The young man took both of Ouma’s hands in his own and kissed them. “If it weren’t for this place, I wouldn’t have made it into uni. Over there, at that table, you, Joe, Mama, and others helped me understand my math. This place…” he paused, a pained look crossing his face. “I was hoping to come back and help, but like the other places, the rich guys will push yet another neighborhood out.”
I ignored them both, not wanting to dignify their questions with an answer. I had everything under control and wanted to make sure I took things one step at a time. The first priority was pulling her from that wreckage before the flames consumed her. The next step would be finding some shelter.
“Because I’m tired of just existing,” I snapped. “At home, I didn’t belong. I never felt like I fit in, and no matter how hard I tried, it never made a difference. I know I don’t belong up here either, but at least I’m free to make my own decisions without being influenced by my past. This place provides me a clean slate, and I’m willing to see it through, no matter where it takes me.”
Adrestia jumped, whipping around and throwing a wild haymaker. I leaned back to avoid the lightning-fast punch, my hand coming up to catch the deceptively delicate fist as it came at my face. I studied Adrestia as images of her past deeds, good and bad, flashed through my mind at the skin-to-skin contact. It was all overshadowed by her panic and the jumbled memories that had sent her fleeing.
Iron becomes something, a bright searing liquid, then a hard, unyielding block. It becomes a weapon, a support, or a barrier. The others never truly change, never become anything other than what they always were.
“I’m glad you asked me that question. I’m going to answer it with a question of my own. How much hate could a god or goddess summon if they channeled their entire existence into that one feeling? I don’t know how or why, but the anger and hate burned hotter and brighter than I ever felt from you.”
The person turns around, a wide grin spreading across a face identical to my own. “Well, well, well. Fancy meeting you here. I think it’s about time for you and me to have a little chat,” my dark alter drawls, causing my heart to drop into my stomach.
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.
The rune dissolves, and the black ink liquid moves and shifts from my hand as if to say, See you soon, Thanatos. We remember. I remember the hot and dry desert air, the cocky sneer of the djinn, his eyes alight with blue fire, and the permanent look of surprise on his face as his head hit the ground and rolled to the feet of his father.
I stood petrified, afraid to move. A part of me had gone quiet and still, frozen and in shock at the breadth of this violation. In needing to create distance from the horror of the nightmares, I had become prey. I had become a victim. I wanted to scream my denial but was not sure I would be able to stop if I started.
Throwing my head back, I glared at the ceiling and yelled, letting out every ounce of rage building within my essence. The sound vibrated off the walls. It felt as if thunder had shaken the brownstone, but I was so off-kilter it was hard to tell if that were real or imagined.
I would not hurt Thanatos, and yet I did. I could not close my eyes, but I could look away. And as cowardly as it felt, I did. I could not see the act I was committing. I could not watch, and shame filled me as I left Thano in the one way that I could stay with him.