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.”
Nash woke up with a start as the bad dreams drifted away. Panic fled with Pearl’s gift, holding away the nightmare visions. The last thing he remembered had been speaking to War. He felt a little stab inside of his heart. The memories of the pain she had been through. She had hurt him so many times, and she had wanted to do it every time she did. She had wanted to die, and she had pushed him to be the one to kill her. She was probably quite disappointed that he hadn’t picked that up. He blinked slowly. He was sitting in the clinic again. His stomach was bandaged. Nobody was there.
Throughout history, War had empowered people. She had harbored the secret little dream that one of them would not come to resent her for what she had done. It was a foolish dream. People resented power, once they had it. They became powerful, and they forgot what it was like to be weak. Once in control, they found she raised champions against them, and they hated her for it. They did not understand that it was in her nature. That she had to do it, because that was what defined her. And so, the people she cared about most ended up despising her.
When first one creature slew its sibling out of hunger, or fear, or rage, she was born. She did not have thought, because she was an idea. She existed only in the thoughts of others. When the winter came, or when food was scarce, or when the mating season became fraught, or when overcrowding threatened, she arrived. And things died. She did not think that this was good or bad, because she did not think. She simply existed, and grew very powerful, because she lurked in the hearts of all living things. Life was conflict, and struggle, and this turned living things against one another.
Silas Nash stood in the rain, his eyes on Bella, keeping Susan in his peripheral vision. His arms were aching. He could feel the pain in his fingers. The stabbing pains in his nose and forehead, where Megara had hammered him with blows. The soreness of his throat from Harry’s stranglehold. His solar plexus still ached. He could feel sharp pains in his chest, his heart beating erratically. He was shaking. The cold was getting to him. It was almost enough to make him laugh as he studied her. “So, Bella. Just the servants of War, here. What do you intend to have me do to make things worse?”
Silas Nash walked across the grass. There were still imprints in the ground from where the tables had been set up the previous day. The memories flooded back. The taste of good food, and the laughter of his friends. Zion was a quiet town at the best of times, but the silence in the streets was profound, right now. The words ‘sepulchral’ and ‘silent as the grave’ were marching to mind, and that was not a very happy thought.
Consciousness returned to Silas, alongside unbearable pain. He let out a low groan, his eyes opening slowly. His head was spinning, and he was being dragged along through the asphodel. “I am sorry about this, Mister Nash,” said Persephone, her voice soft, and a bit sorrowful. “I really am. You seem like a genuinely decent man. But the laws of Zeus are sacrosanct. The agents of the Horsemen are agents of the Titans themselves, seeking to overthrow the gods and to destroy mankind. The only appropriate way to deal with you is with Tartarus. I shall leave a plea with the judges that they show you mercy in whatever torment they decide you must undergo, Mister Nash. I only hope that you can find it in yourself to understand why this is necessary.”
The first memory Dean Constantinou had was of his father. The tall, burly man laughing as he embraced Dean, a ragged beard scratchy against Dean’s cheek. He coughed and squirmed, but laughed with delight along with the man. It was also the first time he’d seen his father in person. Up to that day, the man’s sole presence in Dean’s life had been in photographs.
At a run, Nash soon caught up with the other two. “It’s the danger of the underworld, Nash,” Dio said, giving him a sympathetic smile. “You go there for the sake of one person, but you meet so many who seem deserving. The only reason I’m even going along with this is because of the stakes involved. Sad though the boy’s death was, Dean Constantinou is not the one we are coming to save. The town is.” He shook his head. “We will be lucky indeed if Hades allows us to take one soul from his care. Asking for many would be an insult. Particularly those souls who wander through Tartarus.” Nash sped up, until he was walking alongside Cassandra.
Nash stared vacantly out the classroom window. His mother had been behaving strangely all week, ever since he told her about his dream and the red-haired woman. The woman in his dreams had been… strange. A little scary, very pretty. Thinking about her left him with a dreamy expression on his face. This became embarrassing when the teacher called on him.