Artwork by, Etubi Onucheyo

MUOMA & The Cursed Princess (Abun rayuwa)

                                          Inspired by the African Folktale, The Princess Who Lost Her Hair

 

Muoma chewed on the carcass of an elephant shew. The salty taste did not stop his hands that clenched on the animal to release their grip. This weak animal gave him the strength to have another day at life, a life that overflowed with bitterness and supreme heartache.

            Among the slums, Muoma lounged with beggars, thieves, and orphans. The forgotten. He watched the sun’s rays pour enriching light on the kingdom’s wealthy, the ones that would always be remembered. After he finished his dinner, Muoma tossed the shew’s long tail in the middle of the alley. His company scrambled to get the bland morsel, they fought and yelled only to get another day to live, like Muoma. There were days that he heard them pray for bread to fall from the sky to feed the poor, the meek, the hungry.  The road where he could no longer walk filled itself with citizens enjoying their everyday lives without worry.  

            Muoma eyed the citizens as his upper lip curled. His scrawny arms and meatless legs caused children who lingered in the slums on accident to run and flee as they called him the “Undead King” or “Skeleton Goblin”.

            “All that I’ve given up for these people has been a waste,” he said to himself as he watched a woman in a fine kanga that was doused in lavender and ivory hug her husband as she pointed at the exquisite goods around the market. Muoma threw his hand up as a sharp sting caused his palm to burn. He looked down to see a crimson swarm of ants crawl around a mound where he laid his hand. They formed units and sent out search parties to defend their kingdom. It gave Muoma a familiar feeling as the ants performed precaution and defense drills.

            The sand that held the mound together tumbled as the ground trembled as if wildebeests stampeded not even half a mile away. Muoma then heard it; the horn-like rhythmic tune that explosions give when they are near. The people who smiled moments ago disbursed in a frenzy as the battle horns wailed throughout Vuur. 

            “Look! The Palace!” Muoma looked towards the home of the king and his daughter, still sitting on the ground without a care of the lives of his people. Smoke fumed into the blue sky as a gaping hole took off the side of the palace.

            A guard stood in awe as he muttered, “Princess Kalisha! Someone must make sure she is safe!” He looked at his shotel with surrealism before saying, “I must save her!” As quickly has he ended his sentence the man ran off to the palace to execute the duty of a Vuur ibuthu.  Muoma scoffed as he watched the young man run to a sure death.

            “You don’t even know what is up there, fool.” Muoma watched the events unfold as green and yellow blazes flashed through the smog in a pageant of what he thought to be smoke and mirrors. Four warriors circled the palace with their shotels and short spears only to meet the multicolored flames head on. It was unfortunate how they burned into ebon chippings as the holocaust engulfed the area in a single wave as if something, or someone, commanded them. 

            Above the heads of all the people, a fissure in the sky appeared. People cried as the murkiness of the void seeped into their world like sludge, plunging from the sky and destroying the homes of Vuur’s prosperous ones. Muoma did not know his body moved on its own as he stood up, watching as the sun was eclipsed by a colossal beast. The crimson wings on it were the length of four men as it circled the palace.

            “That is the mightiest creature I have ever seen,” Muoma said as his throat became tighter with a new kind of fear. The feathered giant squawked loud enough that a tremor came and went. Muoma held onto the side of a building as he walked out of the alley and into the road that was covered in ruined carts and broken people. Their peace of mind was destroyed, Muoma saw it in their faces. He knew well enough even after years of being cast away to the slums that once destruction comes into someone’s life the first time they are never comfortable again. More guards tried to stand against this unforeseen enemy. Spears took flight as the king’s men attempted to plunge their sharpened stones into the beast’s heart.  All the arrows missed their mark as the magical creature beat its wings, slicing through the weapons with powerful winds.

            Out of the smoke coming from the palace’s new entrance, a comet shot into the sky. Muoma’s eyes viewed what was transpiring with fear and, to his unexpected pleasure, excitement. As the falling star arched over the palace, the winged beast flew over to it. Suddenly, a figure appeared from what Muoma could see. It landed on the back of the creature; it’s all too human appearance confused every last person helplessy watching, Muoma was left breathless. This was no human but something, someone, above the limitations of man.

            Muoma’s lips broke free after minutes of contemplating the identity of the invader. “A Renowned One…”

An elderly man dropped to the ground and groveled beside Muoma after hearing his words. “Please forgive us, forgive us now.”

Muoma looked down at the man. Watching him bow to this false deity boiled all the anger in him. He turned back towards the palace in disgust, letting the man continue to send unheard prayers to one of the powerful tyrants that ruled over the lands and seas. 

As the destruction below worsened, the renowned one finally spoke, “I have stripped your princess of her powers!” The frightful wails of men and women, children crying for answers, and the howls of flames started to become all too much on Muoma. The voice of the powerful entity was a man’s, a composed sort of man that could talk his way out of and into any conflict of any sort.

As he continued talking, Muoma leaned on a wall, trying not to let the burden of the reminiscent noises overcome his mind. Bloodied faces flashed before his eyes, Muoma's constant nightmares returned yet again. His torture was cut short as Eshu's otherworldy voice bellowed, “I am your god, Eshu. Today I have had enough with your human ways!” A bice orb of pure sorcery arose from of his hand. He glanced down at the people, welcoming the foreboding emotions surfacing among them. “Let this be the last time that I’m disrespected.”

The viridescent swaddle of energy erupted into an overwhelming brightness that left everyone awestruck once they saw that the mighty beast and Eshu, a Renowned One, had both vanished in the discord of light.

The people ran amuck down to the palace demanding answers. Muoma stayed in his alley as the panics of Vuur did him no favors. The princess would die soon, at that he was sure. Her powers to hold Vuur’s half of the world together was ripped from her. The sky told him it would not be long for the king to search for men to find a way to save her. They all would come up empty handed or meet death in the end. However, Muoma knew a way, he was well traveled, but he swore to himself that Vuur would never get the best of him again, they would never get all of him. Muoma swore…

 

“The Wealth Which Enslaves the Owner Isn’t Wealth.”- Yoruba Proverb

 

            The sail on Muoma’s raft took extra effort for him to catch the wind. His meatless arms pulled, showing his skeleton in one flex. The endless body of water splashed all around him as its currents swayed with poise. Muoma stared at the gleaming sun as surprise took him by an enormous cannon ball which almost capsized his raft. More water sprouted that made it look as if there were geysers at the ocean’s bed. Muoma looked up again; seeping tar forced the cracks in the sky to widen. Though the sun and blue sky created the illusion of a perfect day, the omens of the void made reality certain; the world was ending. The blackness fell into the water, causing roaring waves and strong tides that disturbed the marine life.

            The fall of dark matter stopped at a halt. Muoma checked every inch of his raft as he continued to set sail in the naked waters. He ventured into Bane’s Teeth, an uncharted territory off the cost of Vuur, which he knew he would find the power to save the princess and in the end win over his kingdom. He remembered the tale from a Babalawo, or “Father of Mysteries” as travelers call them, who he sat within the warmth of campfire and starlight during one his sieges when he once proudly dawned Vuur’s colors.

            “Life is granted from a grand tree. To mend any living thing, even you or me. To find this precious blessing that you seek, you must traverse the perils of Bane’s Teeth, and there you will find it within the islands of three…”

Muoma had his experience with magic and the supernatural in his past life on endless occasions. Only now was he the bare portrayal of the greatness he was before his kingdom tossed him away as they’ve done with countless warriors and war heroes.

            Underneath his raft was an unearthly silhouette swimming with a predator’s charisma. It made his raft an inkling in comparison. Water erupted as before, but this time it reached incredible heights. Muoma sprung to action looking at the sky, but nothing was falling this time, only the buildup of the void that heralded Vuur’s end. He put his hand over his eyes to blot out the sun. The sloshing of the waves confused him. Maybe the heat was getting to him.

Muoma grabbed his oar and dipped it into the water. A hard rock split it in two. Muoma looked down to see that there was no rock but rough scales as hard as diamond passing underneath his raft. Waves rolled and thrashed as a finned tail plummeted the water. Muoma held onto the edges of his raft; his eyes tightly shut as the creature challenged him. He was in its territory. The water bowed and gnarled all around him, trapping him in a whirlwind. Muoma held tightly to his raft, not relinquishing his grip on its wooden planks. There was half a kingdom at stake, he thought to himself. That was something worth being drowned over. 

 

The Island of Birds

Muoma awoke after being tossed aside by a Great Mamlambo that ruled sovereign the waters he sailed. As he looked around the sand, a cacophony of squawks and chirps came from above. Over two hundred birds flew within a collection of fever trees. The polychromatic ensemble of fowls looked as if a rainbow crowned the island. The feathered creatures came in mass, Muoma eyes were enthralled by the normal and unorthodox species that perched on trees and popped in and out between thick leaves; a line of finches plucked the feathers off one another, crows surveyed the other birds with their beaks open ready to do what they do best, and cormorants and many other birds that would take books to describe, bathed in the sun with their wings open embracing the day’s wind. Muoma spotted one bright yellow bird, smaller than all the others, stare at him with oddity.  

Not knowing what to expect, Muoma walked cautiously into their nest. All heads snapped in his direction once he took a step past the first tree. Muoma paused at their still faces. From what he could tell, these birds did not favor visitors on their island. He prepared to step away and head back to his raft, but he had to make sure the treasure he was after did not wait for him on this island. He stepped forward and as he did each bird in flawless accord opened its beak and squawked.

Muoma clamped his ears as the cries from every last bird sounded as if war was breaking out and armies were welcoming a warrior's death. His eardrums endured constant pressure as the squawks accelerated in pitch and volume. A lourie and oxpecker swooped down and pecked at his hands. Muoma swatted them away and tried to close his ears again, but they continued to attack him. He shooed them off one more time. They flew above the trees and watched him as they rejoined their flock.   

An odd sense came over him, a dizziness that made everything around him a mangled portrait of architecture and splotches of tincture. Muoma dropped to the ground. His body became still like metal; he could not move a single finger. He laid with his face pressed against the dirt as the birds’ chants continued, these were not ordinary birds he ciphered as his mind wanderlusted into a space of delirium and mysticism. 

 

Muoma’s eyes snapped open as heat burned his nostrils with a sick coal smell. It was dark; no stars, no moon, only an infinite eclipse and ascending flames. A city burnished with scarlet and salmon splendor within walking distance from where he stood, trying to figure out what happened to him.  There was something about the engulfed buildings that made the back of his head throb. He decided to search this strange place for a way out, and maybe there, in the fire, his McGuffin awaited to be obtained by his soon to be royal hands. He walked down a dirt road surrounded by green meadow as he headed to the smoldering city. 

 

“Tata! Tata!” Muoma heard a girl’s cry as he passed pillaged homes and charred animals that were almost indiscernible save for their carcass’s outline. Fire coiled around a building like an angry river dragon, ready to devour its prey whole. The child cried for her father, but he never came. Her tears fizzled in the swelter as the fire spread in each corner of the building. She wheezed and choked as the air thickened, putting strains on her fragile body.

“I remember her,” Muoma saw her through a window of the building. The little girl scrambled underneath a cabinet as the fire tried to gently brush her with fleeting tendrils. The mashing of hard footsteps trampled behind him. Muoma turned as a young warrior ran straight at him.  Muoma flinched as the man was inches away from him and then…nothing.  Muoma opened his eyes. He thought the thuds of his heart were loud enough for any person to be able to hear. He looked at his body and watched as it rippled like a pond when someone drops a pebble in it.

“Hold your breath, child!” The stranger yelled for the girl to get down as he plummeted through a wooden door. The fire seemed to make way, almost as if it were afraid of this brave soul.  Muoma lost sight of what was happening in the building as the flames roared loud and free.

 

After a moment of him contemplating if he should go and continue with his search. The next thing Muoma saw before leaving them to their deaths was the man lunging out of the window of the building with the girl wrapped in his arms. The fire behind him flared, angry that the child’s sacrifice was unfulfilled.  They hit the ground, roughly rolling in the dirt as the man tightened his hold of the little girl, taking the brunt of the impact.

“Sssh, now, child.” The warrior rose from the ground with the girl over his shoulder.

She rubbed her eyes, “Where’s my tata?”

Muoma snarled at her. “Ungrateful bastard. He deserves a thank you,” he said as he watched the man pat her on the back to calm her.

“No!” The little girl tried to break free of the man’s hold. “You’re not my tata!”

“Calm yourself, little one. You will have others to take care of you. Good people.”

“I don’t want your people! I want my tata!” Her teeth instantaneously curved and sharpened as the man placed her head on his shoulder. He rubbed her back as he did not prepare himself once she bit down with carnivorous intent. Blood splat over his green and gold uniform. He dropped on one knee and released the girl. The girl backed away, slowly, as her eyes burned with hate at the man cuffing his bloodied shoulder.

The small child backed away, her teeth reverting to natural size all but the stains of red pasted on them. “You’re a bad man! A bad man!” Muoma watched in the audience as the little girl cursed the man who put his life on the line to save her. He suffered from déjà vu as the face of the girl, and the colors of the man’s uniform seemed so familiar.

The girl staked her finger at the stranger, “You’re a bad man and need to kill yourself!” Her face livened, “Yes, kill yourself!” She laughed as she chanted “Kill yourself, kill yourself,” until it rang in Muoma’s ears like a favored hymn. The red flames fanned behind her as she continued to back away as if she wanted to return to the fires that craved to sear her flesh and turn her into ash.

 “Don’t get too close!” Muoma called out to her as she stood at a broken window. As if she heard him she looked right at Muoma. She bared her occult teeth at him, now elongated and dangerous.

She then said with a rasp in her voice, “Your hands are covered in blood. You will reap all you have sown.” In an instant, the child dived in the burning building. The fire welcomed her with a hair-raising hiss that drowned her screams.

Muoma stared into the crimson erosion in disbelief at the horrible action the girl took to flee from the man that only wanted to save her. An almost claustrophobic silence moved past as Muoma was left with the warrior. 

The parting of lips, faint and chapped, came from the man still on one knee. “She is right. The truth is unmistakable.” Muoma backed away as he looked around for who the warrior spoke to, only he stood there with him. The stranger gripped the dirt as he added volume to his hoarse throat, “All you’ve done throughout your life was kill. Why should you still be alive when so many good people have died and become forgotten?”

Muoma paused, not knowing how to respond to this threatening figure. “I only—”  

The stranger fixed his head toward Muoma, causing him to drop to the ground as he saw the face of the warrior that troubled his memory. “You only thought of your own people, your precious Vuur!

He could not believe who he saw looking at him with sunbeam eyes that would’ve blinded him if he did not squint his gaze.

“You can’t be,” Muoma replied as he shook his head.

A soulless version of Muoma in his youth stood up. A curved blade reverberated with the wind as the being drew a shotel, holding it at arm’s length at its side.  “Can’t you see that there is no world for you anymore. There will be no more death after the world breaks, no more of this foolish quest of yours.”

“I can save it. I know where the magic—”

“You’re a selfish man, Muoma. You take this journey all to fill your own pockets; you want to wear linens with the threads of the rarest of quality. You want to be no hero but a ruler over men.” 

Blood emerged from the hilt of the blade. Each drop on the gravel was like a hammer crushing stone for Muoma. A multitude of bodies collapsed over one another as if they were laying on the ground the entire time Muoma entered the city.

“These are all the lives you stole,” the entity took a step towards Muoma, casually walking on a body, an old woman with clouded eyes that were devoid of any life. Her carcass crumbled into powder underneath his feet.

            All the lives he took; the faces of many backgrounds and occupations, even children. There were times when Muoma took the lives of youth because they jeopardized the safety of Vuur. He did his duty for his kingdom, but with each life he took he peeled chunks of his humanity away.

            “Stay back!” Muoma scrambled back as his second self walked closer and closer. The fire behind it shadowed the being’s face, all but those medallion eyes that gave Muoma incredible fear. They glowed without remorse.

            Muoma hit his back against something. He turned around to see another doppelganger standing with a sword drawn. It looked down at him with the same daunting glare. “Why try to escape? You cannot run from yourself…” The two cryptics stood with bloodied swords drawn as Muoma fled between them with no escape in sight. The oculus’s of the dead bodies crooked as they desired to see the end of the man who slew them.   

            The sight of the empty bodies was like a vacuum that pulled Muoma into desperation and bleak hopelessness. He did not believe himself a cruel man. Muoma truly believed he was only doing what he needed to do, what he was ordered, and all to bring peace to his kingdom. However, the faces of the people stayed with him, enduring the passing of time. The bodies looked to be in anguish or fear, trapped at the moment when he killed each one. Muoma almost gave in to his torment until a single thought occurred to him as each of the beings’ blade was within grazing distance. He did take the lives of many people, and even if their deaths were on his hands, maybe, just maybe, he could bring them back with the fruit that was said to restore life, maybe there were other fruits to right his wrongs.  

            “No,” Muoma muttered to the entities. They paused, both like sentries with their swords arched down forming an extraordinary alphabet.  

            The two spoke together in one mind. “You must pay for your sins; you cannot escape what you have done. Your past will always be a part of you.”

            Muoma stood up, gaining confidence to assert himself. “My past will not control my future. I can bring them all back. My conscience will be clear.”

            Their ridiculing laughs brought uncertainty to Muoma. They replied, “If you believe that then I shall let you continue your meaningless journey. You will see that you cannot remove what you have done, ignorant human fool.” The city's fires burned a bright, sweet orange as they rose into one massive spectacle, eclipsing the infinite darkness in erosion. Muoma did not have a chance to prepare himself as it came crashing down. Everything around him burned, even the dirt beneath his feet ripped into white noise. The flames flooded the entire land as they became a great ocean wave. Muoma squeezed his eyes shut as the fire circled around him. He held his breath with his arms wrapped around his body as he was certain that the flames would flay his skin from his bones. 

           

Muoma opened his eyes to see the imperfect sky staring straight at him. His body rocked left and right as his head rested on the side of his raft. The yellow hamerkop he spotted on the island sat at its edge. It hopped to him as it saw him awake. Muoma stared at it suspiciously, knowing that this or any of the birds were not natural fowls. Muoma lifted himself up to have a look around. If it weren’t for the shadows flying in the distance, Muoma would not have guessed that he left the island but instead fell asleep the entire time. He scratched his head as he placed his other hand on the wooden plank. He nicked himself. Down by his side was a shotel blade. Muoma’s heart sank as it was the exact replica of the one he saw in his dream, the one he used as an ibuthu, as a killer.  He did not know how he got back on his raft, but he certainly understood that he was not alone on his travels. Someone, someone with the influence to alter reality sought to control his journey. 

 

“Wisdom is like a baobab tree; no one individual can embrace it.”- Akan Proverb

 

Nightfall loomed overhead. The parasitic nature of the void fed off the darkness. If it were not for the light of the moon or the stars the world would be overcome by darkness in a matter of minutes. Muoma moved his oar through the calm water. The quietness brought a moment of rest to his scattered thoughts.

The shotel, his weapon, sat beside the sleeping hamerkop. Muoma tried his best to push the bird away but it would not leave him be, it only kept flying back, perching on his shoulder until it fell asleep and rather throwing it in the water he placed it beside the blade.

Death, the guises of the slain, flashed before his eyes. Muoma pushed them away, once he made it to his destination not only would he save the world and become a ruler but he would also bring back the dead. All would be made as he wanted it to be. Muoma would win this time. 

            “There…” Another island approached. Muoma began to paddle as though he was young again. His body started to remember what work felt like and thanked him for it. If this island was anything like the last, he was sure to be prepared. These were the islands of Bane’s Teeth after all.

 

The Island of Man-Eaters

 

“Big brother, Looky! Someone comes to the island. "Good! Good!” The entire island shivered as the excitement of a colossal shadow rejoiced behind a hill; it watched as a man led his raft onto the sand. 

            Another silhouette with four sinuous eyes moved with silkiness around the same hill. “Calm yourself. We don’t want it to run away. It has been days since we had a fellow traveler in our mist.”

            The giant pressed its hands against its cheek. “Oh no! No! No! No!” The animals nearby quivered in their hiding places as its voice sounded like crackles of thunder. “I don’t want it to go. I’m so hungry. So, so, hungry I—”

            The eldest monster slithered around his brother’s body and coiled  around his mouth. “There, there, younger brother. We will eat tonight.” In the thick darkness, all that could be seen were horrendous scales and appalling skin. He then finished, “Do I ever leave you hungry?”

            The giant shook his head as he turned to watch the visitor walk onto the beach in the dim darkness. Its stomach groaned and moaned to be fed. 

 

            Muoma hesitated as he grabbed the shotel. The blade looked unused, but he remembered how natural it felt in his hands. It even came with a sheath for him to carry it in. The hamerkop stayed asleep as Muoma walked off and onto the island. It was unusually dark on the island. Muoma could barely see the trees that gave passage likely to a decent sized tropical forest. He did not have much choice but to go in and see if what he searched for resided here. 

            An hour passed and Muoma did not uncover any hint of the fruits whereabouts. Nothing lived on this island for all he knew. Muoma pressed on. As he made some distance, he blindly fell into a steep ditch. A sharp crack from his ankle made him writhe in pain. He raised himself up, almost collapsing from his weight as his leg buckled under pressure.   

            “This is what I get for coming without a torch,” Muoma said to himself as he touched the walls. If he did not know any better he would swear that this was a—Muoma touched something oddly solid and uneven. He pressed around sightlessly to feel the hollowness. It had two gaping holes, and underneath them, there was something that felt almost like human teeth. Muoma instantly backed away, he was in trouble. The rubble on the ground capered as noisy tromps charged through the forest. Trees clapped against each other creating a noise that brought in the apocalypse.

            “I want to eat! Eat! Eat! Eat!” Muoma cringed in a back corner as a gigantic figure popped its head over the pit.  It looked at Muoma, its human-like eyes filled with disappointment. “Awww! You’re too scrawny. I’ll have to chew slowly.” It started to sing, “Slow! Slow! Chew you slow! I’ll put you in my mouth, and down you go!”

            There had to be a way to get out of here Muoma thought as he backed away. Through his contemplating, he did not prepare himself to the four illuminated eyes opening at the opposite side of the ditch.

            “There, there now. It’s alright, my friend. It is only my brother here and me.” It was half-man/half-snake for all Muoma knew. It stood upright, towering over him like one of the trees the giant knocked down. “If I may ask, why are you on our island?”

            Muoma secretly gripped his blade, not wanting to draw attention. The man-serpent’s eyes lingered at Muoma.

            “I’m here to find a special fruit,” Muoma answered. 

            The creature’s eyes flashed as if impressed. “You’re looking for Rayuwa’s fruit. That is to the east, past this place.”

            Slobber slushed over the ditch as the giant leaning above hungered more each passing minute.

            The man-serpent brushed some off the wall in disgust. “Excuse my younger brother. It has been days since the last traveler came and you have to understand that we creatures of this island don’t get to eat the finest meats often.”

            “I’m sure another traveler will come. We are on a quest to save our princess who holds this half of the world together.” Muoma scanned the area, searching for anyway for him to leave. Only the piercing and hungering eyes of the two abominations laid before him. 

            The man-serpent slithered beside Muoma with shadowy grace and grabbed his shoulder ever so delicately. “Can I tell you a secret?” Muoma nodded nervously. “My brother and I, well, we were once men. Can you believe that?”

            Muoma’s surprise did not go unnoticed as he cautiously replied, “What happened?”

            The man-serpent’s grip became firm. Its claws dipped into Muoma's skin without causing him to bleed. The giant above sunk out of view at the sight of his brother’s anger. “We are not from this land. We come from far north where people of your,” it stopped to look at Muoma’s skin, “disposition are not common.” It put a hand in the air to view the grotesque scales that replaced his natural skin. “We also searched for the fruit so that we could save someone very dear to us. Once we made it to this island, we did not consider that the fruit would have a gardener tending these islands.”

            ‘Badman! Badman!” The giant banged its head on the ground over and over at the terrifying memory.

            “One of the so-called gods your people worship,” its face scrounged as its eyes filled with their own brand of terror. “Eshu. That devil. He cursed us to live our lives as beasts. We can never go home to our family.” Muoma’s eyes swelled as its claws dug deeper.

           

Down on Muoma’s raft, the tiny hamerkop rustled in its sleep. Its eyes fluttered as if it were having a night terror. A white flash took up the sky above it. A thunderstorm approached.    

 

The Man-Serpent continued with his reasoning of how things were conducted on the island. Muoma remained silent, only listening to every word. “It is a very sad story. One that only a few have passed on.” It dug its claws into Muoma’s shoulder as it leaned into his ear. “Despite us becoming unruly creatures we have gained one thing.” It listened to Muoma’s heaving as it replied, “We have power and those who have power prey on those who have less.” Its mouth stretched to incomprehensible lengths as it leaned in close to devour Muoma whole.

Rain plummeted from the sky as the wind howled, slapping heavy drops against the tree parties. Before the thunder came horrendous lightning, which split trees in half as a chain of cerulean bolts punished the land in shocking bursts. When the flashes of light showed the true appearances of the monsters, Muoma almost lost all understanding of reality.  They were the horrid creatures he heard many tales about during his travels around the land. The inhumane eaters of flesh.  

            Caaaw!

A battle cry came from above deep in the highest clouds. A flash of light revealed a silhouette of a winged animal of astonishing magnitude. It called out again, and a bolt struck ground two feet from Muoma. The abominations gazed in the sky hissing and roaring at the hidden enemy.

            The Man-Serpent spun Muoma around and hollered, “What have you brought here?” Muoma did not know, and his contorted expression proved it.

The giant roared at the sky, knocking branches and leaves off trees. He continued to challenge the powerful creature, and to his ignorance, he did not see what headed straight for him in the darkness. The winged beast gripped its claws into the giants back and snatched him into the air. The Man-Serpent fearfully pulled Muoma back into a corner as it cried out for its brother. All went silent save for the pats of rain. Thunder then rocked the island loud and abrupt as a bolt of screaming giant crashed down on the other side of the island. 

“Brother!” The Man-Serpent panicked at the thought of his young brother somewhere dead. Muoma took the moment of its confusion to remove his shotel and slice one of the arms off the Man-Serpent.

Green acid ripped into the ground as it gushed out of the flailing arm. The next moment, Muoma slammed into the side of the pit. The Man-Serpent’s eyes were not of poise and direction but primal, animalistic instinct and hatred.  Upon closing in on Muoma, it did not see the shadow of a looming beast landing behind it.

The winged beast stared at them for a moment as it opened its beak very slowly. Muoma was amazed as blue and golden charges formed in its mouth as it then summoned an electrifying current that intoxicated the Man-Serpent in a torturous chain of elemental power. The monster dropped to the ground, blackened and fried inside out. Muoma could not move as his leg and shoulder gave him an unsurmountable dealing of pain. The thunder gently fell into a soft whisper, and the rain slowed down to a light drizzle.

The winged beast did not move but put its enormous head in the pit. The darkness of the island began to fade away. The incoming light revealed that the beast was covered in yellow, orange, and cobalt feathers. It took Muoma in its beak before he could try to squirm away. Muoma laid in its beak as it carried him into the air, blowing dirt and fanning remaining leaves off trees, causing them to bend in place.  Once Muoma was in the air, and the wind took him, he began to fall asleep as exhaustion overtook him. 

 

 

“When A Man Is Stung, He Doesn’t Destroy All Beehives”- Kenya Proverb

 

The Island of Rayuwa (Life)

 

Mystifying sprinkles washed across Muoma’s face as the thrashing of strong wings beat against passing winds. He opened his eyes as the wounds he suffered on his head and shoulder healed immediately.  A geyser of light covered the island in an endless supply of rich nutrients that once it reached its peak, rained down, bathing all around in healing properties.  Soon, Muoma’s leg was pain-free as the winged creature circled the island.

The island was completely sage in color; Moss claimed most of the isle, as did verdant ponds that created miniature springs. Muoma noticed the island coming closer into view. The beastly fowl hovered above the trees. What happened next caused Muoma to swear at the beast as it abruptly released him from its mouth. Muoma screamed to the top of his lungs as he dropped into the jade pool. He held his breath as he swam to the surface, ignoring enchanted schools of fishes and crustaceans that flushed with colors which brought effulgent light to the world below. His head shot out the water. The plant life around him was nothing less than fascinating as every piece of life looked well nurtured and healthy.

            A laugh came from behind a band of trees. A voice so deep that it echoed throughout the island said, “I have to say that I’m rather impressed. I did not believe you would make it to my oasis.” Muoma witnessed the impossible as the trees moved to make way for the master of not only this island but all of Bane’s Teeth.

Eshu groomed himself in the finest black robe Muoma had ever seen. The deity dawned enough gold that it would crush any normal human from the accumulated weight.  He grinned to reveal more gold and diamonds lacing over his teeth. He casually walked on a tree’s branch that dipped in the water, escorting him wherever he demanded. “I’ve been watching you since I left your kingdom, Muoma.”

            Muoma still floated in the water. He didn’t expect to meet a Renowned One, especially Eshu. Muoma then asked, “Why?”

            “Well because… ” Eshu snapped his fingers. A remarkable sequoia tree appeared behind him. On its branches, it dropped a lustrous fruit that glistened like frozen sapphire. Eshu caught it in one hand and held it up. “You’ve been looking for this, and I wanted to give it to you myself. That look you had on your face in Vuur was one of pure human nature. All humans are roaches, and they need to be dealt with, you seem to understand.”

            Muoma thought about the island where he had his nightmare. The past that he could not escape. “I want to save—” Eshu raised his hand, and somehow Muoma’s voice faded away like a forgotten musical note.

            The branch that Eshu stood on moved around the water. “Don’t play games with me, human. We both know that you want what all men crave. You care nothing for the sake of others. Don’t play the hero when you’re truly the villain.” He lowered his hand, and Muoma gasped for air as his voice returned.

            Grabbing his throat to soothe the coarseness, Muoma replied, “And what does that make you?”

            Eshu stood with one hand in his pocket and the other holding the fruit as he admired it confidently. “A god, mortal. I am neither hero or villain. I am only raw power.” A great beast swooped down and landed behind him. It was the scarlet bird he saw in Vuur, unlike the one he rode on this one was much bigger, and it almost appeared as if fire danced at the ends of its feathers.

            Muoma tired of the pretender god as he asked with hostility, “What do you want from me?”

            Eshu caught the bite in his speech and raised an arched brow. “All I want from you is to do what you came to do. Take control of these men. Kill them if you have to as all kings do so that my family can see how humans continue to fall from grace.” Eshu tapped the water with his sandal to reveal images of Muoma in his youth. The scenes were of Muoma slaying hundreds of men in a deadly battle. “You are a killer, or at least once in your life. Be that once again.” Muoma almost slipped down into the water as Eshu’s words gnawed into his heart.  

There was a defeat in Muoma that stretched across and over his face. The radiant fruit splashed into the water. Muoma looked up at him in surprise. The fruit floated for a moment before dipping into the water. “I was never going to destroy this world. Your kingdom has become corrupt with prosperity that I and my brothers and sisters have given them. That princess of yours has a stone heart, and that is why I stripped her powers from her”

            Muoma replied, “So all of this was only a—”

            “Punishment. One that I felt was needed. That princess of yours needs to know her place. All women should be groveling to be one of my wives. That Kalisha dishonored me, a god, and that I cannot forgive. Restore her powers but understand that I will be back and when I have her, she will know obedience.” Eshu jumped in the air and mounted his immaculate beast that caught him with grace. The thrust of its wings wrestled against the trees. “As for your foolish quest to bring the dead back to life. Understand that it was never possible.” All the retaliation left Muoma’s guise as those words left a series of wounds. Eshu finally departed, saying nothing more to Muoma as the crimson bird claimed the skies.

            The fruit sunk into the water. Muoma, lost in thought, stared at it as it glowed a pristine golden jade. The people he killed could not be brought back as he planned. He knew Eshu was right. He only wanted to save Kalisha for his reward, and that reward would cover up all that he had lost and all he had done. His fists wrinkled his reflection as he pounded the water. Muoma barely noticed, but he no longer looked the same as he did before. His skin was smoother, almost younger, and his body no longer was drapes of skin over bones but muscle.

            “How?” Muoma looked at his watery image.

            “The water. It also has extraordinary gifts.” It was an elderly voice that sounded older than father time. It came from the tree that delivered Eshu the fruit. “Rayuwa gives to all living things. It makes us strong.”

            Muoma swam over to the aged tree. In his distress, he shouted, demanding the tree to tell him a way for him to return the lives of the people he took.

            “There is nothing we can do. Their lives are beyond this world's limits. They are out of our knowledge for we are only of this world, not the next.”

            “I don’t believe in such things. There is only here and now.” Muoma turned away from the tree with the little dignity he had left.

            “If that were true, human, then your quest to become a ruler over others would be justified.  Eshu would be right about man.” 

            Muoma snapped, “And is he? He was right about me. I only wanted what was owed to me for sacrificing everything, even who I am, for my people. In the end, they betrayed me. I became an outcast.” He looked at the water to see the dim light of the fruit sit on its floor.

            The ancient tree’s branch dipped low into the water and wrapped around the fruit. It pulled it out and brought it to Muoma. “At the very least you can do is save the lives of those still living. They still have days ahead of them. Become more than Eshu believes for he is corrupt himself and that gives him no authority to speak of goodness.” Muoma paused before bringing his hands forth. He held the rare fruit in his hands. The strange energy it emitted comforted his troubled mind. 

            Muoma spoke to the tree with indecision, “I’ll go save my people yet again, but this time I am expecting nothing in return. Not half the kingdom or praise for it is all worthless in the end.”

            “Then go with the peace that you are no longer doing this for your own gain, but for the lives of others, good or evil, they all deserve another day of possibilities.” After the tree finished, a loud crack of thunder broke the sereneness of the island.

The mighty lightning bird flew down to Muoma from somewhere in the trees, but for its size, he would have heard or spotted it earlier. Unless it shrunk, Muoma had to believe that it traveled down as fast as a bolt to him. It hovered down for Muoma to grab its leg. As it ascended in the sky, Muoma looked back at the wise tree, thinking that what if it too was cursed like the man-eaters on the other island. He then set his sights back home, directing the beast to Vuur.

           

“If You Are Filled with Pride, Then You Will Have No Room for Wisdom”- African Proverb

 

Muoma dropped in the palace through the gaping hole that Eshu created. The lightning bird cawed as he ran through the entryways. Guards posted in front of the princess’s quarters. Their spears quickly appear in front of them as Muoma approached.

“It can’t be…” Behind Muoma a robust bearded man wore a golden crown encrusted with legendary stones. He stared at the back of Muoma’s head for quite some time before commanding him to turn around. “Muoma? It is you, isn’t it?” Muoma nodded as he revealed the fruit to the king. After Muoma explained its properties, the king’s face lit up as he looked at the myth with his own eyes.

“A thousand blessings, thousands more.” The king snagged the gift from Muoma’s hands as he ordered the guards to make way. The door that led into the princess’ room opened. After hearing a brief set of tears and praises, a burning light flashed inside that caused everyone to turn the other way. Muoma was kept out in the hallway; it was a royal occasion not fit for a soldier or beggar. The king walked back out with his daughter. She was a woman of enchanting color that reminded Muoma of an ebony sculpture of flawless perfection. 

“Thank you,” she said with a small bow before running outside for all the people to be reminded of her beauty again. A great crowd cheered moments later.

The king walked beside Muoma and placed a hand on his shoulder. Muoma’s expression was not one of joy or anger but contempt as he did what was right and not for his own gain.

The king then said, “Once your governor of half my kingdom I will give you the finest things, Muoma. I have not forgotten all you have done.”

Muoma paused, taking in the king’s words. He then removed the king’s hand gently from his shoulder. The guards were absolutely bewildered by his disrespectful action.

Muoma walked away from the king. He no longer trusted the words of any man. His majesty barked for him to return like an obedient warrior.

 Muoma soon tired of his mouth. He replied, “There is war to prepare for, my King!” Every face paled as the horrible news took away their celebration. “Eshu is coming for your daughter. It is time for us to prepare, to protect our people but know this, my King. I will not be taking lives for you any longer. Today, I am my own king.” Muoma boldly left Vuur's majesty to contemplate on his final words as he had no other choice but to prepare for an unearthly siege that he never had the opportunity to witness in his former life.  Even though the princess’ celestial powers were restored, pushing the void back into eternal darkness and reforming the sky, she was still in Eshu’s ever gazing sight, and now Muoma was in his personal interests as well.