The sky held an empty glow over the earth. The night was silent except for the fluttering of a black-brown bird soaring the sky.
The bird’s sight was so keen it could spot the jaguar that camouflages itself with the saugage tree rooted deeply into the brown soil. As the hawk flew over the eerie village of Razula, it occasionally twisted its head, scanning the huts and barns.
There was a new law that forced everyone to stay within the walls of their homes once the sun dissolved. The king of Razula told his citizens, anyone who disobeyed would be sentenced to death.
As Ari the hawk flew, he had one mission in mind, remembering his mistress’ words, “Tell them we must meet.”
Despite his inability to speak his mistress’s language, he understood her. It seemed it was one of his abilities as an ànjọ̀nú. He was able to communicate with his mistress through her subconscious mind.
He and the other ànjọ̀nú were there when it happened. The four women had gone into the sacred forest. They offered prayers and thanksgiving on behalf of the people of Razula.
Everyone was well aware of the gifts these women possessed. They served as vessels for communication with the mother god of their land. The day for the annual prayers had come, the women prepared for the ceremony. They carefully packed herbs, oils, the blood of a young goat, salt, and coal inside a goatskin sac.
They had started the prayers, sprinkling the blood over the herbs placed inside a circle made with salt and grounded coal. The sisters-as the villagers often called them- started reciting the prayers they spent a year perfecting. The wind grew restless, and the trees shook with fear. Each sister stretched out an arm towards the blood-stained concoction of leaves and roots. They were reaching the peak of their prayers, the clouds, thick, shadowed over them, and the sky darkened as rain drizzled down. Suddenly all went quiet. One of the sisters collapsed.
“Biisi, no, no. What have they done?” one of the sisters yelled. She had a commanding voice and a slim figure.
The ceremony ceased as they all rushed towards their fallen sister’s side. The woman was shaking uncontrollably. They were a foot closer to her when the forest was set ablaze. Arrows flew through the damp air.
“Take cover,” Zala yelled. They all rushed to find shelter from the raining arrows. It was a difficult choice to make. Save their sister or their own lives.
“We need to leave. If we stay, we will not be able to make it out alive,” Illeri yelled over the frenzy to her other sisters.
“Illeri, do something, speak to the fire, help us!” Mbasi pleaded.
The smoke from the burning trees rose with anger. Biisi had stopped moving. Illeri was about to reply Mbasi when men stormed into the burning forest with knives and spears. The sisters watched as the men carried Biisi and her ànjọ̀nú away. They knew who was responsible for the attack. It was king Zaire.
Ever since that night, the village was put on lockdown. Once it was sunset, the movement of villagers was banned. But what the king did not account for in his plan was how to restrict the sisters’ ànjọ̀nú. They were common animals and had no distinct appearance making it hard to identify which belonged to the gifted women.
After the kidnapping of their sister, the women had to stay hidden away from the greedy king. In truth, he had heard rumours of their gifts. Some of his servants whispered that the women had the abilities to control the elements-fire, air, earth, but one of them could speak to the dead. That was the gift he craved. His priest had told him he had a way to control the woman. That was what made him attack the sisters during their prayers. He knew they would be vulnerable.
The bird finally arrived at its destinations, he delivered his mistress’ message to her sisters. Once they received the order, Mbasi and Illeri set out into the dark towards their secret cave along the forest where Biisi had been injured and taken. A wave of nostalgia coursed through them.
“Thank you, sisters, for taking the risk to meet with me. We are all aware of Biisi’s gift. Such a gift can never fall into the hands of evil, especially a man like our king. We must save our sister,” Zala started.
“Are you suggesting we attack the king with our gift Zala?” Mbasi asked.
“Yes, that is what I am saying. We must rescue Biisi at all cost.” Zala replied.
“Blasphemy! Have you lost your mind? The mother god has warned us countless times to never use our gifts to cause harm.” Mbasi roared.
Zala glared at her. Mbasi turned to face Illeri, who was using her free hand to stroke the midnight fur of Seth- her cat ànjọ̀nú.
“Illeri, say something,” Mbasi said.
“I am sorry, Mbasi but, Zala is right. We already failed Biisi when she got kidnapped. We have to do this, with or without you.” Illeri said with a sharp tone.
There was nothing Mbasi could do. And so the three women sat and planned together as one. The plan was to rescue Biisi and Selah.
Following two nights, the three women prayed and prepared for their mission. On the third night, they set out, dressed in black attires and scarves to cover their faces. They headed for the king’s compound. Ari set into the air, alerting them of guards at every street and turn.
As they drew closer to the compound, they spotted a few guards. It was time to act. Illeri and Seth walked towards the gate.
“Stop there. Do you not know of the king’s order to stay indoors at night?” one of the guards barked at her.
Illeri closed in on the guards. Without hesitating, she attacked both of them. In mere seconds both men slummed to the floor. Seth purred at his mistress’ victory. Illeri created the image of a fireball in her mind, and it appeared in her open palm. She threw it towards the sky. It was a signal to her sisters. Ari sighted the glow and let out a cry alerting Zala and Mbasi it was time to attack.
The three women entered the compound. It was dark and deserted.
“This feels wrong,” Mbasi murmured as they approached the king’s home.
There were no guards. Getting into the king’s home wasn’t supposed to be this easy. Mbasi buried her worries and focused on the mission.
“She is close, this way,” Illeri said.
She illuminated the corridor they walked through. The building was like a maze.
“Here, she is behind this wall,” Mbasi said.
Zala stepped forward and placed her hands on the walls.
“Mother god, we offer praises to you,” she said.
Then she focused on her gift of the earth, and the wall cracked, giving way to what was hidden.
They entered the dim room through the hole Zala had made. Then they saw her. Biisi was motionless on the floor.
“Is… is… is she dead?” Mbasi asked
“No. See if you can find Selah, Illeri. Mbasi help me untie Biisi.” Zala said.
Each woman went to work. Illeri found Selah squeaking. The rat had hidden under lumps of damp clothes.
“I found her. She is alive but cold to touch,” Illeri announced as she returned to her sisters.
“Let us go. We can not afford to be caught,” Zala said.
Mbasi and Zala helped Biisi to her feet while Illeri carried Selah. As they stepped out of the building, they came face to face with dozens of armed guards. The king was standing in the middle of the compound, smirking. They had fallen into his trap.
“The famous gifted sisters. The moon has blessed me indeed.” the king said.
“Let us pass king Zaire. We have not come to fight. We only want to take back our sister, who you took from us.” Zala said.
The king let out a burst of sardonic laughter that frighted the sleeping birds nestled in the nearby iroko tree.
“You may leave, but the injured one stays. Biisi come,” he said.
Responding to his call, Biisi struggled from her sister’s grip. She freed herself and ran towards the king, falling on her knees beside him. Selah was not far behind.
“Biisi, what are you doing?” Mbasi cried out.
“What have you done to our sister, you vile man?” Illeri shouted. Her hands began to glow. Her gift of fire fuelled her anger even more.
“Kill them all,” he said.
The guards rushed to attack the sisters. Illeri set the men ablaze, coating the air with the smell of burning flesh. Mbasi drew the air from the lungs of the guards sending them to the afterlife. Zala knelt down and buried her fingers into the soil giving life to the roots. They grew and trapped the guards. The fight went on for hours.
“Stop this madness Zaire,” Zala petitioned the king.
“Only you can stop this,” he replied. He raised Biisi and whispered into her ear. When he had taken her captive a month ago, his priest had subjected her to torture and different herbs. He made her mind weak, allowing the king to be able to control her and her gift.
Biisi turned and started walking towards her fighting sisters. The guards along her path fell to their death. Her bright spirit was now dark.
“Zala! watch out,” Illeri yelled.
Zala dodged Biisi’s attack but lost her balance and fell.
“Biisi has given into the lies of the vengeful souls around her,” Zala said.
“Please, Biisi, you can fight this.” she continued.
Even if Biisi wanted to stop, she was losing control over her gift. Slowly she drew the souls of her sisters, draining their lives.
It was after Zala lost consciousness did Biisi come to her senses. She started fighting the gift. She screamed and fell.
King Zaire advanced towards Mbasi, who was caressing Zala, praying for her safety. The king grabbed her neck and pulled her with him. He had lost control over Biisi, but he needed to ensure his safety
He started walking away from the chaos. Two heartbeats passed, and Biisi raised her head. Her orbs were black, spearing no room for any other shade. She looked at her sisters one after the other. Her eyes shimmered with tears. What has she done?.
Illeri was injured, Seth was motionless beside her, Zala was unconscious, and Ari had a broken wing. The king had Mbasi in his tight grip with her snake ànjọ̀nú coiled around her feet.
King Zaire starred at Biisi. She had risen to her feet and was heading towards him. She paused and looked at Selah, her rat ànjọ̀nú grasping at what little seconds of life she had left.
“I am sorry, Selah, Zala, Mbasi, Illeri. You should have never come back for me. The truth is I cannot bear the burden of this gift any more as this land can not bear the rule of king Zaire,” tears rolled down her cheeks as she spoke.
“I am sorry,” Biisi said as the king fell to his death freeing Mbasi, who ran forward to grab a staggering Biisi, Illeri limped towards them.
It has been a week, and the three women still remember the day they lost their sister. Biisi was the strongest among them. She had given her soul in exchange for the death of the king.
The village of Razula was free, but three sisters still sobbed in silence. What is the value of freedom if it costs the life of a loved one?.