The doors swung open, to reveal an empty elevator. To their credit, the men manning the machine guns didn’t hesitate for even a second. Both barrels swung up towards the roof above the elevator, and began to fire. The heavy pounding of the machine guns filled the air with low thumps. Round after round pounded up through the roof, the dense uranium tearing terrible gouges through the stone and metal, perforating it like it was cheesecloth. It was loud enough that no one but I made out the two soft pops of a small caliber weapon.
I threw myself backwards, unseen, through an open window. My nails sank into the stone facing of the apartment, and I hung there, becoming a black shadow against the night. Toes and fingers pressed into the wall, I watched in the darkness as the men tried to fired again. This time, there was just a dull click as the machine guns failed. One of them began to strip down the machine gun, and stared into its workings. A bullet had been lodged in its ammo chain, blocking the smooth flow of ammunition. It had been an impossibly lucky shot. My skin ran cold.
Nobody else noticed the dark figure dropping down from the ceiling behind the distracted soldier. She reminded me almost of Li Xue Zi in her movements, sinuous and graceful. Asian girl, dark brown hair. She was petite, perhaps a few inches shorter than me. There was no particular bulkiness to her form, no sign of being the kind of woman who works out enough to beat a 250 pound trained soldier in hand to hand combat. Nonetheless, her arm slid around the man’s throat. With a single dextrous movement, she unbalanced him, her knee pressing into his from the side, forcing the big man down to the ground. She added an unnecessary amount of force to the movement, slamming his skull against the ground in the heavy combat helmet. The crack provoked an instant response.
The three other soldiers turned as one, almost insect-like in their precision and skill. Long combat knives appeared in their hands with the speed of a conjurer producing a bouquet of flowers, and almost as threatening. One of them squared off with her, while the other two turned away, their eyes scanning for the other man. Jack.
Jill laughed softly, her eyes flickering around the room. “One, two, three, four…” She stomped down hard, into the fallen man’s kidneys. He let out a low wheeze. “Three. Where are the other two? I’m not here for small fry.”
The man facing her lunged forward. His knife made smooth, sharp, restrained movements. Each thrust was light, leaving no openings. Jill took one step back, then two. Emboldened by the success, the man reached out with his free hand, grabbing for her hair to try to restrain her and stab her. My eyes could barely follow the movements as she whipped her head in a circle. She caught his wrist between her neck and her shoulder, and pulled her head back as her hands moved up. She caught the wrist that held the knife, and twisted it with both hands while slamming her forehead forward.
The sum result of her actions were to pull a man twice her weight off his balance, break his nose through his faceguard, and force him to drop the knife. She caught it deftly, and stabbed it through his thigh. The man let out a sharp scream as his leg gave out under him, and he hit the ground only a few inches away from his comrade.
Jill raised her head, eyes widening, and she leapt back at the exact same moment as the man she had kicked in the kidneys rose to his feet in a bear hug, his arms reaching out to grab her. He missed her by a hairsbreadth, and she caught his chin with a wild looking kick that nevertheless snapped his head up sharply, leaving him reeling. She panted for a moment, and grinned. “Tough soldiers, Sergeant Major! Hey, what’s your name, anyway? What kind of dumb bastard goes into a world of myths, legends, and heroes, and doesn’t even bring along the protection of a name?” She dodged another bear hug, easier this time, and struck hard with her elbow, right into the man’s armpit. He crumbled to the ground, and it didn’t look like he was getting another heroic second wind.
The last two men stood, their knives out, back to back. One was facing Jill, the other was checking the windows. Their camouflage made them flicker and blur, difficult to keep an eye on. Jill seemed to have no difficulty from the way she smiled. “How about you two? Got anything to say? Your buddies just got their asses kicked by a girl, isn’t that embarrassing? Don’t you want to say something? To make some sort of statement?” She watched them for a moment, and sighed. “Military men. You’re so fucking stoic. It reminds me of my dad.”
She lunged forward, and sidestepped a sharp stab aimed at her jugular. It wasn’t that she was impossibly, inhumanly fast. She was quick, but it was the kind of quick you’d expect from a human. But she reacted before people acted.
Human reaction times are measured in tenths of a second. Mine might be measured in thousandths of a second. But she was reacting before anyone had even acted. A negative reaction time. Prophecy. The thought frightened me. It was rare to find any creature with a gift for prophecy. Even then, it was usually crippling, or vague, or difficult. But she seemed to know what would happen before she had even come here. She knew what fate was. Worse, she was able to change it, in the moment. Make it? Who knew. The idea made my stomach sink with dread. I had fought many terrible and frightening creatures, but someone who could fight like that?
Then I looked closer. She was breathing hard. Sweating. She was able to prophecy, to react before someone acted, but she was still human. Not superhumanly strong, not superhumanly fast. Not superhumanly tough. She could get run down. And if her body couldn’t keep up… I tensed my fingers into the stone facing as I watched. Jill grinned at the men. “Come on, boys. My partner’s waiting for me to get bored, or get overwhelmed. He’s not going to shoot you before that. Why don’t you see if the two of you can take me at once?”
The men didn’t take the bait. They remained steadfast, keeping a close eye on her, shuffling slowly, their backs pressed together. They approached cautiously, their eyes constantly moving, but one of them always watching Jill. They shifted closer, and Jill backed away, letting the two of them stand over their wounded comrades. “Oh, dear,” said Jill, smiling. “They look rather bad, don’t they? But there’s only two of you still standing. If one of you tries to take the time to check up on them, patch them up, me and Jack might get bored. Might decide to give you a good stabbing. Might decide to perforate your arteries. Shame that you have to care about people, isn’t it?”
The Sergeant Major loomed out of the shadows. How the huge man had stayed unseen I couldn’t imagine, but he had. He held up a hand. A small detonator was visible in it. “From what we’ve been told, you are pretty hard to disable. Prophecy, foresight, the ability to follow a path to murder someone. So I don’t expect this to do much to you. But your buddy, Jack- He still needs to see to shoot, doesn’t he?”
He flicked the switch. I closed my eyes. There was a sharp actinic hiss, and a light so bright it slid through my eyelids, dazzling me. The concussive whoomp filled the room, shaking it, and the tinkling of glass mixed filled the night. Half a dozen flashbangs, concealed in the lighting fixtures. I opened my eyes, and the apartment was almost totally dark. The glass windows had been shattered by the impact. My eyes were able to cut through the darkness, seeing the soldiers pull on their night vision goggles. Unlike the stories I had watched, it did not create brilliant green glowing eyeholes on their faces to make them easier to shoot in the head for Jack.
The Sergeant Major and one of his still standing men stood on either side of Jill, while the other man pulled his allies towards a far corner of the room. The sole remaining source of light in the apartment came from the white lights within the elevator. There was a soft ding, as the elevator doors slowly closed. The remaining light in the room drained away, until it was gone with a soft clunk of doors pressing together.
Jill lunged. The soldier interposed himself between her and the sergeant major, and took a knee to the breadbasket for his troubles. He curled up around the blow, grabbing her around the legs, holding her in place. The sergeant major looked up at her darkly, shaking his head. Then he took out a small remote control. He pressed a button, and smiled. “In about twenty seconds, a sabot round weighing thirty pounds is going to pass through your midsection at mach seven.” Then he wrapped his arms around her, crushing her in an immense bear hug, the two men holding her tight. “Tough luck.”
“You’re willing to die to take me out, are you?” asked Jill, smiling. I turned my head wildly, looking around the island. A ridiculous act; I’d never see the thing coming. “That sounds like a lot of power. Shame you have to be accurate with it, isn’t it?”
“How much do you want me to die? Will you let go of me at the last second?”
“Or will you-”
There was a high whistle, and a crunch. The round was there and gone faster than I could see. The only thing visible was an expanding cloud of dust, misty and thick, filling the air.
At the very last second, Jill had twisted, and moved out of the path of the round. The movement had brought the Sergeant Major’s arm into the path of the round. The wreckage of his hand lay on the ground, sparks rising from the shattered metal. Up to the shoulder, his arm was gone. A torn wreckage of steel and circuitry was visible protruding from the sleeve of his uniform. He panted and clenched his jaw, facing off against her.
“What the fuck,” said Jill, narrowing her eyes. “You’re a cyborg? What kind of bullshit is that?”
“You’ve been given mystical powers by one of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse. What room do you think that you have to complain?” And then he lunged at her, his other hand swinging. It was moving faster than a human should’ve been able to, sharp knife-handed thrusts that moved with all the speed and lethality of an actual knife. “Blessing of War. My body doesn’t reject these things. Let me become the perfect testbed.” He swung again, and the spinning blow managed to catch Jill a glancing blow, leaving a cut in her side, sending her spinning and gasping for air. “Don’t have a heart anymore. My skull’s a carbon fiber composite. It could turn aside an anti-materiel round. Can you see where you can kill me, Jill?”
She grunted, and stepped back, shaking her head. “This is fucking disturbing. You’re not even human anymore. Just a thing.” She spread her lips, her teeth shining white. “Guess that means I can go off the chain. Not human, it’s not murder, right?” She reached down, and straightened up, a combat knife in her hand. One of the men must have lost his. It glittered brightly.
“I don’t get tired, either. Give it three or four days and I might start needing a new protein pack or something. But you’re going to start feeling the fatigue a long time before I do, Jill. I just have to outlast you.”
“Oooh, promises, promises. You’re not my type, freak.” She grinned as there was a slight shudder in the Sergeant Major’s frame. “Oh, yes. You made yourself steel, but that brain’s still soft and fleshy, isn’t it? Still vulnerable. It can still be hurt. You fucking disgusting zombie. You’re no different than a corpse, reanimated by one of the Loa, or one of the skins that Xipe Totec fills with life. You can’t protect your country. You can’t protect yourself. You can’t protect anything.” She twisted, and flung the knife. It caught the man providing medical aid to the two fallen soldiers in the shoulder. The man gasped, and fell to the ground, clutching his shoulder, but making no further noises.
The sergeant major charged forth, roaring in berserk anger. His arms swung in sharp, slender arcs, throwing blows that knocked holes through the floor and shattered furniture. Not one of them landed on Jill as she effortlessly dodged them. She slipped through his grasp, and seized something. She smiled as she held it up, the small remote glittering in her hand. The Sergeant Major grunted. “Good luck. It’s biometrically sealed. Only my hand- Oh, you bitch.”
She held up his mangled hand, the fingers still intact, and smiled. “You’ve got one chance, here, Sergeant. Yield. Surrender. Tell me where the cat is. Me and Jack, we just want to kill her. To make things RIGHT. Tell us where she is. And you and your men are safe. Otherwise… Well, I bet this could get through that thick skull of yours.”
There was a long moment of silence. Then the Sergeant Major straightened his back. “Kill me. Kill my men. She’s away, and safe. You’re never getting her hands on her.”
There was the crack-snap of a flare being lit, as it landed between the two of them. Then there was a gunshot, very soft in the ringing aftermath of the flashbangs, and the sergeant major dropped to the ground. Jack stepped into the light, moving somewhat stiffly with each step, and smiling down at him. “There’s no perfect defense. There’s always a weak spot. In that case, I took out the hydraulic system cord that had been exposed by your broken arm. All that steel, and it won’t move without the fluid pumping in your pipes. Still human enough, it seems.” Jack set a foot on the sergeant’s chest. “You don’t quite get it, do you? This is a world of stories. Of heroes, and villains. And do you know, I don’t think I can think of a single hero who ever was known for chopping his body apart piece by piece, who sacrificed the lives of all of his men. Heroes win.” He chuckled. “I’m a hero, for example.” He looked up. “But Bastet is not. She is a coward. She skulks and feeds on vermin. You’ve let her get away. So, I think I’m going to let my frustrations out on your men. And it appears we have a volunteer.”
The man who had been kneed by Jill was on his feet. He lunged for her in a desperate move. She twisted, and had him around the throat, the combat knife at his throat. He fell to his knees, his posture defeated, still wearing that mask. “You bastard,” growled the Sergeant Major. He was twitching slightly. But steel couldn’t move on its own, no matter how strong the will that was powering it. The man’s broken, inhuman frame lied helpless on the ground, leaking important looking fluids as Jack approached the last soldier.
“Take this, for example. You know why modern militaries obscure the personality, the character of the soldiers so much? It’s the same reason that writers and directors do it. It’s to turn you into less of a person. Cover your face, hide any unusual characteristics, smooth away the quirks with training and activity and merciless drilling. Obedience. It’s to turn you into something less than human. To make you into a machine, like the sergeant major there. No name, no sign of who you are. This way, no one will miss you when you die. It’s to make it easier to kill you. You’re not a hero, or even a supporting character. You’re a prop, a straw dummy. No one will weep for you when you are gone, soldier man. Tell me. Do you even have a name?”
The man mumbled something. Jill yanked the balaclava headmask up and off of his face, exposing his features. A handsome enough man, and young. Surprisingly young. Dark hair was shaved into a crew cut. He couldn’t have been older than Horace. His brown eyes were full of fear, but his lips were set in a hard line. “He asked if you had a name,” purred Jill.
“Tom. Tom Walkirk. You want my rank and identification too?”
“Got to love that canned response. Like a robot. And tell me, Tom. Do you think that your name will save you? Do you think being a person will save you?”
Tom’s head lowered. Jill brought the knife up to his neck, and did not move it again.
This was because my nails were tightening into her wrist, threatening to tear it open. My other hand was around her throat, nails pricking at her skin, drawing forth beads of blood. She made a choking noise as my fingers tightened, my eyes on the murderer before me. I let a slow, deadly smile spread across my lips. “Well, Jack. You wanted me. What are you going to do now?”
He chuckled softly. “Good. Tom. Go to your other men. If you don’t interfere, we won’t kill you. Try to stay out of the way. Trust me, you can’t make a difference. Just be glad you’re going to live through this. And drag your useless husk of a sergeant with you.”
Tom looked up at me, his eyes watching for a signal. I smiled. “Leave it to me, Tom. This is what I do.”
“Isn’t it just,” growled Jack, raising the gun. I didn’t recognize its make, but it was boxy and strangely angular. At the same time, Jill twisted like an eel in my hands, my nails dragging uselessly across her skin, unable to dig in. I kicked her hard in the stomach, and backed away into the darkness, my eyes glittering and then fading as I took cover by a large, leather-clad couch. Jack stood, the gun raised, as Jill moved over to his side.
“I think I get your fighting style,” I said softly. “Jack provides support from afar for Jill. The two of you are really in sync, so there’s no danger of friendly fire, normally. But in the dark, like this, the two of you can’t synergize as well. Jill knows just where I am, she could get a hit in, but I’m faster than her, stronger, more enduring. She doesn’t stand a chance like this. You two are ambush predators. You normally wait for a good opportunity. But you know I’m not here for long, and you’d never stand a chance against me with my human by my back. If you killed him, you know I’d tear you apart. So you had to get reckless.”
“Didn’t have to,” murmured Jill, but Jack rested a hand on her shoulder.
“Quite true, all of it, Bastet. And now, we are at an impasse.”
“Yeah. Of course, you need sunrise to see. I just need someone powerful to decide to investigate. And since the Sergeant Major was kind enough to fire a one-of-a-kind piece of kinetic artillery through the room, I suppose that it’s only a matter of time. The rest of his men are coming. And who knows what else. Maybe you should retreat, hmmm?”
“Oh, we’ll go,” said Jack, smiling. “Soon enough. Soon enough. But not without your head.”
“Well, that’s a shame. Because you’re waiting for the sun. And that’s going to be a while coming.”
“Is it? Well, we’ll just have to make ourselves comfortable. You know, we met some friends of yours in New York City. What was the police woman’s name, Jill?”
Jill tapped her lips with one finger. “Hmmm. I can’t quite… I swear, it was on the edge of my lips.” She reached into a pocket, and fished something out. I stared at it, frowning. It was small, round, about the size of a grape, white.
It was an eye. A blue eye. “Dane,” I murmured.
“Dane Larson! That’s right. She was interesting! She fought so hard to keep from having to call you in. She so badly wanted to prove herself. To you, I think. She wanted to prove she wasn’t just another pathetic, helpless human.” Jill tossed the eye up and down, and smiled. “Shame how it all turned out, isn’t it? You know what they say, the good die young.”
I struck. Not at them, not directly. I kicked the couch towards them. It rolled through the air and struck hard, landing on top of the flare, forcing the two of them apart. Jack fumbled for his jacket, holding the gun with one hand on my last position, and firing a pair of shots. I was no longer anywhere near there, and as he pulled out the flare and lit it, my arm closed around his throat, putting him in a headlock, and holding the gun out, overpowering him effortlessly. I pressed my chest against his back, intimately, almost tenderly, and smiled at Jill, my face turned eerie and sinister in the flare’s light, teeth shining an inch from his jugular. My finger rested on the cheek, inches away from his one good eye.
“Turnabout’s fair play, isn’t it? You took Dane’s eye, I take his.” I smiled toothily. “We want things nice and fair, don’t we?”
Jack let out a strangled growl, and lifted his right leg up until it was almost horizontal. I heard a click, and swore as understanding hit me, at the same time as the pair of shotgun slugs fired into my stomach. I was better than bulletproof, but it was still painful, knocking me rolling away. I came to my feet outside of the circle of light made by the flare as Jack staggered back to his feet, discarding the shotgun. It had been concealed down one pants leg, keeping his leg stiff, some strange trigger assembly firing it off when he lifted his leg. The bastard had been ridiculously prepared. I backed away. And then I realized that both of them were looking at me. My eyes widened, and I turned.
The full moon rose above the sea, glittering down into the room, flooding it with bright silver light. I glared at it. “You fucking traitor.”
Then I sprinted as Jack drew a bead on me. I dove behind a column, waited a moment, and then sprinted again, hitting the ground behind a couch. A bullet went through my Achilles tendon, and it hurt. I let out a sharp scream, and clung to my ankle, biting my lip. I didn’t know how he’d cut through my divine flesh. Hell, I didn’t know how they’d found me so effectively. I looked over towards the kitchen. I was weak. I was badly hurt. I couldn’t sneak, now. I had one chance, possibly. The cooler full of sandwiches. The love and thought Horace had put into them. One bite of that, and I would tear these two limb from limb. I just had to get close enough.
I watched, my eyes widening in horror, as Jill stepped into the small kitchenette. She had the combat knife in one hand, and an ugly grin on her face, as she motioned for me to approach. The goddamn foresight.
“You know, Jack, I had an angel tell me something interesting,” I said, slowly standing up, my hands up, exposing myself. Jack grinned.
“What’s that, Bastet?”
“She told me my death was foretold. It was fated. That I had no chance, that it was time to make peace with my death. Not the first time I’ve heard that, but it was the first time it was delivered from someone who sounded like they knew what they were talking about. But why, Jack? Why did you want to kill me?”
Jack slowly studied me, and he frowned. “You don’t know? You really are unaware? Why someone would want to kill you? After who you murdered?” He chuckled softly. “Well, curiosity killed the cat. I’m not going to be giving you any satisfaction, though.”
“Come on, Jack. If this whole rage against the gods thing is your plan, you’ve made a serious miscalculation. You can’t kill gods. You can’t kill ideas. You shoot me dead, and in a matter of a few years, a new Bastet will appear. All of that belief people have, all of that faith, all of my power- They have to go somewhere. They can’t just disappear from the world. Not even I can kill that kind of thing. Why go to all of this trouble?”
“It’s true. A new Bastet will arise. And she’ll have none of the memories you did. She’ll be you so far as the legends go, but a very different person. And she will know that her predecessor died for the things she had done. Perhaps she’ll take a wiser path.”
He pulled the trigger. My hand came down in a futile defensive gesture. There was a crack of gunfire, and a sudden pain in my hand.
The bullet fell to the ground, along with the broken halves of the golden ring Ghede Linto had given me. Jack stared for a moment, and pulled the trigger again. There was a click from the submachine gun.
I lunged forward at him, and bore him down under my weight. My claws reached for his face, but came up short. Even as I pinned him down, Jill had me, a knife pressed against my throat. Forcing me back. I couldn’t reach without cutting my own throat. And I realized, even if it meant killing him, I didn’t want to die. I couldn’t let myself die. Tears began to run down my cheeks, as I realized how trapped I was. Jack pulled away, squirming out from under me, and loaded a new clip. “Good. Very good, Bastet. You almost had me. I guess that ten years of this take their toll, don’t they? I almost got cocky with you. But you’re going to die tonight.”
“Someone else told me something,” I said. “That my future was no longer guaranteed. That I was free from that prophecy.”
“Well,” Jack said, smiling as he loaded the gun. “Guess it didn’t do much good, huh? You can’t fight fate.” He slapped the clip in, and it clicked into place. I closed my eyes.
Horace. How would he react when he found I was dead? What terrible, foolish, self-destructive things would he do to himself? Would he ever be able to forgive me for leaving him behind? Humans had an afterlife, a place they went to when they died. I’d never heard of the same thing for gods. Perhaps I would simply cease to exist, burning up and blowing away in the wind like ash. Some new person would wear my face and my regalia, and they would be Bastet. I thought of them finding Horace, and it hurt more than I could imagine. Being replaced, and nobody even noticing, or caring. Just like a dead cat.
“Help me,” I whispered softly, my eyes closed. “God, War, Marinette, someone, please.” My voice broke a little bit, cracking. “Help me.”
“Ah, begging for help. The last vestige of pride, snapping like a rotted cord.” Jack’s voice was deep, and cheerful. “Even evil has loved ones. Even the dark things can feel love. But it doesn’t make them any less evil, it doesn’t make them any less dark. It doesn’t mean that you get a reprieve.” He leveled the gun at my head as Jill held me. The barrel seemed to encompass the world. “No one is coming to help you.”
There was a soft ding, as the elevator started moving up from the ground floor. Jack rolled his eyes. “Ugh. Just a moment, please, while I kill these men.”
“Please don’t,” I murmured softly. “Please. Just- If you have to- kill me. Don’t hurt anyone else. Please.”
He looked at me for a moment, and almost seemed to consider it. Then he smiled. “Tough.” Then he turned back towards the elevator, the gun drawn.
Jill let go of me, suddenly. “Jack!” she shouted, and leapt at him. She hit him just as the elevator doors slammed out of their frames, twirling and bouncing across the room, barely missing the two killers. They landed in a heap, as the bright light of the elevator flared out, silhouetting a figure.
The driver stood in the door frame of the elevator, in his white formal uniform. White gloves on both hands, the knuckles torn open to reveal the skin. He slowly reached up, and removed the cap. Messy, dark hair hung around his face. Longer than it had been in the photo. He must have allowed his beard to grow out somewhat, but it had been shaved, revealing his jawline, a faint five-o-clock shadow darkening it. Soft hazel eyes sparkled as he looked first at Jack and Jill, and then at me.
“Are you okay?” asked Silas Nash.
I stared for a moment, my stomach twisting in knots. Then I nodded quickly.
“Good.” He stepped into the room, and walked over towards me, carefully helping me up. His hands were warm, but his touch made my skin crawl, like something dead. It reminded me of the smell around Xipe Totec, the lingering wrongness. “Don’t worry,” he murmured. “Everything will be okay now.”
And despite the disquieting aura, I believed him.
He slowly turned towards Jack and Jill. “You two. You’re servants of the Horseman Death, yeah?” He stood between me and them as the elevator doors slowly closed. “Have you killed anyone here tonight?”
“Not yet,” growled Jack, rising to his feet, drawing his gun again.
“Then in respect of that fact, I’m offering you one chance. Walk away. Know that if you leave, you’ll never be able to stand up to me again. If you falter, you will never again get a chance to kill me. This is your one chance to beat me. Or you can leave in peace.”
Jack fired the gun once. Nash’s hand flashed through the air in a smooth arc, closed into a fist, and then slowly opened. A bullet fell from his fingers, and rung against the floor. He took a slow, deep breath through his nostrils. The room seemed to shudder slightly as he set himself down into a low stance, both hands raised, presenting one side of his body to the two. A smile spread across his lips, slowly. “I can’t reward you for it, for obvious reasons, but I’m glad you did that. It’s been so long since I’ve seen her.”
“What the hell are you talking about, boy?” asked Jack. He took a step back, and Jill took a step forward.
“War,” murmured Silas. “I’m going to enjoy this.”