Henki’s voice echoes in the silence as the fire slowly returns to normal.
“The tale of your death and newfound life is not a tale that is heard often, my friend,” Maisha says slowly after a few minutes’ silence. “All of you in attendance should count yourselves lucky, for it is a tale that I have only heard twice in my lifetime.”
A few more moments pass before the silent spell is broken and the others begin to get up and leave for their huts for the night. Henki fluidly sits between Daemon and me, his barely visible dark eyes staring through the wall across the hut.
“So I wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for you, Falcon, and Persephone,” I say slowly, then pause and take a deep breath. “I didn’t know how much I owed you.”
Henki smiles. “You do not owe me anything. But I swore to Falcon that I would help overthrow Kendra, whatever it took, regardless of who I had to help. He did not regret his choice,” he tells me, noting the confused look on my face. “He regrets that he could not stop Kendra.”
I nod and wrap my arms around my legs, resting my chin on my knees. “But that doesn’t put me any closer to finding a way to stop Kendra, not without killing her. She may be evil, but she’s also my grandmother. I can barely bring myself to kill a bug. How am I supposed to make myself kill an ancient ghost?”
“Did you hear nothing in the tale that I just told?” he asks, voice tinged with mild frustration. “Did the advice Artemis give you leave your head as soon as you heard it? You do not have to kill Kendra, just outwit her.”
I slowly turn toward him. “So the Hades Blade is real?” I ask.
Henki nods. “How else do you think that I was able to give Falcon my body and become a Shadow? Whoever wields the Hades Blade will shear their human soul from their human body. The sudden absence of a soul will cause the body to reach out for any spirit that it can find, save the one that was shorn. It will usually latch onto the closest free soul. The shorn soul then assumes the place of the soul that was taken.”
“But then I would become the last Old One in Gahenna. What would that accomplish?” I ask.
“Kendra will be forced into a human body. Human bodies cannot exist in the supernatural world,” Henki replies gently, like a teacher explaining an easy concept to a slow child.
“So Kendra will be trapped in my body and forced into the human world. And there’s absolutely no way that she can change that?” This plan sounds too good to be true.
“She will fully become human, and will live until your human body is ready to die. Only then can she return to the supernatural side. But even then, she will only be a normal ghost, and will be subject to the laws of the Shadow Lord and any other rulers,” he explains.
“So then I’ll be the Old One in Gahenna?” I ask.
He nods. “Yes. Although I think that you will have a bit more freedom than most Old Ones, because of what you are.”
“So I stab Kendra with the Hades Blade, my human body latches onto her spirit, the physics of the supernatural side push her to the human world, where her human body can survive, and Kendra remains human for the rest of her human lifespan. And after her death, she’ll be subject to the whims of my father, me, and the other Old Ones?” I ask for clarification.
“Yes,” he replies simply.
“Well that would be a wonderful plan if I had the Hades Blade,” I say with frustration. “I’ve never heard of it, which doesn’t say much, but I’m sure that it hasn’t been seen since Falcon used it to kill you.”
“There are rumors of a blade like this in Falecido,” Daemon says, finally speaking up. “A charred blade with a hilt that fits beneath the hand and a blade that curves out from the fingers like an eagle’s talon. But Yaritza and Roca will keep it very well hidden.”
“I thought you were asleep,” I say, leaning forward to see him.
“Never,” he says, stretching his arms above his head. “I heard the entire story. I believe that our best chance of finding the blade will be in Falecido.”
“Why do you think it will be there?” Henki asks.
“The Hades Blade is a very powerful blade, the kind of thing that Yaritza would collect. Thou sayest that it has been missing since thy death. On their journeys to earth, Yaritza and Roca search for rare and beautiful trinkets, things that possess power, things that other people will want.” Daemon pulls a dagger from his boot and starts scratching a diagram on the dirt floor.
“Will they give it to us?” I ask.
“For a price,” Henki answers. “I did not even think about those two having it. But it makes the most sense.”
“Why? And who are Yaritza and Roca?” I prod, pulling Henki out of his thoughts as Daemon continues scratching at the floor.
“Yaritza is a ghost made out of water. She is the reason that humans have legends of water sprites and shape-shifting water. Roca is her sister, a ghost made from stone. It makes the most sense for them to have the Hades Blade because they are the collectors of the supernatural side.”
“They are essentially hoarders,” Daemon chimes in, still scratching something into the floor.
Henki nods. “Exactly. If anything ever goes missing in the supernatural side, it is usually because it has been relocated to Falecido.”
“So what will I have to do to get the blade from them?” I ask, watching as Henki thoughtfully spins a gold ring around his right thumb.
“That depends on how badly you want it,” he replies, still twirling the ring. “It is like bargaining. You do not tell them how much you want it, and they will give it to you.”
“But I have absolutely no negotiation skills,” I tell him. “How am I supposed to do that?”
“Use your Eidolon aloofness,” he suggests. “Be coldhearted and shrewd, and they will be begging you to take it.”
“And if I can’t?” I question.
“Then they will play a possibly deadly game with thee, Princess,” Daemon replies with a dark chuckle as his scratching slows to a halt.
“Possibly deadly? Define ‘possibly deadly,’” I say, folding my arms across my chest.
“They will push you to limits that you did not know you could surpass,” Henki explains. “They will cause you to rely even more on your ghost side and less on your human side. Just as long as they do not kill your human body, your plan will work.”
“They can kill half of me?” I’d never known that could happen. I always thought that both halves of me would be immortal, like a ghost.
“Anyone can kill the human side of thee, Princess. And regardless of what thou was told as a child, Eidolons are not immortal. We have lifespans that are many centuries longer than a humans, but we still die. The only difference is after death, we do not make the normal journey from human to Shadow to ghost, but we go straight from human to ghost. If they kill thy human body, then thy plan for killing Kendra will fail.”
I nod and rest my chin on my knees again, thinking. “What’s that?” I ask, staring at Daemon’s scratches in the dirt.
“The Hades Blade,” he replies. “Tis what the blade looks like, Yaritza or Roca will keep it close. Yaritza will most likely have it, as she has a fondness for weaponry and odd trinkets. It will most likely be somewhere on her person.”
“So do they align more with me or Kendra?” I ask, looking at the crude sketch of the angled blade.
“Neither. Just as Jahanamu is neutral, so is Falecido. Although while the Old Ones here help maintain balance in the world, Yaritza and Roca are tricksters and exist only to irritate the rest of the supernatural side,” Henki replies wearily. “I have had dealings with them in the past, and I am not overly fond of the experience.”
“Enough talk of that,” Daemon says, rising to his feet and pulling a pallet near the fire. “Time for rest. Tomorrow will be a busy day, Princess. Maisha and Kifo have already seen you and given their gifts. Tomorrow Zuri and Mbaya will meet you and give theirs.”
“Maisha gave me a gift by healing me. What gift did Kifo give me?” I ask, stretching out on the pallet Daemon moved for me.
“Kifo is more of a private person. While you may not realize that she gave you a gift, it will surface when you need it most. Because she is death, she seeks the deepest needs and desires in the heart and determines whether or not she should cause your death or let her husband continue your life, or if Zuri or Mbaya should cause more good or bad to happen during your life,” Henki tells me, rising to his feet. “Kifo is a wonderful woman to have as an ally, and a terrible woman to have as an enemy.”
“She would kill people?” I ask, rolling over and watching Henki stand in the doorway.
He chuckles and places a hand on either side of the doorway. “Kifo has started wars and plagues because Eidolons have been stupid and made enemies of her.”
“Really? Which wars?” He’s sparked my interest and he knows it.
“World War One,” he replies nonchalantly. “The Archduke could have survived the shot, but Gavrilo Princip was an Eidolon who had made an ally of Kifo. Kifo had recently had a miscarriage, and was devastated over the loss of her child. Gavrilo’s human body was very ill. He visited Jahanamu and spoke with Maisha, Kifo, Zuri, and Mbaya. Maisha offered to save him, but Gavrilo was too determined in his assassination mission. He said that he wanted to be remembered in history as a great man. Instead, Kifo said that she would allow him to take the Archduke’s life, and Zuri said that she would allow for Gavrilo to pass peacefully.”
“But I thought Zuri was good. Why did she allow for that to happen?” I ask, propping myself up on one arm.
“Because his passing was good. It was painless and peaceful and Gavrilo died a hero to the Serbians. Good and bad are not as black and white as you think, Nikki,” he says softly. “When you are timeless, sometimes things blur and areas become grey. The amount of living people in the world was too much, and it was upsetting the balance of the dimensions. Zuri believed that allowing the war to happen would thin out the population on earth, and allow more souls to live here,” he explains, turning back toward me. “One more question, then you need to rest.”
“What role did all four play in the war? And is it the same role they play in every war?” I ask, hoping he doesn’t notice that I’ve asked two questions.
He smiles and shakes his head. “Maisha preserves life. He protects those who need to live. Zuri gives hope in the darkest hour. When someone is close to giving up, she sends them whatever hope they need to keep going. Kifo destroys life. She determines the number of people who need to die, and does not allow anyone to interfere to save them, unless Zuri or Maisha or Mbaya have another purpose for them. Mbaya allows for the atrocities of war. The war crimes and the destruction, that is all his doing. And yes, this is the same role that they play in ever war and every natural disaster. They do it to preserve balance.”
“How did they interact for your death?” I ask.
He shakes his head. “A question that I will answer tomorrow. Sleep, Nikki. We have much to do tomorrow.”
Reluctantly, I lay back down and close my eyes, listening to the dying fire crackle while Henki softly hums a song and fades into the shadows.