Zelda Knight writes sci-fi and fantasy romance. She's also a cryptozoologist in training, as well as the publisher and editor-in-chief of AURELIA LEO, an independent Nebula Award-nominated press based in Louisville, Kentucky.

Zelda co-edited Dominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction from Africa and the African Diaspora (AURELIA LEO, 2020), which has received critical acclaim. She's currently co-editing the upcoming Tor.com Publishing anthology African Risen with Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki & Sheree Renée Thomas.

Keep in touch on social media @AuthorZKnight. Or, visit www.zeldaknight.com. You can also email [email protected]

Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki is an African speculative fiction writer and editor from Nigeria. He won the 2018 Nommo award for Best Short Story by an African, and was longlisted for the 2019 Nommo awards. He was awarded the 2020 HWA diversity grant and shortlisted for the 2020 British Science Fiction Association award. His novella Ife-Iyoku, Tale of Imadeyunuagbon is a finalist in the 2021 Nebula award. He co-edited the groundbreaking Dominion Anthology, and his fiction and non-fiction has appeared in Omenana Magazine, Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores, Tordotcom, Strange Horizons, NBC, and Uncanny Magazine.

He is a member of the African Speculative Fiction Society, Codex, HWA, BSFA, BFA and the SFWA.

You can find Oghenechovwe on Twitter @penprince_, or at his website ekpeki.wordpress.com.

Dominion by Zelda Knight and Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki

Dominion is the first anthology of speculative fiction and poetry by Africans and the African Diaspora. An old god rises up each fall to test his subjects. Once an old woman's pet, a robot sent to mine an asteroid faces an existential crisis. A magician and his son time-travel to Ngoni country and try to change the course of history. A dead child returns to haunt his grieving mother with terrifying consequences. Candace, an ambitious middle manager, is handed a project that will force her to confront the ethical ramifications of her company's latest project—the monetization of human memory. Osupa, a newborn village in pre-colonial Yorubaland populated by refugees of war, is recovering after a great storm when a young man and woman are struck by lightning, causing three priests to divine the coming intrusion of a titanic object from beyond the sky.

A magician teams up with a disgruntled civil servant to find his missing wand. A taboo error in a black market trade brings a man face-to-face with his deceased father—literally. The death of a King sets off a chain of events that ensnare a trickster, an insane killing machine, and a princess, threatening to upend their post-apocalyptic world. Africa is caught in the tug-of-war between two warring Chinas, and for Ibrahima torn between the lashings of his soul and the pain of the world around him, what will emerge? When the Goddess of Vengeance locates the souls of her stolen believers, she comes to a midwestern town with a terrible past, seeking the darkest reparations. In a post-apocalyptic world devastated by nuclear war, survivors gather in Ife-Iyoku, the spiritual capital of the ancient Oyo Empire, where they are altered in fantastic ways by its magic and power.

CURATOR'S NOTE

It's probably no secret at this point that I'm a fan of anthologies and this one shows exactly why. The depth and breadth of work from new voices across the the diaspora here is unparalleled. Step in wherever you like and revel in the world you find. – Tenea D. Johnson

 

REVIEWS

  • "The sheer range of the stories in Dominion is a testament to the genius of Black authors working around the world today."

    – T.L. Huchu, Award-winning and Critically-acclaimed Author of The Hairdresser of Harare
  • "Dominion is worth picking up not just for the wealth it contains, but because it's an important anthology, one that will help shape this decade of reading."

    – Cat Rambo, Nebula Award-winning Author and former President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America
  • "The Dominion Anthology contains an explosion of new voices and creativity from all across the diaspora. It's a feast of ideas that connects the old and the new, a song of new songs, and an exciting new collection of writers that I expect we'll see even greater things from in the near future."

    – Tobias S. Buckell, New York Times Bestselling, World Fantasy Award-winning, Hugo and Nebula Nominated Author
 

BOOK PREVIEW

Excerpt

Excerpt from "Convergence in Chorus Architecture" © Dare Segun Falowo

ONE

I

STRUCK

In escape from sword and fire of war, Osupa was born.

Osupa was the sixty-something members of various tribes that had escaped from war in the city of Ile-Ife. Osupa was the land on which they survived and thrived. Osupa was the perfect rectangle on which stood fourteen circular huts made of solid sunbaked mud, all roofed with dense layers of dried banana leaves.

At the center of Osupa was a shrine—a large box of mud with a roof of thatch, supported inside with the trunks of many young trees. This was where the Awo Meta (Fatona, Fagbeja and Awojobi) lived. The mud walls of the square hut were covered in chalk drawings of the moon and three orisha: Esu, Orunmila and Obatala, each bearing in their arm the object depicting their role in the machine of the oracle of Ifa. The oracle itself was not depicted, because you would meet it if you walked into the shrine.

They had found the smooth hard land of Osupa hidden behind a wall of trees and bushes full of thorns in which babies cried under the glare of a full moon, the bombs and fires kissing the sky behind them. It was Ifa who led them to Osupa. It was Ifa who spoke guttural through the throats and saw through the eyes of the Awo Meta. The people followed their calls and the sway of their white garb and pointed staves through the night and into the teeth of the forest until they found the flatland which seemed to have been prepared, waiting for them. The Awo Meta stuck their staffs into the earth at the center of the space and called it Osupa, the moon.

As a sacrifice, the people of Osupa dug out a square for the shrine of Ifa that night before they all went to sleep, but the Awo Meta and stayed awake, enchanting and drawing a ring of aabo (protective light) around the land that they had claimed. This made them invisible to the eyes of the demons, mercenaries and blood-drunk soldiers who would wander out of Ife in search of slaves and fresh kills.

In the morning, the Awo Meta showed the men—whose numbers were half that of the women—the breadth of the land, where the farm should lay and where the kitchen shed should stand. The men got to work cutting down branches and thatch to begin building. Outside the ring of light was a lake abundant with mud and from this lake the women collected mud in the large open gourds that once held their clothes and other personal objects.

While the people worked on their new houses, they forgot to mourn their dead; but after they had finished building their houses and the shrines, there was a loud weeping across Osupa by wives who had lost husbands and husbands who had lost wives and mothers who had lost children and children who had lost innocence.

The Awo Meta began to call meetings inside the shrine every seven days, teaching the people of Osupa songs of farewell to the dead, songs of healing and songs for the moon. And when the people sang these songs, the great sound of their hearts rose out of their mouths and travelled through the black night, seeming to touch the starry firmament above.

Osupa grew into its rhythm with the passage of three full moons. The widows found new husbands and sisters, and the widowers found new wives and brothers. The children were adopted by those who fell in love with them. There was bush rat and corn and yam and pepper and salt, and it wasn't rare to see the entire settlement of Osupa gather around fires to feast and dance and offer praise to Ifa and Olodumare for their survival. The aabo held strong and the war became like a bad dream that faded under the warm touch of a lover. Everything was going well. The people were in peace. The oracle and the three babalawos were joyous with their home and shrine.

Until Fagbeja threw cowries that flashed purple and filled the shrine with black smoke.

Until the storm came.

***

The Awo Meta did not tell the people of Osupa about the coming tempest. Instead, they told them that Olodumare was coming to visit. They made the people wear white and smear the blood of wild duck across their foreheads and thresholds, and then they made the people sing to Olodumare, the Fount and Cradle of All.

The Awo Meta partially believed their own lie and guessed the tempest to be the coming of a lesser orisha to cleanse their land through rain and flood. That night, enormous bulbous clouds rose black in the west, bleeding purple lightning and cold winds that made the forest howl. The people of Osupa curled up in their huts and prayed to Olodumare as the rain began.

***

The storm quieted just as dawn broke. Everything was heavy and wet. The water had risen to their knees and broken into their huts, lifting clothes and baskets of food and foundering the roof of the kitchen shed. Some huts, uprooted by the storm, lay half crumbled a distance from the line in which the other huts stood.

The people of Osupa began to fish for their belongings in the water. The shrine was unperturbed. Awojobi, the oldest of the babalawos—tall, with long hair plaited all back to his neck, and eyes laced with venom and kohl—called all the youth together and charged them to go check the damage to the farm. The older men set about rebuilding the broken huts. The Awo Meta prepared to cast a new aabo, the old one having been broken by the storm.

The clouds that had brought the storm remained heavy in the sky, casting their shadows over Osupa.

***

There were about twenty young men and women in Osupa. Most of them were orphans who had found new parents.

The quietest of these orphans was a young man named Akanbi. Wherever he went, he always wore on his head a gold and green abeti aja given to him by his father. It was woven with a rare heavy thread that made it stand firm.

Akanbi led the party of youth towards the edge of Osupa where the farm lay. Immediately behind him, walking side by side, were Gbolahan and Gbemisola Olohun, the twins with voices like heavenly trumpets. The rest of the youth were a distance behind, carrying baskets and hoes. But for those bonded by shared loss, no one spoke to each other. The only thing that brought them all together were the nights of praise when crop was abundant.

Akanbi stopped at the edge of the farm. The farmland by the slope was submerged by the lake which had burst its banks, so that only the tips of ripe corn poked above the still water like lumps of tangled light.

"Olodumare is angry at us for escaping our fate in the war." Gbolahan Olohun was melancholic in a way that only one possessed of so much beauty could be. "We are lucky nobody died," his twin sister said. "I think what the Awo told us to do helped. The duck's blood…we are safe. Thank our Fathers and Mothers Past." The remainder of the party arrived and gasped at the sight before them. Some swore under their breath against the orisha and Olodumare.

"Bring me baskets," Akanbi said. "And any one of you who can swim follow me, please." His voice was surprisingly deep for one so small and shy-eyed. He was ridiculously polite and told great stories about orisha and elemi, the spiritseen, punctuating the most fantastical and horrid episodes with a coy smile and a twinkle in his eye, swearing he knew because he came from a family with an ancestral braid that led back to Orunmila.

Akanbi took the basket and walked into the farm, slipping under the water with a silent splash, the basket trailing the surface like a ritual boat. Three other swimmers followed after him. Gbemisola could swim. Gbolahan could not and harbored the secret thought that his death would be by drowning. He stood at the edge of the farm with the others. Beside him, two girls spoke excitedly about the rage of the storm and the power of orisha.

It began to sprinkle light rain. The swimmers broke the surface near the middle of a row of cornstalks.

The storm clouds drifted, growing and stuttering, all lightning with no thunder.

***

The baskets slowly filled with wet cobs of corn and big red peppers. The swimmers drifted languorously through the submerged farm, rising to take breaths before sinking back into the underworld of water and wavering green stalk. Above, the morning light from the side of the sky not shaded by the storm clouds was milky, and nearly non-existent beneath the surface, but it was clear enough to see and pluck the softened harvest.

The storm clouds leaned into the morning even more and rumbled with new thunder. The boys and girls on shore began to call to the swimmers to return, feeling the drizzle was about to intensify.

The light grew dim and the air became cold again like it did the night before. The four swimmers began to approach the shore with three full baskets between them, kicking their legs and supporting the baskets with one arm while paddling with the other. The storm continued to roil, eating up the rest of the dawn without letting loose.

Lightning flashed and for a moment, everything seemed made from white stone. The returning thunder caused the earth to tremble and made most of them duck against their will. Gbolahan Olohun called on his sister to be faster. They still had to walk up the slippery underwater slope to set the baskets down before they could come out completely.

Two of the swimmers, tall brothers who lived close to the River Osun before the war, came out first. Akanbi and Gbemisola waited in the water to support the baskets from sinking. The brothers stood on solid ground just as the patter of light rain stopped. The remaining light took on an electric texture and the youth on the shore of the drowned farm wondered if their skins were glowing in the night that the clouds had brought.

A fork of lightning fell onto Osupa from above, pure and effervescent. The reporting thunder shook the earth deeper and all those standing fell to the ground, shivering from the sound. The baskets and the swimmers holding them slid back to the bottom of the farm.

Witnesses say they saw slow lightning touch the heads of Akanbi and Gbemisola Olohun with small bright hands.

***

They carried the lightning-struck and the dripping harvest to the village, running without a sound to conserve energy. Gbemisola's and Akanbi's bodies were limp and their eyes were rolled back to reveal only the white. The swimmer brothers and Gbolahan carried them into the shrine before the Awo Meta who were deep in a singular act of divination. The flat wooden tray before the babalawo was covered in fine white sand in which single or twin marks that told of many futures lay in vertical rows. They sat at its angles with their bodies held erect and eyes lowered.

Gbolahan was the first to shout for help, and his voice was so keen in its terror that Fagbeja and Fatona fell out of concentration. Awojobi rose to his feet in one sleek motion and was beside the tangle of bodies in a blink, asking questions. The brothers lowered the bodies of Gbemisola and Akanbi to the ground and stood back. Gbolahan shivered as he threw himself across his sister, caught between sobbing and silence.

"What happened?" Awojobi asked. Fatona and Fagbeja had recovered and were standing by his side. The three of them looked indestructible as a unit, as they had looked ever since the day they found Osupa together. Their eyes were hard as they stared at the situation before them.

"Lightning!" Gbolahan shouted to Fagbeja. "Lightning struck them while they were in the water. Aaaaah! Please help." Fagbeja, a small but mighty man with white hair everywhere, pulled Gbolahan off Gbemisola and give him several small slaps on his wet cheek. He wiped Gbolahan's tears with his pure white wrapper and told him to toughen up. S'ara giri!

Gbolahan swallowed the coming waves and yelled with panic, "Don't let her die, Baba!"

Awojobi was already in a crouch, laying his long-fingered right hand across the heart and temples of the fallen ones. Fatona was just as tall as Awojobi but had no single hair on his head. He pulled the swimmer brothers aside and asked more questions about the quality of the light and the air before the incident. When they responded, his mouth dropped in bewilderment. He turned to Awojobi, who nodded in confirmation.

The rest of Osupa was already gathered around the entrances to the shrine, some peeping in and others speculating.

Their work done, the stormclouds dissolved to let the late morning sun burn away the rain that had soaked into everything.

Akanbi's guardian, the old woman who he had clung to and helped as he ran away from the war, wormed her way into the shrine and limped towards where he lay. She put her hand to her mouth and stood as she watched Fagbeja send the people away from the entrances to pull down the white sheets of cloth that served as doors.

"What happened Baba Awojobi?" she asked quietly as she watched Fatona and Fagbeja layer mats and old cloth on the floor to make beds.

"Nothing, Iya Akanbi," Awojobi said, as he chewed a bitter root and his mouth turned dark green. "The children have just been called to see. They're dreaming vivid." The two babalawos lifted the limp bodies of Akanbi and Gbemisola and placed them on the two lengths of cloth.

"Dreaming?" Iya Akanbi asked.

"You won't understand yet, Iya." He put his hand on her shoulder and guided her towards the billowing door, where Gbolahan stood riveted, eyes on the prone body of his sister.

"Iya, tell the boys to bring us any dry firewood and oil and leaves that they can find." She nodded, still confused, and then walked through the cloth door. Gbolahan stayed. Fatona and Fagbeja had begun to lay out strange powders in lines around the beds they had made for his sister and Akanbi.

"Go and help them find dry wood, Gbolahan." Awojobi spat the bitterness from his mouth to the floor. "You cannot be here."

***

In one of the futures that the Awo Meta saw for Osupa, there was an exodus. In another, there was an expansion. They never saw the birth of two elemi, stripped of their skin by lightning, then called into the mind of Olodumare to see.

The three men, weary with worry over the fate of Akanbi and Gbemisola, walked around the fire that they had built near the heads of the dreaming ones. They had not slept all day and now the night was here. They could see the lanterns of the people of Osupa parading outside their shrine. They could hear people greet and console Gbolahan who had stayed outside since he and the boys returned with some dry thatch and wet wood.

The moon was a sliver of silver in the night above.

Fagbeja, an expert alchemist and brewer of potions, was boiling a broth, sweet and acrid, in a black pot on the fire whose warmth had managed to stop the random shivers of Akanbi and Gbemisola.

Awojobi and Fatona were undressing. They took off strings of charms and singular object-potencies from their waists and underarms, washed their mouths, armpits and faces with saltwater and wrapped their bodies in spotless white wrappers. They completed their armor by wrapping their heads and shoulders in shawls of knitted white aso-oke.

Fagbeja was already prepared and draped, his face covered completely in a mask of liquid chalk as he stirred his distillate of dream. Awojobi painted a circle around his left eye. Fatona drew twin lines from the center of his head to his jaw, slipping two fingers over his nose. They both stood by Fagbeja who put his hand into the red coals, picked up the pot and placed it gently on the floor.

"This is the strongest one I've made yet," Fagbeja said. "One large gulp and the spirit will forever be trapped outside the body, suspended in many dreams. We must take only six drops each. Enough to get us to them and not too much that we all can't return home to our bodies."

Awojobi, the oldest, was the weaver of light and the one who lived in constant trance already. He went first and lay on the bare ground opposite the fire, put his hands atop one another on his stomach and shut his eyes. He opened his mouth and Fagbeja placed six drops on his tongue. The distillate was terrible in its bitterness and the old priest's face crumpled as the liquid seemed to turn his tongue and throat black and sticky, then his face relaxed. His stomach filled with warmth and his tongue began to leak spittle sweeter than honey. He drifted to sleep.

Fatona, the healer whose body was sensitive as spider's web, lay down to the right of Awojobi and took the drops on his tongue. Bitterness darkened his insides, and in his sleep, sweetness bloomed.

Fagbeja went last, lying down and placing the pot next to his waist before taking the six drops onto his own tongue. His chalk-whitened face wrinkled, and he too went to sleep at the taste of sweetness.

***

Midnight crept by on long hushed toes. In the shrine, five bodies lay prone. The boy and the girl, covered in lengths of warm adire, lay to the right, three days asleep. Next to them, coals burned in a shallow pit, casting a glow of tender sunset across the dreaming bodies. The babalawos lay to the left of the pit, stiff as three logs on the bare earth.

Everyone in Osupa was asleep as if by some transference. Even Gbolahan Olohun slept beside the door where he had stood all day waiting for his sister to awaken.

In the sky above, three owls circled under the smile of a new moon.