When a nomad excels in the army she only joined to face the guard that killed her mom, she must pick revenge or her own prosperity. #PitProm
Audacious young Mika isn’t afraid to fight a kingdom guard, especially when they spy on her nomadic tribe without reason. And when she's accused of scamming marketplace patrons, she readily defends herself against the arresting guards. Her actions result in the deportation of her tribe. But the xenophobic commander of the king's army chooses a much harsher punishment—slaughtering the group, including her mother.
Mika flees to another kingdom where she meets Amblyn, a female commander and the ex-lover of her mother. Craving retribution, she plots to kill the man that destroyed her life. But she needs the right skills for the task. With Amblyn's help, Mika trains to become a kingdom guard.
Determined to be a formidable opponent, Mika fights to maintain her cultural identity as she tackles a new language, new weapons, and bigoted peers. Her friendship with Amblyn, and a secret romance with a top commander's son provides a solace she unknowingly longed for. She becomes rather content with guard life. But Mika discovers the man responsible for her tribe's demise is a guest at the Olympics-style games she will compete in. And she'll have to decide if getting the vengeance she desperately wants is worth risking the friendship and love she desperately needs.
At 92,000 words, the adult fantasy SHATTER THE SHIELD is the first in a series. This story blends the “legendary person” concept from THE NAME OF THE WIND with the training and female relationships of RED SISTER. I have a degree in English Language and Literature from the University of Michigan. When it comes to writing, I like to infuse my experiences as a Black woman into my work, and challenge perceptions of race and gender.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
First Ten Pages:
Something moved through the woods.
Mika craned her neck to the left, bobbing her head to get a better look. Even through the dim firestone lanterns spread around the Sanga camp, and the woods a few feet away from her, she saw the rustling of wide bushes and tree branches. And what appeared to be a figure.
She glanced at the crowd in front of her, an intimate group of just over thirty people, all family and friends. Their eyes were on Mika and the two close friends standing next to her, Lewa and Malani. She shot another look at the woods, which were now still and dark. Had she really been the only one to see something out there? No one else made a move.
The plucking of the linti strings floated through the soft drumming and a melodious voice. Mika snapped to attention. Despite the small knot of concern in her stomach, her arms moved in tune with each lyrical inflection. Spinning around, she thrust her arms upward, and accentuated each rotation with the stomp of her right heel. She leaped into a split, her arms up again as she landed. The only sound from the crowd was the shifting of the bodies that sat on blankets in front of her.
She stepped back, now in line with her friends. The voices of the crowd rose and hands came together as the drum thundered. With leaps, body rolls, foot stomps, and shaking hips, they made use of the small area between the crowd and the musicians. The tiny, bright red beads attached to the sides of Mika’s black drop crotch pants slapped against her thighs, and her thick braids bounced around her head. The drum beat grew louder and louder. She launched herself into the air one last time.
With one final pluck of the linti and a softening drum roll, Mika’s feet hit the ground. People rose off the blankets, shouting praise and whistling at the three friends. She soaked it all in as she tried to control her breathing.
Malani backed away, leaving the two girls alone. The drum started again, its tempo creating a stir among the crowd. The familiar beat could only mean one thing: a rutha game. Anticipation set in as everyone returned to their spots on the blankets.
Rutha games were reserved for solstice events; this was just a going away party. The tribe leader Haki selected the rutha masters that would have the honor of putting on an exhibition match to show off their skills. Mika and Lewa had only spent three years learning the swift kicks, elbows, flips, and cartwheels of the traditional martial art. Initially, Haki wouldn't even allow them to train, insisting “women had more important duties than fighting.” But he only changed his mind after a nasty tongue lashing from the girls' mothers and pleading from his son, who didn't appreciate his outdated thinking.
But since this going away party was for one of the most skilled rutha masters in their tribe, Mika and Lewa convinced their leader to let them perform. It only took the promise of collecting and distributing the water buckets for the next month.
Mika faced her friend, crouching slightly, and look her up and down. Like her, Lewa was seventeen years old, standing about five feet, three inches tall. She had the same plump lips and dark amber colored skin. Both girls had the most common trait of members of their tribe: bright green hair and eyes, the color of malachite. Mika’s hand-painted headband did little to prevent the sweat from dripping down her forehead, and her tunic clung to her shoulders. Stains covered Lewa’s own tunic. Fortunately, Mika talked her friend into braiding her tightly, coiled hair for the night. Who knows what the humidity and dancing would have done to it.
The two girls rocked back and forth, putting one foot behind the other. Tiny goosebumps formed on Mika’s neck. All eyes were on them. But she couldn’t shake the feeling that everyone also included a mysterious someone or someones in the woods. She resisted the urge to look in that direction again. Lewa picked up on Mika’s uncertainty.
What’s wrong? Lewa mouthed to her.
Talk later, Mika mouthed back. Lewa pursed her lips in an exaggerated fashion; her signature move whenever Mika hesitated to tell her something. Mika responded with an eye roll and shook her head.
"Amijo!" Malani shouted. Lewa made the first move with a spinning kick aimed for Mika’s right shoulder and chest. Her friend’s leg brushed her hair as she ducked and retaliated with her own spinning kick targeting the shoulder. The series of kicks between the girls continued. That was the choreographed part of their routine, simply for the crowd. Once Lewa backflipped away from Mika, they would have to rely on their ability to read one another's moves.
A few people in the crowd jumped to their feet, shouting, and chanting the girls’ names. Mika and Lewa fought furiously, grunting, and yelping with each hit. One-handed cartwheels and flips targeted the upper body, and sweeping legs aimed for ankles and shins. Mika regretted putting the beads in her hair as they smacked her in the face, blinding her temporarily. Lewa took advantage of the moment and struck her right side with a knee.
Only five minutes into the fight, the girls slowed down as their bodies grew fatigued. Mika wasn’t going to last too much longer; they hadn’t fought this long before. Lewa struggled to keep up. Her kicks and elbows lost their ferocity.
Time for the take down.
Mika dove feet first, opening her legs just enough to envelope Lewa’s left leg. With the slight twist of her body, she used her weight to pull her friend down to the ground. Lewa groaned as she fell face forward in the dirt.
"Mika bota!" Malani declared Mika the winner. She extended a hand to Lewa, who glared at her for a second. Mika smirked. One of them had to lose, obviously it had to be her friend. But Lewa’s glare didn’t last long as a smile soon spread on her face.
The cheers spread through the group as Mika and her friend put their arms around each other and limped away. A voice rang louder than the others, and Mika's face flushed. She couldn't resist a smile as she looked in the direction of the voice. He stood to the far right of the group, covered in the shadows from the trees. But there was just enough light to see the look of pride on his face as he'd just watched his two best trainees perform their first rutha game in front of everyone. Mika missed him the first time she looked around as she was more concerned with the movements she had seen moments before their performance.
The thought of the ghostly figures in the woods wiped the smile from her face. The goosebumps returned.
Mika and Lewa made their way over to a blanket near the food table, where Mika's mother sat. A small, overturned box with a large ceramic pot of ootuga paste, gauze, and flat string were set up. She had the foresight to prepare the area while the girls performed. Next to the first aid items sat a wide, intricately designed gold bracelet, a gift from Mika's late father. Mika had taken it off just before their dance routine, fearing it would slip off.
"You two looked great out there," said Mika's mother, Alaya, in a hushed voice. Her eyes sparkled as she removed the lid from the jar. Many people outside their tribe assumed Alaya was Mika’s sister. They were the same height, but her mother’s green eyes turned slightly upward on her youthful face.
“You were amazing,” Alaya gushed. “You know I call you keta oluma for a reason. You proved to everyone tonight you’re a standout.”
Mika narrowed her eyes at Lewa, who snickered. Her mother started calling her keta oluma—"little leader”—when the girls first started their training. “You really shine out there,” Alaya had told her one day. “You know, I have yet to see a female oluma, Mika. You can be the first. You’re my keta oluma for now.” Mika usually just shrugged at her mother’s declaration that she would break barriers to become the first female leader of a Sanga tribe. But that was the first time her mother used the nickname in front someone else. Lewa definitely wouldn’t let this one go.
“Ahama,” Mika addressed her mother, “Did you see—”
Alaya shushed her daughter as tribe leader Haki moved to the front of the crowd. Mika opened her mouth again, but the warning glance from Alaya changed her mind. Wait until after, her mother’s eyes said.
Mika pointed to the pained areas of her body while her mother carefully spread a thin layer of ootuga paste on them. She flinched when the cold, ivory colored concoction hit her arm. The pains from her fight slightly dulled as the thin layer took effect. Mika slipped her bracelet on after her mother finished and moved on to Lewa.
Alaya didn’t seem bothered as she beamed at the speaking Haki. Neither did anyone else in the group. Maybe what Mika had seen was just a weird breeze through a group of thin tree branches. And not a figure looking at them.
"...for our younger generations," Haki was saying, "Malani, Lewa, Mika, thank you all for that performance. You all are the pride of the Sanga. We are looking at you young ones to keep our traditions alive. Thank you for showing us such passion and dedication tonight." A few people looked in their direction as they received another smattering of applause.
"And now," Haki continued, "Datani, will you come here please?"
Mika perked up as Datani joined the older man. Datani was Mika’s rutha trainer. He was twenty-two years old, and over six feet tall. His well-toned body was achieved through years of rutha training and construction jobs around various kingdoms. He had at least an inch of hair on his head though he preferred a close-cropped style. Even though some of their interactions were of him yelling at her bad form and wild kicks during training, that didn’t stop her from the prolonged looks she gave his body and handsome face.
"Tonight, is Datani’s last night with us," Haki began, "He’s decided to move on from the group and explore on his own for a while. He’s like a son to me, and brother to Malani. My wife and I have taken care of him since the passing of his parents. I’ve watched him grow into a bright, strong young man." He turned to Datani to conclude his speech. "Datani, you are Sanga. You will always be Sanga. And we will always support you. We'll always welcome you with open arms." He then pulled Datani into a group hug with his surrogate family. Tears and cheers spread through the crowd.
Datani announced his plans to leave the group nearly a month ago. This was a rather normal practice for members of the Sanga tribe, one of the nomadic groups that originated from the southern regions of the Khalavan continent. They travelled throughout the countries as no one place was home. Mika and her mother had been a part of this tribe for the past five years, spending the past year just outside the northern kingdom of Eladon. People would come and go, and families would grow and shrink. Undoubtedly, Datani’s departure hurt more than anyone else, but Mika hoped he would return one day soon.
The music started up again. Dinner and the performances were over; time for dancing and drinking. People jumped up, pulling the blankets off the ground, and tossing them into a pile to make room for dancing. A few ran over to Datani to offer good luck and hugs. Some others let the upbeat music take over their bodies, despite the sticky night air. The light from the firestone lanterns and bonfire bounced off the sea of bright green hair and clothes painted with blues, reds, and whites.
Mika's mother got up from the blanket. “You two sit here for a moment and rest up,” she said. She left the two girls alone. Mika reached up for the food table. Most of the meats and fruits had been devoured before their dance performance, but there were a few pieces of bread left in an asymmetrical ceramic bowl, and plenty of wine. The girls received an occasional compliment and congratulations from people that picked at the last of the items on the food table. The more Mika watched people laughing and dancing, the more she felt at ease.
“You know I let you win,” said Lewa. “I know you wanted that bony man to pay attention to you.”
Mika smacked her lips. “Nobody wins a rutha game,” she shot back, chomping on the bread. “And he’s not bony!” But she did giggle at Lewa’s needless insistence on calling Datani’s lean frame “bony.”
“Fine, he’s not bony, he’s just too skinny.”
“You keep saying that, but you would stare at him in training too!”
“So? He can be cute and bony. He was harsh sometimes, but I’ll miss him. What are we going to do now? It’s just a bunch of old men left to train us and half of them didn’t even want girls to learn rutha.”
“Yeah. I don’t know what’s going to happen now. Haki gave us that compliment, But I bet the second Datani is gone, he'll make us care for the clothes all day." Mika reached up to the table to grab another piece of bread.
This time it was definitely there. Moving.
Mika jumped up from the blanket, startling Lewa. “What’re you doing!?” Her friend exclaimed.
“I see something,” Mika said. She ignored Lewa's questions as she darted into the woods, leaving the light and music behind her.
Mika moved through the woods, ducking under a few low hanging branches. Months of living in the area made her familiar with the woods. She knew where branches had fallen and where the mud puddles were the worst after a heavy rain. The upbeat tunes and laughter faded the further she went into the woods. She slowed as a small wave of fear washed over her. What was she really going after? Lewa was the only one to see her run out there. Whoever it was could be attack her at any moment. She squinted as the woods grew darker.
The sounds and figures heading away from the woods were in front of her. She sucked in her breath. Even with just moonlight guiding her now, the flash of silver quite recognizable.
The uniform of Eladon's kingdom guards.
Large, sweaty hands wrapped around her arm and mouth before should could let out a scream. “Don’t go after them.” The familiar voice kept her from thrashing to get away.
“Datani,” said Mika as she turned towards him. The pounding in her chest only slightly decreased. The moonlight caught his face, realizing a scowl. “Were those Eladon’s guards?”
Datani yanked her arm again, pulling her back in the direction of the party. “We don’t need to deal with this tonight,” he said. Datani was someone Mika had a strong attraction to and greatly admired. But that didn’t stop her from wanting answers.
She dug her heels into the ground, snatching her arm away from Datani. “Those were guards,” she stated. “Why were they at our party?” She moved out of Datani’s reach, a bush scratching her arm. She twisted her body slightly in the direction the guards had gone, daring Datani to come after her.
After a few seconds of silence, Datani gave in. “Don’t tell anyone else this,” he said. “Yes, they were there. I’ve seen them before. So, has Haki and a few others. They spy on us. They want to see if we’re causing trouble.”
“What trouble would we cause? We’re just having a party.”
“It’s not about the party, Mika. You know this isn’t our land. King Vance hasn’t ordered them to do anything. As long as we keep our heads down and mind our business, they won’t do anything to us. We didn't let anyone know because we don't want any paranoia and confrontations. They could remove us if we do anything they don't agree with. But they’ve never been this close to our camp before, they usually stay farther out.”
Mika tried to wrap her head around what Datani told her. How long had the guards been spying on them? The group have lived just at the edge of the kingdom for quite some time. Did the guards watch them sleep? Did they watch Mika and Lewa bathe in the nearby river? As her anger grew over the situation, Datani made use of the opportunity to grab her arm again.
“Stay away from them,” he warned as he leaned in. “Don’t talk to them or look at them. In fact, you don’t even interact with them in Eladon unless absolutely necessary. Don’t ever associate with them.” He added a slight pressure to his grip, indicating he wanted a clear answer from the teen.
“Fine,” Mika promised. “I won’t have anything to do with the guards.” The pressure lifted as Datani led her back to the camp. A small shiver ran through Mika as her mind flashed to just how dark her crush looked and sounded only moments ago.
“Let’s get back to the party,” A happy tone spread through Datani’s voice. “It’s my last night with you all, and I want to have fun!” They returned to the joyous event. Her friends wildly danced with each other, arms and legs flailing around. Mika's mother laughed with a group of women while shaking her hips. Mika and Datani's short disappearance went completely unnoticed.
“I need to talk to Haki for a moment,” Datani said as he let go of Mika’s arm. “When I get back, we've got to have a dance!” Mika couldn’t help but laugh as Datani shimmed away from her. He was a skill rutha master, but a terrible dancer. He headed over to Haki, who was with three elders of the camp. Datani’s demeanor changed once their conversation started. She kept her eyes on him, watching his lips and hands moving at a rapid pace. Seeing the guards in the woods had completely rattled him.
And as much as Mika wanted to enjoy the rest of her night, knowing that guards spent time watching them had rattled her, too.
Welcome to the final round of pitches!
Agents and Publishers,