Sacrifice: A Fallen Story
Shangé opened her eyes to the gray rainy season sky. Something was different. She was not the same. She felt limited, as if her essence was contained. A sensation pressed against her being, a feeling she’d rarely experienced. But this time it felt . . . permanent. It was then it all came back to her.
She stood earthbound before the elders. They glared at her with their starlit eyes, their anger evident. She had gone too far. Mijoga stood beside her, his posture defiant. He had no idea what he faced. She glanced at his hand-some umber countenance and remembered why she fell in love with him despite their differences. A wave of regret washed over her; her love had sentenced them to death. But at the moment of judgement, Mama intervened. Be-cause of her interference Shangé still existed whole in-stead of scattered across the heavens. She could not say the same for Mijoga.
It took her a few moments longer to realize she was in human form. She stood then gazed on her body. She was naked, her dark brown skin slick with sweat. The sun burned despite the cloudy sky, an indication that this was early in the rainy season. She looked about but could find no signs of human settlements. She needed to find people soon, and she needed to arm herself. Mijoga taught her that people needed weapons to protect themselves from animals and each other. They did not possess the powers of the Sky Folk, as he called them.
Shangé shut her eyes, reaching out with her senses. She smiled; it was good that the Elders had not stripped her of all her talents. There was a settlement nearby. She would go there and hopefully find shelter and assistance until she could figure out what the Elders wanted from her.
She made her way across the savannah to the settlement. The grasslands around her teemed with wildlife, most of it staying away from her. It was a sign that they were familiar with humans, and their instincts told them to be wary. Shangé began to worry when her legs weakened and her stomach began to ache. She did not know what was causing her to feel this way. This was not her first time in human form, but it was her time remaining in such state for so long.
“Hunger,” she said aloud. That was the reason for her weakness. She would have to find sustenance. She had no weapons and did not relish killing an animal. She would have to continue to the settlement and hope she did not succumb to her situation before she reached it.
Another sensation gripped her; one that was familiar yet unnerving. It emanated from behind her. Shangé turned toward the source, squinting her eyes to see. A creature loped toward her; its head lowered to the ground. As it neared Shangé could see that it was a simba, a large male with a thick mane. But there was something else about this simba. It raised its head and their eyes met.
“Mijoga!” she exclaimed.
The simba roared in response and increased its pace. Shangé ran toward the beast, her heart filled with joy. The Elders had spared Mijoga in their own way. Mijoga roared again and Shangé stopped. Mijoga was not greeting her; he was attacking her. She searched frantically for something to defend herself, hoping she would not have to use it. There was nothing. She looked up and Mijoga was upon her, leaping at her with paws wide and claws bared. Shangé jumped to the left almost too late. She screamed as Mijoga’s claws ripped her cheek, the force spinning her like a toy. She hit the ground hard, the wind forced from her lungs when her chest slammed the hard earth. Mijoga bit her ankle and she cried out again. Shangé kicked with her free leg, striking Mijoga’s nose. He let go of her ankle then backed away, shaking his massive head. Shangé drew her wounded leg close to her body as she held her damaged face with her hand. Mijoga crouched, ready to pounce.
“Mijoga, no!” she shouted.
Her voice struck Mijoga like a club. He stumbled back, his eyes displaying his confusion. The feline orbs shifted again; first registering shock, then recognition.
“Mijoga, it’s me.” Shangé extended her bloody hand. “It’s me!”
Shame flashed in Mijoga’s eyes. He let out a mournful roar then fled.
“Mijoga, no!” Shangé called out. “Come back!”
She tried to stand, forgetting about her injured ankle. The pain forced her back to the ground. The combination of agony, fatigue and hunger was too much for Shangé. Her eyes rolled back and she passed out.
* * *
“Wake up, daughter.”
It was not her mama’s voice, yet Shangé opened her eyes. The woman leaning over her smiled then nodded her head.
“Good. Good. We thought we were going to lose you.”
“Where am I?” Shangé asked. It hurt for her to speak.
“You are in my village,” the woman said. “We heard your struggle with the simba and we came to help. We thought you were dead, but Naserian noticed that you were still breathing.”
“I thank you,” Shangé replied. The mention that she almost died sent a chill through Shangé. If she could die, she was truly human. Her exile was more serious than she had imagined.
“What is your name, aunt?” Shangé asked.
“I am Kioko.”
The woman reached for Shangé’s face, pulling back the cloth that covered her wound. She frowned.
“What is it?” Shangé asked.
“Your wound will heal, but the scar will remain,” she said. “If only we had reached you sooner.”
“I am not concerned about that,” Shangé replied. “Kioko, what happened to Mijo . . . the simba that attacked me?”
“The hunters tracked it for a time, but it evaded them.”
Shangé sat up. Her head spun for a moment then cleared.
“I must find it,” she said.
“I would think you would never want to see it again.”
“It is special to me.”
“It tried to kill you.”
“It was confused,” Shangé said. “It belongs to me.”
Kioko hesitated before answering.
“I will send for Lemuani. He will know what to do. I will also get you some clothes.”
“Thank you,” Shangé said.
Kioko brought her garments before sending her daughter for Lemuani. By the time the man arrived others had gathered at Kioko’s hut. They gossiped among them-selves, cutting glances at Shangé as they spoke. Shangé ignored their rudeness; she was only concerned with finding Mijoga.
The people parted and Lemuani entered the room. The elderly man walked slowly, supporting himself with a stick carved in the shape of a twisting serpent. A ragged gray beard covered his face, his rheumy eyes shifting about suspiciously.
“Kioko, why have you summoned me?” he asked. “I have better things to do than . . .”
His eyes met Shangé’s and his mouth formed a circle. He fell to his knees and touched his forehead to the dirt.
“Spirit, forgive me!” he said. “I was not told of your presence!”
The others repeated Lemuani’s gesture. Shangé felt awkward; she no longer deserved their respect.
“Please rise,” she said. “Lemuani, Kioko said you can help me.”
“What do you wish, Spirit?”
“I need to find the simba that attacked me.”
“Do you think that is wise, Spirit? An animal that can hurt you is a dangerous beast.”
“It is not an animal . . . at least not completely,” Shangé said. “We are bonded. It just doesn’t know it yet.”
“I will send for Olamayian and Mingati. They are our best simba hunters.”
“This is not a hunt,” Shangé said. “Make sure they understand.”
“I will, Spirit.”
“And do not call me Spirit. My name is Shangé.”
“Yes . . .Shangé.”
Lemuani hurried from Kioko’s house, the others close behind. Kioko moved away from Shangé, fear on her face.
“Do not worry,” Shangé assured her. “I once watched over humans. I won’t hurt you.”
Kioko smiled. “You can’t. You still need rest. It will take time for Lemuani to contact the hunters. They are in the bush. Until then I will help you heal.”
“Thank you, Kioko.”
“No, thank you, Shangé. I am honored that you chose me to help you. The spirits will surely favor me for it.”
“I cannot speak for them, but I will always be in your debt.”
It took three days for the hunters to arrive. Shangé healed quickly, another sign that the Elders did not strip her of all her abilities. She spent the time learning tasks from Kioko and the others. She didn’t want to be help-less.
It was a rainy day when the hunters arrived. Shangé was learning to make bread when they called out, asking for permission to enter Kioko’s home. The duo dried themselves as much as they could, then prostrated before Shangé.
“Spirit, we are proud that you have summoned us,” Olamayian said. He was the taller of the two, with a chubby face and broad shoulders. Mingati squatted beside him, looking at Shangé directly. He didn’t seem as impressed with her as Olamayian.
“I thank you for coming,” Shangé said. “I hope you can help me find the simba that attacked me.”
“We are the best simba hunters in the village,” Mingati said. “We will find your simba and bring it to you.”
“I’m going with you,” Shangé said.
“A simba hunt is a dangerous thing, Olamayian said. “It is no place for the inexperienced.”
“You forget what I am,” Shangé said. “I will go with you.”
“And what weapon will you wield?” Mingati asked. “Will you protect yourself as you did before?”
The scars on Shangé’s face itched after Mingati’s words. Her eyes narrowed and the hunter took a step back, his hand tightening on his spear.
“I was caught off guard,” Shangé said. “I was hungry and tired. This time, I will be ready.”
“We will be honored to have you with us,” Olamayian said. “The rain will hinder us, so we must wait until it clears.”
The men stood to leave Kioko’s home.
“You can stay here,” Kioko said. “It’s dry and there is plenty of food.”
“That is not necessary,” Mingati replied. “We have provisions, and we are used to being in the rain.”
“I insist,” Kioko said.
“We both do,” Shangé added.
“Thank you!” Olamayian replied. Mingati’s response was less enthusiastic. Kioko made them stew and the four ate while Olamayian entertained them with stories from the bush. Mingati sat silent, never taking his eyes off Shangé. His suspicions were warranted, but Shangé did not have the time or temperament to relieve him of his doubts. All she could think about was Mijoga. She would not wait for the rains to cease. She decided she would leave to find him in the morning, with or without the hunters.
Grey clouds muted the rising sun. Shangé and the hunters emerged from Kioko’s house, Shangé leading the hunters to where she encountered Mijoga. The men searched about the area, studying the grasses then looking into the distance.
“I see no signs,” Mingati said. “Are you sure this is the place?”
“I am,” Shangé replied. “I think I would remember where I got these.”
Shangé touched the scars on her face and Mingati looked away.
“I’m sorry, Shangé,” he said. “I apologize for my callousness.”
Shangé nodded. She relived the moment in her head and fought back a shudder.
“This is not simba habitat,” Olamayian said.
“It is no ordinary simba,” Shangé replied.
“Yet it is a simba. There are some instincts that it will follow. It has no choice.”
Olamayian set out at a trot, Mingati following. Shangé ran with them. She kept up with the tempo, despite the hunters’ pace and distance. As they neared a river bordered by low bushes and trees, Olamayian raised his hand.
“Do you hear it?” he asked.
“Yes,” Mingati replied. He looked at Shangé with worry on his face.
“I think we have found your simba.”
The men ran again and Shangé followed. As they neared the river a wave of fury overwhelmed her and she stumbled. The hunters continued to run, oblivious to her plight. The fury that overtook her transformed into familiarity.
“Mijoga!” she shouted.
Shangé sprinted by the hunters, snatching Mingati’s sword as she passed him. She neared the river and saw what caused her fear. Mijoga stood in the middle of the shallow waterway surrounded by male and female simbas. His mouth hung open; his breathing heavy. One of the male simbas lunged at Mijoga and he sidestepped as he slapped its face with his paw. The simba’s head jerked and it fell into the water. Another simba, a female, used the distraction to close in on Mijoga and nip at his hind leg. Mijoga spun and he roared. He bit at the female, but she retreated too fast.
“Mijoga!” Shangé shouted. She high stepped through the water and broke through ring of simbas, stopping be-fore Mijoga. Mijoga roared and charged her.
“Mijoga, it’s me, Shangé!”
Mijoga rose onto his hind legs, towering over Shangé. She did not move. If she was going to die, then so be it. She did not wish to live if this was their fate.
Mijoga dropped on all fours then stalked toward her. Their eyes met and Shangé dared to smile. The majestic simba pushed his head against her chest gently. Tears welled in Shangé’s eyes as she gripped his mane.
“I see you,” she said. “And you see me.”
Mijoga jerked his head, tossing Shangé into the water. He blocked the simba lunging where Shangé had been with his body then wrapped his forelimbs around the beast. The two maneuvered their heads about looking for an opening to bite. Shangé scrambled to her feet, blocking the path of a female attempting to join the fight. She swung Mingati’s sword with skillful precision, driving the female back. The other simbas gathered but Shangé held them at bay. One of the simbas decided to attack; its charge interrupted by a spear piercing its side. Olamayian and Mingati appeared, shields raised and spears thrusting at the pride. The simbas fled, each familiar with the hunters and their deadly skills. Shangé didn’t notice their arrival; she embraced Mijoga.
“I know this is not how we envisioned being together,” she whispered. “But you are alive, and I am thankful for it.”
Olamayian and Mingati stared at her and Mijoga.
“This is your simba,” Mingati said.
“Yes,” she replied.
“What will you have us do?” Olamayian asked.
A strange sensation entered her mind. Shangé raised her head to the sky. Clouds formed overhead, but these were not rainy season clouds. It was something more ominous.
“Leave. Now,” she said. “The Spirits are coming, and it is not safe for you to be here.”
The men backed away, then turned and ran.
Mijoga pressed against her, a rumble coming from deep in his throat. Shangé massaged his mane.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “There is nothing we can do. Let us hope whatever they do to us, it will be quick.”
The clouds pressed together then descended around them. The Elders were present, and they were not pleased.
“Why is he still alive?” they said in unison.
“Because I chose to spare him.”
The clouds shifted and a being emerged, one Shangé loved more than any other.
“Mama,” she whispered.
“You defied our judgement,” the Elders said.
“As is my right as Eldest,” Mama responded “Mijoga did nothing to deserve death.”
“He defiled a spirit.”
Mama looked at Shangé.
“It was my daughter’s transgression. What mortal can resist the attentions of a Spirit? She has been punished enough, and so has he.”
Mama walked to Shangé and Mijoga then stood be-tween them, placing her hands on them. Shangé felt her power and lowered her head in respect.
“Shangé and Mijoga will serve us,” she said. “They will be our presence in this land. When our worshippers call, they will answer. This will be their penance until the El-ders are satisfied.”
Mama was answered by silence. The clouds ascended into the gray sky then dissipated, revealing the dim stars.
“We shall see.”
Shangé hugged Mama tight.
“Thank you for saving us,” she said.
“You are safe for now,” Mama replied. “The Elders may decide to go against me if they can overcome their fear.”
Mama pushed Shangé away at arm’s length. She touched the scars on her face.
“These marks will remain until the Elders forgive you,” she said. “They are a reminder of your disobedience. Serve us well, daughter.”
“But what of Mijoga?” Shangé asked. “Will he ever be a human again? Will we ever be together?”
Mama’s smile faded.
“In one life . . .or another.”
A strong wind enveloped them and Mama’s form dissipated like the smoke from a weak fire. Shangé gazed where she once stood for a moment, then knelt to hug Mijoga’s neck.
“We are still alive, my love, and one day we will be together, in one life or another.”
They walked together toward the distant hills, the sun’s light fading until they disappeared into darkness.
I hope you enjoyed Sacrifice. Read more about Shange' and Mijoga in Fallen, on sale now from MVmedia, LLC