Kilometre to their destination, they ran into the first human since their arrival. The chief priest was steaming in fury as he pointed his staff at them.
“Will you stop there, you evil and disobedient children! What have you done to our land? Is it not enough that the rains have refused to come for a long time, even before the dry season should have started? Now you have brought calamity upon us.” He thundered with yellow eyeballs almost bulging.
The five teenagers looked at one another and wondered how they caused any calamity as was stressed by the chief priest.
“Wh…at did we..? We di…did not do…” Ugo stammered in confusion.
“Who are you, a little boy of yesterday, to challenge and question the gods?” Eziafa the chief priest straightened in anger as he moved swiftly towards Ugo, pointing his staff at him. With his heart thumping fast, Ugo fell to the ground in fear that the sharp edge of the staff would pierce him.
The chief priest stood, glaring at the thirteen year old boy, contemplating on what next to do. The other four stood behind, clutching one another’s hands in fear.
“I must not harm a strand of your hair for you have been marked by the goddess. Go therefore to the village square where your punishment awaits you, for it is after then can the people return to this land in peace.” With those words he made to go.
Few steps ahead he stopped as if he remembered something.
“Remember, there is no hiding place for evil ones.” He finished and went off.
They were so stunned that when any of them opened his mouth to say even a word, it would close with no sound coming out.
Hot sweat and tears battled on their faces as they obliviously slumped to the ground, not minding the soldier ants that usually paraded the path.
“Is this how I’m going to die when I’m still a child. I’ve not even thought of marriage. Hei! I’m in soup. Arinze kept soliloquizing.
Amaechi at intervals could only scream “chei!! While Ezinne’s seemingly endless anthem was “chi moo.
It was getting to noon yet there was no sign of chike and his group members. Arinze and others waited for a long time to know if they would finally resurface so that all aould go to the village square together but there was no sign of them.
Reluctantly they got up not minding to dust off sand and other particles clinging to their clothes but headed to the square. Their minds were not made up to take that direction, but the forces propelling them towards the village square,they could not oppose. No matter how much they wanted to scream and hold bak,they couldn’t.
They went on like little zombies till they got to the middle of the square where they fell and lost consciousness.
 They were once again brought to reality by noise around them. The sky was very thick with dark clouds. There were flashes of lightening and strikes of thunder every now and then.
Before them was a heating fireplace. A bon fire was being set up not far from the fireplace to illuminate the entire place. With the aid of the light, they noticed they were in the middle of a large population of people they hadn’t seen before.
Something was cooking in the pot as dense steam was oozing out and ascending into the sky. Beside the cooking spot were four individuals tied so well that they could not move from the spot they sat on closer look, Arinze realised they were their friends.
“But where is the fifth person? Where is Obiora?” They all whispered among them.
They were interrupted with chants of joy from people surrounding them as female dancers appeared from nowhere. They were all uniformly and elegantly clothed.
Their heads, wrists, waists and ankles were adorned with colourful beads which jingled as they swayed and twisted to the beat of the drum being played. The dancers moved in circle for a while till a woman stood and waved them to a halt.
She was tall, young, plump and beautiful. Her long hair was neatly plaited and carefully packed. The crown she wore was made of ivory and the beads which graced her neck, wrists, waist and legs so fittingly were of very beautiful and colourful designs. She had authority written all over her as she walked. That was actually the stream goddess.
“I was disturbed this morning by ten daring little humans who appeared to be so adventurous that they defied my command.” As she said this, she lowered her gaze to meet the nine teenagers sitting on the floor. Then she shifted her gaze to the pot on fire and smiled.
“He must be very tasty. I can’t wait to find out”. The children gasped in disgust. She slughtered Obiora like a sallah ram! And they are even planning to make a meal of his flesh. What cruel and barbaric thing to do!! So Obiora is dead.
They mourned in their hearts as none was bold enough to speak up.
“In your next life,” she continued “you would learn to keep to instructions all the time.” Silence fell all over for few seconds.
“My queen,” a man called with head bowed “what shall we do with them?” The goddess thought foe a while before responding.
“Bring me the girls, that they may forever serve me.” Two men moved to where they sat, untied the three girls and dragged them away amid people whispering happily.
“And the rest, my queen, what would be of them?” The same man asked again. The goddess turned, walked back to her throne and sat again. A gourd of palmwine was poured for her which she gulped halfway before signalling for a refill from the standby maid.
“Entertain me.” She finally said to the man who had been waiting in loyalty for her. He made a bow and left. The crowd was noisy as excitement filled the air. The same man reappeared almost immediately.
“May it please my queen to watch her son showcase his archery skill?”
“I would be most delighted.” The guards untied three of the boys and brought them forward as the goddess’s son positioned himself in the middle of a small circle drawn in the sand.
“This is your only chance to be free. Right now, your life is in your hands. Run!” The three boys scampered like rabbits being smoked out of their holes. In the twinkle of an eye, one fell as a result of an arrow that pierced his throat. Another followed immediately, and so did the third. Shouts of joy rented the air as the goddess’s son was lifted shoulder high.
“You have done well son.”
“My queen, the beast has not had a playmate for a long time. Today is surely its lucky day.” The man hinted with a smirk on his face.
“Indeed” was the response he got.
“Send in the cage then.” He ordered. In no time, a well constructed wooden cage was carried in.
Through the woods used as bars, a voracious creature was in sight. The three boys almost died of fright as they saw this. Arinze shouted in terror when they dragged him out. He wriggled and kicked for freedom as he was being carried towards the cage.
“Wait!,” the guards carrying Arinze were brought to a halt by the goddess “choose another.” She said. As soon as Arinze’s feet touched the sand, he sped back to where he was,sweating like one tormented by demons. Chike was picked next. He neither screamed nor struggled. It would be useless doing that, he thought. The cage door was opened and before he could touch the floor, Chike was taken into another’s possession.
They were then two children clutching each other tightly in fear of the future. Next, a very large metallic basin of steaming hot oil was carefully carried in by six men. A little splatter of the content on the skin could cause harm. Slowly they placed it on the tripod stand over the fire, bowed to the goddess and walked away.
“Who would you prefer to have a bath?” The man asked the people this time. They all looked at one another to know who would speak first. Finally, a voice came from someone in the crowd identifying Arinze, the palmoil producer’s son. Many people nodded in agreement. Gradually, voices were heard here and there as each suggested Arinze.
In no time, the air was filled with ‘Arinze’ ‘Arinze’. Arinze was swept off his feet by a hefty man before he knew it.