All I Want for Christmas is You
I slowly set down Ku’s father, resting him on the ground. The street lights were on, and the sky was black, the skyscrapers on either side lit up bright. There was no questioning what city I was in; New York had a smell all its own. John Pertwee faced me, his eyes wide, his gray hair flapping in the soft breeze. He held the sword in one hand, his shirt sleeve loose now, flapping in the air, bringing attention to that missing arm. He stared at me with a sense of loathing that I had felt in very few humans, every tendon standing out, his eyes wide and unblinking. He was fighting the very desperate urge to run away from me. “What is it,” I asked softly, “about you Order of Set assholes? What is it that drives you to attack me, time and again?”
“So this is the best you could do, is it?” I asked, waving a hand. “This is meant to be my nightmare? The torment that you’d visit upon me, my greatest fears? You’re a moron, Ku-Thule. This is my life. This is what I deal with all the time. I made peace with it long ago.”
“Salmon,” I said, nodding my head as the plane came in for a landing on the Binghamton county air strip. “Smoked salmon. That’s what I’m going to have him make when we get there.”
“No?” asked Conquest, mockingly. “It’s not your decision. No one can protect her. Not the Sisters. Not the gods. Not you, Nash. She sold herself, a long time ago. This is calling in her debt, and you are not able to interfere. This is not a problem you can fight your way out of. You are magnificent, don’t get me wrong. You are brave, and strong, and I will be more than happy to comfort you. But even if you were to fight us today, tomorrow, the next day, we will take her from you the moment your guard is lowered. She will come with us willingly, now, simply to save you the pain of fighting, and failing against us. She will not fight us, because she is too weak to win, and because the conflict would cost you and those around you dearly. And then, she will be tortured. You don’t know the depths of pain that can be caused, Nash. You have dipped your toes in the pool of loss and suffering, and thought you knew what it was. But she’s going to hurt.”
The problem with fighting lost gods was what they had lost.
I hit the ground in front of Prester John’s tower, rolled, and was up again. I found myself immediately faced with a half dozen friendly faces, which was a welcome change of affairs. Huitzilopochtli stood there. Marinette and Itzpapalotl flanked her. Ogoun was with them, and Legba still in his greyhound form, and Xipe Totec shining golden bright in the midday sun. They had armed themselves for war, and were flanked by a few dozen of their eagle and jaguar warriors, and a group of angry looking Vemana. I smiled. “Well, look what the cat dragged in. And just what I needed to see. I’m going to get some power. When I get it, I’ll have about an hour.” I lifted my head to study the top of the tower. “That’s just enough time. Things’ll be finished by then, one way or another.”
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.
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.