By Mark Omodia
Copyright © 2016 Mark Omodia
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Table of contents
Before the beginning began, the gods were born. Forged out of mystical divinity, they lived like mortals in a place called ‘The Cradle’ with no power and completely normal – like humans. But one day, one of the gods made a discovery that changed everything. He discovered that outside the Cradle, he was invincible. He could do things never before imagined. He was immortal and divine. Inside the Cradle, he was mortal, but outside it, he was a god. He would then be known as Oku, the god of Oku. In excitement, he shared his discovery with his siblings who were equally ecstatic to discover their unknown abilities outside The Cradle. This was the epiphany of the gods.
The gods left The Cradle behind and called it the ‘Forbidden land’, because they knew that anything from it bore their weakness. They surrounded it with a forest fraught with evil creatures, spirits to deter anyone from trying to get it. The forest became known as the ‘Evil forest’. They relocated to another place which was aptly named ‘Paradise’.
Upon the creation of humans, worship became the currency of the gods, a status symbol. A god was revered by his peers according to how well he/she was worshipped by men. Thus, the prominent gods were Agha, the god of war, Oma, the goddess of prosperity and Ufele, the god of weather. Together, they formed a triumvirate and ruled over the entire paradise. This was however to the envy of some gods. It was only a matter of time before a plot was hatched to topple the triumvirate.
“So there he was”, Agha, the god of war said; his thundering voice causing the marble hall to tremble as he gloated about his conquests.
“The little man knew he was going to die. The other fool had already raised his blade to strike when gbam! I hit him with my club. All his men took off as they watched their hero fall.”
The gods in the hallowed hall burst into laughter.
“Who fights better than Agha, the god of war?” Ufele, the god of weather said, raising his cup of wine to cheer.
The gods and spirits in the hall at the time surrounded Agha who stood placing a foot on the table next to his cup as he spoke. His necklace made of several animal teeth made noise as he beat his bare chest, dramatizing his narrative. He loved telling his tales and the gods and spirits loved to listen. They listened with rapt attention as the gods sat round the table and the spirits waited on them.
Everyone’s attention soon shifted towards Oku the god of fire who was accompanied by guards. He was furious as he spoke.
“What is the meaning of this?” he yelled.
“Calm down brother”, Oma, the goddess of prosperity said.
“I don’t know you to be so aggressive. We summoned you because there have been allegations levelled against you by the spirits.”
“You disrespect me so”, Oku said, trying to compose himself.
“So you summon me here because of allegations leveled by common spirits? Who created them? Are they not beneath us?”
“Do not speak like that!” Ufele yelled. “We must uphold justice for all!”
“You don’t say”, Oku replied. “Is it justice that you three control the universe while I take orders from you?”
“Watch your tongue!” Agha yelled. “We would not tolerate such disrespect!”
“It is you three who disrespect me”, Oku replied, pointing his fingers toward the triumvirate. “You disrespect all of us. You show favoritism to those you like while you leave the rest of us to live in squalor, bossing us around like you are so special. You owe your sophisticated lifestyle to me! I have toiled to make the universe a better place with my inventions. I sow while you seat on your exalted thrones reaping every reward that is rightly mine. Who are you to challenge me?”
Everyone else watched in silence as the four gods exchanged words. Agha and Oku soon got locked in a stare match. Agha made a fist and his hair stood as he panted, imagining the things he would do to Oku who kept his cool with a faint grin. Agha grabbed his club and charged at Oku who grabbed a cutlass to defend himself. They had barely begun to brawl when Ufele started choking. His skin turned pale and he fell from his chair. Agha and the other gods rushed to his aid; all except Oku who put on a smiling face.
“For a moment I thought it would not work”, he said, adjusting his jacket made of animal hide. Everyone looked at him in horror.
Pointing at the triumvirate, he said; “It was meant for you three. Agha was so engrossed in his tales that he forgot to even drink from his cup.”
Referring to Oma he said, “You were just lucky.”
“What have you done?” Oma asked.
“I will no longer take orders from you”, Oku said.
“From this moment on I transcend from being just a god to being ‘the god’. Your reign is over!”
“Get him!” Agha ordered the guards in the hall.
As they moved to capture Oku, brandishing their weapons, smoke emanated from his body, filling the entire room. The smoke obstructed the vision of the guards who did not see him fleeing the hall. Agha managed to see through the fog and he engaged Oku in hot pursuit. The rage in him was palpable.
A while later, the gods and spirits in the hall were still trying to recover from the shock after what they had just witnessed. Ufele lay on the table, nursed by the god of healing and nature with Oma by his side while the other spirits cleaned up the mess left behind after the bedlam. Oma was dumbfounded, trying to make sense of all that had transpired. Some gods were around her trying to comfort her. Just then, a guard came in and knelt before her.
“Did you find them?” Oma asked in anxiety.
“Where is Agha?”
“Divine one”, the guard said. “We have reason to believe that Oku fled towards the evil forest and Agha followed suit. A band of troops is hot on their trail.”
“The Cradle!” Oma exclaimed.
“That is where Oku is going. It is the one place where we are powerless. He is leading Agha to a trap!”
Hysteria filled the hall once again. Oma got up from her seat, her eyes gazing into nothingness.
“What are you up to Oku?” she asked, thinking aloud.
The people of Eguoma gathered around the town hall where the elders normally met. It was usually a quiet place especially during their private meetings, but not that day. The thatch canopy was filled beyond capacity and more people were on the way. The elders sat on a high table to attend to the crowd before them.
“My elders!” a man shouted. “A bushfire started from nowhere and razed all my crops to ash…”
“Ndi ichie! The gods have ceased to bless us with water from the heavens!” another yelled.
“All our crops are withered and the streams are running dry…”
“The last time it rained, the entire community was flooded!” yet another said.
These and more were the complaints that bombarded the elders in torrents. The elders had hardly contained the situation when a woman ran in. The rambunctious town hall became silent as all eyes were fixed on her. She was wailing with her son’s charred remains in her arms, singing songs of lamentation. She was accompanied by other family members and some sympathizers.
“My fathers!” she yelled. “My fathers! Why? Why have the gods decided to treat me so? Chai…!”
She broke down in tears again continuing her song of lamentation. Some people gave her support as she almost collapsed.
“Calm down my daughter!” one of the elders said. “It is well, o? My child, what happened?”
“My fathers”, the woman’s husband managed to speak.
“We begged the goddess of fertility for 10 years! Ten good years before we got Isioma…! Hmmn! The goddess of fertility gave and the god of weather has taken.”
He shook his head in silence.
“Okoro”, an elder said. “Tell us what happened to your son?”
“Isioma was coming from the farm when lightning struck him…” the woman’s husband continued.
“From nowhere… lightning struck him and it was not even trying to rain!”
The room became rowdy again. One could hear words like “Ore!” rise above other murmurs
“What is going on?” some elders asked, “How can there be lightning in this drought?”
“Surely we must have angered the gods”, they concluded.
“Someone must have committed an abomination! When we catch that person he will be sacrificed!”
“But we have offered sacrifices”, some replied.
“We have given the best of our goats and our largest tubers of yam to the gods. What could we possibly have done that is beyond appeasement?”
The hall suddenly became silent. All eyes were on the chief priest as he walked in backwards, his staff making a chinking sound each time it touched the ground. He uttered some incantations as he came in. He was the custodian of the oracle in all the communities.
“Alas the problem at hand cannot be solved by the blood of goats and tubers of yam”, he said. His hoarse voice sent a chill down every spine.
“There is trouble in Paradise. Some communities are scorched, some are flooded… The weather is hysterical… The gods need the bravest, strongest and the wisest of men from every community to embark on a journey. Once you have selected these men, bring them to the shrine. They must be there before dusk tomorrow… Be warned! The fate of mankind rests in our hands.”
“Wise one!” the elders asked.
“What have we done wrong?”
The chief priest burst into laughter much to the dismay of those around.
“We always think the world revolves around us, ‘surely we must have done something wrong’. This problem is beyond you. It is no fault of yours. Just bring the men tomorrow. That is all the gods wish to say at this time.”
He began to utter some incantations as he danced around the hall. People avoided him as he approached them like a masquerade. Then he stopped.
“Even the blind know when the rain is falling”, he said.
“Bring the men tomorrow!”
He then walked backwards out of the hall, continuing his incantations
The people of Eguoma and other communities gathered in from of the shrine of the chief priest. Twenty men stood ahead of the crowd. They were the ones who volunteered to embark on the journey. The elders were not far behind. Behind them was the rest of the crowd.
There were different animal skulls hung around the compound. The shrine was a tent made of red cloth and thatch. There were big, sturdy old trees around because the shrine was in a forest. The people held torches of flame and awaited the chief priest.
The chief priest came out, wearing his usual animal skin overall with white chalk patterns around his left eye and on the rest of his body. His staff made the chinking sound as he walked towards them, backwards.
“Are these all the wisest and bravest and strongest of men in all the communities?” he yelled in disappointment.
Referring to the chosen men he asked, “Did you come on your own accord?”
“They did wise one!” the elders replied.
“They are men!” the chief priest snapped, “Let them speak for themselves!”
He examined them as he walked around them.
“Are you ready for this journey?” he asked.
“If you cannot do this, if you do not think you are prepared for this, now is the time to step aside.”
He watched to see if anyone would step aside. He had a faint grin as no one stepped aside. He signaled his servant to bring a calabash to him. When he held it, he uttered incantations. His eyes turned white and the chalk on his body began to glow. The people around were filled with awe. Smoke began to gush out of the calabash. He walked up to each of the chosen men and he ordered them to dip their hands into the calabash and bring out whatever they laid their hands on. Once all the men had done so, he gave the calabash back to his servant who went to return it. His eyes and the chalk patterns on his body stopped glowing.
“In your hands are stones”, he said to the chosen men, “Whoever picked a black stone has picked nothing but a worthless rock. Whoever picked a white stone, however, has been chosen… If you picked the white stone, step forward with it. If you picked the black stone, go home for the gods have destined you for something else.”
People murmured and gasped in shock as most of the men they thought would be picked walked away. Great warriors and wrestlers came back to join the audience. In the end, only five were chosen.
“The gods humor me with their ways”, the chief priest said. “They summoned many, but they chose a few!”
Then he addressed the crowd saying; “People of all communities, here are your heroes. They have been chosen by the gods to embark on this journey. Bid your farewells now and pray for them, for you might never see them again. From now until the end of their journey, they belong to the gods. They shall be with me as I prepare them for their mission.”
Looking at the five chosen ones he said; “When you are done saying your farewells, meet me behind the shrine.”
He then walked away. Friends, family members and well-wishers gathered around the five to bid farewell. There wasn’t a dry eye as they exchanged embraces. The atmosphere was melancholic and it was hard for the crowd to disperse. But gradually, after a couple of hours, only the five were left.
The five went behind the shrine to meet the chief priest. They were Ehiedu and Okoh the hunters, Biose and Orewa the warriors and Ibe the flutist.
“Now that the others are gone I can tell you what is going on”, the chief priest said.
“You see, the gods have to appear invincible, otherwise they will not command respect… but be warned! What I am about to tell you… this entire mission must remain between us. No other ear must hear of this! The mouth that speaks of it shall be struck by lightning and his generation shall know no peace.”
The five appeared perplexed, wandering where the chief priest’s speech was heading to.
“Ufele, the great god of weather has been poisoned”, he continued.
“That is the reason behind the disasters that have befallen the world. Agha, the god of war has been abducted. The god of fire has him in the forbidden land. There, the gods have no power. The god of fire and curiosity has recruited the evil spirits. He now rules the evil forest and the forbidden land. Various attempts have been made to rescue Agha to no avail.”
“Wise one”, Biose asked. “How can we succeed where the gods and spirits have failed?”
“Yes!” Ehiedu concurred. “How can we journey where even the gods fear to tread?”
“The gods created the evil spirits!” Orewa said. “Can they not also destroy them?”
“Why don’t the gods of Paradise raise an army and wage war against Oku and the evil spirits?” Ehiedu added.
“Surely they would defeat them.”
“Do not question the wisdom of the gods!” the chief priest rebuked.
“Your mission is to rescue the god of war! You should be honored that you have been chosen. The gods must have seen something in you, something special. Don’t waste your time on fruitless thoughts. Think instead of how you will succeed in this task.”
After days of rigorous training, the men were finally ready to embark on their mission. The words of the chief priest resonated in their minds as they walked into the forest.
“Be careful”, he told them. “Everything in the forest is out to kill you. Do not eat or drink anything from the forest.”
The chief priest gave them a leaf to put in their mouth, holding it between their upper and lower teeth.
“This leaf must always be in your mouth”, he told them.
“You will not want for food and drink and you will be less susceptible to the mind games of the forest as long as the leaf remains in your mouth.”
He drew patterns on their bodies with chalk to make their bodies stronger and their wounds heal faster. Lastly, he gave them a gourd with feathers in it.
“This will guide you through the forest”, the chief priest told them.
“The forest is ever changing. Its maze of trees makes it impossible for anyone to find his way let alone get to the forbidden land. You will need this.”
Okoh held the gourd. When they got to the evil forest, he whispered an incantation to the gourd and brought out one of the feathers. He threw the feather in the air. As the feather floated in the wind, it transformed into a bird. The bird flew into the sky. They followed the bird as it led the way.
“Do not lose the gourd!” these words of the chief priest resonated in his mind. He heaved a sigh before he began to move. Their journey had just begun.
The men had trekked several kilometers in the forest when they reached an area filled with rocks and some fallen trees. The ground there appeared terribly ploughed and everywhere was in disarray. The men looked around as they walked through the area in apprehension. Ehiedu sat down on one of the rocks to rest awhile when he felt it move. He sprang up in alarm and he and the others brought out their weapons. They looked round and noticed that other “rocks” around were also moving.
“These are not rocks!” Ibe yelled.
The “rocks” turned out to be dark skinned dwarf-like creatures with hunchbacks who buried themselves in the ground exposing only their backs. As they began to move, they burrowed through the ground in unimaginable speed, causing the earth to tremble. The men fled the scene, but the dwarves followed, moving beneath the earth. Every now and then, the dwarves would shoot out of the ground and try to land on the men, like a heavy downpour of stones. The men were terrified. The tremors in the ground caused them to fall. But each time they fell, they got up and continued to run, placing their hands above their heads in fear of the dwarves landing on them. It was hard to see through the dust and sand that filled the air, still they ran, hoping that they would not bump into a tree. Or something else.
Unfortunately for Orewa, one of the dwarves landed on his back, knocking him to the ground. He reeled in pain as he struggled to break free from the grasp of the dwarves who tried to pull him into the ground. He gnashed his teeth as he used his weapon to strike the dwarves. His comrades soon noticed what was happening to him and rushed to his aid. By then, the dwarves seemed satisfied that they had Orewa and left the other men, focusing their attention on dragging him underground.
Orewa’s comrades came to his rescue. They were able to pull him away from the dwarves but not without some broken ribs and a dislocated ankle. Because he was injured, they had to carry him and this slowed them down. They believed they were going to die as the enraged dwarves were hot on their trail. What a nightmare it was. They soon got to a steep slope and they fell, rolling all the way down to the bottom. By this time they were disoriented. They landed in a swamp, panting in terror. Their fears were soon doused as the dwarves suddenly stopped chasing them. They stood at the top of the slope, making noise with their teeth that sounded like two rocks being hit together.
“Looks like they are afraid of the swamp”, Ehiedu said.
The dwarves dispersed after a while. The men sat there, trying to catch their breath. Their chests were still recovering from their hearts’ pounding. The men brought out charms and herbs and used them to nurse Orewa who was barely conscious.
“The bird is gone!” Ibe remarked.
Okoh searched for the gourd. Alas it was gone.
“It must have fallen off my pouch when the dwarves attacked us”, he said trying to retrace his steps.
“You lost the gourd!” Ehiedu yelled
“How could you be so careless? I knew the oracle should never have given it to you.”
“Calm down Ehiedu”, Ibe said, “It is not his fault. You know what just happened to us.”
“Oh! You are taking sides with him!” Ehiedu yelled.
“I have been wondering why the gods picked a musician to accompany great men to battle. Your flute cannot help us here.”
“Gods of our fathers!” Ibe said. “Don’t insult me Ehiedu!”
“If I do, what will you do?” Ehiedu asked, “Hit me with your flute?”
“Ehiedu has lost his leaf!” Biose said, restraining Ibe who was gearing for a fight.
“The forest has made him delirious. He is not himself.”
The men were concerned about Ehiedu. They felt pity for him. What would become of him now that he had lost his leaf? They just stared at him as he ranted on.
“Idiots!” he said, “The gods were fools to send us on this futile mission! We were even bigger fools to accept to go! Now we will all die in this forest…”
His comrades knocked him unconscious and tied him up. They were at a loss on what to do. They were lost in the evil forest and things were only getting worse for them. How were they going to complete this mission now?
It was night. The men camped somewhere and lit a bonfire. They were silent, each man lost in his own thought. Their gloom was palpable. Ibe who was nursing Eteama began humming a tune. Ehiedu was tied to a tree. He wailed and ranted like a drunken man.
“I will break free!” he yelled, “You know I will! And when I do, I will kill you all! I will open your innards and spread you like bush meat!”
He began to laugh. Then he began to cry.
“Please let me go”, he begged. “I’m starving. Okay, at least give me some water to drink. I’m dying of thirst.”
“I say wekill him and put him out of his misery”, Ibe said.
“We will do no such thing!” Okoh rebuffed.
“Look at him”, Ibe said
“Can’t you see he is in pain? He will not last another day in this forest.”
“Perhaps the forest has gotten into your head as well”, Biose said.
“You have also been acting strangely.”
“Gods of our fathers!” Ibe exclaimed. “…yet I am the one tending to Eteama’s wounds! Why don’t you tend to him since you are so sane?”
Throwing the herbs at Biose, he continued; “Go on… I thought as much. All talk and no action.”
“You want to see action right?” Biose yelled as he sprang to his feet, brandishing his weapon.
Okoh tried to calm Biose down but Biose flung him aside.
“You want to make peace”, Biose sneered. “You could not even keep the gourd safe!”
Ibe tried to hit Biose, but he was brought to the ground. Biose sat on him and began lacing punch after punch on Ibe. Okoh pushed Biose off Ibe. They both rolled on the ground and began to wrestle.
The fracas ceased as they began to hear whispers around them.
“Do you hear that?” Ibe asked.
“Perhaps there are others in this forest”, Okoh said.
“Show yourself!” Biose yelled.
The whispering stopped. The men stood uneasy, clenching their weapons tight with eyes wide open as they looked around in horror.
“Ehiedu is gone!” Biose suddenly exclaimed.
“What do we do now?” Ibe asked rhetorically.
“You stay here with Eteama”, Biose said.
“Okoh and I will go look for Ehiedu. He could not have gone far.”
The men ran into the darkness holding torches. They had not gone far when they saw Ehiedu who was running aimlessly through the forest and pursued him. Ehiedu noticed them and hastened his pace.
Suddenly, Ehiedu came to a screeching halt as he saw several eyes in front of him. It looked like several people (or animals) were staring at him, but he could only see eyes glowing in the dark and no bodies. He also heard whispers. The whispers got louder as the number of bright eyes increased and came nearer to him. He slowly walked backwards and the eyes also slowly inched closer to him. Biose and Okoh also beheld the sight. They all walked slowly backwards. Ehiedu caught up with them.
“What manner of sorcery is this?” Okoh asked.
“I should never have volunteered for this mission”, Biose said.
“Perhaps Ehiedu was right. We might all die afterall.”
“Not if I can help it”, Okoh said.
Okoh threw his torch at the “eyes”. They were set ablaze. The whispers turned to screams. At first it seemed like the creatures were hurt by the flames, but they soon appeared to be strengthened by them. They became more aggressive. The fire gave the eyes a humanoid body. They were tall and very slender. They were also very flexible and they floated in the air like clothes or long ropes hanging down a hook. Okoh, Ehiedu and Biose ran for dear life with the creatures in hot pursuit.
The forest was lit up as the creatures spread all over the forest in pursuit of the men. They caught up with Biose. Okoh and Ehiedu had already run into a nearby stream when they noticed that Biose had been caught by the creatures. They watched in horror as the creatures passed through Biose one by one until he became like them. Okoh and Ehiedu just stood in the stream, shivering as the creatures turned their attention to them. By this time, they were surrounded. They braced themselves for the worst as the creatures walked slowly towards them.
It came as a surprise and a relief as the creatures suddenly fled when they reached the stream. Flashes of fire spread across the scene as the creatures dispersed.
“They are afraid of water!” Ehiedu said
“No”, Okoh corrected him. “It was their reflection in the water that made them flee.”
The men were now lost and separated in the forest. Okoh and Ehiedu wandered round the forest in search of Ibe and Orewa and vice-versa. By this time Ehiedu was weary. His eyeballs sunk into their sockets and his skin was getting pale.
Okoh and Ehiedu had journeyed long when they decided to take a quick nap under a shade as the sun was scorching. But Ehiedu found it hard to sleep. He rolled and moaned and his belly rumbled in hunger. He sat up, frowning and hissing. It was yet another bad day for him. He caught sight of a stream not far from where they were. He looked at Okoh to see if he was still sleeping and when he was certain, he tip-toed towards the stream. He smiled as he got to the stream, at last some water to quench his thirst. It was overdue.
He knelt down by the stream and placed his two hands together. Creating a hollow with his palms, he scooped some water. No sooner had he brought his hands to his mouth when Okoh kicked his hands causing the water to spill. Ehiedu’s countenance said it all.
“Kill me!” he yelled. “Put me out of my misery!”
Okoh looked at Ehiedu in pity. He was silent for he knew Ehiedu was suffering, but something in him just couldn’t let him go.
“We would find a way”, He assured Ehiedu whose eyes were soaked in tears.
“We would get through this.”
They sat by the stream in gloom when suddenly, they heard a roar. Several snarling sounds were heard and it seemed like some animals were running.
The animals were like huge sabre toothed tigers with crocodile skin. They were three in number and they had been chasing Orewa and Ibe who climbed a tree for safety. The animals surrounded the tree, their long canine visible as they growled. To the horror of Ibe and Orewa, the animals began to climb the tree as well. Orewa and Ibe climbed higher, looking down at the animals that also climbed the tree with tremendous speed. Orewa attempted to use his crutch to ward them off. They in turn waved their paws to try to bring the men down. Death, it seemed, was their surety.
Ehiedu and Okoh came to their rescue. They hurled stakes at the animals, killing one in the process. The other two animals came down from the tree to attack Ehiedu and Okoh whilst the corpse of the third came tumbling down. Orewa and Ibe were happy to see their comrades alive. They cheered on as Ehiedu and Okoh tried to flee the enraged animals. When they and the animals were long gone, Orewa and Ibe came down from the tree.
“They are still alive!” they exclaimed, laughing hysterically.
They were still celebrating when they heard something rustle in a bush nearby. Orewa and Ibe slowly inched backwards. They were utterly shocked to see who came out of the bush.
“Gods of our fathers!” Ibe exclaimed. “It is Biose!”
Biose crawled out of the bush. His body was severely charred. He had barely crawled out when he slumped. Orewa and Ibe rushed to his aid.
“Stay back!” Okoh warned as he and Ehiedu raced to the scene. They had somehow managed to escape the animals.
“Get away from him or you would join the spirits.”
“What do you mean?” Ibe asked, but he did step back a bit. “This is Biose.”
“The Biose you know is dead/”, Okoh said. “What the creatures did to him, no one can survive.”
“But we can’t just leave him here”, Orewa said.
“Believe me”, Ehiedu said. “Biose is dead, turned into one of them.”
“I’m surprised you are still alive yourself”, Ibe said.
“Well get used to it”, Ehiedu replied.
Their attention turned to Biose whose body began to morph into a giant scorpion.
“Gods of our fathers!” Ibe exclaimed.
“Run!” Orewa yelled.
The men fled as the giant scorpion chased them, knocking down trees in its path. They soon got to a dead end as a hill lay ahead. The men noticed a crack in the rock leading to a cave. The crack was big enough for only one person to squeeze through at a time. They raced towards the crack with the scorpion was hot on their heels. Because Orewa was injured and Ehiedu was weak the men were slow and there was no way they could all make it through the crack before the scorpion caught up with them. Ehiedu was aware of this so he stopped running. The men noticed he had stopped.
“Go!” he yelled.
The men paused. Obviously, they did not approve of whatever he had planned. They didn’t want to leave him behind.
“Go!” he yelled again. “Extend my regards to Agha.”
The men reluctantly ran on as the scorpion almost caught up with them.
Ehiedu used his weapon to distract the scorpion. He tried his best to fight the scorpion, even cutting off one of its legs, but the scorpion stabbed him in the gut with its stinger. Ehiedu’s entire body immediately turned purple. The scorpion flung him to a tree and used its pincers to rip Ehiedu to pieces.
When the scorpion was done with Ehiedu, it proceeded to chase the remaining men made it into the cave. The cave shook as the scorpion hit the cave several times, trying to break through. The men listened in horror, hoping that the rock would not give in. Eventually, the scorpion stopped and went away.
The men moved deeper into the cave, looking for another way out. They had barely walked anywhere when they noticed something quite interesting. It was as if they were outside. The place looked like a beach, only there was no water around. Everything, from the sky to the ground, was grey; though in different shades. There was no sun, but the place was lit up. Everywhere appeared desolate.
“Gods of our fathers!” Ibe exclaimed.
“What is this place?” Orewa asked.
Okoh put on a smile. It appeared as though he was about to burst into laughter.
“Why are you amused?” Ibe asked. “Have you lost your leaf as well?”
“After all this time”, Okoh said, ignoring Ibe’s comment. “We are here at last!”
“You don’t mean it”, Orewa said. “How do you know?”
“I just know”, Okoh replied.
His companions stared at him as he moved ahead.
Okoh and Ibe argued as the men wandered through the strange land.
“I am telling you we are in the forbidden land”, Okoh said.
“Look around you. This is not normal; no sun, everything is grey from the earth beneath us to the skies above. Even you look grey.”
“Okoh!” Ibe said.
“We are in the evil forest. Everything is strange here. Besides, if we are in the forbidden land how come we cannot see anyone? The gods of war and Oku are supposed to be here. Nothing is in sight.”
“I am telling you that we are in the forbidden land”, Okoh insisted.
“We just haven’t reached where Oku and Agha are yet. That’s all …or Orewa, what do you think?”
“You people talk too much”, he replied listlessly.
Suddenly, some spirits came out of nowhere and surrounded them before they could make a move. Some of the spirits beat on local drums and some screamed as they drew nearer.
“Stop!” someone yelled, someone who obviously commanded their respect.
It was Oku. They stopped immediately as Oku walked up to the men who were utterly terrified. He had a certain indescribable aura that made him stand out. They immediately knew he was the god of fire even though he did not have his powers in the Cradle. They knew who he was before he even introduced himself.
“Don’t kill these humans. Humans are special…” he said.
He turned towards a spirit and asked, “Do the gods value your worship?”
To another he asked, “How about you?”
To yet another, he asked; “You?”
“Do you even worship?”
The spirits were silent. Pointing at the humans, he said “The humans worship us and it has a high value to us. That means that they are special. So don’t kill them now. That would mean less worship for the gods.”
He turned to the humans.
“Welcome to the cradle of the gods”, he said to them. “…Or as you call it; the forbidden land.”
Okoh and Ibe looked at each other. Okoh had a faint grin briefly. If it was any consolation, he was right.
Oku seemed ecstatic as he gave the men a tour of the cradle. They were taken to a settlement with thatch huts all around. The huts were arranged in such a way that there was an arena at the centre of the settlement. Oku and the spirits dwelt in the settlement. Then the men were taken to a lake not far from the settlement.
“Did you know that the gods were born here?” he said, referring to the lake.
“Out of the waters of this lake we came. How boring the times were! We would lie idle, frolicking in the sand. There was nothing, not even these huts. We just wasted away here until the outside world was discovered. I discovered the outside world.”
Oku’s eyes shone as he narrated his tales. The men just stared in awe. They could not believe what was happening. They were standing face to face with a god!
“The forest was designed to keep humans and other creatures away from the cradle”, Oku said.
“But yet, here we are. There must be a flaw in the system. Anyway, that is by the way. You see, I like smart people. That you made it thus far qualifies you as such in my opinion. I want you to work for me. Be my chief priests, my heralds among men. Spread the word of the “god of fire” as the king of the gods, the one to worship. Pledge your allegiance to me and I will give you anything you desire. Think about it. You would not be like the other priests who appear wretched and haggard. My priests will be kings.”
“That is a generous offer”, Orewa said, breaking the silence as the men considered Oku’s proposal.
“It is mouthwatering to say the least. But it is also a sign of desperation. You have a great desire to be worshipped. You want to take advantage of our popularity, should we return home, to spread your propaganda. We respectfully decline. I think we are fine with the current order of things.”
Oku was shocked. Okoh and Ibe were also shocked.
“Then why are you here?” Oku asked.
“We are here for Agha, the god of war.” Orewa replied. His comrades were amazed at his guts but they stuck with him.
Oku was enraged, but he was able to keep calm. Disgust was written all over him.
“I knew you were sent by Oma and the others”, he said.
“They sent humans to do what several spirits had failed to do. I just thought I could persuade you to see otherwise. But you are just as ignorant and foolish as the gods who sent you.”
The spirits bound the men.
“I have the good mind of killing you right here”, Oku said.
“Instead, against my better judgment, I might let you go to deliver a message to the gods who sent you. Tell them their time is up. A new era is nigh, my era! And I will obliterate them from history…! But first you must defeat my champion. Only then will I let you leave unscathed.”
The men were bundled to the arena where they were surrounded by spirits who gathered to watch a fight. The leaves in their mouths were taken away. The place was rowdy. The sound of local drums, flutes and people cheering was in the air. Oku sat on his throne, stroking the mane of one of his lions who sat on either side. He stood up as they cheered and raised a hand, signaling the spirits to be quiet.
“This is a fight to the death!” he yelled.
“The only way to walk out of this alive is by killing your opponent! On one side are the humans, the champions of the ‘gods’ and on the other side, my champion… Bring him in!”
The sight of their opponent almost gave them stroke. Alas, it was the god of war, Agha breathing heavily as the muscles on his chest went up and down. His canine necklace was replaced with coral beads. He acted like an enraged bull. It was clear he was under the control of Oku who smirked as he watched on.
“Agha is not in his right mind”, Orewa said. “Somehow, Oku has hypnotized him.”
“I thought powers did not work in the Forbidden land”, Okoh said.
Agha charged towards them, wielding his club. Though he was mortal, he was still a fierce warrior. They outnumbered him, yet they were no match for him. He deflected all their blows and returned some devastating ones, thereby disorienting them. Such were his strength and skills that he appeared to be beating children. Each time he knocked them down, the crowd cheered.
But besides his awesome battle prowess, the men were in denial. They could not give him their all because they revered him. However, when they realized the severity of their predicament, when they came to terms with the fact that Agha would not stop until they were dead, they stepped up their game. After an intense bout, they finally managed to hit him and hit him hard. They gave him blow after blow and, after a tremendous struggle, were able to pin him to the ground. It took a lot of energy to keep him still as he was so aggressive. They looked at Oku who kept a straight face. The crowd was silent as he spoke.
“It seems you humans are hard of hearing”, he said. “There is no leaving this battle until your opponent is dead.”
Oku had barely finished speaking when Agha overpowered them and got up. Ibe tried to attack him. He dodged Ibe and grabbed the arm with which he swung his weapon. Ibe reeled in pain as Agha punched him in the ribs several times, breaking one or two in the process. He then slammed him on the ground and moved on to Orewa who he uprooted from the ground and also slammed on the ground. He grabbed him by his injured ankle and snapped it. Orewa screamed as his bone cracked. He lay on the ground, holding his leg and weeping in pain. Then he went for Okoh whom he grabbed him by the neck intent on choking him to death. Okoh’s face turned pale as he slumped. Agha still held his neck, intent on squashing it with his bare hands. Okoh was saved however by Ibe who grabbed Agha’s staff and smashed the back of his head with it, knocking him unconscious. Blood flowed out of the side of Ibe’s mouth as he landed on the ground, dazed. Everyone was silent.
Oku gave them a few days to recover, and then he set them free.
“I have no use for Agha”, he told them. “You can take him along. But remember what you encountered here. Relay my message to your gods. I will be back in paradise, and I will do worse things to them than I did to Agha.”
The men were as surprised as they were weak. They could barely stand let alone walk. On Oku’s instruction, they were led out of the forbidden land together with Agha.
A banquet was held days after Agha returned. Ufele had just recovered and things were looking up. Good times were back in paradise and the triumvirate was still in control. There were many reasons to celebrate. The gods sat around the banquet table in the hallowed hall, waited on by the spirits. They ate and drank and made merry. The hall was filled with laughter and good talk. Everyone was so engrossed in the celebration; they did not pay much attention to the fact that Agha himself was melancholic.
“You have been awfully quiet since you got back”, Ufele said.
“Indeed you have”, concurred another god.
“No tales today Agha?” Ufele asked.
Agha shook his head.
“There is no pride in defeat”, he replied. “I’d rather not think of anything relating to battle now.”
Ufele fell silent. He knew Agha was right.
“I didn’t know you changed your necklace”, Oma commented.
“This has been on him since he got back”, a god said.
“Good to see he finally changed it”, Oma said. “The other one was so menacing.”
“I agree”, a goddess replied, “This is more regal.”
“How were you able to change it in the forest?” Oma asked. “What happened to the other one?”
“That is a story for another day”, Agha replied.
“Something still bothers me though”, Oma said. “Why did Oku suddenly choose to set you free? I mean, he had you right where he wanted and all attempts to rescue you were futile.”
“I ask myself the same question”, Agha replied.
“He must have been tired”, Ufele said. “He probably felt he could not sustain his “hostage plan”. Perhaps he feared that we might wage war against him if he held on for too long.”
“I am glad Agha is back though”, Oma said.
Ufele got up and raised his cup, calling everyone’s attention to him.
“I would like to propose a toast!” Ufele said.
“These past few weeks have been terrible. Unthinkable mayhem befell paradise… we have seen our darkest days. But we have prevailed. Paradise still stands and we are still together! Here’s to rising above evil!”
“To rising above evil!” they replied.
The gods raised their cups to toast. The cheers were cut short by an unexpected interruption. They all gasped in horror as Oku walked in.
“Did anyone save a glass for me?” Oku said much to the chagrin of the others.
“You have some nerve showing up here!” Ufele yelled.
“Be nice brother”, Oku replied calmly.
“What do you want?” Oma asked.
“What do I want?” Oku asked cynically. “…to take my rightful place as ruler of Paradise.”
Just then, evil spirits trooped in and over powered the guards, surrounding the gods who just sat there watching. The evil spirits swarmed the place, leaving the gods and their guards perplexed.
“You must be wondering how the evil spirits were able to enter paradise…” Oku said. “Remember the lake at the heart of The Cradle, the one we crawled out from? Whilst you were making merry I had my cohort lace your food and drink with water from the lake. For the time being, you are powerless. You all know that the only thing keeping the evil spirits away from Paradise is the ‘will of the gods’ – a referendum among us gods concerning any issue. But now that you are mortal, only my vote and the votes of my ally count, and we ‘will’ that the ‘evil’ spirits enter Paradise.”
The gods watched in horror as Agha got up and stood by Oku’s side.
“Why am I not surprised?” Oma asked.
“Agha is definitely under some spell”, Ufele said.
Facing Oku, Oma asked; “What did you do to Agha?”
“What do I do with them?” Agha asked Oku.
“Oh I have something spectacular lined up”, Oku said. “Bind them.”
He ordered the evil spirits to bind the other gods and their guards as well.
“This is not you Agha”, Oma said, trying to appeal to his conscience as he bound her. “You can overcome whatever hold Oku has on you.”
Oku brought out a satchel filled with sand. He took sand from the satchel and sprinkled the sand on the ground forming a circle with it. While he did so, he uttered some incantations. The circle burst into flames and transformed into a portal leading to where the humans dwelt. Oku smiled as he looked through it.
“You must be aware that at this moment, people from different communities have gathered to give offerings to us. Apparently, things are getting back to normal for the humans. Ufele has put the weather back in order and all that. They have come to give thanks. Imagine the spectacle when they behold their beloved Ufele and Oma murdered by the great Agha. That would be devastating.”
“Even if we are dead, how would you get the people to worship you?” Oma asked.
“Believe me”, Oku said; “When I am done the people would adore me.”
Oku ordered Agha to toss Ufele and Oma through the portal. They tried hard to resist Agha but they were no match for him as he seamlessly dragged them towards the portal.
“Agha you can fight this”, Oma said.
“You won’t get away with this”, Ufele said to Oku.
Their efforts to resist were futile as Agha threw them through the portal to the land of men. He gazed at Oku for further instructions before jumping through the portal.
“You know what to do”, Oku said. “Make it astounding.”
People from different communities gathered round the shrine of the chief priest for a grand celebration. People came with an assortment of gifts, the very best of their livestock and farm produce included, to present as offerings to the gods of Paradise who it seemed had brought things back to normal in the world. They also gave thanks to the gods for leading their men to a successful mission in the forbidden land and bringing them back safely.
It was a colourful event. There were so many people around the shrine, singing praises of the gods and the heroes they had sent to the forbidden land. The sound of local flutes and drums filled the air and the people danced hysterically to the melodious tunes, singing along every now and then. Sitting on an elevated platform were Okoh, Ibe and Orewa, who were cheered on by the people. They had recovered from their injuries. They were flanked by the elders from different communities and behind them were the rest of the people.
The priest came out of his shrine, dancing like a masquerade. He was a sight to behold as he moved to the rhythm of the drums and local flutes. He uttered some incantations as he moved towards an enclosure were livestock were kept. He examined each one until he picked the priciest one. It was a goat. It bleated as the priest’s servant, hugging it, took it to the altar made for slaughter. The priest danced on, brandishing a knife whilst continuing his incantations.
Just then, what seemed like two balls of fire tore through the sky and fell to the ground with a mighty thud. It was Ufele and Oma. The crowd was silent as everyone gazed in awe. Nobody paid heed to the goat for slaughter as it ran away. Both gods tried to get themselves as they were dazed. The priest went before them and genuflected.
“Divine ones”, he said.
“Get everyone out of here,” Ufele said.
“Now!” he yelled.
The priest dispersed the crowd. Everyone was startled. The priest unbound them.
“Somehow, Agha is still under the control of Oku”, Oma said. “Agha is coming here to kill us.”
“Alu!” yelled the priest.
“He will not stop until we have drawn our last breath”, Ufele said.
“Oku laced our food and drink. Now we have no power.”
There was another thud as Agha landed. He panted as he looked around, his eyes stern and the muscles on his chest going up and down.
“He is here”, Oma panicked.
“What do we do?” the priest asked.
“How do we stop him?”
Agha charged at them, knocking down anyone and anything in his path. Ufele and Oma sought cover in the maze of trees. Agha followed them, knocking down the trees in his path. There was a stampede as people ran in different directions. It was a disaster.
The priest summoned Ibe, Okoh and Orewa. He drew patterns on their body with chalk.
“It looks like your mission is not over yet”, he said to them.
“You must stop Agha before he kills Ufele or Oma.”
“How do we stop a god with his full powers?” Ibe asked.
“He is under a spell”, the priest said.
“Find whatever Oku is using to control Agha and destroy it. It must be on him. But if you cannot find anything; if things get out of hand, use this.”
The priest gave them his staff.
“This is as divine as the gods themselves”, he said.
“It might not kill Agha, but it will definitely deal a mighty blow. The chalk on your body would make you stronger. Now go, go and save the gods.”
The men rushed into the woods where the gods were. By that time, Agha had gotten hold of Ufele and was about to bash his skull with his club. The men succeeded in distracting Agha, but they could not stop him. He was fast as lightening as he knocked them down. He went back to Ufele who was already in pain as he lay on the ground after a tree branch pierced through his left leg. Lifting his club, he bashed Ufele until his skull cracked.
Agha began to look for Oma who hid at a distance. She wiped the tears from her eyes as she processed all that had taken place.
“The necklace!” she said. “That is how Oku is controlling Agha.”
She tried to run but was immediately stopped by Agha who threw his club at her. He raced towards her to finish her off. He was again stopped by Okoh who thrust the staff of the priest through Agha’s back. He knocked Okoh away with a back hand and fell to his knees in pain. He grimaced as he pulled the rod out of his back. Orewa hit him with a rock which smashed to pieces as it came in contact with his head. Agha did not even flinch. He tried to fight Orewa but he was in pain and Ibe joined in. Together, they struggled to put Agha down. Agha overpowered them and beat them half to death before he was stabbed again by Okoh with the priest’s staff. Okoh stabbed him repeatedly until he fell to the ground and could not put up a fight. Okoh then rushed to Oma’s side.
“Remove the necklace from his neck”, she managed to say.
Evil spirits swarmed the place. Okoh managed to carry Oma to safety.
“We are safe here for now”, he said.
Oma gave a faint grin.
“No one is safe as long as Oku is in Paradise”, Oma said.
“I know your end game Oku”, Oma said, thinking aloud.
Looking at Okoh, she said; “Oku sent Agha here to kill us so you people could watch. When Agha is done, Oku will kill him so the people would see him as a hero and turn their worship to him.”
Okoh helped Oma up as the evil spirits approached them.
“You must remove the necklace from Agha’s neck!” she warned.
They were soon surrounded by the evil spirits who gave way for Agha to get to his prey. Okoh tried to attack Agha, but he was knocked unconscious by Agha who bashed his head with his club.
“Agha,” Oma begged.
“Please. I know you are in there somewhere. You can fight this. You…”
Agha grabbed her by the neck and began to strangle her. She threw her hands and legs about as she struggled, but Agha had a firm grip. Slowly, her face turned pale and she stopped breathing. Unknown to Agha, Oma had cut his necklace while she struggled. He only realized thus when he tossed her lifeless body on the ground.
Meanwhile, Oku had been watching the charade. His countenance changed as he saw the commotion taking place in the woods. He was moved by the carnage, so much that he began to doubt the wisdom of his plan. By the time Agha bludgeoned Ufele to a pulp, Oku was certain he had enough. He jumped through the portal to the woods to end the bloodbath. He orchestrated the bedlam, only he could end it; or so he thought. By the time he got to Agha, he was already choking Oma to death. He raced towards Agha, yelling at him to cease his madness. But it was too late. Agha tossed Oma’s body to the ground, seemingly shocked as to what just transpired. Oku raced to Oma’s side.
“What have I done?” Oku asked, holding her body with wet eyes.
“I never said you should actually kill them!” Oku rebuked Agha. “I ordered you to stop!”
The rage in Agha was palpable as he fixed his gaze on Oku. Oku tried to flee but Agha sent him to the ground, lacing punch after punch on Oku’s face until he drew his last breath. After beating Oku to death, Agha fell beside him, weeping bitterly. He couldn’t seem to fathom what just transpired. He found it hard to come to grips with what he did. He just lay there in tears. The priest came to his side.
“Divine one!” He said.
“It is not your fault. If it is any consolation, Oku’s spell has been broken.”
Time passed and Agha was now the sole leader of Paradise. The evil spirits fled back from whence they came leaving behind broken gods and goddesses. No god had died before so they were at a loss on what to do. Besides, the bodies of the deceased gods were missing. Somehow, amidst the raucous, their bodies mysteriously vanished. Questions arose. Did the evil spirits steal the bodies? Did their bodies transform into something else? Did they even die?
The gods willed that the people forget what happened near the chief priest’s shrine. Agha was now “lord of lords” as the people channeled all their worship and supplications to him. If they needed anything from fruit of the womb to a good raining season, they would turn to him. He in turn delegated the task of answering their prayers to several other gods. But the people did not see it like that as they gave all the glory to him. He transcended from being the god of war to being the king of the gods, the one who answered every prayer.
But Agha was god of war and he could not avoid his true nature. The humans had a more stable time than previously, but wars were more rampant. The people fought each other over basically anything. Trial by combat was now a prominent means by which cases were resolved. The world was orderly, but it was brutal. Besides, they were more instances of stillbirth and sick or deformed children. Crops did not yield as much produce as before and pests and diseases were more prominent. The world was run perfectly, but not by the right hands. Some people noticed, but they were grateful to have better times than the hitherto fraught times.
One day, Agha was in the hallowed hall, telling tales of his conquests when something unexpected happened. Oku walked in, to the horror of all the gods present.
“I thought I killed you”, Agha managed to say.
“You should have stayed dead. I’ll just have to make sure of it.”
Agha ordered the guards to grab Oku. They were about doing so when two others walked in and flanked Oku. They were Oma and Ufele. The gods had seen enough surprises for one day.
“At least pretend to be happy to see us alive”, Oma said. “Or perhaps you are not good at feigning that.”
“How is this possible?” Agha asked.
“It turns out gods are much harder to kill”, Oma said. “Even if you crush the skull, mortal or not, a god will not die. Obviously you didn’t know that otherwise you would have come up with something else.”
“What are you talking about?” Agha asked.
“Calm down brother”, Oku said. “You look uneasy.”
“What has Oku done to you?” Agha asked.
“What lies has he put in your heads?”
“Lies?” Oma asked.
“Oku told us everything. You bested him at his own game. He thought he had you under his thumb but the whole time you were the one using him.”
“I don’t know what you are talking about”, Agha said.
“At first I didn’t believe him”, Oma said.
“But when I remembered when you strangled me, it began to make sense. I cut your necklace long before you choked the life out of me, but you didn’t stop. Normally, every spell should have worn off, but yours didn’t; not until you had completed your agenda. You ordered the spirits to tie stones to our necks and throw us into the lake at the heart of The Cradle where you had hoped we’d rot. Oku was lucky to escape. He it was who rescued us from the lake. He said he never intended to kill us. He said he only wanted to deceive everyone; to put on a show so that the people would see him as a hero. He had intended to somehow garner the people’s worship for himself through that stupid stunt. Whether or not he is lying, I’m inclined to believing that you had your own agenda.”
“This is mad talk”, Agha said.
“Is it?” Oku asked. “Tell me brother, when did you break free from my spell? It must have been when you got your powers back. I was a fool to think that my spell could work on a god. I made the wrong gamble.”
“Apart from being a fierce warrior, you have proven to be a superior schemer”, Oma said.
“While in The Cradle, I pondered on why you would betray us, then it hit me. As the world became more prosperous and civilized, people favored diplomacy over war. Hence you started to feel irrelevant and you knew that you were losing your place in the triumvirate. So when Oku displayed his stupidity, you saw it as an opportunity to take us out. How sinister? You would pretend to be under his spell and do your own bidding and all the blame would go to Oku. You had it all figured out. But you missed out one important detail – how to kill a god.”
Agha was silent. He could feel the probing eyes of the gods as they all stared at him.
“You cannot possibly believe that,” Agha managed to say.
“Barefaced lies!” Ufele yelled.
“After all you have done, you still stand before us, feigning ignorance.”
Ufele was visibly enraged. Lightening flickered in his dilated pupils.
“Can we talk in private?” Agha asked.
“Say whatever you have to say in the presence of all your brethren”, Oma said.
“I will not take this!” Agha said.
“I will not stand here and watch you slander my name. Guards…”
Agha was cut short by Ufele who hit him with bolts of lightning which knocked him out cold. All eyes were on Ufele as he panted; lightning surged around his body. He pushed Oku forward.
“Bind them both and lock them up pending our judgment”, Ufele ordered.
The guards did as they were told. Oma and some other gods looked at Ufele in awe. The gods swarmed Ufele and Oma, embracing them as they welcomed them back to the fold. What tumultuous times they had faced. They could only hope it was all over.
And so it was that the triumvirate was broken. Ufele and Oma regained control of Paradise. They banished Agha to The Cradle and as his punishment, Oku was tasked to be his warden making sure that Agha never left The Cradle. But this meant that he would also not be able to leave The Cradle.
Ufele and Oma decided to share power with the other gods. Leadership of Paradise was now to be rotated amongst all gods.
The gods of Paradise invoked the “Will of the gods”, stating that mankind would lose every memory of all that had transpired. Mankind would never remember that Oku and Agha attempted to usurp power over Paradise. People would not have the slightest inkling that Agha had attempted to kill the gods, or that some chosen men had journeyed to the Forbidden land. All of that was now a lost memory, forever banished from the realms of men.
But the gods did not stop there. They willed that some ideas be engraved in the very fabric of human nature. Mankind was now to have an innate fear and disdain for war and the god who presides over it. Mankind was also to be apprehensive of excessive curiosity.
Thank you for reading my book. I really do hope you had fun. If you enjoyed it, why don’t you take a moment to leave me a review on your favourite retailer? Recommend the book to a friend today. And yes, be sure to read Legend of the Murfs, my first attempt at indie publishing, if you haven’t already.