PodCastle 749: Sungrass Girl
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 4.0 License
Hey everyone, Alasdair here – hope you’re doing okay. The summer months are upon us, which means two things – hat weather for yours truly, and the part of our year when costs are high and support tends to dip. We know things are tight everywhere at the moment, and that includes us. For those of you who support us already, thank you so much. We hope you’re enjoying the great new CatsCast episodes. If you’d like to join them, we’ve got tons of options for you at Patreon and PayPal. Even a one-off at Ko-fi makes a big difference, or check out our great new swag store – maybe like me you need a hat! It all adds up, and helps us bring you the best in free audio fiction every week. Thanks, and enjoy this week’s episode.
by Uchechukwu Nwaka
My first memory of the Light is her face. Her round eyes that swelled in curious wonder and innocent inquisition. I remember the way the light from the incandescent bulb fell on her face, outlining her dark skin in paint strokes of shimmering gold that twinkled right into her large doe eyes. Her smile was warm milk, her laughter the essence of happiness. Her hands — they were so small then, yet so calloused — reached under my forelimbs and she lifted me into the sky with an ebullition of glee so intoxicating, it reverberates through my bones till this day.
“An mmụọ!” she cried. The pitch did not startle me. Rather, it was joy lit in the pits of my gut. “Mama! Papa! An mmụọ!”
Her parents, I remember them now. They stood beside the summoning altar, unmoving. Their expressions had frozen over their faces, like they had forgotten how to speak. They had not expected the ritual to work at all, and now that it had, they did not expect the mmụọ to be so . . .
“A tortoise.” It was the dibia who performed this ritual who’d spoken on their behalf. He was a wizened thing, but his back was straight and the seams of his suit fit his thin bones like a second skin. The Ichie cap on his head fell to his shoulder — the only coloured item on his person.
“How curious,” he said again, and I heard his decades of experience in the depths of his baritone. “Kamsi, take the mmụọ to the mirror to establish its self-awareness.”
Kamsi skipped to the altar. The summoning circle was constructed of white chalk, with a single miscoloured flame flickering at its centre. Her small hands trembled with excitement as she placed me on the table top that served as the altar. A small chipped mirror lay on its surface, facedown. It had to be so, because even if the arcana in this world was born of the mirror world, its reflection during the summoning ritual would only weaken the interstices between worlds.
She lifted the worn object.
“This is you!” Kamsi’s eyes twinkled with the declaration. “Aren’t you beautiful?”
I was not much smaller than a baby turtle, and my legs still wobbled as I tried to get used to this new world. Brilliant marks of yellow and red lines radiated from the centre of each plate of my dark shell. As they caught the light, the colours caught alight, swirling with phasing rays of green and gold.
“I’ll name you Ifenekuuke.” Kamsi took me in her hands, stroking my shell ever so softly. “Uke for short. It means the Shining One.”
The dibia brandished a slender vial. I saw truth swirl within the glass’s frosted walls.
“Then, Kamsi, your bond with arcana is formed.” He unscrewed the cap and a soft mist enveloped the room. The flame in the middle of the summoning circle flared, and like lightning, the dibia swept down, bottling the flame into the empty vial.
Kamsi suddenly gasped. Over her right arm, the mist snaked over her dark skin, condensing into white lines that coiled into symbols before becoming part of the skin itself. The dibia brought the vial of her summoning flame, holding it carefully over her arm. I remember her parents had held onto each other tighter as the dibia poured the spectral flames upon her tattooed arm. Their eyes had widened in wonder — and a terror I could not fathom at the time — as the flames lit the marks over Kamsi’s skin.
Also, for the first time, I felt Kamsi. The heat of the flame tongues licking over her skin and the rapid drumbeat of excitement that thrummed in her chest. The sensation spread through my body, as though reminding me that I was truly alive.
Then she looked at me with those all-knowing eyes, like she had heard my thoughts as clearly as she would hear hers, and smiled.
That was when I vowed to never let her go.
I stood by Kamsi’s bedside window and gazed into the fields of her grandparents’ land. The city’s limits loomed just at the edge of the horizon — tall pointed buildings that made fun of the sky. Grass swayed lazily in the wind, yellowed by a malnutrition betrayed by the evening sun. Kamsi stood before a mirror, admiring the purple blazer over her shoulders and the yellow Ankara skirt that fell well below her knees. The beginner arcanist uniform. The print was old, and the sizes a few inches too large, but she wore it with pride nonetheless. She twirled, keeping her eye on her reflection as she did so, then turned to me with her hands in the air.
“How do I look?”
I smiled. A gesture physically impossible, yet the arcana would tug at her heart in the same way that happiness made her feel. “You look ready to conquer the world.”
Kamsi smiled sheepishly, and my shell tickled in the tell-tale manner that only meant she was embarrassed. She sat solemnly on the bed and gazed at her palms. “Mama and Papa don’t let me work in the underground farms anymore.” She sighed, falling on her back to the bed. “I knew insisting on having a ritual was a good idea!”
“So why don’t you sound happy about it?”
“Maybe I’m getting cold feet?” she said at length. “The land is dying and I don’t know whether becoming an arcanist will really help me support my parents, you know?”
The previous night, an entourage of vehicles had pulled into the property. Kamsi had taken me in her arms as she tiptoed into the hallway, avoiding the creaking floorboards like a mouse that had mastered the home’s architecture. There had been no less than a dozen people in the living room, all wearing arcanist reds. Each one of them had a feline mmụọ at their side: wild cats with eyes that shone like twilight and arcana. On the seat before her parents had been a dibia clothed in a black suit that seemed to swallow the light around her. Her light skin had shone so much it almost looked translucent.
Kamsi had drawn me closer to her chest as though the individual would suddenly spot us behind the shadows of the archway.
“Nwafor,” she locked her fingers under her chin. “I heard your daughter was able to pull an mmụọ from arcana. You have my congratulations.”
I did not need to see Papa to notice the tension in his words. “How can we be of assistance to you, Madam Dibia?”
“As you are well aware, my daughter is building a collection of the rarest manifestations of mmụọ. I believe your daughter summoned a tortoise. Unheard of! I shall perform the severance ritual, and of course you would be quite handsomely compensated for the trouble.”
“Trouble?” It was Mama who’d asked.
“Mrs Nwafor. Surely it would be bothersome to withdraw an application to the Ulọakwukwọ Arcana.” She leaned in. “I know the situation of underground farms is not the best in this part of Eastern right now. Perhaps I’m doing you a favour? Especially after what happened with Ndidi?”
Kamsi’s heart hammered furiously in her chest as the dibia leaned back in her chair. She draped one leg over the other, in complete control of the room. Coils of pungent fury rippled down my limbs, a sensation that was gradually seeping from the arcana of Kamsi’s soul.
“We believe Kamsi will be able to carve a different path for herself,” Papa said.
“Maybe,” the albino dibia had replied. “But those sort of events tend to affect the arcana of growing children. Besides, with such a tame animal as an mmụọ, you don’t expect her to make any real progress, do you?”
Papa shot to his feet. “I don’t care whether you’re a dibia or even one of the bloody Wise Ones. You will not come into my home and speak to me in that manner! That girl has dreamt all her life to become an arcanist. Who are you to trample upon that?”
The woman merely uncrossed her legs. “Very well, Nwafor. But as you will come to realise, reality is much harsher than mere dreams. I can only hope your daughter does not curse your decision.” She smiled knowingly, and for the briefest moment, her eyes fell on our hiding place.
“Or that it is not too late when you realise your folly.”
This time I watched my bond on the bed as the sun sank down the horizon. I knew Kamsi felt better when there was a sickle in one hand, tilling the sungrass underneath the earth till it bore fruit. At least then she could relish in the comfort of familial contribution. It had been three months since she had summoned me, her mmụọ, and tapped into the mystical arcana that surrounds all living beings. It had brought her happiness, but underneath it for some reason, a crippling shame. I could not help but wonder about the darkness that slept within her heart.
“Will tilling the land all day stop the land from dying, Kamsi?” I asked her. “You should challenge yourself. For your own sake.”
She regarded me curiously. “Not for my parents?”
I shook my head. “You are your own person. You should become the best arcanist that you can be. Who knows, you might even touch the heights of dibia.”
“Dibia?” she laughed. It was warm grape juice down my gut. “You’re funny, Uke.”
That feeling again lurked behind her words. This time, though, it had a name.
Now as I wander the halls of my memory, I curse myself for not seeing it then. For not noticing it sooner. All the signs were there, but for some reason I did not see. Maybe it was because I had not wanted to see. The way the land thrived the less even as Kamsi’s parents toiled relentlessly under the earth. The fervour at which they prepared Kamsi for the Ulọakwukwọ Arcana. The missing family photos on the walls of the hallway. There was a silent desperation that overlaid every utterance in that house, so tangible that one did not need the arcana to tell it was there. Each time, it all spun back to one name. An inviolable utterance, ever revered, never spoken. It had only been uttered once outside of the walls of Kamsi’s mind, by the albino dibia.
I never asked.
The Ulọakwukwọ Arcana was an institution not too far from the city’s limits. Kamsi’s hands were clammy as she held me to herself, eyeing the newcomers and their mmụọ walking through the arched gates. Sixteen-year-olds strolled in with shiny robes and neonatal beasts at their feet. Young leopards pranced about their bonds. Eagles and hawks and ravens screeched from their perches on the shoulders of hopeful arcanists, yet not once did a smidgen of jealousy colour the arcana surrounding Kamsi. For their clothes and fancy bags, of course, but never for their mmụọ. This made me proud.
So for her self-esteem, I said, “Your clothes have more character, Kamsi.”
Kamsi was not very adept at controlling arcana. She was not so bad that she would be unable to manipulate the arcana around her at all. She was just unexceptional, which was nothing strange in itself, but it troubled her greatly. It warped the light around her arcana into spotty hues that tainted as deep as the name Ndidi.
One evening Kamsi sat beneath one of the neem trees that formed a copse behind the grand dining hall, a manual in one hand and a vial in another as she attempted to bottle rainclouds. It was that time of the evening when the sun bled crimson clouds across the sky, and the exhausted beginner arcanists were still stretching their legs in the hostels before dinner.
Kamsi flung the vial onto the grass in frustration. Another attempt had failed.
“What’s wrong, Kamsi?”
Her fingers strangled the grass where they clenched the dirt. “It’s not working!” she hissed. “Nothing’s working.”
I crawled over to the vial and took it in my mouth. She took it from me and sighed.
“This manual was supposed to help me, but even the instructions are a little too complex for a beginner arcanist,” she cried, tossing the manual too. I crawled up to the yellowed pages of the book. Most of the manuals used these days were e-books, but Kamsi did not have a phone. Apparently, the manual had been at the house too.
Surprise rocked my feet when I saw the side notes that decorated each page in squiggly writing. The side notes were nothing like the manual’s instructions. My eyes caught the spell Kamsi had been working on.
To bottle a rain cloud:
Arcana ebbs and flows like the water in the sea. A quiet raincloud can easily turn against you and flood your dwelling. Remember that the arcana is fickle, so you must not be hasty. Tranquillity is key.
Tranquillity is key. That was the creed of all arcanists.
But the side notes read:
Nature will always prevail, so remember to sprinkle frustration to feed your clouds. And if it does not work in your favour, a little belligerence will do. What’s a raincloud without a little thunder?
“It’s been a month and our bond with arcana has not improved. You haven’t even grown out of your natal form.”
“I will, eventually. You should pace yourself. The growth rate for each person is different.”
“You’re just saying that to make me feel better, Uke,” she groaned. “Nobody grows this slowly. Who else in the beginner arcanist class is struggling with bottling rainclouds? Only me!”
“You have very good theory scores.”
“It’s not enough!”
“Enough for whom?”
“For me! For us! If I can’t properly cipher arcana, what becomes of the farm? Of Mama and Papa?”
Shadows fell upon us then. The figures eclipsed the sunlight that bathed us at the foot of the tree, but I could recognise them even with the sunlight at their backs. The other reason Kamsi’s arcana was always frazzled of late.
“Are you still trying to catch your own tail, Farm Girl?” the girl in the centre sneered from above. She was Njideka Ciroma. Her blazer was cut of black Ankara with translucent wax — an intermediate arcanist. Beside her stood two girls with purple beginner blazers, each with a hawk perched on one arm.
“Leave me alone, Njideka.” Kamsi picked up her manual quickly and reached for me.
One of the hawks swooped down and in a split second I was airborne. Kamsi screamed, and her panic rattled the base of my plastron as I retracted into my shell. Below the trees, Njideka loomed over my bond, pinning her to the tree trunk. A white snake coiled around her arm, its tongue flicking over Kamsi’s face. The icy revulsion deafened me to the winds of my flight.
“P-please let Uke go. Please.”
“Are you not going to fight back?” The other two girls flanked her. Arcana twisted around them in sickening waves. I could see the sneer on Njideka’s face through Kamsi’s defiant eyes. The girl was too light skinned, her eyes paler than brown and her hair reddened like clay. Yet the tattoos of her many mmụọ contracts snaked over both of her arms, cryptic black inks peeking under the collar of her blouse and onto her neck. She always knew to flaunt them, wearing her buttons open whenever she got the chance. After all, there weren’t many arcanists with more than one mmụọ contracted to them. Or children of dibia in Eastern.
“Please just give Uke back,” Kamsi hissed between clenched teeth.
“Or what?” Njideka ran her slender fingers down Kamsi’s cheek. They were soft and would not know the handle of a sickle even if it was forced into her very hands. “You don’t belong here, Farm Girl. You should take my mother’s offer while it still lasts . . . or . . . Uju?”
Kamsi’s heartbeat spiked. “Please, no.”
The girl named Uju grinned as she spoke to her mmụọ. “Let the turtle go.”
The hawk’s talons released its grip and I was hurtled down from the sky.
“Ganiiru!” Njideka hissed, and the second girl pinned Kamsi harder to the tree. Desperation ran down her limbs in spastic tremors as she helplessly watched me fall. Kamsi was strong, but the girl was bigger.
Njideka brandished a vial of bottled thundercloud.
“You don’t belong here, Farm Girl, and you’d be wise to take the lifeline before you become like your dead brother.”
Kamsi screamed, her manic outburst momentarily stunning the bigger Ganiiru. Kamsi’s arm wrenched free of her grip, and rage balled her fist into a mallet that crushed the girl’s nose. Kamsi caught up to me in an instant, but Njideka had uncorked her vial, and the lightning’s target was Kamsi.
Kamsi was at the sickbay for four days.
When she finally emerged, having been treated of her burns by the healer arcanists, an inquisition was held. With bandages wrapped over her scalp, she walked into the Board Room. The administrative body of the Ulọakwukwọ Arcana sat in a semicircle that looked over four stools. Kamsi’s eyes scanned through the red suits of the arcanists. In the centre of the meeting, the Principals sat, faces wrinkled with age. It was said that if an arcanist did not touch the heights of dibia before the age of twenty-four, then they never would.
“Sit,” they ordered.
Kamsi took the last stool, beside Uju. Ganiiru was on the far side, her nose wrapped in a cast. Njideka sat in the centre, chin pointed upward like a nocked arrow.
“Kamsi Nwafor,” the Vice Principal began. “Do you know why you are here?”
Kamsi ran her sweaty palms over mine before replying, “I reckon it’s to get justice for having an intermediate arcanist uncork a thundercloud over my head.”
Their eyes were all fixed on her. Kamsi’s confusion was as pins and needles on my soles. The Principal coughed into her palm. “That is not what the testimony of these three suggests.”
Kamsi’s heart sent a single pulse of cold blood down her fingers. “What? They tried to hurt my mmụọ. I tried to defend myself and look what happened!”
“You will watch your tone, young lady!” The First Vice Principal hissed. The owl on her shoulder narrowed its eyes at Kamsi.
“Madam Principal,” Njideka said, not sparing Kamsi a single glance. “As an intermediate arcanist I am aware of the dangers in an mmụọ confrontation and how a forced severance is more likely to occur in those instances. It would be unspeakable for a second-year like myself, or my acquaintances for that matter, to engage in such . . . tomfoolery.”
“Huh?” Kamsi shot from her stool. “Everybody knows you’ve been after my mmụọ for ages!”
“Ms Nwafor. Sit!” the Second Vice Principal ordered.
Njideka narrowed her eyes at Kamsi then. “She accosted us and even broke Ganiiru’s nose. Esteemed arcanists, you have to understand. I was terrified and acted only in self-defence.”
“You lying snake!”
“One more word out of your mouth, Ms Nwafor, and you will suffer punishment!”
Kamsi’s fists trembled with fury. “I don’t even know arcana, Madam!”
“Then explain these documents we found on your person?” One of the arcanists took out a bundle of yellowed papers. Kamsi’s manual. The very sight of it rendered her speechless.
“These are filled with the heretic’s writings.” The Principal narrowed her eyes. “Kamsi Nwafor. Have you been practising mirror arts?”
“My brother was not a heretic,” she murmured.
“What did you say?”
“I said I cannot use arcana, Madam!” Kamsi screamed. “How would I be able to do all that? How would I attack three girls knowing that? Are you people not supposed to be — ?”
Plumes of stifling shadow spilled from her mouth. Kamsi fell, gagging as her eyes bulged and I fell from her arms. She clutched at her neck, struggling to breathe, but only shadows spilled forth, staining the rug in splotches of wet ink.
“Silence!” The First Vice Principal was on her feet. In her hand was a vial of uncorked shadows. “You have been found guilty, Kamsi Nwafor. These documents will be confiscated, and you will be suspended. However, the next incident will have your contract with your mmụọ severed immediately.”
Kamsi glared at the woman as she continued her pronouncements. Her lungs burned with hate and her tongue was bitter with gall. And for the first time since Kamsi became my Light, her eyes had become wells of bottomless darkness.
Papa did not take the suspension well. Mama saw Kamsi’s burnt scalp and fainted. Kamsi, on the other hand, would not give them any explanation. Instead, she toiled underground in the sungrass farm for hours, striking soil till her palms bled and tears took away her vision.
Those were the days she stumbled upon Ndidi’s diary, and against my warnings, formed another contract.
One with a mirror mmụọ.
That night it had ripped space like a dolphin breaking a pool’s surface, responding to Kamsi’s summoning ritual carved on the reflective face of the mirror. It was but a spider, formed of pure arcana. Its form was immaterial, merely stitching threads of burning arcana from oblivion into reality. Kamsi had hesitated, her heart thumping in palpable fear. I had thought she would reconsider then.
But Njideka’s face flashed behind her eyes — a deception of the mirror? — and she took the spider into herself.
There were no tattoos. There was no change. Only a stillness that Kamsi’s arcana had never known. She took me in her arms, and they had become the cold ice of a marbled sculpture.
One night after Kamsi returned to the Ulọakwukwọ Arcana, my eyes opened to darkness. As my eyes adjusted to the surroundings, a strange feeling descended upon me. I was in one of Kamsi’s arms — they had been growing ever colder since she took the spider into herself — held securely to her abdomen. We were in one of the hostel rooms.
Kamsi was standing over a sleeping girl.
“Shh, Uke!” Her voice was barely a whisper. Upon closer inspection, I realised the girl was Uju. The girl whose mmụọ had thrown me from the sky.
“What are you doing?”
The arcana around Kamsi was still. It had not disappeared, merely blended into the darkness of the room. She gazed at Uju’s sleeping hawk intently, contemplating her next words.
“Don’t you think the arcanists fear the mirror arts a little too much?” Her voice was calm. Too calm.
“There must be a reason, Kamsi.”
“Uke, do you think arcanists love their mmụọ?”
“I can’t speak for others, but I’m sure you love me.”
“I don’t understand, then. Why do they keep trying to take you from me?”
The arcana around her twisted. It was a colour farthest from light. She pulled the arcana into form and I felt it in my bones. It was resentment and insecurity, petty jealousy that curled the gut and clouded the vision. I felt the rush of Kamsi’s vengeful spite as arcana curled around her fingers in icy contempt.
This was not the arcana of tranquillity.
Kamsi grabbed the bird’s neck.
It screeched, but no sounds came out. I saw the horror in the mmụọ’s eyes, talons thrashing against air in desperate futility. The girl on the bed shot up in alarm, but Kamsi severed the mmụọ’s arcana before the girl could even react.
The mmụọ fell to the ground. Unmoving.
So did Uju.
The clouds suddenly parted, and a sliver of moonlight fell on Kamsi’s back from a window on the opposite wall. Her eyes were misted with tears, but the edges of her lips were curled upwards in a lopsided grin that sent shivers down my scutes.
“I love you, Uke,” she said. “Anybody who threatens that bond will suffer.”
I vaguely remember those days at the Ulọakwukwọ Arcana after Uju’s body had been found comatose in her hostel room a full day later. The rumours spread like an ember lit in the middle of the forest in harmattan. Her eyes had become lifeless whites, her mmụọ reduced to a pile of ground glass. The arcanist students whispered among themselves in the corridors. Even the arcanist teachers could not conceal the tension that trembled behind their voices when they taught the classes, or the vials of bottled desert storms that hung under their red suits when they patrolled the hostels after dusk.
Kamsi had taken Uju’s life, as well as her mastery over arcana, yet she did not let the greed consume her. On some nights she would weep herself to sleep, her arcana lashing with guilt and self-loathing. Her justice was a double-edged sword that bled her as it cleaved her enemies, but she believed in it wholeheartedly.
That week there was another inquisition. Kamsi clutched me in her arms as she walked into the Board Room. Again, the head arcanists sat in a semicircle, this time over a single chair. A secretary was scribing into a laptop in a corner. In the centre of the arcanists, however, was Njideka’s mother.
The albino dibia.
“Sit,” they ordered.
Kamsi sat on the small stool, her cold arm firm over my torso.
“State your name,” an arcanist said.
“Why have you offered your arcana to the mmụọ on the other side of the mirror?”
Kamsi’s heart spiked once in her chest, then stilled. “I have not.”
“Did you know the victim, Uju Aku?”
Kamsi narrowed her eyes at the dibia seated at the middle of the inquisition. “I knew her name. Just like I know the names of the beginner arcanists in my class.”
“Where were you on the night of her severance?”
“In my room.”
“And who can attest to that?”
“Nobody,” Kamsi said so suddenly, the arcanists could not hide their startled expressions. “That’s the point of the hostel rooms. And wouldn’t the ability to perform pacts with the mirror mmụọ be something only fully pledged arcanists can do?”
“We ask the questions here, Ms Nwafor. You will speak only when spoken to.”
“Enough of this,” the dibia hissed. Her pale skin shone sharply against the black suit that graced her lean frame. “This inquisition is pointless.”
“Dibia Ciroma!” the First Vice Principal protested.
“Why do we prolong this charade when we all know what happened with Ndidi Nwafor?”
Kamsi’s arcana suddenly frayed at the edges.
The arcanists whispered furiously among themselves. Njideka’s mother cupped her chin in her palm. “It is common knowledge. A true genius who was foolish enough to attempt bottling fragments of his own life just to nourish a sungrass farm.”
Kamsi was struggling to keep the arcana around her still. Clear. The wisps of darkness were already coiling around my neck in bitter despisement.
“And when the hordes of mirror mmụọ took residence within his fractured soul, she was the one who put him down.”
“But the reports said . . . ”
“I was there myself, Madam Principal. The truth was adjusted to keep the girl from the press.” Her eyes fell on Kamsi, pale irises daring her to refute the dibia. “Now something like this has happened in the school. Mirror arts for the first time in ten years.”
Kamsi squeezed me so tightly I almost choked. Her arcana was fire and hate and scorn.
“So what if I did it?”
Silence fell on the inquisition board. Even Dibia Ciroma was rendered speechless.
“Why do you suddenly look so surprised?” Her arcana had stilled so suddenly, it terrified me. Was this the spider mmụọ?
“Oh, you were just shaking me down? Just like your daughter and her minions?”
The Principal shot up. “Girl. You were warned!”
A primate mmụọ fell from the ceiling, pinning Kamsi to the ground. I was crushed between her body and the floor. The arcanists had all drawn vials.
“Why?” Kamsi asked, her voice choked with tears.
“You are an abomination,” the dibia said. “You have forsaken the creed of our society.”
“You made me like this!” she yelled, mania clouding the arcana in her soul. “You’re all responsible! Day after day, her daughter would harass me with her cronies. Two of them, four of them. Ten of them!” Her chest was pounding with vengeful fury that drummed against my shell like the thunderclap of war drums. The mmụọ pinned her harder to the ground and Kamsi screamed.
“Why did you not bring the matter to the school?”
“The school?” she scoffed. “You saw me get struck with lightning and I got suspended.”
“That is different,” the Principal said. “This is murder.”
“Uju almost killed my mmụọ. If Uke had died, I would have died too. Would you have held this inquisition if a person like me had died? No, wait, you actually did hold an inquisition that one time, to indict me!”
The mmụọ struck Kamsi’s head. It was a hammer crashing over a nail — heavy punishment that coloured my bond’s vision with blood.
“I’m bad at using arcana,” she hissed. “My parents can barely afford my fees because the farms don’t produce enough. All because of the protracted battles the arcanists waged against Ndidi on our land.”
“I’m sick of this. Yes, Ndidi went mad and almost killed Papa. I stopped him and what did I get? I became a witch in their eyes! I got an mmụọ and a talented girl wants to take it from me. Why is the world so unfair to me?”
The dibia walked over to us. “You do not know of the evils the mmụọ of the mirror are capable of. They deceive you and drive you to madness. It’s not personal, Farm Girl.”
Kamsi released her grip on me.
“I don’t care,” she whispered.
“What did you say?”
“I said you’ve already driven me to madness!”
The world shattered at the seams, splintering like fallen glass. Darkness spilled from the interstices, engulfing Ciroma’s mmụọ in a miasma of Kamsi’s caliginous emotions. It screamed, not unlike the way Uju’s mmụọ fought. Ciroma pulled out a vial that burned the air like bottled suns. Her eyes were burning with lividity.
“You’re not supposed to bottle emotions into arcana! You stupid Farm — ”
“My name is Kamsi!” she screamed. “Don’t call me Farm Girl!”
The darkness tore the dibia’s mmụọ apart. The frozen arcanists had suddenly been roused into panicked motion, uncorking vials as they saw their dibia fall lifeless.
“You’re all guilty!” Kamsi kept screaming as she tore them apart. Then she fell in a tiny huddle and wept over the white-eyed corpses.
I waded over to her and hesitated. So this was the path she had decided to take. When she had offered four decades off her future to the mirror mmụọ I thought she had lost it. I lifted my arm, and let it hang for a moment.
Even now, I was still hesitating. I was still not enough to be her Shining One.
I tapped her lightly on her shoulder.
“Rise, Kamsi. It has only begun. Now, the entire world will be after you. After us.”
“Why?” she wept. “Why?”
“That is the way of the world.”
“Then I curse the world.”
Her reddened eyes sought mine. “I shall plunge it into darkness so steep that it has no hiding place in the hearts of men.”
“And if they try to stop you?”
“I’m a dibia of mirror arts now, Uke.” She sniffed, clenching her fist as the arcana of all the fallen arcanists swirled over her knuckles. “Let them try.”
I will be your Light, Kamsi. I will never abandon you. I swear it.
About the Author
Uchechukwu Nwaka is a student of Medicine and Surgery at University of Ibadan, Nigeria. His works have appeared or are forthcoming in Cossmass Infinities, Fusion Fragment, Hexagon, Mythaxis, MetaStellar, Occult Detective Magazine and elsewhere. When he’s not trying to unravel the mysteries of human (or inhuman) interaction, he can be found binging unhealthy amounts of anime, or generally trying to keep up with an endless schoolwork. Find him on Twitter at @uche_cjn.
About the Narrator
Shingai Njeri Kagunda
Shingai Njeri Kagunda is an Afrofuturist freedom dreamer, Swahili sea lover, and Femme Storyteller among other things, hailing from Nairobi, Kenya. She is currently pursuing a Literary Arts MFA at Brown University. Shingai’s short story “Holding Onto Water” was longlisted for the Nommo Awards 2020 & her flash fiction “Remember Tomorrow in Seasons” was shortlisted for the Fractured Lit Prize 2020. She has been selected as a candidate for the Clarion UCSD Class of 2020/2021. #clarionghostclass. She is also the co-founder of Voodoonauts: an afrofuturist workshop for black writers.
Her novella & This is How to Stay Alive is part of Neon Hemlock’s 2021 Novella Series.