Diosa – Chapter 3: Endearment, Part 1
Written by XionZeros :: [Saturday, 06 May 2023 19:37] Last updated by :: [Monday, 08 May 2023 08:01]
Chapter Three: “Endearment” (Part 1)
A few minutes earlier...
The woman that neither Priscilla nor Oya but both at the same time ran through the woods as fast her legs would take her, away from the ongoing battle between her best friend and the one calling herself the Child of Venus.
The ground quaked with every blow and she could feel the heat of the explosions behind her upon her neck.
Within her mind, another battle was taking place.
Oya shouts to Priscilla, "Why did you run away like a coward? We have the power to best her and everything like her. Why don't we use it!"
Priscilla shook her head, their shared body's pace slowing a bit as she struggled with her thoughts, "No... I won't allow Ximena to become a victim of this curse. We're more than just a berserk beast that Nemesis made us..."
"All the reasons why we should go back and put that bitch down ourselves... Maybe we can get something positive out of this curse if we can bend it to our own whims..."
"NO!" shouts Priscilla as she remains adamant in her resolve. "Somehow, Xi is like them now too and I won't allow us to be anywhere near her. We may have some self-control now, but we have no idea when this curse is going to take the driver's seat again! I'm not going to put us into a situation where we could hurt her. I couldn't live with myself if I caused her any harm."
Their shared body doubled over in pain, clutching her head as the curse took full control, "AAAAARGHHHHH!!!!"
Oya shrugs her toned shoulders, "Looks like our time is up anyway. All we can do is watch from here."
Priscilla sighed, "I'm sorry. The only thing that I have done is caused you trouble since we got stuck together."
Oya shook her head, "Despite our current circumstances, I don't regret choosing to share my power with you."
Priscilla looks through their shared eyes, "I think our jailor has picked up the trail of another deity given that reaction just now."
Oya/Priscilla looks around her surroundings. She has traversed several miles away from the battle. She can no longer hear nor feel the gusts from the impact of their mighty blows. She couldn't taste nor smell the ash in the air from the burning trees in the surrounding area. She had actually cleared the woods ages ago. Her current surroundings were not familiar to her in the least.
Priscilla joked as they watched from within this form's mind's eye, "That's super-powered cardio for you. One minute you could be standing in the nearby forest, then in another, you could find yourselves far from anywhere you could call home."
A voice echoes in their ears, "A stranger in paradise then?"
If the voice had a taste it would be sweet like honey. If one could compare it to music, it would be an elegant sonata. Oya/Pris felt compelled to follow this voice to its source. She stalked throughout this unknown city - one which Oya would best describe as another concrete jungle - to the alleyways behind a nightclub. The sun was quickly setting in the distance and it would not be long before the regulars would be lining up for their own flavors of what they consider entertainment for the evening.
Oya/Pris cautiously approached a half-opened door and peered inside. No one was there. The coast was clear. She stepped inside, only for the door to slam shut behind her by one of the patrons. She steeled herself ready for a fight, but the voice filled her ears again.
"That won't be necessary. I'm here... Waiting for you, my guest of honor."
Oya/Pris looked ahead of her, only to see that several more patrons and partygoers lined down the halls and corridors. Their faces were painted with a blank expression, as if they were frozen in time.
Priscilla asks, "Why are they frozen like statues?"
Oya answered, “I’m not sure. It looks like they are frozen in time.”
Oya/Pris walked cautiously down the corridors until she reached an open dance floor with a crowd of partygoers surrounding a buxom, beautiful brunette-haired woman sitting nonchalantly on a makeshift “throne” of men and women laid at her feet.
Oya/Pris’ expression curls into a snarl at the sight of this woman and she immediately charges through the crowd. The brunette woman snapped her fingers, causing several bouncers to line up in front of her as a last line of defense. As strong and capable as these muscle-bound men were, they were no match for a fully powered orisha, especially with Nemesis’ curse adding even more power to this unhinged creature. The first bouncer swung wildly with a haymaker but his limb was caught in motion. Oya/Pris then swung his body around the room with ease to floor the others surrounding her before slamming this unfortunate fool to the floor. He attempted to sit up from the floor but was struck with a double foot stomp into his abdomen to finish him off. She perched on her prey as he lost consciousness and stared right at the woman smiling on her throne. Another bouncer smashed a wooden chair over her spine and shoulder blades from behind. Oya/Pris was unfazed at the blow. She looked over her shoulder with utter contempt to this man who dared to come between her and her prey. She sprung off of the fallen bouncer and catapulted herself into the air and dropped down behind this new adversary with an inverted hurracanrana. The sound of the back of his head hitting the floor echoed throughout the silent nightclub. He wasn’t dead but he definitely wouldn’t be getting back up. The remaining bouncers loomed closer, hoping to gain the upper hand, but something bizarre happened. All of their eyes roll back into the back of their head as they all drop to their knees, trembling with a smile on their faces.
Oya muses, “This has to be her doing somehow. I hope our jailer has enough sense to end this.”
Priscilla wonders, “Wait a minute… Don’t tell me they are doing what I think they are doing…”
The bouncers and the surrounding partygoers and patrons have been brought out of their frozen trance, only to break out into a frenzy of lust. Men and women tearing off each others’ clothes and grinding into each other as they are overwhelmed with passion for each other. Those who are unable to hook up with the closest mate of their liking are brought to their knees by their own releases of carnal rapture. Soon enough, the room was filled with moans and cries of pleasure as the surrounding partygoers and patrons found themselves in a feedback loop of euphoria.
Priscilla watches awestruck in the confines of their mental prison while Oya comments, “Interesting… This woman has enslaved all of the minds of these mortals’ in thralls of passion.”
Unlike the two individuals that are trapped within her mind, the creature that was once Oya/Pris doesn’t understand what is going on around her. She merely sees her opening and immediately lunges at the brunette woman on her throne. Instantly, she’s knocked away and sent flying through one of the walls of the nightclub.
“Cute. I like you already,” said the brunette woman, who spoke directly in Oya/Pris’ mind.
Oya/Pris shook off the cobwebs as she stood up from the debris and remains from the rumble and went at this woman again. Time and again and again, it is the same result every time she gets near this woman. Oya/Pris grows frustrated at this ordeal as her curse demands that she slay this deity in front of her. The brunette woman finally stood up from her throne, amused at Oya/Pris’ efforts.
She merely utters aloud, “You would love to end my life wouldn’t you? It’s such a pity though… Clearly, you have the power to get the job done, but you’re no threat to me with that curse branding that Nemesis left on you. Alas, I may have a use for you after all...”
In a blink of an eye, she appears right in front of Oya/Pris and grasps her around the throat as her eyes glow with an ethereal eerie light.
“Just like all of these fools here, you will learn to love to serve your goddess… You have all of that power at your disposal yet the lack of control to wield it property. Such a pity too for the two pilots sharing this body. At the same time, it makes bending your will to serve me all the more pleasurable… for me at least.”
In the mindscape where Priscilla and Oya’s individual souls reside, they could both feel what remaining free will that they have left slipping.
Oya quickly realizes what or rather who they are up against, “It… cannot be… her…”
Priscilla pleads, “Please… don’t make me hurt… Xi…”
The goddess merely laughed aloud, “Don’t worry about your friend or anyone else because in the end, you will all worship me.”
With those words, she released Oya/Pris to the ground. The goddess looked down at her as Oya/Pris kneeled at her feet and lowered her head as she spoke, “I am yours to command, my Mistress.”
The goddess smiled a sinister grin, “Excellent. Now tell me everything that brought you here to me… and don’t leave out any details...”
Meanwhile, we find our heroine staring at the defeated body of the Child of Venus…
The young woman that was formerly known as the Child of Venus left laying on the ground began to stir. Gone from her body were the golden brasserie and undergarments that preserved her modesty and the accompanying jewelry that added to the Child of Venus' elegance, only to be replaced by a tattered gown. Her feet that were once clad in golden stilettos, were now bare and uncovered to walk the barren soil. Diosa couldn't but notice her once flawless skin was now covered with scars and bruises from head to toe, not from their previous battle but from whatever the loss of her godly power has taken a toll on her mortal form.
"W-w-where am I?? Who are you??" she finally asked after rubbing her eyes.
Diosa merely states, "I am known as Diosa, but enough about me. You tell me what's going on here. We were engaged in combat until I broke a piece of your fancy jewelry and you returned to how you are now."
Her eyes widened, "The necklace? I noticed it on the shore when the traders brought me and my people to the Americas... I thought it was pretty so I kept it for myself."
Diosa held up a hand, "Wait, stop? Do you mean the traders... as in the African slave traders?"
The young woman nodded slowly, "Yes... I was sold to one of the plantations. The rest of my family were split up throughout the rest to provide labor."
Diosa shook her head, "I'm finding this hard to believe as the African slave trade was well over 400 years ago. There is no way that you could be still alive after all of that time."
Oshun appears next to Diosa and offers her own deduction.
"The girl isn't lying."
Diosa perked an eyebrow. "How do you know?"
"An orisha has her ways. Just trust me."
The young woman backs up briefly out of fear, but suddenly feels eerily calm in Oshun's presence.
Oshun smiles, "There's no reason to be afraid, child. I am the orisha known as Oshun."
The young woman immediately dropped down on her knees and bowed to Oshun's presence, chanting the words "Ori Ye Ye O!" repeatedly.
Diosa teased, "If I didn't know any better, one would think that you're a celebrity of sorts, Oshun."
"This woman is a long way from home, but she is versed in the worshiping customs that I haven't seen in quite some time." She knelt down next to her and asked, "Do you have a name, child?"
The young woman spoke up, "This one is named Hanney... I am honored to be in your presence, O great Oshun."
Diosa was growing increasingly impatient as she wanted answers.
"What compelled you to wear the necklace? Who is this Venus that you were working for? Why were you sent to hunt us down?"
Hanney looked confused, "I'm sorry, but I have no idea what you're talking about. I vaguely remember putting on the necklace for the first time and it gave me beauty beyond words, but nothing that could compare to O great Oshun's... I was quick to discover that a body like that offered me certain advantages and I didn't want to take it off. Without the necklace, I was Hanney the slave. With it, I was free to do and obtain whatever I wanted. The longer I wore it, the more I felt I was losing my sense of self... Eventually, I felt like I was sinking deeper and deeper within a pool of darkness until I don’t even remember the last time I put the necklace or what I did after that. The next thing I know I woke here today... seemingly 400 years later according to what you have told me."
Hanney’s mind slipped back to the time where she first put on the necklace. Her mind vividly recalls the moment when her lithe frame was flooded with power and emotions foreign to her at the time. Everything about her body that she detested and loathed improving for the better. The necklace gave her curves where she had none - giving her child-bearing hips and blossomed breasts where she had none to balance her newfound hourglass figure. That was topped off with her face molding to proportions to make any man (or woman mind you) weak from one look at her. This body wasn't just visually appealing but was blessed with power to boot, partially signified by the added definitions of muscle in her abs and additional bulk in her arms and legs. All of that power to do anything that she wanted was at her disposal. If only she could have that body back... if only she still had that necklace...
Hanney shook those thoughts out of her head and added, "I'm sorry but I have no recollection of anyone calling themselves Venus..."
Oshun sighed, "That doesn't narrow our search either. Between the pantheon of gods and goddesses, not to mention some of the other troublemakers that litter this realm of mortals these days, that doesn't make it easy to find the culprit."
Diosa frowned, "Well, that doesn't mean that we're going to give up either. I want to know why Venus is sending her underlings to kill you and Oya. I'm not complaining, but I could have used some help back there, Oshun. We barely got through our first lesson. I’m still pretty new at all of this after all."
"I apologize, Ximena..."
Diosa gets nervous, "Hey! Secret identity y'know? How do we know that Hanney won't just tell everyone who I am?"
"Ximena, trust must be earned. Hanney has been compliant with all of our questions so far. She didn't even have to tell us her name nor her history. It's only right that you share yours."
Diosa nodded in agreement. "You're right."
"As for my lack of assistance, I underestimated how much of my aegis I drained in our session. I left myself severely weakened to maintain our link on this plane. On top of that, the Child of Venus' necklace had a natural affinity to block my divine powers. It's strange that a mere trinket was attuned to be so oddly specific to an orisha like myself."
"That IS odd."
Hanney looked confused at the mention of the Child of Venus. "Child of Venus? Is that what I called myself when I wasn't... myself?"
Diosa replied, "Yes. I'm not going to lie to you, but you were a formidable opponent. I barely was able to defeat you. I was clearly in over my head. I couldn’t give up. I had to do everything within my power to protect my best friend."
Hanney bowed to Diosa out of respect, "No, do not dwell on that. What is important is that you broke that malevolent spell and brought me back to my senses. And I'm glad that I have you to thank for that. I am sorry for whatever trouble I may have caused you and your friend, O great Diosa Ximena."
Diosa grinned and said, “When I’m like this, just call me Diosa to keep things simple. I know this is going to be a shock, but I’m not an orisha like Oshun. I just happen to have the abilities of one, just without the eons and eons of training…”
Oshun smiled, “Don’t sell yourself short, Ximena. You have made the most out of your abilities despite your inexperience. Mastery will come over time, not overnight. This quest to save our friends is a heavy burden on your shoulders. You will be challenged at every turn, but I have faith in you to rise to these challenges as they present themselves to you.”
Hanney beamed back at both of them, "I don't know what I could do to help you both, but I would love to offer my assistance in any way that I can with your quest. It's the least that I can do. Besides, I don't have anywhere to return to. Everyone from my era is long dead and gone... This time and place is foreign to me."
Diosa pondered for a moment before snapping her fingers, "I think I might know how to help you with that."
At that moment, they are interrupted by the sight of one of the Sentry Corps' patrol ships passing overhead. Hanney is startled by the sight while Diosa and Oshun watch the foreign aircraft cut through the clouds.
Oshun comments, "I don't think we should dally in this location for long. We have been triumphant in our battles thus far, but I don't think we should press our luck. "
Diosa nods, "It's normal protocol for the Sentry Corps to investigate possible wildcard incidents to apprehend and arrest suspects for questioning and detainment. The last thing we should be doing is hanging around here. There's a lot of questions that I'm not quite ready to answer right now."
Hanney looks confused, "Wildcards? Sentry Corps?"
Diosa hovered in the air briefly to see where the ship was headed. She elevates no higher than the tops of the surrounding trees before returning to Hanney's side.
"We are taught in school nowadays that wildcards are what the world calls people who are born with special abilities in this time period. Whenever those people reach a certain age, their powers manifest, often in violent, uncontrollable ways. The Sentry Corps are a militia of sorts created to protect those individuals from harming themselves and the general public. Since Oshun and myself fit the bill of 'powered people' when we're technically not wildcards, it's not a good idea to hang around here with all of the collateral damage our skirmish caused to the area..."
In the distance, the Sentry Corps' patrol ship lands and three soldiers exit the vehicle. The heavily armored cyborg with green hair spoke to his subordinates following behind him.
"Alright, men, spread out and investigate the area. Greenview’s local law enforcement got several calls about some sort of wild animal on the loose out here that they went out to put down but I'm getting complete radio silence when I patch into their dispatch communication network. Use extreme caution until we can confirm whether or not they were KIA."
One of the soldiers speaks up, "Corporal Pollux... That may prove difficult..."
"What is it, Private Tate?" asked Pollux before his gaze followed where his subordinate was pointing to.
The remains of the townsfolk that were caught up in the wake of the creature at question's rampage were scattered throughout everywhere.
Pollux sighed and typed into his wrist-mounted PDA.
"Send in the drones for clean-up to get this done faster. Looks like we have a bloodbath on our hands. A slaughter like this isn't too pretty, boys. If you're going to get sortie experience out in the field, you might as well see it now before you get shell shocked down the road."
Privates Tate and Nguyen vomit at the sight of the remains of the various people in the surrounding area. Pollux urges them onward while the Sentry drones proceed ahead on their own.
Private Nguyen wipes his mouth and follows Pollux closely, but Tate leaned against one of the trees to get his bearings. He looked up at the trees in the surrounding forest and thought he caught the glimpse of the sunlight reflecting off of something in the distance. He whipped out his binoculars and zoomed in.
Thinking that she wasn't being watched, Diosa looked around cautiously before floating down and picking up Hanney under her armpits.
"I think it's about time we make our exit. I suggest you hang on tight."
Hanney hugged her body against Diosa's own for safety. Diosa's cheeks reddened slightly at this close contact, due to her body's heightened sensitivity and awareness in this form. It took her a moment to shake it off and regain her focus on the task at hand. She flew up quickly into the sky and disappeared under the guise of the clouds above.
Corporal Pollux radioed to Private Tate over their wireless communication network.
"What's the hold up, Private Tate? Don't tell me that you've already lost your nerve for this line of work fresh out of basic training?"
Nguyen chimed in, "Maybe he found something of interest? That could be one reason why he's dragging behind."
Tate lowered his binoculars after getting one long look at Diosa before she flew away as quickly as her lovely image fluttered into his heart.
"I think I had a vision straight out of heaven..."
Nguyen asks, "What was that?"
"Oh, nothing. Just admiring the scenery, that's all."
"We don't have time to dilly dally, Private Tate. The drones are stretched thin enough as is while we conduct this investigation to review back at HQ. Hurry up and link back up with us up ahead. Just take a picture. It'll last longer."
Unfortunately for Private Tate, his "vision from heaven" was long gone.
Far away from the secluded cities frequently patrolled by the Sentry Corps, there's still many small towns and suburbs scattered throughout the countryside of what is left of the former United States. This world is a different place than what Hanney had come to expect as could see below as they flew among the clouds. They quickly left the cities of stone and steel behind to return to a familiar environment for Hanney - lush, vibrant fields of flowers and country dirt roads to take you wherever your feet could take you.
Diosa nods, "Yes, it's the same country, but it's not quite as united as you may remember it. It's the year 2198 and the country you knew falls under the Worldwide Covenant between nations. I don’t know where to begin to fill you in… The Civil War… slaves earning their freedom… The Great Depression... women gaining the right to vote... The World Wars... Iraqi War…I don't even know where to begin filling you in.”
Oshun reappeared as they floated down to the ground. She waved a hand over Hanney’s head.
“I think that should help ease any mental adjustments to this time period and confusion.”
Hanney's eyes flutter open as her brain processes all of the information that has been fed into it all at once. She loses her equilibrium for a moment and falls to her knees after she releases her grip on Diosa.
"Oh my god... so much has happened while I was trapped within that form of the Child of Venus..." She turned to Oshun and pleaded, "O great Oshun, couldn't you just simply return me to my time? I shouldn't be here, let alone exist in this era... This is so much to come to grips with!"
Oshun shook her head frowning, "Unfortunately, I cannot. It's not as simple as returning to the past. The fates have decided this is the path that we all have been entrusted to walk and there is no turning back. If it were that simple, I would have simply gone back to the past and remedied my costly mistake that got Oya and myself in this mess to begin with. There's not a single day where I don't wish that there was a simple option to fix things."
Diosa chimed in, "Besides, time travel is messy in general. You change one thing and could potentially destroy the entire timeline or could have catastrophic consequences on the lives of your friends and family."
Hanney lowered her head with tears running down her face, "I truly am cut off from my home, now more than ever... I have nowhere to go."
Diosa rested her hand on her shoulder, "Hanney, that's where I come in. I gave it some thought and I know how to help you. My abuela is always offering rooms to guests passing through. I'm sure she wouldn't mind having you stay until you get your legs about you. Plus I can always come and visit to keep you company."
Hanney wiped the tears from her eyes and asked, “Your abuela?”
Diosa nodded, “Yes, it means grandmother. I just would have to ask her first. That’s why we’re here.”
“Would she really offer me a place to live in her home?”
Diosa shrugged her shoulders, “Well, I haven’t seen her ever turn anyone away, but there’s firsts for everything. I just know that she has the biggest heart than anyone I know and can’t turn away anyone in need of help. I can’t have you out there in the cold and on your own in a world that you’re foreign to. It’s the least I can do to help. I wouldn’t be much of a superhero if I didn’t try. Wait right here and I’m going to see if she’s home.”
Diosa takes a deep breath to compose herself before walking up to the door and ringing the doorbell.
"Ahem..." began Diosa as she cleared her throat.
The old woman cut her off immediately, "I don't know what kinda hoochie momma stuff that you got going on with your friend over there, but if you three need a room for the night, I suppose I could spare a few beds..."
Diosa looked confused, "Three???"
The old woman pointed to them one by one, "One, two, and three. I have been out of school for a very long time, but I know how to count, nieta."
Oshun whispered, "Curiouser and curiouser. This one can see me too."
Diosa finally found her voice and blurted out, "Granny Xo... err I mean Miss Xolani, I have come to ask a favor of you. Our friend Hanney here has nowhere to go. She has been stranded in this unfamiliar territory and she doesn't have any family to call on for help. I was told that you offer rooms to visitors passing through."
Xolani perks a brow and spat back at Diosa, "Cut the crap, Ximena. If your friend here needs a place to stay, then she can stay."
Diosa looks in utter shock with her mouth held agape.
"How did you know it was me, Granny Xo?"
"Your posture and the way how your voice subtly lowers out of fondness and respect to your elders when you speak were dead giveaways. I have no idea why you look so different, but I know my grand-daughter better than most people."
Diosa walks over and hugs her tightly.
Xolani breaks it off after a moment and walks around her grand-daughter, studying her new appearance.
"So your chee-chees finally came in and you got that junk in the truck that you were severely lacking from our bloodline, along with filling out quite... healthily all over. Ximena, I haven't seen you since before you went off to college, but Christ child, I didn't think you would change THAT much while you've been away from home for the last few months."
Diosa sighed, "A lot has happened... Plus it would be a lot easier to explain if I just went back to normal for a while anyway."
There's a blinding flash of light and while Diosa’s form is gone, she is replaced by the average body of Ximena Vega instead.
Granny Xo rubs her eyes as Ximena runs up and hugs her again, "That's one hell of a magic trick there. When are you going to show that to your parents?"
Ximena's eyes lower to the ground, "Well... I don't want to get them caught up in all of this. To be quite honest, I don't even understand all of it myself."
Xolani sighed, "Well, stop standing out here on the lawn and come into the house out of the sun. Apparently, we have a lot to talk about. As for your friends, they are welcome to join us. Mi casa es su casa. Make yourselves at home.”
Ximena claps excitedly and urges Hanney and Oshun to follow her inside.
Hanney bows to Xolani at the door, “Thank you for your hospitality, Miss Xolani.”
Oshun floated in shortly behind her and said, “Thank you, Xolani. I can see where Ximena gets her compassion for others and kindness from. I’m a little surprised that you’re not taken back by my appearance.”
Xolani responds, “When you live a life as long and as crazy as mine, I have seen a lot of crazy things in it and given the times that we live in nowadays, it’s only going to get crazier. I will admit that you’re the first sparkling goddess to float in here though.”
Oshun corrects her, “Orisha.”
“Interesting… an orisha. Well, that’s a first for this household.”
Xolani led the three women throughout the living room and into the dining room, where she silently invited them to have a seat while she poured them all a cup of tea, fresh and hot right off the stove. Hanney and Ximena took a seat while Oshun floated majestically from a distance, taking in the scenery.
Xolani sipped from her cup as she looked at her granddaughter, “So start from the beginning and tell me everything that happened..."
Ximena sighed, “Where to begin? Boy is this going to be a doozy even though all of this only happened within the past day or so…”
On the other side of the country, Helena Dumond’s limousine pulls up in the parking garage of her Heaven Enterprises conglomerate building.
Two tall, statuesque women greet her at the elevator, dressed identical to each other despite their similar builds but differing distinguishing features - one ebony-skinned and the other Caucasian.
"Bliss. Bless. I didn't expect to see you both here at the office today. What's the occasion?"
The two women spoke in unison. "Good afternoon, mi lady. After hearing what happened to one of the Children of Venus, we personally wanted to supervise this investigation for you. Speaking of which, the Research & Development department has those files you requested."
Helena smiled at him and said, "Good. That's what I came here to see firsthand myself. Let's go up to the 34th floor and see what happened ourselves."
The two women nodded and joined her onto the elevator.
Helena tapped her foot repeatedly, to the ire of her subordinates.
Bliss spoke up, "Mi lady, getting worked up isn't going to resolve this matter any sooner."
Bless chimed in, "She's right. Whoever did this will be dealt with - swiftly, just like everyone else who has stood in our way."
Helena snapped back, "I can't afford to have any setbacks at this crucial phase of my plans. It's bad enough navigating around the Sentry Corps snooping around where they aren't welcome and those cursed Jaegers making their bounty hunting affairs public knowledge. The sooner we know who or what we're dealing with, the better."
Bliss and Bless spoke in unison, "Yes, ma'am."
The elevator slowed to a halt as it reached their destination on the 34th floor. Helena was the first one to step out as she strode through the R & D department and went straight to the back offices, ignoring everyone in her way.
She stormed into the office of the lead scientist, Otto Lively.
He looks up from his monitor and greets Helena with a smile.
"I wasn't expecting you so soon, but it's a pleasure to see you - as always."
Helena glares, "Cut the sweet talk and just let me know that you have that surveillance footage from that small backwater town in the Piedmont Providence I asked you to pull."
"It took a bit of effort due to the level of their security and firewalls, but I managed to hack my way through their servers. I don't see why this particular footage was so significant. We don't have any installations out there, so why is there so much interest? Unless you're looking at some low key areas to plan a vacation..."
Helena reached over his desk and grabbed Lively by the throat and raised him up into the air where his hair was brushing against the ceiling tiles.
"Did I ask you to get cute with me? I thought I made myself perfectly clear about what I wanted from you today." Helena looked over her shoulder to her two assistants. "Ladies, can you see that we have some privacy, please?"
Bliss and Bless looked to the other employees, who instantly got the memo to leave them all alone. Bliss and Bless smirked as they watched them scatter like cockroaches until they were left alone on the floor. The employees of Heaven Enterprises knew that when Helena Dumond got into one of her infamous "moods", it wasn't going to end well for whoever was on the receiving end.
Helena narrowed her eyes, "Now, I'm going to say this just once and only once. Do you have my footage or do I need to make an example out of you for everyone else concerning how Mr. Lively wasn't so lively anymore?"
Otto Lively blurts out, "I-I-I HAVE THE FOOTAGE! AND I MADE SURE TO WIPE THE LOCAL SURVEILLANCE FEEDS BEFORE THE SENTRY CORPS SHOWED UP. P-P-PLEASE DON'T HURT ME!"
Helena dropped him back into his chair, where he hastily pulled up the footage onto the monitor on display on the back wall.
"I watched it myself, but I didn't think it was too extraordinary outside of the usual wildcard-related stuff going around on the news nowadays. Some wild animal got loose and those two women went in to stop it."
"Show me," commanded Helena.
The footage played at normal speed with both Diosa and the Child of Venus appearing as a blur that one could barely make out due to the chaotic nature of their battle with the demonic lion.
"There. Slow it down frame by frame and digitally enhance it."
Lively did what he was instructed and enhanced the still image as much as he could, only catching a clear view of Diosa's body as she struck the creature with a mighty blow.
Helena’s eyes narrowed as she studied the still image, "Bliss. Bless. Does she look familiar to either of you?"
Both women shook their heads before replying in unison.
"We're drawing a blank, mi lady."
"That's what I thought. This is a completely new player on the chessboard. If this is the same one that took out Nemesis, then we have a strong contender on our hands."
Helena turned back towards Lively.
"I want all of that footage on disk and delete the rest off of our servers, including yours. I don't want the Sentry Corps tracing that missing data back to us. This is going to be our own little discovery. Isn't that right, darling?"
Helena smiled at Lively as she held the "World's Greatest Dad" mug on the corner of his desk in her hand.
"...Because we wouldn't want any unfortunate 'accidents' to happen to the World's Greatest Dad now would we?"
Without warning, she crushed the mug instantly, reducing it to dust in her hands. Otto Lively gulped hard as he transferred the files onto a disk and handed it to her. Helena watched over his shoulder while he deleted the footage off his own hard drive and the company servers.
Once satisfied at the results, Helena dusted her hands off and patted Lively on his shoulders, "Excellent job, Mr. Lively. Keep this up and there may be a promotion in the works for you yet."
Lively hands Helena the disk with the footage of Diosa with trembling hands and beads of sweat accumulating on his forehead.
“It’s all there, in your hands. You’re the only one with that footage.”
Helena looks sternly at Lively before delivering a final decree, “Make sure it stays that way too. I don’t want to see any surprises in the media before I deal with this matter personally.”
“Y-Y-Y-Yes, ma’am,” Lively stuttered as Helena led Bless and Bliss out of the office.
Helena spoke to Bless and Bliss as they headed back towards the elevator.
“With Nina still out on that other assignment I gave her, I’m going to need to call in The Asset to assist with this matter…”
Bliss and Bless spoke in unison, “You know that she’s going to want money… lots of it… for her unique services.”
“That won’t be an issue. Tell her she can name her price if she brings me what I want.”
Back at Xolani’s home and one long explanation later...
Ximena sat at the dining room table with her grandmother as Xolani recounts the end of her grand-daughter's adventures thus far.
"So, you beat this Child of Venus lady and she turned into that girl Hanney without any memory of what transpired for over 400 years? If the proof wasn't in front of me, child, I would have a hard time believing any of this. This story sounds as crazy as that Japanime you're always piping on about."
"Yes, Granny. That's why I need your help. Hanney doesn't have anywhere to go back to and I can't simply take her back to my dorm room. I have my hands full trying to track down Pris before my spring break is over. I'm running out of time. I can't bring myself to face Pris' mom again if I am unable to bring her home safe and sound."
Xolani stood up from the table and took Hanney by the hand.
“I can help in that regard. I don’t mind the company anyway being so far away from the city. Hanney is welcome to stay with me as long as she wishes. Come with me. Let’s get you out of those tattered rags, washed up, and into some fresh, clean clothes. Ximena, your room is still just like how you left it from the last time that you were here. Do yourself a favor and try to get some rest. From the sound of things, you have quite the adventure ahead of you.”
Ximena motioned to offer a rebuttal by standing back up, but Xolani added, “Don’t give me any lip either, chica.”
While Hanney found herself being led out of the kitchen, Ximena slumped back down into her seat at the dinner table while Oshun floated beside her.
“Your grandmother is a kind and gentle soul. After what Hanney experienced in her time, staying here with her will give her a sense of normalcy and purpose.”
Ximena adds, “Not to mention - freedom. She’ll have the free will to do what she chooses. She’s no longer a slave to anyone - not to any slave traders nor Venus’ jewelry that enslaved her very soul. I want to free our friends too. We have no idea what the long term effects of Nemesis' curse is doing to Priscilla and Oya as long as they are bound together like that, forced to comply with that curse whenever a deity is near. We’re running out of time, Oshun. We have to find them. Time is of the essence.”
“I’m not disagreeing with you, Ximena, but your grandmother is right. You should rest after the grueling contest that you overcame with the Child of Venus. Even I have to recuperate my divine powers from time to time… You’re not invincible, Ximena.”
Ximena sighed heavily, “I know, but if it were me out of there running amok, Pris would move heaven and earth to bring me back home. She wouldn’t stop until she got me back. I can’t just sit idly by while Pris is out there doing God knows what...”
Oshun cut her off, “While I’m proud of what you were able to do for Hanney today, I don’t think it would be wise to press your luck. You won’t be much help to Priscilla, or anyone else for that matter, if you don’t take the time to recover your lost stamina and give your body time to rest.”
Ximena nodded in defeat, knowing that her divine ally was right. She retreated upstairs and entered her bedroom - her home away from home. The walls were decorated with her favorite musical artists, fictional heroes and heroines, and there was a photo collage of captured memories with her family. There are more photos with Priscilla than with her own family on display. Ximena took a moment to smile at the photos briefly before falling face first onto the nearby bed.
A few minutes later, Xolani gently knocked on the door before sticking her head in to check on her granddaughter. To her surprise, Ximena was already fast asleep. She smiled and slowly closed the door before retiring to her own bedroom downstairs.
Oshun followed Xolani quietly before speaking up, “What you’re doing with this place is wonderful -- not just for your granddaughter and Hanney - but for the other weary travelers looking for safe refuge. Not many people would be so trusting and kind to strangers.”
Xolani laughed, “The shotgun in my closet says otherwise. This land has been in my family for generations. We have always helped out and given to those around us, despite the rest of the world leaving us in the past.”
“If one forgets the past, then they are doomed to repeat it,” Oshun added as Xolani sat on her bed.
Xolani looked back at her and frowned slightly, “Tell me the truth, Oshun. Between you and me… why did you choose to give my granddaughter this power? Why couldn’t you - an orisha no less - save Oya and defeat Nemesis yourself?”
Oshun lowered her head, “It’s because… I’m a coward. Young Ximena may lack confidence in herself, but I envy her bravery. She stood face-to-face with Oya and Nemesis without anything at her disposal to defend herself, but she was willing and wanting to help her best friend and mine. She had the courage to do what I could not.”
Xolani shook her head, “I don’t believe that. I don’t see a coward in front of me. I see a woman who has been scarred by the trials laid out before her. I cannot imagine what horrors that you have seen while on the run from the Godslayers like Nemesis for so many years. I don’t doubt for a moment that my granddaughter is brave, but true bravery is standing up for something that you believe in even though you know that the fight is already lost. Ximena already looks up to you as her mentor. Maybe you both can learn from each other.”
Oshun pondered her words and found her voice after a few moments, “You are wise beyond your years, Xolani. Perhaps you are right… Ximena came along and did what I couldn’t do, but at the same time, I wrapped up her and her best friend into this ordeal. I promise you that I will do everything in my power to ensure that your granddaughter returns home safe and sound.”
Xolani smiled, “I pray that you do. Ask you to do one more thing. In return for using her bravery for this quest, provide her with the confidence that she doesn’t have in herself. She’s got a good head on her shoulders and her head is always in the clouds, but I’m confident that you both will succeed in this quest - together.”
Unknown to both Xolani and Oshun, Hanney could hear their conversation through the wall as she snuggled up in her covers in the room above as she felt a cold chill run through her body.
She thought, “Strange… none of the windows are open…”