People like Megaera. They want to see more of her. Since I can do things in short stories that I wouldn’t do in the main manuscripts, I thought, why not write a story from Meg’s perspective? So, now you’ll get to see just what she was up to immediately before reconnecting with Lucy in Blood Hound. But be warned,as fun and flirty and sarcastic as she seems sometimes, Megaera is not human. Her life is as dark as midnight and bloodier than a battlefield. A story from her perspective is just going to be meaner than one starring Lucy.
This story takes place immediately before Blood Hound.
I am Megaera.
I am Fury.
The Erinyes were born from the blood of Father Sky when the titans spilled it into the sea. I and my sisters are ancient beyond words. When Rhea gave birth to Zeus, I was already old. I have served Olympus. I have served Karma. I have served Heaven. But always, I have one true task: To find those who Owe, and make them Pay. I am judge, jury, and executioner. No sinner can flee before my righteous judgment.
So naturally, this made me pretty opinionated.
“Look,” I said. “All I’m saying is, Mug is shit, Barq’s ain’t much better, A&W is so-so. Weinhard’s is pretty good, but hard root beer is pointless. It’s a fucking soft drink. Not a hard drink. You know, since Prohibition. If you wanna drink something, drink real booze. Dionysus would be so pissed off at the shit people are doing nowadays.”
“Who?” my date asked.
“Dionysus,” I said.
“Dinosaur?” my date asked.
“Die-Yon-Eh-Suss,” I enunciated, wagging a finger in his face. I had been drinking way more than root beer. “Greek god of wine. Come on, man, did they teach you anything in college?”
“Uh, not about that,” he said.
It was my fault. I needed a guy without too many outstanding sins, and I kept ending up with boring ones. For all the others, I could see the corruption oozing from their souls. It made them less than attractive. Women weren’t much different, either. Hey, I’m from ancient Greece. Get used to it.
“Well, if you won’t agree with me on root beer, I don’t think we can be together,” I told Jeff. Or Jerry. Or Jorge. Or whatever his name was.
“What?” he asked me. “Root beer?”
“I’m very opinionated,” I said.
I knew I should’ve felt sorry for him. Poor guy. Most of my long-term relationships have been with fellow immortals, but come on, I’m Ancient Greek. I couldn’t resist a mortal or two. Three. Four. At the same time.
“Look,” I said to Jeff-Jerry-Jorge. “This isn’t going well. Wanna go to my place, anyway?”
“Uh,” he said. “No offense, but like, you know how female praying mantises bite their mates heads off?”
“What’s life without a little adventure?”
He didn’t even pay the bill before he left. If only that were a mortal sin.
I sat back, grumpily, and finished my meal. You know who I missed? This one vampire chick named Lucy. She was delightfully weird. Like, I’d known religious vampires before, but this girl was kind of special. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen someone set herself on fire by praying. I respected her principles.. And sense of humor, button nose, sarcasm, hobbies, surprisingly thorough knowledge of professional wrestling, and other stuff. Way too many. But hey, I’ve always been opinionated, and we fought until it ended. Even immortals need time and personal space, sometimes.
My phone rang. I checked the number just in case it was from Heaven – and yes, they used phones. But it wasn’t. It was my nephew. I rolled my eyes and answered.
“Was she married?” I asked.
“Hey, Auntie, c’mon, gimme some cred,” he said.
“You’re trying to sound ‘hip’ and ‘with it.’ It sounds lame,” I said. “So, was she married?”
“You didn’t even let me say hi. Can’t a fellow say hello to his family?”
“Your family’s big enough to fill a football stadium,” I said. “And you keep making more. What kind of shit did you get yourself into, and do you really think I’m going to bail you out? If you were a human, I’d beat the living hell out of you.”
“I love you too, Auntie,” my nephew muttered. “Anyway, that’s not why I’m calling.”
“So, what was it this time? A white bull? A goose? Golden mist?”
“Meg, stop it,” Zeus said. “You’re getting cranky. You need to eat something.”
“I’m eating something right now,” I said, and took a bite of my dinner roll. “See?” I talked with my mouth open! Such a sinner.
“I called to check on you,” he said. “I was worried.”
“You’re worried,” I said. “I’m the Daughter of Ouranos, and you’re worried.”
“Alecto and Tisiphone have been reborn,” he said.
I swallowed my bread. “What?” I asked. “What did it?”
There are many grades of immortality. Some, like vampires, live as long as they want until something kills them. Others, such as Zeus, simply can’t die. Still others, like the Furies, die and then come back, reincarnated with each death. We come back the same at the core, but surrounded with different humanly trappings. Changed. Different. It’s not as much fun as it sounds.
“I don’t know,” Zeus said.
“Well, have you asked the Fates?” I asked him. “Hell, the Norns?”
“Why don’t you ask your new boss?” he asked, a fair amount of bitterness tinging my nephew’s voice. “Heaven’s supposed to know everything, right? Haven’t they given you the memo?”
“Now you’re getting cranky,” I said. “Have you eaten, Thunder Boy?”
“Meg, stop it,” he said. “I’m trying to help you. Somebody’s targeting your sisters, so I thought you might want to know.”
“I do thank you for the information,” I said. “And I’ll keep an eye out. So, what about you? Was she married?”
“I will slap you silly, boy.”
“I’m the freaking god of thunder, Meg.”
“And I’m your aunt.”
“Look, Meg, you’d understand if you saw her. Total MILF. Ass that wouldn’t quit, tits like–”
“I’m not listening,” I said.
“–Watermelons, and she did this thing with her tongue where–”
I hung up on Zeus. Sure, he was my nephew, and I loved him, but he was an annoying pervert. Never hit on me or my sisters, though, but that’s because he knew what we really looked like.
Pretty little Meg, the vivacious redhead that most people knew, wasn’t really me. I wore Glamours, painstakingly constructed from the ground up, to look human. It took years to properly make one, piecing together the body from scratch, an illusion so finely detailed that for all practical purposes it was absolutely real. I loved my default look, even identified with it much of the time, but it wasn’t me. A true Erinyes is a thing of terrible, horrible beauty, the wrath of the heavens incarnate. Made it really hard to integrate, though. It was probably the wings. Or the bloody tears.
I finished the meal, thinking about my nephew’s warning. It took a lot to kill a Fury. So much that nobody ever really targeted us. Sure, there were the occasional lucky heroes or villains, but those were one-offs. But Alecto and Tisiphone, both? I thought briefly about calling them to check up, but decided against it. If they had just reincarnated, they had bigger things on their minds.
I’d just be careful, that was all.
I left the restaurant and stepped out into a city of sin. Places like Las Vegas were more overtly corrupt, but San Francisco had an undercurrent, a special kind of spiritual energy that was its very own. Not even New Orleans, with its own local shade of Voodoo, could compete. The ground we stood on was holy – not in a deific sense, but in the original meaning of the word. Separate. Set apart. If people knew what seeped from the earth underneath their feet, this place would no longer be a city. But few knew the truth, even among immortals – in all the years I lived with her, Lucy never had a clue about this city’s true nature. The sins of the people mixed with the spiritual essence of the city, and its aroma was delicious.
I felt his sin, and I knew he was near.
I often talked about my List, but it wasn’t a physical object. When a name came up, I could sense my prey, knew his or her guilt, and could track them as easily as if they were on radar. I could work on my own – and I did seek my own prey at times – but my List took precedent. Someone deserved Hell, and his time was up. I understood the unfairness – why choose these sinners, and not the butchers and tyrants guilty of so much more? They would have their due, in their own time – they simply had not finished forging their own chains yet. Immortals were exempt, except under very special circumstances. Mortals were easier prey, anyway.
Blake Lasson. Enterpreneur. Would-be tech giant. Self-styled philanthropist. Serial philanderer. To some people, that last one wasn’t enough to condemn a man, but I am Megaera, The Jealous One. I knew every tear, every broken heart, every shattered vow. Yes, I punished murder and other cries, but infidelity was my raison d’etre. And he was rank with it. I could feel the weight of Lasson’s sins, the screaming hypocrisy of his supposed good deeds.
I changed form as I tracked him down. I had spent years creating a new Glamour, a raven-haired beauty, and was itching to try it out. It was fine craftsmanship, too. My other alternates had always resembled my favorite form in some way, but this time I had taken pains to construct something new. I doubted that even Lucy would recognize me, and she knew every inch of me.
Besides, from what I could see of his sins, Lasson liked them dark and gothy. I didn’t have the makeup handy for that last part, but I felt I could manage it. I was already dressed for the occasion,t anyway – dark jeans, a black Metallica t-shirt, perhaps not goth-centric, but I could pull off a rocker look if it was down his alley. I stopped long enough to add a studded bracelet to the ensemble, and then continued tracking him. I had to get him alone. The world at large might deny the spiritual truths of the universe, but individuals could recognize a monster if they saw it.
I kept my senses up, feeling the atmosphere of the city. There was a downward shift in spiritual tone, an added pressure to the auras in the air. A feeling of expectancy, tension, of potential energy coiled taut.
“I wonder,” I asked “What can blacken the air of a dark city?”
I focused, and felt the energy that always permeated the air, the criss-crossing lines of power and potency seething from the ley lines of the earth into the angels and demons who made this place their home. And over that, I felt more – added tension and movement, from different points. I felt a little bit of Hell, and the demonic activity that fed into the tension covering the city. Perhaps a ritual, or minor summoning, or something else was taking place – but I couldn’t get a bead on it. It wasn’t on my List. Was out of my hands. Still, it made me agitated, anxious to find my prey and deal with him. I redoubled myself, and resumed tracking Blake Lasson.
People’s sins oozed from their souls, radiating out like pollution, wrapping them in a miasma of their own corruption. It was distractingly appetizing. But Lasson’s was like a beacon, directing me. His wife knew some of it, but not the extent – she mourned what she thought was betrayal, not realizing the depths of this man’s greedy lust. I felt and understood the others he had corrupted, or worse, used as toys. Disposable pleasures.
I caught him in a club, unlucky for once. For now, at least. No predicting where he might be in five minutes if I didn’t find him. I slipped inside, masked by the lights and pulsing music, and decided on an approach.
Blake Lasson sat in a booth, eyeing up some potential company. Debating which one to offer a drink. I stumbled into his booth, bumping my hip and slumping forward, catching myself against the table. My new black hair fell into my face, and I brushed it away with trained clumsiness. He jumped.
“I’m so, so sorry,” I said, giggling at him. “Soooo many shots.”
“Are you okay?” he asked, and actually looked me in the eye. I adjusted myself, letting a hint of a bra strap peek out from the t-shirt, and his focus shifted accordingly.
“Oh yeah, totally fine,” I said. “It’s all cool till I fall down.”
“You look like you’re about to,” he said.
“Nah,” I said, and promptly sat, sliding into the booth with drunken grace. “The night’s way, way too young. I’m just getting started!”
Right then, in that moment when he looked most uncomfortable, I leaned in, and smiled.
“Say,” I said. “Aren’t you that guy? Like, that guy! The Info guy!”
And I had him.
“Yeah, I made InfoChan,” he said, shooting me a friendly grin. “Now a division of Servilius.”
“Oh yeah, yeah, I like tech news,” I said, still watching him. “Woo, you’re like, famous! Can I have a drink with you?”
“Sure,” he said. “Whatcha want?”
“Anything, long as you’re buying,” I grinned, and watched Lasson order. He had terrible taste, but that wasn’t why I was after him. He went to the bar to get our drinks, and although I didn’t watch him, I could sense his every movement. All that sin from so close – it was like sitting next to a buffet. But there was something else I sensed inside him, a tiny spark of potential – and I didn’t want it.
Repentance is rare, redemption even more so. But it was available, and a lucky few could take advantage of it. I had to give them a chance – no matter how foul, if they had the potential to turn back, I had to allow them the opportunity to humble themselves and redeem the evil in their lives. Sometimes I was happy to give them that chance – salvation was so beautiful. But not every time. They deserved what they got. They needed it. Some people, I didn’t want to see redeemed. But I had to offer it. And, at some point before dragging this man to Hell, I would have to offer him a chance at Heaven’s mercy.
He returned with two drinks in his hands, and I could see what he had done to mine. I could smell the added drugs, and see the evidence of the sin written on his soul. And I had to offer him a chance. There was no guarantee that he would take it, though. There was at least that.
It was funny, really. In the grand scheme of things, what he did to innocent women far outweighed his marital vows. Drugging women? Rape? Those were ssome of the worst sins imaginable. But I was built to punish oathbreakers. I wanted to rip him to shreds for one sin, but I was here to punish him for the other. Not that I couldn’t have my cake and eat it, too.
I took the doctored drink in my hands with a big, drunken smile, and snuggled up as he settled into the booth next to me.
“Ooh, this is my favorite!” I said, drinking it. “How’d you know?”
“I’m a good guesser,” Lasson said. “So, you never told me your name.”
“Meg,” I said.
“That’s a great name, Meagan,” he said.
I almost suppressed the chuckle, but Lasson heard it.
“I dunno,” I said, and drank some more. The poison neutralized itself before it had a chance to even touch me. So did the booze, for that matter. The former was because I was an Immortal Fury, the latter because I had a really great tolerance. Hell, I had trained myself on Dionysius’s wine. Served by Herakles’s wife. In the middle of an Olympian bender. I had to resist the urge to lecture him about cheap tequila.
He put his arm around my shoulders. No wedding ring, but anybody could see the tan line. I held back a shudder at the sensation of his sin-stained flesh against mine, and let myself relax, snuggling up to him.
“This is so cool,” I said.
“You’ve got any friends, Meg?”
“Oh yeah, lots of ’em,” I giggled, and adjusted my top again. This Glamour was bustier than I was used to. It was certainly producing the right reaction, telling where his eyes were. Like hypnotism.
“Maybe I should meet ’em.”
“I’ve got two sisters, too,” I giggled again, hoping that I wasn’t doing it too much – not that he would notice. “You’d love them.”
Reminding myself of Alecto and Tisiphone jarred me a little from my play-acting. What the hell had hit them? And was it related to what I was feeling earlier? I decided to keep an eye out while I was judging this man.
“Hey,” he said. “You feeling all right?”
“Huh?” I blinked, and looked up at him. “Oh, hey, sorry. Just kinda felt woozy there for a moment.”
“I guess you’ve had a lot to drink,” he said.
“I’m gonna need help back to my car.”
“You can’t drive like that,” he said.
Yeah, of course not. You were the one drugging me, you bastard.
“But a taxi’s so expensive,” I said. “And Uber’s scary.”
“I’ll drive you,” he said like a spider inviting a fly onto its web. To mix metaphors, that meant he bought it hook, line, and sinker. Checkmate.
“You’ll really drive me home?” I asked him.
“Of course I will, Meg,” he said. “I’ll see you home safely.”
“Then we’ll go to my place,” I said. Yeah. My place. As far from his wife as possible.
I began to stand, mentally deciding how much the drug would have affected me by now. I stumbled, catching myself in Lasson’s arms.
“Yeah,” I said. “Your place.”
“Are you okay?” he asked again, as if he didn’t know.
“Just… a little dizzy,” I said. “Can we go now? Please?”
His strong arms supported me like something out of a romance novel. You know, without the infidelity and roofies. I stumbled in Blake Lasson’s arms, taking careful steps to keep my balance as I walked with him. We left the club, into the cool San Francisco air. I took quick mental stock of the atmosphere. That weird oppressive feeling I had sensed was still here, but unfocused – sort of all over the place, nowhere near me. No, if there was trouble, it would have to come from someplace else. As Lasson began to lead me to where he must have been parked, I began to redirect him.
“Need to get something from my car,” I said, and tugged at him.
“Are you sure?” he asked. “You look like you need to lie down.
“Need to get to my car,” I slurred again. “Just a minute.”
I took him down the block, and turned in an alley. Narrow. Dark. Away from people. He continued to hold me, his grip firm, helpful – again, would have been nice if not for the sin bleeding from his every pore. I felt his hand tense when he saw the dead end.
“Hey, I think you took a wrong turn,” he said, and prepared to turn around.
I leaned up and kissed him, hard. Taken by surprise, he stumbled for a moment, but then his arms tightened around me. I pushed him against the wall, my body pressed up against his. He gave in, whatever apprehension he had at the alley melted away at the touch of my lips. I put my weight on him, feigning helplessness, letting him support me completely. His sin pulsed in the air as he gave in, knowing how the drug should have been affecting me, but indulging nonetheless. I tasted his iniquity and buried guilt, savored it, and waited until he was at his weakest, when his hand found my breast.
And then I transformed. I dropped the Glamour, becoming the Erinyes, Fury made flesh. Tall, terrible, burning with rage and fire, my wings adorned with shimmering crimson feathers. My eyes were pools of blood, dripping bleeding tears. My claws were jagged metal, like knives. My hair was gone, now falling over my shoulders in leathery dreadlocks.
Blake Lasson realized this at the same time he realized that he was trapped in my arms, pinned up against the wall of a dark alley. I could smell his fear. Good.
“Blake Clay Lasson,” I said. “You are guilty.”
“What the fuck?” he asked, stunned.
“You have sinned,” I seethed. “Infidelity. Betrayal. Theft. You drugged women and took from them without their consent. You joined with your wife’s soul, and then tore it apart. Your crimes are known. Your debt must be paid. You owe!”
“Help!” he screamed, apparently finally coming to terms with the fact that he was making out with a gargoyle. “Help me!”
I clamped a hand over his mouth, my claws digging into his cheek. I wrapped my wings around us both, the red metal feathers scraping as they slid together.
“If you scream, your death will come more quickly,” I said. The smell of burning sulfur diffused in the air, a hint of his fate. “I am Megaera. I am your judge. Explain your sins.”
I released his mouth, but clamped it down again when he prepared to scream.
“Choose your words carefully,” I hissed. “They will be your only defense.”
I removed my hand again, and he began blubbering.
“I’m a man! I can’t help it!” he said.
“Wrong answer,” I said, and flicked my hand across his face, cutting a deep laceration into his cheek.
“They wanted to! I never forced anybody,” he tried.
“Even worse answer,” I said, and lightly cut as his neck. He wailed in terror. “You worthless, raping piece of shit. You vomit lies. You corrupt everything you touch, and laugh about it. The world would be better if your mother had strangled you in your crib. And you want to defend yourself?”
He strained a bit against my grasp, and I closed my knife-fingers over his throat.
“I want to squeeze,” I said. “To pierce your worthless flesh and tear out your pathetic throat. To watch you bleed and whimper and die, and then carry your soul into eternal fire. You won’t rest. You won’t escape. It will never stop, and a hundred million years from now, you will still deserve it. Do you feel it? Do you feel the pain that you’ve bought for yourself? Do you feel the agony you’ve inflicted on every woman who’s crossed your path? Do you feel the fires you stoked with every worthless breath you’ve taken?”
There it was. That spark. That chance. I wanted to grab him and drag him into eternal fire. I wanted to hear his screams as he began to burn in the other world. I wanted him to pay for every single time he had taken out his dick or spiked a drink. But I had to play by the rules. I had to give him his tiny little chance.
“I shouldn’t have!”
“Prove it,” I whispered into his ear. “Sorry is just a word.”
“I know!” Lasson’s knees buckled underneath him, and I held him up with one clawed hand. “I knew it was wrong. I did it anyway. I… I just kept going. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
The words were cheap, but I could see regret form in his soul – regret for his actions, not just at being caught. I didn’t want to see it, but there it was.
“And your wife?” I asked.
“She knows, and it’s killing her!” he admitted.
“Why are you killing your wife?” the blades on my hands dug into his flesh, and he gasped. I spotted tears – again, not just fear from the monster slowly mauling him, but from the words I said.
“Because!” he wept. “Because I didn’t care!”
“Your promises to her. Your vows,” I said. “What of them?”
“I didn’t care,” he admitted. “I never cared.”
“The women? The ones you forced yourself on?”
“I knew what I was doing!” he cried. “Every time! I never cared.”
I gripped him by the throat, lifting him to face me. Blake Lasson looked into my bleeding eyes. “Kill you? Is that all you think you deserve?”
“I deserve everything you said!” he screamed. “I’m guilty! I’m sorry! Kill me, please!”
Fire began to lap at his feet, spreading on the pavement around us. He sobbed, whether from fear or guilt, and said just one more thing.
“I hurt them.”
I threw him to the ground, away from the fire. Lasson landed roughly, grunting as he fetched up against the wall on the other side of the alley. He looked up at me weakly, confused.
“You have one week,” I said. I didn’t want to give it to him. I wanted him to burn, but I saw the potential there. Repentance through fear. “Make what restitution you can, and then you will see me again. If you have truly repented, I will know.”
Lasson staggered to his feet, numbly. He looked at me. “What?”
“One week,” I said. “To save yourself from me.”
Realization dawned on his face, and he took a step away from me.
“Go,” I said. “Before I change my mind.”
He kept backing away, almost running backwards. I watched him as the reality of his reprieve sank in, and his soul sparked with the possibility of redemption. I predicted difficulty, a struggle with the worst parts of his nature, but possible success. He was planning to confess everything to his wife, even what she didn’t know. If she suggested counseling, it might put him on the right track. A chance.
His back arched as a sword burst through his chest, sending his body into a wracking spasm.
“What?” I asked, taken off-guard.
“Help,” Lasson gasped, clutching weakly at the bloody metal protruding through his torso.
The demon emerged, and I knew who had been hunting the Furies.
Arioch, Demon of Vengeance. Embodiment of Hell’s unrighteous judgment. My opposite. Arioch took the form of an obese, bald man, his greasy, bloated flesh as pale as a corpse. His eyes were white and cloudy, yet gleamed with cruel sharpness. His arms were mismatched, one armored in serpent scales, the other festering, covered in wounds and rot, infested with maggots, embodying the horrible strength and corrupting death of revenge. Small, ragged wings adorned his back. He held a vicious silver sword, and was driving it through Blake Lasson’s body.
“Too late,” Arioch said, and grinned at me. “No salvation for the wicked.”
Lasson choked, his hands weekly reaching for the sword. His soul was in chaos, filled with remorse but with no time for restitution. Arioch threw him down, leaving him to bleed out his final moments. I watched as his life faded, unsure whether he would meet judgment or mercy on the other side. My prey, claimed by another.
Arioch licked the blood from the blade, and looked me in the eyes.
“You,” I said. “Demon. You’ve been hunting my sisters?”
“They screamed,” Arioch said. “They fought, and they screamed. I licked their blood from the ground as they died.”
I kept my eyes on the sword in his hand. Short, double-edged, with a leaf-shaped blade. A xiphos. Another moment, and I recognized it.
“That’s mine,” I said.
“Do you like it?” he asked. “I wanted to give it back to you.”
He lunged at me, jabbing the sword at my gut. I jumped back, my wings carrying me to the end of the alley, and hurled a blast of purifying flame at him, white-hot and sulfuric. He held up his reptile arm, countering it with a wall of hellfire, which also smelled of sulfur. There wasn’t much difference between the two.
Arioch powered through the flames and swiped at me, the stolen weapon coming dangerously close to my flesh. I brought up a hand, intercepting it with my own claws, metal clanging against metal as they clashed. He pressed in, forcing me against the wall. I kept the blade locked against the serrated edges of my claws, and tried to push back against him. He pressed it closer to my face, enough that I could clearly see the swirls and ripples in the Damascus Steel.
“The best thing about hunting you,” he said, grinning. “Is that I can do it again. As much as I want.”
“We’re not even the same domain anymore, Arioch,” I said, still straining against the blade, trying to keep him from just sliding it across and cutting through my fingers. “So what the fuck are you doing?”
“Having fun,” he said, altering the pressure enough that I almost lost the lock on his blade. “Don’t you feel it? There’s blood in the air. Blood and fire. Hell is coming, and I want to enjoy it.”
“You want blood in the air?” I asked, and brought up my other arm, carving into his gut. His pale flesh parted beneath my claws, releasing a putrid stench into the air. Arioch grunted in pain, but grinned, using the change in my leverage to bring the sword back, out of my grasp, and stab it down at my throat. I pulled to the side, releasing him completely, the weapon nicking my collarbone, and then pushed off from the ground, using my wings to take a leap above the alleyway.
I dropped another fireball as I ascended, letting it explode behind me. With any hope, I could pile on the damage from that stomach wound and bring him down. Demons were notoriously hardy, their bodies able to heal from nearly any injury. And they were spirits – even when you killed one, it only had to wait until it could manifest itself again. As a Fury, I could take a lot of punishment, but so could my sisters. I couldn’t take that chance. I soared into the air, far above the fire marking where I had left Arioch behind. As I climbed into the sky, I ventured a glance back down to see if he was following me. What I saw instead nearly shocked me out of the sky.
The city’s ley lines were burning. Invisible to normal eyes, but to my senses it was like they had been charged with the fires of Hell itself. Was this what I had felt in the air? Was this the blood and fire Arioch was talking about? I had mistaken the feeling for a minor ceremony, but it was so much more. Someone had begun tracing the seal of a major demon, using the energy flowing through San Francisco as a base. And I hadn’t sensed it. Couldn’t sense it.
It distracted me so much that I almost didn’t see Arioch coming after me, aflame, wielding the stolen sword like a burning torch. I spotted him at the last second, and threw myself back in the air, giving a strong flick of my wings in his direction. He movement flung several of my feathers at him, flying like knives. I saw a few embed themselves in his body as I plunged into a freefall, angling my wings to begin a glide once I had picked up speed.
He fell after me, closing the distance between us in a dive. I lashed out on instinct, parrying his sword with my claws, and again when he circled back. As he came for a third run, I threw more feathers at him and flapped my wings to ascend, taking into the air. He threw up an arm to protect his eyes and blindly swung at me. The sword grazed my knuckles as I parried it, but he was knocked enough off-balance for me to plant a hawk-taloned foot on his injured gut, and kick off from him with all my might. Arioch fell beneath me as I propelled myself away, and I hurled more fire after him. I got a glimpse of the explosions when it struck, and used my momentum to soar further away, putting distance between us.
He came at me again, moving far too fast for his size, and I changed my trajectory as he closed the distance. We clashed over the skyscrapers of the Financial district, darting between buildings, with me trying to find a way to cripple him or put him down before he ran me through with my old sword. Midnight or not, we had to stay high up, away from street level – away from the people, though I could only guess what any pedestrians thought of the midair explosions.
Arioch turned left, cutting off his pursuit to glide down another street, and I lost track of him. I flew up, gaining altitude as I tried to follow where he could be. This was wrong. I was the hunter. Arioch was a pretender – a failed guardian of Eden, he had seized on bitterness and revenge after his catastrophic failure. He had taken the role for himself. I was born into it. I couldn’t let him keep me on the defensive – that was probably what he did to my sisters.
And he was using my sword. Mine! I felt a pang of jealousy for the tool I hadn’t even held in centuries. That infernal piece of shit had stolen my property, and used it to terrorize my family. Fuck him, he wasn’t going to get the satisfaction of hunting all three Erinyes sisters.
I felt him coming. A disturbance in the air and the flap of his leathery wings as he flew up from beneath me, and twisted around to dodge the sword again. As he missed, I clamped my claws into his rotting arm. I cut through dead, bloodless flesh, knifelike claws scything into the muscle and tendons. Arioch struggled in mid-air, trying to pull away from me as we hurtled upwards, above the skyline.
“Are you sure you want to touch me?” he grinned into my ear. Maggots crawled from his arm and onto my hands. I felt corruption spread from their bites, enough to infect and rot a mortal human. “Feel the rot of the grave.”
I responded in the way that a Fury should: Anger. I shrieked like a banshee and exploded in purifying flame, igniting the air around me like an aura. Arioch’s eyes widened just before he was engulfed, the fires burning his maggots to ash and cleansing my new wounds. He pulled back, ripping my jagged claws through the flesh of his arm and finally letting go of the sword. It bounced off my thigh and tumbled into the streets below, and I released one hand from his arm to try to carve into his throat.
Arioch tried to meet my fire with his own, and it blew us apart from each other, sending me hurtling into the air as he careened into the side of a building below. I caught hold of myself and steadied my flight, diving back to the city skyline. I grabbed the top of the Transamerica Building’s spire, catching it to steady myself. I clung to it like a gargoyle, watching out for Arioch’s return. Disarming him helped, but I had to weaken him enough to make pinning him down and following through a viable option. My arm still stung from the maggot bites, even though the poison was gone. Stabbing him multiple times in the gut hadn’t done much more than slow him down, either.
I saw his approach long before he reached me. He flew down low, beneath the skyline, approaching me in a wide, silent arc. I waited, intentionally turning my gaze elsewhere – letting him think that he could sneak up on me. He was fast, quicker then before, and almost took me off-balance when he finally did attack. I grabbed Arioch when we met and threw myself from the building, redirecting his own momentum. His rotten arm was charred. The wounds in his belly were bleeding, but he still twisted in my grip, vicious and strong.
We hit the side of an office building and I twisted, forcing his face into the glass as we plummeted down. I pushed with my wings, transforming the freefall into a charge. Windows shattered as Arioch’s face broke glass and scraped over concrete. Then his reptile hand lashed out, grabbing me with surprising strength, and he blindly hurled me through a window as he continued to fall past.
I smashed through the glass and struck office furniture, my momentum sending me tumbling end over end nearly to the other end of the building, smashing through cubicles and computer equipment alike. I landed in a heap of pain and my own blood, lacerated by the broken glass. Arioch had thrown me hard enough to leave an impact trail of debris through whatever office this was. I sincerely hoped they had insurance.
I braced a hand on the floor and pushed myself to my knees, feeling pain spike through a dislocated shoulder. I stood up enough to grip it, and popped it back into its socket with another painful jolt. My blood, hot enough to sizzle on the carpet, dripped down underneath me. I reached into my side and pulled out a shard of glass nearly as long as a knife. Durable or not, the injuries were adding up. I had to force Arioch to pursue me slowly, to keep me off the defensive like this.
I tucked my wings behind my back and crouched, making myself as small as I could while I ducked between the cubicles. I heard a thump near the broken widow, followed by the sounds of Arioch’s heavy footsteps.
“I can smell your blood,” he said. “You’ve started to hurt me, but how long can you keep it up? How long until I grab you, and you’re too weak to resist?”
I stayed silent, focusing on his voice, and carefully beginning to circle around.
“Justice is weak,” Arioch said. “Worthless. Arbitrary. You kill men for little sins and bathe in their blood, but allow true evils to live their full lives. When have you cared? When have you thought of anything but your own hunger and bloodlust? What makes you think you are any different from me?”
I caught a glimpse of him as we moved past each other, and ducked lower to stay out of his sight. Arioch’s face was now a mangled mess drenched in a curtain of his own blood. His rotten arm was charred and blackened, but he still moved and gestured with it. As visible as it was, the damage I did to him didn’t seem to be slowing him down at all.
“I am vengeance,” Arioch said, his voice closer through the cubicle walls. “I heard the cry of your victims as they burned in Hell. I am better than the justice you pretend to serve. And just what are you?”
I gripped the shard of glass, carefully sneaking away from his voice. He seemed to have a general idea of my location, but not enough to pinpoint me.
“You are an old, worthless god. Worshiped by no one. Who prays to you? Who sacrifices for you? I know what you are. You try to work for the god who replaced your worship, but all you do is feed your own bloodlust. But I am vengeance. I am blood. I am honest hatred. I will never fade. I will never die. Humanity will always feed me.”
Close. He was so close now, just on the other side of the nearest cubicle. I had to move carefully, to get behind him before he found me.
“I ripped every hair from Alecto’s head,” he said. “Then I cut her, slowly. Peeled back her skin. Pulled out her ribs, one by one.”
My grip tightened on the glass shard, cutting into my hand. I bit back a hiss, staying silent.
“Tisiphone was more fun,” he said. “She lasted for days when I took her. But it’s nothing compared to what I will do to you. I wonder what they look like now. I wonder how well their new bodies will hold up. I wonder how many times I have to kill you before you stay dead.”
He was beginning to walk away from me, looking in the wrong direction. I tensed, ready to strike when his back was turned.
“I can smell your blood,” Arioch said, suddenly closer. “Thank you for bleeding more of it.”
He burst through the cubicle wall, on me in an instant. I jabbed with the glass, digging it into Arioch’s chest and twisting, trying to cut through his heart. His weight pressed up against me, throwing me off-balance and pulling the glass from my bloody grip. I clawed frantically at the demon as his reptile hand struck me in a backhand, rocking my head back. My vision blurred, and Arioch threw himself on top of me, pinning me to the ground.
“You belong underneath me,” he said, his face inches from mine, the stench of his rotting breath and festering wounds overwhelming my senses. “Whimper and writhe, little Fury. Scream like your sisters.” A droplet of his blood dripped onto my face, smelling of putrefaction and filth.
I brought my wings up, slamming the bladed feathers into Arioch’s sides. He grimaced on top of me as I cut into him, and then pulled back, cutting himself further as the feathers scraped over his body. Several stuck in his bulk, stabbing into him like quills. I clawed into his face, my talons gouging into his cheek. Arioch pulled away, his face even more a tattered ruin, and stumbled as he tried to put distance between us.
I pushed forward, bringing up both hands to cut into him. He flung up his arms to defend, my metal claws cleaving through both burned flesh and scales. He gave a genuine cry of pain and stumbled, wobbling on one knee. I lunged at him, fire building in both hands, ready to burn or cut him to pieces. Arioch’s ruined mouth turned up in a grin, and he summoned a wall of unholy flame. I struck it, the hellfire suddenly shifting to wrap around me, and was forced to call up my own holy flame as a shield. It closed in, waves of heat crushing against me like a physical force, and I saw Arioch begin to run away.
“No!” I commanded him, and my own flames surged until they equaled his, the fires canceling each other out in a burst. Sulfuric smoke scattered around me, and I dove out from the cloud to try to catch him. Arioch smashed through a window and jumped out of the building, dropping out of sight just as I dove after him.
He flew fast, but I was almost able to catch up to him. I closed most of the distance in the original dive, but leveled out as he gained control and began flying away. He led me in a wide circle across streets and between buildings, and I ventured a guess downward to the surface below. Even in the middle of the night, there was foot traffic down there – none seemed to be looking up, but it was difficult to tell in the darkness. Arioch seemed to be baiting the humans, steadily dropping lower by inches. I found myself caring less whether or not a few pedestrians saw flying monsters in the air. So maybe they’d need a little bit of therapy.
Arioch dropped near a low rooftop, and I swooped in, finally catching up to him. I barely registered his arm reaching to something on the roof as we passed, and grabbed him with both claws, wrenching one of his leathery wings until I heard the bone snap. He immediately began to drop, and I strained to stay aloft as I held onto him.
I dug my claws into Arioch’s back, stabbing him as deeply as I could. Arioch turned his head to grin at me, and I realized what he had grabbed from the rooftop. He swung the xiphos around, and the blade pierced shallowly into my ribs. I twisted away from the blade, trying to keep it from going in too deeply, and let go of him. Arioch wrapped his arm around my waist, and we tumbled out of control in the air as I desperately grappled him over the sword, feeling it bite into my side. But my hands were slick with blood – his and mine – and I felt my grip loosen.
“Die,” he grinned, beginning to push the blade in. Then we crashed into the side of a building, smashing through a barred window, and everything exploded in pain and blackness.
I came to on the floor, a shard of glass stabbing me for the second time in the same night. My head swam, my lungs hurting with each breath. One of my wings was broken, bent out of shape, but I still had the strength to stagger unsteadily to my feet. Arioch stirred against a far wall, using the sword as a cane to support himself. His pale flesh was now entirely crimson, covered in blood from countless wounds. One of his eyes was gouged out, a rivulet of gore covering where it used to be in his skull.
I looked around. We were in some sort of religious sanctuary, standing on a red carpet. Rows of seats flanked one side, with a massive ornate cabinet against the far wall on our other side. I felt a wave of holiness, and realized what it was even before I saw the Hebrew carved into the wood – Aron Kodesh, the Ark of the Torah. We had fallen into a synagogue.
Arioch wiped his hand on the wall, smearing unholy blood over it. He stood up straight, lifting the sword at his side. “I’m going to kill you on holy ground,” he said.
“Don’t vandalize the walls,” I said back to him, gripping the shard of glass in my ribs and tensing, holding my breath as I pulled it out. Again, I held glass in my hand like a knife.
“I’ll paint your blood on their precious little altar if I want,” Arioch said.
“It’s not an altar, it’s an ark,” I retorted, feeling myself stabilize. I was hurting badly, but I still had some fight left in me. The question was how much he had, too.
“How would you know that?” Arioch approached slowly, with plodding steps. He held the sword out in front of him, the Damascus Steel glimmering in the dim light.
I smirked, thinking of Lucy. “A very pushy and sarcastic friend insisted that I know.”
“You have no friends,” Arioch said, switching his grip to the stronger, reptilian hand. “The Furies are alone.”
“If you don’t stop pretending that you know me,” I said. “I’ll rip your head off.”
“You can try,” Arioch said, and then sprang for me with surprising speed, striking at me like a serpent despite his injuries.
I brought up the glass, letting him strike it. It shattered against the blade, and a few shards hit him near his eye. When he blinked, I lunged for him, planting a closed fist rather than an open claw into his solar plexus, driving the breath from his lungs. His eye opened in surprise, and then I brought my fist up into his chin in an uppercut. When Arioch reeled, I grabbed his arm and hurled him over my shoulder, twisting his wrist so he dropped the sword as he fell.
A jolt of pain shot from my ribs up my side as my wounds reopened, but I strained to remain steady. With Arioch down at my feet, I clawed at him again, aiming for his throat. His burned, rotten hand met my chin, knocking my head back for a moment. I lost my grip on his other arm, and he tripped me with his elbow, sending me falling to the ground. I tumbled and landed on the dropped sword, feeling the flat of the blade against my back. Arioch stood over me, grinning, his one remaining eye glinting with gleeful malice.
“I win,” he said. “You are mine.”
I pushed myself to my feet, my good wing brushing the floor, pushing the sword away. Arioch lunged for me and I met him feebly, stumbling back enough to avoid being pinned to the ground. He took another swing, punching me in the face, and I staggered back, out of his reach.
Before Arioch could close the distance, I put on a Glamour – my favorite one, the curly redhead. I shrank into human form, my wings and claws and blades vanishing. My wounds ached more, spread across a smaller, more fragile form. I gasped, clutching a hand to my chest, stumbling to my knees as the pain wracked through my form. The demon laughed at me, and continued his approach.
“You can’t fight,” Arioch said as he stood over me. “You can’t run. You belong to me now.”
He reached, hands closing around my neck.
“Look at me,” Arioch leaned in, his one eye meeting mine, the other a gouged socket. His putrid breath was now tinged with blood. “Let me see the fear in your eyes as I take you.”
My hand closed around the handle of my old sword, underneath me where I had pushed it. I brought the xiphos up, stabbing him under the rib cage. The demon’s eye widened, his mouth opening in shock as the blade parted flesh and fat. I grabbed the handle in both hands, Arioch’s blood spilling over me in a torrent, and pushed the blade further upward, parting bone to saw into his chest.
“I’m taking back my property,” I said, wrenching it through his ribs, into his throat. Arioch vomited more gore, covering me in foul, rotting blood.
“You think you’ve won,” he wheezed. “You think you’re free. But I will find you again.”
“No, I’ve definitely won,” I said, turning the sword like a can opener and opening his throat. My sword cut through the bones in his neck and I grabbed his head with my other hand, tearing it free from the loose tissue still holding it on. His fat body collapsed at my feet, and I looked down at it.
Just rotting meat. That’s all that was left. He’d probably be back, eventually. I’d handle it. I looked around the sanctuary, seeing the Hebrew, the sacred cabinet, the mosaic in the domed ceiling, the remaining unbroken windows. And the blood he had smeared on the walls in a petty little act of defilement.
I pointed at the stains, and holy flame burned them away, leaving the wall untouched. The stains on the floor lit one after the other, cleaning his leftover mess. Then I looked down to the body. Fire encircled Arioch’s corpse, wrapping around it. The ground opened underneath, and the stench of sulfur grew even stronger, now accompanied by the faint sounds of screaming. I sent Arioch’s body back home, and then dropped the head in afterward. Maybe he would think twice before making a new one and coming back.
I was alone now, surrounded by Jewish holiness. It reminded me of the one Jew I knew best. She had been on my mind a lot lately. Maybe Zeus was right. Maybe I had been a little grouchier than usual – even a Fury needed a sense of humor. Lucy had been good at bringing it out, too, even when we started fighting.
And there was something else. That ritual I had sensed and Arioch had talked about, the demonic energy surging through the ley lines. It was right up her alley. Maybe she already knew about it, even. Or maybe not. And if she didn’t, somebody had to tell her, didn’t they? And maybe we could make up. Resume. Rekindle.
I needed Lucy December in my life. It just took blood and horror to remind me.
I took time to heal – not much, we Erinyes were good at quick recovery – and checked in on my sisters. New bodies, new lives, still the same Furies. In a year or two, they would be back in the swing of things. We had been there before. And we weren’t going to let Arioch win.
I healed quickly. The Furies are good at that. And then I went to visit a nightclub. The Front Line was owned by vampires, staffed by vampires, and its customer base consisted entirely of vampires. It was funny, vampires pretty much never made my lists. They were on the wrong side of death for that.
The doorman looked at me. “You’re not–” he began.
“Fangy enough?” I asked, grinning. I dropped the Glamour, shifting into my true self. “How about now?”
“I can’t,” he said, moving in front of the door. “No matter what you are.”
“I, Megaera the Erinyes, am here on a mission of Peace,” I said, presenting my empty hands – claws and all. “I come openly and without malice, to speak to your boss. Tell him it’s about Lucy December.”
“What did she do?” the doorman asked. The fact that he assumed that meant he knew her pretty well.
“It’s for your boss’s ears,” I said. “Let me talk to Cole.”
He begrudgingly let me in. I strutted into the Front Line, enjoying both the blues music and the stares I was getting. Well, hell, it had been a rough week. Everyone needed some attention some of the time. Even if they had to turn into a seven-foot-tall gargoyle to do it.
“You just keep playing,” I said as I passed by the musicians. “Pretend I’m not even here.”
I went on.
Cole Spade came out to greet me. To look at him, nobody would guess that he was one of the most powerful vampires in the nation, but few saw through my Glamours, either. He looked like a middle-aged half-cowboy blues singer – which he was, but he also had the fangs. Not that this was atypical, the leader of the North American Vampire Council looked like a little girl.
“Just what do you think you’re doin’ in my bar?” Cole drawled, looking me in the eyes.
“I want a job,” I said.
“Nobody in here is your prey,” he said to me. “It’s a safe space.”
“No one has to be,” I said. “As I said, I want a job.”
He folded his arms. “You’d better explain yourself, and do it as a human.”
I shrank down into my redhead form, and winked. “I miss Lucy December,” I said.
“So?” he asked. “Then call her. I bet she has the same damn number, same damn apartment, same damn job, same damn everything.”
“I’m doing it this way,” I said. “I’ll wait for her behind the bar here, and then give her a surprise. We used to fight. If I just show up, we might do it again. But if I come in with a little bit of a joke…”
He narrowed his eyes at me.
“Come on, how often is she in here?” I asked. “It’ll just be what, a week, tops?”
“Everyone knows what you look like, Megaera,” he said.
“No, I don’t think they do,” I said, and shifted into my newer Glamour, the one I had used to trap Blake Lasson. “See?”
“Nice work, but I’m suspicious,” Cole said. “I look out for all my people, and I don’t like lettin’ a snake into my henhouse, even if I’m watchin’ her.”
“That was a terrible and clumsy metaphor,” I said. “Look, I almost died a few days ago. I don’t plan on hunting or chasing anybody in your bar – safe is safe, and I respect that. I just miss my old friend, and I think something really bad is about to go down in this city. Let me in, and I’ll serve a few drinks, fly under the radar, and then sneak my way back into Lucy’s life. That’s all I’m asking.”
“And what’ll I get in return, if I let you do this?” Cole asked.
“Well,” I said. “I used to tend bar back when Dionysus was the boss, and I won’t put up with any of that hard root beer shit. How’s that?”
“Seriously, I’ll mock them until they order a real drink,” I said. “I’m a divine judge. I can get pretty opinionated sometimes.”
Cole shook his head, and began walking away. “Turn up tomorrow evening,” he said. “Keep a low profile, no funny business, and I’m the boss.”
“So, that’s a yes?” I asked.
He looked back at me, and winked. “Just let me see her face when she finds out,” he said. “And don’t make me regret it.”
I laughed, and left the Front Line. I still felt pressure from the ley lines, but it seemed easier to ignore.
A light breeze blew, bringing the scent of the sea to my nostrils. I breathed it in, and felt well, as if I were heading to a new beginning. Like I was the one who had been reborn.