This…this is impossible.” She said as she looked at him from head to foot. Chukwudi the Stronger still held her in his arm like she weighed little less than a newborn baby.
His body, my body, was rippling with muscles in places I didn’t even know had muscles.
The shirt I had been wearing had been torn to shreds in my previous fight with the man-animal and now Chukwudi the stronger used the staff to deftly remove what remained, leaving his upper half completely Unclad.
His boyish grin never left his face as he continued to look down at Jenny’s breasts.
She noticed this and tried to cover them with her free hands. His grin widened.
“I know I shouldn’t stare,” He said, “But…Wow.”
“Behave yourself.” Jenny said sternly and raised her head up with dignity. ”Put me back in the water.”
“Awww…do I have to?” Chuks the Stronger said but he moved like he was walking on air and released Jenny into the river. She arranged her hair and it fell over her chest effectively covering her breasts.
“Spoilsport.” Chuks the Stronger said, making a face.
Jenny ignored him and stared again at the staff. The ring on the staff’s orb glowed a bright red. Her eyes widened.
“But this is just not possible!” she repeated, looking at Chuks the stronger again.
“What isn’t?” Chuks the Stronger asked looking around himself like she was talking about someone else.
“Where is he? Where is Chuks, you know, your other self?”
“I’m here” I said, coming forward and to their front. Chuks the Stronger saw me immediately but Jenny looked right through me.
“Oh, I get it.” Chuks the Stronger said, grinning boyishly again. Turning to Jenny he explained. “He is where I was before. Don’t worry, he’s fine.”
“But the ring…” Jenny said to him. “Its vial is full of your essence. It won’t be able to contain anything else unless we release you from it…but you are not in it…I don’t understand.”
Suddenly we heard a commotion at the far end of the river bank and turned our eyes to see the two tailed leopard swimming out of the water and unto the muddy bank. It shook itself dry and roared fearfully into the night. The battle wasn’t over yet.
Chuks the Stronger grinned at me, turned to Jenny and asked, “May I borrow your staff thing, fish lady?”
“What? Oh…em…sure.” Jenny said still looking very perplexed.
Chuks the Stronger nodded in appreciation and moved with such force that a deep hole appeared where he previously stood. As the absurd thought of how my shoes would never be the same flashed though my mind, Jenny retreated further into the water, watching the battle at a safe distance.
Chuks the Stronger charged the beast, giving a war cry as he did so. The beast answered with a roar and hurtled itself at him and they clashed midway from where we stood.
Chukwudi swung down at the beast but it evaded the blow this time and when Chukwudi tried raising the staff for another blow it caught the orb of the staff in its jaws. Swinging hard and carrying Chukwudi along with it, it flung them over its head and threw them to the ground. The impact was strong enough to be felt where I was and I worried for my body, it was mine too afterall. As Chukwudi landed on his back, the Leopard attempted to sink its jaws into his neck but he thrust the staff upwards and the great teeth clamped upon the staff instead. The Leopard struggled with the staff trying to push it down to choke Chukwudi, but his strength prevailed and he pushed the leopard back. It let go and rolled on its side, getting up almost immediately but Chukwudi was up as well and swiped at it. The beast was caught on the snout and it howled dismally as a deep cut appeared on its jaws. It retreated a few steps and circled Chukwudi the Stronger who now held the staff defensively across his chest, taunting the Leopard with his grin.
The leopard became enraged and the dull fire erupted around it and it seemed to increase in size. Chukwudi the Stronger saw this and suddenly his own hands caught fire as his grin disappeared and his eyes shone with a belligerence that I didn’t know he had.
The leopard rushed at him again and Chukwudi struck out with the Staff. At the last moment, the beast ducked and the staff passed over its head, completely missing its target. For a fraction of a second both of them were side by side then the beast lashed out with its tails.
Chukwudi was caught hard in the ribs and I felt a dull pain where I stood. Clutching my chest I saw Chukwudi being thrown up in the air and as he landed the beast punched at his body, sending him flying with a loud splash into the river. Jenny quickly touched the waters with her palm and the river raised Chukwudi’s body up. He stood on the wave that had been created and taking a deep breath, rushed back to shore with amazing speed. The leopard was waiting for him though and attempted slashing him as soon as he came within reach of those great claws. Chukwudi saw this and jumped at the last moment, with the claws barely missing his feet. He landed behind the Leopard and struck again, this time hitting the beast squarely on the back. The beast screamed out in pain and swiped wildly behind it, catching Chukwudi across the chest. He was thrown back a few yards and landed on the sand, his chest rapidly covered in blood. I doubled over as the pain shot through me but even then I recovered quickly and looking up, I saw that Chukwudi had recovered as well. He sat up and saw the Leopard rushing forward.
“He’s not going to make it!” I thought.
Chukwudi struggled to his knees but realized he wasn’t going to be able to raise the staff on time. As the Leopard pounced he caught the huge beast by its neck, jaws open, with his fiery left hand. Before the beast could react, he shouted loudly and the fire in his left hand enveloped his entire body and the Leopard’s as well. The beast shrieked and tried to pry itself loose but Chukwudi held strong. The fire increased in intensity and the beast clawed wildly, hitting Chukwudi twice in the face but he did not relent. Instead he swung the staff with all his might with his left hand and it hit the beast squarely between its eyes. The blow cracked the beast’s skull open and it went limp immediately. Chukwudi struck again and blood spewed out from the beast’s forehead spraying the ground around them. Finally the beast collapsed to the ground and Chukwudi the Stronger let go. He staggered backwards away from the creature which lay on its side, unmoving. He fell to his knees and shouted victoriously.
“I am the Vengeance! I am the Power! I am the STRONGER!!! ”
He got up and staggered back to us, dragging the staff on the sand and down to the muddy bank.
I stood up straight as he approached, and Jenny came closer to land. We watched in silence as, smiling, he handed the staff back to Jenny who was looking at him like she would steal him away all over again.
“Well done.” I said to him.
“Well done.” He repeated back to me. “After all, this is your vessel.” He pointed to his body. “This is you without fear, without doubt, without logical thinking.
There’s too much of that in this brain of ours. We need to let go more often.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” I said. He smiled and turned towards Jenny.
“Thanks.” he said to the mermaid who watched him admiringly.
“You have helped a little bit, too.”
“Only a little?!” she queried with mock annoyance. He grinned at her.
“Can we figure out how to get me back to being in charge again?” I asked.
“That should be easy.” Chukwudi the stronger said, and grabbing the ring at the end of the staff, he yanked it out of its position.
In a moment I was back to being me. My head swam from the flurry of emotions as I entered back into my body. Jenny looked at me with interest.
“What are you?” she asked.
“I dunno.” I said, shugging my shoulders and then immediately regretting it. I winced in pain and Jenny laughed.
Suddenly the look of joy on her face turned to terror as she pointed behind me. I whipped around to see…
The beast was running towards Chioma. It must have regained consciousness only a few seconds ago and was now bearing down on her with full force and fury.
“No!” I shouted and grabbing the staff, ran as fast as I could towards them. From the corner of my eye I saw Jenny still holding the ring in her hand, stretching it towards me, screaming urgently but I paid no heed. As it was I couldn’t move as fast as I saw Chukwudi the Stronger moving but it was fast all the same. Whether it was going to be fast enough to reach them on time was another matter.
I screamed at Chioma, what the hell was she still doing there? Why hadn’t she gotten to her feet all that time? All my shouts of warning proved useless as the Leopard advanced speedily towards her. It heard my cries and turned its head around momentarily, the bleeding wound on its head already partially healed, with teeth exposed in a snarl that closely resembled a triumphant grin as it bore down on her.
And then I saw her cross.
It had grown significantly larger since when I last saw it. And it was on fire.
The Leopard must have seen it as well for it stopped in mid rush. Even as it did so, a white light appeared above the cross and grew in dimensions, with lightening crackling from it spasmodically. It continued to expand and emit energy unlike any I had seen before. The Leopard looked uncertain for a moment, then roaring loudly, resumed its charge.
No wait. I had seen it before. I remembered but realized it was Chukwudi the Stronger’s memory I was having. I had seen it before…
…Just before I was born.
As the Leopard pounced, a creature came out of the light. The bright white light that emanated from it was too much for me and I shielded my eyes. As it came out from the light I saw it clearly. It was a huge and magnificent Lion with fur so white it could not be from this earth. Its mane flowed around its glorious head and white fire emanated from its eyes. It had two pairs of wings which it now used to shield Chioma as she remained kneeling on the ground, her eyes tightly closed. Behind that Lion others like it came, majestic, appearing suddenly and yet gracefully as if they operated in a different time frame from ours. Soon there were Lions on either side of Chioma, about seven in number, their wings moving in tandem. And in all this while it was as if the leopard had been suspended in time and space, mid snarl, vicious looking with the apparently helpless girl on her knees beneath it. I was quite sure that even if she had opened her eyes Chioma wouldn’t have seen anything, except maybe for the Leopard in mid pounce, its claws fully extended, its eyes widening in surprise.
The first lion caught the Leopard in the air with one of its wings, beating it back as if swatting a fly. The Leopard crashed to the floor and convulsed violently. From inside the shack I could hear Kelvin’s faint screams.
“What is happening again? What is happening again?!” I looked quickly over my shoulder to see if Jenny was seeing any of this.
From her expression I realized that not only had she seen the Lion but she recognized what it was and she was terrified. She suddenly went down, disappearing beneath the waves.
The First Lion took two steps towards the leopard which was still lying on the floor, its huge chest heaving laboriously. The Lion examined it for a while then turned and saw me standing there. Suddenly it was in front of me. I didn’t even see it move. It glanced at the staff in my hand and the expression on its face changed. It raised its wing, the one it had used to swat the Leopard.
I thought; this was it.
But suddenly a strong hand held my shoulder from behind and pushed me to my knees.
Even with the strength of Chukwudi the Stronger I wouldn’t have been able to resist the force. I tried to raise my head but the same person pushed my head down to face the ground. And then I heard a voice I hadn’t heard in a long time.
“Forgive his naivety. He is on our side.”
Pachios, my long lost guardian angel was the one holding me to the ground. I watched the Lion’s paws as it stood still before me. Then it turned away.
I tried to raise my head but Pachios whispered “Do not look up boy, not yet. You are lucky enough as it is.”
I obeyed and stayed put. Soon the bright light was gone and the night became dark again. Pachios let his hand fall from my shoulder and I stood up.
“Hey there, old friend.” I said. “It’s been a long time.”
Pachios looked at me enquiringly, his wings, magnificent as always growing from his shoulders, his golden buckle around his waist, his armour, as shiny as the last time I saw it.
“What are you talking about?” he said in his rich deep voice. “I’ve been by your side all along.”
”Well, you have been a very silent partner then.” I sulked. “I’ve been through a lot. I’ve had to learn things by myself. And I couldn’t see or hear you.”
Pachios smiled, which was a rare thing as far as I remembered. He said, “Aren’t you humans the ones who say ‘Experience is the best teacher?’ And you have been a good student so far. Just because you suffer does not mean you are alone. I’ve always got you covered, unless when it’s not necessary.”
“When it’s not necessary?” I shook my head. “What does that even mean?”
But he was gone. Just like that. One moment he was there and the next he was nowhere. I looked around the beach. It was only Chioma that was there. She still had her eyes closed in prayer. The cross had returned, old, wooden, not burning, ordinary looking. I would have given almost anything to ask Pachios about her.
I heard a sound behind me and turned. Jenny was walking towards me from the river bank on human legs, her hair blowing in the cool, night breeze. She was wearing her clothes again and looked away shyly when she got close.
“I’m not even going to ask.” I said.
“Don’t you know who those were?” she breathed.
“Lions. Huge ones at that. Where were you?” I admonished.
“I keep forgetting you humans know so little of your own history, or Salvation for that matter.” And then she jumped and grabbed my arm.
The Leopard had grunted. I walked over to the anguished body and saw that it was still alive, though death did not seem too far away.
All its bones were out of joint or broken into pieces. It bled from several places at once and this time the wounds refused to heal. It moved its eyes and stared at me and I immediately knew what to do. I took the staff that was still in my hand and raised it high above my head.
“Look away.” I told Jenny and she obeyed. With all my might I plunged the tip of the staff into the chest of the beast. It let out a baleful howl and finally was still.
As I watched, the essence of the young man that had been possessed all these years came out and stood beside me for an instant.
He smiled his gratitude and disappeared.
“Help me carry it to the river.” Jenny said. “My people will dispose of the body properly.”
We carried the leopard’s body down to the river and threw it into the water. Its body immediately sank beneath the waves.
“Here,” Jenny said, giving me the ring.
“What’s this for?” I asked.
“It’s not obeying me anymore, you might as well have it.” She said.
“Go on, If Chukwudi the Stronger says you should get rid of it then do so, but it’s not mine to keep anymore.”
I took the ring in my hand and observed it. It now glowed with the same fore that Chukwudi the Stronger exuded when he set fire to the beast. I shrugged and put it in my pocket.
When we returned Chioma had finally gotten up and was in the shack tending to Kelvin and Obi.
Obi was slipping in and out of consciousness for he had lost a lot of blood and was going into shock. Chioma looked up at us as we came to them.
“Is it gone?” she asked, though not anxiously.
“Yes,” I said, “Chioma did you know what happened out there? What did you do?”
She looked at me and I saw some uncertainty in her eyes.
“I had faith,” she said quietly and simply. “I concentrated on being in the palm of GOD’s hand until I could actually feel it, Like I was really there and anything that wanted to harm me would have to go through…Him, first. When I opened my eyes I saw you and Jenny carrying the beast to the river and I figured the worst was over.”
Jenny was looking at her in awe. Then Obi coughed again and started to shiver violently.
Kelvin turned to Jenny, his face wet with tears and mucus. “Is there anything you can do?” he pleaded.
“Sure,” Jenny said. “But I think Chioma should take this one.”
“Me?” Chioma said, bewildered. “I am no healer.”
“And you will never be one if you keep thinking that way.” I said.
“Most people call themselves but you, you have genuinely been called. It doesn’t matter what you think you can or cannot do, just believe.”
Chioma looked at all of us. Then she smiled. “With the little I have seen today, you’d think I’d have more faith.” She said, smiling bashfully.
“Oh believe me,” Jenny said, “Right now you have more faith than all of us combined.”
Obi mumbled something and slipped into unconsciousness again. Chioma held him to herself, placing her hands on his shoulder which Kelvin had managed to bandage up with his shirt to stop the bleeding. She knelt with him on the floor and prayed for a few moments.
After a while she opened her eyes.
“I’ve done my best.” She said. “Now let’s see if we can get out of here.”
“Is the man-animal leopard thing dead?”Kelvin asked anxiously.
“Yes.” I said.
“And Jenny is not going to turn back into a mermaid?” he said looking fearfully at her.
“Turn back?” Jenny looked at me then at him. ”I’m still a mermaid.”
“Well, don’t turn back to what you turned into in the river, okay? I promise not to tell anyone about this.”
“And who would believe you if you did?”
Kelvin said nothing but suddenly Obi moved and sat up mumbling.
“What? Obi what is it?” Chioma asked.
“What the hell are you guys talking about?” He said weakly, “And why are we still here when the door is open? Let’s go jo!”