“Nsibidi?” Chilaka asked, confused. That was what Neche had called it. But he had not heard anything as it before.
Neche nodded. “It is a complex writing system which dates back to an era believed to be rooted in creation tales of our people, tales very different from the ones told and believed today.”
Ọnyà shifted forward, anxious and eager to hear the old man tell them a story. He loved old tales and adventures, and could be swayed into a valley of demise for just one of these. As the Neche cleared his throat and leaned forward, Ọnyà’s eyes widened with anticipation.
“Once, back after the world was made, one tribe of men was blessed with the spirit of creation above their lives. It is believed they were the most successful and culturally rich of their people. Also, they had a divine means of communication which was called the Nsibidi. These languages were different and special compared to many of their time,
“Amongst these Nsibidi writings, some were considered to hold unnatural significance, and were considered the source of their prosperity. Long story short, so as not to bore you lazy lot, very little was known of these special writings. But passed down through time, are two popular ones: this and this” he pointed at two symbols amongst others on his woodsheet, two of which also were on the woodsheet the three boys had come with. “This means wroth, and this, wind.”
Ọnyà stared at the symbol. That which was said to mean wroth was the mark on his shoulder, while the other, literally the boldest of all the markings, was on Chilaka. He couldn’t help but wonder if any of these were true.
“What happened to them then? The Îimo people.” He said, eagerly.
“There are parts of the story I cannot make sense of, and those parts have mostly been forgotten by me. But the thing is, it was believed that our people, like a few others, all are distant descendants of the Îimo people.”
The three looked at themselves, all except Ọnyà, struggling to hide their disbelief. Ọnyà seemed more thrilled and proud of his alleged ancestry, although he could not quite make meaning of most parts of the story which had questions lurking in his head.
The old man pointed at his woodsheet, his eyes distant and pensive. “In the olden times, these were symbols our forefathers used to signify expressions and words of depth. They were believed to be corrupted versions of the Nsibidi. And from these writings, the legends of Îimo clan were formed.”
Chilaka, Azi and Ọnyà walked home not too long after, unsure whether they had achieved anything of substance where they had gone. Azi thought it to have been a terrible idea, a waste of time, and had if for nothing else, exposed them to suspicious glares of the old man. Also, if he was willing to tell them stories, even present his woodsheets to them to buttress his points, then he likely was not going to be ignorant enough to accept their vague lies on how they came about the writings. Yet, this bothered him more than the fact that the old man bought their story after merely repeating it to him thrice, in the face of his skepticism.
Chilaka pondered it through as they walked further away, knowing the old man had watched them left his home into the road for their own homes. Something about the old man’s state spelt disbelief, yet he had quickly conceded to the opposite even before he had the chance to properly reconstruct his lie. He couldn’t help but wonder why the old man had not seen the loopholes in their stories. How he had, for one his age and with his wisdom, not noticed the worry in his eyes, the tension in Azi’s countenance, and the fear in Ọnyà’s. Somehow he felt this was not the end.
“But if we are distant descendants of the îịmo clan, how did we become distant?” Ọnyà said, finally giving up on bottling his questions in.
“That is an excellent question, Ọnyà.” Chilaka muttered with little concern about Ọnyà or the questions from the folklore told by Neche. He would have preferred Ọnyà shut his beak and let him concentrate. But knowing Ọnyà, he would have said Ọnyà would listen to that.
“And where are they now? Did they die?” Ọnyà threw another one in again.
Chilaka stopped as they approached the forest to which they had to cross to get to their home faster in route. He felt his body tickle, then burn. He could not explain it but it seemed like red-hot rods were being used to mark subtle lines across his skin. He moaned.
Azi turned to Chilaka, confused as his cry of pain got louder. He walked close to him, seeing he had a hand pressed against his stomach, Ọnyà as confused as he. “Chi, what is it?”
“I don’t know. It burns.” He moaned a stutter, reached for his shirt and pulled it up in haste.
Azi gasped, moved back on seeing the markings glitter, alive and moving. They were taking a different shape, and though Chilaka’s discomfort couldn’t let him see what they were turning to, he could see the symbols spreading down Chilaka’s sleeves, stopping just around his elbow. And just there, on his left of that elbow, two circles appeared, glowing nearly brighter and flavescent.
Frightened, Ọnyà began to cry, afraid to get any close to his apparently tortured brother, who wouldn’t stop groaning, quivering, with the gritting of his teeth almost audible.
Chilaka was on his knees, hands running across his body as the movements hurt more than they ever have. Everywhere itched. Everywhere burned. Everywhere felt sore.
He was in a dark place, and there was a large tree, almost like an ancient Iroko. Sitting under its shelter was a little boy, his skin glittering like bronze, dark as dried firewood. He wore a red robe which revealed most of his chest and torso. His eyes were lit in a bright lightening white, his head bushy and pointy at the rims. Chilaka saw his face was furrowed into a frown, and his body littered with symbols, like those on himself, only that these ones seemed synced, evenly spread across his skin, way down to his bare toes.
Chilaka screamed as the pain overcame his shock. The marks were tearing through his skin as they moved. The little boy’s mumbling became faster, and louder. When Chilaka looked back up through the pain, a dark shadow swirled around the boy. And somehow he felt something forcing him to speak.
Azi hit the ground as the wind tightened, trees shook, and from thin air, a blinding light flashed from meters away. He heard growls, like those made by animals way stronger than lions. And he had not seen anything stronger than a lion. The flash of light turned to a phantom of dark smoke which swirled in and out of itself. And from it, out walked two creatures. Over four foot tall, large and their muscles stretched into their skins. Their eyes burned red with an uncanny lust for blood, which Azi could not understand. And their fangs bulged out, long and sharp. Exactly like the one they had seen at the farm yesterday, next to the injured stranger.
Ọnyà cried, ran to Azi and clasped his hand around his arm, frightened. He watched as from the smoke, out walked two men and a woman, each abnormally tall, dressed in armour he had never seen. Their faces strange and unfamiliar, and weapons held within their grips, carved into shapes he never thought possible, and their sharpness, evident even from where he knelt, glittering as the late morning sun spat on them.
One of the strangers, just next to the crouching creatures glared down at Ọnyà, then Chilaka where he knelt crying and quivering in seizure, trying to say something but somehow unable to voice the words. The man raised his hand and sat his bladed staff butt down against the ground.
“Finally, we found you.” He said. It was a familiar language, theirs, yet its accent exotic and nearly incomprehensible. He raised the staff, stabbed it back on the ground, resolution in his eyes.
Like they had been ordered, the creatures snarled, lunged forward, cutting through the air, so fast, jaws spread apart and the threat of their fangs glaring to the eyes as they leaped.
Chilaka screamed, battling to keep something welling up inside, and at the same time struggling to utter it. Like knife cuts, the pain drove him insane, and the strange boy’s words from his trance, hit his tongue.
“Mmụọ, ikuku, ọnụma, dịrị n’otu. Teta ma kulie!”
A blind rush of pain gripped Ọnyà. A harrowing hot sensation soaked his shoulders, his bones, his marrows. He screamed atop his voice. Azi turned and found Ọnyà’s hand placed against his shoulder, and a bluish glow underneath it.
Ọnyà’s wail rose as he felt himself drawn into a dark endless abyss from whence he felt nothing but a gust of immense pain, darkening power, and even more intensely, steep wroth.
Then the earth seemed to, around them, tremble.