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A Call
Anbessa lightly knocked on Sessie's door. "We need to go or we'll miss the train." He returned to the living room of his small house, now crowded with bodies. It was the two of them, along with Ibrahim and Rohama. And one more, a girl of maybe 15, Maryam.

Maryam- his heart jumped whenever he heard his mother's name, seeing her sign her love for him every single night- had been in the war lord's camp, one of girls he'd held captive. Not for the usual reasons, though. No, she was also g'brim, used by him to control the others. The girl had fought as best she could but the beast had controlled her. Power is no match for cunning, blackmail, and mental abuse.

While Anbessa and Ibrahim had subdued his forces, Sessie had sent word to the local authorities. Another g'brim tried to engage him but had been inexperienced. The man likely thought this would be a simple fight against men weaker than him. Anbessa, though, had trained for this for 5 years with Ibrahim. He had fought men who channeled before. The man and those with him had been forced to flee.

It was Rohama that reached the girl, somehow getting through to her. He did not pry but he suspected that Rohama was speaking from experience. Not just her grandmother's, he guessed. Whatever the case, when local and state forces came to gather up the boys and those loyal to their now dead leader, Bessie and his companions had disappeared into the night. Her family was dead and she had been taken from a village far away. They had only meant to teach her enough to be safe and then help her get home.

Between Sessie and Rohama, that didn't happen. And little by little, she became part of their family. 

Anbessa did his best to teach and provide while the women gave the real help- comfort and training, a listening ear and a motherly embrace.

In the meantime, the Legion had arrived at the orders of The Ascendancy. Eritrea was not part of the CCD. But the entire Horn of Africa was on fire- a humanitarian crisis, given the warlords and Al Janyar. He gave credit where credit was due. Between the locals and the Legion, eventually they were pushed back north. Eritrea and Djubouti were free for the first time in years.

And while their work continued now that the crisis had abated, their was a sense of relief in the air. Even a sense of peace. Sometimes people just needed a little help to see that they had strength. He knew this. Even before the Legion had appeared, their work as G'brim Qdus had inspired many to fight back.

They had settled down into something resembling normalcy when the call to Axum had come. He couldn't help the worry in his stomach. The Negus Mena's calls had always meant something would change. And he was happy at how things were right now. He wanted no more change.

Still, a call was a call. But Sessie would be with him. Whatever it was, she would be by his side.

Naturally, she was belligerent with the summons. Sesuna liked change even less than Anbessa, and Idris would not have been called for anything trivial. There was a prickly feeling in her stomach, perhaps born of remembering the feel of the Shegurah in the palm of her hand the day she made her oaths. But ultimately the thought of her brother alone was worse than the prospect of a journey toward the unknown. The promise of peace burned on the horizon. They had endured the blood and fire Idris saw when last he was called to Axum, surely. What more could the Negus Mena ask of them?

“Do trains not wait for your glorious destiny, o great one?” A sharp poke in the ribs accompanied the jest, alongside a mischievous smile, as she joined their new family in the living room -- lest Anbessa forget himself beneath that glittering crown of prophecy. “I am ready.”
Anbessa couldn't help but laugh at his sister. Frankly, he appreciated it. He was so sick of people looking at him as if he were different, as if he were inhuman. Normal. It was all he ever wanted to be. Just a normal man.

He wondered what his life would have been had he not been caught up in all of this. Existence in a society that kept themselves cloistered from others. A double life of secrets and other worldliness.

Asmara was cosmopolitan, Little Rome. He could have gone to Secondary School, pursued a career in...he paused. It was sad. He had no idea what that could have been. What could he have striven for had his life had not been decided before he had ever been born. Lawyer? Doctor? Teacher? Social Worker?

A world of normalcy. He imagined the most banal of things and they sang to him. Hanging out with friends after school. Playing video games together. Going to dances. Shyly taking a girl for a coffee and thrilling at the touch of her hands.

All things he didn't know, even now. He didn't know how to begin. How to be...human.

And yet...the power of the g'brim flowed through his veins. The mark on his palm said he was set apart- the true meaning of "qdus"-holy- something special.

He didn't want to be special. He just wanted to be Anbessa.

His laughter died away at the sight of their "family". He paused. They really were his family. He felt a cloak settle on him. Not one of responsibility. That of kinship. None of them had normal lives. Ibrahim, an urchin who had survived for years on the streets alone and scrambling for anything and everything. And yet he'd never become a predator. His optimism, his playfulness and idealism were undiminished, his spirit intact. This was his younger brother.

Rohama, deep compassion and pain hidden in her dark eyes. Her parents had named her true. "Rohama" was the female version of "Rahman" in Arabic. It meant 'compassion'. Despite her...solitary nature, one could not help but feel some sort of understanding. As if she were trult listening, truly feeling.

Maryam was a new addition. But already her bright wide smile, rare as it was, was not completely absent. In those moments of laughter, she seemed startled and then ashamed, pulling her hijab down. They all respected that, moving on as if nothing had happened, though the comforting hand of Sesuna or Rohama made it clear that she was safe to let go. Ibrahim and Anbessa did not press. It would take time for her to feel free.

And Sesuna, his baby sister. A girl who's life was anything but normal. That did stab at him, because he knew he was the cause. Despite knowing where the real source lay, it was hard to shake the guilt that if it were not for him, maybe their father would have loved her.

But he knew she loved him. And her jokes were only to remind him who he was. He was not Idris. That was an image. He didn't want to be an image. He was just Anbessa. And that was enough for him.

He looked at her, thankful he could just be her brother. With an innocent look in his eyes, he answered. "Well, they know you're my sister...and that you move slower than sap in winter at the best of times. And they DO have other customers." The smile showed in his eyes.

He looked at the others. Odd. Their eyes on him did not make him fearful. No. He wanted to allay them of any concern. He could carry that for them. "The Negus has called us to her. I do not know what this means." He paused. Eritrea was free. Al Janyar was on the run. The Legion supported the local state and governmental authorities. "I hope this is just a short visit. Maybe more Qdus G'brim have manifested." He caught the looks of the others. They were comfortable, now. At peace-- finally. Change was the opposite of that.

He felt his own weakness. But they needed strength. His voice firmed as he looked at Ibrahim and Rohama, at Maryam and Sesuna. "It is God who is behind us. We cannot see the path until we can look behind us. But whatever challenge we face, we do it dedicated to protecting the weak and fighting those who would prey on others." He realized he wasn't mouthing platitudes. He knew that. He did indeed believe it and his face showed it.

A few more words and a gathering of a few bags- Axum wasnt that far- and he and Sesuna were off.

Somehow, facing down another g'brim or soldiers or rakshasas never struck him with fear. So why did this trip?
Sesuna watched her brother internalise the moment and the people in it. It was his serious face; the one that sailed him far away, where duty was a mountain laid upon the mantle of his shoulders alone. Her brows rose when his gaze settled, only for her expression to explode into mock outrage for the jibe, and then finally laughter. It was Idris who shared those last words, though. Sesuna knew the faces of him well enough to understand why he did so, though what she accounted to be worry in turn worried her. For her own part she sailed through the motions of goodbye with little ceremony. Only Rohama seemed to pick up on the undercurrents, and she counselled her usual silence.

Once alone and on their way, she wasted little preamble. “You’re worried,” she said. “Why do you really think she wants to see you?”
Alone, on the train, the click clacking serving to hide their words, he could be open. Honest. His thumbs pressing against his eyes dropped. He looked at his sister.

She was strong. I keep too much from her. But habits are hard to break. His responsibility toward her- his role- had been father and shelter. To protect her from knowing the truth about how things were. How their father truly felt.

There had been some warming, finally. Some semblance of a relationship between them developing.

But he'd spent almost two decades doing that. Relying on her, opening to was not natural. Not habit. He'd always been alone.

He looked into her eyes, shedding all aspects of Idris. There were days he loathed Idris. The way people looked at him. Yet another burden. Broad as his shoulders were, he felt a weight on them that threatened every day to crush him.

His eyes flickered to the landscape passing at super speed. It seemed kilometers had been traversed before he looked at her again.

"I don't know Sessie. I truly don't. I thought we were done. The vision fulfilled." He clenched his fist and then looked at the tear burned into it. "I don't know how to be the Heart. A Qdus, yes. Even a G'brim feels natural. But..." He looked away.

His heart died years ago. A mound in the night, her hands- her voice- silenced forever.

He looked at his sister. "I don't know to be a heart when I feel like I have none."
He looked at her then looked away in favour of the zipping landscape beyond. Though it had been years ago now, it brought to mind unbidden of how she’d caught him on the stairs the first time he had returned home from the Negus Mena’s summons. It’s alright, Sessy. How many times had she heard those soothing words and knew them for a lie? It had chafed back then. It had never stopped chafing. And yet she held her tongue now, as she had then. 

It wasn’t what he said this time, though.

Sesuna’s chest contracted. It still hurt. She didn’t expect it to ever not. When she closed her eyes she could still feel her drumming heartbeat as she raced to find her brother, convinced he was the fixer of all things, while all the time behind her their mother was dying. She should have stayed; should have fought the way they were always taught, with tooth and nail and teeth if she had to. Sometimes she wondered if doing so might finally have won her their father’s love; if perhaps he would have brought flowers to her grave. She supposed she’d never know.

“She would hate to hear you say that, Anbessa.” The words were fierce. And powerless. They had never truly spoken of their mother -- or, not what had happened at least. She’d overheard plenty of his conversations with their father afterwards, but of course he’d always protected her from the brunt of it. In truth her childhood innocence had burned away long before Anbessa truly recognised it, though she’d never tell him that. The clarity of his pain now hurt her in turn, polishing up all the old dusty guilt (and she knew he would hate that even as she felt it; that she felt any guilt at all). A sigh pushed itself out of her lungs. But, fearless creature that she was, she never looked away.

After a moment her fingers moved. I miss her too.

“They can’t ask any more of you. You’ve done enough.Though if they asked it, he would give more, until every drop was gone. She did not look down at the mark on her own wrist. Her feelings on that no longer mattered, for she was as bound as he. Instead her expression wrinkled, though only because her next words were so soft. “Ibrahim would have died of the Sickness if you had not taught him control. You chose to teach him honour too, not just how to kill. And I do not think Rohama would still be here, even if she had survived the power, but for the family you have given her. Maryam looks at you like a father, did you know that? That is a heart.”
The silence stretched out. He looked at her but it was as if he were looking through her. It had been the signed words. He felt a cocoon had formed around him, a bubble, sound muffled to the outside world.

A language he had not "heard" since...that day. His eyes felt hot and his throat hurt. But he saw it.

They never spoke of her, not to each other. Ever. They never signed to each other either, though one would think the hunt would make it a necessity. For him, at least, he had had to wall off that part of himself, lest it explode out from him, a fury of grief and rage, made all the worse by the unrelenting pressure he lived under.

And then he realized he had hidden in his role as protector. Refused to be vulnerable, not even to himself. A savior did not need saving.

He had loved his sister. Had tried to be there for her because of that, because she needed him. But now he also realized the selfishness in his self assumed role.

Tentatively he reached across that chasm, fingers flashing, as he examined his sister anew. She would be so proud of you. It hurt, opening that door, speaking of the unspoken. He felt as if he hadn't talked in decades, voice thin and weak from disuse. But it needed to be said.

Even in his savior complex, he had created something. Sesuna had said so and he could not deny the facts. Her words did touch him. He was just a man. He wasn't the Heart, he knew that, no matter what Mena or the Urim said. But that didn't mean he couldn't find one, make one. Had made one.

He reached out a hand to touch hers and then stopped, instead, signing a simple Thank you.

The second time was easier. Something more opened. I miss her. He paused, a memory coming to him, small smile at it in his lips. Remember when she first taught you how to make injera? He couldn't help the grin it turned into. It had been in the traditional way, griddle over coals, woven fans- diameter maybe the distance between his thumbtip and little fingertip- waving to and fro in a rhythm to keep the heat even. Except eight year old Sessy had been standing opposite to Mother, fan waving vigorously rather than in the controlled way she was supposed to use. She was still little and seemed to enjoy the way the coals glowed bright at each gust, laughter punctuating the motion. At first it made no difference. But a sudden burst of wind augmented her efforts and smoke and ash suddenly blew over their mother.

Sputtering and coughing and trying to move out of the direction of fire, Mother was also laughing almost silently, her dark face and clothes now gray with fine soot.

He chuckled at the memory. Poor Sessy. Just being a kid. Thankfully, Mother knew that, never took her to task for it. Always understanding.

It hurt to remember, but it felt good.

He studied her. She wasn't a kid anymore. She still watches over you. Still laughs at your jokes, I bet. His face grew more serious. Sees your wisdom and compassion even with your fool of a brother.
She blinked, and for a moment said nothing. Sesuna did not lack for confidence, but their mother was a sensitive subject. Sadness was not natural for her to share, and certainly not with Anbessa; his was a heart already overburdened. The truth was that despite the pain Sesuna chose peace. She still felt their mother’s presence, still spoke to her, still found comfort in striving to be the woman her mother had raised her to be. It was the same facet of her nature that allowed her to forgive their father, when she knew Anbessa never would.

She nodded eventually, unusually solemn, but perked at the memory. A wide grin dispelled softer ghosts; she had no trouble laughing at herself, and the remembering made her feel warm within. We both know I make the best injera now. All that practise, she said with a wink. It was a relief to see him smile. One day the weight of responsibility was going to crush him, though not if she had anything to do with it.

I know, she agreed. It was nice to hear -- he never spoke about her, not really. Anbessa was back on his big brother pedestal though. She laughed. “Well. You are a fool.”
He gave her a lopsided grin , one eyebrow raised. "Well, not all of us can be super-geniuses, now can we?" A tease. But the fact is, she was incredibly intelligent. The drone she had cobbled together from scavenged parts was simply amazing. Yes, commercial ones were far superior and with more features. But they were made by hundreds of engineers and designers and programmers. Not by a young woman with no college and a pile of junk and some online videos.

He looked out the window as the countryside zipped by. For the first time in a long while, his country was at peace. Families were being united. Homes being rebuilt and towns coming to life again. The past could never be undone. He learned that long ago, one terrible evening. He looked at his sister, feeling a sense of contentment. At least for a moment. His face relaxed and he tipped his head back to the seat, eyes closed. "It feels so goof to rest. To be at peace. The people needed it." Opening his eyes again, he looked at her with a slight smile. He had no idea what the future held. Only God knew.

But he had his sister. "I don't think I have ever told you thank you. For staying with me." He chuckled. "For reminding me who I am. That I am not an icon. For the way you have been so good to Rohama and Maryam. A friend to Ibrihim. For being you."

He could sense them getting closer to Axum. The train was decelerating already. His smile turned into a slight frown but he stifled the worry that wormed in his heart. He pursed his lips and studied his sister's dark eyes. "I know you worry for me. And I appreciate that, sister. It feels....nice to be cared for."

The train was slowing.
She grinned. Maybe super was an exaggeration, but she’d always enjoyed understanding things. People. Machines. Her curiosity poured into whatever distraction was available to her time and resources, and she was tenacious with it. Secrets didn’t last long around Sesuna if she liked the scent of them. She leaned back in the seat and stretched her legs out, crossing them at the ankle. If there was a stone of worry lodged in her gut she did not yet dwell on it, knowing Anbessa would probably fret more than enough for both of them.

A friend to Ibrihim? A touch of amusement touched her expression, but she certainly wasn’t going to touch on that territory with her big brother. She cleared her throat instead. “You can stop that now, Bessie. It sounds like you’re trying to say goodbye.” Both brows crested, not in question but in admonition. Family didn’t thank family for staying. She thought about elbowing him in the ribs, but it was quite clear that he was being sincere. Maybe one day she would tell him in no uncertain words that he didn’t need to make up for their father’s emotional absence. He was enough on his own. For today, though, they’d poked at the edges of enough rough-healed wounds.

His face crinkled. She sensed the waves of anxiety he tried to quell and pierced that serious bubble with her usual devil-may-care grin. “You know I’m contractually obliged, right? I’m afraid you’re simply not allowed to get rid of me.”

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