At the outskirts of the village, far from the domain
of men, the witch women seethed--spreading their magic
across earth and sky. At center was Akala, who had
witnessed the births of four chiefs and outlived them
all. Hers was the power of creation itself, and no
man dared cross her path. To meet her gaze was a
danger none could abide, for it was said she could
steal a man's staff with a soft breath and flash of
But not even Akala had the power to destroy the evil
that plagued their people. It slunk and crawled in
the shadows, out of her glowing sight. For this
unforgivable weakness she was banished to the edges of
society. While the priests were also helpless in the
face of evil, it was Akala who paid the price for
their mortal vulnerability. Only women dared visit
the witch and share her powers of healing and sight.
That morning Akala had confined herself to the steam
hut and refused to emerge for meals or meditation.
She was compelled to cleanse herself, she told her
apprentices, after the evil work that had been done.
The three girls in her charge were confused by her
words, but knew that Akala saw things in the air and
the earth that most humans ignored.
The sun had only just reached its peak in the sky when
a group of women approached Akala's hut. Maibe, the
youngest of the witch's apprentices, was busy cooking
the noon meal in the hopes that her mistress would
agree to eat something. She did not notice their
visitors until Uri emerged from the main hut behind
"The wives of Yafeu draw near," Uri advised her
Glancing up, Maibe was alarmed to see the prostrate
form of a young girl cradled in the arms of the
chief's four wives. "Fetch Akala," she ordered.
"But Maibe, she does not wish--"
"Tell her that Yafeu wills it," Maibe snapped.
Rising to her feet, Maibe quickly removed the clay pot
from the fire's embers and set it aside. If the child
was ill, they would need the fire to draw out the
disease. By the time she stood straight again, the
wives had reached Akala's hearth.
"We wish to see the witch," the first wife said. Her
mother had given her a name, a blessed title spoken
with love and respect. But now and forever she would
be known only as First Wife, the most favored of
"I am here," Akala's husky voice spoke.
Maibe crouched to the ground immediately in deference
to her superior. The older witch stepped past her,
pressing a comforting hand to her shoulder in
acknowledgement of the respect she'd been paid.
"My daughter is sick," said First Wife. "She does not
move...she does not awaken."
Akala gazed into the woman's fearful eyes for many
long moments, as if searching for something. First
Wife was too frightened to look away, but soon began
to shiver when the witch's gaze grew too heavy to
"You gave her to the priests," Akala said flatly.
"They asked for your flesh, and you gave it to them
First Wife's mouth dropped open in surprise. "They
seek only to help our people," she explained.
"Bah!" Akala exclaimed. "They invoke spirits they
cannot possibly understand. Your daughter is
The other wives exchanged worried glances. What would
the witch see if she looked into their own eyes? They
cast their gazes down toward the sandy earth at their
feet, terrified of what secrets might spill out of
"Put her here, near the fire," Akala commanded. "We
must see what may be done for her now."
After the child was placed on the ground, Akala
gestured for her apprentices to help her kneel. Maibe
slung one arm around the witch's narrow torso and
supported her descent. With Uri's assistance, Akala
unwrapped the swath of furs covering the girl,
exposing her naked body to the sun.
Maibe gasped when she saw the ragged scars
crisscrossing the child's dusky flesh. It looked as
though she had been attacked by a wild animal. Claws
and teeth had ripped through her skin. The wounds
were already healing, marking her with puckered white
scars that might never fully disappear.
"When did this occur?" Maibe asked, glancing up at
Akala paid no mind to this line of questioning, and
Maibe guessed that she already knew the answer.
"Two nights ago," First Wife responded. She seemed
unable to look upon her daughter's injuries, and
stared across the landscape instead.
"Uri, please find Eshe and prepare for the ceremony,"
Akala murmured. She continued to examine the girl's
body, and did not turn to be sure her request was
The wives glanced among themselves in confusion,
obviously wondering what Akala intended to do. But
both Uri and Maibe understood that only an exorcism
would remove the darkness from the child's soul.
"You daughter has been violated," Akala explained.
"Her essence is polluted. She is lost within the
darkness inside of her, and will never emerge into the
light until that darkness is removed."
First Wife suddenly wailed in grief, her head falling
back against her shoulder as she railed against the
gods. In a flash, Akala rose to her feet with an
agility that surprised them all.
"Do not curse the gods," she hissed. "Foolish woman!
It is men who have done this to your child. Men! You
can only hope I am able to reverse the damage they
Darkness fell before the ritual was complete.
Writhing naked in the firelight, the old woman
contorted her body into seemingly impossible positions
as she danced around the child. Uri and Maibe kept
the tempo of her movement by beating their palms on
the hides of impalas stretched tightly across a wooden
frame. They sang the words of light and creation, and
whispered lustful encouragements to the demons within
the girl's body. These creatures of darkness would be
unable to resist their promises of pleasure.
Hours passed before Akala finally stopped. Facing the
fire, she arched her back and twisted her torso to
stare down at the unconscious girl behind her.
Something had begun to move beneath the child's skin.
Maibe and Uri fell quiet, while Eshe stood nearby in
case Akala needed her support. The wives stared in
abject horror as the wriggling thing inside of the
girl traveled up from her innards to tremble just
beneath her ribcage. Shouting in the heavy silence,
Akala whirled and bent above the girl. She thrust her
hand toward the quiet form beneath her. When her
fingers met with solid flesh, the witch paused only
briefly before pressing even further. The wives
screamed when Akala's hand disappeared into the girl's
chest. First Wife rose to her feet, but Eshe was
there to push her back.
Akala groaned in pain. Muttering to herself, she
began to chant words of power. Maibe and Uri frowned,
unsure of how they should respond. Aware of their
confusion, Akala glanced over her shoulder at them and
shook her head. Several agonizing moments passed
before the witch finally began to pull away from the
child. When her hand emerged from the girl's flesh,
it was covered in a thick black substance. It
appeared to be blood, but Maibe knew it was the
essence of the evil thing that had polluted the
Standing, Akala glanced down at her arm. The viscous
fluid did not fall away from her outstretched hand,
but quickly surged up toward her elbow, desperate to
find solace within her body. Twisting to face the
fire once more, Akala shouted again and threw the
substance into the flames. The fire seethed outward
as she did, flaring with a tremendous power. A low
scream arched out of the orange flames and quickly
vanished into the night air.
Maibe spotted an odd glimmer within the glowing
embers. Leaning forward, she caught Akala's eye and
tilted her head in question. The woman gazed at her
impassively, but seemed to pass a silent message her
way. Taking a deep breath, Maibe jumped to her feet
and stood between the hearth and the cluster of wives.
Her wide wrap dragged against the earth and
sufficiently blocked the fire from their view. They
did not seem to notice the movement, however, for the
child had awakened at last.
First Wife pulled her daughter into her arms, crooning
wordlessly. The girl stared up at her mother in
confusion, then reached down to touch the slashes
crossing her arms and chest. When she saw Akala
standing over them, she seemed to cringe away in fear.
A visit to the witch was not understood to be a
"Uri," Akala said, gesturing for her furs. Her
apprentice draped the heavy material over her
shoulders, and Akala wrapped it tightly around her
"You must not let the priests see her again," Akala
advised. "She is a tool of their creation, and they
will seek to corrupt her powers."
First Wife stared at her suspiciously. Maibe knew in
that instant that even though Akala had saved the
child's life, Yafeu would allow the priests to train
the girl as they saw fit, and his wives would not dare
Shaking her head, Akala said, "Leave, then. But mark
my words. As Woman bends to the rule of Man, only
pain may follow."
After the girl was dressed and a small payment
presented, the wives took their leave of Akala's
hearth. The old woman watched them go, her shoulder
sagging slightly. No matter how stoic she appeared,
Maibe knew that their suspicion cut her deeply. The
priests had gained much authority in recent years, and
soon Akala would not receive any visitors at all. The
tribe had begun to believe in the power of men, and
nothing she could do would sway their opinion on the
"What is it, old Mother?" Uri gasped, staring into the
Maibe turned to follow her gaze. Deep within the
flames, a strange object gleamed brightly, red like
the heat of a burning torch.
"The fires of Creation have given us this gift," Akala
explained. "With our sacrifice we have created light
from darkness. It is a weapon for the girl. One day
she will use it to sever herself from the bounds of
Man. Take it from the fire, Maibe."
Expelling her breath, Maibe glanced at Akala in alarm.
"Old Mother?" she asked.
Akala only nodded and gestured forward. Maibe bit her
lip when she realized she was trembling. She did not
dare show her fear in front of the others. They knew
she was favored among the apprentices, and secretly
loathed the day she would take Akala's place.
Steeling herself for the pain that would follow, Maibe
plunged her arm into the fire. At first, the
agonizing blast of heat was more than she could bear.
But to remain in the flames at that point would only
mean her death. Grasping the solid object, she
quickly hefted it out of the fire.
The night air cooled her flesh instantly, and the true
pain began. Maibe screamed as her flesh sizzled with
deep burns, the skin beginning to melt along the
handle of her prize. But a moment later a strange
white light enveloped the weapon. As it grew in
strength, it rose up along her arm, chilling the
injured flesh. A sharp flash forced the others to
cover their eyes. And then the weapon was silent
again...merely a heavy weight lying dead in her hand.
"Akala," Uri whispered, forgetting the witch's proper
title. "It is beautiful."
"It is death," Akala said simply. "The banishment of
evil, to be wielded only by Woman. We must not let
the priests learn of its existence. If they do, they
will take from her, and pervert its power."
Akala stepped closer to Maibe, who stared down at her
arm in amazement. The terrible burns were fading, and
the pain had vanished. "It should be protected," she
Smiling gently, Akala placed a hand on her shoulder.
"You understand what you must do, then? Its essence
has spilled into you. Only you are strong enough to
keep it safe. No man's eyes must ever fall upon the
weapon, not until she requires it. Until that
time...it must be hidden."
A flash of anger burned inside of her. The object in
her hand was death, as Akala had said. It signaled
her demise. Maibe knew she would never again see her
sister, or watch the sun rise across the village
rooftops. "Eshe is much stronger," she whispered,
trying to persuade the witch to choose another.
Akala shook her head. "Keep it hidden. If you fall,
elect another. She will come to you one day, and you
will be free."
The sound of shouts carried across the village, and
Akala's face hardened. "The priests have sent their
guards," she said. Shoving Maibe, she ordered, "Go
Breathlessly, Maibe merely had time to grab a large
fur to wrap around the weapon before she was forced to
race away from the huts. She knew she should put as
much distance between her and the village as she
could, but the sounds of a skirmish made her brush
along the edge of the settlement. Keeping near the
shadows, she slowed only when she was able to see the
group of men circling Yafeu's wives. To her
amazement, they shoved First Wife to her knees. While
the girl watched nearby, the guards thrust their
spears into her mother, impaling her.
Maibe stopped and leaned against the trunk of a tree.
She went unnoticed in the darkness as the girl
attacked the men who'd killed her mother. The child
screamed in impotent fury. When two of the men
attempted to grab her by the arms, she turned on them.
Maibe watched in shock as the girl broke the first
man's neck and forcibly threw the other against the
wall of a hut. It took six more guards to finally
still her rage.
"She is a tool," Maibe whispered, and understood what
Akala had meant. The priests would use the girl to
fight the dark creatures. To do this, they placed a
demon within her.
But it had been too much for one human to survive.
The child had been lost in the darkness, with no
chance of ever finding her way. When Akala removed
the most brutal aspect of her soul, the girl was
finally able to find her voice.
Such a tool could have but one master. A mother would
distract and engage a girl, giving her love when only
hate and fury would destroy the darkness. It was as
men viewed the world, at any rate. So the priests
removed such distraction. And now the girl was bound
to them, bound just as tightly as Akala had predicted.
Maibe squeezed the weapon in her hands. Her challenge
was greater than she ever imagined. But the
child's...the child's life was far worse. Until the
day she found her strength, she would bend to the rule
of Man. Maibe grieved for Akala's loss of power. If
only the women had found another way to destroy the
demons. But Maibe could do nothing more to help.
Helpless, she turned away from the village and
continued on her way. She would keep it hidden until
it was needed. Maibe fervently hoped that time was