I wanted to scream as the chaos rained down around us. I wanted to collapse as the wave of feelings and thoughts from the freshly-dead souls slammed into me. I could feel my knees buckling, and I started to swoon while debris of glass, steel, stone, and body parts fell down around us. Black tears streamed down my cheeks, but there were three things that kept me from an all out collapse: Nem holding me up, the aforementioned debris raining down, and the sleepwalkers advancing on us.
With vacant wide eyes and blank faces, the sleepwalkers marched towards us with pitchforks and torches in hand. The debris took out sections of them as it fell. Those that remained continued to advance, heedless of the danger. We fled with Ky’Elli at our heels. Well, actually, Nem supported me as I staggered and ran down the street with her. The sleepwalkers never yelled, just swiped their torches and pitchforks at us. I could feel Nem tense as she attempted to contain her power; she knew these people were victims of our brother. I felt myself grow heavier and weaker, the purple veins breaking out on my skin. I fought to stay conscious, to keep my death aura in check. I stumbled, tripped, and almost fell, but Nem’s quick reflexes kept me up, kept me going.
The sleepwalker’s swipes at us were ineffectual and never made contact. It became apparent that they were actually just herding us back Golden Gate Park and I had no doubt that Hypnos was waiting for us there. By the time we turned the corner and hit the park, I was panting and Nem was basically dragging me. I couldn’t even look up, all I saw was the ground. When she hissed and let me go to my knees, I finally found the strength to lift my head. The park was filled with sleepwalkers. Somewhere in the distance, there were more explosions. My stomach lurched and I vomited as Nem lowered herself into a defensive crouch. Ky’Elli positioned herself in front of me to protect me in my weakened state, growling low in her throat as the new spokesperson of the sleepwalkers stepped forward to address us.
“Mother of sweaty chaos balls,” Nem muttered under her breath, the shadow sword materializing in her hand.
I struggled to my feet and swayed unevenly on them like a drunkard. The spokesperson was a girl in her twenties: brunette, young and pretty, the way Hyp liked them. She smiled at us, but her eyes remained vacant.
“The Master said you are to come and see,” she said to Nem and me.
The sleepwalkers closed ranks around us; we were trapped. Nem put away the sword and came to me. Lifting my arm up, she put it over her shoulder for support. I grimaced at her and she gave me one back. We followed the spokesperson, the sleepwalkers parting before us, making a path to Hypnos.
We came to the center of the park, in a section of open field, a group of fifteen sleepwalkers stood at attention with canisters at their feet. The faint aroma of gasoline hung in the air as we were pushed along by the crowd closing ranks behind us. I shot Nem a sideways glance and she nodded. She had smelled the gasoline as well.
Our eyes fell on Hypnos, Ky’Elli growling low in her throat at the sight of him. He sat in a chair being tended to by scantily-clad female sleepwalkers. One held an umbrella over him, one fanned him, one fed him grapes, and the last one held a glass of wine for him. He saw us and smiled widely. He rose from his seat and all the sleepwalkers, with the exception of those who stood in front of the canisters, knelt with a massive swoosh sound. Nem tensed as she readied herself for battle, and I tried to stand straight.
He wore his cloak of stars, like my cloak our mother had woven it from the night sky. Unlike mine, which had come from the deepest night, his had come from the dusk sky and bore the colors of it with ever-changing star constellations. On his head, he wore his winged helmet, the only way the wingless one was able to fly.
“Thanner, Nem-nem, so glad you could make it,” Hypnos said amicably.
I felt a power surge come from Nem as she focused her will onto Hypnos. He seemed to sense our sister’s power flux and his smile only grew larger. There was a merry twinkle in his black and gold-flecked eyes, while a livid purple storm danced in Nem’s black ones. Her shadow wings erupted from her back and her sword reappeared in her hand. Hypnos raised one finger, still smiling widely.
“Careful, Nem-nem, you don’t want the innocent to be hurt, do you?” Hypnos asked.
With the speed of lighting, Nem moved in for the attack, to play the gambit that she could subdue Hypnos before he had the chance to get the upper hand on us by using the sleepwalkers’ lives against us. She brought up her sword to strike Hypnos. From the way she moved her body, it would have been a devastating blow. Hypnos, still smiling, took a step back, staring unblinkingly at Nem. She froze, struggled, shook, stiffened, and then went lax. Her wings vanished and her sword fell away. Her eyes became glassy and vacant as she fell to her knees before our brother. Hypnos threw his head back and laughed, a victorious sneer on his face.
“Success!” he roared.
When Nem let me go I could barely stand, still feeling the enormous amount of lost lives. I went to move on Hypnos after he slept Nem, only to fall to my hands and knees. The grass under me began to dry up, brown and die; my aura was slipping. Ky’Elli leaped over me and lunged in defense of her Mistress, but Hypnos was prepared for her, too.
Chains and ropes with snare loops flew from the large crowd, catching Ky’Elli in mid-flight, wrapping around her, and pulling her down. She cried out in rage and struggled against the restraints, but they held fast. Hypnos applauded this show as Ky’Elli fought to break free. He strolled over to me and the now barren patch of ground I knelt on.
“Pitiful, Thanner, really pitiful,” Hypnos said smiling down at me.
I couldn’t speak; all my concentration was channeled towards keeping myself awake and contained. Hypnos bent down and helped me to my feet. He looked at me, smirked, and shook his head. I glared at him as he supported me, and we began to walk to the sleepwalkers who stood with the canisters in front of them.
“I will let you pass out soon, Thanner, but first Kronos demands a demonstration of your raw untapped power, your full potential, little brother,” Hypnos whispered.
We stopped in front of them, out of the corner of my eye I could see news cameras filming us, possibly transmitting to Kronos. Hypnos let me go but not without making sure that I could stand on my own two feet. I swayed unevenly as I stood before these helpless sleepwalkers. The stench of gasoline was heavier closer to them and got worse as they poured it over themselves. Others approached with torches and handed them to the walkers doused in the gas. Hyp stood in front of me with a game-show-host smile on his face, the satanic version of Monty Hall.
“These poor people are going to light themselves on fire if you don’t stop them,” Hypnos said.
I sneered at him and opened my wings, I meant to fan out the flames with them. The pain was sudden and tremendous. Hypnos must’ve anticipated it, how was he one step ahead of everyone? It was the final straw in my ability to control my death aura. The sleepwalkers had seized my wings, pulled them taut, and cut and ripped them off of me. I could hear the ripping sound as they came loose from my body. The swords they used were not mortal weapons, no mortal weapon could do that. I fell face-first onto the ground. I saw the blades through blurry eyes, they glowed and flashed like my scythe, like Hypnos’ dagger, and like Kronos’ sickle.
The ground beneath me began to die, my control slipping as the pain and suffering, not only my own but that of those who had died needlessly in this hunt for my rogue brother, took me over. I did all I had left in me to do, all I could do, I screamed. I felt the cold of my aura rush out of me and claim all in its path, the group willing to light themselves on fire, those around them, the plants, the grass, and whatever birds that were in the sky at that moment.
Then I was swallowed up in the darkness. Hypnos laughing and applauding were the last sounds I heard before I fell away.
I awoke with my arms chained above my head, anchored by a hook in the ceiling. My legs were shackled together, and my severed wings lay at my feet. I looked down at them and winced with memory. Turning, I glared at Hypnos. We were high on a catwalk in a warehouse; below us, I could hear the sounds of construction and people working. Hypnos stood with his back to me, overseeing the activity. Nem stood next to him, as still as a statue, ignoring Ky’Elli’s cries from somewhere down below.
“Don’t worry about your wings, Thanner, they will grow back and you know it,” Hyp said without turning around.
He was right, of course. I was still glaring at Hyp when he turned and faced me, Nem slowly, robotically doing the same. It pained me to see the dead eyes of a sleepwalker on her. He approached and she followed. He grabbed my side and pushed, the hook that anchored the chain high above and pulled my arms taut slid smoothly along a track, allowing him to position me on the little outlook he had just left. I moved sideways until we got there, then he turned me so I could see, and saw I did.
Down below, sleepwalkers worked with construction equipment and no safety gear. They looked haggard, unkempt, and emaciated. Some lay dead on the ground, their souls still lingering, telling me they had been worked to death. I clenched my jaw to hear their stories. In the center of the concrete floor was an enormous hole, with a pulsing pink light coming from it. The sleepwalkers were working on making this hole bigger, deeper, and wider. I knew what it was the instant I saw it.
“The living, breathing pulse of Gaia, the pulse of the world. Isn’t it beautiful, Thanner?” Hyp spoke reverently from beside me.
“Yes,” I admitted.
“When the hole is big enough and Kronos says, I will crawl down in there, meet the pulse, and sleep the world. The Titans, Ate, and I win,” Hyp gloated.
Hyp turned me so I could look into his face. He was smiling while Nem stood there, a blank robot. I glared at him but his smile never faltered. There was a metallic clanking noise and I was free of my restraints. I landed on the catwalk with a bang, my boots hitting the metal floor hard. Hyp just kept smiling, while uncertainty and doubt filled and gnawed away at me. What was his game?
“Can’t figure it out, Thanner? Being a little obtuse, you know, a little slow on the old uptake?” Hypnos said smiling.
“I won’t,” I said.
“Nothing I say can convince you to join me?” Hypnos asked.
I shook my head vehemently. The smile faded from my brother’s face and disappointment and cold resolve took its place. He nodded slowly and turned his gaze to Nem, who stiffened at his look.
“So be it. Nem,” Hypnos said softly.
“Master,” Nem said in a flat tone.
“Kill Than,” Hypnos said.