Silas Nash had never been in a riot before. He tended to arrive in places after the riots happened, or sometimes, just before. He was not a riot officer. He was very glad for all of these facts. A riot was humanity at its worst. People got panicky in large groups. A single thing set someone off, and suddenly, everyone was angry at ‘the other’. And a man in uniform was always the other. Things were destroyed in riots. Businesses were lost in riots. Cops died in riots. Innocent people died in riots. The riots didn’t care, because they didn’t have a brain.
It always started the same way. A group of people. Angry and frustrated because something had hurt them, and they had no idea what to do in response. So they gathered together and stewed and got mad until anything could justify violence. Sometimes, it was deliberate action by someone who wanted to see things go wrong. Sometimes, it was damn stupid cops. Sometimes, it was just the wrong word said at the wrong time. Suddenly, a group of calm, sensible, intelligent professionals became a pack of feral animals, looking for blood. And then, there was nothing for it but to let the anger burn itself out.
And Nash’s first riot was going to be a crowd of supernatural monsters and heroes from the heart of humanity’s nightmares. He took out his gun, and stared at it for a moment, as Pearl drove the car. This thing wasn’t going to do him any good. He carefully slid out the clip, checking it, and pulled the slide back. A bullet ejected, and he caught it in mid-air, popping it into the clip. Both items went under the car’s chair. “You don’t want to go into this armed, huh?” Pearl asked. Her body was bent forward under the stress of the last couple of days. Her eyes were rimmed with bruised purple skin like a raccoon. He wasn’t sure she’d been sleeping right. But her driving was as smooth as silk.
“Would it help?”
Pearl laughed softly. “Probably not. Even if they were normal people, all it would do is kill them and piss everyone else off. As it stands, it won’t even kill them.” She sighed softly. “I didn’t think things would decay this fast. I really thought everyone would be able to hold it together. At least for a little while.” She looked very sad.
“People are people, even when they’re not technically people.” Silas muttered. The car drove on. “Do you think that there’s a chance that this is going to end peacefully?”
Pearl sighed. “Maybe. If we’re really lucky.” She frowned. “The racial tensions… I never really thought about them. Those were concerns for humans, you know? Petty, silly little differences of ethnicity. We’re supposed to be more ancient than that. Beyond that. I thought we were living in peace because we were better.” She stared at the road ahead. “I guess we were just tranquilized.”
“Well, you’re only human.” She turned towards Nash, frowning, and saw the smile on his face. She couldn’t help the grin that spread across her pretty features, or the soft laugh that filled the air between them.
“For better or for worse, right-” The car screeched to a halt, and she swore loudly, as they turned a corner and nearly ran into the column of pedestrians. Pearl pulled to the side of the road, parking, as Nash undid his seat-belt. There had to be a hundred people in the column, walking together in grim silence. They were still about a quarter mile away from the development where the Japanese population was largest.
The city layout had been explained to Nash on the drive. The Greek settlers had mostly built homes in the rural area around the city. They had settled down among the hills back when the area was primarily rural. The Japanese had moved in, filling the large lot of suburban housing near the city center. And the Native American population had consolidated along the shoreline, primarily in a pair of large apartment towers that had been built in the late 70s, and sat overlooking Lake Ontario, just beyond the suburban areas. It was like a snapshot of 20th century housing structures, all rolled together.
Walking down the road were scattered groups, gathered together from the different houses among the hills and valleys around the city. Some had walked there. A few had driven. All of them were quiet. There was none of the shouting, or menace, or waving of hands that were usually found in a riot. That would have made it less frightening, less focused. There were just a hundred or so people walking down the road, with cold steel in their eyes, towards the Japanese neighborhood. Visible a little ways down the road, sitting in a fold-out chair, Irayama Onnashi was seated on the outskirts of the suburban area. She looked completely unconcerned, staring down the mob as they approached. The elderly woman had two cigarettes in one hand, and a large can of beer in the other. She took a swig from the beer as Nash met her eyes. She’d dressed in a pair of sandals, a jaunty pair of too-tight-for-her-age jean shorts, and a tie-dyed shirt. A gold chain hung around her neck, with a wedge-shaped black gem hanging from it. Two deputies, and Sergeant Dio, stepped out of a side street, between Nash and Irayama. Nash fell into line with the column. The people in the group gave him cold looks, from time to time. He just did his best to not look threatening as he approached the head of the crowd. Megara Drakos walked, with the perfect poise and calm of a queen. She did not seem to notice her entourage. She moved as though nothing could stop her, and when she paused in front of Sergeant Dio, it was clear she did it only because she chose to.
Sergeant Dio was not a tall man, but he was built to thick proportions, arms thick, shoulders broad. He lifted a cigar to his lips, and lit it, taking a deep puff. He was dressed in his uniform, but the only weapon he carried was his baton. “No shotgun, Officer? No rifle? You’re not dressed to stop me.” Dio puffed on the cigar as Nash watched. His free hand hung at his side, just by the baton, but not quite touching it.
“I never needed a rifle or a shotgun to wound the gods, Mrs Drakos. May I ask why you have so many of my good neighbors and friends out on this beautiful day?” He puffed at his cigar again, his eyes hard. “It’s a good day for a barbecue, I have to say. Maybe you should all be settling down around the grill, enjoying a pleasant meal, instead of right here, trying to get past me.” He tilted his head to the side. There was a sound like a bag of walnuts being stamped on heavily as he cracked his neck. Nash winced, and slipped slightly closer, moving towards the two of them. They were standing barely a foot apart from one another. She was as tall as him, and they looked one another in the eye. The two deputies let out strangled cries, and the four or five individuals right behind Megara Drakos backed away, pained expressions on their face. It was as though a wave of pressure had driven them back. Nash couldn’t see Harry Constantinou anywhere.
“You forget your mortality so easily, Sergeant Dio. You wounded gods with the help of another god. Look around. There is no bright-eyed Pallas to help you here today. You are not up to this task.”
Nash stepped up. “Pardon me, Mrs Drakos.” Both of the figures turned their heads towards him, eyes sharp, expressions slightly surprised. He noticed the deputies and the people behind Megara regaining their composure. “I do apologize for representing the forces of law and order here, today. But do you mind telling us what, precisely, you’re doing?” She narrowed her eyes at him, and then seemed mildly offended when he did not crumple, broken, to the floor. She gave a haughty sniff.
“My stepson is dead. I believe I know the culprit. Do you wish to stop me? Even Sergeant Dio here would think very carefully about coming between me and justice for my children.” Sergeant Dio sucked on the cigar, a cloud of foul-smelling smoke growing around him, but he did not disagree.
“Really? Then why, exactly, is your husband not here at your side? Did he not approve of what you were doing? Or did you not tell him?” He could read the points he had scored off of her in the hatred in her eyes. So, she had an idea that what she was doing wouldn’t have sat right with Harry. That was very interesting.
“Ahhh, let her come. I’m not afraid of talking to the young lady.” Irayama’s voice called from down the lane. She was perhaps fifty feet away, and Nash, Drakos, and Dio all turned towards her at once. She was still seated, two cigarettes in her mouth, smoking industriously, a smirk on her face. Sergeant Dio stepped aside, with a reluctant frown, and the deputies flanked the column as they approached.
Irayama didn’t stand as Megara loomed in front of her. She had a faintly amused expression on her face. “So, the old mother thinks that she has all the answers, does she? You go to such great depths for revenge, all for a child who is not even yours. I can respect that, Drakos. But you could do with a little wisdom and clarity of thought.” Irayama took a deep puff from the cigarettes. “What makes you so certain that you have come to the right assailant, hmm? There are many people in this city. Many…” She sneered. “Monsters for you to question.”
Megara looked down at her, vision cold and haughty. “You presume too much, as always, barren woman. I know the people of this city. No one of my people would be foolish enough to take the life of a child under my care. No one of the indigenous would be so brazen as to insult me. It was you, your daughter, or the little green snake girl. You can tell me, and sacrifice the one responsible to my wrath. Or you can resist me, and I will take the blood I am owed by force. The choice is yours.”
Irayama sneered, and spat. The thick, black, tarry wad of saliva arced through the air in a perfect trajectory. It splattered against Megara’s cheek. The entire world held its breath, as the dark-haired woman stared. She didn’t seem to recognize that it had happened at first. Her hand raised slowly to her cheek, wiping away the tarry wad. She stared at her fingers for a few second, as Dio and Nash watched, tensed to move. It was a pointless exercise. When she moved, it was with the speed of lightning, and the unstoppable fury of an avalanche. Adrenaline pounded in Nash’s chest as the world seemed to slow down. Her fist fell like the Roman empire, promising a thousand years of darkness.
The fist struck something. There was a sound like an unbreakable plastic bottle being struck with a sledgehammer. The fist stopped in mid-air, a half an inch from the tip of the flaming cigarette. Irayama Onnashi laughed, a sound as rough and ancient as the grinding of continents. She pulled the two cigarettes out of her mouth, and flicked them out, onto the fine leather of Megara Drakos’ shoes. “The folly of passion and power. It always believes it can trump experience and planning.” Onnashi smirked. “I shall allow you to have your little temper tantrum, mother of monsters. All my children shall be safe under my skirt.” She sneered. “Would that you could offer your own child such a guarantee.” The Greek woman’s fist flickered out again. There was another tremendous noise, as Onnashi stood up. “You really should not have allowed me to build without your oversight, Drakos.” She sneered.
“I will destroy this! And you!” Megara shouted, as Onnashi turned away, without an apparent care. Megara turned to the crowd, dark fury in her eyes, as she walked. The crowd separated into two long lines. The tension in the air was growing thicker by the second, as people watched, eyes drifting from Megara to the point on the road that divided the city, now. It was at that moment that Nash saw it. One of the deputies had his hand on his gun. And behind him, her arms draped languorously around him, was the red-haired woman. She was whispering in his ear. The man’s eyes were wide and nervous, and he was tense. Silas tried to run towards him. It was too late. The gun came out of its holster.
“Mrs. Drakos! I am arresting you, under conspiracy to-” Megara turned, and her eyes flickered. There was a crack of thunder, as the man’s finger twitched. Megara did not even blink, as the bullet fell to the ground, leaving her face unmarked. It had turned into a small pancake of lead, which now rattled, red-hot, on the pavement.
“Run rampant,” she said. Her voice was barely above a whisper, but it carried clear across the silent street.
Deliberate provocation. Damn stupid cops. And the wrong word at the wrong time. That’s what made a riot. And with those words, the street exploded into violence. Angry people who felt powerless, which stung even worse because they were used to power. Bodies shifted, changed. Nightmare shapes erupted forth. A man nine feet tall, with the head of a bull, charged into the hapless deputy who had fired the instigating shot. There was a sound of meat striking meat, thick and weighty. A trio of enraged women, shrieking, talon-footed, with wings instead of arms, descended on the other deputy. All four were driven back by Sergeant Dio. He moved forward like a thunderbolt, the tip of his baton driven into the bull-man’s ribs with a sound like branches snapping underfoot. He brought it around in a great arc, striking the bird-winged women aside, letting out a fierce cry as he protected his men.
Nash stared into the eyes of a woman with long, messy hair, and a psychotic expression. Her fingernails were sharp as knives, and glittered. He stepped forward, and danced around her slashing blows, slipping around her. The crowd was spreading out, taking its anger out on the authority figures, empty huoses, trash cans, anything they could break. He danced and weaved, ducking under blows and twisting out of the way of errant strikes as people spread out. He danced between the random strikes, feeling the displacement of air from each attack as he raced after Megara. The crowd opened up, and he sped, every footstep finding solid pavement, never tripping or mis-stepping. A single word from her could end this whole thing right now. He reached out for her, grabbing her shoulder. She whirled, faster than him by far, and grabbed his collar, lifting him bodily into the air, her eyes flashing. “You are a very foolish man, Agent. Allow me to give you a lesson in wisdom.”
He grabbed her thumb, trying to pull at the point of weakness. There was no weakness to be found in her. All the strength in both his arms couldn’t even bend the digit back. She lifted her other arm deliberately, and curled her fingers into a fist with obvious relish. He didn’t even see her arm move as she slammed her fist into his forehead. There was no transition, no blur of action. One moment, her arm was cocked, and the next, the world exploded into stars and light. He went limp in her arms. She struck him again. The world went black.
He awoke in the squad car. Pearl was driving. Dio and the two deputies, all three looking the worse for wear, sat in the back. He reaches up to his skull, and pain blossomed. He felt like his head was only staying together out of habit. “Christ. What the hell is she?” he asked, grunting, his forehead aching.
“Echidna. Bride of Typhon, Mother of Monsters. One of the single most powerful, dangerous figures in the legends of Greece.”
“Shit. How do I stand a chance against something like that?”
Pearl looked across the seat at him. “You’re going to need Gene’s help. She’s been looking for you, anyway.”
Pearl dropped him off at the garage. Gene was standing in front of the building. The tall, brown-skinned woman was frowning. Someone had thrown a brick through the window on the door, which now hung open. The brick sat on the floor of the garage, in the middle of a small pile of glass. Nash approached her, and she turned, frown drifting back to a neutral expression. She sighed softly, waving a hand expansively towards the wall. ‘What a mess’. He nodded softly. Her body language was getting easier to read. She raised an eyebrow. ‘What do you want?’
“I need your help, Gene. I know what you are. And I need the power that you have to offer.” He straightened his back, feeling like the situation deserved a bit of decorum. She pointed towards the window. “The riot?” She nodded. “You want me to stop it.” She nodded again. “And… how exactly do you expect me to do that? Just so I’m clear.” She frowned, rubbing her chin. Then she mimed striking herself on the back of the head. “Beat people… That’s probably not going to be very effective.” She nodded. She held up a hand, opening and closing it, mimicking a jabbering mouth. “Talk them down. Yeah, I don’t think I know nearly enough about the people in this city to do that. Not to mention, I get the feeling that nobody’s in the mood for listening.” She nodded again. Then, she held two fingers up behind her head, one from each hand. He stared. She couldn’t be serious. “Is that supposed to be… Batman?” She flicked her nose. “Intimidate them.” She nodded. “Intimidate a riot.” She nodded again, more vigorously. “Into dispersing.” She rolled her eyes. “You understand that this is rather a lot to ask.” She twirled a finger in a circle, dismissing his conerns. The sound of breaking glass and shouting was growing louder. “Can you do anything to help me be a little bit more… intimidating?” She paused for a moment, and nodded, waving for him to follow her.
The two of them walked into the garage. She looked around through the tools on the wall, and picked up a large spanner. Then, in one smooth movement, she whirled, and brought it across the crown of his head. He swore loudly, grabbing his skull, as the pain blossomed again, reminding him of the two horrid blows to the head he’d already taken. Then she held out the wrench to him. It had been snapped clean in half, the steel gleaming where it had broken off. He stared down at it, and up at her. She tapped her own head.
Nash had once heard that human bone scored a 5 on the Mohs hardness scale. It was, in certain circumstances, even stronger than that. It was harder, pound for pound, than steel. Often, this didn’t matter much, as the bone was also fairly thin, and it certainly wasn’t a good idea to test your skull against a lump of iron. But… the idea fluttered in his head. It was an insane idea. He looked up at Gene, and she smiled. He was insane too, wasn’t he? She leaned forwards, and kissed his forehead. Abruptly, the pain was gone, and he felt, for a moment, like a new man. Still fatigued, flesh still aching, but strong. He nodded, and turned to the door.
He stepped out into the open air of the road. Heather’s hotel was on one side, Gene’s garage on the other. Two reminders of what would be lost. Maybe he didn’t care for this town, but the Sisters had gone out of their way to trust him, to protect him. They said they didn’t need his protection, but he could still damn well protect them. The mob was working its way up the street like a stalking beast. It had come this way before, but apparently it was hungry for another round. Nash stood in the road, as the wind blew. It was mid-day, but clouds had blown in from the lake. The sky was gray, streaks of light visible between the denser formations. He stepped forward, walking towards the people, his tie swaying in the wind. Blood was still trickling down his face, dripping onto his chin. His skull had taken a real beating today. What was one more blow? Maybe it’d cave his head in, and he’d die in the street. He remembered, his mind working feverishly in the face of death, that he hadn’t taken his medication since yesterday. That made sense. He certainly felt psychotic.
The crowd slowed as it approached him. Like any powerful thing confronted by something seemingly helpless and unthreatening, it was frightened by his defiance. He smiled brightly. This seemed to be the main body of the riot. “Ladies and gentlemen! I’m offering you a chance, here. A chance to go home, quietly, and disperse, with no harm done to anyone. I know you’re angry. I know you’re frightened. And I know that you feel like you have to do something. What I’d recommend, right now, is returning home, and hugging your children.” A glass wine bottle arced out of the crowd, and he caught it in one hand. The strong smell of alcohol filled the air as a few drops fell to the ground. The people had been drinking, and getting angrier. Working themselves up. “Let me make this a simple choice. You can either choose to go home, or you can choose to be dragged home.” Jeers spread out of the crowd, as people laughed. He smiled along with them. “Alright, then. Which one of you thinks that you have what you need to take me?” He was only a human. Not a hero, not a monster. And yet, just for a moment, he saw the fear run through their eyes. The same fear that ran through the eyes of every person who met him in this place. They thought he didn’t notice, but there was that little moment where their eyes met his, and they flinched. The thing that monsters feared.
A man pushed his way out of the crowd of monsters. He was a crowd all his own. Twelve feet tall, his skin shone like bronze. There was a nail in one ankle, and he wore nothing but a pair of briefs. “You’re an outsider. You seem like a decent man. Law-abiding,” the man said. His voice was full of the whirr of gears and the crackle of fire. “You go back to your hotel, outsider. Leave this work to real men.” A raucous set of laughter filled the crowd, as the bronze man turned towards them, raising his hands. Playing to the crowd. Nash chuckled. He knew a little bit about classic mythology. Enough to recognize that nail. If he was any judge, this fight would’ve been an easy one for someone quick. Pull out that nail, and the big bronze man died. It was a pretty famous weakness that Talos had. It would’ve been quick, and it would’ve outraged the crowd, and they would’ve ripped Nash apart where he stood. Tricky didn’t work when you were dealing with a riot. You couldn’t win just one fight. You had to win every fight at once.
“Tell you what, big guy. I’ll give you the first punch. If you still want to fight after that, well, I’ll be happy to.” The crowd went silent, as the bronze man turned back towards Nash. One eyebrow was raised.
“You think that I wouldn’t hit you because you’re a government man? What is anybody going to do? Prosecute the giant bronze man? Go home, little human. You’re out of your league.” Nash never broke eye contact. He was acting like a madman, he knew, but that was to his advantage at the moment.
“Take the swing, then. Cherry-tap if you’re scared. But I’d hit hard, because I won’t be pulling my punches.” Nash let his eyes flicker down to the nail, and the bronze man narrowed his eyes. A little threat. Making it clear that the bronze man had to take him seriously. All part of the plan. Nash’s vision swam for just a moment, and he shook his head. When he opened his eyes again, Talos was bringing a fist down on him. The blow fell like the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs.
Nash had once read about breaking bricks. The trick was the first moment of the strike. In that first moment, if you hit hard enough, then either the bricks were going to break because you’d done it right, or your hand was going to break because you’d done it wrong. He set his legs, knees bending slightly, shoulders squared, neck tensing. He didn’t reach for the arm. He simply braced himself as it fell, so the force wouldn’t break his legs when he was struck. The fist met his skull, and his brain rattled in its case. He managed to keep his feet, barely, and was aware of a low, keening sound. The giant bronze man was sinking down onto his knees, cradling the hand he’d used to strike Nash. His teeth were clenched together, tears of molten metal running down his cheeks. Nash stood up straight. His skull was throbbing, but he couldn’t feel any air rushing across his brain. He reached out, resting his fingers on the bronze man’s broken hand, and looked around the crowd. He didn’t squeeze, but the Colossus went very still. “Anyone else?”
The entire crowd contrived to look as though they had just been along as neutral observers, to ensure that nobody would be hurt, and that of course these bottles weren’t for throwing at anybody, and they didn’t know anything about any vandalism. He didn’t care about their innocence or guilt. His head hurt. “You. You. And you.” He pointed out three figures in the crowd. “Help me carry this man to my car. Then, one of you is going to drive him to the clinic, so he can get his hand fixed up.” He pointed at a woman in the crowd, who had an almost ant-like appearance, hard chitin plates on her arms and legs, a short sword in her hand. She flinched at the outstretched finger “Here are my keys. You drive him there, and deliver my car back.” He tossed her the keys, and she caught them with all the enthusiasm of someone who has been tossed a grenade. “And not one scratch. Understood?” He turned his eyes across the rest of the crowd. “Don’t the rest of you have families to get home to? I’m sure they’re worried sick.”
By the time they had moved Talos to the car, the crowd had dispersed. He’d been lucky. A man of bronze, a nice soft metal. And one who could strike hard enough to really hurt himself if he ran into something strong enough. And, of course, the mad, impossible gambit paying off. His head felt fractured, but he had succeeded. Talos had shrunk back to a vaguely human size, the seven foot tall man cringing in the back seat, nursing his hand carefully. The others had changed back too, shame on their faces. And every one of them looked at him like he was a nightmare. The thought almost made him want to laugh.
As the car drove away, Nash looked down at his shirt. Blood trickled across it. His forehead was cut from the repeated blows it had taken. He sighed. That was going to be damned difficult to get out. Heather was going to be pissed off beyond words at him. He smiled to himself, as he walked towards the door. He would sleep for a few hours- That bullshit about not sleeping with a concussion was an old wives’ tale- and take an anti-psychotic, and then probably berate himself for what he had done today. He slipped his key into the hotel door. Then he frowned. The door was unlocked.
He raised his hands in a fighting stance. He turned the knob, just enough to let it slide out of the frame. Then he kicked it hard, slamming it open, and rushed into the room, eyes darting. There was no sign of anything disturbed. He reached down to grab for the bottle of anti-psychotics from the endtable, and his fingers closed around cold metal. He raised the small cylinder. About an inch long, roughly the same size as his medication, a yellow cylinder capped with a copper-red top. A single round of .45 ACP. It was a very familiar round. It was the kind that he used in his service fire-arm. Carved into the bullet were four words, in an incredibly fine script, as though it had been cast with them.
“Come and get me.”