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Toti was the perfect girl-next-door. At least that is what she depicted about herself at campus. Toti Mumbi was your average insanely beautiful girl that moved in from some mid-town hovel somewhere from Eastern Province. No one in campus that had resided in Onika long enough had known her for past the two years she had been at the school. Apparently, she moved in just as she was joining campus. And then again, it was pretty difficult the common misconception portrayed by highlanders about Onikans all-knowing each other in a vast city populated by near 1.2 million people. And so Toti took a crowd pretty easily when she had moved in two years ago. She got all boy attention at class, to the dismay and displeasure to her many competitors (most of whom lacked in her abundance of feminine whims). And so, she knew how to use the attention to her advantage. Granted it did get her in and out of relationships here and there with her heart nearly in shreds each instance. However, the down side (and the massive one to this) was Toti had plenty of rumours circulating the campus about her with her second week of admission. And bright, little, shy caramel-skinned Toti endured plenty of things her entire life, but the one thing she couldn’t stand was gossip about her. Most frequently if it wasn’t true, which it always was not. Toti loved herself, the very image of it. She was beautiful, and practically, she rather knew it. However, she did have such a peculiar capacity of rationing her beauty for people to see, to watch. Whenever she came to campus each morning, she wore different wear for each day. It may have ranged between blue jeans to black denim jeans. And it did sound monotonous for her, yes. But that’s all she wore all day every day, tees with jeans. And one could have easily said you couldn’t measure beauty by dressing so casually, but for Toti, beauty was casual. She woke up to her body every day, and put it to sleep the same. So, whether in jeans or a long elegant dinner dress, Toti was stunning (though she rarely did wear any dresses; apparently, they didn’t really feel her enough). Toti rationed her beauty elegantly it seemed, and she did this always to the contempt of her adversaries. And yes, Toti did know she had enemies. Though she couldn’t really consider them such, for an enemy was the kind that one watched in epic fantasy TV shows, the kind bent on one’s destruction and complete annihilation, they weren’t the sort to spread rumours and hate like scheming little teenage girls. And that’s just what they were: scheming little teenagers. Late ones at least. In a year or two most of them would be in their twenties: the decade that breaks the lot of them to their bare cores and remoulds them in the shape with which the universe has fated for them.

No sooner had Toti joined college, than she was already dating some bloke in Maina’s class no one really cared about. She allegedly had her heart broken by that one, who it must have been emphasized, came onto her. Then she hovered for a couple more weeks or months in the endless void that was singlehood. It truly was an awkward spectacle to her for she was used to her usually sweeping off their feet of men. And yes again, Toti did sweep men of their feet (non-gender roles-wisely speaking). But it wasn’t as though that entire time she was completely alone, no. She often received comments from gawking admirers left right and centre. And she would have lied that she didn’t completely thrall on it. However, when a couple of rowdy boys from campus came to the Baroda Apartment Complex where she resided with her meek roommate and sort of best friend Tsofa, and practically harassed her, that was it for the open-air attention. She began being selective about who had the right and capability of greeting her or merely socializing with her. She meant right, and such was her reference to Tsofa, in that not just every man could use her as he pleased. She wouldn’t be her loyal, charming, kind self and get pushed around just because some practically misogynist-drowned, insult-flaming Y-chromosome wanted at her loins. No. She would stand up for herself. And more importantly, she’d sieve out any and every individual proven to be an absolute perversion of her solidarity, whether the campus knew or not. But this barely ended well for her, and relationship after aching, heart-breaking relationship she often picked up the pieces and moved on. All on her own. Of course, with the help of Tsofa.

Tsofa was another wide-eyed, permissive girl in the same Clinical Medicine class as Toti. They had met during the campus orientation of their academic year in the grounds, both moles of their own anthills. Tsofa was fair-skinned, her skin tone was gravy brown with freckles and heat rash cast upon her skin in scores so much so any passer-by got the impression that she was a native after all. Tsofa spoke with such a Swahili accent that was indigenous only to the natural original Bantu speakers of the coastal region. So, without asking, many people perceived her to be a Digo or Duruma among the vast Mijikenda tribe. Toti and she struck a rather odd companionship. Two seemingly fresh peas in a pod. Peas, because their demeanour was somewhat similar (unless one considered highly Toti’s ridiculous tendency at moving male hearts). And the pod, obviously referred to their abode. It wasn’t much. But it pretty much was the best Old Town had to offer. It was safe yet, apart from that one time rowdy boys harassed Toti and they had to implore the building manager or caretaker to shift their rooms which they did. But Toti and Tsofa rarely attended parties. They always made their classes in time. Never drank, never smoke. They were the ideal team-up. The ideal cooping.

Anyways, it didn’t take long before, Toti found herself at Makiri’s feet. And this light-skinned, Nairobi-accented man swept her and swept her entirely off her feet. The same could have been confidently said about Makiri as well. He was obsessed with her. She was his everything, and everything, to him, was she. So, they dated, and ended: as fated. And now here was Toti, at the climax of a battle, standing before Maina, after uttering the most bizarre-appearing of words he had ever heard. A battle of choice; a battle for freedom: of not only thought but of her virtual mind. For she knew well enough now the complete capabilities of Maina’s mind. She knew what he could do. And he could practically enslave one’s mind without a hesitation and his captive wouldn’t know a shred of it. So, she had to be careful. But it was too late! She had already opened a can of worms by even mentioning the very word. And he would pry and pry and pry some more till he got all the successive information he needed and was satisfied with completely. If she didn’t give it to him willingly, he’d basically just take it for himself. Maina knew restraint, and this was many among other instances when it wouldn’t apply. He couldn’t afford to let his guard down just because some pretty little face wanted him to, and practically then tried to kill him. Maina did agree to himself that he was rather a bit paranoid, or more accurately, suffered from paranoia. However, one would have attributed this (had they known him) to his past multiple experiences in being hunted down. Yes, even Maina as powerful as he was, managed to tick off many many foes who proved to level up to his degree of severity, his degree of indifference for the consideration of someone else’s life (his). There was the witch clan of Njaro, that wanted at his parts for ‘magical experimentation’; The Heretics, that he nearly wiped out off the face of the continent and the planet because of their conflicting beliefs in how and why immortality should be gained; even the Talon, that once succeeded in capturing him, only to his subsequent escape and annihilation of his hosting family to whom Grim House belonged. So, in summation, Maina had been on the run a long time. And granted he couldn’t really be killed, there were far worse fates than death, he believed. So, he couldn’t merely just let Toti walk out the door, as if she didn’t just try to murder him in the most dishonourable way possible. He needed to know who had sent her, and why. So, as he stood in contemplation of the very words Toti had just uttered, he spoke.

“What on Earth is a semé?”

“You seem under the impression I’m inclined to tell you the absolute truth?” Answered Toti, somewhat defensively, somewhat concealing.

“Well, I was fairly certain that was what my earlier threat was insinuating. Yes, you are.”

“You expect me to tell you the absolute truth after you just tried to trap me in the haze of your psychic torture?”

“You tried to kill me!”

“I tried to save you”

“By killing me? Correct me if I’m wrong but your idea of salvation seems rather obscure?”

“Look, I had no choice!” She protested.

“What was in the pill you slipped into my glass?” Maina continued, “And before you dodge that question, I know you can feel me pry into your mind, so just tell me. If you want to leave here sane…”

“Popobawa venom”

Toti couldn’t understand why she couldn’t just shut up. Was it something Maina was doing in her head? Was it her guilt spewing out all her sins? She didn’t know, and quite frankly, it didn’t matter now. She had already poured out enough information to wring Maina into the havoc. She had failed, but worse so, she had disobeyed an order. She wouldn’t here the end of this. She remembered the words that she was told in bold, ‘KILL HIM, AND BE DISCREET ABOUT IT’.

Toti may not have understood discretion in a whole, but she knew that part of being discreet was not telling your potential victim about how you would have iced them. Toti pondered about whether her ease of tongue was influenced by her time together, undercover of course, with Maina. She wondered if she had actually developed feelings for the bloke. But he wasn’t just any bloke. He was an alleged jini. But more importantly, the task was reconnaissance, and if he got too close, termination. And why was Maina asking for the means with which she was going to kill him? Was he still in a feat to find death? Part of him, as he stood there interrogating his captive, was kind of curious as to if her efforts would have worked, if he had let it play through. But he had stopped her. Perhaps because he still yearned for the life he so wished to terminate so relentlessly. Perhaps he still wanted to hunt down and extinguish Al-Maawy, the murderer of his former. And in that moment, Maina found his dilemma: he wanted to die but not really completely. He wasn’t sure about what came after, if it was darkness or light, and after what he’d spent his recent immortal life doing, he was fairly sure, darkness ensued. And true enough the darkness was full of terrors, his own.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The tribe of Morio had successfully defended its own cause in Onika for practically centuries. Custodians to the secrecy of supernaturality, they always lived in the shadows, while ensuring all paranormal events (both happenstance and ideology), stayed there with them. Although, they couldn’t really infringe on and manipulate people’s thoughts, and therefore couldn’t particularly brainwash the normal people into believing otherwise than what they did, the tribe of Morio developed their expertise and competence in solving the issue of happenstance. Its order had existed as far back as to the time when Onika had been born: a subtle humble city state off the east coast of the Dark Continent. The tribe of Morio apparently dated back into 900AD circa, back when Onika was just the solely massive island bridled and filled with chaotic supernatural activity everywhere. And as the Omani Arabs came and the Chinese, Malaysians and even Greeks were to trade, Onika had been borne. And so, with it a secret society that was so tasked with managing all the unbridled supernatural activity happening forthwith. And that secret society became, the order of Morio. Passed down through centuries upon centuries, the tribe was in charge of supernatural containment, and none like it was found at any other locality in the country. Apparently, Onika, by her own, possessed ten-fold the amount of supernatural activity that happened on the rest half of the continent combined. And so, the rest of the region did not necessarily need the tribe of Morio; just Onika did. They managed many incidents, as per ranging from mere negligible sightings to acclaimed rioting detests of loss of lives at the hands of the paranormal (if you could even consider they had appendages). The tribe was effective and competent in their task. If there was a sighting, they would track it down, investigate, conceal, and most importantly, dismiss. For it was crucial that no one know of their existence. Otherwise, such would cause a mass hysteria, a panic. And the best by-the-book way of avoiding a mass panic was by causing a gross dismissal of an acclaimed fact. This would practically become among the melee of reasons as to why such stories only emerged from Onika; spread into the air via gossip and sometimes the media, but then eventually (and too eventually it had to be added) dissipate into nothingness as if the whole idea was literal hogwash. As if majini and mawanga and ibilisi did not really exist. However, saying such to an Onikan local, was like cursing the Bible at church, or worse, the Quran at Mosque. But such dismissal made work much easier for the tribe. They were after all, living in the 21st century, with all that technology and reason and probable scientific derivations for facts or outcomes. Ghosts and phantoms had no place in science. And as much as Onika was third world, the collective thought of her people was oddly perverse in the sight of all of the world. Onikans believed in superstitions. And yet with all their advancement and gleam into the modern world; with all the shame and shade cast upon them by ‘better-off’ countries; they still believed, with their smartphones, and motor vehicles, and modern medicine. They still believed in the local witch doctors that had the audacity to hang up their business banners around the city centre as if it was commonplace. Onikans, according to the vast modern world, were a people with a typical medieval thinking living in mid-revolutionary world. But, according to Onikans themselves, and practically the entire continent, there would always be a place in humanity for faith of thought. The Tribe knew this, fairly well. And besides, one couldn’t just tell another they were wrong about whatever they saw with their own eyes, no matter how bizarre. And Onika was bizarre, she was. And the Tribe did its very best to hide this so the public (at least those without the borders of the city) did not know of her deep-seated truth. For it was one thing to believe that hell was all fire and brimstone and sulphur; yet it was a complete other to experience it live, in person, and let it be. One would try destroy it.

The Tribe as much as guard against leakages, also defended those who were innocent. In such context, innocent supernatural beings. Those who wouldn’t cause harm to ida (or in other words ‘non-supernatural folk’). The Tribe may have mediated conflicts, so long as the normal people were at risk of harm, or worse, they at risk of exposure.

And so, it was there at that pasty prestigious club down Moi Avenue, at one afternoon, after the continuing bellowing of news about Siunwa’s disappearance rummaged on; it was there in one of the upper rooms located in that beautifully decorated building, that a meeting went on.

“…we cannot afford to let him slip off into his daily life as usual. Caution must be taken!” said a rather Nairobi-like looking fellow dressed in shirt-tie-sweater vest combo, standing at the head of a long table with six individuals siting on either side. Behind Makiri, was an enormous-sized window, practically big enough for him to jump through. And the room they had chosen for their said meeting seemed rather dark and ominous for the means of discretion. It was spacious though in a non-spacious manner, being rather paradoxical. However, they had gathered there that day to discuss rather pressing matters of concern to their entire ‘family’. To Makiri’s right-side sat a rather sharp, upright looking girl on the seat closest to him. She was dressed in all black and her demeanour, or by the look of her facial expression she seemed quite contented with where she was, at that time, and place. Her skin was a fair dark chestnut tint even. And she had this rather dazed look on her face as if she were elsewhere somewhere imagining herself away (but then again, she seemed quite contented with where she was, at that time, and place). At hearing Makiri’s retort she squeaked,

“Couldn’t we just find any non-confrontational ways of containing this?” Ronoh asked.

Ronoh was apparently the sweet little storm trooper anyone else envisioned her to be. She had not a single gall bone in her body. She was the type that spent her days, and nights, locked away in her bedroom flat in Upper East Tudor, stuffing her face in sweets and oreos and watching cartoons. She was happy, even fun to be around. People did however take to her sweetness and have a beating at her habits, such like her cute and pitchy little voice. Ronoh’s voice was that of an angel’s; practically and literally. When she wasn’t wasting her time cleaning up the Tribe’s messes, Ronoh spent leisure time at the Onikan Pentecostal Church practicing for their choir. She was an outstanding member of the worship. So, it went without saying that she was also a devout Christian, somehow. And so, just from basically knowing about the mere crust of her life, one could only wonder what in the hell she was doing in the ranks of the order of the famed Tribe? She apparently wasn’t cut out for such action, such mystery, and worst yet, the morbidity. But all she ever did was squeak and sing and watch and act her little cartoons, all the way, all the day. And she didn’t really mind the ridicule. And it didn’t really mind her either.

“You and your permissive little gem of a personality. We’ve been at war. We’ve always been at war. I don’t think inviting everyone in for a cup of tea might always work. Quite frankly, I don’t even think permissive is the word for you. It’s too hardcore,” bellowed an individual sitting across from her at the front of the table. He had short uncombed hair. And had worn, for that occasion at least, a tee-shirt, but as if it wasn’t enough, donned a rather casual-looking shirt on top of it, unbuttoned of course to let the wind breeze through; and he paired this look with black pants. His skin tone was very much similar to Ronoh’s, only that his face was littered with a vast degree of acne that gave the impression he had just recently discovered the bounds of puberty and that that hurricane was just starting, at least for him.

“She has a fair point. We can’t just conceal such a vessel of havoc within our walls. Not that we should release it into the public, but we can truce at least. So long as no ida come at harm. This has their fate in question,” the person who uttered these words sat beside Gabu. She wore a pair of the largest spectacles anyone in that company had ever seen, and had never seen her without. Her hair was held in a neat band behind her head. And her pair of large spectacles that almost collapsingly engulfed her cheeks made her look somewhat serious, as though her demeanour. Reni was big, in terms of size of body. But not too much in as to be considered fat. Actually, her providence of size accentuated her feminine body shape, leaving even Gabu having a momentary glare at her beautiful figure, even as she sat.

“Wacha ujinga! What do we stand for as the order of the ancient Tribe of Morio! YOU WOULD HAVE BEASTS! OF INNOMINATE POWER ROAM THE STREETS OF THE CITY UNCHECKED! We must detain him till further surpassing of the said prophecy, and if the threat enbiggens, WE EXTERMINATE!”

Now the sharp-tongued person that said this was seated by Ronoh’s side. Livia wasn’t precisely known for anything but her so-called assertiveness, if you could even call it that. But she was one thing, and one thing most creditably, loyal. Loyal to her boyfriend, unknown it may seem, a secret, or a cause, and for the latter her cause was for the Tribe. And the Tribe’s cause was for her. So, she defended it steadfastly. Granted, it did seem rather stuck up to everyone else. She had rather a queer face that suggested somewhere along her lineage had some Asian blood, for her eyes arched in that very manner.

And as Makiri turned from the ongoing brewing discussion to focus his eyes at the right end of the table, he asked,

“Jerri, what do you think is the wisest course of action?”

Jerri, sat at the end of the table, seeing he didn’t want to be seen at all. He was the silent-philosopher type. The silent killers. The type of people that you classed with and even though seemingly didn’t understand a word of a lecture, came out the other end of a paper with a perfect grade, boundlessly. Makiri had experienced I so with him, because they were classmates at Buxton Medical College. He was a stout fellow; spoke fair English most of the time when he didn’t speak Swahili; got drunk and wrote amazing articles; got high and wrote amazing articles. Jerri was apparently, above grade. And it was this ‘above-grade’ type of person Makiri knew he could trust for council. So, Jerri said,

“Keep the leak. Wait. There seems not enough a reason to raise more suspicion. As it is, people have already started asking around.”

The whole time this discussion went along, a dark figure sat at the very left corner of the room. Apparently, he had drawn the chair out from under the table and sat there to casually partake in his most gleeful of tasks on his daily routine: smoke. Raio was a bit older than the rest in that room, so he had seen the Tribe at an earlier time it was rumoured. And Raio highly appreciated the one reputation Onika was also known for (first was superstition; second was this): weed. He smoked weed day and night, night and day. To him, dusk and dawn were just two different sides of a marijuana leaf. He enjoyed it, it relieved him. And he did this in the corner as he didn’t wish to disrupt the ever so serious deliberations with his high ranting and shouting and casual laughter at the frequent passing by of a fly. So, he inhaled, and exhaled, inhaled and exhaled, while still hearing and taking note of what was being said at the table. And as he did this, he doubted within his self for he knew, and he had picked the perfect moment to stone for it; that he inhaled at Tribe’s actions and exhaled at its repercussions; he inhaled at the smoke and exhaled at the thought of the future fire they’d have to extinguish or distinguish; and worst yet he inhaled at the smoke today and exhaled at the blood tomorrow.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Siunwa awoke from his somewhat nightmare-ridden sleep within his quite spacious 10 by 10 cell. The food was good, he was hosed down frequently. But the darkness, the darkness in its entirety, was consuming. He was kidnapped that day at Moroni some three weeks ago? Had it been two or three weeks? Had it been a month? He didn’t really know. Apparently, the cell they had so courteously prepared for him didn’t have the provisions of a calendar, or wall-clock. So Siunwa didn’t really know what time of day it was. Or if it was day, or night. There was no window in the cell. And by the looks of it, he didn’t think there would be need for there being one. He thought he was underground. Siunwa turned to sit by the metal bed that was his comfort those past couple of days. Was anyone out there looking for him? He occasionally pondered. Occasionally, because at the forefront of his mind was his fascination about his apparent captors. They had shown up in the depth of night as he strolled along the Malindi highway, shoved him into the back of a van in the peak of rush hour traffic and taken off. They had, smartly he admitted, shoved a bag over his head so that he couldn’t tell the direction with which they went. But that was it as far as practical contact with his kidnappers got. No declarations of ransoms, which was most routine. No negotiations. Nothing. It was really weird, according to Siunwa. As far he was concerned, at that point, those people had just kidnapped for the sake of it. And he liked, nay loved, piecing together a puzzle or a mystery. But when certain pieces didn’t fall in place as he perceived, it was enraging. And this plot he was currently in was a whole puzzle box of chaos. He simply couldn’t know for sure. And that troubled Siunwa most, for even if it was an imminent death, that he was certain about, he would chillingly play down his cards. But how could one play whatsoever cards they possessed if they weren’t sure if it was poker; or Go Fish or the local AK47 that was at play. How could Siunwa scheme, if he had no plot, no inside story? Just an abduction was weak as it was. He couldn’t really come up with a plan with how to escape if he technically didn’t really know the reason for his abrupt seizure.

Suddenly he heard a voice approaching behind the steel door that had been his confine those couple of weeks. They spoke,

“Daud, Vipi? How are the wife and kid? I hear he little one lost her first tooth recently! And you didn’t tell me?”

“Must have slipped my mind sir”

“Don’t worry. Now open it up so I can conversate with him a bit”

“I do not agree with this plan. It isn’t safe at all! What if he kills us all the moment you open that door?” said a feminine voice.

And as Siunwa heard this, as he saw the shadows frolicking under the door, he pondered. Surely, he wasn’t as portentous as they perceived. He was highly unfit. He wasn’t fat, he agreed. But he couldn’t remember the last time he had taken a run, or done some actual physical exercise. The most he could do in this situation, given the chance, miraculously, was to incapacitate his captors. And they’d gotten this far, surely, they were physically superior to him.

The metal key turned in its hole and the latch released and the door drew open ever so dramatically in slow motion. And when I was wide open, as if to await some ominous attack, a figure stood in its doorway. Siunwa looked at his face and it seemed rather familiar. He had seen this person somewhere else before. Yet the much he badgered and dickered at his thoughts he couldn’t really get a name. Well, he was fairly certain he didn’t really know it, for if he had known him intricately, he’d at least know his name. And when the pin-drop silence beat its peak and there was nothing but complete still in the air between Siunwa and the doorway, nothing but nothing;

“Get up! You look like you could use a drink,” said Makiri.

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