“Now?” asked Djehuty, frowning. I gave him an unapologetic smile. “The emissaries will be here in a matter of days. This war can end, but we need you here, Bastet. Your strength is one of the things that forces them to respect us.” He tugged the feathers on his head, frowning at me as he preened. “Surely your village will be safe for a few days more on its own?”
“Indeed, Bastet,” said Ausare, resting a crook on one shoulder, a flail on the other, a calm expression on his face. “You have responsibilities. Duties to the entire kingdom, not just your home. You cannot play favorites.”
I smiled sweetly. “That is exactly what I can do, honored friends.” I bowed my head politely. “I must go.”
“I suggest we let her,” said Nyarlathotep, shrugging his shoulders. “They know we have her on our side, and after all, she will not be gone long. I am sure we can be fine without her around for a little while.” He smiled innocently at me as Haru gave me a fierce look. I shrugged at him.
“I know that you wish me to be there. But I am a cat, after all. I go where I will, and do what I wish.”
A soft hand rested on my shoulder. Anapa gave me a look with his dark eyes, his jackal ears lifted in concern. He smiled softly. “Bastet. Please?”
I groaned. “Oh, you do not play fair, do you? Fine. A little while. Just long enough to complete the peace talks. Then I am going to see them. They spoke of raiders the last time I visited. I worry for them. Now, who is representing this Achaemenid Empire?”
“A king. A mortal. Cambyses. He demands our fealty. He is part of a great empire to the northeast. They are… formidable.” Djehuty clucked his tongue softly, shaking his head. “Upstarts, but formidable. They may be a danger to us. Our Greek allies would stand against them, though.”
Haru chuckled. “And they could never cross the desert to strike at us. It kills all men equally.”
I sighed, and shook my head. “Very well. But I leave the moment our negotiations are finished.”
The smoke was what warned me first. When I saw it, marching my way up the Nile, I had sped my pace till I was sprinting. I crossed the last few steps to crest the hill, and stared down at the familiar valley.
It was so green. So bright. The sun shone down cheerfully on the river. There were not so many people here, even millenia after its founding. I had never told people this was my true home, preferring to travel in secret. Most thought I lived in Bubastis. This place was out of the way, quiet, remote. I had tracked the families through all of the thousands of years since I had been here. And so I recognized, in every corpse, in every massacred form, the faces of the humans who I had cared for over the years.
Here, an old man. The distant descendant of Rodthep and Mirna and Bas, he had been the eldest of the village, and the one I had known for the longest time. There, a young woman. She had been new to the village. She had married one of the men, and been astonished to learn of my visits. And there. I did not remember the name of the man who had come to me in the wilderness and offered me meat, and I had forever been regretful that I had not cared enough for names at that time to learn it. But this man was his descendant through a line of five hundred parents and children. He lay on his stomach. I reached down, and gently pulled him over onto his back.
Clutched against his stomach was a length of cloth. I stared at it as smoke rose from the burning huts around me, filling the air with the stink of burnt pork and the despair of loss. It was a banner. An eagle crowned with a sun, its legs spread wide and clutching a sphere in each talon. The same banner that had flown on the standard bearer of Cambyses II a few days earlier, in Memphis.
The flag of the Achaemenid Empire.
I lifted my head, my hair flying wild around my head, and screamed into the air. It changed as it flowed forward, becoming deeper, more resonant, a screaming roar that challenged the heavens, that challenged anyone to step forward and take responsibility for what had happened.
A figure stepped out. Red hair flew around her head. Green eyes glittered. The scent of brimstone filled the air around her. She wore the skin of a tiger around her shoulders, like a savage. In one hand she held a sword, a notched blade. I frowned at it. Its surface was covered with a delicate pattern, like the spots of a leopard. Seric Iron, the terrible weapon of the far east, the strongest metal in the world. It was said to be able to shear any lesser metal in half. There were those who believed it could even cut the gods. Her teeth were the same color as the sword.
I was not among those who believed in that legend. I bared my sharp teeth. “Are you responsible for this?”
“In a sense,” she said, and I lunged at her. She moved with terrible skill and delicacy, dodging each swipe of my claws as I lunged for her. She spun the blade, and I hissed, backing away, holding my hand. One of my nails now ended at the tip of my finger, a tiny drop of blood falling from the nick in my skin.
“It can cut everything. There is no substance so hard, no alliance so strong, no man so great, that I cannot separate.” She met my eyes. “I am War.”
“Wrong,” I said, my eyes narrowed. “I am War. You are, perhaps, some inferior copy. I will kill you, then kill the foolish empire that thought it could strike at my people unmolested.”
“Come now, Bastet. I did not come here to fight you. I came to tell you the truth. It was not the Achaemenids that did this.”
“Oh? How do I know you are not one of their gods?” I snarled.
“Bastet. Why would they strike here?”
“For me.” I sneered. “Obviously.”
“This place, which you hide from all except your fellow gods?”
My knuckles went white as my claws dug into my palms, and I stared at her.
“They seemed awfully eager to keep you from this place, didn’t they? They wish to have your strength on hand. And this place never quite fit in with their plans, did it?”
“They are my allies.”
“Those who you trust the most are those who hurt you the most,” she said softly. “That is my nature. I would know the truth of this betrayal like none other. I thought you should know.”
She stared at me appraisingly for a few moments. Then she smiled. “Because I want to destroy Egypt. I want to destroy all of humanity. And I think that telling you the truth works better than lying. I think that you will turn on your fellow gods, suspicious of them, and search for the one who is responsible for this. That will leave the country vulnerable. It will be swallowed by the Achaemenids. In a few short centuries, no one will remember Egypt ever existed. They will forget its gods. And I feel safe in telling you all of this.”
I was silent for a moment or two. Then I smiled. “Please. As though anyone could forget me. I think that I can do this all. Find vengeance for my people, and make sure that Egypt endures. I do not care about the name, or the government, or even the gods. I have trust that the people will continue to endure.” I looked around the ruins. “Even this village lives on. Many left it, over the years, and their descendants endure. My people still live. You cannot kill humanity. Nothing can. And I laugh at the attempt.”
“Then why seek revenge?”
“Because they still killed some of my humans, and because I recognize what happened. Someone is trying to control me, to manipulate me. And I will not allow myself to be controlled. You, at least, are honest about your manipulations. That’s more than I can expect from most of my so-called peers. From here, if your predictions come true… That’s on my head, and my head alone.”
War stared at me for a moment. “Interesting.” She smiled. “You are a worthy representation of what I am. Even if you are far too close to humanity.”
I snorted. “What’s your beef with humanity? Why do you want to destroy them? They give us food. They pet us. They say such nice things.”
“Not about me,” she said, her expression growing dark. “It is the thing none of my representations understand. Gods of war, they are not truly gods of all wars. They are the god of victory. They represent the sweet anticipation of triumph. They always fight on your side, or not at all. I am the other kind of war. I am the side that opposes, the enemies of both. The strong hate me because I bring strength to the weak. The weak hate me because I make them strong, and then oppose them.” She shook her head. “I am loathed.”
“Ah,” I said, nodding, tapping my chin. “I see the problem. You haven’t found one of the good ones, yet. I know how it is. There are a lot of awful humans. Plenty of them don’t care, or don’t pay attention to find out your favorite food, or tell you ‘I have more important things to do’ when you have an itch. I can see wanting to destroy them, though you shouldn’t.” I smiled at her. “You just need to find one of the good ones.”
“There are no good or bad humans. They are simply weak. They all betray you in the end.”
I smiled. “Have you considered a different name? It might let them get closer to you.”
“I am War. And that is all I will ever be.”
I groaned softly, as my eyes fluttered open. The last thing I had remembered was the fighting. I had been drugged, and woken up in the cage. Silas had distracted all of the Aztecs while holding up that weight. I’d slipped out of the cage in my cat form, and gotten behind Tezcatlipoca. It takes a very special talent to sneak up on an omniscient god, but I was nothing if not sneaky. I’d gotten her in a chokehold, and been ready to kill her. The mad goddess was on the verge of becoming some broken, depraved thing, and couldn’t even deal with her own compulsiveness.
Then Nash had caught the railgun shot, which was damn near absurd. The feathered serpent had changed. Domingo Santigo had been there all along. I fucking hated shapeshifters.
You could find a person worth trusting, and shapeshifters could still make you doubt. That just wasn’t fair.
I slowly sat up, and groaned. Nash lay on the ground nearby, and my heart skipped a beat. Then he groaned and shifted slightly, and I realized he was sleeping. My heart stopped pounding, and I sat up, staring at him for a long few seconds.
I have seen a great number of very brave, very strong humans throughout history. I have seen some who, with the aid of one of the Sisters or the Horsemen, were able to defeat truly terrible monsters.
But gods were another thing altogether. I’d met a grand total of one human who had ever been able to match me, only after consuming the power of an ascendant god, and even then I’d been badly weakened beforehand.
Nash was a little bit frightening. Especially when he had stopped the railgun. I wondered, for a moment, whether we were going to have trouble when he woke up. But there were other things to take care of in the mean time. If it came down to it, I wasn’t stupid enough to fight Nash. I’d seen what happened to the people who did, twice now. It was hard to imagine a state of affairs where fighting him would be the right choice.
I turned, and met Tezcatlipoca’s eyes. She looked up at me, her expression neutral. She sat on the ground, arms crossed, her whole leg pulled up against her chest. She stared into my eyes for a long few seconds.
“You tried to kill me,” she said, although without any heat or rancor.
“You started it.”
“Yes. I do not blame you. It was what I would do. It was what any sane creature would do in response to my actions.” She looked down at the human. “So what does that say about him?”
I shrugged. “That he’s going to die an early and tragic death. Tell me who’s behind this.”
“Oh, believe me, you can and-!”
“Bastet, I was made to swear an oath.”
I growled. “That bullshit. I don’t understand why that matters so much to you. You’re a cat, for gods sakes!”
“No, Bastet. I am represented by a cat. But I am a god, first. My word is sacrosanct. If I had strength, if I had the power in my pantheon to take, if I had slaves or sacrifices, I could break it. I could lean on that power to restore what I would lose by breaking the oath. But as it is…” she sighed softly. “I am helpless. There is nothing I can do to change the course of this. I cannot act against the architect of this place. I cannot help you to find the children. I cannot even name the one responsible. I am bound by… inevitability.”
I rested a hand on her shoulder. “I’m sorry I tried to kill you.”
“It would have been a good ending. It would have been the ending I deserved.” She looked around, nervously. I considered that statement. It was odd that she hadn’t seen it coming, but it wasn’t important for now. No one else was conscious, close to us. It looked like the aftermath of a war. Huitzilopochtli and Itzpapalotl lay in a heap. I noticed the leader of the Tzitzimimeh was female once more, although the differences were only minor. Tezcatlipoca spoke, very softly. “I am afraid, Bastet. I am afraid that I will become one of the things that you hunt, forgotten and broken.” She looked down at her hands. “If that happens… Is there any hope left?”
“I don’t know,” I said, softly. “I’ve never met one who stopped being… lost, once they started.” I was quiet for a moment. I thought of something. A house Lar. She had been like that. Tortured and left forgotten, she had gone mad, lethal, murdering people. I thought, for a moment, of Horace. She had died soon after she had met him. But maybe… I shook my head. “I don’t want to give you false hope.”
“No hope is false hope,” said Tezcatlipoca. “To survive requires hope. Without it, why not cut our throats and save ourselves some pain?”
I nodded softly. “Yeah. But to have hope and then to lose it… It can make people very, very angry.” I shook my head, and then noticed Xipe Totec arriving. “What do you want? By the way, we’re going to have words about that whole ‘poisoning me’ thing. Your words are going to be things like ‘Ow’, and ‘Mercy’, and ‘Please for the love of Bastet, stop.'”
“Yes, I imagine so,” said Xipe Totec, wincing. “But that man, he said something. He said that he needed to be awoken at noon…?”
“Yes,” said Itzpapalotl, sitting up slowly, blinking owlishly. “He has been challenged by the killers. The ones who were supposed to slay you, Bastet.” She looked up at the sky.
The normally brilliant, azure skies of the Caribbean were shifting. Thick, dark clouds were growing. In the distance, I could see them like an endless tide of black, growing more intense. I slowly blew out a breath.
“What are the chances that’s just a normal hurricane, and not some terrible sign related to the fact that, apparently, a pair of fucking humans have captured the spirit of Air?” I asked. Tezcatlipoca gave me a level look. “Right. Silly of me to even ask. Fate conspires against us.”
“It always does,” said Tezcatlipoca, lifting her obsidian mirror, using it to leverage herself up. “Does it ever… bother you, Bastet? The Horsemen?”
I frowned up at her. “What do you mean?”
“The Horsemen are many things, but they are all representations of humanity. Why are they always vile things? War, Death, Famine, Conquest. Why is it that humanity gives such power to the things that are dark?” She looked down at herself. “Why was I the monster among monsters of my pantheon, and why did they give me so much worship for it?”
“Humans like monsters,” I said softly. “They’re attracted to them. They’re fascinated by the things that prey on them. The thing you fear most is your greatest ally. Wolves, me, they try to get on the good side of the things that frighten them.”
“Hope. Love. Faith. Why do those things not arise as incarnations? Why doesn’t the good of humanity fight for its sake? Why are there Sisters, and not Horsemen of good things?”
I was quiet for a moment. “I don’t know. But if I had to guess… I’d say that it’s because most humans can see the beauty in everything but themselves.” I stood up. “I’m starving. Can we get some food that isn’t poisoned, please?”
The morning passed quietly as I ate. One of the soldiers arrived at eight AM to recover the remote, which took several long minutes of other people’s searching to find. “Tell the Sergeant thanks for letting me borrow this,” I said, and winked at him. He nodded sharply, once, and retreated quickly. I chalked it up to nervousness about the part of town he was in. After a quick meal, I went into one of the rooms to find Silas. He lay on a bed, curled up, with no blanket over him. He shifted occasionally, and I stared. The sounds he made were soft, pained. Moans and little sobs that tore through him. I leaned forward, and reached out to rest a hand on him.
His hand wrapped around my wrist, his eyes wide. He was breathing hard. His grip wasn’t painful, but it was firm. He shook his head. “What time is it?”
“It’s… about 10:30.” He relaxed, and sank onto the bed, sighing with relief. “Silas… What were you dreaming about? You looked like you were in pain.”
He stared up at the ceiling. “A lullaby.”
“A sad one?”
“Sort of. My mother used to sing it for me. Heather did, too, once. That was what I was dreaming of.”
“How does it go?”
He closed his eyes, and seemed to concentrate for a moment, breathing in through his nose. Then he spoke.
“Good night, sleep tight.
Wake up bright.
In the morning light.
To do what’s right.
With all your might.”
I nodded slowly. “It doesn’t seem very sad.”
“It’s just… the things I remember.” He sat up. “The happy times in Zion. I had a few of them. Feeling like a part of things. Living with people. Being… happy. Being loved. I remember it, and I begin to shake. I can’t suppress my feelings when I’m sleeping, or I don’t want to, or… something. It’s terrifying.” He frowned. “She started to speak to me, to say something, but- you woke me up.”
“It sounds like PTSD.”
Silas stared at me for a moment, the pain forgotten as he frowned. “You know what PTSD is?”
“My human explained it to me. He does that a lot. What I remember is… A traumatic experience can hurt you humans for a long time. Nightmares, reliving the trauma, becoming nervous around it… You said that you would die if you regrew a soul, didn’t you? That would make feeling what you’re feeling awfully scary, I think. You can be comfortable in the face of an entire horde of flesh-eating demon-gods, but a hug…” I frowned. “That’s an awfully tragic fate.”
“Is it?” He sat up. “You know, people try to tell me that. But you know what would have been a more tragic fate?” He met my eyes. “Watching three kids die because I couldn’t do anything to help them. Watching you crushed because I wasn’t strong enough to hold up that weight. Watching the people I care about hurt. You have to give things up to be powerful. Sometimes, someone has to be hurt. And I’d rather it be me than anyone else.” He stood up. “We have to go save Ariel.”
“One thing, before you go,” said a smoky voice. I turned, and saw Tezcatlipoca standing in the doorway, with Huitzilopochtli. The two of them were recovering from their wounds, but slowly. “When you have finished… We need you to take this to the Baron Samedi.” She held out a scroll, with a wax seal pressed into it. “Give it to him, and only him. It is a formal apology, and…” She breathed in, and then out. “Surrender. For our actions. We will submit ourselves to them. I fear that the only one you can trust to break the seal is Samedi. I am sorry to put this burden on your shoulders, but…” She lowered her head. “Surrender is preferable to conflict, now.”
Nash nodded, and took the scroll, holding it against his chest. “I will. I promise. And even if you can’t tell me where they are, I’ll find your children.”
Tezcatlipoca’s lip quirked at one corner. “False hope is better than no hope at all. Now, I believe you asked for clothes…”
The two of us sat on the small inflatable watercraft, perhaps fifteen minutes later. A small engine hummed as Nash checked the phone, and back up again, frowning. “God, I hope we find-”
“There it is.” I pointed.
The meeting place was a small wooden platform. Perhaps twenty feet on a side, it floated slowly on the ocean, rocking gently with waves. We were closer to the dark clouds now, and I gave it a dubious look. Standing on it was a single figure. The small inflatable craft butted up against the platform, and Nash stepped out. Jill stood on the deck.
“I thought both of you were fighting,” said Nash. He stood on the edge of the platform. The black suit jacket hung around his shoulders, a white button-down shirt beneath it. A pair of slacks and fine black dress shoes gleamed in the burning light. And a blood red tie hung around his neck, flapping in the wind. “You didn’t do so well against me last time.”
“Things have changed. You were fresh, the last time. Now you have fought against a pantheon. We were wounded and in pain. Now we are fresh and whole once more. We know your measure, your style, your techniques now. And we have taken the power of Ariel.” She flicked a hand, and the sword Kusanagi-no-tsurugi appeared there, the winds beginning to gust. “You have no chan-”
She moved like a lightning bolt. The sword swung faster than my eye could follow, and Nash danced around it, easily avoiding each strike. Then suddenly he turned, a hand lashing out at the empty air behind him. He turned towards her, and smiled, holding something the size of a marker between thumb and forefinger. “Nice. Jack’s firing from somewhere safe. Back on the island, I’m guessing?”
“We’re always together,” hissed Jill. “The wind made me light. It made him unerring. Let him carry his shots on endless gusts. He could hit you from anywhere, now.”
“Yeah.” Nash dropped the bullet. “Shame that’s useless. You lost against me, Jill. You retreated. You gave up your one chance.”
“It does not work that way.” She grinned. “Heroes always win on the rematch.” She leapt towards him again, and the blade swept through the air, slashing the gusts of the storm to ribbons. Dark clouds above flew apart into ribbons, great long strings of cumulonimbus. He bobbed and weaved, but he was being forced back. She was faster than she had been before. He kept moving back until his heel touched the edge of the platform, and he teetered for a moment, his eyes going behind him. She seized the opportunity, leapt, brought the sword down.
There was a clap as Nash’s hands closed around the blade on either side. He yanked, reversed it out of her grip with the pressure of his fingers, and flipped it, holding the blade’s edge against her throat. She stared at him.
“You would never do it,” she said. Her voice shook. She wasn’t sure of what she’d said.
“You’re right.” He looked into her eyes, and dropped the sword at her feet. She didn’t go for it. “So why come after me?”
“You protect them. The gods. Do you know what they’ve done? Why do you defend them?!”
“For the same reason that, if one of them were to try to kill you, I would stop them. I can’t change the past. I can’t undo the harm that has been done to people. Gods, mortals, monsters, heroes…” He sighed, and shook his head. “They’re all just people.” He stared into her eyes. “You remind me so much of her, you know? Cassandra. She followed the wrong man into hell, and it didn’t get her anything but grief. You’re…” He shook his head. “Why are you fighting me?”
Jill’s eyes turned down. “Because I want to see him smile again. I want to see him hope again. Give me that happy ending, Silas Nash, you bastard. Give him back to me.”
She looked up sharply, her eyes narrowed.
“Alright. You wanted to make the gods pay for their transgressions, right? The wrong they do. So do I. I can make them pay. I can give them a lesson they can never forget. Where gods do wrong, I will see that it is made right, and you two will never have to kill again. You’ll never have to put your life on the line again.”
“You can’t do that,” she said, her eyes narrowed. “You can’t make them stand down. You’re not strong enough.”
Silas’ hand moved again in a smooth arc, terminating in a closed fist. He opened it slowly, and another bullet fell to the planking. The platform shook slightly, and I frowned, looking down. The sea was one endless blue-black abyss, here, but the waves seemed to be growing slightly choppier. “Trust me,” he said. “I am more than strong enough.”
“You’ll hurt him. You’ll kill him. For what he’s done to her, for what we did to her…”
“You hurt Ariel,” he said softly. “Very badly. You took her power from her, against her permission, didn’t you?”
She shook slightly, her head lowered. “She wanted to hurt us. She wanted to punish us, for what she did. She was so angry. We caught her, with the grass-cutting blade, and a bottle of adamant. An unbreakable bottle. She was freedom, and we enslaved her.” She fell slowly to her knees, her hands around her head. “Why doesn’t it make sense anymore? Why can’t I see the path? Why can’t I kill you?” She looked up at him, hate in her eyes. “Did you take it from me?”
“No. I don’t want to take away your power. I could, and I might have to do it, but…” He was quiet for a moment, and stared up at the sky. “While I’m here, for a little while, I can stop anyone from dying. I can do anything, while I’m there. But I can’t be everywhere. You understand? I have to be alone, but I can’t be the only one doing this.” He looked over his shoulder at me. “The world doesn’t need just one hero. There are people who can do things I never can. Who can be where I can’t. Someone who’s light and quick as you are, who can see how to kill people but stop short…” He smiled. “I don’t know. Why do you want to be a hero, Jill?”
She looked down at her feet. “Ji-a.”
“It’s my name. Ji-a.” She fell down to her knees. “I thought it was just me and Jack. For so long, I thought we were the only ones who cared, that we were the only ones who could do something.” Tears were running down her cheeks. “And we kept fighting, and coming closer and closer to dying, and I knew that I would lose him!” Her voice became a howl, full of pain and suffering, as she dragged her nails through the wood. “And I saw he wouldn’t stop, he had to do it, he had to fight, and he- he-” She let out a choked sound. And suddenly, the murderer of gods, the terrifying spectre, the monster who had killed two gods and tried to kill me was gone. In her place was a very small girl.
Nash slowly got down onto his knees, and put his arms around the crying girl’s shoulders. He held her head against his shoulder, as the tears ran their course. “Can you tell me where he is, Jill? I need to save Ariel. I understand that she hurt you, but she’s not your enemy. She’s not anyone’s.”
“I… I can’t,” she said, very softly. “I can’t betray him. I can’t.”
“You can’t?” I asked, sharply, frowning. “You-”
“It’s okay,” said Nash, standing up. “I underst-”
There was a terrible sound. A rumbling of tectonic plates. The raft bobbed and swirled, and was speared, suddenly, through its center. A spike of stone rose up through the wood, precipitous and jagged. I leapt aboard the platform at the last moment, as the sea-mountain’s peak rose perhaps thirty feet into the air, and then went still. The water dripped off of the stone, slowly pouring back into the rumbling, quaking sea. A figure appeared, with absolutely no preamble, balanced atop the knife-edge precipice. She was tall, her shoulders broad, wearing a pair of overalls. Her skin was a few shades lighter than mine, and a greasy bandana was tied around her forehead. A black tattoo of a triangle was visible on the back of her left shoulder, as she looked around slowly. Her eyes settled on Nash.
Her voice was low, grinding, harsh. Like someone who hadn’t spoken in a very long time. She stepped forward towards the kneeling girl, and Nash stepped in front of her. Ji-a’s eyes were wide with terror, and I stood frozen, the aura of power in front of me intense.
“Gene, don’t, she’s-”
Gene swept him aside, sending him rolling over the platform. He caught the edge with his fingertips as she picked up Ji-a by the throat. “My sister. Where?!”
“I-” Ji-a choked. “I don’t- know- he’d- have moved on, by now- he can see all of this-! God only knows-”
Gene slowly stared at the girl. “Horsemen,” she growled. Nash pulled himself up, and rushed at her, taking hold of her upraised arm. She turned her head towards him, and dropped Ji-a. “Sorry.”
She wasn’t as fast as the others. She moved, and swung, and I could follow the movement. Nash put up his guard, setting his feet in the ground. I’d watched him hold a fifteen ton slab of marble aloft with that stance. I’d watched him shrug off bullets with that stance.
Gene’s fist slammed into his sternum, and lifted him effortlessly off of his feet. His eyes widened as a terrible crunch filled the air, and he rose. She followed through beautifully, her fist opening into a hand hand and wrapping around his throat. She kept moving forward and slammed him down against the side of the stone spike protruding from the center of the platform. Her fingers were pressing into his skin, and he choked soundlessly, mouth opening and closing.
“What the fuck is wrong with you?!” I said, and flinched back as her eyes turned towards me.
“Lesson. Important one.” She looked up. “War! Have your champion! Show up! Answer questions! Or else!” Her fingers tightened. Nash let out a sound that was less a word, and more the attempt at one. Low, pained, barely able to get the sound out, hissing helplessly. I could read his lips, though. It had started with a B. She pulled her hand back a bit, and slammed his head against the rock again.
“Lesson. Nash. Gods don’t change. People don’t change. You forgive them. You give a chance. They hurt you again. Hurt my sister. You can’t trust them. War doesn’t love you. No matter what you call her. I could kill you. She wouldn’t care-”
I stared. So did Nash. Neither of us were staring at Gene. She slowly turned, and looked over her shoulder. The smell of gunpowder washed through the air. Red hair danced and twirled. Cold green eyes glittered, and the steel machete caught the light.
“Well?” Bella asked, her tone neutral, calm. “What did you want?”