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Black Panther and Storm
Chapter 1: What If?
"Give me a chance to prove myself," begged Shuri as the Panther God walked away. "I may not be the best choice right now but I am the only chance Wakanda has to keep it protected from those who will seek to capitalize on T'Challa's current health crisis. Everything you said about me is true but I will do anything to protect my family and Wakandans from harm that is also true."
"Perhaps," said the Panther God looking back at Shuri unfavorably, "but you are not ready and you are not the only choice."
Shuri looked at her god not understanding his words. "T'Challa's Dora Milage are…one is dead and the other is in critical condition. That leaves only me," she said more to herself than to the Panther God.
"No there is another. I expected her but instead I receive a spoiled, selfish girl. Send her to me Shuri before it is too late. Bring me the child who dared to challenge my authority while willing to lay down her life to protect T'Challa and all of Wakanda from a most monstrous of spirits-the Shadow King. Bring me Ororo!!"
Shuri took a deep breath and looked on in disbelief as the Panther God faded from view and was replaced by her uncle S'yan and Zuri. She opened her eyes fully to see the two men looking at her in anticipation. "Well," said S'yan impatiently. "How did it go?"
Shuri sat up on the chaise not capable of doing much more at the moment. She had failed everyone-T'Challa, Ororo, Wakanda, and herself. Ororo asked her to do one thing and she couldn't even do that-"Don't fail," Ororo told her and she had. She failed miserably and now the people of Wakanda would pay the ultimate price unless…
"Where is the queen?" demanded Shuri as she found her legs and rose quickly to her feet.
Before S'yan could answer W'Kabi entered the room gloom and despair evident in his stressed features. "Morlun has reached our gates," he informed the trio.
"Don't you mean our borders?" questioned a concerned S'yan.
"No, I mean our palace gates," corrected W'Kabi.
"But… but… that is impossible," Zuri said running to the balcony that overlooked much of the city.
As far as the eye could see there were charred remains of trees, grass, homes, livestock, and people. "Panther God help us," Zuri silently prayed as he realized the magnitude of what lay before them. "He has destroyed everything and everyone in his path."
"He wants T'Challa's panther totem," asserted S'yan, "and if he gets it he will be unstoppable."
"He looks unstoppable now," scowled Zuri, still unable to turn away from the horrific sight of piles of ash where people and homes use to be.
Turning to Shuri S'yan said, "Well my dear you always wanted to be Black Panther now is your chance."
Embarrassment and shame taking form Shuri said, "He doesn't want me he wants the queen."
With those simple words she had the three men's undivided attention.
"The Panther God wants Ororo to be the next Black Panther not me," she asserted again as if they didn't hear her the first time. Ignoring the stares she continued. "We need to find Ororo quickly before Morlun breeches palace security and locates T'Challa."
Shaking himself from his self-imposed daze S'yan finally said, "The queen is unavailable and will be for…I don't know how long."
Now it was S'yan who had all eyes on him. "It's a long story that I can't begin to explain right now. Just suffice it to say that thanks to the Queen Mother our best chance of defeating Morlun is somewhere in limbo right now trying to retrieve the king's spirit before death consumes them both."
Turning to Shuri S'yan said, "Whether the Panther God likes it or not you are the Black Panther until Ororo and T'Challa return, if they return," he said solemnly.
"We cannot go against the wishes of the Panther God," argued Zuri. "We will all burn in hell if we do."
"We will burn anyway Zuri if Morlun isn't stopped and I refuse to let more innocent Wakandans die because of my inability to truly learn the lessons my brother tried to instill in me," asserted Shuri. "My father and brother sacrificed themselves for their people and I will not hide and do nothing while others die in my stead. I may not be able to defeat Morlun but I can hold him off long enough for you all to transport T'Challa some place safe or until Ororo can join me in the battle."
The room went deathly silent and Zuri went to a closet and pulled out a black box. He presented the box to Shuri and said, "You will be our champion this day Shuri and a champion needs the proper attire."
Shuri looked in the black box and pulled out a panther habit that was clearly designed for her.
"Your mother had this made for you," admitted Zuri. "She would kill me if she knew I was giving it to you without the blessing of the Panther God but it is yours all the same."
Shuri forced back tears as she realized that her mother indeed had faith in her and had foreseen a time in which she would pick up the mantle of Black Panther.
The three men gathered around the young woman and said a brief prayer for her safety before they left the room to prepare for the demon spirit.
"You and W'Kabi stay here Zuri and help Shuri. I will go and retrieve the queen whether Ramonda likes it or not," declared S'yan as he walked briskly down the hall and to his transporter.
Shuri changed into the habit not feeling the pride or exultation that she thought she would after so many years of coveting the position. The Panther God is right, she thought to herself. I have to earn this honor and nothing I've done up to this point qualifies.
Shuri heard screams coming from the city below and then an eerie silence as Morlun overtook the military stationed outside the palace gates. Donning the Black Panther mask for the first time Shuri closed her eyes to pray. "I may not be the one that was or the one that will be but I am the one that is and I will lay down my life for those who are destined to come after. This is my promise, this is my decree. Hear me Panther God."
"I will have you eventually T'Challa," screeched Death. "Next time your wife won't be able to save you and your spirit will be mine." His mocking and angry voice faded into the background as the couple took the path that Ororo had lit for them back to the waking world.
Ororo gasped once then twice as her eyes slowly fluttered open. Kneeling over her Ramonda helped Ororo sit up anxiety evident in her mature features. "How are you dear? Are you alright, is there anything I can get for you?" she nervously blurted out avoiding the question uppermost in her mind.
Gaining most of her composure Ororo took in her mother-in-laws distressed features and looked around the room to see not only the witch doctor Zawavari staring at her but S'yan as well. They all had the same distressed look on their faces and fear in their eyes and she wondered briefly what had happened while she was in limbo.
S'yan walked over and helped the queen to her feet giving her a relieved smile as she accepted his assistance. Standing to her full height Ororo asked, "What has happened S'yan while I've been away?"
S'yan gave the queen a cliff notes version of the events and the battle that was taking place between Shuri and the Hatute Zeraze and Morlun. "They will not last much longer my queen without your help."
"I know this Morlun of which you speak S'yan and he cannot be defeated using conventional means," stated a tired Ororo. "We need to find the source. Someone called this demon and sent him our way and one way or the other I will make them send him back to the hell dimension from whence he came."
"I think I know who is probably behind this," exclaimed Zawavari.
"Why didn't you say anything before," S'yan said hotly as he contemplated knocking the witch doctor flat on his ass. "You crackpot, you have been withholding important information and…"
Ororo gently grabbed S'yan's arm and stood between the two men. Calmly she said, "Tell me what you know Zawavari so I can put an end to this horrible day and go see my husband."
The witch doctor told them all he knew about his brother who had been banned from practicing the dark arts by T'Chaka. Such dark magic was forbidden by the Panther God and T'Chaka had found out that Munya, Zawavari's brother, was still engaged in the craft. This was over thirty years ago but Munya had never forgiven the king or T'Challa who refused to reinstate his witch doctor license upon becoming King of Wakanda. He was an outcast in his own land and had waited patiently for the opportunity to take his revenge. Today's accident was his opportunity and he wasted not a minute of it when he conjured the Devourer of Totems-Morlun himself.
"Can it be undone?" asked Ororo as she retrieved and donned her covering.
"It can but he won't do it," stated Zawavari pessimistically.
"He will undue it even if I have to suck the last breath out of him myself. Now tell me where I can find him."
Before leaving Ororo turned quickly to Ramonda and said, "Go be with your son Queen Mother. He will be awaking soon and I don't want him to be alone when he does."
"What about you Ororo?" Ramonda asked voice high with concern. "Please take someone with you. You shouldn't go alone."
Appreciative of her mother-in-laws obvious concern Ororo affirmed, "I'm never alone. The Panther God is always with me whether I wish it or not. Besides," she said giving both S'yan and Ramonda a reassuring smile, "No transporter will be able to keep up with me and time is of the essence. Now please Ramonda put my mind at rest and be with T'Challa. I will be along shortly."
Ramonda started to protest but before she could Ororo disappeared in the wind that suddenly engulfed the witch doctor's sacrilegious abode.
"Come Ramonda," S'yan said. "There is nothing else to be done here. We are needed at the palace."
"She did it," mumbled Ramonda as she settled in the transporter. "She saved T'Challa."
"It is far from over Ramonda," S'yan stated soberly. Looking directly at his sister-in-law S'yan contended. "Your little plan could have cost us both the king and queen's soul." Ramonda looked away knowing he was right. "What did Ororo have to give up in order to bring T'Challa back from the brink?" inquired an angry S'yan.
"What do you mean?" asked a confused Ramonda turning her gaze back to the man sitting next to her. "There is always a price Ramonda. Witch doctors that practice dark magic cannot do so without a sacrifice being made. All their magic is dark not earth magic which means that something must be willingly given up in order for the ritual to be fully invoked."
"I didn't hear him say anything about a sacrifice," explained Ramonda remembering that Ororo and Zawavari spoke alone before the ritual began.
"Well just because you don't know what it is doesn't mean that Ororo won't be expected to repay him in some way. That is the reason why it is forbidden Ramonda. She will pay a price for your arrogance and ignorance," S'yan hissed. "I know you love your son but you never thought once about what you were asking Ororo to do. She doesn't know our ways and I'm sure that whatever she agreed to to bring T'Challa back from death's door isn't what she thinks it is. I have a horrible suspicion that the price is a lot higher than she imagines."
Ramonda turned away from S'yan again unable to bear his accusatory eyes any longer his words having already cut her to her very core. She had indeed been selfish and only thought of losing T'Challa. Never once did she think about Ororo's well being. She knew that Ororo's love for T'Challa would make her receptive to her plan in spite of the danger it posed to herself. Ororo trusted Ramonda and she had abused that trust. Now as she sat in the transporter heading towards a home that was being ravaged by a demon spirit and a daughter that may have given her life trying to save it, she wondered exactly how much she could lose this day and what Ororo would lose even if she managed to save Wakanda from Morlun. "Panther God save my soul. What have I done?"