As soon as the child hit the ground, arrows flew, each hitting its target. As the maidens surrounding it got ready to ose another volley, the monster ran. I started to pursue, but lost concentration quickly, stumbling in the thick cloud of putrid perfume.
I stood with Hestia and picked up my food while Mano settled back around my neck. “I’ll come with you. If you’re worried about something, you may need a fire hose.”
Hestia slid her hand over her face. “Only if it’s Dite trying to cook something. That girl can burn water.”
My gaze flitted to one side and then the other before I decided to use some questionable skills I had picked up in my time away with mortals. They were both good and bad influences. I was going to find what I wanted for muffins, and I wouldn’t let something as simple as a locked door prevent me from reaching them.
The bar was darker than the woods and filled with beards. Mostly they are long and grey with one lonely goatee. Clearly, it belongs to a hiker from the south, judging from the rolled-up skinny jeans and tech pad things scattered on the table. He does seem a bit on guard around the grizzled old men. Honestly, it is cute. I will make sure they do not play with him like cats with their prey.
There is nothing more important than the bonds of home and hearth. Without them, mankind is lost. For a long time, the balance of the home has been off and made worse with the industrial revolution. A work/home balance is needed. Too much time at either often wrecks both.
At least this wasn’t a magical fire. Those could be a pain to control. My hand moved slightly as I found the core before making a fist and yanking down. The fire was under my command. I snapped my fingers and pointed at the ground next to me. “Sit,” I said sternly.
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.