Chapter 4: Threescore and Ten

The walk back through the darkness was unpleasant. I’d been told I would die many times before, by both friend and foe. Sometimes it was a warning. Sometimes it was a threat. Sometimes it was just a hope. It had never been a prophecy. Christians were big into their prophecy, although they seldom admitted it. They thought God had everything worked out in advance, and even stranger, they thought it was all going to be okay.

There were two possibilities. Raphael was telling the truth, and trying to let me make my will, to say my goodbyes, to prepare to… end. The other was that the angel was trying to trick me. Distract me, mess with me. I had long ago accepted the possibility that I would die, and by doing so, conquered it. I had refused to dwell on it, and lived my life as though I were invincible. The idea that I might die was a fear meant to haunt my owners. Never me.

I cracked my knuckles.  The angels were trying to deceive me. That was it. I set my shoulders, and began to walk back towards the apartment. The sun was setting, and I wanted to get indoors. Not because I was spooked by the premonition of my own death. I just didn’t want anyone to get worried. Like Horace-

I crouched down, the pain in my chest suddenly unbearable. Tears were running down my cheeks, at the thought of what Horace’s face would look like, if he learned I was dead. The pain it would cause him. I’d always accepted my death. But just for a single, terrible moment, the thought of him standing over my body, or worse, being told that there was no body to be returned to him, raked through my mind, and I collapsed on the ground, quaking violently.

I’d tried so hard to harden my heart over the millenia. To grow jaded. Because of moments like this. Because of the fear of losing it all. I lay there, my chest rising and falling, my heart beating wildly, sweat beading on my skin. My heart was hurting, and my train of thought felt as slippery as a fish. My mind flickered through terrible images, terrible fears that I’d thought I had buried too deep to escape. The memory of Nergal standing over me, poisoning my body with his aura, nearly killing me. The memory of being cut with a blade meant to end gods. The memory of hanging from Randall Creed’s divinely strong fingers, watching as he prepared to crush the life out of me. And worst of all, the sight of Horace standing up and fighting for me against someone he stood no chance against, and not being able to help him.

Horace.

I forced myself up onto my feet. I wasn’t going to let anyone kill me. I’d promised him I’d come back. I didn’t care who I had to fight, I was going to come back to him. He’d be lost without me. Helpless without me. I took several deep, steadying breaths. The sun had grown noticeably lower while I was on the ground. I moved quickly, refusing to take the time to think about what had just happened. It didn’t matter. It was something I would handle. I had to handle it. There was no one else who could, or would.

This wasn’t the first time I’d been vulnerable like this. It happened when I got close to a human. When I started to have something to lose. It brought back memories of the first time I’d lost something.

I staggered up to the wall of the apartment building, and leaned against it, closing my eyes. The distant sound of music drifted down. I frowned, and looked up, narrowing my eyes. There was light in the apartment, and music. The sounds of celebration. A party.

The soldiers. I felt a strange combination of jealousy and happiness. Jealous that they didn’t include me. Happiness that they weren’t just automatons. I sat down by the side of the door, out of sight of the tiny cameras that they had set up to watch the approach, and breathed in. Then out. I sat there for nearly three hours, letting the men celebrate until the sounds died away. They deserved a bit of time to themselves.

There were a few possibilities for the ones who would kill me. I’d been told that two godkillers were stalking me. It was hard to believe a human would kill me, and yet, somehow inevitable. I was much too beautiful and graceful for most of them to entertain a single thought of harm towards me, but there were always those for whom jealousy was a powerful motivating force. A god was somewhat more likely, but I could not tell which of the gods would wish to see me dead. And naturally, the other servants of the Horsemen. For now, I had to take it as a warning, or a threat, rather than a prophecy. Death was always inevitable. That did not mean you ever stopped fighting it.

When the party came to its end, I took the elevator up to the penthouse, giving them plenty of time to clean up. The men stood sharply at attention as I entered, weapons raised. I walked past them, noting that there was now no sign whatsoever of their fun. It made me feel very alienated as I lay down on the bed, and closed my eyes. I dreamt of being a stray in the winter, and walking past warm homes that were not mine and never would be.

I dreamt of my old home. The one place where I had felt I could spend forever, happily.

I woke up, and felt better. The sun, the sound of the distant waves reverberating against the windows, and the smell of eggs. I sat up in the bed, and saw the sergeant major mixing a truly massive bowl of eggs. I crept out of the bed, moving with great stealth, until I was only a few inches behind him. Very softly, I said “Can I have some?”

To his credit, he did not jump or scream. He stiffened, and the eggs took a tiny leap out of the bowl, but they fell back into place. He frowned. “We have, uh, salmon filets, crab, swordfish, and-”

“I want some of that.” I smiled at him brightly. He grunted.

A few minutes later, I sat at the table with the Sergeant Major, as the men ate quickly on their bunks. They rolled up the dark balaclavas, exposing their mouths. It gave a little more hint of who they were, though just a hint. Jaw lines, chins, and the occasional whisker of stubble from a too-quick shaving. The eggs were warm, and nourishing. It was not love for me that had made them, but it still provided something I needed. They helped even more than the sun or the waves. “They good?” the sergeant asked, a bit more gruffly than he had to.

“Very. You care about your men.” I nibbled a bit more. “Do you have anyone you love, Sergeant Major? Anyone you want to make little privates with?” I paused for a moment, and chewed a mouthful of eggs thoughtfully. “That sounded a lot dirtier than I intended. Anyone you want to pump little soldiers into?”

He gave me a dark look, but relented in the face of my constant smile. “No, ma’am. Love’s a good thing for a man who’s going back home. Hell of a curse for a man who ain’t.”

“You think this is a suicide mission?”

He paused for a moment before he continued. “No ma’am. I intend to live a long, full life. But if the world should be so churlish as to disregard my wishes, I’m not dragging anyone else along with me.”

I nibbled my eggs, and frowned at that. But I let it go. “Well, if the worst happens to me-” I stopped for a moment. “Nevermind. The worst that could happen to me is I wind up getting a bad meal. Ready to visit the Loa?”

“Yes’m. Papa Legba has agreed to meet us at the slums, and take us to meet the Baron. I don’t know who he’s going to be riding, so we might have to wait for a while.” He nodded at the soldier who was cleaning the plates in the sink with the efficiency of a quietly desperate housewife. “Keep an eye on the tower today, corporal. See if Prester John is making any moves. Watch out for that damn parrot. Thing scares the shit out of me.” He stood up. “Shall we?”

The driver approached the slums with a certain skittish care, while the people around the car were apparently fascinated by the novelty of someone coming to visit, and seemed to insist on crowding around the car as close as they could. Those in the crowd generally looked human, though there were exceptions. I recognized members of a dozen different religions from Africa and South America, deities who had found themselves displaced or dying out in the face of imperialism. The expressions on their faces had been beaten down before whatever it was that happened here. Now they looked like people waiting to die. With one rather notable exception.

He came out of the crowd with a grin, a blind man with dark smoked glasses over his eyes. He held a cane in one hand, and though his hair was white, he looked surprisingly young. A broad straw-brimmed hat covering his head in the bright daylight, a pipe hanging from his free hand. A large, slender greyhound twirled around his legs, limping slightly. I narrowed my eyes, pushed the door open, and hissed ferociously.

“Oh, come on, lady, get off my dick, you’re going to break the thing in half!” said the greyhound. “Come on, kid, give me that damn pipe! Don’t make an old man beg.”

The young man bent down, and placed the pipe very carefully into the dog’s mouth, lighting it with a shaky hand. The dog’s teeth gleamed as it clenched them, its bellows-like chest expanding as it took a deep breath, making the pipe’s bowl gleam dull red. I growled again. “You trying to insult me, Legba?”

“Hey, don’t make me chase you, lady. Ruff! Ruff!” The Greyhound belted out a smoky cough, and nearly spat the pipe out, before sitting back on its haunches. “Now, come on, it’s fun to be an animal. You going to begrudge me the chance to walk around like this? Four legs lets me get around a lot quicker than two.” He chuckled. “You want me to bring you to Samedi. But I gotta ask you. Bastet. Betty. What the hell are you doing in Paradise, so far away from the arms of the man who loves you?”

“Getting his possessions. Doing a favor on his behalf. And keeping his world from being destroyed.”

The dog snorted through its nostrils, a surprisingly deep sound. Two twin jets of smoke erupted from them like a dragon’s breath. “You think we can’t handle these things on our own, do you? Think we need the biiig bad Egyptian goddess to come bail our bacon out?”

“You always have before.”

There were a long few seconds of silence, and then Legba and I erupted in laughs at the same time. I crouched down in front of the dog, and put my arms around his slender shoulders, squeezing him and rubbing behind his ears. “How are you doing, old man?”

“Oh, can’t complain, can’t complain. Not to you, anyway, you don’t give a damn.”

I could practically hear the sergeant major relaxing behind me as I stood up, letting the dog wind between my legs and past my tail to sniff at the Sergeant Major’s hands. The sergeant, quite to my surprise, produced a small dogbowl, filled to the brim with cane syrup. He set in down in front of Legba, whose human handler took his pipe, and proceeded to brush his coat while Legba sated himself on the syrup. After a few seconds, the dog sat up, his tail wagging. “Alright! Let’s get along.”

The greyhound set off at a dead sprint. I followed with the same speed, racing through the crowd. I shook my tail, leaving a trail of black hairs behind me for the Sergeant Major, who was lumbering along and doing his best not to break anyone in half as he chased the two of us. The streets sped by, and I focused only on the greyhound’s tail. On straightaways he would pull away from me, becoming mere suggestions of movement in the corners of my eye, but sooner or later the streets narrowed, and he was forced to take turns, and I caught up with him on the corners.

We didn’t move like this for long. Neither of us were marathon-runners; we were sprinters. The chase came to an end in a blacksmith’s shop. A blast furnace roared in one corner, an anvil in another. The man standing by the fire was huge, brawny, his arms like a pair of pantyhose stuffed with coconuts. He slammed a hammer down onto the cooling blade on the anvil, shaping and folding it. I sat there for several long seconds, long enough for the sergeant to catch up, before he lifted his head. “Bastet.”

He quenched the blade, his voice low enough that I could feel it thrumming in my bones. I nodded. “Ogoun.”

“You want to see Samedi.”

“Yeah.”

“You have a lot of nerve showing up here.” He gave me a slow, appraising look. I let my eyes wander across the walls. There were quite a lot of weapons hanging there. Axes, hammers, short-bladed machetes. Arguably, all things that could have perfectly innocent uses in industry, food preparation. Things that nobody could reasonably object to being in the hands of laborers, workers. All things that muscle and training could easily send cleaving through flesh and bone.

“You preparing for a war, Ogoun?” I asked, innocently.

“Barbecue,” he said, grinning. “Hammers to knock out the cows. Axes to split the wood for the fires. Knives…” He picked one up fondly. “Well, you need a real sharp knife when you’re slaughtering. Nobody’s happy when they suffer. So. You finally decide you want to show up and do some godly duties, huh? Now you care? What got you up and off your-”

I struck him, hard, in the belly, with one slender fist. He doubled over and choked on the air. I’d had my hands closed, which had saved him from a disemboweling and proven my lack of truly hostile intentions. I waited for him to regain his breath and stand up, and met his eyes, my expression arctic. “Don’t you dare give me your ‘you could have done more’ speech, Ogoun. Your ‘where were you when my people were suffering’ bullshit. There has been suffering all over the world and I have had my hands full trying to keep lost gods from turning our world into a nightmare that never ends, let alone stopping human nature.” I was aware that my eye was twitching. I stepped back, and twisted my head sharply, eliciting a crick in the neck.

“Hells bells, woman,” he groaned out, still rubbing his stomach. “I was just trying to bust your balls. Having a rough time of it?”

“A tad. The Christians were very unhelpful.”

“Yeah, well, don’t think things are going to be any better here. Most of the Loa are just all too eager to be making nice with that bunch of feathered pricks. Aren’t you, Legba?!” He tossed a hammer at Legba, who darted out of the way with an amused look on his slender canine face.

“Don’t act as though you haven’t benefitted, too. Saint George is a good match for you. We have more in common with them than those bloodthirsty Aztec bastards, don’t we?”

“Aaah, the hell we do! Both of us got the shit end of the stick from those bastards! Ought to do something about it.” He looked up at the wall. “But just making barbecue plans, for now. So Bastet, you with us, or against us?”

I met his eyes, and smiled very deliberately. “I’ve made the answer to that very clear over the years, haven’t I? I really hope you’re not planning on doing anything bad, Ogoun. These power struggles are all good fun, and they let people get their anger out in a healthy way. But there is serious shit going down in the world, and if you make a home in your heart for the Horsemen, then I will rip it out.”

His fingers tightened around the anvil, his expression fierce. “It wouldn’t kill you to show a little respect. I was a king, once.”

“Yeah. And you lost it because you couldn’t accept a little mockery. Be a shame if it happened again.” I met his eyes very slowly, and stepped closer. “Do we understand each other?”

Ogoun was like a dog. It was odd, really, how many of the Loa were. He was like a bulldog. Fierce, unyielding, stubborn, proud, and deeply loyal. All fantastic traits to have, sometimes. But they could be very ugly in the wrong context. And something about him always set my teeth on edge and made my tail frizz out. He turned, and spat into the blast furnace. “We understand each other. I ain’t in the mood for a lose-lose scenario.” He was silent for a moment. “You been wondering about this, haven’t you? What’s getting up people’s craws.” He scratched at his neck, and I noticed a small golden ring hanging from his ear. That was odd. He was more of a fan of iron. “Maybe one of the Vemana will be more willing to tell you. They have less idea why it happened, which makes their tongues a bit… looser.”

“I’ll keep it in mind, Ogoun. Thank you.” I patted him on the shoulder. “And a cat can look at a king. Remember that.” I winked at him, and stepped towards the metal wall behind him, knocking on it twice. A small window pulled open in it. The bright eyes inside flicked first to me, then the sergeant major, then Ogoun. Ogoun nodded sharply. The door slowly swung open, revealing the way into the heart of the Loa’s power. Appropriately enough, it was a speakeasy.

“Sorry for the runaround, ma’am,” said the young man inside. There were half a dozen like him, dark skinned men as alike as twins, with shining white teeth and very good jackets. He bowed his head to me. “If you’ll have a seat, the baron will be with you in a moment. The King doesn’t like alcohol on his island, but we make do. Rum? Tequila? We have a very good whiskey.”

“No thanks.” I nodded my head politely. “Just a glass of cream.”

“Irish?”

“Cow.”

I looked towards the others. Four of the men stood around the fifth. He closed his eyes, and then went stiff, standing with his back straight as a ramrod. He fell slowly to the ground, in a single perfect arc. No crumpling, no softening the blow. He landed like a felled tree, making the floorboards rattle as he hit the ground and bounced once. The others surrounded him, carefully removing his white jacket. It was soon replaced with a black undertaker’s outfit, a silk tophat set on his chest. They placed a lollipop by one hand, a glass of something pale pink by the other, set a pair of dark glasses upon his eyes, and placed a pair of cotton plugs in his nose. Then they stood up.

I took the milk, and watched as slowly, creakily, the man took the hat. He sat up and placed it on his head with an expression of a man who knew what the day before him held, and dreaded it. He winced, holding a hand over his eyes to shade away what light got past the dark glasses. Considering the darkness of the bar, there was not really any ambient light to be warded off, but he still seemed peeved by it. With his other, he clumsily grabbed the lollipop, sticking it in his mouth. He took a quick swig of the pink beverage, and winced as he approached me, sitting down heavily across from me.

“Baron.”

“Aaaah, cat, your voice is so damn loud.” He grunted, leaning his head heavily on his hand, slumped forward in his chair. I stared, and my horror mounted.

“Baron. You’re hungover.”

“No, worse. I’m sober.” He groaned, and took another sip of the juice. “Grapefruit juice. Vile stuff. Why do mortal people drink this? What could they have ever done to think they deserved this kind of punishment? Isn’t life hard enough without subjecting themselves to this?”

“Baron, you’re not smoking.”

“Hrngh.” He twirled the lollipop once. “Trying to quit.”

“For what, your health?! You’re dead!”

“Ah!” He clapped his hands on the sides of his head, an expression of aggrieved torment on his face. “I’m right here, woman! Don’t shout! Whisper, if you can manage it!” He grunted, and shook his head. I reached out, and pressed my palm against the side of his head. He leaned into it gratefully, his eyes closed. “It’s been a hell of a year, Bastet.”

“It has,” I agreed, nodding softly. “Do you want to talk?”

“No, I want to drink,” he growled. “But I need a clear head. Need to keep my mind on my business. Can’t afford to get all fuzzy right now.” He slowly kneaded his forehead, his eyes closed. I took the moment to look around the bar. It reminded me of a tiki lounge, almost, the absurd bamboo furniture and palm leaves bizarrely out of place. It looked empty. Nobody was drinking, which was a sure sign that things had gotten bad.

“You’ll forgive me for saying this, Baron, but you once told me that the day you didn’t want a drink was the day I should kill you for being an obvious imposter.”

“Ah, I would welcome it at this point. I would welcome having someone, anyone, able to take the burden of this leadership from me. Have you ever tried to lead people, Bastet? Have you ever tried to lead gods?”

“I think I always had more sense than that.”

“Legba is always ‘Oh, the Christians are our brothers, we both worship the Bondye! Why don’t we work together with them? I mean sure they’re holding us under a ransom and give gruel to those who work to their agendas, but I have a good feeling about them!’ And then Ogoun! ‘Oh, what have the white men ever done for us? We should bury them in a sea of blood with the help of the Aztecs! Let them see how it feels to taste the lash and the chain!’ And Marinette! ‘To hell with both sides! Shatter the keystone! Free us from this place, and let us walk among humans again! It-” He let out a slow breath through his nostrils, and sat up straight. “Do you know what a burden it is, to be the mature person in the room?!”

“I am grateful to say I do not.”

He shook his head. “Why the hell are you here, Bastet? What do you expect to do? You are a good mouser. This is a matter of proud kings.” He paused a moment. “And proud queens.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Queens? Brigitte?”

“No. We are… not talking. She has withdrawn from this matter until I make things right.” He looked down at his hands. “What joy is there in chasing women when your wife is angry at you? I don’t even want to fondle your bottom, Bastet, fine though it is.”

“Thank you,” I said, quite gravely. “I don’t suppose that you would be willing to tell me what this catastrophe is?”

“Well, I would, Bastet. But I will be honest.” He looked up at me, his dark glasses low on his nose. “I don’t think you can help me.” He leaned over and put his head on his hand, and I noticed for the first time that there were tears running down his cheek. “I’ve made a fucking mess of things.”

I was quiet for a moment. Then I scooted the chair over to next to the god of death and parties and resurrection, and leaned my head against his shoulder. I purred very loudly, letting the rumbling sound fill me. The tears slowed, and then stopped, as he began to scratch at my ears. “Nice pussy,” he murmured.

“That’s the Baron I know.” I sat up straight again. “None of the big players can talk about these things. I know. I’ll fix things up anyway, Baron. I’ve got one more meeting, with the Aztec gods. Then I can start talking with the Vemana. Someone is going to have to start spilling the beans sooner or later.” I gave him a slow look, and something became clear. The desperation, the fear in his eyes. “It’s a stability thing, isn’t it? At the moment, everything’s in balance, nobody’s acting directly against each other. But when I figure it out, things are going to get crazy. When the beans get spilled, everyone knows, everyone has to make their play.”

Baron Samedi chuckled. “You’re getting sharper, Bastet. Those humans rubbing off on you, huh? It’s usually the other way around. Badum-psh.” He groaned a little bit, but he was smiling a bit more. “God. I wish Damballa was around to take this off my shoulders.”

I frowned. “He’s not here?”

“No. About a year ago, he left, along with Quetzalcoatl, and the Christians were in a big brouhaha about one of theirs leaving. They didn’t tell us where they were going.” He shook his head. “All the snakes. Wonder if Saint Patrick’s coming, eh? That’s about when things started getting bad. Without Quetzalcoatl to calm the Aztecs, they’ve been building to a burning point, and me… I’m a party animal, Betty. I’m around to have a good time. I’m not made to give anyone orders or keep people on an even keel in a storm.”

I nodded. “Well, I’m going to fix things. However I can. You can depend on me, Baron.” I stood up, and patted him on the shoulder. I turned and walked to the door, and then turned back. A man approached Samedi, an elderly Ghede Loa from the looks of him. He was dressed well, with a cane and glasses, bent over, smiling. He held out a glass to the Baron.

“Something to soothe the nerves, Baron?” he asked, in a soft, warm voice. He looked up, and smiled at me pleasantly, bowing his head.

“Ugh. No, I do not need my nerves ‘soothed’, Linto!” The baron shook his head, and then noticed I had not left. “Is there anything else, Bastet?”

“You can stop people from dying by refusing to take them. Someone prophesied I was going to die.” I paused for a moment, and bit my lip. “Is there any way…?”

“If I could stop the divine from dying, we would not be in nearly so big a mess as we are now, Bastet. I am sorry, I’m just not that powerful. But…” He looked up. “Linto. Do you have any gris-gris left?”

The old man nodded his head, reaching under his top hat. He withdrew a delicate golden ring, and tossed it towards me. I caught it, and nodded, slowly placing it on my left index finger. “Wear that, and bad news will be chasing its own tail trying to find you.” He winked. “I guarantee you.”

“I’ll take what luck I can get.” I slipped it around my finger slowly, staring down at it. It was warm, and there was something strangely comforting about its presence. I closed my eyes, and smiled at the Baron. “Say hello to Erzulie for me, will you?”

I stepped through the door, and out into evening. I frowned. I’d been in there for less than twenty minutes. It should still be mid-day. I looked from side to side. I was not in the blacksmith’s, either. I stood in a narrow alleyway. In one direction was a dead end, a tall tenement wall, and a number of wooden crates, sitting together in a jumbled heap. At the other end was the opening of the alleyway. Between me and that opening sat a young woman, stick-thin, dressed in rags. I could barely make her out in the darkness, even with my superhuman vision. I approached her, and moved to step over her.

She rose in a single movement, her fist slamming into my jaw hard enough to send me cartwheeling back. I spun and landed on the balls of my feet, turning the backward movement into a backflip, coming to a halt with my teeth bared, hands raised in claws. The rags burst into flame, and fell from her body. She was thin to the point of emaciation, her eyes burning and empty, her hair hanging in dark curls around her as the flames erupted from her skin, crackling and engulfing her. “Bastet,” she murmured. Flames erupted from the ground, forcing me to take two steps backwards. “Still fighting monsters?”

“Marinette,” I said, smiling tartly. “Still being one?”

“Ah. Hah. Hah. Hah.” Her laugh was like the rattling of dice, dry and full of death, as she stared at me sightlessly. She took a step towards me, walking through the flames without an apparent recognition.  She was a violent spirit, a thing of terror, dark magic. Not evil, not even bad. Just very terrible. “It’s always the same, isn’t it? The callous knight who is killed by a peasant werewolf. The fat king who is brought low by the gypsy witch. The slave taker strangled with the slave’s own chains. The god dying on a cat’s claws. Evil is a word that the high use for the low who rise above their station, isn’t it?”

She hurled herself at me with incredible speed. I grabbed her wrists, and ground my teeth at the heat, while she clawed at my face. “I love our talks, Marinette, but did you have a point to get to- Hngh!”

Her knee had come up, striking me hard in the stomach as she moved in close, pushing her body against mine. Her breath came out in burning coals. “Fire’s burning hot! It’s been cooold for all these years, Bastet! But it’s burning hotter! Passion’s comin’ back! Starting to WANT things again!” She snapped her teeth at me, and I pulled back away from her, trying to avoid any bites. My back pressed up against the dead end of the alley. “Feels good!”

“Well that’s wonderful to hear, Marinette, but you seem to be having a little bit of trouble remembering that we’re supposed to be friends, you psychotic!”

“Oh, we are friends! I got a gift for you, Betty! Great gift! Best gift you ever got! Freedom!”

“What the hell, Marinette, you’d better not be the one who’s trying to kill me! I don’t want to cut up that woman you’re in, but I’m not about to let you kill me!”

“Not a chance, Betty!” She cackled. “Four strings binding you! Love, Duty, the past, the future! Our strings are going to get snapped by you real soon, Betty, so I’m doing you a favor in exchange! You’re gonna help crack this fucking golden cage for us, so I’ll let you choose which one of those you want cut!”

“Bullshit!”

“Ooooh, yeah! The chains of fate are heavy around you! Too heavy for me to cut alone! But I got help! Choose!”

Horace.

Humanity.

The people I’d lost.

Death.

“The future!” I said, without even thinking about it. Marinette went very still, and smiled.

“Done.” She winked. I frowned at her.

“What, just like that?”

“Yeah. Don’t worry. It’s all taken care of. Fate’s snipped. Snap snap.” She held up a hand and mimicked a pair of scissors cutting something. “Easy as pie. You been fighting alone a very long time, Betty. About time someone else was there alongside you, wasn’t it? You’re going to like this one.”

Then the woman slumped to the ground, her hands cracked and bleeding. I studied her for a second, and groaned with annoyance. Then I helped carry the woman to the nearest clinic, where a smiling and unfamiliar angel nodded and picked her up. “Marinette’s been getting a little bit overactive. We’ve been having a lot of people… Well, making unwise decisions.” The shining white-winged figure bowed their head to me, and I tried very hard not to drool. “Do you need any help? You seem burned.”

“I’m fine,” I grumbled, waving a hand. “I just need a good night’s sleep.”

I made my way back to the apartment. This time I came in through the window right as the men were dancing, and felt slightly vindicated by their embarrassed stances and hastily hidden beer bottles. “You know,” I said, taking a seat, “I’ve really gotten pretty used to being the one who gets to make mysterious dark prophecies and push people around for information. This city is shit.” I snapped my fingers and pointed at one of the men. “Crack me one of those beers. Right? It’s not just me, right? You guys find this place kind of a fucking pain in the ass too, right? The snooty bastards!”

One of the featureless figures nodded hesitantly. I pointed at him and grinned as I took the beer, swigging it back, and not caring how bad it tasted. “And tomorrow we have to deal with the fucking Aztecs! That bunch of bloodthirsty bastards, the only half-sensible one of whom is apparently fucking missing in action. You!” I pointed towards the one who had nodded. “What’s your name?”

He paused for a moment, looking at the others. Then he swallowed. “Tom, ma’am.”

“Tom. You know what we have that the Horsemen don’t?” He shook his head. “We can work together. We can protect each other. We’re not working at cross purposes.” I took another swig of the bottle. “I made a choice, a long time ago, to protect humans. That includes every one of you.” I grinned. “Come on. None of us is dying on this mission. Have another beer.”

The rest of Saturday night passed a hell of a lot better than the previous one had.

2 thoughts on “Chapter 4: Threescore and Ten

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    And additionally, I’ve got my first Patreon story up; If you’re interested, it’s just a dollar a month to get access to the stories, and we’re already three quarters of the way towards the first goal- thanks to four people who have all been extraordinarily generous!If we get to $60 a month, that’s a whole 10,000 word Hell’s Kitchen Sink story each month!

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