Eriri suspecting something was wrong ran into the portal with one hand on his sheath but fell through to the other side of the marshland they were standing on. He knelt down and sobbed. He hadn’t afforded himself the opportunity to do so since his wife had died but now he let loose, forgetting that there was no pride in a man crying. He felt like a coward, not defending his daughter when he was supposed to. A few minutes later, he felt warm like he was covered in bear fur and looked at himself, wondering why he was crying like a woman and why he was on his knees. He shrugged it off and got up. He walked ahead of the group to find out where they were and tried to shrug off the feeling he was forgetting something at the same time.
Ómalichanwa closed her eyes and spoke to the beasts that guarded her with her mind. When she opened her eyes, something glimmered and she blinked. She opened her eyes slowly and realised that Okpararebisi was glamoured to look younger, much younger than his true self. The true Okpararebisi was bent over but not holding a cane. His back and chest were covered in white hair. She had already seen how the last few Chieftains died by his hand. Whenever he killed them, he didn’t need to glamour but the effect was short-lived; a few cycles of seasons at the most. She shook her head inwardly. That was certainly no a way to live.
In transferring her powers to Akwu, she had inadvertently doubled his life span and the life span of anyone who was a Paramount Ruler. It was the only thing she could think to do to prevent him from continuing his life of tyranny. She hoped she could wait him out until high noon. He was fading, desperate, and Nwaneri had helped get past the first barrier she placed. In a matter of minutes, he would get past the second barrier, but the third had taken the most time to secure. She silently prayed the second one would be tricky enough to delay his access to the third.
She felt a sharp pain pierce her heart and disperse wildly through her body. She shrugged it off, but it happened again, so she decided to concentrate on the invisible dome she had created around herself. Okpararebisi might not have the power of the sceptre to channel, but he still had residual power from being in contact with it for such a long time.
In a few minutes, she heard a hissing sound as Okpararebisi broke down the second barrier. He tried to break down the walls of her mind, but she was guarding it with all she could. Plus, to ward off his penetration, she had scooped up the juice of young plantain stalk and rubbed on her hair and face. The sceptre recognised him, but it protected her. It had never protected him; he didn’t even know it could do that. Irritated, he spun around to look at the owl, which clung to the guava tree near the path that led to the latrine. Nwaneri blinked a few times and Okpararebisi grimaced and nodded.
Okpararebisi rushed to the third barrier so impatiently and forcefully that his glamour wavered, startling the warriors, palace guards, and some of the women who had come with him. For a complete second, he was a totally different person. He was old, knobbly and bent-over. Some of his teeth were yellowed and some were completely gone. His white hair stuck out from various parts of his shiny head. Exhausted, he paused and turned to look at her. He licked his lips hungrily as he stared at her soft, patted lips and her long slender neck. Her languid dreamy eyes were now closed as she focused on keeping him out of her head.
He made a mental note to ravish her as soon as he got what he wanted. He just had to distract her, as Nwaneri had advised. He rubbed the stubble on his chin for a bit and looked back at Nwaneri, then at her.
“You think you can stop me?” he snickered, his brow raised.
“I’m not in position to stop you, Your Majesty!” she said as calmly as she could, tucking her shaky hands behind her.
“Mhm.” He nodded, his arms crossed. “Why all the walls then?”
“A maiden must learn to protect herself, Your Majesty.” She thinned her lips.
He smiled slightly. “You are a beautiful girl,” he said smoothly with a very gentle voice.
She gulped and just then, a sharp pain pierced her head. She thought of her father, but each memory she came up with faltered. She decided to think of happy memories she had with her best friend who died when they were still little but the memory but it only a few minutes. She screamed, thinking of only the pain.
Okpararebisi whirled his hands and a fireball materialised on each. Laughing like a mad man he tossed it at the third barrier. The fireball sparked, sizzled and turned to ash each time it came in contact with the barrier. The ground shook from the impact but the barrier did not budge. He gritted his teeth and turned to Nwaneri. Nwaneri was no longer hanging from the guava tree.
She heard a loud bang, then rapid drumming for a few second, then there was silence. It became eerily quiet. Okpararebisi stopped trying to pierce through the third barrier and tilted his head to listen. Hearing nothing, he squinted back at her. Something was wrong. The coocoo birds were quiet, as were the fowls. Not only were the goats not bleating, they were nowhere to be found.
In the midst of the pain, she could feel an eerie cold start to overwhelm her. It started at her feet. The foxes and the hyena started acting restless, but their restlessness was covered by fear. Only one being could administer that much fear with merely his presence: Ónwu. He left as quickly as he came. She frowned, wondering.
Okpararebisi looked up.
The crows were followed by the ravens circled, as they circled their numbers increased. The speed of their flight increased and the dipped down towards Okpararebisi like a whirlwind.
He raised his hand to shield himself, an invisible barrier came over him like a shield. He wobbled and fell on her barrier, which sparked and merged with his own. He laughed boastfully and waved a hand at Ómalichanwa.
Ómalichanwa’s vision became blurry as the pain in her head doubled. She could make out Okpararebisi’s silhouette as he continued to shield himself from the diving crows. She felt a prickly itch in every follicle of hair on her skin. A few minutes later, she felt a warm had on her chest then was overcome with the feeling of being sucked into a hole, and her mind went blank.
She blinked as she tried to adjust her eyes to the sudden sunlight. When she opened her eyes, her father was kneeling beside her, smiling. She blinked again and squinted.
Jeoma pinched her.
She turned her head to stare at Jeoma with a questioning look.
“Your father insisted,” Jeoma said offhandedly as she produced limp leaves from her pocket.
Eriri grimaced as he feigned anger. “The charm you used on me didn’t last.”
“It wasn’t mean to wear off that fast, but it wasn’t a charm,” she said with a small smile. She tried to sit up but her aunt pushed her back. “I have to go back or all will be lost.” She spoke to no one in particular, but her eyes pleaded with her aunt.
“You don’t need to,” Jeoma said with her hands wrapped around Ómalichanwa’s head. Her hands glowed as she healed her. Ómalichanwa gave in to the drowsy warmth for a few seconds, then shook herself out of it. “No,” she shoved Jeoma’s hands off, “stop it!”
While they were hovering and fussing over Ómalichanwa, the maid had gone through the portal and was now pulling Okpararebisi towards it.
“Where has that girl gone again?” Her aunt muttered under her breath when the baby started crying. She got up and walked over to the baby. “Look!” she squealed pointing at the portal.
Jeoma instantly whirled her hand casting a spell of protection.
Okpararebisi saw her and flicked his fingers; dust from the ground swirled into arrows and came through the portal, breaking the shield she had just about formed.
Startled, Jeoma moved back and stumbled over Ómalichanwa.
Ómalichanwa sat up, pushed her off, and fell to her knees. She looked at her father, looked down to where the cocoyam leaves were and nodded. Her father tilted his head slightly, ready to peel the cocoyam leaves like she had done the first time they used a portal together. Ómalichanwa looked back at the portal; she had to think quickly. If she closed the portal, he would use the maid to find a way. Then she heard the cawing of the crows. They were pecking at the barrier. The shield!
Ómalichanwa steadied her breath. The portal was her access to the shield she had built so she told her father not to tear the leaves. She started to sing the spell to undo the spell she had used to build the barrier, as quickly and as steadily as possible then paused.
Okpararebisi was getting really close to the portal and the shield was acting as barrier for the crows, she had minutes not hours. There had to be another way to take the shield out. Just then the wind blew sand into her eyes and she thanked the Lord of the Skies. She closed her eyes and summoned the shield to her.
Meanwhile, Jeoma had completed another protection spell; it wrapped everyone in an invisible bubble, except herself and Ómalichanwa, because she feared that it would disrupt whatever her cousin was doing.
As soon as Ómalichanwa was able to focus on the shield, she started to pull it in through the portal. She had forgotten to put a barrier to her thoughts and Okpararebisi got wind of her intention. He smirked and flicked a hand, and she felt herself retreat within herself. He clenched his hand into a fist, and she felt like she was under water. She tried to swim out, but she was restrained. Fear overwhelmed her.
Okpararebisi smiled and blew air into his fist.
The minute she became afraid, something came and nudged her. The fear increased exponentially, causing her to cower even further into the recedes of her mind. She couldn’t think. Fear had taken over her faculties. She had never experienced anything like it. It didn’t taunt her, just wrapped itself around her like a clam around its pearl.
Jeoma looked at Ómalichanwa with concern. She was struggling. Jeoma could feel Ómalichanwa weaken by the second but this was the first time she had used her powers, so she didn’t know what to do. Her grandmother had once told her that when something was queer she should start with what she knew. Without another thought, she linked her hands with Ómalichanwa’s. She was too nervous to concentrate. Jeoma felt a push and closed her eyes to help her focus.
Ómalichanwa shuddered from a vibration within her. It started from her heart and began to glow. As the glow increased, the jagged edges of the mist that engulfed her began to hiss and retreat. After a while, she began to feel like she was on floating. She could hear Jeoma beckoning her. She gulped for air and sneezed before she became aware of her environment. She fell back on her knees and got her mind to focus; somewhere between anger and irritation, she grounded herself and focused on the shield. She felt Jeoma in her head, prancing and ready to pounce as she built a mind shield like she had never seen before.
Jeoma was so focused on building the mind shield for Ómalichanwa that she forgot to complete the enchantment to maintain the protection spell. Okpararebisi, seeing the shield waver, tossed a spear at her. It hit her just above her breast and she fell back, breaking her link with Ómalichanwa.
Ómalichanwa got up, her mouth twisted to one side, her nose wrinkled. Squinting, she put all her strength into pulling down the shield. Okpararebisi was close to the portal, the maid beside him. From the corner of her eyes she could see her father struggling to break the bubble, the large cocoyam leaf that was to be used to close the portal still in his hand.
Ómalichanwa tilted her head and Okpararebisi flew across the room. The maid landed on top of him. She inhaled deeply and blew wind into the portal, making whorls with her hand, and the place was covered in a thick fog. She ran quickly to her father’s bubble, placed a palm on it, and nodded. He touched the cocoyam leave where her hand was and like nothing was there, she pulled the leave out. The bubble remained unscathed.
As she ran back to where she had been standing, her hand glowed, wilting the leaf. As she tore it to pieces, she tucked it into her chest piece – a specially thinned animal skin used to cover the breast. The fog started clearing just as she pulled the shield down. The force of the shield passing through the portal caused her to flop like leaves on a windy day. She dug a foot in the ground and spun to toss the shield father away from her.
To be continued.