the crop in her hands as she rambled on, “By the maith luck of Providence, these people have the good sense to be monotheists. However, the matter of how chimeras came to be has proven to be a hurdle in my conversion efforts.”
“And this gillygaupus minx,” she paused, striking N!uhka’s shoulder with the butt of her crop, “Has been nothing but a hindrance since. Ah I swear she must-“ Growing quite tiresome of this ranting and abuse, I set my tea down and interjected in a refined tone, “Our origins you say? Why, my word Lady Dunsheath, your austere evangelizing does confound me so. Of what import could such a matter have?”
Just as I suspected, she took the bait. Whipping around, Deirdre’s face was aflame with a flustered expression, accentuated by the rapid fluttering of her equine ears. With a voice hoarse from surprise she entreated, “What?! Surely a civilized woman such as yourself knows of the Parable of Lilith?”
Behind her cup of tea, an inquisitive look was evident on Fundiswa’s face. Continuing to feign ignorance, I fanned myself while stating, ”Mayhaps I know of it. I was raised in the Orthodox tradition of my homeland after all. Howbeit, as I have grown older my mind has drifted in favour towards the realm of rationalism. Would you care to elucidate?”
With furrowed brows, Deirdre removed her bonnet and placed it aside on the bed. She let out an exasperated sigh as she ran a hand through her curly red locks, then responded, “Very well – but for the sake of being succinct, ah shall omit the well-known portions of Genesis. Our story begins in an endless desert, that which Cain was to wander without hope for all eternity – punishment for murdering his kin,” stressing that last point with a crack of her riding crop.
“One day Cain chances upon an oasis. He found crouched at the water’s edge was a most unusual woman. Her skin was pale as the moonlight, with an impressively rugged physique that displayed the true potential of the flesh. Her hair was a wild unkempt vermillion jungle, cascading over a pair of folded strigine wings and down to a plump rear. Meeting his gaze, her wings unfurled and she covered the distance between them with but a single leap.”
“Cain then found himself faced with her most striking feature, a fiendish crown of sundry horns jutting from her head. Now there was no mistaking it, this she-beast was none other than Lilith, first wife of Adam. She who fled from the Kingdom of God because of her rebellious nature and whose body grew wicked in turn, deviating from the immaculate Image of God that humanity had been made in.”
‘Tis at this point that N!uhka began visibly rolling her eyes and crossing her arms. Deirdre, none the wiser, continued her abridged sermon, “Emanating an aura of depravity, Lilith talked sweetly to Cain as she caressed his head, proclaiming, ‘We are both misunderstood, outcasts of the Lord. But see here bloodspiller, there is no reason we should have to remain isolated from all life. Let us lay together, make a union away from His prude condemning eyes, and forge our own life.’”
“Thereon did Lilith ravish his body for seven days and seven nights. From their intercourse, many a monster would come into this world. The very first of their children were of the species we call Lilim and they did spread across the globe, producing even more vile breeds of monsters.”
Pausing to breathe, Deirdre crossed her hands over her heart. With renewed exuberance, she declared, “So in summation dah’ling, our very existence is a blight upon creation. Sin came into this world, in part, through us. However, we may repent the shamefulness of our bodies. Repent our lustful nature and innate desire to tempt the men of Adam into damnation. by following the modest and submissive path of Eve, our souls can transcend these base desires and become-“
As they say, tedium dulls the heart. Thus I rose to my feet and with an outstretched palm interjected, “Lady Dunsheath, that is quite enough! Now my eyes have yet to see much of these people, but I am sceptical as to the necessity of your mission. You foredoom them due to ignorance of your Lord, yet they have made do in this desolate landscape for a breadth of time.”
Reaching aside to put her bonnet back on, Deirdre let out a haughty laugh. “Oh, be reasonable girl! Ah swear, you must be suffering some sort of delirium induced fever. Forbye, Cain and his kingdom ‘made do’ in the desert for many seasons, but eventually they all faced His judgement,” she said before returning to her seat at the table. “Dander around the village if you must, take in the sights and fresh air. Ah have no doubt you shall return with a clear mind and agree with me that these people have no culture and the immaterial soul so common amongst us is gravely absent in them.”
As the three of us moved to leave, my rucksack now equipped, I abruptly felt compelled to stop in the doorway. An unremitting thought was gnawing at me. Turning back towards Deirdre, I resolved to express my misgivings before leaving, “Mademoiselle, I am surely grateful for your care of me, but you mistake me for kin. My people hold no morose partiality towards the nègres, neither man nor chimera, as you Westerners so fanatically do. Our mighty empire has never seen fit to colonize their land, nor enslave or hunt them for sport. While you may seek to improve the welfare of these people, your judgement is utterly clouded…”
Pausing, my gaze turned to Fundiswa. She gave me a reassuring smile and we grasped each other’s hand before continuing, “My companion and I shall depart on the morrow, so I can do no more than offer you this proverb – your crusade is written on water with a pitchfork.” With that, I bid the missionary adieu; as we fled, her mouth was agape and pupils dilated from the shock of being so brazenly demeaned.
Deirdre was right about one thing, the fresh air and the warmth of the sun on my skin was refreshing after being stuck in that house with her for so long. Though it would not be long before the sun’s rays began feeling intolerable once more. Looking around in each direction, there were dozens of round sandstone huts to be seen, laid out so uniformly from one another. Fundiswa swiftly snapped me out of gaping at the architecture with a slap to the shoulder, thereupon asking, “What was all that about a pitchfork?”
With both of them shooting me a puzzled expression my cheeks began to blush. “Oh right, that – sometimes I can be so forgetful of my company. ‘Tis a proverb from my country, meaning that something is a very doubtful event,” I spoke in a flustered pace, before turning to N!uhka and asking, “So how about that tour now?” Clapping her hands in excitement, she nodded towards the leftmost footpath and with nary a word began walking ahead of us.
The roads in the village were very lively. Various species of chimera all running about, playing, conversing, and aggressively courting men. There were short goat women with rustic red fur and diversely colourful Nguni holstaurs. But most striking of all was a species of Homo Aviana, specifically of the genus Struthio, that I had heretofore only caught glimpses of while trekking across South Africa. Averaging a height of five to six feet, the first thing anyone would take notice of this species is that their humanoid torso diverges into an egg-shaped mass – chiefly covered in bold black plumage, with the tips of their wings and tail distinguished by white feathers – denoting them as parallels to the peculiar ostrich.
As is the case with their flying kin, those aforesaid wings take the place of arms on their humanoid torso. They were roughly six feet long, covered in fluffy flexible feathers unsuitable for flying – according to Fundiswa they aid this species of Homo Aviana in maintaining balance and act as rudders, granting the ability to steer themselves while running. Their long avian legs were slim, yet sturdy, and supported by a pair of powerful thighs. The legs were devoid of feathers, though had scales around the calves, and culminated in two hefty toes disproportionate to one another. Finally, despite what some sensationalists have written their necks are only slightly longer than that of a human, but more captivating is their eyelashes, which naturally grow very thick.
Howbeit, the most predominant species of chimera who crowded the walkways was none other than the aigamuxa, ranging in sizes of six to nine feet. They all wore clothing similar to that of N!uhka – a pair of semicircular leather waist aprons decorated in beads or tassels, sundry strings of beads, leather sandals, and a pair of large leather cloaks draped over their left shoulders. But what I found extraordinary is that they all wore colourful, flat heart-shaped masks – what was their significance? Beyond that, many of them carried variously decorated, beautiful bags. Most were the tanned leather of animal hides, but some were crafted from the shells of turtles.
And I would be not to mention the appearance of the male Bosjesmen wandering about, though I do not remember much. They were short, averaging about five feet in height, with lean builds. Their skin was of a lighter yellowish complexion compared to the Xhosa and unlike that of most natives in Africa. Faces exhibited rather Asiatic features – prominent cheekbones and slanted almond-shaped eyes. A few were garbed in those same cloaks, but many strode around in just a loincloth. Surely such attire did little to help with the aggressive courting some of the younger aigamuxa were engaged in.
Eventually, my distracted mind caught up to me again, as N!uhka clapped her hands in front of my face and asked, “Hello? You hear me? I say no mind missionary’s bad head.” Shaking the shock off my shoulders, I looked up at her quizzically. A slight blush rose on my cheeks as I felt my hand gently squeezed, realizing that I had been walking hand in hand with Fundiswa this whole time.
Fundiswa leaned over and whispered to me, “Lady Sashenka, our friend was telling us how their village has been afflicted as of late with a horrible sickness, magical in nature. Last month the missionary’s husband fell victim to it. Like the other victims, the village’s healing ceremony was unable to save him; her grief for him is tinged with bitterness towards the village. Moreover, her mother has fallen victim just this week.” Stepping to the side as an ox sauntered down the road, I blurted out, “So how have your people ascertained that this sickness you speak of is in essence mystical?”
N!uhka let out a boisterous cackle and laid a hand on my shoulder, continuing to lead us to our unknown destination. Peering down at me she said, “Our healing dance, it cure most anything. But this sickness differs. All [who] fall ill, do so at night. The ill [are] mostly women, [who] slowly waste away. Strange, no?” Simply nodding my head in response, I was uncertain what to say in response to that. It still sounds dubious to me, but something certainly unnatural must be stirring.
At last, we arrived at our destination, a large open market buzzing with activity. Beyond the handful of chimeran species that we passed on the way here, there was an astonishing diversity to be found here. There were were-lionesses with luscious, full black manes, standing beside the more slim cheetah women and ferocious were-hyenas at a stall for meat. Hares, guinea fowl, and korhaan could all be seen strung up on display alongside baskets of insects. Behind the stand, an aigamuxab was butchering a large porcupine.
When N!uhka saw me ogling the meat stand she jumped in front of me. Waving her hands in a panic, she said with a tinge of distraught, “No heed hearsay, all [just a] big lie! No eating of man here.” Confused by her frantic jabber, I turned to Fundiswa for guidance. Leaning over, she discreetly whispered into my ear, “Many of the Bosjesmen are distrustful of the Aigamuxa and believe them to be cannibals.” Shocked at such abhorred defamation, I reassured N!uhka that I thought nothing of the sort. With her feeling relaxed once more we continued our tour of the market.
A rhinoceros woman stood next to us at a stall in front of a metallurgist’s building, examining the axes and spears they had on display. The aigamuxab owner wore a copper mask and was working away tirelessly at her forge to smelt iron mixed with what looked to be pyrolusite. N!uhka traded the woman a handful of stringed beads for a knobkierie made from the wood of an acacia tree – a type of thin club with a knob at the end, evocative of the Irish shillelagh.
Making our way to a large stand replete with fruit we passed by two interesting sights. The first was a stand manned by a naked girtablilu, shouting at a male customer (according to Fundiswa), “You know the market rules, no haggling allowed! So meet the price or get lost, others will pay well for my poison.” The second was a stand where ostrich harpies were trading small unfertilized eggs for clothes. When I inquired about this, N!uhka told me that all the beads I had been seeing that day were made in fact from ostrich eggshells, though the eggs can also be hollowed out and serve as a canteen.
The aforesaid fruit stand had large watermelons, called tsamma, and some strange orange melon covered in horn-like spikes called a Kivano. Apparently, these fruits are vital sources of water during the dry season. N!uhka traded more beads she had stuffed away in her kaross to buy us a honey mead called karri and some hoodia cactus, the latter of which is said to have hunger-suppressing properties.
As we departed from the market, N!uhka ushering us to our next destination, she explained that everything her people hunt and gather is freely shared among members of the tribe, but traded with outsiders. Howbeit, all that I witnessed shows that despite being located in the desert, the economy among these people was not one of scarcities and continually grappling to survive, but rather striving for sufficiency. And as a woman of nobility, the thought of such simple communal values humble me.
Further ahead of the market we reached a large empty courtyard, dotted with seven deep wells. N!uhka continued to wave at us as her footsteps hastened, ushering us to a disorderly staircase of stones that gave the impression of being unstable. This ascended to the rampart of a large wall of sand and ancient coral packed incredibly tight. All throughout the village, I could vaguely make out the outline of this wall, enclosing the city like a fortress. But standing before it now, I can truly feel its age emanating from the masonry, possibly hundreds or thousands of years old.
With a sluggish, cautious pace I ascended the flight of stones, coming to rest at a stunning overlook of the setting sun. The sky is a deeply rich shade of orange, the long stretches of clouds seem nearly incandescent and the descending sun a distant glaring mass of gold. Leaning over the battlements and gazing out over the horizon, N!uhka let out a content sigh then made a rapid series of clicks in a hushed tone. Taking a seat, Fundiswa told me that she said some kind of proverb, “The day we die a soft breeze will wipe out our footprints in the sand. [Then,] when the wind dies down, who will tell the timelessness that once we walked this way in the dawn of time?”
Taking a seat next to the amazonian ogre, I smirked up at her and reply, “Deirdre would likely say that is an empty truism…” Joining her in gazing over the horizon, a question I likely should have asked sooner suddenly reared its head, “By the way N!uhka, where are we exactly?”
The girl slapped her forehead as if realizing she had forgotten something. Looking back and forth, she stumbled over her words for a bit until resigning to have Fundiswa translate for her. Taking a seat next to me she ran a hand over one of my fluffy drooping ears and stated, “They give this land no name, just as the people you call ‘Bosjesmen’ give themselves no collective name. But their neighbours, the Batswana, call it the Kgalagadi – the thirstland. I myself know th-“
Draping her long legs over the edge of the battlements, N!uhka proceeded to bluntly interject, “Not always [was it] the Kgalagadi. When Aigamuxa came long [a]go with Khoekhoen people from North, there was [a] mighty lake [here]. Now water far below ground. Place of first people.”
“First people,” I wistfully repeated after her, dragged away mentally to distant thoughts. Sitting up, I began to pace around the rampart as more questions flooded my mind, “Deirdre said you don’t agree on where us chimeras came from. So what exactly is it that your people believe in N!uhka? What is your Genesis?”
Kicking her legs back and forth, she chuckled at my question. Leaning back to look at me, she said teasingly, “You ask many [questions]. Okay, I tell. Think of mural-” Reaching into her kaross she pulled out one of those bottles of karri and began chugging it down, leaving me to ponder the significance of that mural I viewed back at her home.
In between bouts of drinking that mead she answered piece by piece, “Once all were below ground. Man and beast, could tell not apart. One language they all spoke. Men like clay, could change form. But our Lord dreamed of brighter world. Started with big tree, [whose] branches stretched across all of Africa. Then [he] dug hole to above so all may leave – up there all [became] distinct. But some stubborn, not want [to] go. So [they got] dragged out while changing [their] shape. [They] came out men mixed with beast, now stuck [that] way ever since.”
Taking a seat next to her, I cup my chin in hands, ruminating over what else I wanted to ask her. Something felt missing, a question that had been lingering with me since the day began, and its absence in memory was gnawing away at any sense of serenity. Looking up at the ever dimming sky, I eventually found the words come back to me and felt them force their way out into the world, “Alright, last question N!uhka. Can I see what you and the others are hiding beneath those masks?”
Her body froze stiff at this inquiry, barely making so much as a twitch. There was nary a chuckle nor amusement to be found with her. After a long period of silence, she whimpered out a response, “Are you sure? My people – we wear [this] so [as] to not frighten others.” Fundiswa stood up and began rubbing the girl’s shoulders, reassuring her, “No matter what your visage May entail, you will always be beautiful to us.”
Expelling a loud, defeated sigh, N!uhka motioned for Fundiswa to stop and turned to face me. Sitting here together, the height difference between us was far more negligible and removed the need to craned my head upwards. Gradually, with trembling hands N!uhka removed her mask and the revelation tested my resolve, restraining a gasp of shock that had wanted to burst out.
Where normally one would find a pair of eyes, there was nought. Nary even a hollow socket. Their absence filled by merely skin. My resolve weakening, I gingerly ran a finger over one of the spots devoid of eye & socket, mystified by the sight before me. Buckling under the weight of this discovery, words haphazardly tumbled out as a murmur, “But how do you all-“
“See?” N!uhka interjected, giving me a large brazen grin that revealed a mouth full of predominantly razor-sharp, carnivorous teeth. Pulling the mask back over her head, N!uhka continued, “We smell and we hear. If those no good, then our men [act as a] second [set of] eyes. But also…,”
The girl motioned Fundiswa to move as she sought to take a seat further away from me. With her long legs now fully stretched out before me, she leaned down and removed both of her sandals. Then without warning, she raised the now bare feet up to my face.
Saying I was a bit taken aback by the whole incident would be rather diminishing, but what I saw next more than made up for the flagrant. What appeared as though a strange lump in the centre of each sole swiftly opened up, revealing an eye that looked fixedly at me. Coughing to get my attention, N!uhka finished her postponed sentence, “But also, Aigamuxa have eyes here. So if [we] want [to] see [really] badly, then sandal come off and,” with incredible dexterity she flipped backwards and stood upside down on her hands. With her back to me, both legs hung down crookedly, swinging around to give her a look at the surroundings.
Fundiswa earnestly clapped at witnessing this acrobatic feat and, albeit, with some delay, I followed her lead. Returning to her seating position, N!uhka threw her sandals back on and rose to take a bow. By this point the sun had all but vanished beyond the horizon, its passing ignored in the wake of our antics. Just as we were considering a return to her abode, a cacophonie of commotion erupted from behind us. Peering out from the vantage point of the rampart, we could see a fire rising from what would be the marketplace and a small parliament of owl harpies terrorizing the people below.
Unleashing a bloodcurdling snarl, N!uhka grabbed her knobkierie. Then without hesitation, she simply leapt down from the colossal wall and broke out into a charge towards the source of the cacophonie. Cautiously skipping down the stone stairs, I brandished the gun from my rucksack and with Fundiswa in tow we followed her pursuit. The sound of her frenzied, bellowing warcry and nameless shrieks guiding our path.
Dodging the vicious claws of the occasional swooping owl harpies along the way, we caught up with N!uhka at the marketplace. The howl harpies were clawing at the stalls and harassing people, yet their attacks seemed to lack any fatal intent. There was a fire around the metallurgist’s shop, who was swatting the owl harpies away with a large mallet.
The ostrich harpies were frantically running all throughout the market as if headless chickens. The visiting outsiders were nowhere to be seen, having likely all absconded in the commotion. At some stalls, the items on display were getting knocked around by unseen forces. The other aigamuxa who stood their ground, trying to fight off the vexatious harpies, were likewise getting tripped at every turn by invisible creatures.
Suddenly, I stumbled backwards as I felt my hair being pulled and small furry legs wrapping around my throat. My body thrashed about, trying to knock assailant off me, but to no avail. A laboured, bestial breath assaulted my neck, reeking of rotten flesh. With a thunderous smack N!uhka knocked them off of me. Now visible, Fundiswa pointed towards it and shouted, “Tokoloshe!”
At first glance, it appeared to be a pale goblin with a stocky build, garbed in a cloak of leopard skin, but their visage evoked that of an undead chimera and there was a glowing mark upon the forehead. Her piercing red eyes darted between us, before flipping over onto bear-like hands and feet. Scurrying over to a fluorescent pebble, it placed the stone into its mouth and vanished once more.
For a moment I just stood there, shaken by the assault and trying to comprehend what I had just witnessed. Meanwhile, Fundiswa was rambling on exasperatedly, “This cannot be right, it just does not make any sense! Of course, tokoloshe are known to be mischievous, but there have never been any accounts of them ransacking whole villages in packs. Furthermore, tokoloshe normally eschew any form of civilization. That is, unless they have been captured or created by-”
A trio of those creatures abruptly appeared visible beside us, all three beating away vigorously at drums, as the Harpies overhead cried out in unison. In the wake of this unexpected obtrusion, a large hyena strode in casually amidst the chaos unfolding. Reclining on the beast’s back, with one foot dangling towards the ground, was a naked human woman. She had a thick, matted forest of dark hair that blended into the night. Her body was utterly smeared in white ash, with stripes on her face that seemed to be painted with fresh blood.
Slightly leaning up to get a better look at all the mayhem, the woman waved her hands around impassively as she made a piercing boast in a conceited tone. Fundiswa translated her speech thus, albeit with some artistic license, “No applause for me? No celebration for the arrival of Dikeledi the moloi ba bosigo? Oh, what a pity – toying with you lot has been so very amusing, but I have grown weary of the game. Now on behalf of the Batswana tribes, I offer you a modest ultimatum, slavery or death.”
N!uhka let out another bellowing snarl as she charged toward the leisurely paced witch, knobkierie held high with intent to bludgeon. Letting out an irritated groan, Dikeledi waved a hand dismissively at the enraged ogre. A group of owl harpies thereupon swooped down and restrained N!uhka with their talons.
I looked around frantically, fearful as I realized that I must have dropped my flintlock while scuffling with the tokoloshe and because Fundiswa was nowhere in sight. Another one of the owl harpies swooped down and perched on my shoulders, forcing me into a kneeling position. Dikeledi let out a weary yawn and began blathering on once more as she approached. I could feel the hot breath of her hyena on my face, which looked artificial now that I was up close to it.
Suddenly, the tense dread of this crushing moment was brought to a halt as a shot echoed across the marketplace. Dikeledi rolled off the back of her hyena steed and tumbled to the ground. I could make out blood trickling out the side of her stomach as she writhed and howled in agony. Another shot rang out and the harpies began to disperse, fleeing into the night as their leader lay indisposed.
A hand filled my vision, helping me up to stand. As if there was any doubt to be had of who our saviour was – there stood Fundiswa before me, firmly grasping my flintlock pistol in her other hand. Handing me my firearm back, she brushed some hair out of her face and said, “Truthfully, I didn’t think she would go down so easily. I suppose it was the silver construction of your bullets that cut through any resistance she had.”
Our celebratory interval was cut short by the rumbling growl of the witch’s hyena. Thankfully, two swift whacks from N!uhka’s knobkierie was all it took to fell the beast, whose collapsed form began dissolving into some kind of sludge soon after. This left the matter of the sobbing witch at our feet, begging us to help her and making all sorts of promises. Our eyes darted among one another, uncertain of what action we should now take. Ultimately, we had to do what was in the best interests of the village. N!uhka, infuriated by this stranger’s assault on her people, wanted to put her to death right away. But after some quick deliberation, I assured her that I had something in mind that would prove more beneficial for everyone.
An exhausted groan filled the room as the last of the herbal ointment was applied to the dozing victim’s head. Proceeding to wipe her own brow, Dikeledi then turned to us and informed Fundiswa that the chieftainess will be mostly recovered by tomorrow, though some of the other inflicted might take a few days.
Despite having a bullet extracted from her ribs by my paudry surgeon skills, she seemed to be recovering quite well – perhaps her mystical nature had something to do with it. I as well have to admit, she looked quite fetching now that we put one of those karosses on her. Though she still appeared to be rather aggravated that I had to wash the white ash off of her body in order to operate.
Glancing over at me, Dikeledi grumbled something under her breath. This lead to the still bitter N!uhka to snarl at her, “No secrets!” Wincing and grabbing her bandaged side, the now timid witch was thoroughly provoked into whispering what she said into Fundiswa’s ear.
She then turned to me and said, “The Night Witch is reluctantly grateful for us removing the bullet. Feeling indebted, she promises to uphold her vow of never harassing the village of !Xaus ever again. Be it through sickness or physical force. Howbeit…” Fundiswa pauses, looking hesitant to relay the rest of what the Witch said.
Dikeledi began stomping her feet, annoyed at her translator’s reluctance. Fundiswa soon sighed and capitulated to her mild tantrum. Laying a hand on my shoulder, she looked me in the eyes and said, “Dikeledi is also willing to mystically transport our bodies to where we desire. Howbeit, in return for this adjunct she wants compensation – a steed to replace that imitation hyena N!uhka destroyed.”
The offer felt very enticing, as we were not sure which direction we should be heading out towards. Furthermore, I reasoned that it would most likely be days or even weeks before we came across another settlement; colonization has barely touched this section of South Africa after all. And within that time the food that N!uhka had bought for us at the market would inevitably run out.
I paced around the room for quite some time, ignoring Fundiswa as my mind became immersed in contemplation over this pressing issue. To deny the witch’s request would surely be folly, where exactly would we find her a steed? We don’t have access to any of the domestic horses brought over by the Boers and British. And there’s nary a zebra around for miles – even if there were, it seemed unlikely that we would be able to wrangle one.
Finally, my concentration was broken as I walked right into N!uhka. She patted me on the back, saying not to worry and reassuring us that she knew just where to find Dikeledi a new steed. With this in mind, I felt a wave of relief wash over me. Though, perhaps this comfort would have been lukewarm at the time, had I been able to see the smirk concealed behind N!uhka’s mask.
Within a few hours, me and Fundiswa were all packed and standing near the city gate ready to leave. My temperament at that time was far more comfortable and relaxed, as Fundiswa had made a hole in these trousers for my tail to fit through. To think, I had to endure such pain throughout all that commotion yesterday – ‘tis just so absurd.
When I saw N!uhka running towards us, my mind initially reasoned that she must be coming to say goodbye. Instead, she came insisting that we bring her along. I tried to rebuff, asking about her mother and the state of the village. N!uhka simply shrugged off my concerns, stating that the village is briskly recovering from last night and that her mother is an old warrior who can handle herself. When it came to her reasons for wanting to join us, she said, “Heard much of world from Lady Dunsheath, now want to see for self.” Finally, she nudged me in the shoulder and chirped, “I [was] your guide, now you be my guide. A fair trade, as [they] say.”
A loud, strained cough broke our banter and I felt no choice but to concede to the request. Turning to the source of the intruding noise we found Dikeledi. Her body was just as stark naked as ever and newly smeared in white ash. “Are you lot just about ready to go?” she directed to Fundiswa. She nodded, then led me by hand into the circle of salt the witch had set up just a few moments ago. ‘Tis odd, I thought, for just a few days ago I was so flustered at the sight of that naked lamia priestess Esosa. Now here I stand, untroubled by this witch brazenly strutting about as if it were the most natural of things.
“Oh, and thanks a ton for the fiery Lekgowa,” Dikeledi remarked as she slowly circled around us, setting fire to leaves she had strategically placed around the rim of this ritual circle. To my surprise and mild amusement, her trio of tokoloshe lackeys then appeared and started pounding away at their drums. Following their arrival, the witch proceeded to sensually dance and sway around us, chanting something salacious that brought Fundiswa to blush.
I recall hearing a strange sound at the time, as if someone nearby was gagged, but I was so mesmerized by Dikeledi’s dancing that I paid it no heed. After some time she stood in one place and began rapidly gyrating her hips, while the pace of the tokoloshe’s drum beating hastened in turn. She stretched out her arms and reached up high to the sky, as if invoking a higher power, while the rest of her body looked to be violently convulsing at an unnatural speed.
Concern for her well-being was rising in me, but Fundiswa squeezed my hand and told me to stay firm. Dikeledi’s eyes altered to a resemblance of pristine ivory, lacking any sclera. Finally, she fell backwards and laid sprawled out on the ground. The tokoloshes were unshaken by the state of their mistress and remained unwavering in their commitment to beating the drums. Shortly after her fall, white smoke began to rise from the ground around us, confined to the interior of our circle. It rose up until we were wholly engulfed within a thick mist and could no longer see the world around us. When the smoke dissipated, we found that we had emerged somewhere else.
The destination in which we next found ourselves was not quite the port town I had in mind, to say the least. For now, the details of that day will have to wait to see themselves immersed in my journal. But, I would be remiss not to record some information that N!uhka had disclosed to me at a later date.
It turns out that the strange sound I heard that day was indeed that of a gagged individual – none other than Lady Dunsheath herself. While me and Fundiswa were busy preparing for our departure, N!uhka connivingly sold her into bondage to that witch. Since that day, she feels some remorse for her actions, as the decision was partly motivated by a vindictive desire for retribution. Chiefly, she reasoned at the time that it was in the best interests of her village to do so. As for the ultimate fate of the unicorn? None could predict what would come.
 The Khoisan language of South Africa can be described as click-based, meaning they use speech sounds that occur as consonants. Consequently, this language family has a far greater range of consonants than most in the world. The languages of the Zulu and Xhosa, Bantu groups who migrated south into Bushmen land thousands of years ago, originally did not have click consonants. Over time they adopted this quirk of their Bushmen neighbors, borrowing words, and eventually developing their own distinct clicks.
 Gornaja matka is a Slavic term that roughly translates to “The Stone Mother.” It is an alternative name for a legendary mountain spirit from the Ural region of Russia, more widely known as the “The Malachite Maid.” Various accounts portray her as being the patroness of miners, ruler of the Ural Mountains, and a protector of the riches hidden within them. While many accounts describe her as a beautiful human, the most promising describe her as being rather reptilian and accompanied by an entourage of lizard servants.
 The garment that Fundiswa’s referring to in this passage is known as sharovary, a type of men’s trousers traditionally worn by the Cossacks of Ukraine. They are cut full at the thigh and taper to the ankles, with fullness at the hip being evenly gathered to the front of the waistband. Superficially, they are similar to Turkish Trousers.
 N!uhka’s mention in this passage of a ‘trickster hare who fell to death’ is most likely a reference to one folktale shared among the Bushmen tribes. The story goes that one day, in a time when man and beast were not too different, a young hare was mourning the death of his mother. Seeing this, the Moon tried to comfort him, saying that she is not altogether and will return to life, just as he dies and returns to life on a daily basis. However, the hare was obstinate and would not believe what the Moon. This infuriated it so badly that the Moon split the hare’s lip and declared that all people shall “altogether vanish away,” instead of “returning to living” as he does.
 My publicist told me that some readers might be confused by what Deirdre means by Republicanism. In short, it isn’t the well-known political ideology, but rather a political movement aimed towards gaining independence for Ireland. If the events presented in these snippets of journal entries did occur in the late 1820’s as we theorize, then the movement would have been crippled at the time.
 Based on later documents, we believe with due confidence that Sashenka does not write the word “ogre” in any derogatory sense. But rather, is referring to the Aigamuxa’s taxonomic classification.
 For those confused by the usage of the word Struthio, please note that taxonomy is ever-evolving field. Today we would classify ostrich harpies under the infraclass Terraligatum, equivalent to Palaeognathae.
 To this day scientists are still baffled as to why some species of chimera, such as the Ostrich Harpy, exhibit traits that are exclusive to the males of their animal counterparts. Some theorize that they might likewise serve the purpose of attracting a mate – many men would find the bold black and white feathers more alluring than muddy brown ones.
 ‘Aigamuxab’ is the singular form of the plural ‘Aigamuxa,’ though sometimes the latter term may be written as ‘Aigamuchas.’
 Research shows that a moloi (plural, baloi) ba bosigo is a type of witch native to the country of Botswana, that have long been associated with malevolent intent. The name roughly translates as ‘Night Witch’ or ‘Night Sorceress.’ The presence of owl Harpies aiding the Night Witch within these logbook entries can possibly be correlated with accounts stating that Night Witches typically choose owls as their familiars. Lastly, as peculiar as this may sound, it’s been said that Night Witches are capable of artificially constructing hyenas from bowls of bewitched porridge.
 Lekgowa is a racial term in both the Setswana and Sesotho languages, the former being the predominant language of Botswana, referring to a singular person as being white or light-skinned.