At that moment, Yayabe realized the uneasy feeling that had been welling up inside it. Fear. That overwhelming feeling of fear that it had become so accustomed to back in Wajida. Yayabe cursed itself. A few moments upon the surface of Mba had already dulled its senses. Back in Wajida it would have long since sensed the air was filled with malevolence and departed from that area without sparing a moment’s thought. The nsojida froze in place, staying as still as it possibly could.
*Face me, nso.* The voice commanded.
Slowly, Yayabe turned in the direction of the voice and if ever its greatest fears were given a single form, it stood before it right there and then. It was another nsojida, but not just any; it was a horned-one. An Oda’nja! It towered high above Yayabe, tendrils of shadows flailed about it. From high up there, a menacing face looked down with a very malevolent smile. Yayabe took very little consolation at the sight of the single horn that curved from the side of the Oda’nja‘s head into the night because it found itself wondering just how many children would an n’ja have to devour to become a horned one. Yayabe quickly flattened itself against the ground in obeisance.
*Where have you come from?*
*Wa_wajida.* Yayabe stuttered.
*What is your mission, nso?*
Mission? Yayabe’s fears deepened as it recalled that the only time lowly nsojida made their out of Wajida was when they were required to do the bidding of a greater nsojida. Yayabe had no mission.
*What,* the Oda’nja boomed as it drew closer to the cowering nsojida and grabbed it by the neck, *is your mission! Have some of the others sent you to spy upon me, nso? Speak!*
*No, Oda‘nso, great spirit,* Yayabe grasped for words. *I have no mission! I fell into a m’iru and it brought me here.*
*M’iru?* It held Yayabe away and looked at it long and hard as if trying to determine if there was truth in its words. *It is not unheard of for a m’iru to open up in Wajida, but it’s quite unfortunate that it’s worthless nsojida that stumble upon them.*
*I speak the truth, Oda‘nso.*
*Of course you do, would you dare tell me anything but the truth?*
*Do you have a name, nso?*
*Yayabe.* The nsojida spoke without thinking, forgetting that its kind were deemed unworthy of names.
*Yayabe,* The Oda‘nja said and laughed into the night. *A very ambitious name, one more fitting of myself than of you, nso.*
Yayabe cursed itself again. Why was it being so stupid? Was it the clean air getting to its head and clouding its thoughts?
*Tell me, Ya-ya-be,* it spat the words out separately, each part dripping with venomous sarcasm. *How many lives have you taken?*
Yayabe opened its mouth to speak, to gloat about the child resting in its cave but it caught itself and snapped its mouth shut.
*I thought so,* the Oda‘nja said. *I admire ambition in a fellow nsojida, but not in one as worthless and insignificant as yourself.*
Yayabe’s anger rose with the humiliation it felt. *I will become worthy one day.*
*Ah, stubbornness, a good quality every nsojida should possess, one that would get you killed by the likes of me.* Its smile, wide and toothy, glinted in the darkness. It peered at Yayabe’s defiant expression, still layered with fear but defiant nonetheless. *Such confidence, nso. What makes you so certain that you will ever be worthy of your self-given name?*
Yayabe looked away from the greater nsojida‘s unflinching gaze.
“Ah, you hide a secret.* The Oda‘nja‘s hand tightened around Yayabe’s neck, its talons pressing dangerously into its skin. *What are you keeping from me, nso?*
Yayabe writhed in the nsojida‘s grip, its form rippling in fear but still it said nothing.
*Good, good, there is no pleasure to be gained from an overly willing victim is there?* The Oda‘nja‘s talons dug into Yayabe, piercing through just as easily as the lesser nsojida‘s talons had pierced the fruits earlier. The nsojida hissed in pain and defiance. It stole the child by and for itself! It was its own very first accomplishment, one guaranteed to make it worthy! Why should it surrender it all to this nsojidai, Oda‘nja or not?
The choice was made for it. The horned n’ja dug its talons deeper into Yayabe and unleashed its malevolent suru. Yayabe writhed in agony, shrieking like an ija-ja on fire, for it felt as though a searing stream flowed through its insides. The agonised nsojida trashed and shrieked, lashing out inconsequentially at the Oda’nja. For all its fierce looks and ambitions of worthiness, Yayabe soon began to realise it was lacking in so many ways.
*A child!* Yayabe gasped. *A child!*
*What?* the Oda’nja asked, relishing its cruelty. *Did you speak, nso?*
*A child,* Yayabe managed to gasp through its pain. *I stole a child!*
*I’m disappointed, nso. I expected more resilience. You showed some promise earlier but now you are just as pathetic as the rest of your lowly kind.*
The greater nsojida released Yayabe, tossing it unto the dirt like filth. *Speak.*
*I stole a child,* Yayabe confessed, its form still shuddering from the suru-induced torment. *I hid it away.*
*You manage to surprise me with every word you speak, nso.* Amusement laced the Oda’nja‘s words. *And what, Ya_ya_be, do you intend to do with the child?*
Yayabe looked away in humiliation. *I don’t know.*
The Oda’nja threw its head back in laughter, its single horn bobbing with its derisive cackle.
*Sadly, you speak the truth. There is nothing one such as you could do with a child.*
Yayabe’s eyes burned with disdain for the n’ja. Even here upon Mba, not only was it being oppressed by a stronger nsojida, it was also going to be deprived of its guarantee of worthiness.
*Nso, you look at me with hateful eyes,* The Oda’nja said with even more amusement. *If anything, I do admire your tenacity. Perhaps I might make you my minion, hmmm? Of course that depends on the quality of the offering you are about to bring me.*
It was inevitable that the n’ja would demand the child, Yayabe had known this the moment he had confessed to stealing it. Yayabe’s anger bubbled through its dark mass as it imagined ways to make its tormentor suffer and feel as much humiliation as it did. The Oda’nja sniffed the air, its lone horn prodding the air like a crooked finger.
*Ah, Iya is about to awake from his slumber. I doubt you would last even a moment beneath his rays. Your suru is no more powerful than the wind from a fly’s wings.* Again the Oda’nja boomed with laughter. *Go! Hide, crawl back beneath whatever rock you have made your dwelling, but at Nda’s rise, return to this place with the child.*
Yayabe glared with as much loathing as it could at the towering nsojida.
*Make no mistake, Ya_ya_be, if you fail to bring me the child, I will scour the lands until I find you, and when I find you, nso, you shall experience suffering beyond what any creature beneath or above Mba has ever known.*
Yayabe nodded. The vehemence in the n’ja’s threat was almost tangible enough to touch.
*I hear you, Oda’nso.*
With that the Oda’nja faded into the blackness of the night leaving the tormented Yayabe seething and fuming, angry at its powerlessness. Though it was furious, it was not foolish. It knew it had to bring the child to the n’ja or it would make good on its threat. Heavy and sullen, the nsojida slid back to its cave.
Yayabe hissed as it approached its cave. The child’s cry could be heard even before it neared the entrance. The dispirited Yayabe slid over to the baby, and surprisingly, at the sight of Yayabe, it stopped crying.
*You,* Yayabe hissed, pointing a taloned finger at its face. *Have caused me much pain.*
The child giggled and grabbed the pointing finger. The nsojida yanked its finger back, stumbling backwards away from the child. Yayabe examined its finger in confusion. An unusual feeling lingered where the child had gripped it. It had felt warmth. The nsojida drifted back to the crook and held out its finger again, watching with puzzlement as the child reached for it again, giggling. The child’s grip was warm and tender. Yayabe had never felt these things before and it found itself experiencing stranger feelings within.
Yayabe lifted the child into its arms and cradled it, watching the child busy itself with playing with the nsojida’s form, giggling each time the black mass rippled. Yayabe fed and laid the child back into its crook, its finger still in the infant’s tiny grip even as it slept. Carefully, the nsojida withdrew itself and watched the child sleep peacefully, oblivious to everything around it. A sudden vision of the child being swallowed whole by the Oda’nja suddenly filled its mind and it quickly looked away.
Nda went and Iya rose, and Yayabe remained in its cave, buried in thoughts until Iya once again fell into Mba’s womb. All day it stayed by the child’s side, watching and thinking. When the child cried, Yayabe fed it, when it soiled itself; Yayabe used its suru to make it disappear. Every now and then, it would cradle the child to feel its warmth. When Iya had sunk and darkness claimed the lands under Nda’s watchful eye, Yayabe bundled up the sleeping child and laid it deep into its folds before sliding out into the night. It was sure the Oda’nja was already waiting to devour the human child.
Many moments passed before Yayabe finally came upon the place where it had first encountered the Oda’nja.
*You kept me waiting, nso.* It seethed, flexing its talons.
*Forgive me, Oda’nso, I had to feed the child so that it may fall asleep.*
*Feed the child?* the Oda’nja reared. *You bring me a sleeping offering?*
Yayabe knew the anger was feigned, it could tell the n’ja was eager to have the child.
*Where is it,* it demanded. *Give it to me.*
Yayabe held back, staying just beyond the reach of the n’ja. *You promised me worthiness.*
*Yes, yes,* the Oda’nja hissed with impatience. *You will serve me, that is more than others of your rank can ever hope for.*
*Isa-sa Oda’nso,* Yayabe bowed. *Praises to you, Great Spirit.*
*The child.* It was an order, one that might result in unpleasant consequences if not heeded.
From its folds, Yayabe pulled out a bundle and held it out to the eager n’ja but pulled it back just as it reached out.
*You taunt me, nso?* the n’ja roared, even Yayabe trembled with fear.
*No, no, Oda’nso,* Yayabe said quickly. *I was just wondering what you were going to do with the child.
*Give me the child and I will show you, nso. You test my patience.*
*I only want to learn, Oda’nso.*
In a flurry of motion that Yayabe barely had time to notice, the Oda’nja shot forward and seized it by the neck, digging its talons deep.
*If you intend to be my minion, you must start by doing what I command of you, nso.* The n’ja hissed. *Now. Give. Me. The. Child.*
Barely holding its form together, Yayabe thrust the bundle at the n’ja. The Oda’nja flung Yayabe aside, grabbing the bundle and bringing it to its face, breathing in deeply.
*Mmmm… The smell of innocent blood,* It rolled its head back, hissing in satisfaction. *Know that smell, nso. It is the difference between real power and merely being powerful.*
Yayabe nodded in fear, shrinking away from the terrifying n’ja, just in case it decided to wash the child down with its essence.
*This child makes no sound.* The Oda’nja looked at the bundle and then at Yayabe curiously.
*I fed it a few moments ago, the juice from the fruit causes it to sleep deeply.*
*Ah, a sympathetic nsojida,* It mocked. *And that, nso, is why you may never be like me. You care for these creatures. Nothing like the sound of a terrified child as it is swallowed whole.*
With that it plunged its sharp rows of teeth into the bundle of flesh and devoured it all before Yayabe could look away. When it was done, the n’ja held its arms apart and threw its head backwards, its great horn curving into the darkness, as though it waited for something. Carefully, Yayabe began to retreat farther away from it when suddenly the Oda’nja roared and hunched over in pain.
*What have you done, nso?* It demanded, looking accusingly at the Yayabe. *What have you done to me?*
Yayabe decided it was best to flee but before it gathered itself to do just that, the n’ja surged forward, seizing it in its taloned grip.
*What type of child was that, nso? What have you given me?* the hardness of its grip faltering.
*That was no child, Oda’nja.* Yayabe spat. *I killed an animal and concealed its form with my suru.*
*You gave me old blood of a lowly animal?* the n’ja shrieked, attempting to tighten its grip on Yayabe’s neck but already its form was falling to the ground, weighed down by its growing weakness.
Soon the n’ja was reduced to a convulsing mass of blackness on the ground and Yayabe stood over it, watching with angry pleasure.
*You will suffer for this, nso.* It gargled.
*Me? A lowly unworthy nsojida?*
The Oda’nja writhed and contorted in pain on the floor as the old animal blood Yayabe had tainted coursed through it and undid its suru.
*You will pay for this, nso.”
*Pay for what?* Yayabe asked wryly. *For bringing an Oda’nja to its knees?*
*Do you know who I am?*
*No,* Yayabe reached forward and grabbed the n’ja‘s single horn. *And it is not worthy of my knowledge.* It yanked the horn with a sudden ferocity fuelled by pent up anger and humiliation.
The Oda’nja bellowed like a gutted cow, as its suru bled into the night from the open wound in its head. At that moment its suru coalesced and began flowing into the horn in Yayabe’s hand which in turn began to melt into Yayabe’s form. When the Oda’nja was depleted and merely a deflated shadow of its former self whimpering on the ground, a horn just like the one that had just been ripped off began to sprout from the middle of Yayabe’s head like the tusk of a rhinoceros. Yayabe felt a sudden power course through it as this new and more potent suru filled it from within. This was what if felt like to be an Oda‘nso. Yayabe smiled, looking upon the n’ja.