Yemaya stood on the forecastle of the ship looking out over the dark waters of the lake. Her concentration was split in three ways. Firstly, she was keeping them afloat, ensuring that the water that wanted to flood in remained at bay. After that, her energies went toward directing the sizable current required to move the ship since it had no functional engines or means of self propulsion. It was up to her to carry it along a river of water within the lake. A river she had to create from will alone. And finally, she extended her senses out to feel the surface of the water for other boats. The biggest danger to this trip wasn’t the condition of the Cormorant, it was the Coast Guard patrols working under the auspices of the Retention Act. Since the government had decided to disallow emigration they had increased their compliment of Cutters. Even the smallest Island Class ships were over a hundred feet long, armed with multiple .50 caliber machine guns, and crewed by more than a dozen sailors. The best course of action was to avoid these homeland patrols altogether. She had already successfully slipped them past one in the hour and a half since they’d departed.
The effort of all these tasks was by no means beyond her abilities but it did amount to a substantial hindrance. It was like wearing light arm and wrist weights. It simply made everything else slightly more difficult. A man cleared his throat behind her.
“Excuse me, Miss. I was wondering if I could have a word with you?”
Yemaya turned to see the man who’d spoken to her before. “Certainly. What can I help you with?”
“No disrespect, and it’s not that we’re upset about the speed, but, well, nobody told us how long this was going to take. A lot of people are wondering when we’ll reach the other side.”
Yemaya smiled. “A reasonable request. I’m sorry, I should have mentioned. At our current speed we are just under an hour away. I could get us there faster, but we would attract attention. That’s something we want to avoid.”
The man nodded heartily. “No argument there. I’ll let everybody…”
There was a strobe of light and a series of pops that sounded like a board of high voltage fuses blowing, as loud as gunshots. A micro-burst of wind washed out from three figures that appeared from out of thin air and onto the deck. Yemaya involuntarily startled at the flash-bang, recoiling from their arrival. Most of the passengers were mid-deck and couldn’t see what happened and only heard the bangs. The ones that were able to see, screamed in surprise.
They were a strange trio. At the head of the group was a man a flannel shirt, jeans, and work boots. His hair was long and wild, hanging half way down his back. The only thing that kept it from obscuring his face was a curved metal headband. A brown beard, equally untended, reached his chest. His arms were pressed tight to his sides, straight down to his hips, and appeared to be flexed. In fact, his entire body seemed to be wound up tight, almost trembling. There was a snarl on his face and his lips quivered.
Beside him was a odd looking wheelchair. It had small orbs for wheels and was rounded, like a flattened sphere with a chair recessed into it. There were compartment panels all over the sides. The occupant clearly had some form of palsy. He was wearing a rumpled suit that made him look small. His infirmity made it look like was ready to pitch forward out of the chair. His legs crossed awkwardly, he was slouched, and one arm curled close to his chest, the fingers twisted like a knot. His other arm pitched wildly up behind his head, ending in a tight grip on a control stick. His neck was unbearably bent. His eyes though, were locked on Yemaya, and fiercely intelligent.
The last of them would have been the most normal of the three if not for her right arm and leg. Both were artificial and appeared to be made of clear glass. Inside, tiny transparent gears and pistons moved, illuminated by the occasional current of blue energy. The crystal cybernetics seemed to be built around her original arm and leg. At the core, the short, malformed stubs of her disfigured limbs could be seen. They were stunted, scrawny, and barely larger than those of an infant. Neither extended past knee or elbow. The expression on her face seemed surprised.
The long haired man spoke. He kept his teeth clenched tightly and never fully opened his mouth. “We’re here for Ogun.”
Yemaya narrowed her eyes. There was something in them that she recognized almost instantly. The familiar taint of the Dietis hung about them. They were not gods though. They were something different, but perhaps no less dangerous.
“Ogun is not here.” she answered. She wanted to ask them who they were, but she held her tongue. Without any outward indication she increased the speed of the ship slightly, hopeful they would not notice. If things started to go wrong, she needed to be as close to shore as possible.
The man’s face twisted. Since appearing he hadn’t moved an inch, not a finger. Still keeping his jaw clamped shut he shouted as best he could. “Where is he? He’s supposed to be here!”
They did not seem to notice the increase in speed. Yemaya started angling them in toward the shore. She didn’t bother turning the ship to do this. It moved at a slight diagonal, unnaturally carried across the surface of the lake. “I don’t know where he is. I imagine he’s in Africa. He was working in Lumumba last I heard.”
The man trembled in anger, but still, did not move from his spot. “Damn it! God damn it!”
The woman with the glass limbs put her one real hand on his shoulder. “Strain, he’s not here. Those twins were wrong.” Yemaya took note; Strain. The rigid man was named Strain.
“She’s lying! He has to be here.”
An electronic, synthesized voice emerged from a speaker in the wheelchair. “She is not lying. It is his sister, Yemaya. Obviously, the plan changed. We must change with it.”
Yemaya had heard enough. “Who are you people? What do you want with Ogun?”
“Retribution.” spat Strain. “For everything we’ve suffered as a result of your brothers actions.”
She put her hands up in front of her, as if holding them back. “I don’t know what Ogun did to you people, but I’m sure we can work it out. Tell me who you are and I can help.”
The wheelchair rolled forward. Compartments in the arms clicked open and a pair of gun barrels emerged, pointed at Yemaya. The speaker buzzed. “We take her. Use her to lure Ogun.”
Yemaya looked down at the protruding guns. “I don’t know if you all noticed but we’re in the middle of something here. I’m not going anywhere with you. And even then, not without a better explanation than you pointing those things at me.”
The woman stepped away from the pair. The fingers on her glass hand split, opened up, and the whole thing turned into something that looked like a cross between an orchid and a small satellite dish. Strain scrunched up his face and closed his eyes. Tiny lights flashed on his headband and a deep red current played across its surface. There was another electrical pop and he moved, faster than the eye could see, to a position behind Yemaya. He was turned around, facing her, and his arms were sticking straight out, as if he were invisibly crucified. The trio made the points of a triangle. She was the center.
At the edge of her awareness she knew how far away they were from land and how her deviation in course brought them uncomfortably close to a patrol ship. She felt the water of the lake trying to push into the ship and sink it. Starting a fight now would be stupid dangerous.
“Fine, I’ll go with you. But you’ve got to let me get this ship ashore first. I’m the only thing keeping it from sinking. I’m not going to let them all die to satisfy your grudge with my brother. Give me twenty minutes.”
The glass woman glanced down the deck at the dozens of people. “We’ve waited a long time Strain. What’s a little more…”
“No!” he snapped. “We go now.”
The wheelchair man looked at Yemaya. His worm lips curled into a cruel smile. “I have a solution that works for all of us.” A tube in the back of his chair extended, beeped, and launched a flare into the night sky. The bright red glow cast jumping shadows all over the deck as it rose higher and higher and then hung in the air above them.
Every ship in miles would see it.
Yemaya clenched her fists. “Oh, you did not just do that!”
“Works for all of us.” he squawked. “The patrols will pick up your refugees before the ship sinks. Nobody dies. You come with us. Now.”
Already, Yemaya could feel two ships turning in their direction. She would be damned if she was going to leave these people to the American authorities. They’d risked everything trying to get a better life. No way they were going back to have their families broken up and dispersed into overcrowded prisons. Not after the promises she’d made them. The time for stealth and subtlety was over.
“I’m not going anywhere with you.” She pulled her hand back and swung it low, past her hip, as if she were chucking a ball underhanded. As it curved, an orb of liquid gathered and hurled out at the wheelchair. The impact splashed hard and sent him rolling backwards. A wash rose up from her feet and the swell lifted her into the air.
“Clarion! Stop her!” shouted Strain.
The woman raised her crystal arm and the strange flower that had replaced her hand let out a high pitched wail as it vibrated. A shock wave hit Yemaya and her water spire exploded away in a massive splash. She dropped to the deck and rolled. Clarion raised her hand and aimed again. Yemaya managed to get both arms up in front of her, raising a wall of water for protection. The sonic wave hit it and blew it apart, but she was unscathed. The liquid she’d summoned for the wall surged past her feet, forming a tentacle and lashing out at the woman’s legs. Clarion was knocked to the deck.
Once again Yemaya tried to rise up and into the air. As her feet left the ground there was a now familiar popping sound followed by an impact in her stomach. Strain was there, unmoving, his fist in her abdomen. He knocked her breath away. There was another pop and her head snapped up. She fell onto her back. There, standing above her, once again, was the living statue of Strain, arm sticking out from where he’d just hit her. The metallic headband he wore crackled with a crimson voltage.
She wanted to wash the deck of the three of them. Normally, she could do it, just pull a wave up and overwhelm them. But not now. From the moment the flare went up she’d increased the speed of the river carrying the ship. The Cormorant was moving faster than it ever had with engines and the velocity was playing hell on the hull. There were new tears, cracks, and tension. It was all more water to keep out, to keep them afloat. She’d also started sending opposing currents and rough water toward the two cutters that were, even now, pushing their way closer despite her effort. She had to hold it together until they reached the shallows. Until then, she only had enough energy to keep them distracted.
She rolled, got to her feet, and jumped backwards. Strain appeared in front of her, arm stretched in an overextended punch from where he’d just barely missed her. She kicked high, hoping to knock him over, but he was solid, like stone. Her foot had no effect. She dove to her side and somersaulted away in time to dodge another swing. This was no good. If she stayed in one place even for a moment, he’d be on her. Conversely, if she got too far from him the guy in the wheelchair would probably start shooting.
It was becoming evident she would need to get more creative. She slung up her satchel and undid the clasp. As always, the interior of the bag of mysteries was inscrutable and she didn’t look into it. Instead, sh reached in, feeling for what she wanted. It took some concentration and she and let her mind sink deep into the enigmas. It didn’t come without cost. She retracted her awareness radius in exchange. In her minds eye she lost sight of the pursuing cutters and approaching shoreline. They didn’t matter as much. Besides, she was going in the right direction for the shore. They’d hit it when they hit it. She was struck in the back, knocked to the ground again, but refused to let it interrupt her. She kept her hand in the bag. Her focus payed off. Thick coils of fog rose up from the lake, billowing like steam. Immediately, vision was reduced to a few meters.
“I can’t see her. Clarion? Crate?” yelled Strain.
“I’ve lost her too.” said Clarion.
The wheelchair speaker squealed. “I’m switching to thermal. I’ll get her.”
Yemaya pulled her hand free and quietly slipped away in the new cover. She could feel all the fog around her like a second skin and was aware of the locations of the three as well as if her eyes were open in broad daylight. She found Clarion easily enough, approached in the mist, and swept her into a headlock. Before the woman could shout for help a froth of liquid bubbled up from Yemaya’s arm, engulfing her head. Clarion kicked, thrashed, and clawed at her face with her hands. Nothing she did would remove the water. When she passed out Yemaya released the bubble with a splash, allowing her to breathe. She wasn’t sure that she could use the same trick on Strain. It was unlikely considering his strange teleportation. And the one in the wheelchair, Crate, he might actually be able to see her despite the fog. She’d have to be careful approaching him.
Her concerns were cut short as the ship impacted with something solid. There was a horrible metallic squeal and she felt the barriers that held the water below deck shatter. There wasn’t any point in keeping the holes in the hull plugged, there wasn’t enough hull left anymore. They’d run around on some rocky underwater pinnacle and ruptured. The heavy current she’d created pulled them along, dragging the ship clockwise out so that it was moving backwards. She allowed the water to flow in. Pushing with her mind she created a swell to lift them free of the rock. The water they’d taken on would slow them, but shore was close. With her attention divided, the fog was beginning to thin. She quickly moved to cover by one of the wheelhouse walls. Just how far did they have to go?
It wasn’t far. Minutes only, but at their reduced speed, there was no arriving before one of the cutters intercepted them; cutters with heavy guns she was certain they wouldn’t hesitate to use on their own defecting citizens. She had to act quickly, before all the mist was gone. Rising from her hiding spot she sprinted. She could still faintly feel Crate through the fog, rolling around deck, looking for her. Strain hadn’t moved. In the distance she saw the hazy glow of searchlights aimed in their direction. They were already in range of the cutters guns and it was only the poor visibility that kept them from seeing what they were and firing.
Yemaya made it back to the forecastle. Standing at the railing she extended both hands up over her head. It wasn’t as deep or as wide as the Red Sea, but she wasn’t going to be parting it. Quite the opposite. Along the horizon, half the distance between the two ships, a ridge of water began to rise. It started the size of a backyard fence, then grew to a retention wall, then as high as a two story building. And it kept going. White froth splashed at the top. The whole thing was nearly a half a mile long. She held it there, this massive wall of water, suspended, and nudged as much speed out of their own ship as possible. It became increasingly difficult to keep the barrier up as they got further and further away. She clenched her eyes shut and grit her teeth. This damn thing wasn’t coming down until they hit Canada. They were a few miles off course, but they would be safe.
When the dragging scrap of the hull hit sandy bottom she pushed the wall away, sending a tidal wave at the approaching ships. It wouldn’t destroy them, but they’d be washed back and away, giving her passengers time. The current carried the remains of the Cormorant high up onto the beach, wedging the ruined bottom into the grit. The water receded and the whole thing pitched to the right, rocked, and came to a stop. Yemaya dropped her arms, exhausted.
“We made it.”
“Indeed you have.” squawked the speaker box. She had time to turn and see Crate before the tasers hit her in the belly. Electricity coursed through her body, jolting her rigid. Strain blinked into existence next to the wheelchair for a moment and then he vanished and she felt his fist on the side of her head. The electricity didn’t let up. Neither did the fists.
Mercifully, it didn’t take long for her to pass out.
When Yemaya opened her eyes she was no longer on board what was left of the Cormorant. She was, as best she could tell, inside an industrial sized water tank. It was a cylinder the size of a standard two-car garage, comprised of rusting iron, and had a large, sealed, door welded in the side.
The lower half of her body, including her arms from the elbow down, was encased in a clear crystal substance that fastened her to a medical gurney. It had a faint blue sheen to it. Her satchel, hanging low on her hip, was almost entirely encased. This crystal cocoon was no doubt compliments of the woman leaning up against the wall.
“I knew you would wake up.” said Clarion. She pushed from her position and started to pace the room, her glass leg clicking on the metal floor as she walked. “The others said I shouldn’t bother binding you. They thought you were too injured and would need to be revived. I knew better.”
She was not wrong about the injuries. Yemaya felt like she’d rolled down a concrete staircase. She was bruised and sore but as far as she could tell, nothing was broken. The glass-like formation held her firmly in place and made it difficult to be sure. She looked to Clarion.
“The people, on the Cormorant, what happened to them?”
Clarion raised an eyebrow. “Not worried about yourself are you?”
Yemaya persisted. “Please, tell me. Did they make it to shore before the Coast Guard arrived?”
“Yes, your stunt worked. Last I saw they were headed as fast as possible into the woods. Nobody had arrived yet.”
Yemaya felt a rush of relief. At very least they had made it out of the U.S., avoided injury, and been spared prisons. She could stop worrying about them and turn her attention onto her immediate situation. The crystal binding her bottom half and legs was substantial. It was restricting her blood flow and she felt tingling in her legs where they’d fallen asleep. She would have to deal with it, but first, she wanted to know more about her captors. There was one thing she’d managed to deduce during her fight with them.
“You three. You are children of the Deitis. I can tell.”
Clarion responded with a frown. “You think so?”
Yemaya looked closely as Clairon as she walked back and forth. The woman’s hair was light brown, her skin was tanned, but white. She thought she recognized something in her eyes, but then it became obvious; the technology. The crystal-cybernetics were a dead giveaway even if she hadn’t noticed the resemblance to her father.
“Yes. You are Ahura’s daughter.”
She stopped walking. “You can tell because we’re crippled. It’s no secret.”
Yemaya blinked in surprise. “No. I just…”
“You can blame your brother Ogun for that. For this.” She held up her shriveled arm, encased in glass.
“You must be mistaken. Ogun could not do such a thing to you. He wouldn’t.”
Clarion shook her head. “No, not to us, but to our pathetic father. Centuries ago, when you Orisha killed most of the Deitis. When Ogun beat my father within an inch of his life. He cracked a piece of his soul back then, left him for dead, and departed this world. You all left.” Her voice was laden with accusation.
“We had to. It was time to let the world live without such forces. To let men do as they would.”
Clarion resumed her pacing, her crystal foot echoing. “Yes, but you were not very good at your job. My father survived. His body repaired itself but his soul remains broken. All that he creates has a taint, including his offspring.”
Yemaya considered her words. It was entirely possible that what she said was true. She did not know for certain if the Deitis had souls. They were ancient, corrupted, and in many ways had been shaped by the beliefs of the people who worshiped them. It was not beyond conception that Ahura’s subconscious had never recovered from Ogun’s beating and the wounds had fused to his celestial identity. If his worshipers believed he had suffered a grievous damage it had to manifest somewhere. It did not surprise her that the selfish god would cast it upon his children.
“Your arm and leg, he made them for you?” asked Yemaya.
Clarion laughed. “No. He’ll have nothing to do with us. We did these ourselves, with no help from him. Strain somehow figured out a form of teleportation with that headband of his. Crate is a bit more basic with his munitions.”
“You’ve overcome much. That had to be difficult.”
Clarion narrowed her eyes, dubious. “Very.”
“I do not know what you all think to accomplish with Ogun, but my elder sister, she is a far better doctor than I. She can mold flesh with her hands. If it is healing you desire…”
She shook her head. “You think we want your help? We do not! Even afflicted we are better than our father. We will turn our weakness into strength.”
Yemaya smiled at her. “I don’t doubt your resolve. But I can’t see any reason for you to bear consequences that were intended for another. I would see them lifted.”
Clarion stopped pacing. She was silent for a while and then responded. “Why should I believe you?”
Before Yemaya had a chance to respond there was an all too familiar sound and Strain and Crate appeared in a burst of air. A multi-jointed armature protruded from the wheelchair and ended in a cluster of syringes.
“She’s awake. Too bad.” Crate sounded disappointed. The needle arm retracted.
“You should have told us.” grated Strain.
“It just happened.” said Clarion.
“Will she bring him?” he asked.
“I told you! She just woke up. I haven’t asked her yet.” Clarion hissed.
Strain didn’t move, but his eyes shifted from Clarion to Yemaya. “Call your brother to us. We have need of him.”
Yemaya shook her head; no. “You would summon your own executioner?”
The wheelchair speaker activated. “Call him. What happens beyond that is not your concern.”
“I think who I murder is very much my concern.”
Strain, ever rigid, stared at her. “I knew she would not oblige willingly. Clarion, wheel her out to the staging area.”
“What for? There’s nothing out there that’s going to change her mind. This isn’t going to work Strain.” said Clarion.
“Do what we tell you! Now!” His headband lit up and both he and Crate vanished.
Clarion stood there. Yemaya could see the anger in her face at being shouted at. She looked like she was considering ignoring her orders and marching down there to give her brothers a piece of her mind. Judging from the expression, it wasn’t a very nice piece. Fuming, she headed for the door. She cranked the valve, pushed it open, and stopped herself. She lingered there, turned, and walked back to the gurney.
“Are you certain your brothers know what is best?” asked Yemaya.
Clarion’s scowl deepened.
Yemaya was rolled out of the tank and into what appeared to be an abandoned industrial building. Hers was only one tank of many. There were rows of the great rusted hulks, symmetrical mounds, stretching across a dirty concrete slab. Her gurney crunched on leaves, broken glass, and other garbage as it wheeled through the dead structure. Wide aluminum tubes crisscrossed the room from tank to tank and connected with a network of pipes above. They were all different sizes and many were broken, hanging at angles. Some had separated completely and looked like metallic fallen logs. Above all this, the ceiling was black with the exception of square holes where broken skylights revealed stars. Somehow, it reminded Yemaya of a still forest.
Clarion pushed her up a ramp, through a pair of swinging doors, and into a narrow cinder-block hallway. It turned frequently and light bulbs were strung one to a stretch, leaving the turns dark. There were doors, all shut. Occasionally, there were posters on the wall, but the ink was faded and the plexiglass was too cloudy for Yemaya to read what they said. There were windows, some of them broken. Yemaya wondered why they would have bothered with windows looking into a dingy hallway.
After fifteen minutes Yemaya got the distinct impression that she was being brought to her destination by an intentionally confusing route. She passed through a room with conveyer belts, dead machinery, and stacks of warped tables. She passed through what looked like a giant shower with tile and drains on the floor. She passed through an area that looked more like an office with the moldy remains of carpet on the ground. During that portion she caught a glimpse of trees though a window at the end of a hallway. A way out.
Eventually, she arrived at her destination. In scale, it was like the room with the tanks; massive, open, with a ceiling made as much of glass as steel. They had restored power here and silver halide lights hung from the crossbeams above. Instead of tanks there were a series of circular pools in the ground with catwalks and railings above them. They were filled with some thick looking dark liquid. These pools were arranged around a large machine that had arms extended from it to support massive props. These long paddles rotated in the slimy substance, presumably to keep it from coagulating. There were pumps, blinking green lights, and hoses stretched all around the ground like never-ending snakes. Her ride got bumpy as the gurney jostled over the tubes.
Strain was there, with Crate next to him, but they were not alone. Yemaya recognized the man from the dock, the one with black and white hair, immediately. There was also a woman, in her forties, and a boy who looked to be around ten. Crate was angled toward them with the barrels of his guns exposed, threatening the family.
Clarion stopped pushing. “What the hell is this, Strain? Who are those people?”
Yemaya answered for him. “They’re from the Cormorant. They were with me.”
Crate’s synthetic voice confirmed her. “We thought you might require some incentive to cooperate. Considering you had gone to such great lengths to ensure the safety of the people on that ship they seemed to be likely candidates. They were not difficult to find.”
Clarion stalked over to her brothers. “Damn it, Crate! We’re trying to show we’re better than him!” She stopped in front of Crate’s weaponry, blocking his shots. “This isn’t how we do that.”
“No.” said Crate, “We do it by killing Ogun where he failed. And that, my naïve sister, only happens if we can get him here. It is not time to be squeamish.”
There were a pair of windy flashes. For a moment Strain was standing next to the man, his arms hooped loosely around him and then they reappeared, hanging suspended in the air above one of the liquid pools. The way Strain was positioned did not securely hold the man. He started to drop free but managed to hug Strain’s waist, clinging to him desperately.
“This is acidified tar. Call your brother here or I move. Without him.”
The woman screamed and the boy began sobbing. Clarion shouted. “Strain! Stop this!”
Yemaya spoke up. “Enough! I will do what you ask. I’m hardly willing to trade three people who want to live for three people who want to die. I will call Ogun, but it is on your own heads.”
“Do it. Then I’ll put him back.”
As bound as she was, Yemaya still had the ability to do what he asked. Her eyes rolled back into her head and began to glow with an undersea luminescence. She focused her vision on her satchel, allowing her mind to descend into its dark depths. She sunk, deeper and deeper, into the well of the world, seeking the bottom. She was a tiny blue spark, ever falling. There, in the abyssal font of life and liquid, she searched the black stillness. She moved slowly under the great pressure until she found a stream. It was familiar to her. It was as clear to her as if it wore a face and body. The stream led to Ogun’s water; his lifeblood. She whispered into it, sending a ripple up from the darkness, reaching out to find him. She relaxed, let the breath in her lungs carry her back up to the surface of reality like a bubble. The message was sent.
“He is coming.”
Strain was true to his word and put the man back with his family. Yemaya was certain that he only kept them alive as a contingency, in the event she’d been lying about summoning Ogun. The same reasoning he was using in keeping her alive, as if she were some helpless victim. It was arrogant and stupid. She was done with the illusion of her captivity.
She waited a few minutes after Clarion locked her back in the tank to affect her escape. A sheen of sweat rose up from her skin, coming between her and her crystal shroud. It wasn’t much, but she manipulated it, searching and probing the substance for micro-cracks. When she found them she forced the water in, permeating wherever she could. Once again, her mind went to her satchel. She looked for the cold dark corners and pulled on the chill. The water froze, expanding in the limited space, causing fractures to appear. She re-liquified the ice, pushed more water in, and froze it again. The fissures widened. A shard clattered to the floor. The third time she did it the crystal cocoon crumbled to the ground in a shattered heap.
She stood up and rubbed her legs, helping the blood flow back into them. Once the tingling sensation stopped, she tried the door. It was locked from the outside, but it wasn’t the only way out. Summoning her water she rose up to the top of the tank, near the intake tube. It was big enough to get through. She entered. It was dark, but the glow from her eyes showed her what was ahead. Before long there was a break in the conduit and she emerged into the tank warehouse. She dropped to the ground, letting her waters recede.
Clarion’s attempts to confuse her route had been in vain. Yemaya knew exactly where she’d been taken and how to get back. She only hoped that the prisoners were still in the same area and she wouldn’t have to look for them. Rescuing the family was her first priority. Dealing with Ahura’s bastards before Ogun arrived was second. It had been less than an hour since she’d called him, but there was no doubt he would come quickly. Exactly how fast could the Hammer get Ogun here from Lumumba? And, really, where was she? She could feel Lake Erie very close. They were likely in an abandoned factory on the U.S. side of the lake. Part of the abandoned industrial waterfront near Cleveland was a good guess, or maybe West of Buffalo. It didn’t matter. He’d find her.
Yemaya arrived at the point where she’d glimpsed trees down the hallway. She followed it and confirmed that it led out. An informal lobby had the front windows broken out and bushes had grown up, leaning into the room. She unlocked the door and opened it wide. The growth was thick, but the remains of the sidewalk made a path. She stepped out, reached down, and touched some of the dirt where the plants were growing. Water bubbled up from the soil. She cupped a handful and rubbed it onto her heels. Rising, she walked back into the building. The water stayed connected to her feet and everywhere she walked she left a running stream. It would serve well to guide the family out. She headed to the tar room.
She had to act fast. She knew that if any of Ahura’s children saw the water trail she was leaving they’d know she was free. Peeking into the room she was relieved to see the family was still there. Clarion had affixed them each to the floor with crystal, but not as extensively as she had Yemaya. The man was adhered by the hands and his wife and child had their feet attached. They weren’t going anywhere on their own. But where were their captors?
She stomped each foot, quietly, and the stream dislodged, ending in a frothing puddle by the door. She slipped into the room, moving quietly along the wall, and tried her best to stay out of sight. She increased the moisture in a pair of the halide bulbs above her, causing them to blow out. The shadows near her deepened. Ahead, the wall was split with windows from the waist up. There were lights in the other room and she faintly heard voices. Keeping low, she crept beneath them. The glass was broken in one and when she got close the talking became more clear.
It was a woman’s voice, reedy and high pitched. It wasn’t anyone she’d heard before.
“You said you would be done by now.”
It was Strain who responded. “That’s not our fault. Your twins were wrong. It wasn’t Ogun. They sent one of his sisters instead.”
“Cull doesn’t care who you kill. Personally, I’d rather it be one of his sisters. I have plans for Ogun.”
Crate’s speaker was close, right on the other side of the window. “It matters to us. Ogun will die.”
“Not if he’s isn’t there.” said the woman. “You’ve failed. He will be disappointed to hear it.”
“No.” Strain gritted. “We forced his sister to summon him. He’s on his way. We’ll end them both.”
She laughed. “Ah, an overachiever! I hope you know what you’re doing, Strain. Call me when it’s done.”
There was an electronic beep. With their conversation ended, Yemaya moved quickly toward her goal. It was likely they’d be back out momentarily. Once she passed the windows she took a chance and left the cover of the wall, crossing the room at a run. The captive woman saw her coming.
“Oh god! Thank you! You’ve got to help us get out of here!” Yemaya got to her side and shushed her.
“Quiet. They are close. Give me a moment.” She put her hands on the ground and rivulets streamed out, penetrating the crystal and repeating the process she’d used to break her own confinement. The man’s bindings broke and he rubbed his hands for warmth. The encasing fell away from the woman and boy.
“Okay, lets go.” she said.
The three rose. The man picked up his son and they ran for the door. Yemaya watched the room where she’d heard the conversation, making sure they were not intercepted.
“There is a stream ahead, it will lead you out. When you’ve escaped the building, find a place to hide until this is over.”
“You’re not coming with us?” he asked.
Yemaya shook her head. “No. I’ve got to deal with these three. Now, be quick! You don’t have much time.”
Across the room a door opened and Clarion entered. She saw them instantly. Yemaya faced her, keeping herself between the crystal woman and the family as they left the room.
“I would have made sure they didn’t hurt them.” Clarion called over the distance.
“Are you so certain you could stop them?”
Clarion raised her arm. It blossomed into the glass orchid, powering up. “I can’t let you interfere. It is between us and Ogun.”
“Is it? Your brothers, and who they’re working for, seem to think differently.”
“We aren’t working for anyone.”
Was it possible? “You don’t know, do you? They’re manipulating you.”
“I see what you’re trying to do. To divide us. It’s not going to happen. Strain! Crate!” she shouted.
Strain appeared, standing rigid on top of the machine that stirred the pools of tar. The Crate wheeled in from the room Yemaya had been eavesdropping on. His gun ports clacked open.
“Your binding failed, sister.” said Strain.
“Recapture her quickly.” squawked Crate. “Before…”
And then the ceiling exploded.
The force of Ogun hitting the ground shattered the concrete and created a shock wave that sent Yemaya, Clarion, and the Crate reeling backwards. Somehow, Strain managed to remain unmoving. Glass shards, sheet metal, and chunks of masonry rained down from the massive hole Ogun had punched through the roof. He stepped out of the newly formed crater.
His back was to her, but even so, Yemaya could understand why people confused the Orisha with gods. He was massive, shirtless, and made entirely of polished steel. He was more monolith than man, a full head taller than anyone she’d ever met. His shoulders were wide enough to brush the frame of a doorway. Every bit of him was strength, determination, and power. A rust colored tribal mask, the size of a shield, hung across his chest. His pants were loose, earthy green, and accented by a mustard ceremonial loincloth. He paid as much attention to the rain of glass as a normal man would a summer drizzle. He looked to the three and scowled.
“Ahura’s vermin.” he snarled. “What have you done with my sister?”
Yemaya regained her feet. “Ogun, wait! I’m here.” He didn’t have a chance to turn.
“Now Crate!” shouted Strain. “Clarion, keep her off of us!”
Before Strain even finished giving the order two phosphorous rounds fired and impacted with Ogun, one on his mask and the other on his shoulder. They stuck there, affixed by some adhesive component and flared up with an intense light, burning white hot. Yemaya could barely look at Ogun and she doubted he could see anything. Crate opened fire. More than a half dozen barrels began to lay down a constant barrage of armor peircing bullets. They bounced off Ogun, ricocheting around the room, and doing little other than further disorient him. Strain vanished and reappeared next to one of the pump station panels, his finger frozen on one of the buttons. The engine activated and one of the hoses spewed out black tar in an arc. It wasn’t perfectly aimed but it was close enough to splash the substance all over one of Ogun’s legs. The moment it hit him, the affected area began to sizzle and steam. Ogun grabbed the flare in his shoulder, crushed it, and tossed it aside. He took a few steps back from the acidic tar. It was then that Yemaya realized the full nature of the trap.
Strain vanished and reappeared at another pump, again activating it. Another stream of tar vomited out from the pre-aimed nozzle. This time the noxious substance caught Ogun square in the back, coating him with the stuff. There were dozens of these. Anywhere her brother stepped he’d be in the line of sight for one of them. She stood in the doorway and raised her hand, trying to pull the liquid in the tar to remove it from his body. Distracted, he was caught by surprise when Clarion’s sonic blast knocked her back into the hallway.
The moment it hit, her ears popped, she was flung onto her back, and the bruises on her ribs sounded an alarm. She looked up in time to see Clarion in the doorway. She rolled away and only took part of the second shot. She managed to regain her feet and pull up a wall of water to deflect the third. Clarion annihilated it and Yemaya reformed it. Blast after blast, Clarion tried to drive her back down the hall, but Yemaya stood her ground, constantly calling up waves to protect herself. There was no room to maneuver. Neither could advance. Neither would retreat.
Beyond Clarion, she could still see into the room with Ogun. He was thrashing madly, flinging the tar from his body. He’d extinguished the lights and managed to wipe enough of the dark ichor from his eyes to see. A dozens hose pumped the stuff into the room creating a grid-work of obstacles. Crate stopped firing guns at him, the barrels slid away and another compartment opened up. A tank with a long nozzle spewed, sparked, and ignited.
The flamethrower ignited the acidic tar covering Ogun. It burst into flames, engulfing him.
“Clarion! You have to let me stop this!” she shouted.
The woman did not relent in her attack. “He has it coming.”
Yemaya pleaded. “You don’t understand. I’m not trying to save him. I’m trying to save you.”
“Save me? Me! He’s the one who’s burning to death!” She pressed hard, firing a trio of shots forcing Yemaya to retreat several paces.
“No. You’re only making him angry.”
Clarion didn’t respond. She reached up with her human arm and turned a dial near her mechanical elbow. The configuration of the lotus hand altered and a high pitched wail emerged. She aimed the sound at Yemaya, deafening her. In response, Yemaya thickened the wall of water between them, blocking the sound. Clarion clicked the dial again and fired a solid pulse, not a blast. But she didn’t aim at Yemaya’s defenses, but at the ground beneath where she’d built up all the water. The weight was too much for the old building. The ground creaked, wood splintered, and the hallway collapsed beneath them.
They fell to the level below with a crash of dust and water. Yemaya coughed.
Clarion pulled herself to her feet, several large splinters were sticking out of her natural arm and torso, bleeding. She raised her weapon. Yemaya did not try and stop her.
“Before, you asked why you should believe me when I said I want to help you. If you want, I’ll tell you.”
Clarion’s orchid lit up, ready to fire. She held it there, looking at the woman in the rubble before her. Yemaya took the fact that she did not immediately shoot as consent.
“We’ve all been broken by someone. Until we are healed it is our wounds that set our course. You are not the sum of your scars. I have no enemies. Only patients. I am done fighting you, Clarion.”
She stood there, aiming at Yemaya. They could hear Ogun yelling and more gunfire from down the hall. It sounded like Strain was laughing through clenched teeth.
She lowered the weapon.
“I just want… I…” Her hand closed up, the lotus receding.
Yemaya pulled herself up from the debris. “I know. I understand. Thank you.” She rose from the ground on her column of water and rushed to her brother. Clarion clambered up out of the hole, following.
The scene in the room was worse than she feared. The entire floor was on fire, covered in burning tar. Ogun was down on all fours, panting. His body was red hot, like iron pulled from a forge. There were dimples and pocks in his normally smooth surface where the acid had eaten away at him. There were also circular ripples where Crates bullets had managed to damage to the heated metal. Strain floated in the air in the center of the room, glowering in what he thought was victory.
A high caliber gun mounting extended from the front of Crate’s wheelchair, exposing a ridge of micro-missiles. He rolled in closer, hoping to fire a killing shot into Ogun’s head. It was what Ogun had been waiting for.
Between the lights, tar, fire, and bullets, he’d not managed to get in close to Crate. So he’d stopped fighting and waited, secure in the knowledge that, regardless of how much this hurt, they could not kill him. The ruse paid off.
Now close enough, he sprung for Crate, reaching out to grab the chair. The wheels tried to reverse, but weren’t fast enough, and Ogun got a hand on it.
In many ways Yemaya and Ogun’s powers were similar. Both could manipulate their respective substances. But while Yemaya could pull water from the air, or delve into her satchel, Ogun needed to touch the things he controlled. It didn’t matter what manner of metal it was. Once his hands were on it, it would move however he desired.
Ogun wanted these bastard children of his oldest enemy who’d hurt him and captured his sister dead. There was an eruption of blood as the wheelchair sprouted blades like thorns. They were the size of swords and they rose through Crate’s chest, head, and legs instantly impaling him in over a dozen places. The moment Ogun touched the chair, he died.
Ogun rose to his feet and glared at Strain.
Still holding the wheelchair, dripping with Crate’s remains, he leapt for the levitating man. The barest moment before his fist crushed Strain in the face, he vanished. But this time Ogun was ready. Without looking, he swung the chair, and hurled it with the force of a cannon in the direction of Strain’s teleportation sound. It collided with him as he began to appear. There was a crunching sound as the man who never moved bent backwards at the waist, above the hips, and cracked in half. He screamed through teeth. His spine was broken, but he remained there, in the air, his upper half still unmoving, and the lower part of his body extended behind him at a ridiculous right angle. The wheelchair, and what was left of Crate, continued on and embedded into the wall forty feet behind him. It dribbled red.
At her side in the doorway, Yemaya heard Clarion scream.
Ogun turned toward them, rage contorting his face, fire dancing on his shoulders. There was a rage in his eyes that Yemaya had not seen in centuries. Ogun, the Father of Steel, the DragonSlayer, the warrior beast, was there.
“Brother, stop! It’s over.”
If Ogun heard her there was no outward indication. With a snarl he lunged for Clarion. Without thinking, Yemaya threw herself in his path. The fist that hit her was likely only meant to knock her out of the way. It most certainly wasn’t a display of Ogun’s full strength. Despite this, Yemaya felt her left shoulder and collarbone break in several places as she was tossed aside like a rag doll. Clarion raised her arm and fired, but it hardly mattered. He swung at her and she raised her crystal arm in defense. It burst apart in an explosion of glass cog-work and mono-filaments. She turned and ran. Ogun burst the doors off their hinges in pursuit.
Yemaya’s shoulder was on fire. She needed to get after them, despite the pain. But once there, how could she stop Ogun? She didn’t think the small amounts of water she pulled from nearby sources would be enough to deter him. She needed something more. Clutching her useless limb to her side she rose up, into the air, out of the hole Ogun had created in the ceiling, and saw her solution.
The water serpent she pulled from Lake Erie spiraled like an upside down tornado, rising higher and higher into the air. When it reached the size of a ten story building the top began to curve, bending in toward the abandoned factory. At the tip was Yemaya, and where she moved, it followed. It swelled, fattened, and the base washed up the shoreline, extending the lake to consume the dock, parking lot, and outlaying buildings. It was a lumbering beast with a curved neck, looking for prey. She found them in the room with the tanks.
Clarion was going from hiding place to hiding place and barely managing to stay ahead of him. Ogun was walking through the metal cylinders, tearing openings in them like paper, searching. Yemaya dropped down, the cyclone of water spire bowing with her. She entered one of the broken skylights and stayed near the ceiling.
“Brother, I am warning you. Stop this. You’re mad with rage.”
He halted for the first time since arriving and looked at her. “They are Deitis filth!”
“Since when do we punish children for their fathers sins?”
He patted out a spot on his leg that was still flame licked. “Their father did’n just burn me.”
“They are misguided. But you are not their judge, Ogun.”
“I disagree.” He turned from her and commenced his hunt.
Yemaya frowned. She hated when her brother ignored her. Sometimes he could be so wise. Other times, he was as smart and stubborn as a rock. If he wasn’t going to pay attention to her, she’d have to force him.
“You know where we come from. Plenty of people would judge us for that. You saying they’re right?”
He glared and stepped around her. “Not the same and you know it.” He grabbed another tank, it softened like warm butter, and it seemed to deflate.
“It’s exactly the the same. Last warning, Ogun. Stop it.”
There was a clatter of metal. Across the room, Clarion, missing her arm, was bolting for the exit. The near liquid metal in Ogun’s hand solidified into a spear as he pulled his arm back and hurled it at her in one fluid motion. Yemaya lashed out with a tentacle of water, trying to knock it off course, but the force behind the throw was too strong. The projectile found its mark and impaled Clarion’s human leg. It went on and buried into the cinder-block wall, nailing her to it like an insect.
She was trapped. Ogun charged her to finish the job. Yemaya pulled from the water spire she’d summoned and directed a flow at Ogun, but not in opposition. She knew she wasn’t strong enough to stop his momentum, but she could guide it. The flow hit him in the back, ran with him, and aided his charge, while setting him off course. His fists missed Clarion and he crashed through the wall beside her into the next room. Yemaya followed and put herself between him and his target.
He turned, dripping, furious at her interference. “Don’t be stupid. Get out of the way, Yemaya.”
She smiled. “No.”
She could see that he didn’t want to fight her, to hurt one of his own. She saw the regret when he glanced at her broken shoulder. But, remorse burned away in his anger toward the trio that had tried to kill him. Again, he charged for Clarion.
Again, she guided him off course and through another wall, only this time pushing harder, causing him to over-extend. Riding a wave, she kicked at his ribs when he was off balance, knocking him onto his side. He sprung up, flailing toward Clarion. Yemaya swirled the water, spinning him like a top and, at just the right moment, put her knees into his chin. He fell onto his back.
His own strength was used against him. Every swing was amplified, misguided and opened an opportunity for her to knock him down or direct the force away. It was liquid judo and it came as naturally to Yemaya as breathing. He could not hit Clarion, not while she was protecting her.
But Yemaya knew better than anyone that Ogun’s stamina was legendary. She could not keep this game up forever. She would tire long before him and, eventually, he would have his way. She had to end this, quickly.
She’d been drawing from the massive water spire above her in her countermeasures. She stopped pulling from it and instead dropped the entire torrent onto Ogun.
To his credit, he kept his footing despite the thousands of pounds of water crashing down on his head. He crouched and jumped, breaking free of the deluge. Yemaya moved the column back onto him. The next time he tried to jump she moved the current beneath him, lifting him up into the liquid vortex. It carried his weight easily, sucking him out toward the lake. He tried swimming, but buoyancy was never Ogun’s strong suit. She dropped him far from shore. The weight of his metal body sunk him up to his thighs in the muddy bottom. He tried to pull himself free, but had no leverage. Breath was running short. He tried digging down, scooping great clods of mud with his fists, to find something solid to push against. But Yemaya caused the currents to carry in more sludge. For every scoop he moved, four replaced it. She buffeted his face with a silt filled current, blinding him, disorienting him.
He held his breath for almost eight minutes before he passed out. Once he had, Yemaya washed him up onto the shore and sat down in the mud next to him.
On her right, she could see the sun rising over the water.
Djenaba poured a cup of coffee and walked out onto her balcony. Unlike the nicely decorated and well kept interior, the streets outside were grungy and worn. Five stories down was a convenience store, a barber, two vacant spaces, and a resale shop that only opened on the weekend. On the corner there was an always present group of semi-employed men hanging out by a place that sold gyros and broasted chicken. Hardly the magnificent mile, but it was home.
She heard her bedroom door shut and Obatala joined her on the balcony. Her sister was taller, more muscular, and her skin was darker. She put her hands on the railing, looking down. Her body was tense and her expression grim. She was often too serious.
Without leaving her position Djenaba pulled some of the coffee in the kitchen up into the air. Floating like a brown snake it opened a cupboard door, twined around a cup, and carried it out. The steaming thing set the cup on the patio table and then flowed into it. She knew her sister would want some coffee too.
“He’s asleep. He wouldn’t let me heal him.” she said.
Djenaba smiled. “Has he ever?”
Obatala picked up her drink and took a sip. “No.”
“Then he’ll be fine. Let him be.”
“What he did, hurting you like that. He should never have done that.”
Djenaba shrugged. “It was an accident. He was in pain, angry, out of his mind. You’ve set it right, my shoulder feels fine. Don’t be too hard on him.”
“He should be more careful with his temper.”
“Your husband is a brute, sister. Usually, he’s a gentle brute, but not always. I’m just glad Clarion escaped his rampage.”
Obatala raised an eyebrow in surprise. “Ahura’s daughter? Really?”
She nodded. “I’ve seen what someone in over their head looks like. She was different from the other two.”
“Gone. When I went back they weren’t there. I’ve no doubt the one called Crate is dead. Strain was horribly wounded, but I’m certain he survived. I don’t think they were working alone. I overhead them talking to someone. Someone who wanted one of us dead and didn’t care which.”
Obatala laughed. “Well, that’s no surprise. The list of people who want to kill us isn’t getting any shorter.”
Djenaba put down her empty coffee cup and turned to go inside.
“So what now?” asked Obatala.
“Well, now you figure out where Ogun parked the Hammer and take him back to Lumumba so I can have my bed back by the time I get home from work.”
“Work? At the hospital! Are you serious? You were up all night fighting!”
Djenaba shook her head. “Detroit doesn’t stop bleeding just because I had a rough night. I’ve got patients who need me.”
“This nation is dying, Yemaya. It’s a lost cause.”
“All the more reason it needs a doctor. Everything can be healed.”
She left them there, Obatala holding her cooling drink and Ogun passed out in her room. She put the people who wanted them all dead out of her mind. It was easy.
She had bigger things to worry about.
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