Chapter 3: The Ukure.
Within the rectangular-shaped, windowless shed, unwelcoming to natural light. The only source is the one bulb dangling above in the centre. The siblings stand a few steps away from the worktable, the tome in the one’s hands and the slumbering staff in the hand of the other.
Cece’s eyes are fastened on the first page. Already she feels her bicep muscles complain with a dull ache. Her eyes glide across the pale and almost invisible inscriptions, dismal compared to the brilliant spectacle she witnessed before.
“Well….” Contemplative, her eyes look up for a moment. “I could only see it, when the staff started to, you know.…” She gives him a pointed look, but it seems to go right over his head.
Outright, she asks, “How did you make the staff to… glow or whatever?”
Litha heaves up both shoulders and they slump back down. “Dude how am I supposed to know? You’re the one holding a mythical manual. Maybe you were the one that triggered the glow.”
Considering his rebuttal, her eyes affix unto the page, studying it as if she can understand the enigma of it all. For a long, assessing moment she keeps silent, examining. She even balances the hefty tome on her forearm for just a second to flip over to the next page.
Litha takes the time to speculate about the staff’s origins, admiring its craftsmanship, the wood appearing furnished as if chiselled by a skilled hand. Definitely not something that was plucked just anywhere. His eyes takes it’s time, sliding up until it reaches the crystal, glassy with a calm cold tint of blue. On the inside it teems with an unearthly fogginess trapped within like stagnant clouds. Latent but still has an otherworldly feel to its presence, an entrancing sight to one’s vision.
Cece’s frustrated sigh veers him off his brooding trail and he looks back at her. Irritation pinching the corners of her face.
“Okay….” Then her eyes flutter wildly with an idea. She pivots her torso to face him fully. “I remember that the glow only happened when you did that thing with the staff.”
Confusion screws up his face.
“That Nanny McPhee thing, you banged the staff on the floor, and suddenly—” she shudders theatrically, “—boom. Instant glow.”
Remembrance sparks in his eyes and he snaps a nod. He lengthens his spine and holds the staff with both hands directly in front of him, aligning it in focused equilibrium. Cece trains her eyes back unto the page, watching expectantly.
Litha inhales a ready breath. He dramatically raises his occupied hands to align with his forehead. Then he stomps it on the ground, and it claps a hard thud.
His eyes stare into the leaden crystal. He repeats the motion again and still nothing happens, repeated two more times, the result is the same.
Maddened, he jerks the staff aside into one hand.
“Nada, not even a flash of light.”
Cece’s face creases with a pensive look, fleshly folds forming between her brows, still clinging to hope’s fingers.
“Fine, okay. Maybe we need to feel it from the inside, like… in our core.”
Litha looks back at her, cheeks swelling, trying to contain his laughter. It withers in his mouth and hollow breaths blasts from his lips.
“In our core?” He snickers and shakes his head. “There must be something in Lakeshore’s air that you’re getting high on. Because you’ve been saying weird things ever since we got here.”
She meanders around his remark and continues, “Perhaps we should… do it together?” She offers him her hand and Litha glares at it like its lathered in mud.
“Girl, I am not holding your hand.”
She waggles her fingers.
“Put it down or get slapped,” he says through gritted teeth. “I have no clue how to activate it or whatever. But I’m not doing that.”
Her hand returns to the tome’s rear. “Okay then suggest something. What do you think we need to do to get it to work?”
He shrugs. “I don’t know, but now I feel pretty stupid standing here like we’re about to do a pagan ritual.”
Cece bops her head slowly and then it grows to a passionate nod, like she listening to a motivational speaker. “You’re right, this isn’t helping.” She flips the tome a close and hugs it to her chest. “At the end of the day, we found this tome in gran’s shed. Why not ask her about it?”
Litha gawks at her. “And tell her our grandmother, a headstrong Christian what? That her grandkids were innocently reorganising, as we were told. And somehow, we ended up doing some juju, black magic stuff.”
Her expression falters for a millisecond.
He snorts. “She will drown us in holy water and burn us like we’re witches for doing sorcery in her shed.”
She rolls her eyes at the melodrama. “It’s not witchcraft and it’s not even our fault. Why did she have these things—” her eyes dart the staff and tome, “—in her shed anyways? Plus, it’s not like we’ll tell her everything. Just ask what the tome is, why she has it, and that’s it.”
Litha revolves, he goes down to a low squat and shuffles forward to return the staff where he found it. He scuffles back out and rises with a neutral expression.
He outstretches an arm to the door. “After you.”
Cece takes the lead. They both go back to the house and enter via sliding door. Gramps sits in the quaint living room, reclined on a single rounded wedge armchair. His legs are extended; feet comfortably propped on an ottoman, his crocs peacefully swaying from side to side. A spread-out newspaper in his grasp, concealing his entire torso.
Gran stands behind the island counter, chopping away at onions, each precise slice lapping unto one another in a small neat heap.
The two exchange ready looks and separate. Litha casually makes his way to gramps and plops down on the couch adjacent from him, his back facing Cece. She then saunters forward towards gran with steady, unhurried steps. The continual chopping sounds pounding on the wooden cutting board, somehow syncing with her heartbeat that speeds up with each step forward.
“So grandma, when we were reorganising. I came across this book thing.” She holds up the tome to display it, the back of its head resting against her chest, hands under the base. “And it looks crazy interesting, like something you would only find at an antique store. Where did you buy it?”
Barely batting an eye at the sear of the onion. She looks up at her to spare a glimpse. Then her gaze locks on the tome. Immediately her chest inflates, and she freezes. Frozen, as if every muscle in her body stiffens from temporary paralysis.
Her expression as sharp as the knife in her stagnant hand.
Gramp’s feet continue to sway, reading on.
Much harsher. “Walter.”
Gramp’s feet stills, slapping the newspaper on his lap. “Brenda,” he mimics with an adolescent-like attitude thrusted in his tone. He peers over at them with his thick framed reading glasses, on the brink of the his nose. With a quick poke, he nudges it up higher.
He twists his torso to glance back at his wife, and her eyes steer him to Cece pointedly. He straightens and his eyes implode wide when his eyes land on the tome.
Gramp’s hits his back against the chair. “Brennie baby, I thought we had—”
“We did,” she concludes firmly.
“Did what?” Litha asks from over his shoulder.
“Threw it out. The time when the house was being redone. I was working on the shed, getting rid of a lot of junk. Mostly your grandfather’s.”
Gramps scoffs loudly. “If that was the aim, you forgot to throw yourself out, too.”
Gran scowls, burning him with a flesh-melting glare. His eyes widen in fear, knowing he struck a cord. He clears his throat and picks up the newspaper, chest-high, bent at an angle, busying himself.
Gran’s eyes soften and she looks back at Cece. “Basically, I could have sworn that I packed that tome in one of the boxes that was going to the garbage.”
Cece frowns. “Why garbage, why not donate it to a library or something?”
Gran’s eyes dip to dodge her gaze and she resumes to slice through the reminder of the last onion. “I don’t tend to donate garbage. Besides, there’s nothing written in it anyway.”
Her frown deepens, analysing her sentence structure. That she deemed it to be garbage, but not because there is nothing written inside of it, perceivably. But clearly for another personal reason.
“Grandma.” She studiously avoids eye contact. “What is this book?”
Gran finishes, she carefully places the knife on the edge of the cutting board, hanging her head. Gramps slides his legs off the ottoman, folding up the newspaper to place it on the arm of the seat.
“Bren, they have a right to know. It’s part of their heritage, their roots.”
With max willpower, she yields and nods curtly. She straightens and walks to the living room; she flags Cece over to follow. She tails gran in and she sits down on the other end of the same couch that Litha is on. Resting the tome on her lap. Gran moves to sit on another single armchair, directly opposite Litha.
She sinks slowly into her seat. “How much has your mother told you about our people’s history?”
“You mean… colonialism?” Litha queries, “And slavery?”
Gran’s expression distorts, poisoned by disgust. She shakes her head.
“It is a part of our history, but it’s not all of it. And it alone does not define our people. Because the part that they won’t teach you in school. Is that you come from greatness, born of royal roots.”
Intrigued, Litha leans forward to place his elbows on his knees.
Cece’s face, avid with interest.
“A transitory time of ancient greatness. Where all our people, our ancestors were home in Africa. The ancient tribes sprawled across the Dark Continent. Nama, a tribe over a hundred thousand years old. Sandawe, Hadza and Maassai. Many historians know the legends of Africa, some foreigners know its myths. But none know of its truth.”
“The Dark Continent harbours many horrors, under the guise of its unforgettable scenery. And beneath its rich-coloured landscapes hides a dark truth. One amongst its people, but I will elaborate on the chronicle of that tome.” She jabs a finger at it.
“Your mother’s maiden name, our last name. Okoro. Our lineage traced back thousands of years, our family tree from its branches to its stems. You will find the Umburter tribe. And like many clans, there was a hierarchy. An order.”
Gramps threads onto the narrative and says, “There was often a Chieftain and his wives. There were witch doctors, Sangomas, ones that could communicate beyond the grave and necromancers that could raise people from it.”
“Complete satanism,” gran comments, words submerged in despise. “That’s why westerners saw our livelihoods as primitive, barbaric and plain right evil.”
Gramps flicks her an irritated look and resumes. “But in this ‘primitive’ class system, there were warriors that fought foreign foes seen and there the ones that fought the ones unseen. The Ukure. A direct translation: The Two that battles the shadows.”
He scratches his temple and looks to the ceiling, outside the window and back. “If I’m remembering the story correctly. It was said that the Two were born into a different tribe with each generation?” He looks back to gran, tag-teaming.
She nods to confirm and expands. “The Two were known as protectors, unifiers. The legend of what they could do was proclaimed from the southern tip until the crown of Africa. They were the guardians of the natural tier and defenders against the ethereal plain.”
The siblings listen raptly, eyes transfixed on her as she regales the tale.
“The Rift. A threshold, a breach between inter-dimensions. A gateway to other worlds. But not ones that you would think. You see these portals were one-way, no mortal can pass, but only creatures of the dark can breach.”
Gran runs her hands down her thighs, rubbing, generating heat.
“These creatures, beasts, terrorized people, slaughtering them without thought. Until Ukure. The Two. And it was said that only one pair was born in each region, blessed with powers to protect its tribe and those surrounding it.”
Litha shifts in his seat with sudden discomfort. “Blessed how, like what kind of powers?”
She narrows her eyes at him suspiciously, then casts her gaze into the distance. “The Two were gifted with, I guess, weapons that have been said to be imbued with the power of the gods. Ones that can defend people against these…creatures.”
An alien feeling emerges inside the pit of Litha’s stomach, swarming. Cece’s breath comes out shallow, tension pulling tightly in her chest.
“One Ukure had the power of the mouth; to rebuke demons and her words manifested into being. The other had the power of god’s light, to light up even the deepest of darkness. Power honed by a crystal. Owem, god’s eye.”
Gramps observes each of them closely. From a one dimensional outlook, they seem normal. But he pays attention to the granular details: each lip quiver, every futile shift, the fixated staring.
“Although their power was different, both needed each other. They were Two, but their powers worked as one.”
Gran stabs a finger at the tome again.
“That tome is a book of lore. A lore of the supernatural. Where knowledge was gleaned from each tribe to compose that book. It documented each creature that the tribes had encountered. The types, weaknesses, how they fed and what they did. The tome is supposed to be like a bible for all things mythological. Including oracles and incantations that were used as a weapon against it.”
Cece’s eyes burn for mercy, she blinks rapidly to provide relief. “How do you know about this?”
“From my mother,” she says flatly. “She was half-mad, obsessed with anything about the time where the Umburter still lived. About its forgotten legacy and all the myths that encompassed it. Which I believe is straight up wickedness, nonsense, and nothing else. A result of all the witchcraft that they were doing.”
“Okay,” Litha says, and flaps a hand as if to shove aside her comments. “But what happened to the Umburter, the Ukure… how come something as legendary as that, get forgotten.”
Gran lets out a deep breath, growing weary of the topic. “With the knowledge accumulated, they came to find out about the Rift. The gateway to where all these evils were entering. And most importantly, they found a way to close it.”
Litha edges to the verge of his seat, imploring her to go on soundlessly.
“The Rift, apparently, has been sealed for centuries now. After, there was no need for the Ukure and with their fall, peace fell with it. Tribes turned on each other, out of greed and fear of westerners. Their story became legend, legend into myth and myth. Forgotten.”
Cece sneaks a glimpse of her brother, speaking towards the tome, she says, “So there was only one Rift?”
Gran’s cheeks crinkle. “Not as my mother explained it. You see, the Ukure was born into different regions of Africa, with each new generation. She believed that there weren’t just Rifts in the motherland, but around the world as well.”
Litha nods slowly, a forearm lifts and he pastes his fist on his forehead. “So….” Mentally digesting. “How is it that you have the ‘book of lore’, and if its somehow part of our history, yet you seem you want nothing to do with it?”
“Don’t get it twisted, boy. I love my history and I respect my heritage.” Her gaze slips away. “I just don’t like that dark side of it. I wasn’t joking when I said you come from greatness. Africa is a treasure, and the world knows it. Its why they stole from it, too.”
“Bren,” gramps says softly.
But she speaks over him and says, “But sometimes, the dark overshadows the light. The tome on the other hand is sacred and was kept with the elders of the Umburter tribe. Passed down through the ages, and it ended up in the hands of my mother. When she passed, her belongings become mine. I only kept a few things, got rid of the rest. And I thought the tome was included.”
Slapping her hands on her thighs, echoing a loud clap. She carefully rises to full height. “I think that’s enough storytelling for one day. The pasta isn’t going to make itself.”
“Wait.” Cece’s plea brings her to a fleeting stop.
She rattles off her questions. “What about the Ukure? What happened to them, how could they have possibly just vanished? Is there anything more you can tell us?”
Gran stares down at her and suspicion returns to constrict her eyes.
“Yes, there is one thing,” she says. “The Ukure were always siblings.”
She rotates and stalks off to the kitchen.