The earth shook ever so slightly and I came to. I was lying on my side and I think I might have fallen asleep whilst I knelt and waited for a response from my god. Still, what caught my attention were the candles that lined the small space Sogo had left me. More importantly, in the space where I had killed the animal, there was a small bowl of spiced meat still steaming hot.
I looked at it as my stomach grumbled but I didn’t move to touch it. Not yet. Excitement filled me as I considered my brother’s return from facing whatever was chasing after us in the passageway.
So excited was I that I pushed my head through the veil to find myself in another section of the structure. While before, the space I was in was to the side of the wall of the passageway we ran through, this time around, the passageway was directly ahead of me. If anything, it was like the space led to the passageway itself.
I retreated back into my space immediately, silently praying for my brother to return. But I knew it was futile. Deep down, I knew the truth of the situation before me. I knew I was alone.
My eyes fell on the spiced meat and I cautiously, using my knife, cut pieces of the meat before placing them into my mouth. My stomach groaned in appreciation and I made small work of the meat in short order.
Once I was fed, I left the comfort of the wall-space and stepped into the passageway. It was a mistake. The moment I was free from the hole in the wall, I watched in amazement as the corridor widened as if belching and then came back together. And when I looked behind me, the wall I had come from was gone.
Still, the passageway was lit with torches on the wall, bathing ahead of me with light. With the hole gone and my safety removed from me, I moved forward with my knife held out. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I knew I could die at any moment.
As I walked through the torch-lit passageway, now and then, I would hear the sounds of running, roaring, and screaming which were promptly silenced in short order. My young mind then tried to suppress it but it was futile. Somewhere around me in the building, my friends were dying and I couldn’t even see them to help.
The passageway led me straight on for hours, the tense silence punctuated by the death of my friends, and my waterskin was beginning to run low. Just before it emptied, the passageway opened up to a big hall like the one we had seen at the entrance of the building.
I gasped as my eyes took in the hall. The hall was square in shape with two large fireplaces burning in the center of the room. The walls were covered with weapons of every type, gleaming in the light of the fire. Tall metal spires rose from the ground and went straight into the sky until I couldn’t see them anymore.
There was a deep growl and my eyes shot back down as I tried to locate what was making the noise. Ahead of me, crouching next to a massive chair were two beasts as large as the temple in the tribe. I yelped and brought my knife hand up in front of me, ready to fight, though I knew it was foolish.
Their large red eyes glowed in the brightly lit hall and I felt malice in their gaze. Long tongues unraveled from their open mouths as they began to pant in unison. Their fangs were long and sharp, sharper than anything I had ever seen in my short life.
One of the beasts got to their feet and moved forward, sinewy muscles tensing and flexing as if to make it known to me that I was at the end. Spittle and drool leaked from the monster’s mouth as its mouth widened into something akin to a grin.
I was rooted to the same spot, my body unwilling to move. I was staring death in the face and my body accepted what was coming, regardless of whether or not I had a say in it.
Just before the beast got close, a sudden bang stopped the beast in its steps and it glanced back at where it came from. I followed where the monster looked and it was then my heart dropped. In my shock and terror, I had missed the person sitting on the large chair in-between the two monsters.
From the sheer size of the throne, the figure was taller than anything I would ever see in my life, and seeing him immediately reminded me of the mahogany tree. An earthy scent filled the air around me and for the first time since I left the village, I was brimming with energy.
Sitting calmly and regarding me with cold silver pebbles that were his eyes, the figure raised a finger at the monster and called it back to his side. The monster snarled at me before walking back to its master.
I knew who it was I was standing before and I prostrated on the ground before the monster had even returned to its position next to the throne.
“Mighty Ogun, son of-”
“Quiet!” a voice whispered harshly into my ear. I turned my head a little to see the shaman lying next to me, wild eyes staring into mine.
I bit my lip as the shaman rose to her feet and walked forward to approach the god on the throne.
“Is he worthy?” she asked.
I waited to hear a reply but nothing came. Instead, the shaman started laughing. I heard her steps return to me and I waited to learn what the god said when she barked at me.
I rushed to my feet in haste.
“Ogun has called you a coward because you hid while your brothers and sisters fought. You are not a warrior,” she said, a cruel smile plastered on her face.
“I didn’t know I was supposed to fight, Ma,” I replied, doing my best to not look at the god.
Her smile dimmed for a bit, replaced with anger as she raised her hand to slap me. I flinched but before her hand touched me, a booming sound shook the room and I looked up to see the god had tapped a finger on the armrest of his chair.
The shaman paused and turned around. The smoke from the fireplaces began to drift towards the god, settling just at his feet. Slowly, the smoke got thicker and thicker, darkening as it did so. And then, I noticed that the smoke was beginning to harden and move until it took the shape of a person.
The shaman gasped and wheezed a laugh before spinning to face me.
“Quick. Get a weapon. Get a weapon if you don’t want to die,” she said, ushering me towards a wall in haste.
I ran to the nearest one, my eyes taking in the swords, machetes, warrior blades, shields, and axes. Without thinking, my hand closed around a weapon and I dragged it from the wall. As the weapon came free, I found myself being transported back to the center of the room, directly across from the smoky figure.
As if spurred on by my weapon, the smoke settled into a shadow figure holding a long blade of its own. Another booming sound filled the room and the dark figure ran towards me with the weapon held high.
My mind flashed to all the days my father had dragged me to practice fighting with my brothers, despite my protests. The weapon in my hand went up to block the shadow figure’s first attack and the ringing sound of metal against metal shook me. It was then I noticed I was carrying an axe.
I grunted as my attacker’s leg caught me in the chest, sending me back. My leg caught something on the floor and I fell, luckily dodging my opponent’s next attack as the sword came swiping down towards me.
Suppressing the pain that I felt as I hit the floor, I rolled away from the figure’s consistent attacks. The shadow figure moved towards me, brandishing his blade high above him and I returned the gesture, kicking him in his ankle with all the strength my small body could muster.
The figure’s leg didn’t give away as I hoped but it was enough to make him stumble as it mixed with his movement towards me. I used the chance to return to my feet and hefted the axe in both hands.
The axe’s metal frame seemed to grow colder as the shadow figure spun around to face me. I heard the figure curse in the ancient tongue of my tribe and I frowned. I glanced at the shaman or where the shaman was but she was nowhere to be seen. The figure ran towards me and I tried to put my father’s lessons into practice.
I kept my distance as the figure attacked, doing my best to dodge each swipe and slash from their blade. With the figure’s height and reach better than mine, it meant I couldn’t attack as I wanted without getting closer to him. But it also meant that if I made a mistake, the blade would end my life.
As I dodged and blocked with the axe, I couldn’t help but replay the figure’s curse in my head. Something about the voice sounded familiar but I couldn’t place my finger on it. The word had been shouted out and it had sounded human except if a human had a voice of metal. Still, I couldn’t erase it from my mind.
Perhaps it was Ogun’s way of testing my resolve. Perhaps he chose to put me against an amalgamation of my tribe’s warriors to see how well I could protect myself.
I blocked another attack from my opponent before using all my strength to push them away from me, tripping him over as his leg hit a rock by the floor. If Ogun wanted to test me this way, then I had to put my all into the fight. My grip tightened on the handle of the axe and I shouted a war cry my father said he used whenever he fought against the enemies of the tribe.
“Give me a good death!” I cried, my voice cracking under the gravity of the sentence.
As my war cry filled the room, I ran with my axe and jumped to attack the shadow figure on the floor. For a moment, time seemed to slow down. The axe-head swung down towards the shadow figure’s head and in that brief moment, the figure’s identity became clear to me.
Sogo’s eyes locked with mine and he looked at me with a pained smile on his face. The realization hit me far too late to stop my attack, with the weight of the axe propelling me on. Slowly but surely, I watched as the axe embedded itself into my eldest brother’s head.