Willie White Raven sat by his fire, watching the dying embers as the ring on his hand glittered in the dancing light. Sometimes it looked like a man’s face was carved in the turquoise stone, while sometimes it resembled a coyote’s. A splash of white marred his black hair as he stirred the coals in the fire ring with a stick.
He wondered sometimes why he had been given the ring by Coyote and Raven. Most days it was something he knew he had that was part of his nature. Just having it didn’t change him in any way, other than that now he could do things for others that they couldn’t do themselves. It also connected him to the spirits of the desert in ways he suspected were not meant to be.
Willie stared out over the whispering sands. Something swirled there, coming toward him low to the ground. He waited patiently for it to stop in front of the fire, and soon, familiar canine features winked at him laughingly. Fire rushed up his form, revealing his own fiery, half-canine form.
“Hello, brother Coyote,” Willie said calmly, his fiery fur casting dancing shadows on the sand. “What brings you to the real world?”
“Snake has decided to set agents on you,” said the spirit animal, his profile wavering as he shifted to regard his avatar. “He thinks that this will be a way to count coup on you for what happened with Bear’s treasure. We have tried to dissuade him with tales of your growing prowess. He does not believe us.”
“Really?” said Willie, trying not to laugh. “I wonder why he wouldn’t believe a creature of such honesty as yourself.”
“I have no idea,” said Coyote, a glimmer of amusement in his eye.
“Thank you for telling me,” said Willie. “I suppose an apology would be out of the question.”
“Snake is rather unforgiving,” said Coyote. “I suggest you be on your guard. I don’t have to tell you that Raven and I would be laughingstocks if he seized your ring as he plans. We would never be able to live it down.”
“I think you would have an easier time than I would,” said the American Indian easily.
“I am certain there would be no lasting harm to you other than the loss of the gift we gave you,” said Coyote. “Being laughed and gloated over by someone like Snake would be a lot worse.”
“I’ll take your word for that,” said Willie. “I will do my best to not let that happen to you.”
“I know you won’t,” said the shifting sand before it collapsed in a small pile.
Willie blinked as his fiery form poured back into the ring around his finger. The glitter faded as he made himself comfortable on the ground and allowed himself to sleep. Whatever Snake’s challenge to him was, he didn’t think it would occur in the middle of the rugged terrain. The spirits had wanted him to know what was coming and why. Whatever happened would happen soon, but he could get some sleep first. He was sure the attempts on him would commence when the sun began its climb from its place on the horizon. Then he could worry about Snake and his warriors.
Only, Willie tried never to worry about anything, and he had promised himself not to start over this new chain of events.
His name was Mr. Hex. He had taken that name from his father. He had also taken the old man’s weapon — a wand that allowed him to shape matter to a certain extent. It was pitifully easy for him to amass wealth with it.
The old man’s only goal had been to kill Ibis the Invincible, but he had always failed in every way. Then, when Ibis had been shipped into space with the Marvels, he had turned his hatred against the Star Patrol. He had lost again and again. No matter what he did, Ultraman was there to put a stop to it.
The younger Hex took the wand after poisoning his father. He amassed his fortune without any challenge to his supremacy, and his empire was now massive, but he had no challenges to his ability. He was bored.
A swirl of smoke drifted around the room from the lit fire in the hearth. It reared up, a triangular head forming at one end of the eddy. Embers formed eyes in the nearly flat line.
“I wish to speak to you a favor,” said the serpentine mist. “Will you listen to me, human?”
“Go ahead,” said Mr. Hex. “I have nothing but time.”
“A man possesses a ring,” said the smoke serpent. “I would like that ring if you can get it from that man.”
“What do I get out of this?” said Mr. Hex, sitting forward.
“You get a challenge such as you have not ever had before.”
“I will accept your proposition,” said Mr. Hex.
The serpent appeared in other places to gather its warriors. Some were lured by promises of profits and glory, others by a new challenge to test their skills. When he drifted into being at Bladesworth Prison for Women, Snake knew what he needed to lure his last warrior. Wealth and power would not sway the woman he appeared to as a crack in the floor. Cory Ferris cared for neither of those.
“What do you want?” said the prisoner, puffing on a cigarette.
“How would you like to get back at the men who put you in here?” said Snake. “I can arrange a chance for you.”
“What do you want?” said Cory, throwing the butt to the floor casually. “I don’t think I have a soul to trade.”
“I just need the ring off one of the men’s hands,” said Snake, wondering for the first time if he was making a good choice or not. “Will you do it?”
“I don’t think I’ll be much help in here,” Cory said, waving at her cell.
“Here’s your ring,” Snake said. The crack shivered, and a ring with a large diamond in it protruded from the fissure. “I trust you know what to do with it.”
Cory smiled, putting the ring on her finger. Energy flared around her hand, blowing the wall out. “I’ll get your ring for you,” Cory said, leaping through the hole in the wall.
The crack in the floor closed up as Snake left.
Mr. Hex descended to the desert where he had been told others were assembling to get the ring from the phantom snake’s enemy. He didn’t recognize them and knew they wouldn’t know him, especially in the disguise he had crafted.
This was a game to him. He didn’t want it intruding on the other aspects of his life. His father’s experience had taught him where to draw the line. Nothing was more important than his privacy and freedom.
The others waiting for him to arrive seemed ordinary in every way, but he knew that was as misleading as the idea that his hex wand was just an ordinary piece of wood.
He idly wondered what these others could do, but he mostly wondered about the man he had been asked to hunt. He knew that the thing that visited him was as powerful as anything he had met in the spirit world. Its enemy must be in command of wondrous abilities indeed.
“What do you think, Coyote?” Raven asked, staring into a stream from a tree branch. “Snake has assembled some impressive mortals to get even with our mortal.”
The canine grinned slightly. “The only one we have to worry about is the child of Set,” said the trickster, the scene in the water changing to show Cory Ferris getting into a car on the highway. “She’s the most dangerous.”
“Should we get assistance for our brother?” said Raven, with a small flap of his wings.
“Let’s see what happens,” said the Coyote. “Snake did ask us not to interfere.”
“Let’s watch,” said the Coyote. “Willie has shown us that he was a good choice without our gift. Let’s see what he can do with it.”
“Do you mind if I say you are insane?” Raven said.
“We can always bet on it,” said Coyote with a sharp, barking laugh.
Willie White Raven awoke with the sun and looked out over the desert, enjoying the tans and yellows of the scene. He built his fire up, cooking enough water for a cup of coffee and taking the time to enjoy it. It could be his last.
When he was ready, he decided it was time to start figuring out who would be coming after him. If he could figure out what they could do, he could use that against them. He decided to head over to the state police lab and talk to someone there.
When he had helped round up this female criminal Cory Ferris, who had recently been nicknamed Diamond Jill by the media, he had found out that one of their forensic scientists had an ability to move faster than lightning. That had been a big help with the crazed Ferris. Maybe, Willie thought, it would be a big help if he could persuade the speedster to help him locate Snake’s helpers before someone got hurt.
There was no doubt that Snake would assemble the most ruthless people he could find to try to stop Willie. But he was equally determined to teach the spirit a thing or two about human ingenuity.
Willie knew approximately where the State Forensics Laboratory was, and he headed across the desert in a straight line. His gift would allow him to move quickly without having to call up its full power. He knew that as long as he kept on the move, it would be harder for Snake to tell his thieves where he was in the desert.
That was little protection, in his opinion, but attracting attention before he was ready was equally as bad. He didn’t want a fight on even ground where numbers would overwhelm him. He wanted a fight where he could win a decisive victory that would net him a good catch for the police. Hopefully, it would also ensure he wouldn’t be bothered by this nonsense again.
Willie walked across the desert rapidly, hitching rides when he thought he wouldn’t be noticed riding by drivers. The wind sang to him as he rode along, and he reached the lab two days later.
He paused in the parking lot, trying to decide how he would put things. He tried various opening lines in his mind as he thought it through. “Hello, I am the avatar of Coyote, and I need your help to stop some unknown assailants gathered by the irritated Indian spirit known as Snake.” That just seemed silly to him when he said it out loud.
As he watched the building, he tried to come up with something. Then he saw the man he wanted to talk to step out of the building. He went over to a topped Jimmy with CSU emblazoned on the sides and the State Police seal on the doors.
Willie decided to rush forward and at least try to talk to the man. Something would present itself like it sometimes did. “Excuse me,” Willie said, waving a hand to attract the lab technician’s attention. “Can I have a moment of your time?”
The technician looked up, pausing with the door to the Jimmy open.