I stand at the window of the penthouse I am renting, looking down at all the construction. The city of San Francisco is slowly recovering and rebuilding itself. All that noise. How do the mortals stand it? I long for my quiet cottage in the Underworld.
I am ignoring the work waiting for me on my desk. Paperwork that Nick left out for me from Mr. T’s and all the monthly reports. We are doing well this year, even after Melinoe tampered with the dark chocolate around Valentine’s day. Surprisingly, there is a demand for her nightmare chocolates in certain subgroups.
The glass in my hand is sweating, drops falling to the floor. The drink forgotten, and the ice long melted. My thoughts are on many things as of late. Moxie’s eyes haunt me at unexpected times. This isn’t a bad thing. I actually find it quite pleasant when they come to me. They bring me a sense of peace in these hard times. If I were a knight in olden times, I would request a favor from the lady, possibly a lock of her hair.
Nem is often on my mind. After Moxie, the tiny muse Clio, and I found the clues about Mrs. Hera’s disappearance, I ported back to my sister’s apartment. I found her in her bedroom closet, still barefoot and covered in cake. She was squeezing and clinging to the small beast for dear life. I sat in there, holding her to my chest as she trembled.
My twin brother, Hypnos, seems ever present. He, along with the freshly reaped souls of his victims. They clamor both inside my head and in the Underworld for justice, for blood, for vengeance. The dead will quiet down eventually and join the rest of the white noise up there. But right now they are screaming the loudest I have ever heard them. Hypnos serving a life sentence in Tartarus is not good enough for them. They want retribution. And the goddess who could grant it is, for all intents and purposes, out of commission.
“Than? Are you even listening to me?” Hekate asks, breaking into my thoughts.
I slowly turn around to look across the room at her sprawled barefoot on the couch. The drink in her hand is almost empty as she places it on the coffee table.
“I am sorry, Kate. You were saying?” I say, placing my wet cup on the desk.
She looks slightly exasperated as she leans forward, both hands on her knees. That look soon turns to concern, and she rises and walks over to me. I turn to look out the window while the dead scream for Hyp’s blood. I close my eyes and rest my burning forehead against the cool glass as Kate’s arms wrap around me from behind. She presses her cheek against my shoulder and squeezes me tightly. I exhale, allowing myself to relax in my friend’s embrace.
“I said Hera, Than. Hera is cured. It worked, she is no longer a teenager, but she is still dealing with what has happened to her,” Kate says, cheek still resting against my shoulder.
“That’s good, Kate. I am happy to hear that,” I say.
“Then I am going to sprout feathers like a peacock and prance around the room,” Kate says.
“That’s nice, Kate, I am….ohhh,” I say.
I look over my shoulder and down at Kate, who looks back up at me and nods. I feel a slight blush filling my cheeks. I wasn’t listening, and she caught me. The look on her face even says, uh-huh.
“I am worried about you, Than. Quite frankly, a lot of us are, and I know you have things on your mind. You can’t tell me you don’t, because I know you too well and you’re a shit liar,” Kate says.
I tuck my lips in further. I am not ready to open up yet, not even to Kate, and I am cracking in her hold. A part of me wants to give in and unburden myself. I feel the walls about to break when my iPad goes off. I have never been so happy to hear the sweet death chimes. Literally, I am saved by the bell. I break the embrace and march the short distance to the desk. Knowing what this means, Kate does not stop me. She stands by the window with her arms folded across her chest. I pick up the tablet and read the email from Atropos. It is the death list, and there is a second one titled In need of your personal attention.
I slide my finger across the screen and open the second email, like the first, it is from Atropos.
I grimace at the childhood nickname they had for me and continue to read.
Strange and unnatural deaths in the Pacific Northwest. The threads came back, scourging hot, almost burned my hands to grip it to cut. When I snipped it, the thread almost burst into flames. These deaths need a godly touch. A run-of-the-mill clone will not cut it. *wink, wink* Just know we were all screaming we thought our room was going to catch on fire, and then burn down mom’s house. So, Clo, Lala, and I are very disturbed by these events. Than, where are their souls? We can’t find them after the thread was cut. So please be careful as you go, baby brother.
I am cackling madly because it annoys you! XOXO
I open the death list and count out how many clones I need for the night. I feel Kate move to my side. I look at her, and she gives me a knowing look. She knows I am leaving.
“Is it bad?” Kate asks.
“Bad enough to get the Fates worried,” I answer, plucking feathers from my wings.
“No point asking if I could come on this little adventure, is there?” Kate asks.
“Not in your weakened state,” I say as I slip on my cloak.
“Well, there must be something I can do to help! Please, Than,” Kate demands.
I nod, text her the death list, and hand her my feathers. She knows how to activate the clones. I walk to the center of the room as my scythe glows, indicating it is ready for travel. The hum of the blade sings loudly in my ears. She looks at the feathers and her phone, nodding. I slice through the air, creating a rift.
“Be careful, Than. I will let Nick know you left,” Kate calls out to me.
I nod again, step through the rift, and out onto the blacktop of a two-lane highway in the middle of a lush verdant forest. The sky is overcast from a storm that just recently passed, there are puddles on the ground, and petrichor is in the air. I put up my hood, masking myself to mortal eyes, and head off down the road to the blue and red flashing lights of emergency vehicles. To a fresh death in these strange killings that has sent me forth.
I move past the mortals as a breeze cold enough to chill the soul. Some visibly shiver, some rub their hand together, lift the collars of their jackets, and try to tuck into themselves. I even hear a pair ask if the weatherman said anything about a temperature drop. I chuckle to myself as I approach the body.
It is charred and burned past recognition. The police will have to use teeth to identify this young man. I stare down at Bradly Chamers, age twenty-four, son of Brandon and Ruth, father of none. I notice the ground and the trees surrounding him are burnt to a crisp, like the body on the ground. Bradly is lying on his back, hands up, mouth open in an eternal scream.
“Poor boy,” I say to myself as I hunker down next to him.
It is obvious what killed him. I know of only one beast that can sear the earth and a body in this manner. This was the work of a dragon, but why? They don’t usually go on the attack, plus they are so well camouflaged most humans pass by them without ever noticing. Is someone or thing controlling this beast?
My sisters are correct that the soul has been eradicated. Just to make sure, I attempt to call it to me, but nothing. That confirms my theory that someone was controlling the dragon. A dragon does not destroy a soul.
There is an almost familiar scent in the air, just beneath the smell of burnt flesh and earth. I reach out and scoop ash from the empty eye sockets with two fingers. Giving it a quick sniff, I recognize the scent, but it makes no sense. There is no doubt of the source of the magick, but the Djinn in this world are tricksters, not murderers.
The scent of the magick fills my mind with memories from my wandering years. What version of earth was it? One fifty-two, One fifty-four? I should text Nick and ask him to look at my journals. The arid earth, the Dragon God that the Djinn in that world served. I battled one for the soul of a man once.
Every soul, even the wandering dead, must at some point be accounted for, and if this Djinn was taking them, then it is my duty to free them. Their magick is tough to learn, but not impossible for the magickally adept. It is having a christened blade and knowing which rune to etch upon your body for which spell. I wipe the ash from my hands as I rise and go back to the mortal police. Two men with a stretcher pass by me. They will remove the body of young Mr. Chamers. I see a sheriff speaking with a burly man dressed as a lumberjack. I wander over to listen to their conversation.
“Calm down,” the sheriff says.
“I will not calm down! We got families to feed. Our site has been abandoned for weeks! Mr. Blake wants to know when we can go back to work!” Burly exclaims.
“You tell Paul to come see me at the station. I do not appreciate you coming out here and behaving this way!” the sheriff responds.
“Don’t appreciate it? May I remind you elections are coming up, and Mr. Blake, our foreman, represents the logging company that employs most of the town. They, like Mr. Blake, expect results,” Burly snarls.
Burly spins on his heel and storms to his truck. Getting in, he slams the door and speeds from the scene. The sheriff curses and throws his coffee cup to the ground. He gets in his cruiser and drives off just as fast, leaving the deputies and paramedics to tend to the site. Town sounds like a good place to start my search for the Djinn. What better way to hide than in plain sight? I unfurl my wings and take flight.
I land in the center of the small downtown. It is bustling with vehicles driving up and down the two-lane roadway. The denizens meander along the sidewalks into diners, shops, a movie theater, and an IGA grocery store. It is quaint, small-town America. I spy Burly’s truck parked down the road in front of the logging company and the office of Paul Blake, Foreman.
A rugged blonde-haired man exits with a pregnant woman on his arm. They stop just outside the door and he takes her in his arms, kissing her deeply. As I watch the man suddenly freezes, seeming to sense my presence even from such a distance. Is he one of the touched mortals? His head snaps in my direction and we make eye contact. His blue eyes flash, and I recognize him immediately. He is not a mortal man, and he is certainly not Paul Blake.
He is Polus, the Titan of the Axis, and an escaped prisoner of the Tartarus Correctional Facility. He steps off the porch, not taking his eyes off me, followed by the pregnant mortal. I lower my hood, revealing myself. My scythe appears in my hand as I open my wings to their full extent.
“God, Paul. What…what is it?” the woman asks.
“Death has come to town, baby,” Polus/Paul answers as the world comes to a complete standstill around us.