Nash watched as the two gods sped up the wall. He could have followed them, maybe. But he wasn’t that fast, and he suspected Betty could handle the situation. He turned back towards the young man who had arrived with the dog. Legba’s servant coughed nervously. “You aren’t going to beat me, are you, sir? I just walk Legba. I didn’t mean to offend.”
Nash studied the man, and took a deep breath. The young man smelled like one of the Vemana, distant hints of his once divine heritage lingering around him like the smell of sea salt in the air. Maybe some great hero of the sea, once upon a time, before he’d wound up here. “Go,” he said, and the man turned and ran.
They’re afraid of you.
“Yes,” he said softly, and sat down, fishing out the small pendant. He frowned. “You’re speaking.”
I felt other souls. Out there, on the ocean, in the tower. I thought I could feel my dad. There was a moment’s silence in his head, then the young girl’s voice continued. Did you hurt my dad?
“Yes. Not badly, but I had to hurt him a bit. He was going to kill me otherwise.”
He was always a bit of a prick like that. He was always busy, always spending time at work, he never saw us. The last thing I remember is… Driving, to see him. Mom was driving. It was icy. Oh my god. We didn’t make it out of that accident, did we?! Her voice was wry, and Nash shook his head.
“I’m amazed you can laugh about it. You’re…” He didn’t say trapped.
Trapped? In this thing? Yeah. That kind of sucks, it’s true. It’s like… being grounded, I guess? Except most of the time, I’m just sort of out of it. I don’t get hungry, I don’t get tired, I don’t get bored, I don’t think I have any of the things I need for any of that anymore. So it’s really easy for time to just pass me by. To get lost in things. My dad took two or three trips to Paradise since that accident, and that was about it. Most of the time, he just kept me in a box. Somewhere safe. Dads are all the same, aren’t they?
“I wouldn’t know.” He tried not to sound bitter. From the sound she made, he’d failed.
So, you’re an orphan? Was your dad, like… some kind of epic warrior? A god, or an angel, or something?
“My mother always said that he was a construction worker. He left before I was old enough to remember anything about him. She said he died. I never really looked into it.”
Sounds kind of like an epic destiny. I mean, come on, a mysteriously missing father?
“The world is full of men without fathers. I used to dream he was someone special, that he’d tell me I was meant for something great, that…” Nash sighed. “That everything would be okay. But he never did. Hell, he never even came back for my mom.” He looked up at the sky for a moment. “I wonder if War knew him, or who he was. But…” He bit his lip.
“I don’t want him to be someone special. Someone great. Is that strange? I try not to have an ego about these things. I know that all the power I have is borrowed, given to me by others. I know I’m not special. So is it odd that I would feel like it cheapened everything if my father was the reason I could accomplish anything?” Nash leaned back against the wall, and crossed his legs. “Like all of this wasn’t even an accomplishment. That it was expected. Maybe it would just make it feel… like I’d been a disappointment. That my struggling was just because I wasn’t living up to my potential.”
Look, my dad is a billionaire. There’s literally nothing I can ever accomplish with my life that can’t be dismissed with ‘Yeah, because your dad was a billionaire.’
“Yes. But on the plus side, your dad is a billionaire. You know how many kids dads can afford to make a deal with a Horseman of the Apocalypse, in the hopes of saving his wife, his children?” He smiled a bit. “I wish I could do things like that. You see people with power like that. Healers. People who can build things. People like your dad, who could preserve your souls and offer you a second chance. That’s why I didn’t take his powers. It’d be as good as killing you, your brother, your mother… And…”
And it could save other people.
“Jack and Jill. They were made to kill, but I can see the way their powers could be used to help others without doing violence, even if it’s only theoretical. But me…? It’s all about fighting. Protecting myself sometimes, but all I’m good for is violence. And I don’t want to hurt anyone. But when all you have is a hammer…”
Well, my dad used to say that the reason we had soldiers and armies was because violence was the least persuasive argument, but there was only one response to it. How many people would be dead if you didn’t have that power?
“Yeah. We don’t choose our talents. Still…” He was quiet for a moment. “Can I tell you a secret?”
Who am I going to tell?
“I’m scared of going bad.” He was quiet for a moment. “Like… slowly. So many people, they think they’re doing the right thing. But they hurt people. Fuck, I hurt people all the time. I might end up like Jack and Jill, or Prester John, fighting hard against the odds, struggling to save the world, and then I turn around, and realize that I’m the villain. How do you live with that kind of uncertainty?”
Markov’s daughter was silent for a second. Did one of the Sisters give you supernatural good judgment? Or prescience? Maybe a way to plan how to make everything turn out alright?
“No. That would be handy, though.”
You could have killed those gods. I mean, I’ve seen you fight. You beat my dad without even trying. You’re really goddamn strong. But you haven’t killed anyone. So, why do you think you’re going to go evil?
“Life isn’t really that simple. Big moral codes are great for simple views of the world, but I have to be honest with myself. All it would take is forgiving the wrong person, and it’d doom everyone. Not everyone deserves forgiveness.”
Maybe. But if you’d killed my dad, I’d be trapped in this rod forever, losing my mind and gradually becoming comatose. So killing the wrong person will doom people too. If we assume that people are a pretty even mix of good and evil… Isn’t that a net gain? I’m glad you’re not killing people, anyway. And you can do that thing. Right? The power-stealing thing. Seems a bit unfair, really, all the advantages you’ve got.
“Says the billionaire’s daughter.” He smiled, and looked down at the rod. “You know, I was diagnosed schizophrenic when I was a kid. Talking to things that weren’t there. I started getting used to it in Zion, having people inhabiting my headspace.”
Get over it.
“Long ago.” He stood up, smiling. “Funny, but it’s being alone I can’t stand now.” He looked down at the iron cylinder. “This isn’t a hallucination, is it?”
No. My name’s Lili.
“Good to meet you, Lili.” He looked around. “What do you think, should we start moving?”
There was a crunch of concrete from behind Nash. A pair of intensely strong arms wrapped around his midsection, and his eyes widened. Before he could set his stance, he was hefted, twirled, and thrown. He hit the opposite side of the court yard, and slammed through three walls in rapid succession, stone and dust raining down around him as he landed on his feet. Gene’s gift had let him shatter each wall in turn, cushioning his impact, turning an impact that would have reduced him to a jelly into a tumble, and giving him a brief and bitter memory of Gene’s face as she prepared to kill him.
A huge, burly man stood outlined in the silhouette of the hole, sunlight pouring down around him. He wore a pair of huge, padded leather gloves, iron bands wound around the knuckles, and each step he took carried him a half dozen paces towards Nash. Ogoun. Nash raised his hands, squared his shoulders, and set his feet. He was looking forward to this part.
“Husband! What on earth are you thinking!”
A woman stepped out from behind Nash, glowering at Ogoun. The huge, beefy god immediately looked abashed, and began rubbing his head. He looked close to seven feet tall, his shoulders built like a bull’s, and muscle stood out against his skin like he’d been stuffed with coconuts. He wore a large jacket and a pair of hard-worn denim jeans, and had a handkerchief around his head, a gleam of bald pate visible beneath. “But, wife, he’s-”
“I know who he is!” Erzulie turned towards Nash, and sighed, shaking her head. “I’m sorry about my husband. He can get things stuck in his fool head.” She smiled, and beckoned towards him. “Come. You’re looking for Baron Samedi? He’s at the party. Everyone’s been waiting for you to show up, Nash. How’d the visit to the Aztecs go?”
“Fine.” Nash checked Erzulie. His eyes flicked down to her hand.
There were four golden rings around her finger, now.
He smiled brightly. “So, a party, huh? That sounds like some good fun. and I’m already dressed for it. Lead the way, Erzulie.”
She smiled, and took his hand. Her fingers were warm, and made him think of War as he followed her through the door of the shattered house Ogoun had thrown him through. The streets outside seemed warmer, filled with the scent of flowers and the slow beat of music in the distance. He tried to look calm, but he was as tense as Betty in a room full of rocking chairs. That thought made him smile and chuckle under his breath.
“What’s so funny?” asked Erzulie, smiling over her shoulder at him.
“Nothing.” She would try to kill him. She’d already betrayed him once, and that was before she’d been influenced by Ghede Linto. She was leading him down a primrose path, and he was certain that something at the end of that path was meant to kill him. But in doing so, she’d also show him where the other Loa were. The more people there were around him, the more he could question. That was to his benefit.
“If you say so, but I’ll want to hear the joke before the end of the night.” She stepped up to a large double door leading into one of the buildings, larger and broader than most of the rest. It looked like it could have been a theater. Nash tensed. A perfect place for an ambush. She pushed the door open.
Inside was lit. A number of people were milling about, putting down food, setting up decorations. One of them looked up, and saw them. Erzulie had her arms crossed, a truly ferocious expression on her face. The bewildered Vemana who had spotted them shouted out “Surprise!”, and the rest of the hall started looking up, a half-hearted chorus of ‘Surprise’s following.
“What did I say? Huh? Two PM. That’s when I said the party’d be starting. Can’t you people even get some bunting in place?!” She let out a deeply aggrieved sigh, and snapped her fingers.
Banners unwound themselves. Pink champagne poured from nowhere into a pyramid of fluted glasses, filling them to the brim. Suits straightened up and smoothed themselves out on the surprised party-goers, and Erzulie stepped in. Nash frowned after her, hands in his pockets. He always was uncomfortable with crowds. “If you can do all of that, I have to wonder, why the setup? Why have them do it?”
“Apparently because I like being disappointed.” She sighed. “I thought it would mean more to you if they’d done the thing on their own, rather than me doing the whole god thing. You’re not very fond of gods, are you, Nash? Come on in, already.”
“Depends on the god.” He followed after her, stepping into the crowded room. It was a broad ball room, a balcony visible around the second floor, chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, casting light throughout the room. They were each filled with hundreds of flickering candles. On the edges of the room, food and drink lined the walls, more than enough of it to slake the thirst and hunger of the entire island. A massive set of speakers sat at one end of the room, a young black man nervously working a set of LPs on a turntable that looked like it might use vacuum tubes. Many of the Vemana were crowded around the canapes, other around the pink champagne, still others dancing wildly on the dance floor. The music seemed to change genres with every few moments, from swing, to jazz, to electronica, and on through the spectrum. “Holding a party, right when there’s about to be a fight?” he asked, raising an eyebrow at her, and raising his voice above the music. “Rather poor taste, isn’t it?”
“Fights are when people die. Before and after you gotta celebrate. Gotta remember what’s good in life, so you can hold onto it.”
“The fear of death is the love of life,” said a woman from behind him. Nash spun.
She stood with her face painted white, dressed in black. She could have been Heather. Her skin was a little too pallid, her hair a little too short, her nose a little too broad. But she was so close. The woman sneered up at him, and threw a glassful of rum in his face. He caught it in one hand, and deposited it back in her glass with a smooth reversal. It was a good thing, too. The rum smelled strongly of chili peppers.
“Goddamn show-off,” she snarled at him.
“Mamam!” said Erzulie, frowning. “I am sorry, Nash. This is Mamam Brigitte. She is…” Erzulie let out a long-suffering sigh. “A Ghede.”
“The Baron’s wife,” said Nash. His eyes flicked to her navel. The black dress she wore was not modest in the least, exposing her. She was a woman of middle age, and probably should have known better than to wear such things, but it was not an unattractive look for her. She carried a small tumbler of rum, two ice cubes twirling in it. And a golden ring twinkled in her navel. “It’s a pleasure-” She threw the drink in his face again, and he diverted it back into her glass again. “To meet you. Though it appears the feeling is not mutual.”
“This is your fault. Your fault my son was taken away. He was the youngest, do you know that? Not even a man yet. If you had not been such a foolish and impulsive boy, my son would still be with me. What is your answer to that, eh?”
“I’ll save him.”
“Just like that, eh, peckerwood?”
The third time she threw her drink in his face, he swatted it aside. It landed perfectly in the champagne glass of an unaware Vemana. The man took a sip, and began to scream, beating at his tongue as flames erupted on it. Nash frowned at the spectacle as someone helped to snuff out the flames. “You might want to switch to coffee, Mamam Brigitte. And you might want to talk to your husband. The man is going mad with grief and guilt, and you’re not helping him. If you are buried in the midst of suffering, wallowing in it isn’t going to do anyone much good.”
“You would dare speak to a grieving mother that way?” Brigitte asked, her eyes flaring with anger.
“You have seen the way I talk to gods. Being mothers doesn’t change it any. Besides, I’m sure you heard how I treated Megara Drakos.”
There was a long pause, and then Brigitte began to laugh, a genuine smile appearing on her face. “Well, if you couldn’t handle an angry and drunken mother, how the fuck were you supposed to deal with everything else arrayed against you?” She swirled her glass, and took a deep drink of it, letting out a harsh cough and shaking her head. Her voice pitched down an octave, growing rough and gravelly. “God, that’s smooth! Well, my husband should be here any minute. Perhaps then the two of you can speak about getting my boy back. I expect that you will have a lot to talk about. Oy! Bitch!” She pointed at one of the Vemana, a skinny, rag-wearing woman, who had a plate piled high with canapes. “There is literally an unlimited supply! Show a little decorum, you uncouth cunt!”
The woman turned her head, and her eyes blazed. Not in the sense of being angry; More in the sense that someone had stuck a pair of lit coals in her eye sockets. She also seemed angry, less at what Brigitte had said, and more as a base state of mind. “Oh, good. The old balls and chains.”
Nash stepped back slightly as Marinette stalked towards them, sticking several good-looking canapes into her mouth. She chew messily, and flakes of pastry fell down onto the rags she wore. She looked painfully thin, and her cheeks were drawn like a famine victim. Nash wasn’t entirely sure whether it was Marinette’s influence, or a consequence of the Vemana woman. She glared at him. “What are you looking at?”
“I wanted to thank you.”
“What for?! Still buried in chains. Still covered in them. Swimming in them like a rich duck there!” She snorted. She seemed to speak everything through clenched teeth. “But though you flow through ’em easy enough, you’re gonna drown in them eventually. All those people you’re racking up debts to, how you gonna pay them all before you drop dead, eh?”
“I don’t know,” said Erzulie, smiling. “If you owe the bank a thousand dollars, the bank owns you. If you owe the bank a million dollars, you own the bank.”
“Doesn’t work quite so good when you care about the bank, though,” said Brigitte, frowning. “Lot of girls you’ve disappointed, aren’t there, Nash? You wouldn’t believe what Heather thinks of you, now. She gave you that power to protect you from death. And yet, it just brought you closer to it.” She took a sip of her drink. “Poor woman’s crying every night. It’s a cruel thing to do.”
“Hah,” said Erzulie. “That’s nothing. Ariel’s there, waiting for him, begging and praying he’ll come to save her. And here he is having fun at a party and letting her suffer. He’s not even going to go find her. She’s just going to have to suffer a while longer. Isn’t that right, Nash? Going to leave her to dangle for a while. Maybe punish her for not coming when he called, eh? Making her suffer for being a bad girl. When people don’t do what you want, you have a tendency to get real nasty on them, don’t you, Nash? Turn real brutal, real quick, if people disappoint you.”
Marinette crossed her arms. “That’s nothing. Do you know what the worst part is, Erzulie?” She smiled, but she was still speaking through clenched teeth. “He stole Fire’s heart a long time ago. And he’s never given it back. He’s made her suffer since they first met, took away her control in a moment of weakness. You know that saying, the first cut is the deepest? He cut her long ago, when she was vulnerable. He took something she needed away from her. And now, he won’t give it back. Because he thinks he’s the only one who can save the world. How’s that for arrogance?”
Erzulie nodded. “Fire has been making heroes, protecting people, for far longer than Nash. What makes him think that now, when it matters most, she does not need that power? He uses it for such a small thing, to keep control. Surely that is what he needs least, now! He’s been a year with that power, and he’s still relying on it to keep from throwing a temper tantrum! How long will he torment her by withholding the approval, the sharing, that she so desperately needs? He chose War. He gave up on the Sisters. He abandoned them.” She toyed with the rings on her fingers. “Yet he keeps them dangling on those hooks. Like fish. Making them die slow, and painful.”
“Nothing more shameful than a man who wants to ‘keep his options open,'” agreed Brigitte, shaking her head. “The least he could do is give back those gifts.”
“Ladies,” Nash said, quite brightly. “If you’re going to kill me, do that instead of trying to play on my guilt. I have many terrible traits, many qualities about myself which I hate. But I am not so foolish as to believe that any of the Sisters are depending on me. I’m just not that important.” He tried to keep from baring his teeth, or growling. It took Pearl’s gift to keep his voice steady. What they were saying hurt all the more because he could believe it about himself.
The three of them were silent for a fraction of a second too long.
Marinette moved first. She lunged at him, and he dove to the side, hitting the ground in a roll and coming up in a low crouch. Flame erupted from Brigitte’s glass as she threw it at him, this time aimed more expertly at his eyes. He swept his arm through the air, sweeping the flaming liquid to the ground, where it erupted. And Erzulie just smiled at him.
Suddenly, the hall was many times larger. The dance floor stretched out to all sides, lighting up ferociously. Strobes and spotlights hammered at the air, as a great crowd of dancers engulfed him. The music grew deeper, the bass rumbling through his spine like the world’s most abusive club scene. The Vemana spun and danced wildly, moving in reckless abandon with the beat, seemingly unaware of the danger. He stood up straight.
A momentary blaze of heat was what alerted him. Marinette struck from behind, bringing a massive, flaming cleaver down towards his shoulder. He grabbed her wrist, twisted the blade out of her grip-
And looked down into the eyes of a terrified Vemana woman, her hand in his grasp, frightened and disoriented, staring up at him in shock. The reflection of her eyes showed something metal flash towards his head. He stiffened his stance, and the great silver candlestick snapped in half harmlessly across the back of his head. He straightened, and turned. Another Vemana woman backed up, pale blue eyes shaded by dark hair over skin the color of sweet black tea.
This was the problem of fighting the Loa. They weren’t supposed to ride those who hadn’t given permission. They weren’t demons. But who knew what the people here had accepted in the name of a good meal and the chance to be indoors and away from the fighting? They were the gods of slaves, and they had to be unruly to survive. To blend in among the others. To make reprisals against them costly, and dangerous. If someone merely killed every person around them, it still wouldn’t stop the Loa, and it would cost the one trying to kill the Loa dearly. Using the enemy’s own violence against them.
Nash had two advantages against them. First, he could fight without fearing killing. He might hurt one of the Vemana, but he could be gentle.
The other was the gift Heather had given him.
There were many reasons he didn’t use the gift often. It was, in some ways, the opposite of the gift Pearl had given him. Where Pearl’s gift let him control his emotions, this required giving himself to the emotions of others. At its heart, it was about empathy. Feeling what others felt, and letting that sway him. Becoming in tune with others. He worried, at times, that it would make his soul grow, that connecting with others would be a quick route to a painful death. But it was a gift from Heather, and he had to trust that the Sisters would not give him these gifts if he could not survive using them, at least for a little while. He took a deep breath, and let go of his emotions. His anger. His guilt. His fear. He thought of War. And he smiled.
There was a feeling like the suction of a wave. His awareness, of power by Gene, of the supernatural by Ariel, told him where it was coming. Behind him, and to the right. Rum and chalk powder. Brigitte. He lifted his hand, and intercepted her wrist as she brought an icepick down, sending it spinning out of her wrist. He spun and lunged, but she was out of the middle aged woman with the blonde hair before Nash’s fingers had reached her. He turned his head again, and the bubbly scent of pink champagne filled the air, powdered sugar and a warm kiss with War.
“You know, Nash, fighting’s a lot like being in the bedroom. If you refuse to look at your partner, you’re probably doing something wrong!” The champagne bottle toppled end over end, and he caught it in mid air, twisting it to intercept a second blow from the other side, the glass bottles cracking together. Champagne fountained onto the floor, and Erzulie cursed as one of her heels slipped in the fluid. She abandoned the Vemana, and for a moment, Nash could feel her twirling in the aether, bodiless, but still there. Then the smell of charcoal and burning almost-pork filled his nostrils.
The flaming cleaver cut through the air, time and again, and he avoided it by small fractions. He felt the hairs on his forearms curl and blacken as the knife barely missed him. He was busy checking her. It was possible she was not being controlled by Ghede Linto, that she was doing this on her own. But he had to check. He moved in close, inside of her guard, crackling flames tickling at his skin, going from warm to painful to numb. The cleaver came down, and instead of chopping into his shoulder, bounced harmlessly out of her hand as her blow became overextended. He pressed his hand against her stomach, and felt nothing. “There are only so many places you can hide that ring, Marinette.” She hissed at him, and he stared at her teeth.
There was the slightest glint of gold between two of them.
Nash’s arm went back as the smell of chili peppers and sweet rum filled the air, catching Mamam Brigitte’s hand in his own as she tried to stab the bread knife through the side of his throat.
In the moment it took Nash to recover his balance, the two had vacated their bodies. The golden rings left with them. He stood up straight, and took a breath. It was difficult to keep the trance Heather had given him up. It was like trying to focus, truly focus. You could focus for a little while, become completely aware, but the more tired you were, the harder it was. He’d gotten a few hours of sleep, fought to exhaustion twice already. It had been a long day. They were always long days. That thought galvanized him, and he stood up straighter, his eyes closed, his arms open. “Are you scared? Of me? You mocked me, before. Do any of you for a moment doubt, now, that I can protect them all?”
There was a confused melange of smells. Erzulie brought a silver platter down against his head. Brigitte came from the side, an ice pick aimed at his ear. And Marinette appeared in front of him, within his guard, driving the cleaver in a brutal slash towards his throat. There was nowhere to run to, no way to escape. Even with Heather’s power, they had synchronized beautifully, creating no openings. Nash was cornered.
In that brief moment, time stretching out, Nash’s mind was racing. Enough that it had time to divert for a moment, and consider his situation. Every enemy he fought kept making the same mistake. They stacked the deck against him. Sooner or later, they might learn their lesson, but it was a difficult lesson to learn. Fighting fairly was for fools. The entire grand history of war had been about brilliant men and women figuring out how to make a fight as unfair as possible in their favor.
It just turned out that Bella was so much better at it than anyone else.
Nash twisted so the platter struck his back, and snapped cleanly in half. He reached back, and caught Erzulie’s wrist, twisting it sharply. The pain he inflicted on her was intense, enough that she did not leap away immediately. He brought his right knee up and snapped out a high kick to the side. The point of the ice pick slammed through the sole of his shoe, right between the second and third toe, cold metal pressing intimately against his flesh, but not too intimately. He twisted his heel, and forced it out of Brigitte’s hand. The same motion of lifting his leg tilted his head to the side, and Marinette’s slash went wild. She screamed with frustration, and gold glinted again. His free hand slid into her mouth, caught the ring between thumb and forefinger, and popped it open in one smooth movement. He withdrew his fingers, her saliva dripping down his fingers, as she stared at him, shock evident on her features.
Erzulie and Brigitte vanished, leaving a pair of extremely disconcerted Vemana women. Nash stood up straight, flicked the ring once into the air like a coin, and then crushed it into a tiny chunk of tin wrapped in gold foil. “Cheap bastard,” he muttered.
“You were gentle,” said Marinette, frowning.
“That’s what you told me to be.”
“What?” She looked momentarily bewildered, her cheeks flushed. Then her eyes widened.
Nash caught the thrown knife, and the second one. He dropped them, and caught Erzulie’s open-handed slap, and Brigitte’s more practical close-fisted punch. He redirected the punch to the side with his wrist, and his hand slipped down, grabbing the ring in Mamam’s navel, tugging it free, and crushing it. Erzulie disappeared from between his fingers.
Brigitte took an unsteady step backwards, and for a moment, Nash was standing alone in a small circle of emptiness, the dazzling lights flashing hard. He felt strung out, exhausted. Heather’s power collapsed.
But not before he caught the stab from Brigitte. Erzulie’s eyes widened in Brigitte’s face, as he pried open her hand, the knife clattering to the floor as he gently took hold of her ring finger. “How-?”
“Instinct.” The twice-possessed Vemana stared at him, Erzulie and Brigitte’s eyes shocked. Then they shifted past him. Just behind Nash, a very low voice growled.
“What in the hell have you done to my wife?”
Nash spun, even as the scent of burning metal filled the air. Ogoun’s fingers were already reaching out, wrapping around his throat, and a golden earring sparkled on one ear. He was reminded of one of the worst beatings he’d ever taken, at the hands of Harry Constantinou, Heracles, on seeing the damage that Nash had wrought upon his wife. Nash had spent a very long time thinking about that fight.
Ogoun’s hand wrapped around Nash’s throat, and Nash took a deep breath. The choking pressure increased, strangling Nash, his head beginning to pound, as Ogoun lifted him up, and then slammed him down into the ground. The big man’s fist rose into the air, ready to come down on him like the wrath of God. The last time, Nash had been saved by Harry’s wife, sparing him.
This time, Nash’s fingers wrapped around Ogoun’s thumb. He bent it, hard, making the man scream. He pulled his head to the side, breaking free of the grasp as Ogoun’s fist plowed into the floor, sinking in up to the wrist. He twisted like an eel, pulling his legs up, and catching Ogoun’s throat between them, tightening them. He grabbed the earring.
Maybe it was fatigue. Maybe it was the sneak attack earlier. Maybe it was that Ogoun didn’t remind Nash of anyone who he’d had strange and tingling thoughts of. He yanked the earring out without bothering to open it first, leaving a notch in the big man’s ear. It was unfair as hell to whatever poor bastard the god was possessing. Ogoun’s eyes widened as he fell to the ground, hitting hard.
“What in the hell have you done to my wife? And my wife’s friends? And my wife’s friend’s husband?”
Nash looked up. Baron Samedi was standing there, hands on his hips, tapping his foot on the floor, frowning quite seriously.
“Nash! What in the hell, I was away for fifteen minutes!”
He looked over his shoulder. Bastet and Legba stood there. Bastet had her hands on her hips in a pose mirroring Samedi’s. “I can’t leave you alone for a second, can I?”
“Come on. I got the rings, and didn’t do any…” He looked down at Ogoun, who was grunting softly. “Serious harm.”
“Funny.” Every eye turned. Ghede Linto stood on the third side, equidistant from Nash, Betty, and Samedi. The small, older man smiled pleasantly. “It was just a little friendly manipulation. No need to take it personally. But you know what they say… Everyone wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.”