Many thanks to all the generous Nigerian readers who donated their time and expertise to make sure I wasn’t just making up crazy nonsense.
The flight from Houston to Austin’s executive airport was short, less than half an hour in the air. It would take more time to get from the airport to the Adé-Afẹ́fẹ́’s compound in Costa Bella. Most days I’d rather just drive, but I needed to be back in time for Nevada’s big date with Garen Shaffer. I don’t know why she had to meet him. I could tell her how’d it would go, what his pitch would be.
“Oh, Nevada, you’re so pretty, and I’m so handsome, and rich, did I mention I was rich, sure you’re not yet, but I have enough for both of us. Let’s breed and make powerful, pretty progeny. Come with me Nevada, marry me and live a safe, comfortable and perfectly boring life.”
What he wouldn’t promise, what he couldn’t lie about, especially to her, was love. No, what Garen was really offering was business arrangement. More merger than marriage. One, that, as much as I hated to admit it, made sense. Nevada was Truthseeker Prime, stronger than Garen or anyone in his family. What he offered was the protection and the financial security that came with being a part of an established, respected house. What he was offering was worth millions, what he asked for in return was priceless. The most powerful Truthseeker of her generation, the legendary long-lost child of house Tremain. Or more specifically, her DNA. The potential children that their union would produce.
That wouldn’t be how he’d couch it, of course. He’d use terms like partnership, family and potential. Maybe he’d even mean it, but Shaffer and I both knew what he wanted, most of all, what his family’s wealth and reputation couldn’t buy was a guarantee of Prime offspring. Their talent was a rare one, and unless the House Shafer wanted to start marrying distant cousins, Garen had to find an equally powerful family or face the very real possibility of the house’s power waning with each new generation.
Of course, I didn’t tell her any of this. Why would I? She knew how I felt about it, but the decision had to be hers. What I wanted, maybe what she wanted, didn’t matter. In the end, the woman I love, who I thought loved me, would do what was best for her family and the future House Baylor. And I couldn’t do a damn thing about it.
No, best to focus on what I came here for. On the ride over from the airport to the Adé-Afẹ́fẹ́ mansion, I thought of how to best approach the weather clan. Well respected, with a reputation for neutrality and fair dealing, House Adé-Afẹ́fẹ́ rarely, if ever, involved themselves in Prime politics. They’d come to Travis county decades ago during the worse drought in living memory. Lake Travis fell below five hundred feet, lower than ever in recorded history. Crops withered, fires raged, Spicewood burned. Finally, the Austin city council sent out a cry for help to anyone, be it scientist or sorcerer, who could break the drought. Week by week the lake grew smaller, and the reward grew larger and still unclaimed. Temperatures and tempers flared. Finally, when it seemed that it would never rain again, the Adé-Afẹ́fẹ́. Crowned by the Wind, in their native Yorùbá tongue, appeared and with them came the storm clouds. Before the squall, some laughed, some jeered, but as the tempest raged, adults danced like small children in the rain. The Weather mages were hailed as saviors and rewarded with ten acres on the lake they had rescued. As the area had prospered, so had the Adé-Afẹ́fẹ́. Down a private drive and behind a massive gate stood the nearly fourteen thousand square foot pure white limestone mansion the Clan called ” Ilé Mọ̀lẹ́bí.”
As I came up the steps, the heavy ornate door swung open. Táyọ̀ Adé-Afẹ́fẹ́ stepped out and pulled me into a bear hug. Which was a far cry from the first time I met the youngest son of House Adé-Afẹ́fẹ́. When I’d walked into the first class of my sixth grade, he’d emptied a trashcan over my head.
Táyọ̀ grinned. “Connor. Mom said you’d be coming by to talk to dad. The great war hero and tragic recluse graces our humble abode. It must be serious if you’ve broken your self-imposed exile.”
“Still king of the middle school putdowns, Táyọ̀?”
“Hardly, it’s Dr. Afefe to you, Private Rogan.”
“It’s Major, and since when do they give out Ph.D.s for standup comedy?”
“Climate Sciences, actually, and we were all proud of your service, Connor. Ah, I have missed you too. How are things in Houston?”
“Not great,” I told him,” I was hoping to talk to your dad into letting me borrow Ọmọ́tọ́lá for a while.”
“’Tọ́lá?” He looked surprised, “What do you want with my beautiful cousin? Because if you put her in danger, I will break every bone in your body. And I am not joking this time. It will middle school all over again. You’ll have to go back to the Ondo jungle to hide from me.”
Before I could reply, a deep voice boomed through the house. ” Arákùnrin, if you are quite finished with your foolishness, bring our guest to the study.”
Táyọ̀ manufactured a look of mock horror and pretended to cringe. “Yes, father.” He turned to me and stage-whispered, “Time to go.”
I followed my friend through the foyer and into a hallway on our left to a set of double glass doors. Táyọ̀ stopped before the doors, knocked twice, and waited.
A moment later the same sonorous voice commanded, “Enter.”
Táyọ̀ opened the door turned to me, mouthed “Good luck,” and ushered me inside. Once I’d entered, he closed the door behind me and stood outside.
Adépérò Adé-Afẹ́fẹ́ stood against the far wall of the room, in front of a massive marble fireplace. Above it sat a coat of arms: a black shield between two white chargers with a red eagle on top. The floor, the walls and built in book shelves, even the ceiling seemed to be of the same mahogany. Overstuffed leather chairs and a matching couch sat atop an exquisite Persian rug. An honest to God old fashioned English study. Maybe after we discussed my situation, we could have brandy and cigars while debating the current state of the British empire.
“House Rogan honors us with this visit,” he intoned formally, “How may we help you, Connor?”
Adépérò looked almost exactly same as he had the first time I’d met him when my father brought me here on family business, nearly twenty years ago: tall, lean, bald and clean shaven with dark skin stretched tight over high prominent cheekbones. The same thoughtful, penetrating gaze and unlike his son, stoic. I knew he was fifty-eight, but he could have passed for a fit man in his mid-forties. When he shook my hand, the grip was firm and the muscles on his arm rolled under the simple white, loose fitting shirt. According to Táyọ̀, his father was a lifelong practitioner of both Dambe and Lutte, traditional West African boxing and wrestling. I wondered for a moment if I could take him. Yeah, sure I could. Maybe, but beating up an old man in his home probably wasn’t the best way to get a favor from him. Best to charm him.
“Mr. Adé-Afẹ́fẹ́, you look well.”
“Thank you, Connor, as do you. Now, again, what can we do for House Rogan?”
Straight to business then.
“I came to ask a favor. Alexander Strum is planning to unleash a storm upon Houston and I’d like your family’s help to prevent it. Specifically, Omotola Ogidan. Of course, I would pay for her services and guarantee her safe return.”
Adépérò frowned. “Why would Strum do this? What could he hope to gain?”
“It’s a private matter between our houses.”
“Yes, we know the history of your houses well, Connor. We know how your fathers fought. The destruction, the loss of life on both sides. And here the two of you are, years later and you’ve learned nothing. What do they accomplish, these private little wars of yours? Why do you think my house would help you?”
“Because if you don’t, he’s going to conjure up a tornado so large that the death toll in Houston and the surrounding areas will be catastrophic. He thinks I have something I don’t, and he’s threating to level the city and blame me for it.”
“Apologies, Connor, but that makes no sense, I cannot believe that any house, even House Sturm, would destroy a city out of revenge. The council would hunt him down like a dog. He would be a fugitive, all hands turned against him. Besides, what you’re describing takes a tremendous amount of time and power. We don’t create, Connor, we coax, we direct or divert. The atmosphere isn’t an isolated environment. When one summons rain in one spot, somewhere there will be a drought in another. When his father attacked yours, he used an existing storm cell. He gave it a nudge and then guided the resulting tornado. There are no conditions conducive to tornado creation at the moment, which means that Sturm would have to manufacture it out of thin air, literally, risking consequences no one can predict. We, who adjust the weather, do not do this. It is unthinkable. Do you have any proof of this?”
“None,” I admitted. “He has threatened to do it and my gut tells me he will.”
I was losing this battle. “Could it be done? Could you do it?”
Anger flashed in his eyes. “I could. But I would never. We came here, strangers in this strange land, with nothing, but our power and our pride. We were welcomed, and we have thrived,” he waved a hand to indicate the fine home, “because we help people. We do not misuse or abuse our gift. We do business with the other houses, as we did with your father, but we do not, ever, engage in house politics or intrigue. For this we are left alone. This fight between you and Sturm is, as you’ve said, a private matter. If we do this for you, intercede directly on your behalf, we would no longer be viewed as neutral, we would be seen, and rightly so, as your ally, and your enemies would be ours. This I will not do.”
“I see. Thank you for your time.”
“Young man, you did not allow me to finish. Because I knew your father, and because my son speaks highly of you, we will give serious consideration to what you have said. We will make inquires and if it is necessary, we will send someone to investigate your claims. If we find what you say to be true, we will send someone to help. Not because we feel obligated to intercede on your behalf, but because what you’re describing is an abomination. If one of our kind chooses to play god, we will do everything we can to keep the city and its people from harm. Now, will you be joining us for dinner, Connor?”
I guess that was it then. It wasn’t as much as I’d hoped for, but it was better than nothing.
“Thank you but no, I’m afraid I have a very important engagement tonight back in Houston and I can’t be late.”
“Did you drive or fly?”
“Take a car,” he suggested.
“Because a hailstorm is gathering between Austin and Houston, and it will take you too long to go around it.”
I glanced outside the window, at the day suffused with sunshine.
Adépérò smiled. “I neglected to mention earlier, the reason my wife wasn’t here today is that she is at an open-air Student Art Festival in Zilker Park today. Our oldest granddaughter is presenting. It would be a shame to have it ruined.”