Mark of the Cloven #3: Divinity’s Knell

Mark of the Cloven #3: Divinity’s Knell

This is a sample of the second chapter in the serial illustrated novel, Mark of the Cloven, and is part of the Horsemen comic book universe created by Jiba Molei Anderson and published by Griot Enterprises.  The first several scenes of this issue are posted below for free.  The entire chapter is available in a physical print comic book, digital download, and on Amazon Kindle.

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01 Akebulan

Oshun found Shango contemplating Akebulan.

Floating in the open air above the Aperture, he had assumed a lotus position despite the fact there was nothing to sit upon. The wind had a chill at this height and ruffled his white shirt incessantly. Blue electricity flickered off of him now and again, sparking out in tiny lightening coils. His eyes were closed.

Oshun rose up on a trail of golden light and hovered at his side. Like him, she could sense Akebulan nearby, even though it wasn’t visible. It was their sister realm, home of Olorun. Of course she could feel it. Gaia and Akebulan were were adjacent worlds, conjoined dimensions, and here, above the Aperture, the barrier between them was thin. But while she sensed it, and knew of it, Akebulan did not capture her attention the same way it appealed to Shango. She had more pressing worries right here and now, in Gaia.

“Shango. Am I interrupting?

He didn’t open his eyes when he responded. “Of course not, Oshun. Join me.”

Oshun didn’t bother assuming a sitting position. She wasn’t here to meditate. “There’s something going on, Shango. I think it might be serious. I can feel it, building.”

“Of course. Yemaya, attacked by Ahura’s children. Ogun manipulated by the daughter of Quetz. It’s not a difficult puzzle. I suspect the Deitis’ offspring are just trying to make a name for themselves.”

She shook her head. “No, it’s not just that. I don’t feel the truth in it. There’s something more going on.”

Shango sighed. “Whatever it is, we can handle it. It’s not worth worrying over.”

Oshun folded her arms. “How can you possibly believe that? You don’t know what’s coming or what shape the future holds. Are you seriously too arrogant to imagine a problem you can’t solve?”

Shango turned and looked at her for the first time. His eyes were solid blue and simmered with electricity. “You’re mistaking arrogance for confidence. Whatever comes, we can defeat it.”

“Really? Because that woman who played Ogun got what she wanted and very nearly killed him in the process.”

“Ogun survived it. She didn’t. Whoever she was working with, if they use it against us, then they’ll get the same.”

Oshun rolled her eyes. “I’m curious, do you have any tools on that belt other than a hammer?”

Shango straightened out, uncrossing his legs and assuming a standing position with Oshun. “Did you come all the way up here to give me crap or did you have something to say?”

She pointed at him. “You need to spend more time thinking about Gaia and less time staring at Akebulan. This shit is real, and it’s not just a couple of attacks. You need to take it seriously.”

“What do you mean, more than a couple attacks?”

“Have you seen Eshu lately? Me neither. Something’s wrong with the underground railroad out of the States. We haven’t had anyone successfully get out since those folks Yemaya saved over a month ago. And it’s not like that batch had an easy time of it. You put any thought into how those three knew where the ship was? Eshu left more than a week ago to see if he could figure out what was going on. Nobody’s seen him since.”

Shango shrugged. “Eshu comes and goes all the time. It’s nothing to worry over.”

“Are you sure?”

Shango narrowed his eyes. She continued.

“Eshu’s not the only one. Oya is planning on heading out to find Dr.Utella’s boys. These ‘Cloven’ still have them.”

“Oya’s a big girl. I’m sure she can handle it.”

“Again with the unshakable confidence. You should learn to recognize bait when you see it.”

“I’m not stupid, Oshun. I recognize. I just don’t think there’s a hook out there big enough to catch Oya. And if she does get in trouble, we’ll help.”

“If we can. Whatever this is, it’s stretching us thin. There’s more. I’ve got almost two dozen Manifest missing from the Assembly in the last month. No warning, nothing, just gone.”

“You have people drop out of the Assembly all the time. It’s hard to deal with new powers from the spark. They’re not used to being Manifest. It’s inevitable that some quit and leave. You know that.”

She shook her head. “Not like this, Shango. Sure, some go, but you can usually predict who. These people weren’t quitters. They were committed, willing, and working with us. They just vanished. Left their families, homes, everything, with no trace. Are you hearing me? Something is going on. Something big.”

“Okay, let’s say you’re right. What do you expect me to do about it?”

She glided over to him, crossing the distance between them, and took his chin in her glowing hand. “Turn around. Stop looking to Akebulan for answers. Focus on Gaia.”

His temper flared up. “Why do you think I’m studying Akebulan? They’re ready. We’re not! I’m trying to learn how to keep Gaia safe!”

“Their path aint our path. They’ve got nothing to teach us. You’re wasting time.”

“You’re wrong.”

She chuckled. “Please… like that happens.” She pivoted in the air, turned toward the ground, and sped back toward the Aperture leaving a wake of light behind her. She called back over her shoulder. “Come on down when you realize I’m right. We’ll be waiting.”

02 Oshun'sFrustration

The Manifest Assembly was a sprawling complex on the Northern bank of the New Jabi Lake. It was distanced from the city proper and, looking out across the water, boasted the best views of Lumumba’s growing skyline. In a lot of ways it seemed like a college campus; multiple structures, common areas, and athletic fields. The grounds were interspersed with small gardens, trees, and stone fountains. The buildings themselves were as high tech as anything in Lumumba, but they’d been given a more traditional veneer of wood. All in all, it could have passed for a tropical resort. It was anything but.

The Assembly was a support facility for the largest population of the Manifest on Earth. People, with powers reignited by the Spark, came from all over the world to learn how to use their new-found talents. They trained, honed their skills, and learned to live with the changes. The Assembly not only helped with the transition, it served as job placement, plugging people with lesser abilities into the best places to help Lumumba grow. Personality, desires, and strengths were evaluated and people were guided to the places they could do the most good. Much of the rapid progress of Lumumba could be attributed to the Assembly connecting the right people with special skills to the perfect tasks.

Combat training was hardly the primary function of the Assembly, but it was a facet. Ensuring that the Manifest were ready, and able, to defend themselves was important. As such, there were several facilities on the grounds for exactly that. The Hussle was one of them.

Bhadra was waiting for Oshun when she touched down.

“Are you ready to taste bitter defeat this morning?” he asked.

“Why? You sharing?” she responded.

“Funny, funny lady.” he flashed her a smile. “No, today is the day. I can feel it.”

“I seem to remember you ‘feeling it’ last time I beat you too, Bhadra.”

“That may be so! But what can I say? I’m full of confidence.”

Bhadra was her chief of security at the Assembly and their primary martial arts instructor. He wore a simple armored vest, with a sash across his chest, and kept his arms bare. A wide belt circled his waist and held his weapons; a pair of scimitars, a set of kunai daggers, and a couple of circular throwing chakram. He spread his legs and bent, stretching. Oshun joined him, pulling a leg up behind her and pulling on her calf.

“Any word on Sheng Li?” she asked.

Bhadra reached for the sky, straining. “I’d rather save that for after…”

“Bhadra. Sheng Li?”

He sighed, relaxing his pose. “There’s no sign of her. We contacted her parents in Tailand. They’ve heard nothing.”

“What was her ability again?”

“Plants. Manipulation and hyper-accelerated growth.” He bent into a crouch, resting on his laurels and extending a leg.

“Damn useful, that. We’ve got to find them.”

“We will, Sony, we will. I’ve got people on it.” He jumped up, bounced a few times, and shook his arms. “You ready?”

She cracked her neck and stepped to the starting line. Five feet in front of them was a wall. It looked like they were about to race nowhere. “Always.”

Bhadra joined her. “Remember, no flying, full contact, target hits subtract two seconds from your time.”

“Of course.”

He reached out and clicked the panel. “Setting the door timer. Ten seconds… now.”

“Good luck.” she said.

“Save your luck, you’ll need it.”

The wall dropped, revealing the course, and they bolted from their starting positions. The Hustle changed every time they ran it. The massive obstacle course had over fifty challenges, each built on movable platforms, and was re-arranged weekly. There was never any knowing which dozen it would string together. Today, the first challenge was a series of cement orbs, suspended on chains, swinging wildly and knocking into each other with thunderous impacts. Oshun charged into them fearlessly, weaving left and right, dodging. Bhadra took a different approach. Without touching them, his scimitars drew themselves. As he ran past a swinging stone, the blades drove into it’s side. Grabbing hold, he swung onto the top, taking hold of the chain. From there, he jumped from pendulum to pendulum, moving quickly. His blades followed, hovering near him in the air. He reached the edge moments before Oshun.

The seemingly empty field ahead sprouted a barricade of fire. Neither of them broke stride and flipped over it. Like surf, the flames rolled in waves. They timed their jumps and moved ahead. Out of the corner of his eye, Bhadra saw a bonus target. One of his chakram, untouched, spun from his hip toward the circular mark. Moments before it struck, a bolt of light disintegrated the target. The chakram flew through the empty space where it had been.

“Too slow!” shouted Oshun.

He snarled and telekinetically launched his second chakram at her. She knocked it out of the air with a blast of energy and fired a handful of shots back at him in retaliation. He flipped, curling into a ball, and narrowly avoided being struck. They left the inferno behind them.

03 TheHustleEvenly matched, they raced through the challenges. Oshun gained the lead on the rotating balance beam. Bhadra hit two bonus targets and caught up on the climbing wall, despite the falling sandbags. Tightropes, pressure traps, and a series of motion detectors rigged to trigger net guns. Nothing slowed them down.

They approached the final challenge. It was a maze of zip lines set high up on tall poles that rose from a pool of churning water. Pegs in these poles served as ladders and tiny ledges provided places to jump and catch the lines. Oshun was ahead and it looked like she was going to chalk up another victory. She scurried up a fragmented ladder to a narrow platform in order to determine the best route. It was complicated, but if she…

She stopped. There was a woman standing at the end of the course, watching them. Even from this distance, after almost a decade, she recognized her instantly. Same wild hair. Same wide smile. It was Delphine.

Her delay cost her. Both of Bhadra’s boots struck her square in the back as he leapt from one of the lines. She was knocked from her position, somersaulted in the air, and landed in the pool below with an enormous splash. Bhadra caught another line as he fell, flipped onto it, and ran down the tightrope length. Before she’d swum halfway to the edge of the pool, he landed in the end zone and smacked the victory button.

“Ha! I knew today was the day! Finally!” He kicked out a roundhouse and punched at the air, grinning. Both his kunai and his scimitars floated over his head and twirled in arcs. “That’s how you do it!” He sauntered over to the edge of the pool where Oshun was and offered his hand.

She took it and let him help pull her out of the water. “About time! Stop swinging those things around already. You’re going to poke someone’s eye out.”

“As you wish, my dear, as you wish.” The blades, guided by invisible hands, slid back into their scabbards.

“I need a minute, Bhadra.”

He glanced over at Delphine. She hadn’t approached, or said anything, since they’d finished the race. “Oh, sure. I’m going to go have a drink and tell everyone how I just out-Hustled you.”

She smiled, proud of his accomplishment. “You do that. And when you do, enjoy it, cuz it’s never going to happen again.”

“So you say.” He bowed, barely containing his smile, and headed out.

Oshun slicked her hair back. She was about to take on her aspect fully, and become light, so that she could quickly dry off her clothes, but stopped herself. It wasn’t something she wanted to do in front of Delphine. It had been a long time and she didn’t know how she’d take it. Better to play it safe and stay wet, even if she was soaked to the bone.

Delphine was standing by the exit, quietly waiting. Oshun padded over to her, leaving a trail of puddles.

“You certainly know how to surprise a girl.” she said.

“I’m sorry if I distracted you. I didn’t mean to.”

“No, don’t be sorry! I’m glad to see you. I’d hug you, but, well…” Delphine tilted her head and gave a shrug.

“Sony, I’d survive a little water.”

“Oh my god, Del!” she wrapped her arms around her.

She returned the embrace, despite the wet. “It’s been far too long.”

There was something different about her. Up close, like this, Oshun felt it. Delphine had the Spark. She was one of the Manifest.

“Worlds ago. I’m so happy you’ve come.” Oshun stepped back.

“Well, I would have visited sooner, but I thought you might be upset.”

Oshun shook her head. “Never. Ancient history. And after all this time and you still look great!”

“Thanks. So do you, considering.” she wiped at the wet spots on her blouse.

“Yeah, I can see that you’ve changed. Sparked. Are you okay? I know it can be rough sometimes.”

She flushed. “Oh, I… no. I mean, yes, I’ve changed, but it’s not a big thing.”

“Oh, I thought you must be here for the Assembly, since you’ve got the spark.”

“No. I came to see you. I was hoping we could talk.”

“Of course! We’ve got years to catch up on.”

Delphine hesitated. “It’s not just that. I want to be honest with you. I need help with something. I don’t know who else to ask.”

This didn’t sound like Delphine. She’d always been a strong do-it-yourself type. If she was asking for help…

“Of course. If I can, I will. Right now?”

She shook her head. “No, no, not that urgent. But, it’s important.”

“So, how about we have dinner tonight? You tell me all about it, and then we can catch up after.”

“That works.”

“Well, I’ve been dying to check out Glaze. Now I’ve got a good excuse.”

“Perfect.” She reached out, squeezed Oshun’s hand, and left. After she’d gone, Oshun didn’t dry off. She just stood there, for a long time, thinking.

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Sony Kilgore, commonly known as Oshun, Goddess of Light, was surprised how nervous she was. She fiddled with her silverware as she waited. It was made out of glass. She rolled it in her fingers and it picked up different neon colors in the tines as she did. She found a green and, by slowly tilting, tracked the reflection back to the glass table. From there she could tell, by angling her head, that it was coming from off the bar. It too, was glass. Everything at Glaze was. Well, glass or water. And there were no lights, only the reflections of lights, cleverly hidden out of sight. It was all crisp rainbow painted on almost black glass, shadow, and silent sheets of waterfall. The colors slid around the dark room incessantly and rippled on the water. Whatever their light source, it must have been shifting constantly.

Sony hoped that, with all the atmosphere, they actually knew how to prepare a good meal. Even if she was only likely to nibble at it on account of her nerves.

Her relationship with Delphine had still been a fresh young thing when it died, but it had held potential. She’d never much planned on falling in love with her, but then, it shouldn’t have been too surprising. She’d never had an issue with that sort of thing and hadn’t shut out the possibility. More like, it was an open door she’d never paid attention to and Delphine just happened to walk through it. It was wonderful, for a while. But the Orisha changed everything.

As much as she tried to insist that becoming nearly divine wouldn’t ruin things, it was too much. It didn’t work. Delphine left, and Sony went on, half girl, half goddess. But Delphine had the spark now. As one of the Manifest, there was something of the divine in her now too. Maybe the distance between them wasn’t as great as it used to be.

04 DelphineIt was that sudden, irrational, hope that filled her with anxiety. The goddess had already been worried about plots in the city and against her family, now the girl had to worry about her heart too? She flipped the fork for the hundredth time and took a deep breath. It was a relief when Delphine walked in.

“I hope you haven’t been waiting long.”

“Nope, not at all.” She stood, they hugged, and sat down in glass chairs. “Although, I’ve got to admit, you made me curious this morning.”

“I wouldn’t expect any less from you.”

“How long have you been in Lumumba?”

Delphine looked down at her knees through the table. “About eight months now.”

“Eight months! And you took this long to come see me?”

“I didn’t think it was appropriate. You’re important and busy.”

Oshun shook her head. “Ridiculous. I’ve got lots to do, sure, but so does everyone who’s working in the city. I still get to have a life.”

“I guess…”

“So what have you been up to? If you didn’t come for the Assembly.”

“I’ve been working with the Idafa.”

Oshun leaned back in her chair. The waiter came by, poured them wine, and vanished into the shadows. She took a drink.

“The Idafa.”

Delphine nodded.

“Just to be clear, you’re talking about the cult that worships us?”

“It’s not a cult.”

“So that is what you’re talking about.”

“Sony, it’s not what you think. It’s not worshipping you and the others. It’s supposed to be about understanding the better principles in humanity and encouraging them. The Orisha rose from man’s best attributes. It’s principles are meant to to guide us back onto that path.

Oshun took another drink. “But I am safe to assume that the problem you need help with has something to do with them?”

She looked uncomfortable. “Sort of, yeah.”

“How about this; you explain what’s going on, tell me exactly what you need so we can move past it and have a nice evening.”

“Most of the church is good. The people are good. I’m sure of it. But, beneath it… There’s something going on. Something bad.”

“Go on.”

“The church is run by the Grand Brother, Altar. He’s very focused on making converts and spreading the message. He seems okay, but if you scratch the surface, there’s something off. Too many private meetings. A lot of secrecy that you have to ‘work up’ to be a part of. It’s normal, in a church, to work your way into positions of trust, greater responsibility. But usually, you can see where you’re going. You don’t normally get promoted and move somewhere secret.”

“Unless it’s a cult.”

“Right. There’s also this man, named Nan. He’s a radical Orisha worshipper, and I absolutely don’t agree with what he believes. Nan and Altar had a major falling out after he accused Altar of being a fraud. He claims the whole religion is a front working to hurt the Horsemen. A bunch of people believed him and they split off.”

“What do you think?”

“I don’t know. There’s definitely something off about Altar. He seems to make sense when you listen to him, but after, when you think about it, it just doesn’t add up. I’m worried Nan’s right.”

Something about it all seemed far-fetched to Oshun. The list of people bold enough to try something subversive, right in the heart of Lumumba, was short. “It sounds a lot like a power struggle. One guy badmouths the other, someone branches off. This is how denominations start. Does Nan have any evidence?”

Delphine shrugged. “He claims to. He says they’re putting drugs in the sacraments, to create parishioners through addiction. He says they track their Manifest members, but I can’t confirm that, I haven’t told them about me. And supposedly Altar’s got equipment, in the churches, some project they’re working on. Cloven or something.”

Oshun put down her drink. Cloven. The woman who’d attacked Ogun had claimed to be part of something called the Cloven. She was one of the Deitis kids, just like the trio that had attacked Yemaya. Oshun didn’t believe in coincidence. She stood up.

“I’m gonna need you to take me to Nan.”

“Right now? But, the food’s on its way…”

Oshun took her hand and pulled her to her feet. “Right now.”

05 DinnerAbrupted
Delphine didn’t know exactly where Nan was. Evidently, he was worried about retaliation from Altar over his defection and had gone into hiding. She knew he and his followers were squatting in one of the abandoned towns around the Abuja Crater. As soon as they’d gotten outside, Oshun had put away her insecurities about using her powers in front of Delphine and had taken on her aspect. Her skin roiled like a time lapse of dark clouds dissipating as the sun burst through. It was too bright to look at, burned away her clothes, and then dimmed. Delphine didn’t say anything. In the past, it had always made her uncomfortable. Oshun wondered if it was less so, now that she had a power of her own. But since she refused to talk about it, there was no telling. It didn’t matter either way though, she had to find Nan and, hopefully, some answers. She picked up Delphine and, for the first time, lifted her up into the sky.

 

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continued

 

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Mark of the Cloven #2: Plague’s Ransom

Mark of the Cloven #2: Plague’s Ransom

This is a sample of the second chapter in the serial illustrated novel, Mark of the Cloven, and is part of the Horsemen comic book universe created by Jiba Molei Anderson and published by Griot Enterprises.  The first several scenes of this issue are posted below for free.  The entire chapter is available in a physical print comic book, digital download, and on Amazon Kindle.

Support me and Griot Enterprises!
Buy the issue with the links below!

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Oya raced down the remains of Daura Road. She smiled, enjoying the cool morning wind rushing past her hair puffs and in her face. Early day, before things got too warm, was always her favorite time to run. The red in her outfit was a splash of color in the surrounding green. Overgrown trees sped by on either side and in places the grass grew up past her knees through the pavement cracks. It was four lanes, and had seen a good amount of traffic in the past, but not anymore. Now, the only thing Daura Road led to was the Abuja Crater.

There were plans to re-pave it and set up a monument in the center of the great scar that was the birthplace of this new Africa, but so far it had remained in pretty much the same state as right after it had happened. A great gaping hole where Nigeria’s heart had been torn out.

Lumumba City was behind her. It was built adjacent to the crater, but was separated by a few miles of forest. The woods were pretty and provided a good buffer between the modern new architecture of Lumumba and the destruction. Oya zipped through the forest it in mere moments, savoring the smell of the exotic plants. It was so different from where she’d grown up and she was in no rush. As she got closer to she began to see bunches of dried flowers on the sides of the road and tied to trees with ribbons. 1 Oya RunsThen there were hand-made signs with names painted on them and more flowers. Then there were faded pictures, stuffed animals, and crosses. So many crosses. She had to slow down to navigate through it all as the roadside memorabilia spilled off the shoulders and took over the old highway. It was everywhere. She took her time, looking at them, and eventually stopped at the lip, surrounded by thousands of the roadside tributes to the dead. Cards, notes, and pictures, all stapled and taped and poorly laminated, fluttered in the hot sun, slowly fading and degrading. They crowded right up to the edge of the crater, pressing to be as close to the precipice as possible, leaning out. Beyond them there was… nothing.

Oya had seen it before. It was clearly visible from the conference room up on the Aperture, but it never failed to terrify her. Even more so, up close like this. The soot-filled hole extended for miles. There was no rubble, no ruins, no remains. It was bowl of hardened ash spread out almost as far as the eye could see. The wind howled across it, unrestrained. They’d saved a lot of the inhabitants, before it happened, but not nearly all. It frightened her to think about how Abuja’s people, buildings, cars, and everything had been reduced to dust in seconds.

 It frightened her more to know that her brother had done it.

 Shango had his reasons and nobody could argue that the African Resurgence wasn’t a direct result of this destruction. But it still made her skin crawl. She turned, picking her way through the memorials, and began to run around it. She had to get to the other side, to Ogun’s Anvil, and she could have gone directly across very quickly if she let herself get up to full speed. But she wasn’t going to run across the remains of the dead. Circumnavigating it along the South hardly took her more time and she could do it with a clear conscious.

 It wasn’t long before the crater faded behind her and the Jos Plateau rose up ahead. Over four hundred meters of stone rose up at a steep angle. It wasn’t a cliff, but it was an intimidating pile of granite boulders and gravel. She clambered up it, barely slowing down. Beneath the plateau, where she’d been running, trees and bushes had been abundant. Up here, things were flat, and waist high yellow grass covered the land.

 The Anvil, Ogun’s workshop, was easy to spot. It looked like a tabletop plateau, only it was made of solid metal. It was more angular and rigid than a natural formation, red-brown with oxidization, and had long vertical striations in the sides. It was a nearly a dozen stories high and twice as wide. The entire thing was windowless and had only one visible, massive gateway, molded into the side. There was a parking lot nearby and dozens of cars were basking in the sun. She spotted the security checkpoint by the entrance and headed for it. They admitted her without issue and led her to a lobby where she barely had enough time to look around before Dr. Utella entered.

2 The Anvil

 “Oya! So good to see you again. Ogun’s expecting you but he couldn’t be pulled away. I’ll bring you down to him.”

Oya liked Ogun’s chief research head, Dr.Utella. He had an ever present lab coat that matched a ring of stark white hair and an infectious wide smile that, considering his past, always made Oya smile back.

“Good to see you too, Kelechi! It has been too long.” She shook his hand and he led her out and down the hallway.

 “Well, your brother keeps me locked away here. It seems I am always invaluable to one project or another. I am a prisoner to progress!” he joked. They stopped at a pair of sealed doors and he entered a code into a keypad. They opened and they entered a bare white room. The doors slid shut and the lights shifted to yellow as they were scanned.

“Ahh, but doesn’t it feel good to be so wanted?” asked Oya with a grin.

“Yes, well, I suppose it’s my own fault for being so brilliant, as Ogun likes to remind me.” Their colors shifted from orange into red as the strange imaging instruments painted the room.

 “The perils of genius.”

 “As you say.” They blended into purple, then blue, and, finally, green. There was a confirmation chime and the room reverted to white. Doors on the opposite side of where they entered slid open.

Dr. Utella nodded. “Seems we’re cleared. This way.”

 “So how are your sons? Imoh and…” Oya strained to remember his other boy’s name.

“Tunde. Both Imoh and Tunde are doing fine. Imoh is in his second year at university, studying agriculture. Tunde has no patience for school. He’s decided that he can make enough of himself in construction. He’s working at the Kuti Amphitheater.” They entered a large open space, like a hanger. All around the room were machines the size of trucks, all different shapes and sizes.

“It doesn’t bother you? Him not going to school?”

 Dr.Utella shook his head. “No, not at all. Why should he end up like me, trapped indoors all day? After what they’ve been through, I do not care how the boys live their lives, only that they live them.”

 Years ago, before the African Resurgence, Dr.Utella’s wife had been killed and his son’s taken for indoctrination into the Am-Timan People’s Militia, in Chad. They were there for almost a year before Dr.Utella managed to get the Horsemen’s attention by inventing a groundwater extraction process that did not require digging wells. The material, applied to the underside of pavement, sapped deeper water up, collected it, and could distribute it further down the road. When the rebuilding began, it became standard, and gave him the opportunity to meet with Ogun. Rather than receiving praise for the achievement, he begged for help in finding and rescuing his sons.

 Ogun, Oya, and Oshun made short work of the Am-Timan People’s Militia. They returned many boys to their families, found families for the ones who’d lost theirs, and set up rehabilitation centers for the kids who’d been there too long. Fortunately, although the time with them was horrible, Tunde and Imoh had survived as well as could be expected. Dr.Utella had come on as Ogun’s research lead at the Anvil ever since.

They rounded a corner and her brother came into view. He was standing in front of a long machine made of silver. A dozen cylinders, topped by spheres, protruded from it. Overall, it was smooth, rounded, and had only one tiny control panel in the side. Ogun was standing by it, fiddling with some dial or another. She noticed that his arms were wrapped in bandages. Eshu had told her that there had been an attack, and that Ogun and Yemaya had both been injured, but he didn’t have details and Ogun had shut the conversation down when he’d asked what had happened. Oya knew better than to bother. If Ogun wanted her to know, he’d tell her. If she really wanted details she’d have to pay Yemaya a visit.

 Dr. Utella stopped walking. “I think you can manage from here, my dear. I’m off to see if I can’t finish in time to actually go home tonight!”

 “Thank you, Kelechi. It was very nice to see you. Don’t let him work you too hard, okay?”

 He nodded and headed back the way they’d come from. “I’ll do my best! Take care.”

 She crossed the room to her brother.

“So, is this the toy you want me to see, Architect?” she asked.

 Ogun turned and smiled at his youngest sibling. “If you consider a technological miracle a toy, then I suppose it is. I call it the Koso Project.”

 They embraced. She noticed that he had more bandages under his shirt and a minor bruise on his forehead. Whatever had happened, they’d managed to make a dent where many had failed.

“So show me. I know you love showing off.”

 “Well, this time I can’t take all the credit. You know who Nikola Tesla was, right?”

 She nodded. “Sure. Electrical genius from the early nineteen hundreds. Ahead of his time.”

 “Right. He supposedly figured out a way to broadcast free electricity out into the world, for miles. No need for wires, outlets, or anything. Electrical devices would just pick up what they needed out of the air.” Ogun walked over to a table, covered with an assortment of gadgets.

“I’ve heard the myth. Greedy electrical companies cut his funding, sabotaged the plan. It’s a tall tale.”

 Ogun picked up a remote control from the table. “Could be. Who knows? Maybe he figured it out, maybe he didn’t. All I know is that he inspired me to try it for myself.”

 He clicked a button. The giant silver machine sprang to life, blue electricity ran up the cylinders and danced around the spheres, jumping from one to another. Simultaneously, all the gadgets on the table turned themselves on. Computers booted up, lamps illuminated, and Billy Ocean started crooning from a stereo.

 “And I got it.”

 Oya’s eyes went wide. “Holy crap, bro! Seriously?”

“This will power anything, and everything, within a hundred mile radius; cars, trains, computers, lights, environmental systems, cash registers, cell phones. Everything.”

 Oya walked over to the massive machine. There were no cords leading in or out. Any working components were hidden beneath the smooth exterior. It cackled with energy, but there was no whirr of turbines or machine parts.

 “Okay, I get that it’s transmitting, but where’s it getting its power from? Putting aside how you’ve figured out how to broadcast it, I don’t see how something this size can even generate the kind of output you’re talking about.”

 “That’s the beauty. It can’t.”

 Oya shot him an exasperated glare. “So how does it work?”

 “The hard part was the power dispersion, not the source of energy. Basically, beneath the transmit tech, it’s a giant battery.”

 “Okay, battery. I can see it. But, where are you hiding the hydroelectric plant that charges it?”

 Ogun clicked the button again and everything shut down, the room was quiet.

 “No plant. Just Shango.”

 Oya stood there, stunned, absorbing the information. “You mean…”

 Ogun continued. “Yeah. This is what we’ve been working on for months. Our crews have already deployed over three hundred of them, all over the continent. They’re all zapped full of energy, courtesy of Shango blasting them with the same amount of force that wiped Abuja off the map, safely stored, ready to distribute, free juice to everyone, everywhere. It’ll be ready within the month.”

3 The Koso Project

 Oya looked back at the machine with new respect. She slid her hand along the chrome exterior. She had always thought of Shango’s power as destruction. Her impressions had only been reinforced on that grim day he’d changed everything. But this, now, was set to turn it all around. She’d never imagined his power had a flip-side, but now that she was looking at the potential, she was amazed she’d never seen it before. Her mind boggled at the implications of what could be accomplished. Clean, free, abundant energy washing over the entire African Union.

 “My god, Ogun, do you two have any idea what this is going to do to us? To the world?”

 Ogun nodded.

“Change it.”

line break

It was well past midnight by the time Ogun got home. Out of the Anvil he abandoned his metal form and was just Kofi. His footsteps were surprisingly light for a man of his bulk and stature. He always tried to be quiet, hoping that he wouldn’t disturb Araba, his wife, the goddess Obatala, if she were sleeping. It was futile though, the woman had ears sensitive enough to hear a fly lick his eyeball two rooms away. As it turned out, he needn’t have bothered. She was still up.

She had a suitcase out on the bed and was packing.

His first reaction was surprise. He knew they’d been arguing. She was frustrated with him for not letting her tend his injuries and even more upset that he’d lost control and injured Yemaya, but he didn’t think she was this angry. Hell, he hadn’t talked to her all day. How could she be more mad now than when he’d left in the morning? There had to be something else going on.

“Hey hun, you movin’ out?”

She turned to face him and frowned at his poor humor. “Keep it up, big boy. See where it gets you.”

He sat down on the bed next to her things and ran his hand along her waist.

“No, no. Don’t wanna go there. Just messing with you. So really, where you headed?”

“Lubango. It’s in Angola.”

“I know where Lubango is. What’s going on in Lubango?” He picked up one of her shirts, folded it, and put it into the suitcase for her. She picked it up again, folded it differently, and moved it from where he’d placed it.

“There’s been an outbreak. The local doctors aren’t having any success dealing with it and it’s spreading. Quickly. The entire place will be quarantined by morning.”

Kofi frowned. “That’s not good. Do they know how it’s transmitted?”

“Not yet.”

“Do they have samples? So they can isolate it?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, are they set up with a mobile lab? They’ll need equipment, to synthesize a vaccine.”

She flipped the lid of the suitcase and zipped it shut with a flourish. “Kofi, I have no idea.”

“They’re going to need that. And when they get it, they’ll need to vaccinate everyone. I’ve been working on these tiny robots, like mosquitoes.” He held up his hand and very nearly pinched two fingers together, showing her how small they were. “They’re called N’kosi Drones, to facilitate inoculations. I can bring some and…”

“I don’t need your drones. I can handle this on my own.”

Kofi didn’t seem to understand. “But why not? You can’t heal everyone one at a time.”

She stopped getting ready and leveled her gaze at him. “I can if they let me.”

He rolled his eyes. “Oh, not this again.”

Araba picked up the suitcase and walked out of the bedroom. He got from the bed and followed.

“Why do you always have to make such a big deal about this? I’ll heal just fine!”

She stopped at the door. “That’s not the point. I should only be a few days. I’ll call you tomorrow.”

4 Araba LeavesHe put a hand on the door frame and leaned in. “At least let me transfer you some decent equipment.”

She shook her head. “You’ve got enough going on with the Koso tests this week. Besides, you know I don’t work that way. I love you. I’ll see you soon.”

She kissed him and left.

Kofi made some food, changed his bandages, and tried to relax. It didn’t work. He wound up opening his datapad and pulling the specs on the N’kosi Drones. They were a bit power heavy. Too much space for their energy source, not enough for their liquid payload. He fiddled with the design absentmindedly.

If she wasn’t home by Thursday he decided he’d send her some.

line break

Dr.Utella was asleep at the wheel. The driverless car sped along at ninety miles an hour on a raised highway. Despite being nearly two in the morning, his headlights were off. The computer-controlled automobile network took care of this part of his commute. He’d helped with the project, working with the road substrates. Every square foot of highway had sensors, sending information to the network, verifying the results of the satellites. There were physical magnets beneath the high-tech asphalt, independently capable of functioning as decelerators. These highways were an entirely separate system, raised up, above the normal roads. Drivers would pull onto an on-ramp, input a destination, and surrender control. The network would calculate the most efficient route and take over. It didn’t need streetlights or lane markings. The electric cars were quiet, quick, and virtually error free. There had been some fears when they first set it up, but the network had been working for months, and more and more people were getting used to it. To Dr.Utella it wasn’t a miracle of science anymore, it was just an opportunity for a nap.

A chime sounded through the car’s speakers and an automated voice spoke. “Approaching South Kijani Off-ramp. Sixty seconds.”

Dr.Utella opened his eyes, rubbed his face, and depressed the button that returned his seat to driving position. He yawned.

“Approaching South Kijani Off-ramp. Thirty seconds.”

Looking out the window, Dr.Utella smiled at the backdrop of stars that framed Lumumba. It always took him off guard, how bright the stars were despite the skyscrapers and city lights. Luminance baffles took care of that, blocking the glow and reflecting it down. Driving in the most modern metropolis on Earth and the sky looked like it did when he lived on a farm as a child. He liked to think it helped remind people of their scale in the universe. It certainly humbled him.

“South Kanji Off-ramp. Slowing to stop for control transfer.”

The car braked as it rounded a long downward curve, pulling into an empty slot. It looked like an incredibly long toll booth, without attendants. There were dozens of covered parking spaces, all lined out in a row. At this time of night, there were no other cars around, but if there were, passengers could get out, stretch their legs, change drivers, and move on when they were ready. Dr.Utella didn’t need any of that. He just wanted to get home and rest. He clicked a button and the steering wheel and the vehicle controls emerged. The headlights clicked on to reveal a man standing directly in front of the car.

He was big, almost as tall as Ogun, but not nearly so bulky. He was wearing an outfit that looked it might have been some sort of leather motocross gear, but it had been modified with heavier armored bits. There were angular shoulder pads, decorative gauntlets, and a waist skirt. Dr.Utella realized his first impression was wrong. It looked more like samurai armor in shape, but the materials were all wrong, far too modern. The man was Asian and he had two sword handles extending up from his back.

Dr.Utella took all of this in in an instant, but what caught his attention most of all was what the man was holding; a picture of Imoh and Tunde. They were bound at the wrists, beaten, and in some sort of small cubicle.

“Step out of the car.” The words weren’t audible with the doors and windows shut, but Dr.Utella understood. He got out.

“This is very simple.” said the man. “Your boys are in a box. Tomorrow at noon it will ship and you will never see them again. Where they are going is suffering that makes the things they’ve experienced seem like mercy. Do you understand?”

Dr.Utella nodded weakly. The man dropped the picture onto the ground and removed a small metal device from his pocket. “This is a transmitter. It is connected to the box. When the right conditions are met, it will automatically open the door and release your sons. If this happens before noon tomorrow, they are free to go. Do you understand?”
Dr.Utella’s heart sank. He knew where this was going. “What conditions?”

“You must connect this device to any security hub in the Anvil. You must tell no one. As I said, if you do it before noon, they’re free. If not…” He set the object down on the hood of the car.

“I… I can’t do this… What you’re asking…”

The man turned and walked away. “As I said; this is simple. Loose them again, or not.”

5 The Proposal

As his footsteps receded into the distance, Dr.Utella stood there, stunned. After a while he walked over to the picture and sat down on the pavement next to it. He didn’t touch it. He just looked at it, at his injured boys, lost again, and cried.

line break

continued


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Mark of the Cloven #1: Cripple’s Deluge

Mark of the Cloven #1: Cripple’s Deluge

This is the first chapter in the serial illustrated novel, Mark of the Cloven, and is part of the Horsemen comic book universe created by Jiba Molei Anderson and published by Griot Enterprises.  The first issue of the series is posted below for free.  The entire chapter is available in a physical print comic book, a digital .PDF download, and in both illustrated and plain text versions on Amazon Kindle.

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Djenaba shoved open the emergency exit to the hospital roof.  The door had a solid lock and an active alarm, but neither mattered.  Both failed to function.

She should be post-op right now, changing out of scrubs, cleaning up.  She was certainly not supposed to walk the halls with the consequences of a failed surgery splashed all over her.  It was neither hygienic or seemly.  But right now, she didn’t care much what people thought.  She needed solitude and a chance to regroup.

1 WEB  Country'sHeartbeat

Her feet crunched on the tar and gravel.  Without hesitation she strode directly to the roofs edge.  Balanced there, she rubbed her eyes and took several slow, deep breaths.  The fifteen story drop, without any sort of railing, did not bother her.  The patchwork lights of night-time Detroit spread out below.  It was a strange pattern with too many dark swaths.  It was abandoned, burnt, dead.  Even if she weren’t a doctor she could have easily seen the city was sick. A concerned voice drifted from behind her.

“Sister, are you injured?”

Her brow furrowed.  She hadn’t come up here for a visit.

“No, brother.  I was in surgery.”

She did not hear the roof-stones make any noise but when he spoke again he was directly behind her.

“And they have shed this world?”

She nodded.  “Far too soon.  And roughly.”

His hands dropped onto her shoulders, gentle, barely a pressure.  “I’m am sorry, Yemaya.”

She slunk out of his palms, dipping her head under his arm and deftly twisted away despite the ledge.  She walked away along the tightrope precipice.  “Do not call me that, Jani.”  The emphasis was on his name.

When she turned to face him, she had to admit to herself that the man before her looked very different than the boy she’d grown up with.  Ash white and soot black paint covered his face and portions of his chest, which was bare beneath a loose tuxedo jacket.  He was lithe muscles, bare feet, and a mane of dreadlocks in formal tails.

“Jani?”  he barked out a laugh and grinned.  “You of all people should know better, sister!  I am Eshu now, the Trickster Elegba, Shadow on the Crossroads.  Although, the more linguistically adept call me Elleggua and they love the sound it makes rolling around on their tongues!”

2 Eshu'sConcerto pt1

Djenaba folded her arms across her stained chest, unimpressed.  “Why are you here?”

The smile slid from Eshu’s face.  “Why am I here, is it?  No time for little brother’s nonsense then?  Straight to business!  I could ask you the same question, sister.  Why are you here?  What purpose do you think you serve plucking out stray gang-banger bullets?  Trying to fix this rotten place one bloody hole at a time.  It’s nonsense!  There is more going on in the world that’s so much bigger than this.  You’re above it, goddess!”

“We are not gods, Jani.”

“Close e-fuckin’-nuff!”

“My decisions are my business.  I haven’t forgotten who I am or where I come from.  Now, did you just come here to tell me how stupid I am or did you want something?”

Eshu looked like he was going to push it.  She knew her siblings didn’t understand why she stayed in Detroit and remained a doctor.  When the spirits of the Oshira had empowered them the others had seen it a way to expand.  They’d been living successful lives before, but upon obtaining their powers, they realized they could go further, do more.  They could change the world now, and they did.  Not always in ways Djenaba agreed with.

Unlike her newly powered kin, she had been living with the life and death of the emergency room all along.  She’d long since grown immune to the rush of saving a life and knew too well the taste of failure.  It was not something she intended to forget, despite her family’s novice enthusiasm for heroism.  They’d yet to have someone “die on the table” and she was not looking forward to they day that they learned that lesson.

“I need help getting a few people to the African Union, more specifically, to Canada.”

She could have guessed as much.  That Eshu and the others had been helping people get out of the United States and into the new African Union was no secret.  Since the passing of the Retention Act things had gotten ugly.  Day by day the great Land of Prosperity became more and more like a cage and the wide open frontiers of the new African Union were becoming the future of opportunity.  The bars only tightened as the superpower fought to keep its relevancy in a shifting new world.

“Surely Eshu, with all his mysterious crossroads and god-like powers doesn’t require my aid.”

His smile slipped back into place.  “You sell yourself short sister!  I do not have the market cornered on powers or enigmas.  I cannot, for example, get a boat with no engine to sail across Lake Erie to a certain safe-house where refugees will move on to the East coast.  I am shit at boats and not much a fan of water.”

Djenaba nodded.  “Such humility.”

“Also, Ogun was gonna’ do it, but he’s hit a snag in the Koso Project.  Shango asked him to stick around and sort it out.  I wouldn’t bug you if I had another option.”

“How considerate.”

“Well, will you help?” he asked.

“Give me a minute to think already.  When would this happen?”

“Tonight.  A few hours from now.”  He smiled apologetically.

“You’re confident, Eshu, waiting so long to ask.”

Eshu exhaled dismissively.  “What you see as confidence is actually me trying to deal with a missing Ogun.  I came to you as soon as I found out.”

“What will you do if I refuse?”

“You won’t refuse.  It’s for the Union.”

“Ahh, the Union.  Well, of course then!  I’ll just drop everything for the Union.  Who am I to refuse such a grand honor?”

Eshu didn’t hide his frustration.  “Why do you do that?  I don’t need your sarcasm.  I need your help.  It’s like you don’t understand how important these changes in Africa are.  For us.  For the world.”

Involuntarily, her mind flashed to the day Nigeria died.  That great bolt, the smell of electricity and fire.  All the screaming.  Despite the progress since then, she still had trouble thinking of it as anything other than the site of a mass murder.  “Oh, I understand, Eshu.  I understand that nothing born in that much blood grows up healthy.  I see your hope, but forgive me if I’m cautious about the reality.”

“So you aint gonna help?”

“I didn’t say that.  I asked for time to think.”

Without a sound he was at her side, offering an envelope.  “I got things to do.  No time to stay here and wait for you to make up your mind.  You have until midnight.  This is where the boat is and where it needs to go.  If you do, then do.  If not…” he shrugged.

2 Eshu'sConcerto pt2

She took the paper.

Eshu crossed the roof, melted with the shadows, and was gone.

line break

Quarter to midnight and Djenaba was pacing her living room.

In one regard her brother had been right. Out there, waiting on some dark dock, were people in need. Some daring souls who wanted out of the increasingly oppressive U.S. to try their luck in a strange new world. Refugees were usually trapped in poverty and looking for anything better. Trusting in a group of underground ‘heroes’, that their own nation had portrayed as criminals, showed either great courage, understanding, or, most often, desperation.

Eshu had known that Djenaba, a life-long healer, would have a difficult time refusing to help.

She didn’t bother with her car. As much as she did not live in her new persona, it had a time and a place. Tonight, she put Djenaba behind her and embraced her alter-ego without reservation.

Yemaya’s aspect washed upon her like a warm wave that started at her forehead. It slid down her body, transforming everything in a wash of power. Her eyes, which were normally a hazel gray, shifted into blue and acquired an eerie luminescence. Likewise, her lips became a sea-shade of teal. Her clothing slid to the floor, and was replaced by an opaque liquid dress. It was deep azure blue and the color shifted like light patterns at the bottom of a pool. The traditional trappings of the sea mother flowed from the wake; golden armlets and hoop earrings were donned, cerulean pearls wove into her hair, and, most importantly, the satchel of mysteries took its place at her hip. None of the other Horsemen had ever seen into the half circle bag, and they never would.

She walked across the room. Snakes of living water picked her discarded clothes up from the floor and tossed them into the hamper. Two more tentacles of liquid stretched out before her and opened the balcony doors. A puddle soggied the carpet by her feet, rose up, and expanded into to a mound that reached her knees. As she moved, it traveled with her, swelling as high as her waist. It kept rising, but instead of engulfing her, it picked her up off the ground, carrying her. The spire of water extended out the balcony, over the edge, and into the air. A tiny wave pulled the door shut behind her as she rose into the darkness, headed for the dock. Back in her apartment, not a drop of moisture remained.

Flying such, on a tail of telekinetically controlled water, Yemaya looked like a strange airborne mermaid. The he night sky had become her private ocean, glistening with stars. She increased the current and sped toward her destination. Getting places did not take her long and crossing town was mere moments. She descended to the abandoned dock exactly on time.

3 Yemaya'sFlight

She realized soon enough how she’d been tricked.

“God’s curse you, Eshu.” she muttered.

There, hiding in burnt out sheet metal warehouse near the dock, were at least two hundred people. Families, of all nationalities, looked at her in awe as she rode her water spire to the ground. They had luggage, backpacks, and everything they needed for a trip to the other side of the world.

Just a few people indeed.

But this wasn’t the worst of it. Yemaya thought for a moment she’d have a stern talking to Eshu about the difference between boats and ships, but then realized the Trickster had probably known full well what he was getting her into. There, lying in a field of thick mud was a massive, eight hundred foot long, abandoned container ship. Painted in barely visible letters across the back was the word; Cormorant. The derelict thing was in the shallows and tilting heavily to port. It was impossible to tell where the muddy water ended and rust began. A rickety dock led near it, but the ship was angled off, so it fell short. Someone had lain a single long wooden plank across the gap as a makeshift bridge.

A middle aged man with salt and pepper hair stepped out from the crowd. “We’re sorry we’re not on board. We just… we weren’t sure it was safe. It’s not what we were expecting.”

Yemaya couldn’t agree more. “No, it is certainly not what we were expecting.”

“Some of the folks, they’re thinking of staying. They think it’s too dangerous.”

Yemaya folded her arms, considering the new factors. She reached out with her mind, testing the integrity of the vessel through the water in the mud. She applied pressure, prodded, and probed for weakness. That it was not sea-worthy was no question; it most certainly was not. But she had to determine the extent of the damage so she could know how much effort would be required to keep the water out, carry, and guide it across the lake. There was a lot of metal and a good number of fractures. The feat would be considerable.

It was a serious risk and with it came the opportunity for her to say no. She could easily tell these people that it wasn’t possible. They’d have to wait for another way out. To take the next trip. She turned to face them.

“The ship is badly damaged.” A disappointed murmur rolled through the crowd. Again, she was surprised by how many there were. Was it really this bad already? She thought of the ten year old boy she’d worked on earlier. A bullet in his stomach. He’d been skinny to begin with. How much misery had he seen before he died that way? Certainly too much. How many of these kids, these people, would wind up the same way? She wondered how many of the men had already quit their jobs, or if they’d even had any. She doubted that many of them could even go back to where they’d fled from. The dangers of a leaky ship were comparable to staying. She made her decision.

“But not too damaged. I know it looks old, and frightening, but I promise each and every one of you, I will bring you across the lake safely. Water is my world. I will not let it harm any of you.”

She summoned the lake. Behind her, a tide rose up, flowing over the muddy sludge and rushing towards them. The crowd gasped as the wave approached, and stopped just beyond her. It stayed in place, frothing. The waters churned, stirring up the filth, carrying it away. The ship righted itself and lifted up to its proper level with a great metallic squeal. Inside, Yemaya forced the water out and kept it from re-entering the cracks in the hull. Reinforced by her will, the ship floated normally. A whirlpool-like current rotated and aligned it with the dock. A trench parted in the lake, providing a walkway for everyone to enter.

“It is safe now. We should get going.”

Family by family, they boarded the Cormorant.

line break

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.”

4 Cloven'sEntrance

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.

12 Yemaya'sProtest

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.

line break

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.

5 Clarion'sLament

“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.

“Shut up.”

line break

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.

6 FoundryArrival copyClarion 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.”

line break

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.

7-8

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?”

9 Ogun'sEntrance

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.

“Your turn.”

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.

10 Crate'sDemise

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.”

11

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.

13 Ogun'sEducation

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.

line break

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?”

14 Obatala'sRegret

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.”

“And them?”

“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.”

“Too true.”

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.

15 Sisters'Conference


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