We march in silence down the trail back toward town. Every one of us is listening and watching the sky for the beast. What we should have been doing was watching the path. The djinn stood blocking the way, both of their hands engulfed in blue flames. We all stop in our tracks, Polus and I moving to protect the mortals. I was right on the robe. It is much larger and baggy than it needs to be. The djinn claps, and in a flash of blue light, we are all scattered.
I sit up and find myself back at the frontage road, where we had our personal introduction to the dragon. Uneasily, I get to my feet and take a few staggering steps. I crack my neck and decide I will do better with an aerial view as I open my wings and fly up. I am wary but steady as I go in search of the others. I spot Polus on a small hill surveying the area, and I silently land by him. He turns to face me as I fold my wings back in.
“The others?” I ask.
Polus shakes his head slowly and strokes his beard. “No, no sign of them.”
“Perhaps they headed back towards town, and we will run into them along the way,” I say hopefully.
“Let’s start moving. We’ve got a town full of mortals to protect, and like you said, perhaps we will run into them along the way,” Polus says. I follow behind as he starts down the hill.
We have twenty miles of rough terrain to maneuver with a djinn and a dragon out there. We are on guard as we traverse the landscape. I am carrying my scythe, and Polus’s hands are balled into fists. Polus moves as silently as possible as I glide through the shadows of the trees. Then we see Randy standing on the path with his back to us.
He sways on his feet from side to side, making low grunting noises. Polus slowly approaches as I hang back, scythe at the ready. Polus looks over his shoulder at me, and I nod. He reaches out and touches Randy’s shoulder, shaking him gently.
“Randy?” Polus asks.
Randy whips around and screams. His skin is milk white, his eyes burning with pale blue light, and branded into the center of his forehead is a black rune of a concentric circle. Polus jumps back, and I lift my scythe. Randy screams again and charges at us full force. Polus raises both his fists, the air around them taking on a liquid shimmering look. He slams them together, and Randy suddenly stops as the shock wave from the Titan’s fists hits him. He stands there and sways, then the axis point of the body or what you mortals call his joints, begin to twist and snap out of place. Randy’s body falls to the ground in a twisted heap.
I lower my scythe, and we walk to the twisted form. Polus reaches down and turns the head to study the rune on the forehead. He looks up at me as I loom over him.
“Recognize this?” Polus asks angrily.
“I do. It is the mark of a familiar. The djinn enslaved the body after taking the soul, filling it with their magick and will. They are supernaturally strong and, from what I remember, hard to kill. They are nearly unstoppable, but you made quick work of him, Titan,” I say.
“He was my friend! A friend with a mortal. Who’d have thunk it? Rest easy and be at peace. May your soul find its way to Elysium once we find it…we will find it, won’t we?” Polus says over Randy’s body.
“I hope this now proves to you that I am not causing this!” Polus yells as the air swirls around his hands again.
“I do indeed now see that, Titan, but let me ask you something. Did you notice that the robe it wore was larger than it should be?” I ask.
“Yeah, I did. I thought it was weird,” Polus says.
Gunshots ring out, and we take off, running in that direction. We run as fast as we can over the rough ground. The gun stops firing, and in the sudden silence, the roar of the beast and a massive gust of wind flies across us. Tree branches and leaves rain down, and we are almost sent sprawling from the blast, but we pushed through and reached a clearing to see the smoking corpse.
We both know who it is that goes without saying that it was Don. We stop in front of the body where it lies on a patch of grass, covered in bloody viscous liquid. Polus bends down and touches it with his index and middle finger. He raises his fingers to his nose and sniffs.
“Blood,” Polus licks it and spits, “magick blood, djinn blood. Don hit it and made it bleed.”
I nod slowly and make my way to Don’s remains. Like the body of young Bradley Chamers who had brought me forth, Don’s body and the ground around him is charred. His mouth is open in a silent, eternal scream. I hunker down next to him, wishing I had his soul to reap, and notice something clenched in his hand. He had clutched it against his chest as if protecting it as he burned. I reach over, and with a little effort and some crunching, cracking sounds, I remove his phone.
His cell phone isn’t singed and appears to be in working condition. I slide my gloved finger across the screen to unlock it, and the image stops my heart. My eyes widen, and a gasp escapes my throat. The image is of the djinn, still wearing the cloak but with the hood pulled back, revealing the face of the woman they call Pat. There is a text on the image: It’s her…I rise and toss the phone to Polus, who catches it on the fly.
His reaction is similar to mine, but his shock soon turns to fury. As he rages, a memory from long ago plays through my mind. The djinn I killed had a sister. I see her now. She was small, blonde, with the family rune on her forehead.
I got down on one knee to make eye contact as she spoke to me. “And someday we will leave this world of ours and travel like you and give birth to the Dragon God on those other worlds,” she said, her eyes alight.
“And, dear one, who would help you birth this god of yours? Surely not mortal men, dear one,” I said, chuckling.
“No, handsome gods like you,” she said with a smirk.
I laugh, and the laughter in my mind changes to the sound of Polus’ ire. The trees around him erupt, splintering and shattering as if made of glass. Polus falls to his knees and lets out a scream.
“That baby’s not mine, is it?” he asks.
“Afraid not,” I say flatly.
“Let’s go kill this bitch,” Polus growls.
“Indeed, we will. How long has Pat been in the town?” I ask.
“I don’t know, but longer than me. According to everyone, her bar and grill have been there forever. False memories?” Polus asks.
“Indeed, they are, and her name is Shanteth, not Pat,” I tell him.
“She is toast. Let’s go,” Polus says, rising to his feet and marching out of the clearing with me following after.
We hit the main road and hear the swooshing whomping approach of the massive wings of the dragon. The beast lets loose a cry that shakes the trees to their roots. Polus takes a deep breath, and the air rises from the ground, swirling and shimmering around his arm, his eyes turning dead-white. The Lord of the Axis in his absolute power now stands before me. I open my wings to their full extent and gather the shadows around me. My scythe appears in my hand, blazing with light.
“I am going to bend and twist that dragon, and you take its head!” Polus commands.
I nod my understanding just as the beast makes its run for us. Shanteth crouches astride its back, the ground shaking beneath its roar. Polus raises both fists and slams them together, as before the effect is impressive. The wave takes out the trees along the roadside and a part of the pavement with it.
The blast punches the dragon. The rider topples off as the dragon’s axis begins to bend and twist out of shape. The creatures’ cries are earth shattering, and as it comes past me, I bring my scythe down on its neck. There is a moment of resistance, then sweet give as I slice the head from its long scaly neck. The body and head hit the blacktop and skip to a halt. A blast of energy tears from the body, slamming and sticking us to the ground.
“Than,” Polus struggles to get out, “I can’t move!”
“Nor I,” I answer.
There is a rustling sound from the woods off to the side, and I cast my eyes in that direction. Shanteth steps out, naked, pregnant, and her body covered in black djinn runes. She picks a twig from her hair, tosses it over her shoulder, and smiles at me. She pads over to me on bare feet. Polus opens his mouth to speak, but with a wave of her hand, he is struck mute. She straddles my prone body at the hips and thrusts against me, biting her lower lip. I can see the Dragon God in her womb writhe and wiggle. If she is allowed to birth that abomination, the world would know fire and terror. The mortals would not survive that god’s reign, and immortals would have another war on their hands.
“Shanteth,” I say.
“You do remember,” she says, leaning in close.
“I never forget, and I see you made it across to this world. You must have been so proud,” I say.
“Oh, I didn’t get here by my little self, silly boy,” she says in a breathy sigh into my ear. “Your brother, Hypnos, opened the door for me after I showed him the delights of my body. And wouldn’t you know it, a titan just happened to stroll into town soon after? How lucky can a girl get?”
She rises with another thrust and rips open my shirt, exposing my chest. She bites her lip, letting her fingertip glow with a blue fire before running it over my exposed skin. I clench my jaw and silently endure the pain.
“You know, I have never forgotten those eyes of yours, even after you killed Oran. They followed me into my womanhood, and I would cast your eyes onto every suitor, but they were all unworthy. Well, except your brother. Now I am going to etch the familiar rune on you until it takes,” Shanteth says, smirking.
She jabs her fire finger into my skin and begins to etch. The pain is hot and immediate, and my gasps give way to screams, the sound echoing in the forest. Her smile grows wider as she etches, and every cry from me is met with a thrust of her hips. The world that had been cast in shades of blue for weeks now became more so. As if I am back in the ether pit where I had found Mr. Zeus, but I look around, and I am back under the dome.
Her voice begins to appear in my mind, replacing those of the dead with a shock wave. My hips buck, forcefully lifting and throwing her off and over me. I shoot to my feet, the wave of energy breaking whatever magick held me to the ground. I call my scythe to me, and as the djinn moves in, I swing it around. Her head hits the blacktop and spins. The body takes a couple of staggering steps and collapses. The runes burst into blue flames, incinerating the body. I feel the release of the souls she claimed begin their journey to the Underworld. The dome above us breaks apart in an indigo and black lighting storm.
Polus gets slowly to his feet. We both take in the scene and begin to laugh, the sound stopping short as we turn in unison. There was no noise to alert us, just a roiling power. Nemesis stands in the middle of the road, Ky’Elli porting in at her heels. She appears weary, with black circles under her wild eyes. She is preternaturally still, as if she is attempting to hold herself together. Her hair hangs in a messily done, lopsided ponytail. Ky’Elli watches her mistress intently, concern burning in her blue eyes.
“Nem?” I ask.
She turns her gaze, focusing on me. Her breath hitches as she sees the marks on my chest, her hands clenching at her sides as she forces the words through clenched teeth, “Did I do that? Did I hurt you?”
I shake my head, “No, Nem. You would not hurt me. These wounds are from a fight, and they are already healing.”
Her shoulders relax, and she offers me a small weary smile. Closing the distance between us, she places her forehead against my shoulder. She breathes deeply of my scent and, with her face still there, says in a small tired voice, “Thano, you are okay. I did not hurt you. I could not have hurt you.”
She looks up at me and then past me to Polus. Her eyes turn solid black and fill with purple lightning.
“Nem, no!” I shout.
“Well, well, well, little brother…interesting company you keep!” Nem calls out, sounding half-crazed.
Her power shoots out to surround Polus, and I feel the force of it as it passes me. It lands on his shoulders like a heavyweight. Polus falls to his knees, mouth open in a silent scream of pain. I step forward, seize her shoulders, and shake her hard. Ky’Elli lets out a low growl as Nemesis’s head snaps back, bringing her back to her senses. As her power receding into her, she looks scared and confused, staring up at me with lightning whipping in her eyes. I am scared for her, scared by her, as she nearly pants, trying to contain her power. Nemesis doesn’t lose control. Ever. I wrap my arms around her and hold her.
“I am all right, and that is Paul, a friend and ally,” I whisper to her.
She nods, then shakes, then nods her head. I look down at the small beast, whose eyes have never left my sister. Nem wraps her hands in my cloak, holding on to me like a drowning man clinging for dear life.
“We will talk later, you and I,” I tell Ky’Elli.
“And me, Thanatos? What about me?” Polus asks from behind me.
I feel Nem tense and hiss at the sound of his voice, her power fighting against her grip. I look over my shoulder as I unfurl my wings, blocking Nem’s line of sight. “Have a good life, Paul.”
Nem says with her face still buried in my chest, “If one such as you can have…” I fold my wings around us and travel back to her home in the Underworld.