This scene opening introduces the antagonist, who is on his way to see a oracle to gain insight into what he seeks. The outcome of this visit, besides the antagonist's goals, is what drives his actions through the rest of the story.
A colony of grey birds, flying in unison like soldiers marching to a beat, swarmed the grey skies. Basorun Ga, prime minister of Eyeo Kingdom was many miles from home. He rode on quagga back with his chief guard, Jahi, at his side.
As they neared the Black city, the air changed. The smell of the air, dirty, stale, and intoxicating, hung heavy like a thick slab. Ga raised his head high, narrowing his gaze at what was the city entrance. The city had no gates. It was completely fenced in with tall trees, vines, and bushes—all interconnected severally.
As Ga and Jahi rode down the only road that led in and out of the city, Ga shook his head. One road to get in. One road to get out. He wondered at the marvelous stupidity of the ancestors who had designed the city. Surely, the layout made the city prone to disaster. An emergency evacuation would result in a stampede with many crushed before they could make it out.
The road was surrounded on both sides by trees: baobab trees at the forefront, palm trees in the rear. Monkeys swung wildly in the trees swooping down every now and then to steal from unsuspecting passers-by.
Ga lightly tapped the leather pouch strapped to his waist. He knew his coins were secure but still needed to confirm this for his own mental satisfaction. The purpose of his visit to the Black city was worrying enough. He didn’t need one more thing to worry about.
As they neared the entrance, Jahi cleared his throat.
“Basorun,” said Jahi, addressing Ga by his title.
Ga grunted in reply.
“Why have we come this far to this evil city?” Jahi continued, not looking at Ga. “There are legends of the evil of this land. False men who call themselves oracles. Witches who promise to bring the dead back to life.” Jahi glanced cautiously at Ga. When Ga paid him no attention, he cleared his throat and continued. “Many who go in can never leave; so I have heard. They are kept here against their own wills or better judgment. Should we not turn back now?”
“Is that so now?” Ga said with a sly grin and mockery in his voice. “Are you saying that if it came down to it, if things went wrong, you would not be able to protect me?”
“No, Basorun,” Jahi replied hesitantly. “I will give my last breath to protect you and get you out of this city if it comes down to it.”
As Jahi spoke, Ga looked around him, taking in his surroundings. Past the entrance, the road split off into several paths, snaking around houses, mud huts, stone huts, wine houses. Ga and Jahi followed the path that wound around, leading to a tiny, lonely hut just at the edge of the city.
Ga felt his chest tighten as he drew nearer to the hut. The man he sought, the one he had heard much about, the one he had traveled several miles to seek his wisdom, was said to reside there.
“The evil stories of this place are well known around the capital,” Jahi said, looking around cautiously. “My own wife’s mother, who disappeared many years ago, often visits my wife in her dreams. Whenever my wife asks her where she is, what she is doing, who she is with, she says, ‘the Black city, herding souls for the seven wicked sisters.’”
Ga frowned and put some space between him and Jahi, as if Jahi’s fear was catching. And perhaps it was. He had heard many such tales too. But he had come prepared. Ga put a hand in his pocket, lightly feeling for his protection charm. A few days before leaving Eyeo, he had visited the most powerful father-of-mysteries in Yoo, Capital of Eyeo Kingdom.
Ga conquered his fears and forced a smile on Jahi. “Only cowards run at the first sign of danger. We haven’t come across any sign of danger yet and you act like you’ve just seen a ghost. A fine bodyguard you are.”
Ga snorted, returning his eyes to the hut before him, thinking about the man he had come to find. If he found the wisdom he sought, he would be well on his way to achieving one of two things he most desired in this life. These two things had he devoted a majority of his recent years to.
He took a deep breath in, boosting his confidence. Jahi was right to be if not fearful, at least wary. He was now close to attaining immortality. He could not afford to die in the Black city. If he did, his death would be nothing more than a statistic.
Soon they came to a stop in front of the hut. Ga sat silently on his quagga, cantering on the spot, a determined look on his face. He would not die in the Black city. He would get the information he needed and leave at first light the next day.
“Basorun,” Jahi said after clearing his throat. “This is the house of an oracle.”
Ga grunted. “And?” he said, a challenge in his voice.
Jahi ducked his head, not daring to reply.
“Here,” said Ga, tugging at the leather pouch at his waist. He threw it in Jahi’s direction. “Find us a room to pass the night. There should be enough money in there to find us a decent place. Decent enough to sleep in and not draw attention. I shall like my own private sleeping room.”
Jahi took the pouch and immediately secured it around his own waist. “But Basorun.”
“I’m afraid we part ways here. For now,” Ga said. “Find a room and come meet me at the Mighty One wine-house. It’s the red and blue house we passed on our way here.”
“I cannot leave you,” Jahi replied. “If anything were you happen to you—,”
“I command it,” Ga replied in a stern voice as he alighted from his quagga and strolled towards the door of the lonely looking hut. He didn’t bother to look back as he heard Jahi ride away.
A most unsettling feeling came over Ga. He glanced at the wall, where a door should be, hoping to see the eyes that watched him. It was curious. There were no eyes, but he knew he was being watched.
He had not been scared of anything in recent years. And he didn’t like that the Black city brought out his fears. Fears of dying—not just dying but dying a bad death, forever doomed to live in the underworld.
He was glad he had sent Jahi away. He didn’t want to catch anyone’s fears. He had heard tales that in the Black city, fears were amplified. Feelings in general were amplified.
He touched one hand to his protection charm. Then he touched his hands to his hips to find comfort in his sword, but his hand met empty space. He snorted. He had left his weapons on Jahi’s quagga. It was considered bad luck, in the Black city, to enter the house of an oracle with armor. He leaned forward to lightly feel the knife he had strapped to his legs. It was hidden beneath his wide pants. The oracle need not know that he had come armored, he told himself, and smiled secretly.