The Griot of The Lost Refuge!

I bet you thought we forgot, but we honestly were way too busy at the time to bring you this the penultimate episode of the best animated cartoon miniseries never!

But here it is, the Episode Five of Derrick Ferguson‘s DILLON AND THE MASK OF AMIRI EZANA!

In today’s episode Dillon, Coco Brown, Fortune McCall and the Golden Lady are reunited in time to hear a strange tale from THE GRIOT OF THE LOST REFUGE!

We join our story already in progress…

Dillon and Coco were herded into courtyard. the ground was smoothed and paved in stone that displayed images of ancient warriors in battle with creatures beyond description, an apparent record of the history of the men and women who had surprised them when they approached the hidden city. Dillon was fairly sure that the city, this legendary “Lost Refuge”, had been hidden by something more than natural camouflage. He had spent too much time out in the wild tracking and discovering hidden temples and buried civilizations and there was always something – a marker of some sort, remnants or artifacts… something to indicate that people actively occupying or recently passing through an area had been there in fact as much as fable. The way the ancient structures they entered suddenly appeared was so sudden that it couldn’t be just a trick of light and landscape.

In the center of a circular courtyard, sat a heap of gray cloth, that took the form of a man as they came closer. It was hard to gauge his size and a grim hood obscured his features. From the stiffness of his movements, Dillon presumed the man was quite old. The head beneath the hood craned up but the face was still hidden in gloom despite the small fire blazing before him.

“Do they have it?” The hooded man’s voice was a rasp of sandpaper slowly scraping wood.

The soldier or guard in charge who brought them here nodded. “They do. It led them to us and through the gate without incident.”

“Good, good.” The gray hood nodded slowly. “Bring them closer.”

Dillon and Coco crossed the circle. Dillon’s gaze scanned the courtyard, taking in details and filing them away. Like the weapons his captors carried, the city wasn’t what it seemed to be. The buildings were smooth carved white stone and the architecture resembled what one would find on ancient mosques, but some of the windows were lit from a modern source of illumination despite there being no obvious power generation system that he had been able to determine. The place was a paradox of the ancient and some sort of hidden advanced technology. The “gate” that was referred to wasn’t something that could be seen – one moment, he and Coco were following Fortune McCall’s trail had been blazed an hour or two earlier through a thickly covered jungle, the next they found themselves on a cleared out plain, surrounded by soldiers, with the Lost Refuge laid out before them and no sign of the veldt anywhere near them. Before Dillon or Coco could react, the leader fired off an energy beam from the tip of his spear to discourage any resistance. The soldiers didn’t disarm them, which told Dillon they didn’t feel the weapons the pair had available to them weren’t a viable threat, so they went along quietly. As they stood in front of the hooded man, Dillon was beginning to think maybe he and Coco should’ve taken their chances at the clearing.

“Please, sit. Sit!” The hooded man motioned to several cushions set nearby, some in stone bench frames, but most piled high on the polished pavement near the fire. Dillon settled on those making certain that if the need arose, he could move quickly. Coco followed suit and Dillon could see she was sizing up their host and scanning the area around them. If the hooded man noticed or cared, he made no sign of it outwardly. As they sat, one of the soldiers stepped into an alcove and emerged a few minutes later with a plate of fruit and a pot of tea with three earthen cups. He poured, the drinks, the hooded man took a cup from the tray and sipped gingerly. “You may feel free to join me or not. I do not waste excellent tea and handpicked fruit from my gardens with poison or drugs. You are my guests and your presence is welcome.”

Dillon picked up one of forks on the serving tray, speared a slice of melon, studied it for a moment, and took a bite. The sweetness almost made his toes curl. He waited for the bite to go down and after a few seconds passed with no ill affect, he took another.

“Okay, so we’re welcome guests here,” Dillon said finishing the first slice and spearing a second with his fork. “Just guests that require twenty armed men with laser weapons to stand around while we make nice.” Dillon’s fork made an arc, taking in the soldiers standing alert and ready. “I sure feel cozy.”

The hooded man nodded at the lead guard who made a gesture to his men who promptly melted away into the corridors that led to the greater city beyond the courtyard. Besides Dillon, Coco, and the hooded man; the lead guard and three of his men remained in the courtyard but far enough back to be considered a respectful distance for conversation. “Good. Good. Now before we begin, I have one last loose end to tie up with you. Bring them.” The head guard nodded and disappeared for a few moments. When he returned, the Golden Lady and Fortune McCall were in tow.

“I return your friends to you,” the hooded man said. “They have served their purpose by getting you here.”

McCall and the Golden Lady crossed over to Dillon and Coco. “They got the drop on me, Dillon,” McCall began.

“Don’t sweat it,” Dillon said cutting him off. “They jumped us too, probably the same way.”

“Is that better for you, Mr. Dillon?”

Dillon started to ask how the hooded man knew him, but considering everything that had gotten him to this point, he simply assumed that his name had preceded his actual presence for a bit. “That’s fine. Thanks.”

“I presume you have questions,” the hooded man plucked a slice of mango from the plate. “I probably have answers to most if not all of them. However I have one first: Where is the mask of Amiri Ezana?”

Dillon knew, they knew he had it. He slid the pack he was wearing from his shoulders, fished around inside and pulled up the bag he had secured the mask in when he and Coco recovered it in Kaizaro. Dillon loosened the drawstring and pulled the opening loose.

The mask of Amiri Ezana was glowing for the first time since that night he first encountered it in the Golden Lady’s tower. It gently rose out of the bag and hovered obediently between Dillon and the hooded man. The fire was almost directly below the mask and the light of the flames cast shadows on the mask making it seem like a living thing.

“At last!” The hooded man exhaled heavily as if he had been holding that particular breath for several eternities with infinities to go.

“You didn’t say the mask did tricks, Dillon,” Coco said sitting next to him. She seemed mesmerized by the floating mask which held her attention, Coco’s focus went from the mask to Dillon. “What the hell is going on? What’s this about?”

“That, young lady, is why we are gathered here” the hooded man said. “It is a relic finally returned to its rightful home and it is time to fulfill the destiny it was created for.”

“And that is?” Coco asked.

“A story I’m about to share”, the hooded man replied.

“Great”, said Dillon, “You can start with who you are, what this place is and maybe explain why the mask is doing…” Dillon waved a hand in the direction of the floating, glowing mask, “…whatever the hell you call that.”

The hooded man chuckled softly. “The mask is doing what it normally does when it’s near one who has plumbed its secrets. I? I wear many names, Mr. Dillon, but for the next few moments, I am merely a griot with a story to tell. I trust you will grant me time to tell it since it is necessary you understand what has come before in order to understand what will follow.” Coco began to say something, but a look from Dillon made her pause. She was about to ask about what was following what, but Dillon’s look seemed to say that he wanted this self-appointed griot to spin his story uninterrupted. “As to the name of this place, it, like me has many names. Some call it the “Quiet Place”, others the “Palace of Whispers”, most know it as the “Lost Refuge” – but its proper name to us who live here is Chigaro cheMambo.”

Dillon thought he recognized the words, but couldn’t place the language exactly. He ran through a few phrases, things one picks up crisscrossing the globe over the years. No it wasn’t Kissi, or Maasai, or Jalaa… Shona, it was Shona. Something to do with kings…

“So ‘Land of the King’?” Dillon asked.

“Seat, Mr. Dillon, Seat of the King to be exact.” The griot nodded beneath is hood. “You are as advertised and as expected, Mr. Dillon. Very good.”

Dillon looked surprised. “Seat of the King? That’s —“

“Correct again, Mr. Dillon. That is a story from your childhood, is it not?” The hooded man took another sip of tea. “I trust I have your full attention now?”

It was Coco’s turn to look at Dillon in surprise. “The Seat of the King? What are you two talking about?”

Dillon spoke, but did not take his eyes off the griot as he answered. “The Seat of the King is part of a legend of a wandering warrior king who was considered to be one of the greatest protectors of Shamballah and was the first true Warmaster of Liguria. But…” Dillon’s expression was intense, like he was trying to pull a detail from his memory that refused to budge. “…no, there’s something else. The details are right, but they’re not right at the same time.”

“Considering the last time you heard the story, you were probably a boy, that is astoundingly good, Mr. Dillon.” The griot was staring right at Dillon and yet the glow of the firelight couldn’t penetrate the shadow the hood cast to clearly make out the man’s features. “The part you missed was the warrior’s original home before he began his travels and why he was wandering the world in the first place.”

“A castaway warrior king,” Dillon said absently. It was obvious he was trying to pull together the details of the legend he recognized. “He caged a demon, but his people cast him out because he became the monster he defeated.”

“Their belief was the warrior king became the evil he fought. The truth was he finally found clarity. He became both the light and the dark,” the griot said. “He became sure of his purpose and that purpose was to lead. To rule. To eradicate the darkness with light and if that wasn’t possible, with a greater darkness than what his foes could muster.” Coco started. She was fairly sure that the griot’s voice was changing, becoming richer and less raspy. “He, and his followers, were cast out of their lost paradise into the world outside by those who feared the power he discovered. To insure that he was never able to return, they locked away his access to their realm by hiding their land from human eyes as well as his own.”

“But not before draining away some of the power he gained.” Dillon’s eyes seemed to focus on some distant marker in his past that no longer existed, but nonetheless foretold of a hazard to come. “It was said they took the very heart of his power as he was exiled. That energy was locked away in a totem and…”

“Patience, Dillon,” the griot said. “There is more to tell. For a time the warrior king wandered the world until he and his followers found Shamballah. They fought, and even ruled there. They formed the core of what would eventually become the Warmasters of Liguria and were also the source for many of the martial arts found throughout what you call Asia and Africa. Their battles were glorious! The Pale Colossus of Shanto, The Night Lords of the Bygone Land, the Deathwalker, the Fourth Child of Doom – so many foes and each one that was defeated restored some of the power the Castaway King.

As they journeyed through the outside world, their fame brought them followers. Warriors who thought that they could become part of the legendary band, but at best could serve as vassals. Pieces to employ as agents among the peoples of the outside world.”

“Like the Azure Dragons,” Coco said.

“Yes, child.” The griot’s hood dipped slightly in her direction. “The Dragons were probably the greatest and most loyal of those outside the Castaway King’s circle of true warriors. Their enthusiasm at being considered the elite among their peers made them the perfect arm into the outside world while the Castaway King and his people looked for a place to settle and wait until they found the means to return to their homeland. Eventually they found an area that was lush, green and full and this place was built as a home to those who served the Castaway King.”

“So this ‘Castaway King’ is dead and gone by now, right?“ Coco’s sentence trailed off as she saw the stricken expression on Dillon’s face. “Dillon?”

“I don’t think so, Coco…” Dillon stared hard at the mask as the light it radiated intensified. He frowned and started to reach for his gun.

The Golden Lady took in a sharp breath. “Dillon the mask!”

“Ah,” the griot rose from his sitting position to his full height and towered over Dillon who rose at the same time. “You’ve figured it out, but you’re too late!” With a savage jerk, the griot tore away his hooded robes to reveal a powerfully built black man with a well groomed goatee covering strong features. He snatched the mask from the air and placed it over his face. As he did so the mask seemed to melt into the flesh it touched and as the man took his hands away from his face, Dillon and Coco saw that the two had somehow merged. The markings on the mask; the gold and pearl crown were now blended into his features.

“And I have you to thank for reuniting me with the totem that held the last of my power. I am Amiri Ezana, the Castaway King, and the one true Warrior Lord of —“

“Usimi Dero,” Dillon said with a whisper.

Amiri Ezana smiled and the aspect of the mask that conformed to his features stretched them into something hideous – an expression that bore the mark of evil and madness behind the pools of molten gold his eyes had become.

Coco placed a hand on Dillon’s shoulder as she looked up at Amiri Ezana. “So how exactly does the legend end?”

Dillon looked at her and pulled his Jericho. “Doesn’t matter, C. We’re gonna have to do a rewrite.”

“I was really hoping you weren’t going to say that.”

Amiri Ezana laughed. “I’m afraid I’ll have to disappoint you, the children of Usimi Dero are going home. It is a truth that is out of your hands.

“Don’t think so,” Dillon replied. “You just melded with a mask from a time when you were bat-shit crazy,” Dillon took aim. “I think the last thing I’m about to do is let you go on a field trip to the old neighborhood and see what goes down next.”

“Pity,” Amiri Ezana said with the hint of a sigh. “I’ll just have to destroy the world without an audience.”

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