“Now?” asked Djehuty, frowning. I gave him an unapologetic smile. “The emissaries will be here in a matter of days. This war can end, but we need you here, Bastet. Your strength is one of the things that forces them to respect us.” He tugged the feathers on his head, frowning at me as he preened. “Surely your village will be safe for a few days more on its own?”
“Miller? Sergeant Fetu Miller? You’ve got a visitor.”
Nash slowly stood up. His body was aching from the drug that Huitzilopochtli had used on him, but each movement, each beat of his heart, seemed to reinvigorate him. He looked down at the iron of the chain around his wrist. He reached down to break it.
“In the flesh,” said Itzpapalotl. He smiled. Bare bones glittered and clattered in the moonlight, faint rouge dappling the cheeks, as the waves slowly lapped at the shore. Nash’s fists clenched and unclenched, watching the strange god stand. Itzpapalotl’s stance was lazy and relaxed, a hand on one cheek, hollow eyes staring at him. The long moment of tension held, but Itzpapalotl did not attack him again. Nash didn’t relax.
The change in the city was shocking. When Nash had entered the Aztec’s Bloody Crescent, the air had been full of tension. Anger. Fear. All of that had vanished in the short time that Nash had been inside. The low, throbbing drums had been replaced with smaller, higher pitched ones, which beat out a rapid and catchy tempo. Dancers spiraled and twisted through the streets, carrying streamers and torches with them, drawing lines. Night remained over the city, though it couldn’t be later than two in the afternoon. He was still in the midst of the Aztec’s world.
The slaves were led towards a great paddock. It was little more than an enclosure of sheet metal. It wouldn’t have stopped a determined child, let alone one of the monsters or heroes among the Vemana. The chains, the walls, they were all just a reminder of the thing that was really keeping them trapped. The gaze of the gods above, three of the great gods of the Aztec, made it clear. There was to be no escape from this place. Nash looked casually around the paddock, and faded towards its back. The gods gaze would not stop him.
“Hmmm.” Nash nodded down towards the slums. “I’d prefer not to have to fight my way through the entire Bloody Crescent.”
“Cooking is one of the oldest human gifts,” murmured Heather. She smiled at him, and Nash’s heart ached. He felt the tears dripping at the corners of his eyes. “In the ages long past, men sat by fires, and lured the beasts out of the darkness with the promise of fresh-cooked meat.” He looked around. The warm summer sunshine fell through pine trees, illuminating the back lot behind the old motor lodge. Tables set up. People joining together for a feast. A deadly quest ahead of him, but that wasn’t what frightened him now. It was the look on their faces.
Ji-a breathed shallowly through her nose as she and Jack hobbled through the door into their small apartment. Deep in the slums of Paradise, where no one would notice her. They were silent as they slipped through the doorframe together. Both of Jack’s arms hung limply, his shoulders dislocated. Ji-a limped, trying not to put weight on her left leg. Her right hand was held gingerly, trying not to let the broken bones twist and grind against each other. They couldn’t meet each other’s eyes. She was afraid of what she might see in Jack’s eyes. Humiliation. Shame. Rage. Defeat. The loss of hope.
The doors swung open, to reveal an empty elevator. To their credit, the men manning the machine guns didn’t hesitate for even a second. Both barrels swung up towards the roof above the elevator, and began to fire. The heavy pounding of the machine guns filled the air with low thumps. Round after round pounded up through the roof, the dense uranium tearing terrible gouges through the stone and metal, perforating it like it was cheesecloth. It was loud enough that no one but I made out the two soft pops of a small caliber weapon.