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ready for a war (again)

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Who gon’ pray for me?
Take my pain from me?
Save my soul for me?
‘Cause I’m alone, you see.

— From “Pray for Me” by The Weeknd & Kendrick Lamar

 


 

 

First, Baba… now, my brother… we didn’t even get to bury him.

After her brother was tossed from the falls, her mother told her that this pain they were suffering was not a pain humans were made to withstand.

When Okoye reported the loss of their beloved King, crumbled to ashes to be scattered like dust in the wind before her very eyes, Shuri did not want to believe it. A young woman of science, though firm in her faith, required evidence. Surely, Bast would not be so cruel to rip her brother away from her a second time—in so short a span of time. When her mother’s guards reported that the same had happened to her mother, Ramonda, the princess could not weep.

This was not a pain any human could withstand and she would have to.

She was no longer just human now.

At the sudden, unexpected passing of her brother, she was next in line to inherit his responsibilities. As it stood, Shuri, at sixteen-years-old, was now the youngest ruling monarch that Wakanda has ever known. She was now Queen of Wakanda—and Black Panther.

It took several hours for Wakanda to reclaim some semblance of stability. The same could not be said for the rest of the world. After all, the sudden disintegration of half of the world’s population was certain to send everyone and everything into a maelstrom. As Queen, she had to think of Wakanda before she dared fulfil her brother’s mission of helping the others recover from a tragedy that none of them had ever dared imagine. It was like in those instructions on primitive aeroplanes: put on your mask first before you took care of the helpless children next to you.

You cannot care for others if you are in no fit state to do so.

And yet, and yet—hardly anyone had bothered to think that they might extend that same decency to a sixteen-year-old girl who had just lost her entire family at the blink of an eye. Or at the snap of Thanos’ fingers. At each turn, they asked her what they were to do about the damage to the outer borders or the palace. The remaining Elders sought her action, imparting instructions before they even thought to give their condolences, much too preoccupied with the state of their people.

For the most part, she understood. Yet part of her hated them for it all the same.

There were no bodies for her to bury. There was nobody left for her.

Still, she did not weep.

She borrowed her brother’s stoic expression and determination to serve, her mother’s regal and uncompromising stance at the face of adversity, and her father’s wisdom and tenacity in this new era they had all been thrown into. She was a Queen now, she had to remember that—though she felt more as if she were three-years-old again and simply borrowing her brother and mother’s clothes. Nothing about it fit right.

At the passing of her brother, the Elders were quick to arrange the rites—a third Challenge Day in just as many months. The youngest monarch in her country’s rich history, the first Queen of Wakanda in a hundred years, and the first Queen to be challenged with foreigners invited to bear witness. A historic crowning, to be sure, and yet all she could think of was that she was fucking exhausted.

Heart heavy with the shadow of a crown, there was no time to grieve.

Shuri had given the remaining Avengers leave to stay in Wakanda to lick their wounds before they would depart in an attempt to rectify the situation. As if the situation could be rectified at all. A Sisyphean attempt.

You cannot fix death—even she knew that. She has tried.

 


  

Shuri sat in the jet, uncharacteristically silent. Before, she would have insisted on flying manually. She had loved the feeling of her technology at her fingertips. Something about it had made her feel like the Goddess herself—whatever it was that she imagined, she could tinker with it and give it life. Now, she felt as if all life had drained from her.

The jet’s engines were quiet. She could feel the soft, almost unnoticeable vibration of her surroundings. Shuri said nothing, closed her eyes, and simply clutched her spear and shield tighter at every passing moment. In this self-made darkness, she sighed through her nose. Her teeth chattered. A tear ran down her cheeks.

“I am so sorry,” said Okoye, sat in the middle of the guiding system as they flew toward the falls.

“It isn’t your fault,” she replied. Softly, almost a whisper, with no trace of bitterness underneath; logical to a fault, she knew it was not her fault.

“It should have been me,” said the warrior. “I was right there. It should have been me.”

“Okoye,” said the young Queen. “You are not to blame—none of us are. The enemy has a name; you know this.”

“Still,” said the woman. “It is not fair of them to bring this upon you so soon.”

“It is our way,” said Shuri. “And besides… we all need something that feels… normal right now. After it all… something normal would be good. Even for just a little while.”

“Your brother would be so proud of you.”

Shuri managed a tearful smile. “I know.”

At the falls, the drums beat for her. The sight of her people – bright and colourful – made it feel somewhat better. They were still alive, she thought, and they were worth fighting for. They were worth protecting—and she was their protector now. At the side of the falls were the remaining Avengers on one of the carriers, bearing witness out of solidarity. Some of them, her brother even considered friends.

It made it easier, somehow, to deal with it all.

None of the other tribes, not even the Jabari tribe, challenged her claim to the throne. Despite her stature and her age, they knew that her mind was Wakanda’s best chance of rising above this tragedy. They did not need a warrior—they needed hope.

And right now, a bright-eyed sixteen-year-old girl who had lost everything but still had everything of herself to give was exactly that.

 


 

 It was lucky, the Elders said, that the Keepers of the Heart-Shaped Herb from eons ago had thought to keep spare seedlings hidden at the event of a catastrophe.

After the Killmonger situation, they had worked to restore the soil and the plant back into its state. Though it was not quite yet the vast garden that it had once been under Zuri’s care, it was enough that there was one plant mature enough to give her the strength of the Black Panther.

It tasted bitter on her tongue and like pure lightning in her veins. As she sunk into the warm sand, Shuri felt her body convulsing as the potion did its work. As a scientist, she could describe what it was doing. As a girl, she did not have the words to describe how it felt.

They covered her with sand and she grit her teeth with her arms crossed over her chest, taking it in.

They did not have to know that part of her wished she would not survive.

At least bury me, she thought.

 


 

 

The ancestral plane was not what she had expected.

Shuri rose from the ground coughing, brushing the astral dirt off of her astral form. Her clothing was white—pure, gleaming, and simple with little intricate details. Regal in every way.

Her hair in this state was natural as it fell down her shoulders, long curls reaching the small of her back. It felt good to remember what it felt like as she ran her fingers through her hair, thinking back to all the days her mother used to do the same.

The skies here were doused in purple and she was surrounded by panthers, each of them slowly walking toward her, and yet she was unafraid. After all, she was a panther now too.

One of the panthers approached her, closer than the others. Shuri held her breath.

“Brother?” she asked. Hoped.

But before her, the panther had transformed into someone else.

Indodakazi,” said T’Chaka, eyes kind and warm like she’d always remembered. He rested a hand on her cheek as her lips trembled. He brushed her hair behind her ear as he regarded his daughter. “Enhle.

T’Chaka smiled at her so widely that it made his bright, teary eyes narrow. His smile took up half of his face. And yet, for a long second, all Shuri could do was stare at her father. Patient as ever, all he could do was look at his daughter with all the pride and love that father should have.

He was not a perfect king, by all accounts. But he was a good father, at least.

Baba!” she cried out, finally, wrapping her arms around his middle. In her father’s arms, Shuri wept. She broke into broken sobs against her father's chest, her astral tears dampening his astral clothes. Her ancestors afforded her this kindness, this time to mourn—for where her people had needed her to be a Queen who could fix the whole world, in the arms of her father, she could simply be a teenage girl who had just lost her whole family.

When Shuri quieted, she managed to look around and she saw that the other panthers had transformed into the Kings and Queens of old. Past Panthers of Wakanda—even N’Jadaka was there, for he had been a Panther too, even if it was just for a little while. He flashed her a knowing, smug grin—his golden implants still gleaming even in the afterlife—throwing her a hand sign of peace.

“’Sup, queenie,” he said.

Erik?” she said. “But Baba—”

Her father looked at her with a light she could not name—the look of someone who knew something that you did not know. The curve of his lips gave the suggestion of a smile.

“Baba, I do not understand,” she said. “Happy as I am to see you, where is T’Challa?”

“T’Challa?” he asked. “Why would T’Challa be here?”

Her heart sunk.

“Because…” she started. “Baba, T’Challa is dead. That is why I am here. I am Queen now… right?”

“Shuri,” he said, hands on her shoulders now. “You have always been the brightest of us, my little one. Take a better look.”

All around her was the sight of her elders. She knew her country’s history by heart; she knew every single past King and Queen by name. Eidetic memory, she forgot absolutely nothing. Her brother, the Black Panther before her, should have been here. This was where the spirits of her ancestors come to linger and rest, parts of their energy never truly leaving this plane of existence, watching out for the ones who still lived in their universe.

The rules did not work in quite the same way here.

Shuri, for all of her science and cleverness and wisdom, did believe in Bast. Faith did not have to cancel out fact—the two were not mutually exclusive ideologies. The Goddess, after all, had been good to them despite the losses she has had to live through. She believed in the goodness of her Goddess. And yet, the question of the afterlife was not quite something she could grasp.

In the matter of science, everything rested from one state to another. Death was simply the next state of being alive. Energy would pass and transform into something else. For those who perished after having ingested the Heart-Shaped Herb, they would pass into these ancestral planes. Shuri did not know what happened here and part of curiosity wanted to ask, but there was a biggest question to ask here.

Where was T’Challa?

Her brother was dead, after all, as had half of the population of the world. Of the universe, if Thanos’ power was truly that awesome and terrible. So, why wasn’t his energy in these ancestral planes? Where was T’Challa if…

If…

If…

Her eyes widened.

“If T’Challa isn’t here, then he’s…” she started. “And mother… Nakia… all of them!”

The hair on her arms, at the back of her neck started to rise. Her father smiled—as did the rest of her ancestors.

“It seems, my child, that you have work to do,” said T’Chaka.

Shuri grinned, tears freely flowing from her eyes, and her heart swelled. It must be what hope feels like. She embraced her father one last time, squeezing him with all of her might. Her father curled into her and, for a moment, she wanted to stay in this embrace—protected and loved and cared for—all the rest of her life.

But there were things to do.

“I will miss you, Baba,” she whispered.

T’Chaka put his forehead against his daughter’s and together, they simply breathed this moment into their memory.

“It is one of my greatest regrets that I did not get to say goodbye to you. It is a kindness from Bast herself that I got to hold you once more, at least, and for that, I am grateful,” he said. “Now go, Shuri. It is time for you to be a sister—and a Queen.”

She looked up at him, nodded, and the world was once again made of sand.

 


  

Shuri rose from the sand, mouth dry and coarse as she coughed away the sand. The Elders were concerned by the glee in her laughter, fearing that crossing into the ancestral plane with the power of the Heart-Shaped Herb.

“My Queen!” said someone who was assisting her. She did not have the awareness to determine who it was just yet.

“He lives!” she said. “My brother, he still lives!”

“She has gone mad!” she heard a voice say.

“No, no—listen to me!” she said, newfound power coursing through her veins. She has never felt more alive. Her mind raced with possibility. “I went into the ancestral plane. I saw my father and he told me… my brother has not crossed over.”

“What does this mean, my Queen?” said an attendant.

“It means my brother is not dead but lost,” she said. “It means we have work to do.”