Chapter 20: Kombate

There was the distant sound of crumbling stone. Plumes of smoke rose from the slums. Nash frowned down at them sigh, pausing mid-stride. Tezcatlipoca set a hand on his shoulder, hurrying him along the open street. “The Vemana have evacuated to the Aztec Quarter. The defenses there will help to keep them as safe as anywhere in Paradise. The Loa agreed to lure the angelic forces into the heart of the slums. We rely on Prester John to want to keep some image of benevolence for now, and avoid outright destruction for fear of revealing his true nature.”

“What if you’re wrong?” Nash asked, frowning.

“Then people may die. I cannot promise otherwise, Nash. I am not you. This way, at the very least, they are given every chance to survive.” She gave him a look, and her eyes were as dark as ever. “And how to die better than for the sake of one’s children? Besides.” She gave him a sly smile. “War is a spirit of survival, is she not? If anyone will give them what they need to survive what comes for them, it is her.”

Nash shook his head. “I’m still worried about Michael. He’s got… a reputation.”

“He depends on being righteous,” said Betty. “How righteous can someone be when he’s defending a plan to murder innocent children?” She paused for a moment, and then frowned. “Well. He can hardly claim to be freeing slaves this time.”

Nash shook his head. The three of them made their way along the alleys. Strictly speaking, he was not sure the alleyways had existed an hour ago, but at some point, they had sprung into being with Papa Legba’s aid. Winding, single file spaces that lead the three of them through the city on a circuitous path. They were slow, but guaranteed that they would not cross paths with Michael. “It’s a bit intimidating. There’s a limit to what I can handle with War’s power. There has to be. Gene was able to beat me like a red-headed step-child.”

His hand went to his throat, and then drifted up to the back of his head. The betrayal had hurt. They always hurt. The wounds, not so much, but that she’d genuinely thought he wouldn’t save Ariel, that he wouldn’t be able to save her. He understood why, though. He understood her reasons. She wanted her sister saved immediately. She had reason to feel betrayed by Nash not doing it immediately, even though he would. He hoped they would forgive him.

But it hurt like hell to have her turn on him like that. After all he’d done, after all he’d suffered for, for their sake. He’d forgive her for it. But there was still the anger and hurt. To be trusted by the sisters, to get a little faith from them. ‘Didn’t he deserve it’, whispered the traitor voice.

Of course he didn’t.

“The keystones are safe, Tezcatlipoca?”

“Mine and Samedi’s. We have kept them where no other can reach them. Somewhat paranoid, and inconvenient, but after what had happened…” She sighed. “It seemed like the safest strategy. I can retrieve it, not easily. I do not know where Samedi’s is, but I would not expect any less of him. I suspect that would have been the next step for Prester John, to blackmail us for the use of them. Holding the lives of our children as ransom.”

Nash looked up sharply. A winged figure passed over in a blur, a flaming sword held in one hand, dressed in a loose and flowing white robe. He froze, pressing against the wall. The figure passed in the blink of an eye, but it took a few seconds before he was ready to move again. The sky was dark, now, the rumble of thunder filling the air. The golden sun lit up the clouds from beneath, creating a strange and jaundiced light that filtered down onto the city.

The tower rose up in front of them, sooner than Nash would have expected, glass and pearl shining brilliantly in the sickly light, creating a rainbow of colors. “You know, the last time I snuck into this place, I had a much larger and much less suspicious crowd to hide in,” he muttered.

“We have a man on the inside.” Tezcatlipoca grinned, brazenly walking up to the front doors. She took them with both hands, and swung them open.

Saint Peter stood at the gates. The old man’s gray hair hung around his head, balding. ‘Hello, my name is PETER’ was written on a small tab, placed on his chest, among his gray robes. “Anyone spot you?” he asked, an eyebrow raised.

“No,” said Tezcatlipoca. Peter nodded, and reached into his pockets. He took out a corn cob pipe, and slid it into his mouth, puffing industriously. “How did you manage to convince Peter to do this?”

Legba grinned. It was a curious expression to see on the combative face of the saint, but he made it work. “Turns out Prester John’s ideas do not have absolute sway with the church. Patience is a big virtue.” He paused for a moment, and then blew out a cloud of smoke. “And it turns out that Peter’s not happy with people’s children being stolen either.” He reached down, and held up a ring of large keys, carefully placing one in the lock to the doors, turning it. The doors let out a very final click, latching shut. “Even Michael’d take some time to get through that.”

“Let’s hope we don’t have to test that.” Nash gave the elevator a frown. “Not to sound paranoid, but is there another way up?”

Legba took out another key, and stepped smartly behind the desk, unlocking something. One of the great fish tanks slid aside, revealing a rather mundane looking stairwell door. “Prester John insists on them, in case of fires.”

Betty frowned. “Where’s Baron Samedi? We’re going to need him to be able to pull this off, aren’t we?”

“He’ll be here, don’t worry.” Legba grinned. “Part of the tricks of the trade, arriving just when you’re needed.” He pushed open the door. “Let’s get up there, eh?”

As Nash made his way up the stairs, in the soft light of the fluorescent bulbs, memories flowed back once again. He remembered the last time he’d climbed a tower like this. This had the same climactic sense. The forces of the city finally arrayed in unison against their target, ready to fight for the sake of their children.

But he still didn’t know John’s end-game. He still didn’t know what the man was trying to accomplish, and that was dangerous. He’d learned a great deal about strategy from his conflicts with others. Any game could be likened to chess, but without knowing what your opponent valued, it was impossible to figure out which piece was the King. They weren’t out of the woods yet. All there was for him to do was to keep pushing forward until things came to a head, and trust in those who had trusted him.

They stopped at the eighth floor, and Nash frowned. “Isn’t there a floor above this one?” The stairs continued another flight up to a door that was clearly marked as leading to the roof, with no sign of any way to the ninth floor- or indeed any sign that there WAS a ninth floor.

“I guess God doesn’t need a fire exit,” said Betty, but she was frowning up at it too. “A mystery for after we stop John.” She lifted her foot, and kicked the heavy metal door off of its hinges. It fell to the ground slowly, landing with a calamitous crash.

Prester John sat in his chair, one leg crossed over the other, and smiled at them. He held a glass of wine in one hand, and in the distance, smoke billowed from the slums. His suit-jacket and tie were immaculate white.

“Well. You finally made it.” He sighed softly, leaning back in his chair, and took a sip of wine. “I will be honest with you. I didn’t see this coming, Nash. I’d planned for you to be a nuisance, perhaps to make some serious trouble. But I did not see you unifying the forces arrayed against you so quickly. So many take you for a simple thug, a thing of violence and senseless brutality. A Fool. But you’re more than that, aren’t you? You are a unifier. There are some who unify empires by creating a threat so great that all must band together against it. And then, there are those who unify empires by being a threat so great that all must submit to it. Strength, the kind of strength you have, is a charisma all its own.” He snapped his fingers. “Azrael.”

There was a slow chill that filled the air. The dark figure coalesced out of the air, a great hooded cape hanging around its shoulders. Black mist billowed around them, slowly dancing and spinning through air, surrounding the figure. A long handle ending in the blade of a scythe hung from one mist-covered hand. Nash stepped forward in front of the others, raising his hands into a fighting stance. “I’m not afraid of Death.”

“No, indeed not. To hear it told, Death is afraid of you. But even the strongest of men has their weak points.” He smiled. “Who do you love, Nash? Who would you wish to be preserved from Death? I am not asking this to threaten them, because I know how poorly that works against you. But who would you wish to be saved, among all others?” His eyes flashed. “They can be yours. The Sisters. War. Kneel before God, and you can have everything you desire. An end to the fighting. Your happy ending.”

Nash met his eyes. “Who says I want the fighting to end?”

“You are not a berserker, Nash. Our world can have its happy ending. That is what the apocalypse is. The end of suffering. The end of strife. The end of crisis. Not oblivion. Paradise.”

He wasn’t lying. Nash swayed slightly on his feet, his shoulders suddenly feeling very heavy. What was the matter with that? What was wrong with the end of all of this pain? Was he just prolonging the inevitable? Too attached to what little he had to let it go? His resolve wavered-

“What a crock of shit,” said Azrael, and the voice was very familiar. Prester John spun, and the mist and the cloak and the blade of the scythe all dropped away at once. Baron Samedi stood there.

“You can possess an angel?” asked John, slightly incredulous.

“I can keep men from dying. I can guide them to the place where the party never ends. The world’s painful, and full of suffering. But suffering is good for the soul. You find the most beautiful things in people who have been hurt. If all we had to look forward to was Paradise…” The baron held up his free hand, and a glass of rum appeared in it. He took a deep drink, downing the glass in one fell swoop, and tossed it over his shoulder. “Where the fuck would the fun be in that?”

Then he kneecapped Prester John, sending the man to the ground with one swift blow of the cane. The king collapsed, clutching at his knee, his teeth clenched, glaring up at Samedi. Nash’s mind was still surging with the thoughts. The offer. The happy ending for everyone. ‘Everyone wants to go to heaven, nobody wants to die.’

“Alright, king,” said Betty, striding forward. “We’re going to need a bit of that blood.” She extended a single claw, and pricked the center of his palm. “Hope you don’t mind the symbolism, but since you’re already up on the cross…” She paused for a moment, and frowned. “Wait, were the crucifixion wounds in the palms, or the wrists?”

“Just go for the side, woman,” said Legba, rolling his eyes. Betty sighed, and gave Prester John a quick stab in the palm with one of the nails. The king winced, but still did not cry out. A slow bead of blood appeared there. She repeated the process with a different nail for Samedi, and a third for Tezcatlipoca. The three of them moved into a triangle, and under Samedi’s instructions, Betty began to draw an elaborate pattern on the heavy oak table.

Nash crouched down in front of Prester John. “Why?” he asked, his head tilted.

“Now’s not the time, Nash,” he said. “I don’t know if you’re ready to know why I did it, yet. I still don’t know if I can have faith in you to do the right thing.” He smiled. “But I am doing the right thing. I have certainty. Can you say the same?”

“No,” said Nash. “I’m always open to the possibility that I’m making a terrible mistake. I find it cuts down on making terrible mistakes.” He was silent for a moment. “Your own daughter. Your own fucking daughter, and you’re going to sacrifice her?” He tried not to show the anger.

Prester John looked up, and met Nash’s eyes. “The girl’s mother was my wife, if only for a brief time. A Vemana. A minor African heroine, of a tribe long since forgotten.” His expression grew fond. “She had the most brilliant red hair, and the sharpest green eyes.” Nash’s heart froze. Then he breathed out. He could smell the mocking lies in Prester John’s voice. “She converted for me, quite kindly. Then she died in childbirth. Little Mary was the only thing that I had to remember of her.” He looked up, and met Nash’s eyes. “She waits for me in Heaven. Little Mary will too. God has demanded a sacrifice of me, and I will not forget it.”

None of it was true, save for the last sentence. That was interesting.

“I read about the Binding of Isaac while I was here. I thought the point was that God didn’t want people to sacrifice their children to him.”

“The point, Nash,” said Prester John, his eyes suddenly very cold and hard, “is that God wants people to prove their willingness. He has demanded this of me. When an angel of the Lord steps in personally to stay my hand, I will take that as his reprieve. Not a moment before.”

Nash opened his mouth to respond, but Betty let out a sharp hiss. Nash turned, and saw a single drop of blood rise from the diagram. It twirled in the air for a moment. “It should show us the way towards where the children are being held,” said Baron Samedi. “Any second-”

The drop of blood flew straight up, and slapped against the ceiling, hard enough to separate out into a starburst. Everyone present turned to face Prester John.

“A higher power, huh?” asked Betty, as she smirked. “You really needed someone to deflate your ego a long time ago, didn’t you?”

“You’re one to talk,” responded the king.

The six entered the elevator together. Betty pressed the ☋, and nothing happened. Then she grabbed Prester John’s hand, and used his knuckle to press the button. It lit up, and carried them to the ninth floor. There was a moment’s shaking, and then the doors slowly swung open.

For a moment, Nash mistook it for the Fields of Asphodel. It was very much alike. It was gray, and a mist covered everything, making it seem dark. But where that had been an endless field of the soft, sweet-scented flowers, this place was filled with grayscale grass, an endless prairie. In the fog of distance stood a castle. Grand, huge, and so shadowed in mist that it was little more than a silhouette.

“Limbo,” said Nash. “Surprised that Dante described it so well.” He frowned. “Always thought it was kind of strange. God’s supposed to be giving people a choice, a chance to repent, but those who died before Jesus never get a chance? They just get stuck in Limbo? No chance for Heaven?”

Prester John smiled. “You think that you know God’s will? After a single glance at the outermost circle of Hell, and a brief reading of a young man’s half-remembered dreams, you think that you can understand why God does what He does?”

“You’re the one claiming to work as God wishes,” said Nash. “I don’t think you’re in a position to speak.” Prester John didn’t respond, but Betty stepped forward, and flicked a claw. Blood dripped off of it, and disappeared into the mist, droplets flickering off and onto the ground. Against the world of gray, they stood out like a flare.

“You should be careful,” said Prester John, smiling. “None who enter Hell leave again without the permission of the Almighty.”

Nash looked at him. Then, very deliberately, he took a step through the doors of the elevator, and onto the path. “I don’t think that your God would bar the path of those trying to save children. And if he would…” He shook his head. “I’m going.” He walked forward, into the fields.

“If I may, I’ll stay here, and keep the doors open,” said Legba. “I know that’s usually your job, Baron, but-”

“No, no, Legba.” The baron smiled. “I appreciate it.” Then he pushed Prester John forward, and the dark-skinned man limped on into the fields, the Baron on his heels.

They had some differences from the Asphodel. Among other things, where the fields of Asphodel had been in places almost sunny, this place was simply an unending gray. Like the worst cloudy day, when the clouds became an oppressive ceiling. Nash half expected it to start raining, but as they walked through the unending gray, the weather remained unchanged. There weren’t even landmarks, beyond the delicate droplets of blood shining on the ground like rubies discarded by some kind of absurdly opulent fairy tale hero.

“I am interested to know if you have thought this out, Nash,” said the king. “Once you have the children, then what? I am the one who has kept countless terrible beings from besetting the face of the Earth. I have kept the faith flowing to keep more gods from pushing to return to Earth, or becoming lost. What I have given them is not enough to make them strong, not even enough to satisfy them. But it has kept them from becoming a plague on humanity. All the good I have done, and have you thought of how to keep it from being undone?”

“You’re proposing to destroy humanity, bring about an apocalypse. You can’t really make much of an argument for what you’ve done in the past justifying you. Good people can make very bad choices.” Nash peered into the mist ahead. He could see a flash of light. “Besides. I’m not a fixer. I don’t make everything right. I just break anything that’s making it worse. Violence is often the answer we turn to when it seems like less trouble than getting along.” He turned his head towards the king. “I make sure violence is never a viable option.”

The angels stood in a large circle. There were a lot of children between them. Raphael stood among them, distributing food, reading stories. Her head raised as they approached, not bothering to hide themselves. Her eyes widened. Without any command from her, the half dozen angels threw themselves at Nash and the others.

It wasn’t even close.

“Now that that’s done,” said Betty, smiling, one angel on his stomach in front of her, her clawed fingers pressed tightly against his throat, her knee down on the center of his back, “Are you going to make any trouble for us, Raphael?”

“How could I?” she asked. Her eyes slipped to Baron Samedi, who was still keeping Prester John close at hand, supporting the man, his cane on an angel’s throat, keeping the divine being down. Tezcatlipoca stood with her smoking mirror in one hand, the angel peering out of it from the other side, looking distinctly disturbed. “I am the one who heals. Even if I could fight you, I would not. But you are jeopardizing more than you can imagine by doing this. You need to have faith.”

“Faith?” asked Nash. One of the angels still struggled slightly, neck caught in the crook of his arm. He stood up slowly. “You’ve got children there, stolen from your parents. You can’t ask people to take that on faith.” Another angel was already unconscious, an imprint in the shape of Nash’s knee on their throat where he had knelt on them. “You don’t get to try to start the apocalypse and have people take your word for it. I just asked people to let me help them, and I had to fight half the gods on this island, and you think for a moment that I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt?” His fingers uncurled, releasing the third angel to drop gently to the ground, gasping desperately. “You have some nerve.”

“It is called Grace, Nash. It is the love of God. The knowledge that there is a plan for all of us. A path that we may follow. A purpose. There are some who chafe at purpose. But just as there is no room for toothless cogs in a watch, there is no room in God’s Creation for those who do not follow the paths they are given.”

“That’s a shame,” said Betty. “Humans find places for broken tools all the time. Swords that can’t cut, shields of plastic, gears that don’t fit. They love tools. They name them. They treat them like people. Maybe your God should try the same?” she asked, very sweetly, smiling. Raphael’s eyes dropped. “I still haven’t forgotten what your God’s plan was for me, Raphael. I haven’t forgotten what you told me, and what you told me to do.”

“I was just trying to spare you some pain, Bastet.”

“It’s Betty. And I will gladly live with pain, if it means living.”

“Enough of this.” Nash stood up. “Kids?” He smiled. “We’re taking you back home.”

There was a moment of uncertainty. Nash stepped forward, and approached one boy. His face was familiar. “You. Your mom… She a scary lady made out of bones?”

The boy’s face brightened immediately. “Yeah! She’s not angry, is she?”

“Not at you. We’re taking you home. All of…” he stood, and then he saw it. His heart stopped in his chest, and there was a sick sort of anger that filled him. There was a soft shudder, and everyone present stumbled as the ground seemed to heave. Everyone but Nash. He strode forward, and the children spread apart, expressions becoming frightened as he stalked towards Raphael. And towards the three limp forms on the ground around her.

She didn’t even try to defend herself as he moved. His hand wrapped around her throat, and he pushed her forward, down to the ground. His fist rose into the air. “I warned you about the limits of my mercy.”

Nash! They’re still alive! whispered Lili. They’re like me!

One of the three limp forms let out a wheeze, and Nash’s fist unclenched. He realized, suddenly, that Betty was tugging at his arm, with all of her strength, and making no headway in moving it from Gabriel’s throat. He released her, taking a sharp breath, as he stood up straight. She let out a choking noise, her face gradually shading from red back towards pale.

Three limp bodies. Two boys, one girl. All of them had various shades of dark skin. All of them had signs of their parents in them. They were each still children, though the girl might have protested that she was a teenager. Nash rested a hand on his face, trying to hold back the rage. “Hope. Faith. Love.” His teeth were clenched so hard they felt like they could break at any moment, and his blood pounded. “What a fucking crock.”

“Of course you would say that,” said Michael. Nash’s head lifted, sharply. The slender, androgynous angel stood tall, his eyes narrowed at Nash. A pack of cigarettes still folded in one sleeve, up against his shoulder. The burning sword at his side was dripping with blood. And over his shoulder was a dark skinned woman in a red dress. “What the hell do you know about Hope, Faith, and Love, Silas Nash?” He threw the woman roughly down onto the ground. She rolled once, onto her back. Bella’s green eyes stared up at the empty gray sky, and blood dripped down from the blade rammed through her stomach.

The smell of gunpowder and blood filled the air. Nash closed his eyes, and breathed deep. Then he opened his eyes, fixing them hard on Michael.

Tezcatlipoca swung, hard. Her smoking mirror trailed through Michael, insubstantial as smoke, and landed back in the goddess’s hand, the furious expression on her face mixing with tears of frustration running down her cheeks.

“Grace, Nash. Those who are righteous are protected by God. Those who are in the right. You cannot lay a hand on me, or mine. None of you can.” As though to emphasize the point, the angels stood up, moving from where they had lain. Moving through those who had pinned them a moment before. “Many of my kind doubt. They are weak, and I forgive them for that, because I am strong enough to support them. When God loves you, nothing on this world can harm you.”

Nash’s fist open and closed slowly. The desire to fight. Michael drew his flaming sword out of Bella’s stomach, and sliced it sideways. Baron Samedi cursed, as a line of blood appeared on his arm, his expression shocked. “How the hell-?”

“You may not believe in God. But God believes in you,” said Michael, his eyes hard. He turned his head towards Nash. Then he threw the sword down. It struck, point-first, between Nash and Michael, by the body of Bella. “Do you think that you are righteous? Take the blade, and strike me down.” He raised his arms into the air by his sides, and smiled. “Take your best shot.”

Nash stepped forward, and stepped over Bella’s body, past the sword. The smell of gunpowder and blood filled the air, and he frowned. Limbo was without scent, its endless grass scentless. But something was missing, nonetheless. He shook his head. “I don’t use a weapon. I’m not in this to kill people.”

“You were prepared to kill my compatriot when you thought the children had died. Do you not feel the same righteous fury for War? Did you not love her? Does her death mean nothing to you? Or did you perhaps always see that she would betray you the moment you were no longer convenient?”

Nash heard the slight movement behind him. He felt the hairs on the back of his neck tingle as the heat suddenly grew. “You know, you must think I was born yesterday.”

He spun, just as Bella drew the blade and struck at him. He twisted, and caught the wrists, throwing her across his hip, hard. She landed, and the look of betrayal in his eyes would have been soul-searing. If she’d really been Bella.

“Nice try, Domingo.”

Bella’s soft green eyes narrowed. “How did you know?”

“Three things. First, the smell. I’ve been close enough to smell Bella. She’s not just blood and gunpowder. She’s the smell of flowers, too. The smell of battlefields long forgotten, till nothing remains of the dead men but flowers.” He closed his eyes, and took a deep breath, in and out, remembering that sweet smell. “Second, you weren’t protecting Prester John, and when a shapeshifter’s loose, you don’t take anyone’s identity for granted.” He stepped forward, and reached towards Michael. “And third, I don’t think for a fucking second that you would stand a chance against her.”

Michael sneered, and crossed his arms. “You think you can-”

Nash’s fingers tightened in the angel’s shirt, pulling the angel slightly closer. There was a very deep silence that resonated around them. He pulled the angel forward a step, until they were nose to nose. Michael’s right eye trembled ever so slightly, his arm falling back to his side. “I don’t believe in myself. I never have. But I believe in her. I’m her champion, Michael.”

“The children’s souls have been removed. They are somewhere safe. I will return them to you, Tezcatlipoca, Baron Samedi, if you return with me. These two are too dangerous. They must be left here, in Hell, where they will never escape. Otherwise… I am afraid that your children will never be yours.”

It was quiet on the fields for the second time.

“Nash…” said Baron Samedi. “I’m sorry.”

And Nash’s fingers slipped through the shirt, no longer able to find purchase. Michael took a deep breath, stepping back. “You’re nothing. A hollow man.” And he slammed his fist into Nash’s stomach, a brutal, ruthless blow. It was as strong as the one that Gene had delivered. The ground shook and rumbled like an earthquake was racking Hell, and there was the distant sound of crumbling stone.

Nash barely moved, staying with his feet planted, his eyes staying on Michael’s. The angel stepped back quickly, taking the sword from Santigo.

“You,” said Betty. Her eyes were slowly widening. “You’re not supposed to be able to do that. Taking the shape of something that powerful, impersonating one of the Horsemen, that’s not something a human can do, no matter what gifts they’ve been given.”

Santigo turned, still shaped like Bella. “Well. I wondered when you would find out. Took you long enough. Here I was, practically flaunting it. You know what they say, though. Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back.”

Santigo’s body shifted, flowed, changing. Skin stayed dark, but eyes turned darker, turning into pitch black pools. The red dress shifted and rearranged around an increasingly masculine frame, into a smooth black traveler’s cloak, bandages wrapped around the man’s torso, red dripping through them. He let out a low, rumbling, basso profundo laugh, rocking the fields.

“Nyarlathotep,” said Betty, her voice low, terrible, her eyes flaring. “I killed you.”

“Is that how you remember it?” He smiled, his eyes twinkling. “It’s a shame what happens to the mind as you get older. You start forgetting what really happened. And Betty… That Horace human you cared so deeply about? He doesn’t have much time left. You should have gone home.”

She threw herself at him, screaming. Brilliant scything nails raked through him as though he wasn’t even there. He returned with a ferocious backhand, and Betty fell to the ground, unconscious. Nash watched all of this, his pulse very calm. “I’m going to escape, Prester John. I’m going to get out of here, and I am going to find you, And because I am still human, I am going to hurt you.” His eyes passed across Michael, and Nyarlathotep. “All three of you. And I am going to make sure everything ends up alright. Even for you, you twisted self-righteous assholes.”

“I know, Nash. I’m counting on it. I just needed to make sure you play your part at the right time.” Prester John turned, chuckling as he began to walk away.

“You never said. What’s your happy ending, John?”

The chuckling died very abruptly, and John’s shoulders hunched. “I suppose that you would know, wouldn’t you? Goodbye, Nash. See you soon.”

Tezcatlipoca looked over her shoulder. She met his eyes for just a moment.

He smiled. “It’s okay. I forgive you.”

And then they were gone, and Nash stood in Hell. His eyes dropped down towards Betty.

Maybe he would have doubted, if he had been alone. Maybe he would have considered that he deserved this. He had before. He’d lost faith in himself before. Maybe he would need someone to push him forward.

But he knew she didn’t belong here. The human she cared about was in mortal peril. Even if he doubted himself, he wouldn’t let her stay here.

He knelt down, and lifted the unconscious woman gently onto his shoulders, and began to walk.

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