“Cooking is one of the oldest human gifts,” murmured Heather. She smiled at him, and Nash’s heart ached. He felt the tears dripping at the corners of his eyes. “In the ages long past, men sat by fires, and lured the beasts out of the darkness with the promise of fresh-cooked meat.” He looked around. The warm summer sunshine fell through pine trees, illuminating the back lot behind the old motor lodge. Tables set up. People joining together for a feast. A deadly quest ahead of him, but that wasn’t what frightened him now. It was the look on their faces.
“I, and my sisters, love you.”
He sat bolt upright, gasping for air, his throat tight from the dream. His chest burned, seared with the ferocious fire that was tearing at his insides. He reached out instinctively for Pearl’s gift. The loneliness, the desperation, the horror, the shame, they all faded away slowly, ebbing out of him like a tide. He took deep breaths, calming himself down, as he clutched at the blankets. The world came back to him slowly, as he pieced together the previous night’s events, separating them from the dream of a soft summer day, a lifetime ago.
Not quite a year ago when he’d come to Zion. Not quite a year ago when he learned the truth about the world, and about himself. He reached up to his chest. The white undershirt bunched under his fingers as he squeezed. He had seen terrible things. He’d traveled into the midnight guts of Yomi and fought a goddess of death, maggot-ridden and terrible. He had faced Echidna, Mother of Monsters, seen her terrible fury made manifest, and been its target on three separate occasions. He’d felt the Hero of the Greeks, Heracles, throttling him to within an inch of his life. He had seen so many terrible things. And yet, the nightmares were always of the happy times.
He knew why that was. It was simple. He had to be alone. The gifts had been given so he could fight, so he could protect, so he could save the world, and all of the many people he cared for. They were too much for a soul to bear. And so his own traitorous heart tormented him with the reminder that he would never be allowed to have a soul-
He breathed in again. Pearl’s gift flooded him, and he let the thoughts flow away. The mad impulses. He stood up, and pulled open the curtains to his room. The bright tropical sunlight flooded the room, and he closed his eyes.
Last night had been the first time he’d fought in months. Ever since he’d beaten Markov Lorickson into the ground. He rested a hand on the slender iron rod hanging from a pendant around his throat, and squeezed it. “Don’t worry. Soon. We’ll be finished with this place soon, and you’ll be back in your father’s hands.”
That was another dark memory that never showed up in his dreams. Convincing a father- a vile billionaire, a man who hurt others, a cruel and heartless individual who used others up, but still a father- that he couldn’t keep his family safe. Convincing that man that he couldn’t protect his own daughter, that the only way to keep her safe, the only hope for her, was to give her to a stranger who had humiliated him. Who had faced him at the height of his power without weapon. Why weren’t those the things he had nightmares about?
And Nash knew, as he stared out at the cerulean skies swirling over the bay, streaked with dark clouds, that it was because he wasn’t afraid of them. In the midst of terror and death and monsters, he was at home like nowhere else. He was made for the darkness. And it was in the happy moments that he fell apart. Because he couldn’t deal with happiness. He couldn’t deal with the people who cared about him. He couldn’t be next to them. He felt the prickling in his chest once again, and focused.
Four months in this place. Four months hiding, pretending to be one of the Vemana. Watching the power plays of the different sides. Waiting for the right moment. The last time he’d played this game, he had been outmatched and outplayed because he didn’t know the players. There was nothing he could do about that but learn. He knew the city, its people, those who lived in it. He’d been biding his time. The two killers had forced him to play his hand early, but he was ready. It was only a matter of a few hours.
First, preserve the keystone. If that cannot be done, preserve those who are in the city, and the spirit of the stone. And if all else should fail, preserve the world. He took a deep breath, and stared out the window again, this time at the streets below. The slum was cramped, busy, and beautiful. He tried not to lose himself in the sight. He tried not to make many connections to anything, nowadays. He didn’t know what might trigger the terminal burn of his soul, the point where he was enough of a person for the bargains he’d made, the power he’d greedily taken, to begin to rip apart him apart.
He stepped into the shower, and closed his eyes. The hot water ran down his skin, and he turned his head slightly to one side. “Pearl?” he murmured softly. “Ariel? Gene? Heather?”
The silence grew deafening.
He’d grown up convinced that he was schizophrenic. That the voices in his head were tormenters. He’d finally learned the truth, that the things he had seen were real. The voices became real. And then they left. Ariel, Heather, Gene, Pearl. He hadn’t seen one of them since he left Zion. And he hadn’t heard from Bella since he arrived in Paradise.
Four months alone.
He nearly slammed his fist through the tiles, but instead, he gently rapped his knuckles against the wall. The wall hadn’t done him any harm. He had more control than that. He stood in the shower, wearing only the slender iron rod containing the soul of Markov’s daughter on a hemp string, hanging from his throat. He missed the days when he had someone to embarrass him, to make him flush, to tease him. The days when he’d had someone.
“Why didn’t she show up?” he asked aloud to the iron rod. “I mean, she always shows up when I fought. She’s been there. Been by my side. The Sisters, I can understand that. They wanted me to have a happy ending. They gave up all that power expecting I’d give it up in turn. I disappointed them. I FAILED them.” His right hand tightened into a fist, knuckles popping, so tight his nails dug into his palm, so hard his fingers shook. “But Bella, I’m doing this all for her, I’m fighting to save her, I’ve given up everything for her, and she isn’t appearing any more. Is it because-” He breathed in sharply.
He’d been still for these last few months. Not fighting. Not struggling. Not proving he was worthy. Last night, those two had been just a pair of amateurs. They hadn’t even landed a single decent blow on him. That couldn’t be satisfying. He wasn’t fighting hard enough. He wasn’t struggling hard enough. He wasn’t doing enough for her. That had to be it. He sank down to his knees, and held his forehead, squatting in the shower, feeling the hot water run down his face, obliterating the tears. He couldn’t afford to be weak. He had been given the chance to be weak, and had rejected that path long ago. Today was Monday, the day of Prester John’s announcement. He needed to be ready. Last night, he had left the moment that the two killers had fled. Bastet would, knowing his luck, have the worst possible impression of him. But he’d make do with her being alive.
It was taking him longer, each morning, to completely overcome his emotions. Not because the power was growing less effective, but because he wanted to feel them. He could control himself utterly, so long as he wanted to. But there was always the temptation to feel the pain, the loneliness, the anger, the betrayal. The little traitor voice spoke to him. ‘Don’t I deserve it?’
He didn’t. He didn’t deserve the time that those emotions would take. So he sat at the table, crossing one leg over the other. He opened one of the books of mythology, and studied it intently for an hour or two. He’d gone blind into a world of monsters and legends before, and it hadn’t done him any favors. He made it two pages before his mind devolved into a swirl of thoughts.
He’d always enjoyed reading when he was young. But he’d hated when a book ended, and in the interim between that book and the next, the hero had seen his life devolve back to what it had been at the beginning of the first. All of that progress somehow unmade while the readers weren’t watching. It always seemed so unhappy, cheating them of a happy ending. Like the moment you looked away, the hero lost it all.
But Nash wasn’t a hero, and this life and this loneliness were his happy ending. He was not what he had been when he entered Zion. He could make a difference, now.
The church bells rang, and Nash stood up. He put on the white driver’s uniform, frowning at the torn places on it.
“I deserved it, you know,” he said to the metal rod as he leaned up against the wall. He kept an eye on the procession of Loa as they passed the mouth of the alleyway where he was hiding. Baron Samedi at the front, black sunglasses and a hat brim pulled low showing the Baron’s distaste for sobriety. “I drove them all away. I had to. I’m stronger alone. And the longer they spend away from me, the quicker they can forget. Otherwise, it’s just torturing them. Greedy. Selfish. Selfish goddamn bastard.” He breathed in sharply. “Why didn’t she come?”
He stepped forward, and merged seamlessly into the Loa’s procession as they marched towards the tower. For a white man in a torn white suit in a procession of Loa spirits, he didn’t stand out. He’d noticed it more and more, that people seemed to not connect with him. It had always been an issue for him growing up, and he suspected it was a consequence of what had been done to him. No soul, nothing for others to feel. If they acknowledged his presence, that dissonance disturbed him. So unless he made them acknowledge him, he simply passed beneath their senses.
It had limits. What he was going to do today, for example, would ensure he wasn’t going to go anywhere in Paradise without being noticed.
As the procession approached the tower, he noticed a growing concern on the crowd’s right flank. He peered through, and felt the auras before he saw them.
In this city, so often, people did not bother to hide what they were in the slightest. He’d not needed the gift of Air to know what people were. But it helped now. It brought the scent of blood pouring across the open ground to pulse before him, filling the air with tension. The Vemana and Loa were reacting to it, turning. Ogoun stepped forward from the crowd, big, brawny, his footsteps shaking the ground. He was visible from across the crowd, his broad shoulders shadowing lesser men and gods. He looked nearly seven feet tall. He spoke softly, but his voice carried across the entire crowd. “Huitzilopochtli. You’re not going to start any trouble, are you?”
The crowd flowed back, creating an expanding circle of onlookers. Nash barely managed to retreat with it, nearly exposed by the flowing tide of humanity. He still wound up on the edge of the circle, staring in at Huitzilopochtli as the god approached. The goddess, now. The change had been a hard one to miss. She stood with a line of green paint across her nose, drawing the eye to her fierce features. The crackling atlatl sat in one hand, sharp scales poking out of it, and the fire did not burn her. “Ogoun. Trouble? Never.” She laughed, a high, cheerful thing. “I think that Good King John will be doing that for us. I’m sorry for what’s coming. But the Tzitzimimeh have waited as long as they’re going to.” Her eyes narrowed. “Unless you happen to know anything important?”
Ogoun’s features were unchanged. “Same rules. Touch one of our chwal, and we’ll defend them. Hard.”
Huitzilopochtli smiled apologetically. “Dear me. Don’t throw me into that briar patch, Ogoun. I’d much rather your blood than one of the Veman…” Her eyes fell upon Nash.
Nash dropped his eyes instantly, letting the brim of his hat fall over his eyes, arms crossed. The sudden silence and the intent glare of Huitzilopochtli were making people nervous. The crowd began to murmur, as Nash stayed very still, keeping his eyes on the ground. Ogoun came to his rescue. “Hey. Huitzilopochtli. You having a fit or something? Eat some bad human?”
Huitzilopochtli didn’t answer for a second. “Nothing. No fight for now, Loa. I can’t promise anything. You live on the earth, too, and if the Tzitzimimeh consume it, they consume you, too. If it comes to that, I hope that we can recreate you in the next world.”
“God, you’re worse than the Christians.” Ogoun chuckled heartily, and shook his head. “Stop eatin’ people, maybe you’d get some of your wits back.” He turned and set off. Nash put several ranks of people between him and Huitzilopochtli’s burning eyes. He had seen the goddess once or twice before, before she had changed, and never gotten close to her. The intensity with which she’d focused on him had been unsettling. He let Pearl’s power wash over him, feeling the anxiety and the desire to watch Huitzilopochtli wash away. He sank back into the comforting numbness.
Saint Peter nodded to Baron Samedi as the Baron led the way into the tower. Nash lowered his head further, and noticed a slight warm glow from the metal rod around his neck.
He lifted his head quickly, looking around sharply. The woman next to him frowned at his sudden display, but she clearly hadn’t been the one to speak. There was no sign who had, and no further words. They filed into the elevator, a few at a time, and went upstairs. By the time his group was allowed in and reached the eighth floor, marked by a peculiar ★, the conversation was well underway.
“How do we know these supposed servants of the Horsemen are not a ploy of Bastet?” asked a golden-skinned god. Xipe Totec. She had discarded more of her flayed skin, her body visible from the hips up, golden perfection. The flayed skin still hung around her hips like a truly tasteless sarong. “No offense to you, Cat, but it seems unthinkable that any of the three leaders of our City would allow forces of the Horsemen into this place. It would be more believable that it is a ploy. How could agents of the Horsemen go unnoticed for so long?”
“War’s servants are certainly good at that,” said Huitzilopochtli, glancing over to the right.
There were four sides to the conference table. On the far end, Prester John sat, with three angelic figures flanking him. Michael, Gabriel, Raphael. That was it, and only Gabriel’s wings were visible. It was all that they needed to make their point. Closest to the elevator were Tezcatlipoca and the other Aztec gods. Tezcatlipoca turned her head as the newest group arrived, her eyes briefly scanning over their faces. She didn’t seem to notice Nash, though, simply turning back to the table.
“Yes,” said the wounded sergeant. His arm was still gone, but the rest of his body seemed to have been repaired somewhat. Only four of his soldiers were with him. The others had been okay when Nash had made his escape the night before. Bastet was the only one of the six who sat, a glass of milk in her hand, a large bagel with lox in the other. She seemed unconcerned with the accusation. “But I no longer serve War. The real danger is obvious.”
“Yes,” murmured Baron Samedi. Nash joined the others behind him in a great crowd, the largest of the four contingents by a fair amount. One of the other Ghedes, a short man with golden rings on his fingers, stood close next to him. He raised his head. “You speak, of course, of the young man.”
“If he is a man,” murmured Ogoun, his shoulders rising like the hackles of a dog. “You’ve heard the stories.”
“Exaggerations,” said Xipe Totec. “We all know the stories of heroes. We all have seen what they do. Humans can be dangerous, supremely so, in numbers. With sufficient worship and focus, they can become gods. But one human defying a goddess, even one as old and decrepit as Izanami, in her own realm? Impossible. Foolish. It is the traitor within that we should watch for. And the sergeant is also an admitted servant of War. She always sends two.”
The Sergeant Major nodded. “My superiors are appraised of my actions. They know what I am doing at all times. If I act against the interests of the United States, I will die. It’s that simple. War can try to set me on whatever course she likes. It won’t accomplish anything but killing me.”
“And what of the shapeshifter?” asked Prester John. “Loa, surely you could not be infiltrated by such a creature, ethereal as you are. Do you have any ideas?”
“Hrn.” Papa Legba sat at the table, licking his chops and staring hungrily at the bagel in Bastet’s hand. She pulled it closer to her chest with a scowl. He dropped down, and his companion human popped the pipe in his mouth for him to smoke. “Tricky. Who is acting in a way they shouldn’t? Every single one of us.”
“I’m curious, Xipe Totec,” said the Baron, frowning. “Why do you think that Izanami would lie about being beaten? She still has her pride, tempered as it is by age. It’d be an awfully difficult thing for her to say she was defeated when she wasn’t.”
“She is a goddess of death. Perhaps she is… tainted.”
A very, very deadly silence filled the room at that point. Baron Samedi’s eyes were firmly on Xipe Totec’s. The woman of gold returned the look impassively, arms crossed. “That comes very close to an accusation. Or a self-incriminating slip of the tongue.” The Baron pointed. At Huitzilopochtli. “War.” Tezcatlipoca. “Conquest.” Xipe Totec. “Famine.”
“It is true. Many of us contain some spark of the same things that define Horseman and Sister alike. Those echoes of what they feel ring through us.” Nash’s eyes widened slightly at that. “But we must accept the possibilities. Izanami is isolated from her pantheon. She has been behaving very strangely. A goddess of death adopting children? Enjoying life?”
“Oh, yes,” said the Baron, quite sarcastically. “I can see how that would be odd. Horse-shit.” He growled. “This is the problem I see more and more, any sign of a god trying to break from the ill habits of their history is seen as some sign of corruption I DON’T WANT A DAMNED DRINK, LINTO!” There was a crash, and an elegant crystal glass struck the table. Everyone looked somewhat embarrassed as the Baron rubbed at the bridge of his nose, hand sliding up under the glasses. The whiskey spread out across the fine wood, while the ice cubes slowly melted.
“Our city faces a grave threat from without, and within,” said Prester John. “The Horsemen are our greatest priority. I am throwing open my coffers. Any god, any monster which will help will be fed richly on belief we have gathered. This is why I created Paradise, to make a place where divinity could be farmed, stored, aged. I extend this offering to the Loa, and the gods of the Mexicas. We cannot allow ourselves to be divided by the Horsemen. We must put aside our suspicions, our paranoia, our petty bickering, and stand together against this threat.”
“Indeed. Convenient, really. At this time of such uncertainty, in the face of what has happened, a terrible threat arises that forces us all to put aside our differences,” said Tezcatlipoca, her eyes hard. “Too convenient. How do we know that you were not the one who allowed these things into our City, Prester John? You have been willing to make dark bargains before. You allowed me into this city, after all.”
“And Lord help me, I regret it every day. But I knew that even your brutality needed to be in the world,” said Prester John. “And you, Baron? Do you, too think it’s a trick?”
“You know what I think,” said the Baron, his voice very hard, his eyes narrowed. “You know what I want. More than anything in the world.”
“Honored Gods. If we cannot unite in the face of an existential threat, then what is this all for?” Prester John frowned. “If you will not listen, I cannot make you. But I beseech you. Put aside your differences. Help me.”
And Nash saw Gabriel and Raphael’s fingers shift. A wave of relaxation ran through the room. Calming frayed tempers. Soothing anger. Bringing people together. It hit Nash harder than anyone else, the wave almost soporific. The desire to lay down. To rest. To enjoy a little peace. The traitor voice spoke again. Didn’t he deserve that?
Nash stepped forward. There were murmurs of consternation, then surprise, then horror, as he leapt up onto the table in one smooth movement. He pulled off the hat, throwing it aside, and did the same with the jacket. He stood in the white undershirt, his arms lean and ropy with muscle. A year of nothing but fighting, preparing, eating only when he remembered he had to, had made him thinner, harder, leaner. Feral. He looked slowly around the room.
“My name is Silas Nash. I broke Megara Drakos, Echidna, wife of Typhon, in the woods of her estate in Zion. Irayama Onnashi, the goddess Izanami, touched me in the heart of Yomi, and tried to steal my life. For that insult, I bent her arm back against her own throat and made her yield. I strangled the madness out of Harry Constantinou under the eye of a green snake. I saved Dean Constantinou from the Fields of Asphodel, and I was betrayed by Cassandra Hirosata to be plunged into Tartarus. The god Hades and the goddess Persephone condemned me there, and I broke free.” He let his eyes travel over the room, making eye contact with each god there. Tezcatlipoca was stone-faced. Huitzilopochtli’s eyes raged. Xipe Totec sneered. Baron Samedi appraised. Ogoun glowered. Papa Legba panted. Raphael turned away. Gabriel looked down. Michael met his eyes silently. Prester John looked impassive. And Bastet smiled. “If any of you think that you can silence me with force, step up and try your luck.”
Nash had expected one or two gods to stand up and fight. He had trusted to his strength to let him escape. At worst, many of them might attack. He had even considered the entire room would unite against him, in which case he was doomed.
He hadn’t expected every single person to stay sitting. Some looked at the others, as though expecting them to step up to him. But no one did. He took a deep breath. “I am here to save Paradise.”
This, if anything, produced a more shocked silence than the litany of deeds. “Lies,” murmured Xipe Totec, but without much force.
“I freed Promethea, Pearl, the Sister of Fire, from Tartarus. I forgave Cassandra Hirosata for what she did, because I knew that she wanted to save those she loved. I stopped Heracles from killing his wife. I faced down a Horseman, for the sake of those she had threatened. I destroyed Zion to save the lives of three children. I took the power of four Sisters and one Horseman so no one would ever again have to die when I was there.” I let my eyes cast around the room again. “I am here to protect you. To stop whatever plan the Horsemen have in place, to preserve Paradise, or if that should fail, to ensure that the Horsemen do not destroy the world. And as long as I am here, I will not let one of you die.”
“What business is that of yours?” asked Tezcatlipoca, her voice low and rough.
“I am making it my business. It is true. Izanami was an old goddess. Out of practice. If you think you can do better than her, I welcome you to try. But there are three things you should know. The first is that you only ever get one chance. If you fight me, and do not finish me then and there, you will never stand a chance against me again. If you try to kill me, I will stand back up again. And if I defeat you, and judge you unworthy, I will rip the power out of you, and make it mine. If you murder someone while I am here, I will take your power, render you helpless, and leave you to whatever justly deserved fate you have earned. I am a scourge to those with power and without mercy.” His eyes settled on the Aztecs for a moment, but then kept moving, still watching for a single violent motion. The Sergeant Major’s arm was tensed, and a look of hatred was on the big man’s face, but he stayed still.
“And why do you do this, hmmm?” asked Prester John, an eyebrow raised. “Why fight so hard?”
“Because I asked for this fate.” Nash paused for a moment, and met Prester John’s eyes. “What’s your happy ending, King?”
“Very convenient,” said Michael.
Nash turned towards the angel. The fair-faced, fair-haired man stepped up slowly, standing on the table across from him. “How so?”
“In the hour of need. When judgment is calling. When everyone is desperate for a savior, a messiah rises up. One who seems good, and true, and noble. Who offers hope to a dying world. Who sacrifices of himself to save everyone. A hero that the world needs, come to us offering redemption.”
Nash’s knuckles popped as his fist tightened. “I’m not a hero, and I’m not a messiah.”
“Yeah. I’ll fucking say you’re not.” That sweet, pretty face twisted in anger. “You bastard. You think you have the right to stand before me, and claim that you are righteous?”
Nash tensed. War’s blessing had given him so much power. The ability to fight anyone. But Michael had singlehandedly held the rest of the island in check. He served God. And even if Nash didn’t believe in God, that sure as hell didn’t mean he couldn’t respect the danger of mouthing off to such a force.
Of course, he had faced terrible things before.
He’d always succeeded by throwing himself at the things he couldn’t hope to defeat.
“Silas Nash. Born to a mad mother, and an absent father. So fucking glib, to mock my Lord and his son’s sacrifice. You made a pact with the Horseman War as a child. You wanted to be a hero, and she made you into a weapon. You killed Zion and you managed to convince everyone that you were a champion as you did it, Nash. That you did it to save them.”
Nash simply stared, Pearl’s gift keeping his raging emotions quiet.
“You killed, and regretted it. So you were broken, a lost husk of a man, who found pity in the hands of compassionate Sisters, who were blinded by their love and belief in mankind. They thought you were the answer to their problems, when you were only a catspaw all along.”
Nash’s left cheek twitched. He pulled on Pearl’s power harder, forcing it over himself like a smothering blanket, reducing his thoughts to a simple analysis of the world around him, every emotion dulled to a flicker.
“You did exactly as she planned, and then you didn’t even have the good grace to deny her. You fell in love with her. You thought she was changed. She played you once, and she played you twice. You love War, Silas Nash! You fight as her champion, for her cause, because she has enslaved you! She is all you have left, and you love her despite the harm she has done to you because she is the only one who could ever even pretend to love something as broken, as worthless, as you! That harlot has you wrapped around her fing-”
The room tilted. Every person standing stumbled except Nash as he stepped forward. His fingers tightened in the white T-shirt, and Michael’s voice died away, the angel meeting his eyes. There was the slightest tremor in the angel’s cheek.
“Her name,” Nash said, very slowly, very deliberately, no trace of anger or fear in his voice, “is Bella.”
He knew, with those words, he had proven Michael right. He had potentially exposed Bella. He had ruined all his hard-planned work.
In Gabriel’s shadow, he saw a flash of red hair, and green eyes, and iron-gray teeth.
“Prester John. I like this human.”
Nash turned, as did Michael, though Nash’s fist was still bunched in the angel’s shirt. Bastet leaned back in her chair, smiling pleasantly. Nash noticed, now, that her ankle was still bandaged where she’d been shot the night before. She was nibbling at her lox, amusement visible in her eyes as she watched the proceedings. Michael growled, but Prester John interrupted him. “Bastet, he is a servant of the Horsemen.”
“Yes, I already have one. I always wanted a complete set.” She looked up, and met Nash’s eyes. A slight smile flickered across her lips. “Put him into my care. If he acts against the interests of mankind, I will slay him. But I think we can trust him. He did save my life, after all.”
“You, too, may be in league with the Horsemen-” began Xipe Totec. Bastet was suddenly on her feet, her eyes hard, and the god cringed back.
“I have spent the last two thousand years doing more to preserve mankind than all of you put together,” she murmured, her voice very soft, and very deadly. “And I am invited here to root out the rats. Nash? Please, let go of Michael.”
Nash waited for a moment. Then he released the angel. The angel met his eyes, and bared his teeth. “I know the power War gave you. Don’t think it would save you against me. My power is given by God. You are not greater than Him. No one is.”
Nash didn’t answer. He simply turned, and walked to the edge of the table. Then he stopped, and turned back towards the gods, balanced on the edge. “I saw what has turned you against each other. Someone took your children. All of them. The Horsemen did this before. Their agents in Zion stole the keystone to that place, assembled it, and used the children of Megara and Irayama to power a ritual that would corrupt it.” He rested a hand on the rod around his neck, burning so hot it stung. “I will find the one who has stolen the children. I will stop them, and return your children. And if just one of them loses their life because of this, the one who is responsible will lose their power, and be left to see what justice the parents may give. I am merciful, more merciful than is wise. But this is a warning. Don’t test the limits of that mercy.”
He stepped down, and off the table, turning his back on the crowd. Bastet smiled, and stood up, putting an arm around his shoulder to stabilize herself as she walked out. The soldiers followed them out, the sergeant major bringing up the rear.
“Back to the apartment. We’ll be there soon.” She gave the Sergeant Major a look. “Trust my judgment for a little while. Alright? He saved all our lives.”
The five soldiers left, and soon, Bastet and Nash stood on the paving stones outside of the tower. She turned towards him. “I never got a chance to thank you for saving my life last night.”
He shrugged. “I heard the noise. I thought you were in trouble. I didn’t want you to die. I’ve heard about you.”
“And I’ve heard about you.”
“Is that why you saved me just now?”
“No. I saved you because of what you said. I heard it last night, but I couldn’t be sure…” She laughed softly. “Bella. You’re the one. Bella told me about you.”
His eyes widened. “You’ve seen her?”
“Yeah.” She paused for a moment, and he waited for her to elaborate. Instead, she looked down at the city. “The children, huh?”
“Yes. I don’t know who took them. They disappeared in a single night. Christian, Loa, and Aztec. Most notably, Tezcatlpoca’s son. Baron Samedi’s son. And Prester John’s daughter. Not much more than a week ago. That’s when things started falling apart.”
She nodded slowly. “Well. What are we waiting for? We have to make things right.” She grinned. “I think we could do with asking Tezcatlipoca some questions.”