Plame abandoned us on the edge of the Asphalt Sea, forty miles south of Detroit. Even the spirits of the air cannot intrude on the dominion of a beltway lord, and Lord Nader casts his wards wide. I recall little of my journey through the corridors of magic, except that it was cold, and windy, and full of the chattering gossip of the unburied dead.
The Asphalt Sea balked us for a time, as it balked all who would encroach upon the domain of Nader the Lame. The vast, featureless plain of bubbling bitumen smoked in the noonday sun, and stretched as far as the eye could see. Beyond it, Detroit – a gaudy emerald in a silver setting – beckoned us onward.
“We travel by night,” the man Obama ordered. “Anyone caught by sunlight on that ebon expanse will be roasted alive. Naught but bone and ash will remain.”
“It will take more than a night to cross that sea,” I observed. “What will we do when the sun rises and we are only halfway across?”
“I have prepared for that eventuality,” Greenspan said, but would reveal no more.
I’ll not recount that night’s difficult journey, nor how the heat came up through our boots til the soles of my feet smoked, nor how my skin crisped even in the night air. Obama lead us single file across the Asphalt Sea, dragging behind us a sleeping Schwarzkopf in a trundle made from two children’s wagons. When the sun threatened to broach the horizon, Obama called a halt, and the Bear-sark was rolled off his cart to reveal a roll of canvas the size of a stout man. Greenspan unfurled it into a magnificent silk pavilion, made from cloth that shone like silver. When I marveled at its construction, Greenspan explained that it was enchanted with the ancient runes of Goretex. We spread it upon the ground and slept in comfort all that day.
The second night’s journey was marred by only one unusual occurrence, around the fourth bell, as a shrieking whine split the desolate silence of that black plain. A heart’s beat after the cry, a pair of broad black shapes that filled the sky for an instant, and then we were bathed in the winds of their passage. Schwarzkopf snorted, and rolled over in his sleep.
“Birds?” someone asked fearfully. “Wyrm-shrikes? Thunderbirds, perhaps? I’ve heard that Colorado Rocs can grow that big.”
“Nay, tis the Texas Air National Guard,” Obama answered. He halted, and stared into the distance, watching their flight: he had the best eyesight of any of us, for, as all well know, he spent his childhood in the wafting kite-city of Moloka’i where he was an apprenticed leper-seer, and spent many a night in vigilance against incursions by the rotting ones. Deep consternation creased his brow, and even a touch of reproach. It is the closest I ever saw him come to anger. “King George sends them to make war on the north.”
“Against Canada?” I blurted. “That’s crazy.”
“They don’t call him the Mad King for nothing,” Brother Sharpton cackled.
The man Obama sighed. “King George has declared Canada to be an abomination, and bids his scythe-planes to harry it away from our border. The land, you ken, not the people. Every month a flight of planes takes wing from Fort Worth and makes the trek across the whole country until they reach the border. Many fall along the way, to the RonPaul's guns or the thunderbird's talons, or simple storms. When they arrive, the few survivor's dive at the ground and carve furrows in the tundra with their wing mounted blades until they exhaust their fuel.”
“Then they crash, and die,” Obama said with disdain. “Until the next month, and a team of brave young fools arrives to try and flagellate the earth itself. And so it will continue, until the world ends, or the northern half of the continent surrenders and sinks beneath the waves. It is a senseless thing, like so much that happens in these last days.”
“What do the people of the north think of this?”
“The Canadians are not like us,” Obama said shortly, and would speak no further on the matter.
That morning we reached the foothills of Detroit, and heaved a sigh of relief as we rested our toes in good loam and soft grass, instead of tar and rock. The bulk of Detroit stretched above us, a towering pyramid of stone, capped in dense foliage. We circled the mount until Obama showed us the single cobblestone road that spirals upwards into the city. “Step not from this path,” he warned, “neither to the left nor the right, for if you do you will be set upon by the guardians.” But of these he would reveal nothing.
We made one circuit of the road that day, and found ourselves staring down upon the place where we had first set foot on the path, over a cliff one hundred paces tall. This is the manner of the road into Detroit’s dark heart: it winds ever upward. We made camp upon the path, not daring to leave it, though fruit trees and sumptuous berry bushes sat invitingly only a few steps away. Eventually the man Obama became restless and foraged ahead while we slept. Soon we were awoken by his joyous laughter. We rushed up the road to find him staring at a copse of trees, within an arm’s span of the path.
“Potomac Cherry Trees,” he cried. “I had not thought to see their like again, after the Sundering. I had thought them all ensconced behind the source wall. Truly this is a blessing to our cause.” He plucked a berry from the tree and held it out to me. “Taste it.”
I did. “Sour,” I opined, and then my eyes widened, and I bent nearly double in shock.
“It takes people that way, sometimes,” Brother Sharpton said. “They are God’s own fruit, but they do contain too much for one man.”
“Once they were a gift, from the Emperor of the East to the Emperor of the West,” Greenspan explained. “Before the sundering, that was. Before even my time. Fruit of the Samurai, they were called. One single cherry is enough to sustain a grown man for a full day, both food and drink. Two cherries grant him the strength of seven men, though at the end of that day he will collapse and sleep for a week. Three cherries is instantly is fatal.”
“There is more to it than that,” Obama said mischievously, and he stroked the supple bark of the tree with his hand. Soon he began to sing in a high, sonorous chant. It contained something of the songs of the prairie larks, and something of Leonard Cohen. After a time, a miraculous thing happened; where he passed his hands over the wood, it changed shape. Soon, without using a blade, he had a branch of the tree shorn of leaves and smoothed into a simple staff, colored the crimson hue of the tree’s heartwood. “Potomac Cherrywood makes the finest weapons known to man or elf. A simple quarterstaff fashioned from it is stronger than steel, and light and supple as thought.”
He made twelve more, one for each of our number except himself, and Schwarzkopf. Obama never wielded a weapon in anger in the entire time that I knew him. “We are well armed now, I judge. As well as we aver shall be. Come, friends. We must make haste to the top of the city, for there we will find Nader, and take our counsel.”