Nash could hear the soft sobs fill the air. He looked around, and found that the only thing in any direction was an endless gray expanse. It stretched off into infinity in a way that was completely impossible to focus on, undifferentiated and mind-numbing. He turned until he could hear the sobbing coming from somewhere in front of him, and began to walk. It seemed to make a difference.
I puffed as we ran through Hell. I wasn’t happy. The running was part of it. The destruction of the sled meant I had to run again, and frankly I was getting tired of the running. I momentarily considered ordering one of the Demon Princes to carry me, but none of them looked very comfortable to get close to.
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.
The story finished as the four of us arrived at the far end. Eumaeus whistled softly. “It was you who freed Promethea? I’d had no idea. I’d always heard Heracles had been the one responsible. Certainly, that was the way the stories all told it.” He was quiet for a moment. “Though the man himself was always reluctant to discuss the venture, I’d been told.”
The sand swept around the ruins of the temple. Out here, in the depths of the desert, there was no human life. Once, a long time ago, a tributary of the Nile had drawn through this place. It had died before Egypt was born. The windswept temple, its black surface coated in a thick rime of sand, was the only sign that anyone had ever lived there. I slowly climbed the dune, lifting my hand to ward off the harsh sun. From the top of the dune, I could see into the temple, the darkness intense. I took a deep breath, and looked slowly around, the endless dunes rolling off in every direction.
Dawn had risen, but it was covered by the clouds and mist. Markov Lorickson narrowed his eyes as the plane approached Paradise at a dangerously low altitude. The encroaching storm had made the flight in risky, though the pilot had insisted the appropriate term was ‘suicidal’. It was divine intervention alone that was allowing them to avoid being plowed into the sea, wind shears and ferocious gales guided away by the six wings of the archangel before them. The pilot was more than a little bit tense, but with God as his co-pilot, Lorickson was not going to let him bitch and moan.
“You know,” said Betty, her eyes narrowed, “You’re an unusually arrogant human. I can admit I find that admirable. It takes real stones to wear someone’s skin in front of their friends and family.”
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.”
I stretched out on the small, inflatable raft, and frowned down at the cut on my arm, tail flicking. Bella had always been a bit overdramatic. It was a bad habit of humans, and she was oh-so-very human in some ways. Mind you, I wasn’t against the occasional display of showmanship, but I didn’t take it too seriously. I hadn’t, for a very long time. I slid a length of fabric torn from my clothes around it, tying it tight.
Bella understood many things about herself. Her powers. Her limits. Her nature. She was War. She was the embodiment of conflict, of strife, of uncertain combat. She was the incarnation of the survival instinct. She was one of the most powerful beings in the world. And she was far outmatched by the enraged Sister in front of her.