Two days had passed since Obinna’s death. The whole palace was shaken, and no one knew what would happen next.
“How can someone die like that?” Esther asked the other maids who were with her, cleaning the palace.
“But how come he didn’t even shout for help?” Ella asked. “How come nobody noticed anything until he was killed?”
“I think what you girls should be asking is how come it was immediately Miriam woke up from her wonderful dream that we heard the scream,” Amara said.
“Are you saying that she is responsible for this?” Ella asked.
“If she is not responsible then at least she knows what happened,” Amara said. “Or did you even see her come out to check what happened? That’s because she already knew what happened, how it happened and probably who did it.”
Ella sighed. “This is getting serious. I think we should tell Chioma to let us complain to the Queen before we all die. As for me I don’t want to die o.”
“Come on girls, we have to be very sure before we conclude,” Esther said.
“You can wait until you die before you become very sure. As for me I will investigate this issue to the very end.”
Sat on her bed, Chioma flipped through the pages of a book. She felt a presence behind her and turned around, but found no one. She returned her attention to the book just in time to see a face appear on the page she’d been reading.
Gasping, she flung the book to the floor. The book melted into blood, spreading across the floor.
She leapt to her feet. “Who is in this room?”
She knew she was not alone. Someone had been in her room for weeks. Although she had no idea who it was, she knew it was a woman. She’d been seeing a woman’s shadow strolling around her room.
“Show yourself!” she said.
She’d been taught from birth to make no room for fear, but for the first time in her life, she gave in to fear.
Her father, Ebuka the great hunter, was the only man who’d returned from the evil forest. While every hunter who’d stepped into the evil forest never returned, Ebuka had returned with a lion’s head.
Her mother, Ezinne, was the greatest witch Ikemba had ever had. Chioma had been prepared to be the bravest of her contemporaries, but today, she’d known fear. Whatever was in her room was stronger than any spirit she had ever encountered.
“Who are you?” she asked.
“I am Nnenna,” said the unseen woman. “And I am here to warn you not to interfere in my vengeance, because anyone standing in my way shall die.”
The woman laughed savagely, her voice carried off by the wind. Her voice faded, and simultaneously the blood morphed into the book.
Too scared to pick up the book, Chioma gaped at it from a distance. “This is strange. I have to tell mother about this before it gets out of hand.”
She moved to the door and tugged it open, but the sight before her immobilized her.
“Mother!” Chioma called, shock written all over her face. Her mother was not one who visited the palace, not unless something serious had happened.
She remembered the last time she’d asked her to visit the palace and make herself known, but her mother had turned down the invitation, saying that the time to reveal herself had not arrived.
“Mother, what are you doing here?” Chioma asked.
“I felt it and I know you felt it too,” Ezinne said, panic engulfing her face. “And I am here to talk to you about the disaster that will soon befall this palace.”
“But how did you get in?” Chioma asked.
“I saw blood,” Ezinne said. “The palace was filled with blood. It was only your door that was spared. A dark cloud led me here, but don’t worry, nobody knows of my presence.”
“Mother, what is going on?” Chioma asked. “I see blood and I see death rolling around. Mother, I think a woman is responsible for this.”
Ezinne looked up at the ceiling. “Yes, she is here and nobody can stop her.”
“Who is she and why is she hunting us like this?” Chioma asked.
“Her name is Nnenna,” Ezinne said. “She was a beautiful lady and every girl envied her. She was a very quiet girl, and she worked in the palace during the reign of our former King Jaja and his wife, the Queen.
She turned down every man who asked for her hand in marriage until the Prince returned. He fell in love with her and they started dating secretly. She later became pregnant and the Prince was more than willing to marry her.
One day, the Queen heard about it and was angry with her son, so she asked Nnenna to leave the palace, but the King refused. He insisted that the girl was to give birth in the palace and also marry the Prince.
The King’s decision really pained the Queen a lot, but she kept her cool, waiting for the perfect time to strike.
“On the day of Nnenna’s delivery, something strange happened. We heard a scream inside the delivery room and the midwives ran outside.
Everybody tried to make them say what happened but they were too stunned to talk, so the Queen decided to go and find out herself. What we saw was terrible. We saw the baby who was half-mermaid, half-human, and the mother pampering her like it was normal for her to give birth to a mermaid.
“The King had traveled, so the Queen took the opportunity to carry out her plan. She called the Chief Priest and asked him to sacrifice the woman and use the baby for the foundation of the new palace being built at that time.
On the day of the sacrifice, the villagers gathered at the Obi to watch how an innocent woman and her baby would be killed, but something strange happened.
Before the woman could be killed, she said something that I think is hunting us now. She said that all who witnessed her death would die miserable deaths.
She even said that the doom would start from the palace and spread to the village and the kingdom would be swept with the broom of annihilation.
The Chief Priest beheaded her immediately she said those words, but something bad happened when she died.
Heavy wind blew and two guards were struck immediately by thunder, and for two good days, darkness overshadowed the whole village, making it impossible for anyone to go out.
The Queen herself banned anyone from speaking of these incidents, or the person would be killed.
“Alaga got angry and banned such sacrifice from taking place again in this village. The Chief Priest was killed in his shrine and the King was very angry with the Queen, which made him ban her from taking part in any village activities.
” So my daughter, I think she is here and her revenge has started. We have to act now before it is too late.”
Chioma shook visibly with fear. “But mother, what are we to do?”
“We need to find her daughter,” Ezinne replied.
“Her daughter?” Chioma grew pensive. “But I thought”
Ezinne cut her off. “She is back and she is already in this palace.”
“Who is she?” Chioma asked.
“I don’t know,” Ezinne said. “But if she is working in this palace then we are in trouble because her mother is here and will destroy Ikemba, starting with everyone in this palace.”
“I wonder which of the maids is Nnenna’s daughter,” Chioma said to herself.
“Do you suspect anyone here?” Ezinne asked.
“I have three maids who sometimes act strange,” Chioma said. “One is Amara. She says things that are so unbelievable. She was the one that told us about a child used for the foundation of this palace, but I don’t know how she found out.”
“That’s strange,” Ezinne remarked. “Because not everyone knows about this story, and more importantly, it is not allowed to be discussed in this palace.”
“I know,” Chioma said. “And she even saw Nnenna’s figure in my room, but what I find really strange is that she didn’t tell the others about it. I will try and find out how she knows things she shouldn’t know. And then there is Ella who we all know as a gossiper.
” She was the one that told us that the Prince was coming back and also told us that the Prince was sick and a certain human sacrifice would be used to cure him. Well, she always gives facts and she tells us where she gets her news from. But as regards the sacrifice she said, I have not confirmed it yet because ever since the Prince returned, I have not seen the Chief Priest here.
“But the strangest of them all is Miriam who has nightmares every nigh, and each time she does, something bad happens the next day. I am still trying to figure her out, but for now I will watch the three of them and also ask them how they get their information.”
“Please try my dear,” Ezinne said. “Make sure you come to the house once you figure something out.”
“Okay mama,” Chioma said. A scream from outside the palace pierced her eardrums. “What is that?”
“She is here so anything can happen,” Ezinne said. “Rush out and find out what happened. I will be gone before you come back.”
Chioma nodded and headed out of the palace.
Two weeks had passed since another palace guard, Mike, suffered the same fate as Obinna, tossing everyone into wild panic.
“Oh heavens, What is going on with this land?” Obiageli asked no one in particular. “Why is our kingdom facing this disaster, or have we committed an atrocity? I have to meet someone and ask for help because this thing is getting out of hand.” She rose from her chair.
“Girls, have you heard what is going on in the palace?” Angel asked.
“Amibor,” Joy said. “You have come again. Okay, tell us what is going on.”
“This is one of the reasons why I don’t like telling you anything,” Angel nagged. “You always doubt me eh.”
“Okay, I’m sorry,” Joy pleaded. “I was just playing with you. Tell us nah.”
“Anyway, I don’t blame you,” Angel said. “I blame myself for always giving you free information and now you’re taking it for granted, but I will still tell you sha.
“People are dying everyday in the palace.”
“Chai, Angel!” Joy exclaimed. “If I call you a gossiper you will say that I am insulting you. Just two guards that died have turned to everyday, abi?”
“If it’s your brother or father, or your boyfriend or even husband that died, would you be saying this thing you’re saying now?” Angel’s temper flared dramatically, silencing Joy.
Angel went on, her voice rising even higher, “People’s children are dying in the palace and you’re here telling me rubbish.”
“It’s okay nah, I have heard you ” Joy said.
“And what is wrong with her?” Angel asked, pointing at Obiageli who had been quiet all through their conversation.
“I don’t know o,” Joy said. “She has been like this for some days now. She hardly talks or does anything. She just keeps starring at the sky as if she will get all her answers from there. Why not ask her what is wrong with her?”
Angel moved to Obiageli and tapped her shoulder, startling her. “Obiageli, what is wrong with you?”
Obiageli stared at her in confusion. “Were you calling me?”
“No o, I was driving you,” Angel joked sternly. “Tell us what’s wrong with you or maybe I was calling your ancestors.”
“Nothing, I’m just not in a very good mood today,” Obiageli replied, hoping her friends would drop the issue.
“We don’t believe that,” Joy said. “So tell us what’s wrong with you and right now.”
“Everybody is going to die,” Obiageli said. “And the worst is that no one knows how to stop her.”
“Stop who?” Joy asked. “And please you’re scaring me.”
“She is here,” Obiageli said. “I need to find her before my fear drives me mad.”
She walked out of the room, leaving her friends at the mercy of their thoughts.
“God, I pray it’s not what I’m thinking o, ” Joy said.
Weeding around the garden with a cutlass, Miriam hummed a tune. A shadow alerted her to a figure looming behind her. She turned around, but there was no one. She returned to her chore, and almost immediately, the figure appeared again.
Once again, she turned around, but there was no one. “I know you’re here, so show yourself, you coward.”
Feeling a presence at her back, she whirled around, stabbing at the person with her cutlass.
“Miriam!” the person she’d attacked called.
Miriam opened the eyes she’d shut a moment ago, believing she’d find an enemy. But fear swept through her as her eyes found Michael’s. What had she done?
“My Prince,” she cried, gripping him so he wouldn’t fall. “I’m sorry.”
“Why did you do it?” he asked weakly, blood streaking out of the wound on his stomach.
Miriam sobbed. “I didn’t know it was you. I’m sorry, but please don’t die on me, I beg you.”
“I know you didn’t do it intentionally, and I forgive you,” he said, fighting to stay on his feet. But the pain was too intense for him to handle. Grunting, he fell to the ground.
“Mikey, please don’t leave me,” Miriam pleaded amidst tears. “Because if you do I don’t know what to do.”
Michael struggled to speak, “It’s okay, Mimi, because I am already meant to die. You just made it easier for me.”
“No no no,” Miriam screamed. “Please don’t leave me behind.”
“I love you and I will always do.” Michael breathed his last.
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