Chapter 24: This Miserable Measure the Wretched Souls Maintain

Nash ran without tiring, as the skies clouded over. A thick sleet began to pelt down, gathering in great drifts on the ground. It was thick and dark, with a smell like mildew and neglect. He could hear the others coughing and choking as they ran through the deepening piles of slush. The smell was foul, making it hard for them to breathe. Their feet were uncertain, and he heard a splash behind him. He turned to find Eumaeus pulling himself to his feet, smeared in the disgusting mire that gathered constantly around their legs.

Nash, for his part, felt none of that. He continued to breathe easily, bringing him all the oxygen he needed. His feet found the places where the sleet was not as deep, and did not slip or hit unexpected pockmarks in the landscape. Part of the gift. He looked around, and spotted it. A tree, standing out of the mire, its branches gnarled and black. “There. We peel the bark, put together a sled or something. I can pull it. It’ll let us move faster.”

How long had they been running, he wondered, as they approached the tree. It had seemed like it had passed in the blink of an eye for him, but for the others, the run was clearly weighing them down. He didn’t know if that was a consequence of the Sisters and their gift, or the nature of Hell grinding them down more than him. He was not, he knew, a particularly virtuous person, and he was clearly not free of sin. Not enough that this should be so easy. It bothered him, but there wasn’t time to worry about the possible metaphysical conundrums. Maybe Hell only mattered if you felt anything.

He stopped at the tree, and began to tear at the bark, pulling it away in a great sheet. The tree was huge, at least a hundred feet tall, with a trunk that was nearly eight feet across. The bark was hard as iron, but dead. He tore it without trouble.

“Fucker!” gasped Bastet, as she plopped down in the snow, shivering, her arms around her body. “This place is fucking awful!”

“It IS Hell,” said Eumaeus, evenly. “We are fortunate we have not run into more guardians. There are many of them in this place. The strong are encouraged to brutalize the weak, both with the chance to grow stronger, and…” He sighed. “Well, it is in the nature of all things to kick down, isn’t it?”

Asmodeus was frowning as she sat down, her bloody stump of a tail curled against her side as she watched Nash. She reached up, and slid her fingers through her hair, drawing forth two great strands, beginning to weave them together. “This was once the realm of Cerberus. The great three-headed dog offended Prester John in some way while she journeyed. She was placed here for her crimes. Echidna and Hades demanded her return, but Prester John claimed the right of the conqueror. Echidna and Hades offered a trade. A great hero in exchange for the monster. They chose one they thought would escape.”

“I’m guessing he didn’t,” said Nash.

“I don’t know. I never had a chance to meet him. It was a very long time ago.” She frowned. “Such is the way. You cannot escape once you are inside. You can only be freed from the outside.” She pointed back, towards the outer rings, Lust and Limbo. Lust was a vast wasteland from this direction, a tract of land that seemed much, much wider than it had when they’d approached it. In the vast distance, the colossal wall that divided them from Limbo was visible, now so high that its top was not visible in the haze. The movement of countless figures was visible, swarming, converging on them. Nash curled the bark, trying to mold it into a better shape, spurred on by the sight.

“It always weirded me out, the idea that so many demons and things in Christianity were based on the gods of other cultures. Beelzebub, the devil using Poseidon’s trident or having Pan’s goat legs, the connections. It seemed…” He shook his head. “Like it lacked creativity.”

“It is one of Christianity’s great strengths in enduring,” said Eumaeus. “It is a mimic, much like humanity. It fits in wherever it arrives, taking the strength of the things that dwell there. There are animals more suited to the savanna than humans, animals more suited to the forests, animals more suited to the mountains, animals more suited to the tundra. But no animal is more suited to everywhere.” Eumaeus stood up, taking the braided cords from Asmodeus, and began fastening them in the sled. Then he gave Betty an amused look. “You could help, you know.”

“Look, asshole,” she panted, her ears flat, her expression annoyed. “You three are the fucking endurance hunters. I was meant for quick sprints. I beat Asmodeus, so you can get the sled together.” She flopped down onto the bark, lying on her back, and Nash couldn’t help the smile.

He liked the goddess. She was irreverent, and she helped people. She helped him. He’d heard about the things she’d done, the lives she’d touched.

And the people she killed.

He looked at Asmodeus.

Bastet was getting better. That was the whole reason he had saved her. The reason he’d fought Jack. You had to believe people could be good. You had to believe that they deserved to be given a chance to be better. If Bastet had been cruel and callous in years gone by, she was getting better.

He leaned down, and tied the cord. He gave the sled a quick pull, moving both the sled and Betty a few inches across the ice. It didn’t take much effort. “So, the hero who saved Cerberus, he never escaped? Everyone talks about how this place is inescapable, but if it wasn’t, they wouldn’t really trumpet the fact, would they? Gives people ideas.”

“No,” said Eumaeus, shaking his head. “I think I met the man, once. He had thought of escaping. He’d even suggested that he’d thought of a way. But he saw all who were trapped here, and he couldn’t be satisfied. The idea of leaving behind every one of them to save himself ate away at him. It was a curse on him.” He sighed, and shook his head. “Being a good man is a terrible thing. Valuing other’s lives above your own, it brings you quite a lot of pain.”

“Yeah, but the fringe benefits are excellent,” said Nash. “So, did you know him?”

“Mmm. I’m afraid that I didn’t recognize him,” said Eumaeus. Then he froze.

The buzzing of wings filled the air. A scent, thicker and more grotesque than the rest of the place. The stink of rotted food, of animal musk, of lack of care. The odor was so thick it made even Nash gag, the sizzling in his sinuses making it hard for him to focus. He looked up into the tree.

It- Nash was very charitable, but there was no other pronoun for it- was vaguely humanoid. Very vaguely. The large eyes were the color of emeralds, but emeralds that had been carved by the world’s most obsessive compulsive gemcutter. Countless tiny facets glittered even in the wan light of Hell, catching and reflecting light in a way that was entrancing. A mouth that was human, surrounded by a pair of wide mandibles, chewed on a twig. Two massive iridescent fly-wings sprouted from the creature’s back, beating at the air in brief, buzzing hums. Each time it filled the air with the sleet, flakes of it blown off of the tree.

“Beelzebub,” said Nash, straightening up. The creature let out a low, buzzing chuckle, its voice amplified by the beating of its wings, turned inhuman.

“Breaker of Zion. It is my genuine honor. It is so rare I meet one who is my equal.”

“I’m everyone’s equal,” said Nash, smiling magnanimously.

“A good attitude. Never let the gods tell you you’re any less than they. And if they do, give them Hell.” The creature sniffed at the air, and drooled, a thick drool that splattered into its furry chest, falling among the four small, fly-like arms there. It had two more normal arms, and Nash noticed something. Beneath the matted fur and the drool, the decaying food and the filthy ice crusting the fur, the creature had the build of a god, muscles standing out in obvious definition, perfectly proportioned. He looked over his shoulder. Asmodeus was the same. Beyond those monstrous parts that marred her, there was obvious beauty in her features, a divine symmetry that almost reminded him of Echidna. Of course, she was Lust incarnate. It was odd that the Demon Prince of Gluttony would also look so idealized beyond the surface.

“What can we do for you, Beelzebub?” asked Eumaeus, quite politely. “I hope all is well.”

“Well, see.” The demon prince reached down, and snapped a twig off the tree. “This is my tree. The only tree in this Circle, and the only food here.” It popped the twig into its mouth, chewing and crunching noisily. “So, here you are, taking something that’s mine. My food. The others here, I’d just beat them within an inch of their life, and call it a day. Hurt them. But you…” It snorted, inhaling. “You’re meat. Flesh and blood. You know how long it’s been since I had a good meal?” It spat out splinters of wood, grinning. “So I’m going to eat you. Enjoy you. Savor you. Then I’ll free myself by handing in that little soul you’re carrying around. Because life is short, you know? You never know when you’re going to die, so you should have a good meal before you do anything.”

“A fight, huh?” Nash cracked his neck. “Alright.”

“Oh, not yet! Not yet. Come on, you need to really get in some exercise before you eat. Food tastes better on an empty stomach, and prey tastes better when it’s run down. I’m going to follow you. When you stop, I’m coming for you.”

“Haha,” said Bastet, lounging unconcernedly on the sled with a calm Nash wished he felt. “You said coming.”

Beelzebub paused for a moment, tilting its head. Then it barked out a harsh, buzzing laugh, merriment evident in those cold and terrible features. “I did! Hah! That’s a good one!” It reached down into the branches, and picked up a staff. It was carved of wood, with seven rings placed at even distances along its length. A skull hung loosely on the top. A very obviously human skull. It was ominous, but Nash couldn’t help but notice the creature’s feet. They were articulate, almost hand-like, strangely reminiscent of a monkey’s. “That’s a good thing. It’s awful to die without a smile on your face!”

Beelzebub hurled the staff. It moved with deceptive serenity. Nash lifted both hands, and caught it. His arms bent under the weight of it, his entire body tensing like a bow under the sheer mass. It was, if anything, heavier than the sacrificial stone the Aztecs had strapped him to. He tossed it to the side with a heaving effort, and it struck the snow, shaking the ground around them violently, tossing Eumaeus from his feet, onto the sled. Beelzebub was grinning broadly. “You’re living up to your reputation! I’m looking forward to a fight with you, Nash! Now get running!”

Nash turned. Asmodeus leapt atop the sled as he began to charge, running through the snow. The knotted braids tensed around his neck, slowly his forward momentum for a second, and then the sled began to move, carrying the other three. His legs pumped, thighs tensing and then extending, as he hit a running pace, and then a sprinting pace. Then he accelerated, the buzzing of Beelzebub’s wings filling the air.

Nash had never been much of a runner before he had entered Zion. He had never experienced what others might have called the joy of running. Now, hell on his heels in at least three ways he could see, the sleet pouring down around him, he found that the the weight of the sled barely even registered in his consciousness, let alone slowed him down. Each long stride ate up more ground, as the runner’s high filled him. And he began to laugh, long and loud.

“What’s so funny, Nash?!” asked Eumaeus, shouting over the buzz of Beelzebub’s wings, the rush of the run, the roar of Hell.

“It looks like a monkey! It’s got wings! And it’s doing other people’s work! It’s a fucking flying monkey!” yelled Nash, between gales of laughter, as he raced forward, the grin so wide it hurt his cheeks as he charged down the slope, deeper into Hell’s belly. He dodged to the side as Beelzebub’s staff rocketed down again, shattering Earth. The sled was thrown momentarily into the air, but Nash kept his footing, still running even as the ground cracked and roiled, the snow building into an avalanche. He rode it like a wave.

“It is the nature of this place,” shouted Asmodeus above the din. “You can become stronger, here, but only by feeding on the strength of others. Those who are strongest get that way, stay that way, by consuming carelessly, taking the strength of others. It forces you out of shape. It makes you ugly.” She looked down at her hands as the violence died away, the avalanche falling behind them.

“Oh, get over it,” said Bastet, smiling, her tail flicking. “Humans have always been perverse. They’re a bunch of freaks. Some of them are into this kind of thing. You’d be surprised how many humans adore me for my soft ears and grace.” She flicked her tail, and Nash grinned to himself again.

Asmodeus. That was a question. There was a danger in giving everyone a second chance. Markov had painfully reminded him of that fact. Perhaps if Nash had taken his power, all of this could have been avoided. Nash doubted that was actually true, though. The plans that he dealt with were so often so deep, so convoluted, that the loss of any one particular part of them would never be enough to shatter them entirely. Markov’s death might have been a setback to Prester John, but never enough to foil the plan altogether. Life simply wasn’t that clean.

On the other hand, was he going to give Asmodeus the chance to fuck up again? Let her potentially wreak havoc, just because he thought it was right? What harm could a Demon Prince do?

Well, he could worry about deciding who got to live and who died once he had escaped from this place. He held a hand up, keeping the sleet out of his eyes. It was getting lighter, and the drifts of sleet had become more shallow. There was a jar, as a rock scraped along the bottom of the sled with a sound like sheet metal being torn, and Nash gritted his teeth as they slowed momentarily. All around them, figures were standing up out of the snow, beginning to pursue them. Slowly, clumsily, but with an implacable determination, roaring and enraged. He didn’t look too closely at them.

In a sudden burst of warm air, they passed over the boundary from the third circle to the fourth. The sled began to rattle and shake violently, bouncing its passengers as they passed over the rubble-strewn fields of the Circle of Greed. Nash saw the inhabitants spread out before him. Dozens of the Damned, charging towards them. They were slowed by massive sacks they rolled ahead of them. He was reminded, briefly, of Sisyphus, and wondered what the old rogue had been up to since being freed.

“Those damned by Greed,” Eumaeus said, a touch unnecessarily, “carry heavy weights, representing the material wealth that they-”

Nash struck the first of the sacks that was rolled in front of him. It erupted, shattering and raining coins and gemstones around them, heavy golden discs that smacked loudly against the ground. Confusion reigned around them, the coherence of the damned dissolving as they scrambled for the gold, scrabbling in the dirt as Nash kept moving. “Yes, Eumaeus! Familiar! No need for the theology lessons right now!” he shouted as he kept moving.

The sled was growing more unstable, shaking and bouncing violently as they pounded across the rocks. “Nash! We’re kind of running out of sled, just to let you know!” yelled Betty. Nash stared ahead of them.

“That’s alright. We’re also kind of running out of path.”

Ahead of them was a cul-de-sac. An unimaginable amount of wealth had been spilled there, poured across the ground, heaped up. It looked like the world’s most expensive sand dune, and it spread out to their sides, in either direction, like a mountain range. Nash slowed to a jog, and then halted, gritting his teeth. Atop it lay a figure. Golden, naked, glorious, the figure’s head was crowned with a golden coronet, slender, understated by comparison to the rest of him. The imperious figure lounged atop the golden dune, one arm extended. “Welcome, Breaker of Zion.”

“You know,” said Nash, “this isn’t a very effective bribe. I’ve never wanted money.”

“Money is never what people want. What people want,” said Mammon, as Beelzebub buzzed down, landing behind them, “is what money represents. Power. Safety.”

“Food,” said Beelzebub, its voice buzzing.

“Money is merely a medium of exchange,” said Mammon.

“There are some things money cannot buy,” Nash responded.

“So untrue. Look at this wealth, Nash. You believe you are going to escape here, anyway, either with Lili or without. Think of what you could do with money.” Mammon’s golden eyes twinkled. “I see into your soul. I see what you truly desire. There are so many in the world for whom violence cannot solve anything. You cannot beat hunger into submission. You cannot break sickness over your hip. You are so limited, in so many ways, Nash. But money, it can do anything that men can.” Mammon waved a hand, and coins drifted out between its fingers. “Money enough to make everything right. All Prester John wishes with the girl is to return her to her father. Isn’t that precisely what you wish to do? Do not refuse this gift lightly.”

Nash hated himself, but he had to pause. Think about it for a moment. Think about all that he was being offered.

“Nash,” said Eumaeus. “Remember. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet lose his soul?”

“Eumaeus,” said Nash, softly, as Beelzebub’s wings buzzed. Betty and Asmodeus were standing now, Betty facing the Demon Prince of Gluttony as Nash faced the Prince of Greed. “I don’t have a soul.”

“Yes,” purred Mammon. “What do you have to lose? You have sacrificed so much. Isn’t it time you were given something? A gift. All in exchange for something you already wished to do. Don’t you deserve this? The comfort, the happiness, the cease of pain that money could offer?”

Of course.

He didn’t.

He lifted his hands into a fighting stance, legs spread, turned to face Mammon. Mammon smiled brightly, and chuckled. “Oh, look at that. You do have something to lose. Your pride. Such noble, glorious pride it is, too. Glowing. The greatest of all possible sins. There can be none greater. Gluttony, greed, lust, envy, sloth, wrath, all of them are little sins, the soul sinking towards sin. Only with pride does one ascend to true evil.”

“It’s not pride,” said Nash. “I promised I would protect Markov’s daughter. I promised she would be safe with me. I don’t know that what I’m doing is right. All I know is that I have to fight as hard as I can for it. But I know that I’m not the one who wants to use her to blackmail anyone.”

“Ah, self-righteousness.” Mammon chuckled. “I know your kind of pride. It is the downfall of those who would be saints and messiahs. The belief that you know best.”

“Shut up,” said Nash, rolling his eyes. “We’ve got five more circles to push through, and I don’t want to have to deal with this spiel from every one of them. I know I’m a piece of shit. Let’s see whether you’re lower than that.”

There was a shout from behind him, as Beelzebub charged Betty. No time to focus on that. Mammon was rolling on easy steps down the hill of gold, feet sliding through the coins with effortless movements, dancing and swaying through them. He reached down, and threw a coin with an effortless swing of the hand. Nash began to move aside, and heard a soft cry from behind him. Ariel’s voice, for just a moment. He stiffened his guard, but he was caught mid-step. The coin struck him like an anvil, striking his arm hard, spinning him. He moved with it, arresting the coin’s momentum, spinning with it.

There was no one behind him.

He completed the spin, and Mammon’s golden fist came across his jaw, striking Nash down and to the side. His head rebounded off of the stone, sending him into the air. Another hand came down, and Nash twisted, trying to avoid it, only to hear a cry from beneath him. He ignored it, this time, and a hand came down, slamming past him, and into the ground. There was a sound entirely unlike that of rock being shattered under a fist. It was heavier than that. Meatier.

He landed on his feet, and saw the whimpering wretch, body broken, who had taken the blow meant for Nash. Nash’s blood boiled, his head pounding. He drew on Pearl’s power, trying to keep calm, as Mammon smiled. “A dilemma for you. The greatest of champions are unified by their sins. They believe that no other can bear the weight of the world for themselves. They wish to keep all the tragedy, all the suffering, to themselves.” The golden god reached down, picking up the broken wretch. “Not dead, Nash. Just suffering. A blow that you could have taken. When you avoid my blows, others will suffer for it.”

“I can take it,” growled Nash.

“Yes, can’t you just? That is the final trap of the Bodhisattva, Nash. The ultimate prison. You know what a Bodhisattva is?”

Nash stood straight, and shook his head. He was tired, though Ariel’s gift kept that mostly at bay. How long since he’d slept? At least sixteen hours. It felt like days. “Look, the very nature of Aikido keeps me from punching you while you make a speech. If you abuse that, I’m going to be unbelievably angry.”

“Humor me. The Bodhisattva. One who has achieved enlightenment, and who willingly turns their back on it, for others. Their compassion curses them. They cannot be enlightened while any other remains in pain. They forget the truth, that all will ascend eventually. They want it to happen sooner, not realizing that compassion, too, is an illusion. That is the tragedy of the Bodhisattva. The ultimate truth of this world. Even the desire to do good is a desire. It is the same in Hell. You cannot help yourself.” Mammon grinned broadly. “You and your friends will fall.”

There was a hard crack from behind him, and Betty struck the ground just to his side, biting her lip. Her hands were battered. “You okay?” he murmured.

“Having some trouble.” She lifted her head, tilting it back until she stared at Mammon, upside down. Then she returned to staring at Beelzebub. “It’s about to throw that fucking staff again. What do you say, want to switch?”

“Well, I don’t know.” There was a soft whistle, and Nash spun.

It was like catching a falling safe. His joints creaked with the effort of spinning the staff, and it almost dragged him off of his feet, but somehow, he managed to keep his stance upright. He could see Mammon charge forward, could hear the cry of the wretched soul who would be harmed if the blow was completed.

Nash completed his spin and released the staff, hurling it end over end at Beelzebub, moving faster than it had before. The Demon Prince brought all six arms together, catching it, but not before receiving a tooth-rattling blow to the mandible, shattering one of the two long pincers at the base, a red ichor beginning to flow forward from the wound. At the same time, Mammon cried out, and Betty laughed cheerfully. Nash caught a glimpse of her, slashing at the golden god, tearing at him, forcing him back. She was selfish, careless about the things she didn’t care for personally. It could be dangerous. But it also let the two of them work together well.

“Personally speaking,” said Beelzebub, grinning, “I don’t see what’s so bad about putting off enlightenment. If everyone reaches it eventually, you should enjoy the base things while you can.”

“Hey, you don’t have to convince me twice.” Nash grinned, lifting his hands. “You’re big into the martial arts thing, aren’t you?”

“A balanced diet is important. You have to be strong all the way through.” Beelzebub narrowed his eyes. “And you are what you eat. It’d be a shame to eat you raw, very disrespectful. A meal like that should be savored. What do you say I start with your leg?”

“Oh, yes,” said Nash. “After all, a human like me, you don’t eat all at once.”

Beelzebub charged forward. It swung the staff in a tremendous overhand blow. Nash lifted his hands, stiffening his stance. The staff struck his arms, and shattered. Beelzebub stared at it for a moment, the broken stump in its hands, and looked very annoyed. It plucked one of its hairs out, and tossed it into the air, dropping the remains of the staff. The hair spread, expanded, and became a new staff, almost identical, though this one without a skull.

“Oh, fuck you,” said Nash, frowning.

“What? Like that little trick of yours was any more fair? That staff was a gift, you bastard.” Beelzebub grinned, and charged forward again. Nash shifted, taking steps back, letting the staff move. He watched the movements, and when Beelzebub spun, he was ready. The demon prince’s long, knobbed tail whipped out, muscular as the rest of the creature, for Nash’s midsection. Nash caught it in one hand, and curled it around his wrist, fastening it. He spun in the opposite direction of Beelzebub, pulling the demon prince suddenly in the other direction, and lifted the heavy creature into the air, before bringing it down, slamming it into the ground hard enough to shatter the earth.

“Fuck!” growled Beelzebub, rolling and returning to its feet, breathing heavily. “Oh, fuck’s sakes! I’ve only ever been bound by two men, I’m not going to let there be a third!” It began to shake itself. A cloud of hairs rained into the air, filling the air with dander and dust. Then they began to rain down as copies of the demon prince, hitting the ground with heavy thuds, carrying replicas of the staff.

“You’re just making this up as you go along, aren’t you?” asked Nash, grimacing.

“You just wish you were as good-looking as me,” said the first Beelzebub. It was the only one with a broken mandible, and its grin was a mile wide. “You going to give up?”

Nash’s eyes drifted towards the others. Eumaeus was helping Betty to harass Mammon, striking blows at the golden god’s heels with the staff he carried. Asmodeus watched, her eyes flat and neutral. The forces of Hell were converging. Nash could feel the power surging from each of those clones. A sizable fraction of Beelzebub’s own. He didn’t think he could take them all, certainly not in the time they had. “Fuck. I didn’t think Gluttony, of all sins, was going to make me cut loose, here.”

He closed his eyes. He felt for Heather, again, letting himself spread out. The ecstasy of battle surrounded him, Beelzebub’s joy. The passion was intense.

He reached for Pearl’s power. He didn’t push his emotions, this time. He pulled on them, and the passion ignited inside of him like a firestorm.

There was a very brief flurry of violence.

He opened his eyes. Beelzebub lay on the ground, surrounded by hairs. Two dozen of the rods had been driven through the earth around him, pinning him into a crucified position between the staffs, all six arms spread wide. Beaten and broken. Hell and its refusal to let its inhabitants die might have been the only thing keeping him alive, ichor flowing freely from a hundred wounds. He was still smiling, but his expression was dazed and senseless.

Mammon stood, his eyes wide, bleeding from the chest. Betty had bloodied him, but he still looked capable of fighting. Nevertheless, he dropped to his knees. “I surrender,” he said, very softly, bowing his head. He shook with terror, staring at Nash. The same expression was mirrored on the faces of Asmodeus, Betty, and Eumaeus. Shock. Disbelief. The lingering hint of disquiet.

He tightened his fists, the knuckles popping, as his pulse came back under control, his head shaking. “That’s why I don’t want to feel, Bastet.” He sank to his knees, and for just a moment, focused on his breathing. Ariel’s gift very far away, for a moment, and it sent a tremor of terror through his heart. He forced himself to his feet. “Mammon.”

The golden demon prince flinched. “Yes, sir?”

“Why do you want to be free? What is your happy ending?”

Mammon looked down. “I… My daughters. I have been away from them for a very long time.” He raised a hand to his forehead, rubbing it slowly, confusion in his eyes. “Three daughters. Such wonderful daughters. Everything a father could want. I forgot their names, their faces, their mother, everything. But I still remember them. I want…” He looked up, and frowned. “I would pay anything.”

Nash nodded, and then looked at Beelzebub. “How about you?”

“Me?” The broken wings flickered, oozing more of the red ichor. “I would kill for a peach. Just one would be enough.”

Nash slowly nodded. “First, do no harm. Second, undo that harm which you have done. Make a goddamn effort to be good. I know that’s not much of a command, but it’s enough, for now. You do that, and you can come with us.” He slowly breathed in, and out. The aftermath of the emotion that had filled him was enough to leave him sick to his stomach. It hadn’t been people he’d been thinking of. It hadn’t been those he’d wanted to save. It had been raw fury, the joy of being so much stronger than someone that they could do nothing to stop you. That was what he was when he was honest with himself. Thinking about it made him shake slightly as he strode forward. The golden coins rolled and danced out of the way as though afraid of him, while Mammon swung his arms in easy circles, creating passage for them.

“Nash,” said Betty, softly, stepping up to rest a hand on his shoulder. “You-”

“I don’t like who I am, Betty. I’m not a good person. Not inside. Not where it counts. The things that I feel aren’t good things.” He smiled. “If someone has to hurt, to suffer for others, it should be someone who deserves it. Come on.” He pointed forwards. “Wrath’s next.” He swallowed, hard, and gave her a smile. He still remembered the expression on her face. It wasn’t a betrayal, he reminded himself. It was the only reasonable reaction to him.

Just like Cassandra.

2 thoughts on “Chapter 24: This Miserable Measure the Wretched Souls Maintain

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