Harry Constantinou was born in a slum, in one of the worse parts of Athens. It was never quite clear how the Sarin wound up in the apartment complex’s basement. With such a short shelf life, someone had to have kept it there. They might have been a lethally careless chemist. Perhaps a home grown terrorist with more knowledge than sense. The government officially blamed it on the actions of a group of mercenaries who had been planning an attack on government buildings. By the time the hazmat teams managed to sweep the building, a hundred and twenty three people were dead, and Harry Constantinou was getting hungry, crying in his crib for his mother. People called it a miracle, celebrating the child’s survival. They were right about that much, at least.
They didn’t see Harry Constantinou when the vapors twisted their way into his room. Lurking and creeping across the ground, the invisible tendrils crept through the small room with its pretty little blue carpet, creeping among toys and impregnating them with the lethal poison. Harry, still an infant, reached out, and strangled the vapors with tiny hands. There is a life to all things, and Harry choked that life out of the vapors, leaving them dead and inert on the ground. A more prosaic view would presume that the vapors had been rendered harmless by the moist environment. But then, Harry was the only one who survived the gas leak.
A couple, kind and generous, took him in, and he was taught right from wrong. He showed enormous prowess in both mind and body, and though his parents thought he had many fine careers in front of him, his path was set the day he saw the woman in red.
Harry was a young man at the time, only 16 years old. Walking through the markets, he caught sight of the most beautiful woman he had ever seen in the flesh. Dark skin, green eyes, and brilliant red hair, she walked with poise in a fine dress. She looked like a foreigner, but something about her was familiar. The market square was bustling, and his view was constantly interrupted by obstacles. He caught sight of her hair, flashing in the crowd like a road flare, and began to push his way forward. Even at that age, he was strong, easily shoving his way through the crowd, but she moved with a natural grace that always kept her just out of reach. He was aware of the complaints and the shoves he received as he pushed his way through the crowd, but they didn’t change his course. He followed her into one of the bad parts of the city, and showed no fear. He didn’t even flinch about following the woman in red into the dark, crowded bar. He sometimes regretted that decision in the years to come, but not often.
Rough men filled the stools. Men who carried weapons openly, who had scars. They laughed and jeered as he entered, but he ignored them. He approached the woman in red. She was surrounded by half a dozen dark figures. They had smiles, broad and white, gleaming in the darkness. “Oy, boy, you look a little young. Have any hair on that chest of yours?” He ignored them, and approached the woman in red. One of the men stood up, to bar his way. Harry moved with natural grace, snatching a bar-stool and slamming it across the man’s stomach hard enough to shatter the cypress legs of the stool. The man crumpled, and the world stood still. Knives slid out of sheathes, guns were unholstered, and the world held its breath. The woman in red laughed, a low, rich, dulcet sound, and the atmosphere became relaxed, as the men put their weapons away, and laughed at the boy with such spirit, and their humiliated friend.
“Tell me, young man. Have you chosen a career?” asked a man, sitting next to her. Harry shook his head. He was still in school, but he didn’t much care for it. The dreams of his fellows all seemed so petty.
“I’ve thought about becoming a police officer,” he suggested, smiling. The woman laughed, and looked over at the man who had spoken. Unlike the others, he looked Greek, with the same olive skin as Harry. The man turned in his chair, an eyebrow raised.
“Do you crave the idea of battle? Of wading in against a foe who has wronged you, and taking their life in exchange for glory and honor?” the man asked, a grin on his face. He was older, perhaps 40 years old, his shoulders broad, though even at 16, Harry was taller than him. The man looked down towards the crumpled body of his comrade. “I can see you have a skill for violence. But do you have the passion for it? Do you have the desire to see war done, and to do it well?” The man lifted a glass of wine, smiling. “If you can do these things, then I have an opportunity for you that many would dream of. Travel, across distant and exotic lands, meeting strange people. And killing them for truly obscene amounts of money!” The man laughed, his eyes glittering like a pair of gemstones. Harry noticed that the woman in red had disappeared, and he hadn’t any idea where she’d gone.
“No, thank you. It sounds interesting and all that, but I don’t think I could leave my parents.” In the years to come, Harry would regret those words. Just in the moment, it seemed like the only response he could give. The Constantinou’s were decent people. They had raised him as their own, and they had cared for him. Excitement was one thing, but his parents needed him, he knew. His foster-father was getting older. They would need someone to look after them in their fading years. “Maybe in a decade or so?” He smiled cheerfully at the man. The mercenary’s grin never faded, and he nodded, taking out a card, handing it to Harry. A number, eleven digits long, with an international code, was printed on it.
“If you should ever be looking for a job that pays well.” The men laughed, and handed Harry a glass of wine. They drank together, as Harry listened, interested but bemused, to the tales of great adventures. Daring rescues of hostages, the loss of good friends, and the toasting to new ones. It was a world that called to him, but not as much as his family. He wondered, in later years, if he could have saved his parents by simply going along with them. If their death was the cost that he paid for trying to change the story. Evening fell, and he ran home, to greet his parents. They ate dinner together, and Harry told them about his day at the market, leaving out the part about the rough men, and the wine. And his life continued on as normal for five days. On the sixth day, he returned home to find the apartment tower ablaze.
Harry was strong, and tough, but he was not fireproof. He watched as the building burned, and felt utterly helpless for the first time in his life. There were many paths in front of him, all of which required first that he accept that he had just lost the people he loved and lived for. He could have stayed with friends of the family. He could have found a hotel with the insurance payment that was the last gift his parents gave him. He could have fought to get the will recognized, to get what meager possessions remained to the family. He could have left, and never come back. That last one seemed somehow fitting. And so, he called the number from a payphone. The man he had met that day picked up immediately. He introduced himself as Jason, and gave the address for a hotel. Harry arrived at the hotel room, still numb. “Changed your mind, lad?” Harry nodded blankly. “Fight with your parents?” Harry shook his head. The white-toothed man stared for several seconds. He seemed to recognize something in Harry’s face. “I’m sorry.” His voice was rough, but there was a bit of care in it. Harry wiped the tears away from his eyes. “Not a good idea to make big life decisions while you’re feeling bereft, lad. Acting out of pain tends to just cause more pain. You sure you want this?” Harry nodded, and the man watched him for several long seconds. “I’ll make you a deal. You’re young, inexperienced. We need a man who’s strong and handy to work under our mechanic. No combat. No shooting people. I’d be a bastard if I made a killer out of you so soon. Just keeping trucks running so people don’t die. What do you think?” Harry nodded.
“C’mere, lad.” The man invited Harry to take a seat with him, overlooking the city. “Y’know, it’s not a great life. You see a lot of people die. Most of them were trying to kill you, but they do that because they’ve got no other choice. We get hired by some unsavory people to keep the lights on. The kind of people who nobody’s happy to see in the neighborhood. If you wanted my advice, I’d tell you not to get down this road.” Harry didn’t answer. He tended towards the quiet at times like this. “Alright. Just so you know, though. If you ever decide the life isn’t for you, that you can’t stand the violence anymore- You can walk away. I won’t hold it against you for a moment. Just walk yourself right out of this life, and you can go without a fuss. Understand me?” Harry nodded. “Alright, lad. To lost loved ones, eh?” He poured out a couple of glasses of wine, and the next day, they left the city for Uganda. A spiritual man had risen up as the leader of Acholi. It was a time of great turmoil. There was money to be made.
The fire was ruled as arson, Harry learned two decades later. There had been signs of hotspots around the base of the building. People had mentioned seeing an odd foreign woman around the base of the house. Some lunatic who killed for sport. Harry learned about it when his first wife died. That was the moment when he began to ask himself questions about his life, about the strange coincidences that kept lining up around him. But that was far down the road. For the time being, he had a job. The small mercenary company consisted of a couple of dozen men. They worked for a petroleum company, guarding land. And what they mostly did was watch the brutality unfold. The mechanic was an old man by the name of Charles. A gentle soul, they worked together on jeeps and the other vehicles, keeping the dust and grit out of them.
Gunfire echoed in the distance. The broad open plateau was wide, and sounds carried . “Savages,” Harry muttered, frowning down at the battery. The broom handle caught him on the back of the head, and he winced, frowning at the old man.
“Lad, you ever starved?” Charles was English, and paraplegic. His legs had been lost in An Incident, which was only ever referred to with the appropriate capital letters. He scurried himself around under trucks easily enough with just his arms, and used a large dolly to move himself around when he needed to. And he had a blow like a drunken stepfather when his ire was raised. “Food gets scarce around these times. Supplies are rare. People are constantly being hunted, by the government, by the military, by each other. By us even, sometimes.” He fixed a wrench on one of the tires, and pulled, heaving firmly. Harry stepped around the car and leaned down next to him, adding his strength and unscrewing the bolts with a careless ease.
“I’d like to think I wouldn’t hurt the people around me.” He muttered softly. “They kill people just for not giving them food. They ought to just turn this whole place to glass, start over.”
“And that’d be very fair to the many people who are just trying to live their life as good people, would it? Cut off your nose to spite your face? They’re all just trying to survive, boy, and it’s our fault that this is the state they’re in. We could’ve done better by them.” Charles shook his head. “Should’ve done better by them. Could’ve walked arm and arm into the future together. Instead, we butchered them, cut up the land.” The four-wheeled dolly slid under the car. “Wrench.” Harry slid a wrench into his hand.
“I didn’t do anything to screw this place up.” He muttered, mutinously. Charles smacked the wrench across his ankle, and Harry hopped on one foot, wincing.
“That the way you’re thinking, eh? You didn’t screw it up personally, so you have no responsibility to try to help?” Charles slid out from under the hood, giving Harry a ferocious look. “Any problem older than a single lifetime is just not worth fixing? Bloody cheek.” He slid back under the car, and the sound of the wrench tugging at metal filled the air. “You owe a duty to your fellow man, boy! Every person on this world could probably use your help. The help you’ve been given, you have to pass on. You have to forgive people when they’re not as good as they could be, and do everything you can to be better than you have to be! That’s what being a man’s about. That’s what being human’s about! Being better. Not thinking you’re better, like a certain cheeky lad I could mention! Living up to it.” Harry leaned against the hood, frowning. “It’s an important thing to remember, Harry. Anger’s what you feel when you’ve been hurt. It’s a knee-jerk reaction. It flares up and then it dies down, like a spark. Hatred’s what happens when you make fuel for that anger, and keep feeding it. And it’ll burn you out inside, mark my words! No good hating people. Even if you got revenge on them, it’d just end up burning on. You’d start looking for new people to feed to the hatred.” The man grunted.
“Yeah? Did you say that to the guy who got your legs cut off?” Harry bit out. It was a stupid thing to say. Nobody gave Charles shit about his legs. Harry braced himself for the explosion. Charles slid out from under the car, and his look had none of the fury or rage that Harry had expected.
“No. He said it to me. Then he offered me a cushy job as a mechanic, and a damn generous pay to provide for my wife and children. My kids are going through university and nobody is ever going to shoot at them, because of him. The thing is that you can build people into monsters in your head. But really, all they are is people. Just like you, lad. Hate doesn’t do anything but kill you inside. Anger, that’s not something you can help. Everyone gets angry, everyone snaps out at others. But you’ll never do any good hating people.” He tilted his head. “Sounds like the jeeps are coming in.”
Harry walked over to the open door of the garage, and narrowed his eyes. “Those aren’t our jeeps.” He ran to the rack of guns as Charles sat up, grabbing one of the rifles. He had been practicing in his spare time.
“What the hell. Are you sure?” The crack of gunfire sounded, and Charles fell to the ground, swearing violently, blood dripping from his shoulder. Harry fired out the door, picking his targets and squeezing off bursts before return fire could strike him. He moved away from the doors, as holes appeared in the corrugated metal. There was the rush of noise, and the sound of gunfire exploding all around. He was still fighting as three dozen LRA men swarmed in. Three of them died from bullets, another two hit the floor as his fists swung. One of them caught him a blow to the bridge of his nose with the butt of his gun, and received a broken sternum in return. Finally, they overwhelmed him, dragging him down with sheer weight of numbers, and after four or five blows, Harry lost consciousness.
The prison camp was not a pleasant place. Harry never saw Charles again, and to his knowledge the old man died, bleeding, on the floor of that garage. The one ray of sunshine was the young girl who worked there. Harry didn’t know precisely what she did. He suspected, but she didn’t want to talk about it, and he wouldn’t bring it up. What he knew is that she was given enough food to keep alive and healthy, and she never cried. She would lurk around his cage, and they would talk, in broken English, for hours at a time. And sometimes, one of the officers of the army would come around, shoot Harry in the foot for distracting her, and order her away. Harry healed quickly, and pain was easy to deal with. He suspected that frustrated his captors. They would’ve let him starve to death, but the girl shared her food with him. Just enough to keep him from dying.
“Do you think we could ever get out of here?” she asked. Her name was Acanit. She’d told him it meant ‘hard times’. They’d both laughed, in the sharp, manic tone of people who don’t know if they’ll ever get another chance to laugh. She wore a dirty linen dress, something she had been given by the officer. Harry got the impression it was the only clothes she was allowed. “I mean, even if we escaped. Where would we go?”
Harry considered this. “The USA. I could join the army. I hear that they let you naturalize easy that way.” He thought of Greece, and home. He shook that thought out of his head. Nothing back there but bad memories. “If we could get out of here and make it to Lake Victoria, and Entebbe, the airport there would get us to America.”
“How on earth would you get the money for that?” she asked, frowning. He gave her a smile, and shrugged. She paused for a moment, and bit her lip. “I… There’s a chest. The officer, he counts from it sometimes. Little gold coins. From the south. They have a bearded man on them.”
Harry nodded. “Kruggerrands. A handful of those…” He looked around, and coughed. He was thin from the weeks of captivity. His foot healed a bit slower each time. He was growing weak, an experience altogether new for him. “If you can get a knife off one the men, and get back here, cut open the cage… I can go. Kill him in the night. We’ll be out of here. Keep off the main roads, and make our way south. We’ll be in America by this time next month.”
She nodded, and looked up. “I’ll be back tonight.” She tore the small loaf of bread in her hands in half, passing half through the bars. Harry ate ravenously. His head spun as the gulped the bread down, choking and coughing on the dry loaf. It tasted better than anything he could imagine. He’d never thought being as big as he was would be such a problem, but even with Acanit’s help, he was on the edge of starvation, every day.
Hours passed. Night fell. Rain fell. Mosquitoes bit. His wounds ached. They should’ve been fatal by this point, he was sure, but his body seemed to refuse to die. It was happy to hurt like hell, though. He looked up, as he heard the rustle in the trees. Acanit appeared out of the darkness, a sharp machete in one hand. It was stained red. His eyes opened wide, as she hurriedly cut through the rope ties on his cage. It opened, and he stepped out. “Did you-?” She held out her skirt. Piled in it were dozens of large gold coins. He nodded. He never asked her about it directly. He regretted that for a long time. Maybe it would have made a difference. On the other hand, maybe it wouldn’t have.
There was little for him to say about the trip south. It was one long nightmare. Decades later, he would jerk out of a sound sleep, tortured by the memories. There was perhaps one thing worth noting. One moment when a lion, rangy and starving, had appeared out of the darkness of the underbrush, hungry enough to try to make a meal of them. He’d taken the knife from Acanit. Even feverish, even wounded, even exhausted, he’d cut the thing open. The meat hadn’t been tasty, but it had certainly been filling. He was half delirious by the time they arrived at the airport, carrying Acanit and the skin of a lion. But they made it, together, and slept, the frail young woman and the big foolish boy, as the aircraft took them across the big wide ocean. He signed up for the army. They asked many questions, and he gave them all the answers he could. He made it through basic training without much difficulty. He got his citizenship. He passed security clearance. Neither he nor Acanit had any family left, or contacts, for that matter. Army Ranger training was a great task, but after those two horrific weeks crossing the plateau, it wasn’t new. He was exhausted, but not too exhausted to propose marriage to Acanit.
It wasn’t, at first, a marriage of love. Both of them shared a horrible secret, and horrible memories, though, and that was enough to start with. It was enough to hold the two of them together for years. They lived, got a citizenship, and became normal people. He visited Somalia with the 10th Mountain division, and he liked to believe that a difference was made because they were there. He fought in Afghanistan. He returned to see his wife, and eventually, his son, as often as he could. She didn’t talk about what happened before they arrived in America, but he’d always thought she was happy. She lived her life with the others, and was always joyful to see him, and seemed to burst with life. And one day, in 2009, he was called by military police, and told that his wife was dead, and had been found with her wrists cut in a bathtub. It was ruled a suicide. The mention of a foreign woman, red-haired, green-eyed, who visited her briefly before leaving, was treated as unsuspicious. After all, she left long before the time of death for his wife.
Harry was not, by his nature, a narcissist. He did not believe the world revolved around him, any more than the small and innocuous amount of belief all humans secretly held, which was the natural consequence of only ever seeing things from his point of view. Maybe she had killed herself. Maybe it was the guilt of taking a life, even one who had been threatening her. He’d always considered his wife to be a kind, delicate, generous woman. She could have been hurt by that. Maybe it was the fact that he was constantly away, and the strains of raising a child without his father, though that seemed less likely. Whatever the truth was, he hadn’t been there for her. She had saved him, and now, he had failed to do the same for her. Harry’s son lived with their friends, taken in by his godfather for a time, and Harry drifted.
She had been, to him, everything. The first person he had truly loved. A strange sort of companionship. Two damaged souls, brought together by mutual violence and pain, but finding happiness with each other. She had meant the world to him. Nearly twenty years together, sometimes only briefly, but he had believed she was one of the most important people he had ever met. And then she died, and he didn’t know what to do with himself.
The death of his wife was what put Harry onto the trail. The red-haired woman. It became something of an obsession, as he wandered, searching for her. Eventually, his search brought him to a bad part of Iraq, in 2011. It was Christmas. He sat across from the woman. She was beautiful, and she seemed utterly unconcerned by the angry looks she was given by those around her, dressed provocatively and not seeming to care. Black hair hung across brown eyes, cold and stoic. “You know about the woman in red?” he asked. He was unshaven. He felt more animal than man. His voice was rough. He felt somehow unworthy. But then, he’d always felt unworthy.
“I do.” Megara Drakos was her name. She sat, in a leather jacket, and a delicate skirt that exposed more of her legs than was decent. She was either unaware or unconcerned with the angry glares of men in the bar. “You are Harry Constantinou. Your wife has died, and you are estranged from your son. You are a man of unusual physical strength and guile, and you have an impressive military history. You are as you always were.” She lifted a glass of cold ice water, sipping from it, her eyes staying on his. She set the glass down. “The death of your wife is your fault. You took her into your life to sate your loneliness, and this lead directly to her death.” The cup in his hand shattered. Glass crunched, and he picked it out of his hand, drops of blood staining the wood of the table, dripping from pinpricks the glass had made in his calloused skin. His tone was deadly calm as he replied.
“I have considered that possibility. Guilt helps humans deal with things, by letting them feel some degree of control.” He fought to keep his calm, as his head spun. “Why would you try to make me so angry?” he asked. “Surely you know exactly what response saying something like that would have on a man.”
“You are a creature of myth, and a legend in your own right. Heracles, the great monster-slayer. Your wife died because of your nature. Your son will die too. And it will be your fault.” She crossed her arms. “Allow me to kill you, and it will cut the thread of your story short. Your son will live. And I will once again have my vengeance. Fate will be satisfied.”
Harry narrowed his eyes. “I don’t believe in fate.” He swept the broken glass off the table, onto the dusty floor, and stood up. “What exactly did I do to you?”
“You killed five of my children.” He paused. His mind raced. He had killed people. There was no doubt about that. He’d always had a reason, and he had killed to protect himself, or others, but he’d killed nonetheless. He thought of his own son, and his heart softened.
“I’m… sorry. If I’ve done you wrong, I regret it. And if you need to try to kill me, then so be it. But either way, please. Leave my son out of this.” There was a long moment of silence, Megara’s eyes widening for just a moment, before returning to the same hard gaze. She sat, quietly, watching him.
“You know, I have found you many times, over the years, since the first time you died. And I have taken a certain vindictive pleasure in keeping your legend from resurfacing on this world. But I think that is the first time you have ever apologized for what you have done.” She tapped her fingers slowly. “You must understand, I do not wish to threaten your son. I will not lay a hand on him, regardless of what you do. This is simply the nature of things. The son of Heracles dies by his father’s deeds, and his father labors to make up for the guilt of what he has done. That is how it goes. I am the mother of monsters. I give birth to children, strong scions of Typhon, who lose their lives by your hand. And now that they are all dead, and my husband lies beneath the mountains, I have no purpose but my vengeance. Over, and over, and over again.”
Harry raised an eyebrow. “I don’t believe you.”
Megara sighed, and then rose. Men screamed as she grew taller, her legs wrapping together, her skin turning blue, her dark hair hanging over her face. “I do not need your belief,” she hissed, her tongue forked and great. “I am beyond the belief of any one man. I do not belief. I need only be.” He stared up at her, at the impossible figure. “I offer you the choice. Die by my hand, willingly or not, and save your son. Or flee, and doom him.”
Harry was silent for several long seconds. She really was beautiful. Something reminded him of Acanit, that same damage in her eyes, the same pain. If she was telling the truth, then he’d caused that pain. Taken away her children. Maybe it was necessary, but she still had a right to be angry at him. “I will make you a wager,” he said. She stared at him, and he took that as a sign to continue. “You may live by my side. I will not drive you away, I will not kill you, I will not make any move to harm you, no matter what you should do. You may try, twelve times, to kill me. And in return, you must promise to do everything in your power to help me save my son, without anyone else dying.” He smiled.
She stared. “Why? Why take the chance? I have told you what I will do. I am very good at killing you, and even those who I have warned have died.”
“Then the wager is slanted in your favor.”
She sneered down at him. “Fine. Consider this my first and last attempt, then.” She swept forward, with a killing blow, her hand straight as a knife’s edge. She slashed forward with her nails, aiming for his throat, with the speed of a snake.
Harry’s hand intercepted hers in mid-air, catching her on the wrist. His other fist flicked out. He’d never believed in hurting anyone, women or men, after Acanit had saved him. But he wasn’t going to let her kill him. The jab doubled her over, and she wheezed, gasping for air, fingers clawing at the ground and leaving deep grooves in the wood of the bar floor. She looked up at him, hatred in her eyes. “Your form is clumsy.” He explained. “Fast, strong, but you wound up. No feinting. No testing of my defenses. What kind of training do you have? Have you ever even fought in a bar?” He smirked down at her, and she surged up again at him. He brought his hand in a circle, carrying a beer mug, and it crashed into her iron-hard cheek, stunning her momentarily, long enough to bring down a bar stool on the crown of her head. She writhed on the floor, spitting out curses in a language that he recognized, barely, as ancient Greek. “Do you even really want to kill me? I bet you can hit harder than that.”
She swung at him again, and he danced out of the way of her blow, his hands up in a boxer’s stance. “You’re good at this! I don’t think I’ve ever met someone who I could go more than a single round with!” he said, cracked voice merry, rough face split into a broad grin as he danced out of the way. The fight continued like this for hours, until she sat, panting on the floor, in her human shape, anger in her eyes. He crouched down, and rubbed her head where he had struck her with the stool. She looked livid at the familiar gesture, but that just made him grin more. “That’s one attempt down.”
She stared at him. “I… am defeated. I cannot defend myself like this,” she complained, sweat dripping don her forehead. “Why not just kill me? Be done with me. As you did to my children.”
He stared down at her for a few seconds. “I’m sorry that someone like me took your children away. Whether or not they were monsters, they were your children, and you aren’t wrong for wanting to avenge them.” He crossed his arms. “You know about these things. You know more than I do, that’s for damn certain. If you tell me that my son is in danger, then I want you to help me save him. And…” He looked away. “You care about your children. It wouldn’t be right to kill you just for that.”
“I will kill you.”
“You’ll try. It’s an important difference.” He gave her his most infuriating smirk, and was rewarded by the anger in her eyes. And so began the strange courtship. She tried to kill him regularly, at first. Half of her attempts were gone in the first week. A gang of mercenaries hired to ambush him. A bag of poison asps in his bed at night. A poisoned garment. Then, she became crafty. More and more time went between her attempts. After the seventh attempt to kill him, they were married in a small, private ceremony. After the ninth attempt, which involved an entire graveyard of feral ghouls, they moved to Zion with Dean.
He wasn’t sure when, exactly, hate turned to love. He smiled every time he saw her face, though. Eventually, she started to smile back. She had become warmer, more gentle. She still made her attempts, but there was less and less spirit in them. They often discussed the nature of the woman in red. And, for that matter, of the monsters of the town.
“I don’t want you going out with that girl,” Harry said, his arms crossed. Dean stood in the door-frame, a stormy expression on his face. Harry, for what it was worth, quite liked Isabelle. The girl was clever, and Harry got along well with her. But Megara had explained why it was a bad idea. Harry still was trying to understand the nature of the city- Monsters, heroes, all things that seemed just slightly unreal to him. But when his wife told him that Isabelle and her family were dangerous, he trusted her. She still had one attempt left, after that little incident with the enchanted chainsaw. It had been a year since that. Dean and Isabelle had grown close. Close enough that Harry had been tempted to give his son the talk- Explain what Isabelle really was. But he was still only 17. Megara had been clear about that much. The boy wasn’t allowed to know, yet.
“Dad, she’s one of two actually fun people in this town. What, are you going to lock me up?” Harry sighed. The boy was stubborn- No, determined. Just like his mother. Just like his father, for that matter.
“I just worry about you. You’ve got your whole future ahead of you. I want you to be careful, so… Just. Call me. Alright? Check in with me. I want to make sure that you’re alright.” Dean rolled his eyes. “Yes, I know, your old dad worries about you. And try to get along with Megara, alright? She really does care about you, you know. She just wants to make sure that you’re safe.”
“She’s not my real mother.” Dean slammed the door behind him. Megara walked down the stairs, her expression soft and sad.
“He doesn’t mean that,” he told her.
“Yes, he does. He is a young man. He is angry, and he misses his own mother, and he still misses you, because you are still distant from him. I am the one he can show his anger to. He feels the desire to be kind, to be strong, for everyone. I’m his one chance to express his anger. Have you two gone fishing lately?” Harry rubbed the back of his head in embarrassment. “It is important. I know that you want to protect him. So do I. We’ll find a way. I promise.” She kissed his cheek. “I just wish he did not love Isabelle.” Her face turned dark. “That girl is a snake in the grass.”
“You would know, my dear.” The two of them were quiet for a moment, and then laughed.
Dean didn’t call. This wasn’t unusual. Harry dialed his son’s number, and listened as the call went to voice-mail. He called again every few minutes for the next couple of hours. He was half expecting it when Pearl came to the house. He saw the body for himself. And Harry Constantinou, a man who had seen dozens of men die, who had killed dozens, who had fought monsters both mythological and human, and who had to this point believed he had experienced the most terrible things the world had to offer, wept like a child in his wife’s arms at the sight of his son’s corpse.
“It’s War,” she said, in the silence of the morgue, as he buried his face in her hair. “She’s behind this. She’s using it as an opening. She’ll bring in some stranger, and use them. She loves to use foreigners. We need to stop him, and to find who was responsible for this.” He took a deep breath, and nodded. “Her champion is coming soon. We can make the city unwelcoming. Hopefully stop them from making things any worse. It won’t be their fault. They’ll be just a catspaw. Just a tool to be used.” She squeezed him a bit tighter. “Whoever did this, they’re tainted by War, too. We need to stop them, root them out, or they’ll poison the heart of this city.” She had a dark look on her face as she held him. And he could see the pain inside of her, so he dried the tears from his eyes, and returned the embrace. And then, she began to cry, tears dripping from her cheeks as the eggshell-thin mask of calm broke. “I should have protected him.” She whispered. “I promised you-”
“You promised me you would do everything that you were capable of.” He whispered. And the two of them stood together for a long time, before they steeled themselves for what was to come.
It was early morning when Harry got the call. He had worked as a lumberjack since they had moved here. It was a small, simple way to live his life, but the calm of the woods was soothing to his soul. He spent long nights under the forest canopy sometimes, a chance to enjoy the calm of the world without threat of death. Sometimes he even took Megara and Dean out on camping trips together, and while they complained bitterly, they humored him, and counted stars and ate s’mores and were, for a brief time, something like a family. That was in the past. Now, he had to ensure no one else lost their children.
He checked the white pine. They were beautiful trees, straight and proud, colossi of the forest. He brought the hatchet into the wood of the trunk. The power of Ge filled him, and three blows sent the tree crumbling down across the road. Harry buried the orange safety jacket under leaves, and crouched, fading and unfocusing into the foreground. This stranger was doing harm, but they were a pawn, just like so many others. Harry didn’t want to risk them dying. All he wanted was to scare them off.
There was a screech of tires, and the car barreled into the tree with a vicious crunch. Harry watched. The man inside climbed out after kicking the door open, and began to snap shots of the area with his cell phone. Harry wasn’t sure what to make of that. It was a cool Labor Day morning, and the sun barely reached the clearing. Harry watched with interest as the man walked along the length of the tree, studying the base. He snapped a few more shots of the deep cuts in the wood, and then turned suddenly, staring directly at Harry, his hand in his jacket. Harry knew he hadn’t moved. He watched as the agent backed away quickly, and checked his cellphone. His eyes kept glancing back at Harry’s hiding place. When he finally disappeared out of sight, the big man relaxed, and he stood up, pulling the orange jacket out of the underbrush.
To his surprise, by the time he made it home, Megara was talking with the agent. Nash, up close, was not an unpleasant looking man. Somewhat pale, dark hair and hazel eyes. He was tall, but not nearly as tall as Harry, and his build was more lanky than anything else. Harry embraced his wife, giving her a kiss, and then marched forward. There was a broad grin on his face as he grabbed Nash’s hand, and slapped him on the shoulder. The man visibly winced under the pressure. Harry knew how to moderate his grip and his enthusiasm. He chose not to.
“You must be the special agent! A man after my own heart, making the world a better place!” Harry played the role of good-natured idiot with a lifetime’s practice, as he studied the man’s expression. “I hope you find the person who did this to my son before I do. I don’t want to think of what I might do to them in the heat of the moment. If there’s anything that I can do to aid you in this task, if there’s anything that we can do for you…” His eyes flickered over to Pearl. What the hell had she been thinking? “I would be very grateful.”
“If I might ask, Mister Constantinou… where were you, today?” the agent asked, his eyes going to the axe hanging from Harry’s belt.
“Going for a hike. Helps to clear the head, and it’s good to keep my eye on things.”
“Do you always go on hikes with an axe?” Nash asked, an eyebrow raised.
“Of course! Never know when you might run into a lion!” The laughter was hollow. Harry still had the lion’s skin from his escape, hanging in his closet. His skin was still scarred where teeth and claws had gouged him.
“That man didn’t seem like an agent of War to me,” Harry said, frowning as he took a seat. “A rather clever man, perhaps a bit too sharp for his own good, but a force of violence? He even looked reluctant to draw his own gun in the forest. What harm could he really do?”
“War is a subtle creature. She favors those who do not appear dangerous. She knows the value of being unexpected. As for you, I want you to take a camping trip. I have a plan for the next few days, but I don’t want you around, in case things go wrong.”
“Please.” Her voice was soft, her eyes downcast. “Just- please.” He knew the way Dean’s death tortured her inside. She did not show it, she never showed weakness, but she had promised to save the boy, and she had grown to care for him, even if she didn’t know how exactly to show him when he was still alive. She was determined to make things right, even if she had no idea where to start. That terrified him, but he couldn’t say no to her.
And so he walked through the valleys around Zion. The lion skin on his back, his hatchet in hand, a storm lantern on his belt. He lived off the land. It was an easy thing for him. He saw the bones, shattered and scattered across the graveyard, in the stark light of the day. He saw the burnt remnants of the shack. And he began to wonder just how harmless Nash was.
The third night, rain was pouring down. He shuddered under the downpour, as it pounded against his shoulders. The lightning began to strike, and he made his way up towards the manor. When the rain stopped, he sped up. When he heard the crashes, he ran. When he heard the scream, he sprinted as though his life was at stake. In the night, he caught glimpses of red, dancing through the night, as laughter shrieked through the air. He ran till his lungs burned.
The storm lantern illuminated the scene. His wife. Her clothes torn, her body bare. The blood dripping in thick, black waves down her side. Her arm hanging limp. And the FBI agent standing over her. He did not look so harmless and shy now. Standing in a torn shirt, blood running down cuts, his chest marked where Megara must have struck him with her tail. War laughed and shrieked in the man’s ear. Like she had when Harry’s parents died. Like she had when his wife had died. Like she had when his son had died. All the people he loved, cut down by the cold hand of the Horseman’s little games, in line with ‘fate’. And here Nash stood, ready to take the last person Harry had.
Nash stood. He was fast. Harry was faster. Ge was with him as his fist descended. Nash moved like the wind, shifting out of the way, and grabbing Harry’s wrist to imbalance him, to throw him into the ground. Harry had a lifetime of experience, though. His wrist twisted in Nash’s grip, grabbing the man’s wrist back. They strained against one another for a moment, and Harry won, lifting the other man into the air with his free hand, fingers wrapping around the man’s throat. “What in the hell have you done to my wife?”
He didn’t wait for an answer. With a merciless twist of his hips, Harry slammed Nash down against the ground, slamming the man’s back into the mud. One hand went around Nash’s throat, and the other raised into the air, poised. A red haze was hemming in his vision, until all he could see were the man’s eyes. He breathed in great, ragged gasps, and his knuckles popped and cracked as they tensed, ready to bring his hand down like the wrath of God. Someone pulled at his shoulder. He spun in a rage, lashing out.
His hand stopped an inch from Megara’s face, caught in her own slender, delicate hand. He wasn’t sure if he had stopped it, or she had, but his hand opened, resting against her cheek. “I’m alright, Harry.” She whispered. “Let Nash go. War has played us for fools.”
The agent made choking noises, his face purple. Harry released his grip, as the red haze fell away. Harry stared down at the man. The fury had been unlike anything he’d felt in so long. “Agent Nash. I’m… sorry.”
Nash coughed a bit, smiling weakly as he pulled himself up. “It’s fine. Just a bit of instant karma.” He gave a smile, brittle and fake as a mannequin’s. Harry returned the smile, just as phony. Nearly choked to death, and making jokes. Something about that frightened Harry.
Megara frowned. “Both of you. Come up to the house. I think that we need to share what we know.”