“I’m Morrigan, The Phantom Queen!”
The phrase loses a bit of its impact every time Ana hears Fea say it. Gone is the intrigue that once surrounded their shared name. Does she believe Fea’s boast? Had Ana ever doubted her in the first place?
By now Ana has seen Fea conquer over a dozen settlements. Each time Fea’s rustling feathers have made unthreatening opponents bloodthirsty. These victories always yield Fea with fealty and credence to the moniker she proudly bears.
Maybe Jesus was wrong when he told Ana she was Morrigan? Though thinking back on it Ana can see a resemblance beyond the physical. There was a time where her eyes were even more like Fea’s than they are now.
She was cold, naked and hobbled over in the corner of a stone hut. The room was dim, with the only light coming from cracks in the wall. It reeked of fresh blood that clung mostly to her hair, nails and clawed feet. She tasted iron in her mouth and felt freshly torn.
“Hello, is anyone home?”
Back then Jesus’ voice was unfamiliar. She can’t remember how it felt to look at him as a stranger.
He approached her in a way she hadn’t known. There was no aggression in his slow deliberate pace.
“Ah, there you are.”
When he reached her he took the sash from around his neck and draped it over her.
“Everything is going to be okay now,” He cooed a whisper. “The war is over and I have a feeling the good guys won.”
She felt his hand on her shoulder. Instinct drove her to pin the boy. There was no time for him to react.
Most would have feared for their life but not him. He just smiled up at her. He looked at her as though there was no way she could hurt a fly let alone take his life.
“You’re a lot friendlier than I expected.” He chuckled up until she pressed her claws against his neck. “Okay, maybe not.”
Instead of being concerned about his own well-being, he worried about her. His eyes climbed up from her claws, past her eyes and to the one horn that protruded from the side of her head.
“Are you hurt?”
With his words came a touch. His fingers ran along the opposite side of her head, where another horn should have been.
“Here. This is where it hurts, right? Like something is missing?”
His touch caused her chest to throb and her stomach to churn. In retaliation, she jumped away from him, turned into a bird and flew back into her corner. Jesus sat up and stared out at her, but didn’t leave. He stayed there with her until she was ready to talk.
Of course, she couldn’t tell then but Jesus was there to save her. It was clear from the way he visited every day, and greeted, “Honey, I’m home!” To the way, he washed her feet before supper. He focused on her claws but try as he might he never managed to scrub off the red that stained them.
“It feels nice, right?” He made conversation with a girl who had forgotten how to speak. “Maybe someday you can do this for someone else. Do for others what you’d want them to do for you.”
Little by little, he taught her things, like how to speak and how to smile.
“It’s like this, see. Look how wide my lips become, and sometimes I even end up showing my teeth.” Jesus smiled as he encouraged her to do the same. She tried, but back then she wasn’t as good at it as she is now.
“This..,” Ana whispered. She remembered reaching out and touching his face, feeling the way it moved around to form the smile. “Someone does this when they’re happy?”
“Yeah,” he responded. “I try to do it as often as I can. It’s super infectious and just the act of smiling can make even the saddest person feel better.” Ana’s eyes remained fixated on his and even though it took a while, she too eventually smiled. At first, she was only able to do it while looking at him, but it got to the point where it was pretty much her default expression.
He read her scriptures and through him, she came to know morality.
“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”
Every time the sun rose so did Ana, brighter than the day before.
“But test everything; hold fast to what is good.”
Then when the sun started to set, she’d rush to bed just to wake up and see him again.
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”
Sometimes it took him more than a day to return, but even when alone waiting for him she continued smiling, if not for him then for herself; that was the power of a smile, it made people happy.
“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”
The next time he returned, he came with an offer that Ana thought would keep that smile on her face forever.
“Morrigan, I want you to come live with me. Your rehabilitation is going so well that I think you’re ready to start interacting with others.”
“Rehabilitation?” She didn’t understand or care what he meant, all that mattered was that she’d be living with Jesus. “Others? Live with others? Like...Jesus?”
“Of course. I live with a lot of remarkable people. Other godlings just like you. There’s Athena, a genius who can be a bit grabby, but she means well. Kebechet, who is kind of a mystery, even more so once you’ve gotten to know her. Then there’s Throoth who’s honestly a bit scary, but I don’t think she means to me. I’ve just never really seen her smile.”
“But I’d have a hard time smiling too if I were in her position,” Jesus said with a sulk. “You know your smiles are even brighter than mine now, so chances are you can cheer Throoth up more than I ever could.”
Ana took his hands in her own and gave them a tiny squeeze. Her expression remained delighted, if not a bit doubtful.
“Me? What if they don’t smile at me like Jesus? What do then? Afraid.”
Everything felt better when he squeezed her hands back. “It’ll be okay. I believe in you. If you can become this amazing in such a short amount of time then there’s still hope for all of us. The apocalypse doesn’t have to mean the end of the world. You gave me that. That’s what you taught me. We can be better than who we were before, so long as we have someone to help us along.” Jesus held up their hands and looked at their entwined fingers.
“Though there’s one thing you should know before we go.” They weren’t even out the door, and there was more to be said. “I won’t be calling you Morrigan anymore. You know how smiles make people happy? Well, that name does the opposite. It’s one of those things I told you about. The things in this world capable of taking away a smile.”
“Morrigan? Kills smiles?”
“I’m sorry, but for everyone’s sake, I’m going to be calling you Anand from now on. Maybe Ana for short? Or how about Annie? I think that sounds pretty cute.” He stared at her, as though he was gauging her reaction. All Ana had to offer him at the time was her smile, the one he taught her to use as often as she could.
“I understand! A new name is better!” She nodded and ran past him. She looked over her shoulder and tugged him towards the door. “Come, we leave sad name here and make the world smile as Jesus and Ana!”
A tiny coin bounces off of the side of Ana’s head, returning her to the present. She looks over in the direction from whence the coin came and finds Fea chuckling. She looks back at Ana while piloting FSM and holding Hope in her lap.
“You’ve been awfully quiet. Orison for your thoughts?” Fea inquires while holding up a hand and rolling a coin between her fingers.
“Orison?” Ana reaches down and fishes the coin out of a pile of loose spaghetti, which is as repulsive as always. A quick glance over grants Ana the sight of Fea and the baby sharing a laugh at her expense.
“It’s like a concentrated praise. The only thing mortals were good for. They say if you hold one up to your ear you can still hear the prayer inside.” Ana leans in towards the coin and Fea snorts. “It’s a joke, idiot.” After a sigh, Fea continues explaining, “It was left to the god’s discretion whether to act on a prayer or not. Regardless, people kept praying and gods kept earning orison.”
Ana didn’t know anything about Orison, must have been one of the lessons Jesus left out. Looking back, it makes sense, what good would this knowledge be if there weren’t any mortals left?
Scratching her chin, Ana asks, “Is ‘fealty’...or...uhm, divinity, the same as orison?”
“Kinda,” Fea responds. “Divinity came from worship. It’s power, and orison’s cool cause enough of it can just be converted into divinity. So it’s a handy option for gods who didn’t have devote followers. Like that one-eyed barkeep. They can do odd jobs for other deities and get paid in orison which they can make into divinity to strengthen themselves, or spend on other stuff if they really wanted.” Fea pauses to tug FSM’s stalk to the right, guiding the creature in a new direction. “Things got complicated when most mortals started worshipping one god. Since then it’s been rough for pretty much everyone, but thanks to Hope we won’t have to worry. Someday we’ll be the richest most powerful goddesses around!”
Ana gets it. For all the trouble Fea can stir up, she’s actually pretty easy to understand when explaining things like this. “So when people swear their allegiance you get their divinity and orison.”
“And she scores!! You’re gettin’ smarter every day, Annie,” Fea says with a big laugh. Ana doesn’t want to admit it, but being praised by Fea feels nice. “I’ve got my reasons for amassing power. But it also helps with keeping Hope safe till she’s old enough to pay rent.”
It’s kind of sad, thinking that people’s hard-earned livelihood could be taken on a whim. Maybe if the mortals didn’t all start worshipping one deity there would have been enough orison and divinity to go around. Even so, shouldn’t someone so praised be willing to share? The mortals should have worshiped someone like Jesus. He’s the kind of selfless person who’d share his orison and divinity with any and everyone who needed it. But now there aren’t many mortals and there isn’t a Jesus for them to pray to, only someone like Fea, and going off what Fea’s said, there aren’t many better options.
“So...” Ana notices Fea staring at her. “What were you thinkin’ about earlier?”
Ana wonders if she should share, then remembers that Jesus taught her to treat others the way she wanted to be treated, so if she expects to learn why Fea is the way she is, then she needs to share her own experiences first. “My friend.”
“The dead guy,” Fea asks.
Sighing, Ana responds,”Yeah, him. I was just thinking about when we first met and how much I’ve changed since then.”
“Were you always a huge crybaby?”
“Not really.” Ana shakes her head. “I was just...different. But I’m better now because of everyone, and I think I’m still growing even now...thanks to you.”
Fea scoffs. “Don’t make it sound so sentimental. This is basic stuff every deity should know...”
“Right,” Ana responds quietly, sadly. “Well, anyway, I was mostly remembering how Jay told me not to call myself Morrigan. He must have really thought I was The Phantom Queen, but now I have my doubts. If anyone’s the real deal, it’s you.”
Fea belts out another loud laugh and slaps a hand down on the living spaghetti beneath her. A tremble runs through every noodle vine and the sudden turbulence merits a giggle from Hope.
“That’s flatterin’, but we’re both fakes,” Fea says to Ana’s surprise. “Wanna know somethin’ embarrassin’? I thought you might’ve actually been Morrigan when we first met.” Fea snickers. “Lookin’ back it’s obvious, but I was still afraid. I’ve heard what Morrigan could do and honestly, I can’t compare.”
Ana almost wants to laugh. Someone as sure and strong as Fea was scared of her. That’s the power of a name. The power of that name.
“So even though people mistake you for her, you’ve never actually thought you were The Phantom Queen?”
“Nah. I just look like a young Morrigan.” Fea tilts her head and her crimson hair rakes against her freckled cheeks. “Which means you must kinda look like her too. Just waaay less intimidating.” Facing forward, Fea continues. “I was told I’m kinda like her little sister or somethin’. I don’t know where you came from, but I guess you could be too...”
Sisters? With Fea? Ana’s cheeks warm at the idea. It might be nice to have some family, considering all she’s ever had were her friends. But is Fea really family material? Looking ahead, Ana can see the girl picking up Hope and holding her in the air. She’s making whooshing sounds with her mouth while twirling Hope about.
”Fea,” Ana starts. “Maybe someday you can tell me about how you learned all this? I’d love to know where you’re from. I told you about myself so If you want you can-
“Pass,” Fea says, her sharp tone returning. She drops Hope down into her lap.
And just like that, Ana feels as though all the goodwill she’s built up with Fea floats away in the passing breeze.
Fea ties Hope down before walking to the edge of FSM. Without a word, Fea leaps from their Flying Spaghetti Monster. Ana rushes to the side to watch as Fea falls towards a bonfire gathering below them. Ana sees huts and even from this high up she can hear the sounds of drums. Ana looks to Hope, exhales then jumps off after Fea.
As Ana dives she throws her arms out, turning them into wings and using them to slow her descent. Ana lands in a row of bushes, beside Fea. Fea scowls at Ana and tilts her head.
Sighing, Ana approaches Fea and whispers,”I’m here to make sure you don’t hurt anyone.”
Fea turns around and Ana gets a good look at the smirk on her face. “If they’re smart I won’t have to hurt them.” Not wasting any time, Fea rushes from the bushes. Wow, she must mean business because she doesn’t even bother summoning her mask or trying to hide her identity. Ana follows Fea out of the shrubs and right up to the dancing and mingling tribe.
Just like at Corb’s bar, Ana feels surrounded. A shiver runs down Ana’s spine, unsure if Fea should engage so confidently. Though after seeing Fea fight off and scare so many people at once, she should give her twin a bit more credit. After all, Fea wouldn’t jump down without some kind of plan or idea of how strong her opponents are. The majority of the people here are women and children, very different from the tavern. They all have dark brown skin and shining silver hair. Most of their attire consists of loose-fitting cloth, silk headwraps, and beads. Ahead Ana sees she’s losing Fea and rushes up behind her.
Four figures approach Fea, meeting her in the middle of their commune, right beside a bright fire that illuminates the sparsely forested area. Up walks a large man, likely the biggest person there. His bright hair is tied into dreadlocks beneath a bandanna that’s the same shade of red as his loincloth. There’s some hair working down the sides of his face and meeting at his chin. Beside him is a woman, holding onto one of the man’s large biceps. She’s dark as well, but lighter than him. She wears a red cloak that is held up by a gold pendant at her shoulder. Her hair sits as a large poof atop her head. To Ana, the oddest thing about the woman are the several golden bands around her neck.
A young girl comes frolicking up from behind them, her skin’s just as light as the older woman before her. Her short unkempt hair seems as wild as a storm’s wind with all the damage that comes after, as it’s littered with stray leaves and twigs. Curling along her bicep is a root peppered with flowers and hanging from her ears are a pair of gold hoops that jangle with every step she takes. Her top is a soil covered cloth, with branches for straps, and she wears a dress made from leaves. Though her arms are mostly bare, as are her legs, both her wrists and ankles end with cuffs made of grass. Like the two before her she’s silent, but unlike them, she gives Fea a look. It’s a once over, trailing her sharp green eyes from head to toe. A devious grin cracks her face and Ana can see she’s missing her two front teeth.
Coming up last is a boy who looks nothing like anyone else there, for his skin is as white as Ana or Fea’s. He’s much younger than the man and woman beside him, but around the same age as the young girl smiling at Fea, maybe older. He looks as though he might be the same age as Gilgamesh or Hercules. His hair is dark and earthy like moonlit grass and his attire is made up of sashes tied throughout his form, with armor predominantly covering his midsection, all brought together by a large indigo cape that sways behind him.
“Ah, looks like we have some visitors.” The woman is the first person to speak, tightening her arm around the man beside her as she does so. “It’s always nice to see friendly faces around these parts.” Her deep brown eyes creep over to the young boy as she speaks again. “Perun, make some room for these young ladies.” Her gaze shifts to the young girl now, “Aja, fetch some water for our guests.”
Ana’s eyes bounce between the members of this family after they’ve been given orders. She ends up watching the young girl first, her attention wrangled by a loud groan.
“Ugh, really? They don’t even look thirsty.” She peers forward and might’ve caught Ana starring had she not looked away.
“You two thirsty,” she calls out, and while Ana wouldn’t normally respond, she fully expects Fea to. But before even a second goes by, the girl speaks up again. “See. Not thirsty.”
Ana’s gaze teeters back over to the girl who stands stares up at the older woman with a rebellious grin. The older woman stands her ground and gets the girl to shiver by furrowing her brow.
“Fine fine fine. Water, on it, got it.”
With hunched shoulders and crossed arms, the girl raises a foot. She drops her heel down into the ground, causing it to split. Water rushes up, spilling out and over the crack. In a flourish, she pulls one of the tiny leaves from her hair and as it whizzes through the air it grows in size. She swipes it by the spring, scooping up a hefty amount of water in the oversized frond. Then with one last flick of her wrist, sends the leaf spinning towards Ana and Fea. The leaf glides over and lands before the girls. As expected, the water is murky and full of dirt and worms.
“Aja,” The older woman speaks in a deep voice.
The girl, Aja, arms still crossed attitude still visible through her cocked hip and slouched shoulders doesn’t even look up at the older woman. “Yes, Oya?”
The woman, Oya, narrows her sight on the leaking hole in the ground. “That water is dirty. These are our guests.” She motions towards Ana and Fea. “You are to give them clean water, understand?”
Aja peeks up at Oya and chuckles a tad. “Whoops.” Aja grins. “You’ve gotta be clearer next time ma’am. I guess I can try and whip up some fresh water for em.” She smirks at Fea and Ana. “Though given the feathers, I thought they’d be happy about all the worms.”
“Okay,” Oya whispers, touching a hand to Aja’s back. “I’ll make sure to be clearer with you once they take their leave.” Once again, Aja shivers. Ana hears something bubbling, looks down and notices that the water is shaking, and bits of dirt, worms, and loose leaves are flying from the large droplet.
After seemingly, begrudgingly, doing what Oya’s asked of her, Aja sets her eyes on the boy. “Aye Perun, why didn’t you just separate the dirt from the water? Having performance issues?” Aja giggles as she rocks back and forth in her dirt patch. Each time she laughs, all the surrounding bushes shake and bob in place.
The boy, Perun, blushes “Funny Aja, really funny…” He remains still, eyes fixated on Fea and Ana.
Ana looks from all the action in front of her to Fea, who’s been quiet through all of this. Even the goading from Aja wasn’t enough to shake whatever this focus is. That’s when Ana notices it. Fea’s eyes, those piercing sapphire hues are searching the area, like she’s looking for something. On occasion she sees Fea’s eyes shoot forward, and lock with whoever’s speaking like she’s intently listening to them. Then, she goes back to searching.
Brief as it is, Ana attempts to think like Fea. Not all the angry, hot-headed stuff that usually comes to mind, but the more strategic conqueror side of Fea. Maybe she’s assessing her surroundings for escape routes if things go south, or seeing how she can use the terrain to her advantage. It’s notable considering that Aja’s laugh causes tremors in the nearby plant life, cluing Ana and no doubt Fea into what the girl’s capable of. On top of that, the little display with water shows she commands more than one element. Then, given how Oya is able to stop her with words alone, she’s even more powerful than Aja. Finally, it comes down to Perun. Aja’s teasing makes it seem like Perun either can’t control soil or the water itself.
Wow. In just a brief moment she’s formed a hierarchy of power and an educated estimation of what these people are capable of, and that’s just with her own intelligence. She can’t imagine what Fea’s already figured out.
Then just as Ana feels like she understands, Fea jumps forward. She lands right in front of their greeters. Startled by Fea, Aja falls back and lands on her bottom. Ana takes hesitant steps to close the gap and hears Fea chuckling, no doubt because of Aja’s reaction. As Ana reaches Fea she notices it, the feathers at her collar shuffling. Oh no, she’s going to enrage these nice people.
“Okay,” Aja growls as she raises her hand. From a large tree overhead comes a vine that curls around Aja’s arm and lifts her to her feet. With another flourish, Aja pulls a tiny twig from her hair. While spinning the twig triples in size, becoming a large staff that she twirls around before jabbing it out towards Fea.
”You’ve got this face, y’know, and I don’t like it. I don’t like you,” Aja says. Ana notices there’s some crimson building up in Aja’s once grass green eyes. Bushes shake and trees grow. “We don’t like you.”
Just as it looks like Aja’s about to lunge her staff forward, Perun shifts in front of her. As he does so, he too flourishes, throwing his arm out, causing his purple cape to dance about before settling behind him.
“Aja! You can’t tell me the forest has a problem with these two little girls,” Perun asks.
A wind rolls in and causes Perun’s cape to flow in a deliberate way, not too fast and not too slow. Perun turns around, faces Aja, and drops a hand atop her head. The leaves and twigs don’t seem to bother him as he tussles her hair.
“So come on. Tell me. What does the forest think of them? What’s it know that we don’t?”
Ana checks Aja and sees the crimson leaving her green eyes. Fea must not have taken complete control. However, red does find itself elsewhere, in the form of a blush growing around Aja’s cheeks.
“Well- I guess they haven’t done anything wrong yet. The pointy looking one is still rude, but I guess the forest can look the other way...this time,” Aja responds while trying not to make eye contact with Perun.
Perun lets out a laugh and pulls his hand away from Aja. “Great. That’s a relief. Tell the forest I appreciate it. She’s a pretty good judge of character.”
As Perun turns and steps towards Fea, Aja reaches out, grabbing his wrist. A single tug turns his attention back to the younger deity.
“That isn’t all the forest wants to say,” Aja says in a whisper. Ana peeks around, trying to get a better look at what’s going on. “The forest wants…I mean...” Aja stammers and her face grows redder.
“Is something the matter?” Perun asks while leaning forward. “Aja, are you okay?” Laughing, Perun asks, ”Have you been drinking mud again?”
Ana recognizes Aja’s look, but she really doesn’t know how. No, she recognizes that feeling. The way Aja’s shoulders rise and fall with her breath. The way her grip tightens around his wrist and how the longer they touch the hotter her cheeks must feel. Ana’s been there before.
“Come on Aja. Spit it out already,” Perun says. “Is the forest always so...congested?”
“Forget it!” Aja shouts and turns away from Perun. As she spins she tugs on two leaves in her hair, yanking them down and growing them out so they surround her entire head. “The forest doesn’t want to talk to you anymore!”
Perun groans. “Aww man, really? Just when I thought the forest was starting to like me...” Perun hangs his head.
The family laughs together and Ana wants to laugh with them but doesn’t. It’s inside her no doubt. A flurry of giggles swirls about in the pit of her stomach. As much as she wants to give in and join in the fun she doesn’t because then it’ll hurt too much when she has to watch what comes next. What always comes next.
“Pathetic,” Fea speaks at last.
Ana always forgets how short Fea is when it’s just the two of them, but these people really put it in perspective, as the closer Fea gets the further up she has to look. She can’t possibly hope to look intimidating like this.
Stepping forward, Fea parks one hand on her hip and points the other one at the large man at the front of the clan. He’s said nothing and done less but given the way Fea’s singling him out, she must have determined he’s the leader.
“Yer in charge right? I saw yer domain from overhead and just thought ‘I’ve gotta have it’! So be a good bumpkin and turn it over,” Fea says with a twisted grin. “Be warned, The Morrigan isn’t above using force to get what she wants.”
The robust fellow laughs, at last making his voice known. His protruding stomach shakes in time with his laughter. He reaches forward and tussles Fea’s hair.
“Well ‘Morrigan’, You know what’s better than a good fight? A good feast! Oya’s the best cook in the nine realms. You’re lucky, you got here just in time Haha!”
The man doesn’t seem to believe Fea’s subtle assertion. This didn’t sit well with Fea as she trembles and clenches her fists.
“Just sit down and eat. We don’t bite. Usually.” Aja’s voice travels throughout the forest, Ana hears it in every fern and bush. They chime as though they’re her chorus.
Faster than Ana’s eyes can register, Fea’s leaps towards the big guy, a fist outstretched towards his face. Even faster than Fea, the man somehow ends up behind her, catching her by the back of her shirt.
“What? Didn’t come with much of an appetite? Well, build it up as much as you need,” The man laughs as he sets Fea down.
Fea grits her teeth and glares up at the man. “A pacifist, huh? Fine, I’ll just force the fight outta ya!”
Ana knows what comes next, Fea’s feathers start shaking and she soon expects a full-on battle to break out. Ana winces and closes her eyes, not ready to see the attack that’s sure to follow. However, she doesn’t hear a punch or kick, instead of the soft sound of drums. She opens her eyes and sure enough there that big man is, banging away on a pair of drums while Fea’s feathers keep shuffling. Fea looks at her plumage, confused, before glaring up at him.
“What an angry little child! You should try beating drums instead of bodies!” He spins and walks away from Fea, still banging away on his drums the entire time. “Ahh, now that’s what I call relaxing. Such a smooth beat, huh?”
“His drums,” Fea says, landing next to Ana. “I gotta destroy that drumset, then he’ll fight me.”
“Fea,” Ana speaks up, hoping to convince her not to fight. “There are too many people. Didn’t you see how fast he was? He has the power to resist you, so doesn’t that mean he’s stronger?”
“If it turns out I can’t handle him then I’ll just hang back and have them beat each other senseless on my behalf. Then, after a few hours, they’ll be too bloodied and broken to deny me.”
Ana’s not surprised by Fea’s cunning plan. Looking around, she sees the faces of worried and confused women and children. Fea’s going to make them tools in her coup. Ana doesn’t want to let that happen, but how could she stop the girl?
“Shango, s-sir!” Perun runs up and takes a spot before the large drummer, Shango. He looks back and forth between Shango and Fea. “Shouldn’t we do something about this girl? She’s making threats against our home.”
“You’re too uptight, Perun” Shango plays the drum with one hand while patting Perun’s back with the other. Each slap of Perun’s back nearly sends him tumbling forward. “You need to learn to relax. I’m sure we just startled them.”
“We startled them?” Perun shakes his head. “No way. I wasn’t too concerned about them at first. But then I heard what that girl said. She’s claiming to be The Morrigan. As in The Phantom Queen. I don’t know about you sir, but I don’t think that’s something to joke about.”
Oya calls out to everyone still crowding around the fire. “Come on! I prepared a spot for you girls! You’d better hurry up or else Shango’s gonna eat it all!”
These people seem nice enough, so after a hesitant glance to Fea, Ana walks over towards a stump beside the cut-down tree Oya’s sitting on, across from Aja. As Ana sits Oya smiles at her and hands her a large leaf platter of various foods that she’s never seen before. She can’t begin to even describe what they are beyond their colors of orange, brown and white.
“See!” Ana looks over after hearing Shango’s voice again. “She’s just hungry! Who wouldn’t be after a long journey?!”
“Yeah,” Perun says as he looks from Ana to Fea again. “But what about her? She challenged your ownership of our domain. Are we really going to have dinner while she tries to overthrow us? Besides, how can you eat with her staring you down like that?”
A chuckle erupts from Shango. “Listen, the best lesson I can ever teach you is the value of patience. The best meals are often those that take the longest to prepare.”
Ana feels like Fea can benefit from Shango’s lesson. If she wasn’t so gung-ho then they wouldn’t be in a situation where they’re this outmatched. It’s a good thing they’re just godlings so these people are going easy on them.
“All threats from outsiders should be taken very seriously,” Perun says as he walks from Shango to Fea. With every step he takes comes an updraft, a gust so strong it has his hair and cape whipping about wildly. “Since you won’t defend our home I’ll fight in your place.”
Ana looks to Shango and sees that he’s already on a tree stump of his own, neither too far from the upcoming battle or the food. “Remember Perun, patience is the key. So I’ll be grabbing grub if you don’t mind haha!”
Back to the fight, Ana sees Perun getting into some sort of stance. A smirk crawls across his face. He nods his head in time with the beating of the drums before flaring his cape off to the side, a gust of wind keeping it afloat. “So, mind if I have this dance?”
Ana hears Aja groan from around her but doesn’t look over, already figuring that the poor girl’s just continuing her bout of jealousy.
Ana’s eyes bounce between the two, from Perun and the slight winds building around him to Fea looking confident as ever. Fea ends up making the first move as always and flickers out sight, reappearing behind the boy. She drops down, spins and takes out his legs. Nearing the ground, Perun thrusts out his palms, shooting a gust of wind from his hands, causing him to spin midair. Now facing the ground, Perun puffs out his cheeks and blows, creating a larger burst of wind that sends him up into the air. He flips then lands away from Fea. Fea’s on him again, though, throwing a series of punches and kicks. To her own surprise, Ana’s able to keep up with these attacks. Fea’s attacks don’t seem to follow any kind of pattern and impact many different parts of Perun’s body. Her fists slams against his elbow, their knees meet, and they lock eyes. The closeness comes to an end when Fea’s feather’s start to shuffle. Noticing Shango still playing his drum, Ana wonders what good it will do. That’s when some feathers shoot forth from Fea’s collar. Perun gasps and attempts to evade, but still, ends up being clipped by the sharpened feathers. They slash his cheeks and his shoulders. He’s off balance, and if Ana can see this much then Fea must already be taking advantage of it. Just as predicted, Fea delivers a punch to Perun’s ribcage, then leaps up to deliver a powerful roundhouse to his face. Perun ends up falling backward and rolling away from Fea.
“Not bad for a first go Perun, but remember! You gotta be patient!” Shango’s voice enters the fray. “She’s in a rush, don’t play by her rules! Make her come to you!”
“Right, master...sorry.” Perun pushes himself up onto his feet and looks ahead at Fea who’s confidently bouncing up and down. “I gotta be in control.”
“What was that about a dance?” Fea snickers, “Seems like ya got two left feet there pal.”
Perun closes his eyes and exhales. Both of his arms fall to his side and the wind that’s been racing around him becomes more concentrated, centralized around his body. Fea’s in his face again, she’s launching a fist, and it looks like it connects with Perun for a moment. However, seconds later Fea goes flying into a nearby tree. Luckily Fea manages to spin midair so that when her feet touch the tree she’s able to push off and fly right back at Perun. Again, an attack aimed at his back sends Fea flying off in another direction. Fea lands and glares at Perun.
“Look Oya!” Ana hears Shango’s voice. “He’s using the technique you taught him!”
A wind current circulates around Perun, redirecting Fea’s attacks.
Ana’s heart sinks. They’re outmatched here. Again, Ana wonders why Fea would attack a place without a better plan first? Well, maybe she believed they could use their usual pattern of attack, but then why didn’t Fea bail when Shango canceled out her power?
“Good luck gettin’ through to me! This is my special impenetrable defense! The Air Armor,” Perun shouts while pounding on his chest.
“That sounds really lame Perun!” Aja calls out to the battlefield. “Even the forest thinks you could’ve come up with something better than that!”
Regardless of Aja’s teasing, Perun takes his hands and positions them so that his pointer and middle finger are extended on both hands. He points both fingers at Fea and declares, “Oya’s my defense instructor, but everything I learned about offense came from the big man himself! Try this on for size!”
Electricity builds up from his feet, through his legs, up his forearms and to the tips of his fingers. Perun thrusts one arm forward and a streak of lighting rockets from the boy, through his wind sphere and towards Fea.
“Fea,” Ana calls out, and thankfully, Fea manages to avoid the attack by leaping into the air.
Perun’s second-hand thrusts upwards and with it comes another lightning beam. This one hits Fea and the scream alone is enough to cause Ana to wince and look away. The charred smell doesn’t help either. When Ana looks back she finds Fea pushing herself up.
“That not enough for you? Then how’s about we heat things up!?” Perun opens his right hand, and a ball of fire ignites just over his palm. With a confident looking smile the boy winds up then throws the fireball. Unfortunately, or luckily, the ball gets caught in the wind current surrounding him, and causes his entire sphere to light on fire for a moment. Seemingly taking advantage of this, Fea rushes him. As she runs she rips two handfuls of feathers from her plumage.
“Crap crap crap! Oh man, oh man!” Perun drops his air bubble to disperse the flames. He brushes a forearm over his face to clear the smoke from his eyes. He looks up in time to see Fea’s in his face again.
Grunting, Perun summons another fireball in one hand, while getting lightning ready in the other. He sends out his attacks just as Fea throws her feathers. She takes the brunt of both elements, while her feathers miss Perun. Fea goes flying back, a mix of electricity and fire dancing all over her body. Before she would hit the ground Fea turns her body and instead lands on her feet. She doesn’t even look at Perun as she pats out a series of tiny embers left by his blasts. Despite the scorched tips of her outfit, and the smell of lighting and ash, Fea seems unfazed. There isn’t a burn on her skin. Were her healing capabilities always that good?
“Don’t you know when to stay down? You’re outmatched here!” Perun whips his arms up and brings back his air bubble. He narrows his eyes and takes a tactical step back.
After a soft exhale Fea rushes Perun. Fea holds a sharpened feather between each of her fingers. Whatever Fea has planned, Ana hopes it works.
“You’ve barely touched your food, is something wrong, sweetie?” Oya’s soft voice resonates with Ana and gets her to look away from the battle. Though her eyes do occasionally flit back to see Fea running around Perun, tossing feathers, only for them to be sent flying away by Perun’s shield.
“Oh, n-no, I was just…” Ana looks to the food, then to Oya, then to Shango who looks like he’s enjoying the fight given the way he’s laughing and slapping his thigh. This all seems so silly to Ana, why were these people treating this like some kind of spectacle? “I guess I’m worried about the battle is all. I don’t want anyone to get hurt.”
Oya chuckles.“They’re just sparring. If this were an actual fight, Shango would take care of it himself. Besides, something is clearly bothering your friend and I don’t think she’s giving it her all either.”
Ana remembers prying into Fea’s life earlier and lowers her head.
“Aren’t the two of you a bit young to be traveling around by yourselves?” Oya asks, focusing on the fight before them. “Then again, these aren’t the best of times. Finding children without their parents isn’t exactly uncommon.”
Ana looks from Oya to Perun, who’s still redirecting Fea’s feathers away whenever they would dare to pierce his air bubble.
Oya sighs. “If you girls need a place to call home we don’t mind having youngsters around. Aja could use some girls her age to play with. And in times like this, it’s better to be together than apart.”
It’s better to be together than apart. For some reason, those words beat around in Ana’s chest. Thoughts of Athena, Kebechet, and Throoth come to mind, but so does FSM, IPU, Hope, and even Fea. Ana turns to thank Oya for the offer but stops when she hears the sound of oak aching against itself.
Looking over, Ana sees several trees falling down around Perun. He channels wind around his hands to keep the falling trees afloat.
“Wow! Not bad! Haha!” Shango’s laugh rings in Ana’s ears. “She used Perun’s current against him! Those well-placed feathers brought down an entire forest on my boy! Let’s see what he does next!”
Aja jumps to her feet. “NO FAIR! I didn’t say she you could use my forest!”
Fea doesn’t bother attacking the trapped Perun, instead opting to send her feathers shooting off into random directions of the forest.
Oya chuckles and nudges an elbow against Ana. “Your sister sure is a wily one.”
Ana looks down to untouched food before her. “She’s not my sister, at least, I don’t think she is…”
“Well, perhaps she’s the sun to your moon, then?” Oya’s words confuse Ana, and she glances up to see the woman tapping a finger against her rounded chin. “Though the Sun and Moon couldn’t be any more different, the Earth needs them both all the same.”
Sheepishly, Ana responds with a shrug of her shoulders. “Y-yeah, maybe…”
“I’m being honest. There’s a balancing act there. If there were ever only one, then the mortals wouldn’t have survived for as long as they did, you know?” Oya laughs. “I’m a lot like your sister. A red-hot sun that burns too bright for her own good. If I’m not careful I’d burn any and everyone who tries to get close to me.”
“Really!?” Ana’s gaze snaps to Oya, and she’s in utter disbelief. “But you seem so nice!”
Ana’s words earn her another one of Oya’s soft laughs. “That’s because I met my moon,” Oya says as she points to Shango. “I don’t know where I’d be without him. That drum beating oaf completes me and I feel like it might be the same with your sister who isn’t really your sister. Stay with her. She needs someone like you. You’re good for each other, even if you don’t know it yet.”
Ana’s gaze eases over and comes to a rest on Fea. If Shango could save Oya, and Jesus could save her, then perhaps she could save Fea.
There’s a bright flash, Fea’s fist closes in on Perun’s face, while he thrusts a fireball towards her chest.
A thundering boom rings out and Shango appears between the two, Fea’s fist indenting his cheek, and Perun’s flame meets an end against his back. Despite the attacks, Shango still beats his drum and exclaims, “Alright, that’s enough flying fists for today! If you ask me the both of you have earned yourself a bite to eat!”
“But..” Perun steps back and looks from Shango to Fea. “It wasn’t over...I almost had her. I need to be able to protect us from invaders and-” Perun receives a swift chop to his forehead by Shango, silencing him.
“Come on Perun, you’re stressing yourself out! And stress is bad for you! Too much training can be a bad thing, haha!” Shango bellows joyfully before tussling Perun’s hair. Ana’s eyes teeter over to Fea who’s standing there examining the first she almost hit Perun with. She’s opening and closing her hand over and over again as though something’s wrong.
The curious look in Fea’s eye gives way to one of her usual glares. Fea snaps her wrist upwards and every feather strewed about the forested area return to her. On the way back to her collar the feathers slash anything in their path, this includes every drum the tribe had, especially the one Shango left unattended. As the final feather flattens along her plumage, Fea smirks.
Ana’s eyes widen, her stomach tightens and she expects the worse. Fea’s plan must’ve been to distract everyone by sparring with Perun. Somehow she knew that they’d be lulled into a false sense of security by the fight and so she waited for the very moment Shango himself would let his guard down. Sure, as the owner of the domain he could reconstruct the drum in a matter of seconds, but even that was enough of a window for Fea to take control. That gap was all she’d need to tear this tribe apart. The familial bonds, the unspoken feelings, all of this and more would be ripped apart by Fea’s conquest.
Ana shuts her eyes tight. The darkness acts as a momentary salve, but she knew it wouldn’t be good enough so she covers her ears as well. Ana doesn’t want to hear the battle cries. she doesn’t want to hear these nice people who love each other come to hate one another. Seconds pass and Ana expects to feel something, likely Fea dragging her away from any ensuing chaos, but it doesn’t come. One eye opens, then the other and Ana sees Fea and everyone else standing right where they were before. Nothing had changed. Fea’s arm was outstretched and she had a shocked look on her face, but nothing more.
“Shango,” Oya calls out as she walks up to her husband. When she reaches him she grins down in Fea’s direction. “This girl has a lotta ’Axé’, yeah? I think It’s fairly obvious that we can’t make ourselves subservient to her, but the Orisha can benefit from forming another alliance.” The mere mention of such a thing seems to pique Fea’s interest as much as it does Ana’s.
Shango nods to Oya, then steps towards Fea, and holds out one of his large hands. “How’s about it, little one? Like this, neither of us will be beneath the other. We’ll stand together. If you need our strength it’s yours.”
This is it, this is what Ana wants. Gaining divinity through cooperation, not subjugation. Ana rushes over, a smile plastered on her face from the very thought of it all.
Stopping right beside Fea, she looks to her ‘sun’ and watches as Fea looks from her own hand to Shango’s. Fea’s eyes narrow, then with a grunt she smacks Shango’s hand away.
“Thanks, but no thanks.” Fea scoffs and pushes through the group all the while whispering, “Been there done that. Never ends well.” Coming to a stop at the edge of the tribe, Fea looks up into the air and calls out, “Bon Appétit!”
Fea leaps upwards, turns her arms into wings and flies up to meet FSM halfway. Ana reluctantly looks from Fea’s airborne position to Shango, Oya, Aja, and Perun, who are all looking at her with different expressions in their eyes. Perun looks annoyed, Aja looks angry, Shango looks confused and Oya somehow seems understanding. Approaching Ana, Oya crouches down so that they can be eye level. Smiling, she offers her hand to Ana.
With a sigh and an apologetic shake of her head, Ana grasps Oya’s hand. However, upon touching it she feels something cool rush over her body. A breeze rolls by and it causes her hair, skirt, and feathers to dance briefly. As Oya pulls her hand away, Ana notices something left behind. An ax charm carved from bright red wood.
“Your ‘sun’ isn’t the only one with axé. Take good care of her, okay?” Oya stands and looks up to the Flying Spaghetti Monster descending overhead, no doubt there for Ana. “Let me know if you ever need anything at all, Ana,” Oya says while patting the young girl on the shoulder. They exchange a look and a smile before Ana hoists herself up via a stray hanging noodle.
Ana runs her thumbs along the wooden artifact she received from Oya. Paired with the soft winds rolling by and Oya’s words still fresh in her mind, Ana can smile. She glances ahead to Fea, who’s been silent ever since they left Shango’s tribe. The encounter left Ana with so many questions. Who taught Fea about the Phantom Queen, why does it strike such a chord, and why didn’t Fea want to form alliances? As much as she wants the questions answered, she’ll wait until the time’s right. While the sun and the moon switch places every night, Ana doubts getting through to Fea is going to happen overnight.
Fea’s been clenching and unclenching her hand ever since the battle and the gesture has Ana wondering if the girl was injured. Ana trudges along the spaghetti and sits down beside Fea. She picks up Hope and holds onto the resting baby while glancing at the tougher girl on occasion.
As her lips push away to give way to a question about Fea’s hand, the other girl speaks up.
“What a wash! I should’ve just manipulated them all from the bushes or mowed them down with FSM.” Fea growls, prompting Ana to hide Oya’s charm.
“Do you really think it was a waste? You got to spar, and we met some really nice people,” Ana whispers. She thinks about reaching out and touching the girl but decides against it. “People, who are willing to side with you, help you...how is that a bad thing?”
“Shuddup!” Fea snaps around and glares at Ana, startling the girl. “While we were busy with that tribe one of my domains got ganked!” Fea shakes her head while balling her hand into a fist. “I knew somethin’ was off with me near the end of the fight…”
Ana’s eyes widen and she sits in disbelief. Someone did to Fea what she’s been doing to others. It almost seems ironic, but Ana wouldn’t dare say that out loud.
Looking at Fea, Ana asks,”Well what are we going to do?”
A deranged smirk forms on Fea’s face as she tilts her head. “I’m gonna take back what’s mine!”