Firestorm confronts the Shadow in Ife. The Shadow takes form resembling Firestorm. Dr.Rice tours a potential new home for the Institute. Firestorm meets Orunmilla, the Man in the Mountain, and learns of Obatala and the Golden Chain connecting the Upper and Lower Lands. Orunmilla explains that the Shadow threatens to move into the mortal lands.
It was inevitable, given the significant mass of the Sun and the negligible mass of the box. Oh, you could argue that another planetary body might have attracted the object as well, but, statistically, it was far more likely the Sun would grab it. After all, it didn’t have enough thrust to escape the Solar System. So you’re witnessing the start of a cosmic disaster.
And I suppose you could argue that he didn’t realize this would happen. That’s hardly the point. The point is - - whether he intended to or not - - Firestorm has just doomed every living being on the planet Earth.
Firestorm may not live to confront that doom, however. At the moment, he is having trouble in Ifè, home of the Black Gods. The Shadows that threaten to swallow the Living Land have consumed the Man of Fire and, for the moment, the darkness reigns over all. But the darkness is not forever.
“Back!!!” Firestorm yells, punching his body through the Shadow. “Away!!! It still hungers! And I haven’t the strength to break clear of it again! Until I know what the darkness has done to me, I’d better choose the better part of valor! I feel weakened…like my power was halved! Wait…the shadows are taking on a form..!”
Slowly, the Shadow coalesces into a dark resemblance of Firestorm. Its body black, hair afire, with flames encircling its wrists, it leaps up from the shadows.
“Maya! What is happening?” Firestorm asks.
WHARAM! The dark fire being shoots a vicious burst at Firestorm. “Did he…it…just steal more of my strength?!” Firestorm asks, recoiling from the attack. “Or did the blast just leave me dizzy? Either way, it’s probably not a good idea to let myself get hit again!”
FZAM-ZAM-ZAM! Several more bursts shoot from the dark being in quick succession. “He’s as fast as I am,” Firestorm thinks as he dodges. “Sooner or later, he’ll hit me for sure. Unless I bring the battle back to him!”
FZAM! Firestorm launches a flaming burst at the dark being. “Huh. That did no good,” he thinks as he watches the result. “If anything, he just looks stronger! Neither fight nore flight will help! Now what do I do?”
Suddenly, a man in tribal dress descends between the two combatants. “Trust to luck, Bright-‘an-Shining Man!” he announces. “For in Ifè, luck has a name, an’ its name is…Eshu! Run now, Bright-‘an’Shining Man! Speak to the Man in the Mountain - - Orunmilla! You need power, an in Ifè, knowledge is power an’ Orunmilla is strong an’ wise!”
FZARK! The dark being fires a burst that deflects away from Eshu and Firestorm. “Go now, for soon I will not be able t’help you!” Eshu continues.
“Why not?” Firestorm asks.
“Because it is my whim to become part of Shadow itself!” Eshu explains.
“Are you crazy?!” Firestorm gasps.
“I am Eshu! Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!” Eshu laughs.
Meanwhile, on a more prosaic plane of existence, just outside Pittsburgh - - “Well, this is all very impressive, Mr. Hawkins,” Dr. Rice observes. “It all looks brand new, in fact.”
“Hey! Call me Rod!” Hawkins replies. He and Dr. Rice stand at an office window gazing out over the buildings below. “Sunderland acquired the facility just recently,” Hawkins adds. “It was a takeover thing. We already had our own metahuman research, so the brass was looking for a University to give it to…for tax purposes. Hey, it’s a write-off thing. When we heard the Institute for Metahuman Studies might get shut down because the Pittsburgh City Fathers decided they wanted to be a ‘metahuman-free zone’ - - “
“Sunderland wouldn’t have anything to do with that, would they, Mr. Hawkins? I mean Rod,” Dr. Rice says suspiciously.
“Whoa, whoa. Whoa - - Dean Rice,” Hawkins scoffs. “Emily, let’s be serious here! I mean…We’re talking one primo facility here, complete with fully-equipped labs, testing and training facilities, hospital accommodations, plus staff, all provided by Sunderland! Are you seriously telling me you wouldn’t consider the offer even if Pittsburgh hadn’t banned metahumans?”
“I’ll grant you, Rod, it’s a generous offer,” Dr. Rice replies, looking around as Hawkins guides her through the labs and offices. “Almost too generous. What does Sunderland get out of it - - besides a possible one-time tax write-off?”
“Sharp. You’re sharp,” Hawkins nods. “I always said so. Hey, like I told you already, Sunderland’s also researching paranormals and metahumans for possible industrial uses. All we ask is that you share your results with Sunderland exclusively.”
“It’s not like we have a lot of choice, do we, Rod?” Dr. Rice asks. “If we refuse the offer, IMHS is out of business.”
“Accept it, and IMHS becomes a major player in the field,” Hawkins adds. “And it’s still allied with the University. So what say? We have a deal?”
“I guess,” Dr. Rice says hesitantly. “Now all I have to do is convince Simon La Grieve.”
Three people clandestinely listen and watch Hawkins and Dr. Rice from a nearby viewscreen. “Anything and everything they learn will be fed into our computers via the built-in links,” a woman tells the others. “There will be no secrets from Sunderland, Mr. Windsor.”
“Which, as per our reciprocal agreement, we will be more than happy to share with you, General Eiling,” Windsor says.
“Satisfactory, Mr. Windsor. Most satisfactory,” General Eiling replies.
Ifè…At the base a of a large tree, a man stands in a long, flowing purple robe. He holds a flaming staff. Nearby is a large silver basin on a woody outcrop from the tree. Firestorm slowly descends near the tree.
“Are you Orunmilla?” Firestorm asks.
“I am that. What is your name?” Orunmilla asks.
“Firestorm,” he replies.
“Is that your true name or your given name?” Orunmilla asks.
“I - -?! It is all the name I know,” Firestorm replies.
“A name of portent, embodying Erinle, the Fire, and Shango, the Storm - - if it is your true name,” Orunmilla continues. “Another time, we will look into this. The Voice-In-The-Void whispers that my brother Eshu sends you to me.
“He’s mad!” Firestorm says quickly. “He leapt into the Shadow and let it take him!”
“Eshu is whim as well as chance,” Orunmilla replies. “No one, least of all Eshu, knows what he will do next or why. One moment he will fight with you, the next against you. He is as you must be. But you, Storm of Fire, battle in ignorance. And in Ifè, such things are dangerous!”
Orunmilla reaches out his hand to Firestorm. “Open, heart! Open, mind!” he directs. “Know who and what we are. And perhaps, your place amongst us will become clear, and you will learn what must be done if both the Upper and Lower Lands are to be saved.”
Orunmilla speaks with gestures and evokes visions of a woman riding a large, colorful serpent. “In the beginning was Mawu, Mother of the Gods and Creator of Worlds, who rode into the Void upon the rainbow-serpent Oshunmare,” Orunmilla begins. “Coil upon coil, Oshunmare rose through the Void, creating a whirlwind in which Mawu sowed the worlds. That which is living is distinguished from the inanimate by Lido - - ‘the bit of Mawu’ – that they have. And so creation continues, rising in a spiral in the whirlwind.”
“And the Voice-In-The-Void speaks from the whirlwind in a whisper to those who can listen and those who listen learn their name, which is very important, for to name a thing is to have power over it,” Orunmilla explains. “Many are the mortal lands, but only one was given a soul - - this land, this Living Land. And the Voice-In-The-Void spoke to the Living Land and told the Land its name and its name is Ifè.”
“Slowly, Ifè became aware of itself and that consciousness has a name: Olorun - - He-Who-Is-The-Sky! From awareness grew the knowledge of impulse and reason, of chance and fate, that guide our decisions. These, too, have names - - Eshu, the Trickster…and Orunmilla, the Lawgiver. We are the brothers who ever contend; we are the best friends who delight in each other.”
“As Olorun rose over the land, awareness of self increased and other Orishas were born, for everything in the Land has a name. Aoiremi, the Wind…Moremi, the Birds…Ogun, who is Iron…Ochun, the Stream, the Sweet Water…Agemo, the Chameleon…Osain, the Leaves…and more besides. Finally, there is the love of the Orishas for the Land and the Land for them. And this love, too, has a name: Obatala, Lord of the White Cloth!”
“It was Obatala who fashioned the Golden Chain and descended from Ifè into the waters below and there created the Lower Lands. Obatala fashioned the first people and had Mawu breathe on them that they might live. ‘Their shells are only clay and will perish; give them something to transcend their mortality’, he begged her. And so she did. Obatala took a delight in his people and was their intercessory to Ifè. He beseeched Olorun for light, that they might live and He-Who-Is-The-Sky gave them a sun fashioned like himself. And each of the Orishas visited and gave something of themselves to live in the Lower Lands. But only to humanity was given Lido.”
“Obatala took mortal shape when he visited his creation so that they might not fear him too much. Ever and anon, he would ascend the Golden Chain and return to Ifè to share the joy of his being with his brother and sister Orishas, but always he returned to the Lower Lands. He never forsook his creation.”
“Mortals grew strong. Mortals grew proud. One time, while Obatala was gone, mortals created kingdoms and the kings made themselves great in Obatala’s absence. And the greatest city was Benin and the kings there forgot who it was that created them and reckoned they had made themselves great. They sold their people into slavery.”
“Agemo the Chameleon saw this and rushed back to Obatala to tell him. Immediately, Obatala descended the Chain and saw that all was as Agemo had said.”
Obatala approached the king. “I command you - - Halt!” Obatala ordered the king.
“Who dares cry halt to the King of Benin?” the king asked.
“I am Obatala, Lord of the White Cloth,” Obatala replied. “The people are my children! I command you - - Free them!”
“In Benin, I am the only lord and only I command!” the king argues. “Seize this fool!”
Orunmilla continues his story. “And then - - sacrilege! They attempted to seize and bind Obatala, who would not be held! So they struck him from afar with weapons that stole Shango’s thunder!” Obatala explains. Images of the king’s soldiers firing muskets at Obatala appear.
“And so Obatala, wounded gravely, was taken and bound between four elephants,” Orunmilla continues. “Then the King of Benin spoke to Obatala.”
“I will spare you, Obatala, if you will call me master and do my bidding,” the King declared.
“Obatala’s body was broken, but his spirit was whole,” Orunmilla explains.
“You are not even worth being called a man,” Obitala argues.
“Enraged, the King had the elephants whipped and Obatala’s body was ripped to pieces,” Orunmilla continues. “Being in mortal form, Obatala died! Agemo brought the tale back to Ifè, to the lord Shango. And Shango descended on Benin in all his fury. When he had finished, not a mortal lived, nor did one stone rest on another. Then, grieving, Shango gathered together the broken form of his brother and returned to Ifè. There, the sacred flame was lit in his brazier to summon Olorun, First of the Gods, down from the sky, that he might counsel us all in our grief, for we had lost our beloved.”
“We are one!” Olorun called from the sky. “We are the land and the land is us. Your sorrow is my sorrow. Obatala is dead, but that which is the spirit can never die. In the Lower Lands, his body died. And there, among the people he loves so much, it will be reborn again and again…a pledge of faith between them and us.”
“But sorrow had hardened the hearts of many of the Orishas,” Orunmilla continues.
“They have slain my lord Obatala,” Shango says somberly. “They have broken faith and trust with us and all love is lost. I, for one, will have nothing more to do with them.”
“And many agreed with Lord Shango,” Orunmilla continues. “So Ogun, who is Iron, broke the Golden Chain that connected the Lower Lands with Ifè. We will regret this, but the mortals have done their foolish act and now we have done ours. We will play out what must be played out. The love that we felt turned back in on itself and Shadows began to form in Ifè. Despair began to swallow the Orishas, and from the Shadows would step Orish-Nla, dark and shadowy forms of ourselves, with half our power and more.”
Firestorm sits at the base of the tree with Orunmilla. “As the Shadows have grown longer, we Orishas have grown weaker,” Orunmilla explains. “Too late, we have realized that we needed to find Obatala. No we no longer know the way.”
“Shango found a way,” Firestorm replies.
“Only because of you,” Orunmilla adds. “And now we must make haste, ere the Orish-Nla devour both Ifè and the Lower Lands.”
“I opened the way?” Firestorm asks.
“When you cried out, you stood upon a power place - - a ley line - - and that power, combined with your own, opened a pathway between Ifè and the mortal lands,” Orunmilla reveals. “Now we must hope to delay the Shadows until Shango succeeds in finding the Lord of the White Cloth, for the pathway is open, and when the Shadows have overtaken Ifè, they will descend into the mortal lands and both worlds will be in darkness.”
“Obatala has been reborn, you say, as a mortal man?” Firestorm asks. “How will Shango find him?”
“By the amount of Lido in his soul,” Orunilla replies. “To Shango, it will shine forth like a beacon. Once Obatala returns to Ifè, his god-like self will be manifested again. Perhaps his power will suffice where ours has failed. Time runs short and the Shadows grow strong. If they swallow up Olorun, the Living Land is doomed.”
“In your Mawu, I recognize something of Maya, the spirit of my world. Perhaps they are the same,” Firestorm ponders. “No matter. I was created to protect and serve the Earth spirit. If fate brings me here to battle the darkness, then battle it I shall!” Firestorm leaps into the air and Orunmilla watches him rise.
“Have I brought you here?” Orunmilla asks. “For here I am fate. But not, I think, your fate, Storm of Fire. Your part in this I can only guess. For you are of the land, but not of this land, and you are mortal. The wars of gods are not kind to mortals. Do you know all this? I sense you do. If you do not, I sense, too, that it would not matter to you. You are a bright and shining being. And what matters to you is that the task needs doing and you can do it. So you teach the gods the meaning of valor.”
KKKRAKKK-KOOM! And far below, in the lands walked by mortals, the thunder rumbles.