The man in the suit wiped the sweat from his brow. Christ, he hoped that they would wrap it up soon. The chanting grew more intense. "Father Iron, King of War!" the crowd sang in Haitian creole, "Lord of Fire! Hear us! Ride your horse!" The chwal was shaking in time with the music, the fabric of her long red dress flowing a split second behind her limbs.
He had always loathed these expeditions. The heat, the ignorant jabbering of the yokels, the way it reminded him of the old toothless man who sold charms and "elixirs" back in Libreville. The fact that so far the entire expedition had been a wild goose chase did nothing to improve his attitude. Five ceremonies so far and nothing to show for it other than one of his suits ruined by a stray spurt of chicken blood. The thought had occurred that O'Conner might just be using this an excuse to get rid of him. But then again, if O'Conner wanted someone gone, there was no ambiguity about it.
The chwal screamed and began to spasm. The chanting was growing to a fever pitch now. The man rubbed the ring with his thumb, reassuring himself that it was still there. All of a sudden, the woman fell to her knees, her head bowed. The chanting stopped instantly. There was no noise now besides the soft crackling of the torches. Even the ever-present crickets seemed to have grown silent in respect for the spirit. The man in the suit rolled his eyes.
"My balls! My balls are cold. Fetch me rum!" the priestess cried in a voice deep and gravelly. A member of the congregation silently offered her a clay jug. She snatched it from his hands and put it to her lips. She sucked down the mixture of rum, chili, iron filings, and gunpowder, draining the vessel in a single go. She gave a satisfied sigh as she smashed the jug against the earthen floor. "Ahhhh, it's been a while since I've been called this deep into the backwoods. Usually you yokels cry for help to some Rada bitch! What brings Papa Ogun to you tonight?"
The supplicants began shouting in Creole to the priestess, asking for help with the law, with a rival, with killing rats. The man in the suit stepped forward into the circle.
"Father Ogun!" the man cried in French, "I request a favor!"
The priestess whipped around to face the man. He caught her eyes and knew that this was a real one. He wasn't talking to some backass Vodou wannabe high on crowd hysteria. He was talking to a loa. He was talking to Ogun. "You speak proper to me, gason pòmdetè!" Ogun answered in an exaggerated French accent, "I remember little ones like you during the Revolution! Little shits, who had a little cash and thought they could pass as French! Forgot all about Papa Ogun as soon as you had a piece of land and a slave to fuck!"
The man considered several retorts before biting his tongue. It did not seem like a wise choice to insult a god, especially one from whom one is requesting a boon. He forced a smile instead. "Your godhood, I request a favor. You are King of War, yes? You saved the slaves from the French, you fight for right against might, no? Myself and my brothers, we seek your favor in a struggle against those who w-"
"I know who you are, Maurice Soglo. I know all about your fight against your masters. I know all the sneaky tricks little fucks like you tried to pull. Hiding, like little rats in mountains and caves and cities. Using your toys instead of fighting like men! Too scared to fight a better warrior head-on. I know how your idiotic revolt got started! Who do you think put the idea in their heads? But you failed, because you were weak" Ogun spat. His face twisted into a mirthless smile, filled with teeth. Maurice noticed that the chwal's teeth seemed much sharper than they had been at the beginning of the ceremony. "Give me one reason why you should have my help!"
Maurice took his hand from his pocket, displaying the ring to the god. "Because of this. One of the seals of King Solomon. If you don't help us, I can seal you inside an empty beer bottle for the next ten thousand years." He spoke slowly and deliberately to keep his voice from quaking.
A murmur ran through the crowd and steadily grew into a chorus of angry shouts. How dare he threaten their god! That little French chi-manjè! A few of the supplicants stepped forward to grab the man, but Ogun waved them back. He walked steadily towards Maurice, his eyes burning with rage.
"You think you, you, some puny ant-fucker, can threaten me?" Ogun bellowed. Maurice could feel the god's glare burning through him. "I am war! Metal melts at my command! Fire devours at my whim! Empires rise and fall as it pleases me! And you dare to dream of threatening me, you little pédé?!" He was very close now, close enough for the man to smell the breath of the god as it looked down upon him. In some distant corner of his mind, he thought that the priestess had been at least a half meter shorter than he.
"You may be a god, but even gods may die. Especially if they're helped along their way," Maurice replied as evenly as he could manage, "You are immortal now, but you can be trapped, where you can't answer prayers. How long, then, do you think your followers will wait? A decade, maybe two, before they move on to a different god. Then you will be mortal. Just a sad sack of rum and shit, alone and forgotten. Except by us. We make sure that everyone gets his due. Do you really want that?" The man's mouth went dry as he spoke.
Ogun's nostrils flared as he considered the threat. He burst out laughing.
"Ahahahaha! You threaten a god and you don't back down! That takes guts! I like you, pòmdetè, you've got a dick!" Ogun slapped the man on the back causing him to stumble forward slightly. "If only the other fighters had as much balls as you!"
"All of you," Ogun said, making a sweeping motion to the assembled crowd, "should take note of this man! He fears nothing! Alright, pòmdetè, you shall have my blessing! Henceforth, your enemies will never be able to destroy you! They may hurt you, but you shall always recover. And in exchange…" The god paused for a moment, "I want some of your toys. Next time I see you, you had best have some prepared!"
"But I-" Maurice started.
"Pòmdetè," Ogun said coolly, "you have already argued with a god once today. Do not attempt it again."
"R-right" Maurice stammered. He made his way to the edge of the circle, which parted to let him pass. As he slipped away into the dark night, he heard the sound of the yokels pleading for Ogun's favor in rat-killing or law-evading, or whatever it was that they needed. After a minute of walking, he knew that he was alone. Suddenly, the enormity of what he had done hit him. He had bluffed a god. A god. And what was more, he had come out ahead. The stress and fear that he had pushed to the recesses of his mind came flooding back. His knees began to shake. Before he reached the car, he had vomited twice. Wiping his mouth on his sleeve, he started the car and began the four hour drive back to civilization.
By the time he reached his hotel in Port-au-Prince, the sun was already rising, its light just creeping above the shanties of the outer city. He parked the car by the curb of the hotel and headed inside. Soon, he was in his room, dialing a number that he knew but did not know. The after the third ring, someone on the other line picked up. "Yes?" asked a soft voice.
"He went for it. But there's a catch," Maurice said as he laid on the bed.
"What catch?" the voice on the other end hissed.
"Can't talk about it here. Nothing too big. We might have to rearrange some holdings is all. It was worth it," he said calmly. The only response he received was a click and a dialtone as the line went dead. He hung up the phone and went to run a bath. Fuck them, he thought. Let them try to bargain with the embodiment of war if they want to keep their "anomalous objects" so bad. Besides, it's not as though they could complain; the Chaos Insurgency now had its first patron.