Star watched the both of them talk and after a while, she could tell that the person Coal was talking to was a woman, but she looked like she didn’t like him much and Coal…Coal looked scared.

She didn’t like him much.

He was cold and he was scary but he was still the only guide she had. Then, she saw the woman flick her wrist and a deadly spear came out. That’s when Star knew she had to do something. But what? She looked at her right hand that held Coal’s ring and she breathed in, and then out.

She stepped out of the door, flicked her wrist and yelled, “Stop!” And surprisingly, the woman stopped and just stared at Star, then she saw the dagger in Star’s hand and she whipped to Coal and screamed “Again?” and with the force of a goddess, she ran up to him, about to ram her spear through his chest.

But Coal was fast. He parried with his dagger and sparks flew in the air, rising in the dark night.

“Inside!” shouted Coal through gritted teeth. “Now!”

And Star felt it then as she stared at them both, blades flying in the air, both inches away from death, the feeling that she was out of her depth, that maybe Coal was right and she really shouldn’t have come out. She took a step back.

The woman was advancing Coal with inhuman speed, her eyes angry, her moves precise, but Coal was skilled too, using his dagger like it was a part of him, reflecting her attacks with ease — but she was moving him back to the street with every move, taking him back a little further.

And just when Star’s fingers had touched the cars doors, the worst happened. The woman feinted to the right and Coal fell for it, and it was like he saw his mistake, it was like he knew his fate was sealed, because as the woman’s spear pierced his side, he didn’t shout, he didn’t scream. He didn’t fall. He just looked at her, his eyes never leaving hers.

“No!” Star screamed and then the woman twisted her head to face Star, her hands still on her spear. Still looking at Star, she brought her spear back, slowly, and rammed it through Coal’s chest. This time, he screamed and it pierced the air as birds flew from electricity poles.

The woman left the spear in Coal as he fell to his knees and she walked calmly to Star. Star didn’t bother running; the woman would catch her with ease. They both knew that much.

She folded her arms as she towered above Star, glowering. Waiting.

Star’s lips were dry. “I needed his help,” Star said, her eyes were wet.

“Kolawole is poison,” the woman said. “His help, it would have killed you. Whatever gold or fortune he promised you, it was a lie.”

“No,” Star breathed as she looked at him on his knees, his hands on the spear, slick with his blood. “He didn’t promise me any money or gold or anything like that.”

“Then,” the woman took a step closer, “why would you consort with him.”

“I…” Star was shaking now. “I just…want to get my mother back.”

The woman cocked her head. “And he was helping you out of the goodness of his heart? I assure you that Kolawole has no heart, it burned away a long time ago. Far before you were even born.”

Star hesitated. Then, “He had a deal with the witches, but he was going to help me.”

The woman looked at Star now and she narrowed her eyes. “Witches?” She asked. “What witches?” She clenched her fists. “Don’t tell me that Coal is now consorting with the Witches of Blood and Tears again, those crones will…”

“No, no,” Star said, watching Coal, still on his knees, his hands still gripping the spear. How was he still kneeling, still alive? “It was the Witches of…Auchi.”

The woman’s eyes widened. “You met Doreen?”

Star nodded.

The woman jerked a thumb at Coal. “He met Doreen?”

Star nodded again.

The woman looked gobsmacked. “And she didn’t kill him?”

“Well…” Star said, “she threw him around the room, hurt him a lot.”

The woman nodded like she approved, and there was ghost of a smile on her lips. “Doreen is…a strong woman.” She looked back at Coal, her arms unfolding. “And also, a good woman.”

She looked back at Star, “Do you trust him?”

“Not…completely, no” Star said. “He can be really dark sometimes. Like scary.”

“Good,” the woman said. “Don’t trust him. Ever.” She looked into Star’s eyes now. “Ever,” she repeated. “Promise me that.”

“I promise,” Star said.

The woman looked at her for a while. Then, “You are strong too. I will let him — ” A bloody arm crossed her throat and Coal kicked the back of her knees forcing her down as he applied the chokehold.

“Run!” he screamed at Star and she shook her head. “No!” she shouted. But she couldn’t do anything now, she couldn’t stop the woman from breaking the hold easily and gripping Coal’s arm, flipping him over her shoulders. And, still with a hold on him, she twisted his arm.

He screamed.

“You fool!” She said, her teeth bared, her eyes red.

“Please,” Star said, and the woman looked up. “Please.”

The woman looked at Star and she could see that there was something, a part of her that wanted to tear him apart. But there was another part of her, a smaller part, that wanted to see why the Witch of Auchi would let him live.

She looked at Star as she let go of Coal, sparing him a glance of disgust.

“Tell me, child,” the woman said. “What do you need?”

And Star told her.

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Anthony Azekwoh is a Nigerian-based author and artist. He has written five books so far, and is now working on the sequel to his fourth book Ṣàngó, Oya.