Hello wonderful people, this is officially my first blog post and I’ll be sharing the opening chapter of my newest book and first fantasy novel, Sea of Broken things. It’s the first book in the Elysian series, and I hope you enjoy it.
She took her slippers off, letting the cool, moist earth seep pleasurably between her toes, and inhaled deeply. It had rained the night before, and whenever it rained, the forest seemed to let out its deepest, innermost secrets through its scent. She could remain here all day, breathing in the wonderful scent. This was her favourite time of the day: the forest was just coming alive; the birds were going about their businesses. The trees hummed of energy and life, though their movements appeared rather sluggish. It made perfect sense – who wouldn’t want to snuggle a little longer in such wonderful weather?
Besides Omifunke, that is.
She let her heart beat to the tune of the forest. She felt more at home here than she had ever felt back at the Cave. Here surrounded only by nature, there was no judgment, no snickering, no mockery – here, she could be herself. There were beings in the forest, beings who would rather she didn’t disturb their home with her persistent frolicking, but there was no malice in them. It was simply their nature, and over time, they had come to accept her as one of them – the non-resident member of the forest. For she knew the tune to every bird song, and she knew the language of the trees, and she knew the names of every insect and animal in the forest. She spoke their language; she knew their song.
She let out her breath and opened her eyes, basking in the glow of the morning sunlight. And then she grabbed the hem of her dress and began to run.
Omitilewa will have a fit, she thought as she moved. Omitilewa was her only friend at the Cave and she had a fit about anything and everything. Omifunke smiled as the image of her friend looking horrified flashed through her mind. She would bother about that later. Right now, she just wanted to run. As she ran, the forest wind whispered in her ears, happy with her presence.
On a sudden instinct, she closed her eyes again. She knew the forest like the back of her hand, and as she ran between the trees, she knew just where and when to turn or duck. She let her mind soar. Her worries and doubts dissolved as she plunged deeper into the forest.
Only a few minutes had gone by when the sound of water flowing reached her ears. Omifunke felt her lips curve into a small grin. The river was near. It was one of her most favourite places in the forest. For hours, she had sat there, harmonizing her thoughts. It only made sense that she did so – after all, she was a river priestess – no, apprentice, since she was yet to say her vows.
She dug her heels into the ground and slowed to a walk, panting as she approached the riverbank. She let go of the gown, moaning in dismay as it dragged on the dirt. She was awfully jealous of warrior priestesses. They were allowed to wear pants; they were allowed to have all the fun. Omifunke was a great fighter – all priestesses were – but the warrior priestesses were much more formidable – no, deadly was the word to describe them.
She felt the oddness even before she opened her eyes. Sure enough, when she opened her eyes, there was a woman sitting on the riverbank. She looked just like any other woman, except that her eyes were completely green and her clothes resembled the bark of the very tree she lived in. She wore her thick hair perfectly upbraided and she had thick kohl surrounding her eyes. She was talking to a woman who was half-submerged in the water. If Omifunke hadn’t known better, she might have assumed they were old friends. But the concept of friendship was not a known thing in the spirit world.
That’s odd, Omifunke thought. Nymphs rarely ever leave their trees. And why’s she taking to a river spirit?
The two spirits looked up just as she reached them.
“Ah, we have been expecting you,” said the nymph. “Haven’t we, Dunni?”
She cast a look in the direction of the river spirit, who nodded quickly and replied, in a tiny singsong voice, “Why, yes, Tutu, we have.”
The river spirit was beautiful, like every other mermaid was, her hair a thick beautiful mass of nappy black locks. Her blue eyes looked just as translucent as the river, and her brown skin was silky and smooth. Her small, round breasts stood perky, bobbing on the surface of the water.
Dunni’s fish half remained hidden underwater. No one had ever seen the complete form of a mermaid, for it was believed that whoever did died on the spot – a claim Omifunke was unwilling to believe; it was probably just a tale to make mermaids appear more formidable than they already did. River spirits, servants of Oluomi, were the guardians of the spirits of the rivers they dwelled in, and the rivers were named after them.
“Of course you have been expecting me, Dunni,” Omifunke said, smiling back at the spirits. “I come here every day.”
“It’s always good to see you.” When Dunni smiled, her dimples usually showed, making her ten times more beautiful. Today, however, they didn’t show. It was almost as though the smile on the river spirit’s face was forced.
“Have you ever heard of clothes?” Omifunke quipped. She knew how much mermaids hated clothes and loved to tease her about it. “And what’s a nymph doing away from her tree?”
Dunni smiled again and waded closer. Tutu merely stroked her forearm. Omifunke felt a twinge of envy. It should be a crime for anyone, even a spirit, to have such smooth skin.
“I see you’ve been running around the forest again,” Tutu said without looking at her. “Don’t you ever get tired of being a nuisance?”
“Frankly speaking, I don’t.”
The nymph rolled her iris-less eyes. Something about her countenance made Omifunke frown with concern.
“Tutu, is all well?” she asked. “You don’t look fine.”
Tutu shook her head. “Something dark and terrible is coming, Omifunke. The winds have been whispering -”
“The winds always whisper,” Omifunke said matter-of-factly.
If the spirit was any disgruntled about being interrupted by a mortal, she didn’t show it. “The trees are restless,” she told her. “Something disastrous is about to happen. I just don’t know what it is.” With that, she dropped her chin with a look of despair.
Omifunke’s frown deepened. “But – but I just came through the forest, and I didn’t feel anything strange. What -?”
“You might be able to hear the forest, young girl, but we nymphs were born of the forest. We can sense when something is terribly wrong.”
“She speaks the truth,” Dunni put in. The smile on her face was gone now. “Something is definitely wrong. My mistress has not been speaking to me. The waters are disturbed. “Just yesterday, one of my sisters, Tola, came to me with a complaint. All her fish are dead and she’d been poisoned by the river itself.”
Omifunke swallowed. “What…?”
The river spirit nodded solemnly. “Water never poisons a mermaid, but it’s happened. Her scales were already falling apart when she arrived. Fish never die under our watch – except the ones we willingly give up to the fishermen who worship our mistress. Terrible things are happening, Omifunke.”
Something clicked in Omifunke’s mind. “But how can this be possible? The priestesses would know if something was wrong. We would have felt it.”
“True as that is, you are still an apprentice, not a full priestess. But I do not doubt that the High Priestess has sensed something,” Tutu said. All of a sudden, she shot to her feet, her expression grim. “I must leave you now.”
Without another word, she trotted away from them and disappeared into the forest. Dunni and Omifunke watched her until she was completely out of sight.
“Nymphs are deeply attached to the earth,” the river spirit explained. “I must leave you as well. It is unwise for me to be out of the water like this, what with all the strange things happening. Even the air feels strange. I must go and care for my sister.”
“May the goddesses grant her healing,” Omifunke prayed.
The smile Dunni gave her this time was nothing short of genuine. The river spirit swam back into the deep, and Omifunke was once more alone with her thoughts.
She recalled her conversation with the two spirits and closed her eyes, searching deeper into her spirit. There must be some sign she had ignored, some clue as to what might be happening. Anything that affected the spirit world definitely affected the mortal world. Being a priestess, Omifunke was part human, part spirit.
Her spirit did not tell her anything. Not even the slightest bit of information as to how the mermaid of the Tola River had gotten poisoned. With a resigned sigh, Omifunke rose to her feet and traced her steps back into the forest, unable to shake away the feeling of foreboding that overwhelmed her.
She couldn’t afford to tell the other priestesses back at the Cave what the spirits had told her. Nymphs were known to exaggerate, and mermaids were mischievous. The priestesses would only think her mad if she told them about the news – madder, even, than they already thought she was.
Maybe she should just ignore it as well. Nothing good could ever come from annoying people who already didn’t like her.
The Cave was quite large, surrounded by a river whose guardians were the priestesses themselves. Connecting it to the forest was a small bridge of wood and stone. It looked rather ancient, but Omifunke had lived here long enough to know how sturdy it was.
No sooner had she begun to cross the bridge than she heard someone call her name. Alarmed, she whipped her head up. Her fellow apprentice, Omitilewa, was running towards her, her hair flying behind her head. She looked a lot more tense than usual. When she ground to a stop in front of Omifunke, she doubled over, clutching her side. It took her a couple of seconds to stop panting.
“By the goddesses – where have you been all morning?” she practically shouted, her features contorting into an infamous scowl. “The High Priestess has been looking for you!” Her eyes narrowed. “Don’t tell me you’ve been in the forest all this while?”
Omifunke, whose mind was still occupied by her recent conversation with the spirits, merely shrugged in answer. Omitilewa’s nostrils flared slightly.
“Did you not hear what I just said? The High Priestess has been looking for you all morning!” she repeated.
It took a couple of seconds for the news to sink in. Omifunke blinked. “Did you say all morning? Why didn’t you tell me that first?”
She didn’t wait for an answer, but took to her heels. You didn’t delay when the High Priestess summoned you. The last thing Omifunke wanted was to be punished by one of the most powerful beings she knew.
She ran blindly into the Cave, straight past the two warrior priestess who stood guard outside. The Cave was carved into rooms and sections and hallways to accommodate the needs of the priestesses. Omifunke was seasoned enough to know that it housed about a thousand priestesses, apprentices included. She liked to think of it as a home of power. The priestesses were also known as The Gifted Women, though most people called them witches – a misconception that the priestesses never once bothered to correct. The more people feared them, the more they stayed away.
The smell of incense, the solemn trickling of water inside the Cave, the coolness and even the flaming torches hanging in brackets on the walls were all familiar and peaceful to her. While the forest was a place for her to be free, the Cave was where she found peace. When she thought about it, it was quite the irony, considering how the other priestesses felt about her, but it was still the only home she had ever known.
She ground to a halt right in front of the High Priestess’ chambers. The servants standing on either side of the door snickered slightly at the sight of her.
“Your Holiness, Omifunke is here,” said one of the servants, Omisade. She was an apprentice just like Omifunke, and there was no love lost between them. Omifunke hated the way Omisade sucked up to all the senior priestesses, hoping to score some point or the other.
There was silence for a moment. Then an annoyed voice said, “She may enter.”
The servants’ lips curved into big, nasty grins. Omifunke felt a shiver race through her. Swallowing, she kept her eyes trained on the ground as they pushed open the door for her to enter.
Oh, goddesses, what have I done this time?
“Where were you this morning?” the High Priestess asked in a deadly calm voice, the moment the door swung shut. She was sitting at her table, studying a stack of notes in front of her. From the displeased look on the older woman’s face, Omifunke could only guess that something else was bothering her. It baffled her that the High Priestess would want to deal with an apprentice priestess now.
“I believe I asked you a question,” the older woman asked, snapping the young apprentice back to attention.
“I…I was in the forest, Your Holiness.” Omifunke kept her gaze on her feet.
“What day is it today?” The High Priestess’ voice was still calm.
“It’s the third day of the week, Your Holiness.”
“The third day of the week…” Omifunke could feel the other woman’s gaze on her. “And what do we do on the third day of the week?”
The apprentice searched her memory. “Er…we gather in the river of peace and…” Oh, goddesses! How could I have forgotten about the weekly prayers and offering?
She gave herself a mental slap. Stupid, stupid!
“Just how many times do I have to tell you not to leave the cave without my permission or that of the other senior priestesses?” Omifunke didn’t have to look up to know that the High Priestess was glaring at her. “Why do you find it so difficult to follow orders? Are you the only apprentice here?”
Omifunke’s knees buckled. “I’m sorry, Your Holiness, please forgive me,” she said without looking up. Not that she had to. Like the forest, she knew the High Priestess’ chambers like the back of her hand. She was familiar with every curve and corner of the rooms, the sweet scent of the High Priestess’ oil perfumes, the peaceful trickling of water, the softness of the bed she had once slept in as a child, when she was plagued with nightmares. The fact that she was the only priestess besides the High Priestess’ stewards to ever come in here was another thing that made the other apprentices jealous.
If she tried hard enough, she could just remember how the High Priestess would sing her ballads and tell her tales of old until she forgot about her nightmares and drifted back to sleep. Today, things were much different. She could no longer look the High Priestess in the eye without cringing with terror. It took her most of her courage to even lift her head a little and look around her, at the paintings on the walls.
They were old and expensive; not a single soul understood why the High Priestess spent so much money on ugly works of art. There was one painting in particular that always sent shivers down Omifunke’s spine when she looked at it. It was a series of black holes of different shades. The longer she stared at the painting, the deeper and more endless the holes seemed to be. The painting stood out among the others, sucking out all the warmth and cosiness in the room. Repercussion, the High Priestess called it. It pierced Omifunke’s soul just to look at it.
“I don’t know what punishment to give you,” the High Priestess said; “you will repeat your mistakes before my back is turned. I am growing tired of your childishness.”
Omifunke clasped her hands together. “I’m so sorry, Your Holiness -”
“Get out of my sight and reflect on what you have done,” was all the older woman said.
Omifunke bowed and stepped out of the High Priestess’ chambers, her mind racing. She knew she should be glad that she had not been punished, but something was not right. She’d noticed that the High Priestess hadn’t been her usual graceful self. Today, she looked somewhat tired, not the ageless, beautiful, wise woman Omifunke wished to one day become.
She was so deep in thought, she didn’t see the other woman in front of her until it was too late. She nearly tripped over her own feet trying not to bump into her. Omifunke heard Omisade let out a snicker before bowing ridiculously low in front of the woman. It took all of her willpower to keep from sucking her teeth at her fellow apprentice.
“What are you doing here?” asked the woman Omifunke had nearly bumped into.
It was the High Priestess’ next-in-command, she realised with a gasp. Not wanting to provoke the disgruntled woman any more, she quickly bowed her head.
“Her Holiness summoned me.”
The other woman’s face took on a look of pure disgust.
“Why would she summon you? And where in the world were you earlier this morning? No, don’t answer that, I don’t have time for you this minute. Make yourself scarce,” she said before Omifunke could form a response.
The apprentice bowed low and scurried out of the way, wondering what forces she might have offended to have such ill luck this morning.
“What on earth did you summon her for?” Omitola asked as she stepped into the High Priestess’ chambers.
“You say it like she is a disease,” the High Priestess said, looking up from her notes.
“She might as well be one. That girl doesn’t belong here, Omidolapo.”
The High Priestess stared at her deputy for a few seconds. It was a mark of their age-old friendship that she did not scold her for calling her by her name.
“Why would you say such a thing?” she said calmly raising her eyebrows. “Is it because she is not of royal or noble blood?”
Omitola shrugged. “She doesn’t have a family, royal or otherwise. For all we know, she could be the daughter of a prostitute -”
She faltered, staring at the High Priestess. Omidolapo’s eyes were glowing white. All of a sudden, the temperature in the room seemed to rise.
“I’m sorry, Your Holiness,” Omitola said quickly. As close as she and Omidolapo were, she wouldn’t dare risk the wrath of the High Priestess.
The fire in Omidolapo’s eyes died, leaving her looking even more tired than before. “Don’t ever say that nonsense in her presence. Now, please take a seat and go over these notes I received from our spies in Iloba. Things are much worse than we feared. Oluwo has sunk his fangs deeper than we thought.”
“The Capital City?” Omitola said, waving her hand; from one corner of the room, a wooden stool slid over, coming to a stop at her feet. She picked up one of the notes in front of her and examined it. “This is serious, Your Holiness. Don’t you think it’s time for you to visit Iloba? We’ve let this nonsense go on for much too long.”
The High Priestess shook her head slowly. “No, the time is not right. Besides, there are more pressing issues.”
Omitola couldn’t believe her ears. “What could possibly be more pressing than our very foundation being destroyed?”
Omidolapo heaved a sigh and got up from her stool. “Last night the goddesses appeared to me in a dream.”
“All three of them?” That was strange.
The High Priestess nodded and began to pace. Omitola bit her lip.
“But that’s not a good sign,” she said. “The three of them never appear at the same time.”
“That’s not the worrisome part. Oluomi’s lips were parched, Oluina was drenched, and Oluile’s hair was brown and dry.”
A feeling of dread settled on Omitola. She already knew the answer to her question, but she asked it anyway. “What could this mean?”
The High Priestess let out another sigh. “The problems we are having in Iloba, the vision I saw, and even Omifunke’s coming to this cave are all related in some way.”
Now she wasn’t even making any sense. “What is Omifunke’s part in all of this? She is only an apprentice, not a full priestess.”
“That is a question I cannot answer. But one thing is certain.” The High Priestess paused and stared into space, her eyes as devoid of light as the painting of the black holes on the wall.
Swallowing, Omitola asked, “Your Holiness, what is certain?”
She would never forget her friend’s next words.
“Dark times are coming.”
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