Nemesis – Robert J. Crane

“To serve death is the greatest honor,” Lethe said, surveying the fallen warrior that was being hauled from her quarters by two guards as Wolfe watched, impassive. He had seen such a tableau many times before, countless bodies hauled from her chambers, sometimes by the dozens, their final, screaming moments audible across the whole of the valley. Lethe’s eyes flashed, beautiful blue and green, like sky meeting sea on a grim day, as she looked at Wolfe. “Do you not agree?” “I serve Death,” he said, reluctantly. Lethe was clad—barely—in animal skins, some mild concession to modesty that she made when others were in her presence. “But I prefer…strength.” The aged wood creaked beneath their feet as the guards dragged the body across the beams. They shot fleeting, fearful glances at Lethe, at Wolfe, and then crossed the threshold. The last one out shut the door, dropping a hand from the cold corpse as he did so, and Wolfe could hear their breaths of relief through the wood between them. “I am strength,” Lethe said, crossing the room to a small chest where a goblet waited. She lifted it, drinking the contents in one gulp, then made her way to the small cask in the corner and picked it up, emptying the remainder into the goblet once more. She turned to look at Wolfe. “My father is strength. The strongest man in the world.” Wolfe stirred, arms folded across his bare chest.

He hated to clothe himself, but he did—on his lowers—for her. And sometimes his upper body as well, when the cold of this accursed land was too wretched for even him to bear. Tanned hides for his feet too. Those he despised those even more, and put them on last of all. “Yes,” Wolfe agreed. “Hades is strong. Stronger than Odin.” He looked around; the walls could be watching, in this place, this meadhall of Odin and the Nords. “Yet we do not find ourselves in the halls of Hades.” Lethe’s hand clutched the goblet.

“Because my strength is great…but not as great as my father’s, and I have no wish to take his place upon the throne in a dark cave, pursued by the gods of Olympus for all my days.” “You could strike a pact with them,” Wolfe said. “They would gladly unseat him in your favor.” Lethe looked at him, eyes cool. “And become a kinkiller? Strength may be all you serve, Wolfe, but death—not him, but actual death—is not all I serve.” She turned her back on him. “There are…other considerations in my life.” Wolfe made a snort, derisive. “Love?” Lethe kept her back to him. “Yes.

Love. For my family.” She turned her head to look at him. “Is that so strange?” Wolfe glanced away, taking in the feather bed in the corner, the rough cloth sheets turned out from her evening’s activities—ones that had surely led to the corpse just dragged out of the room. Wolfe looked away again, finding a chamber pot—that was safer to look at. “Yes,” he said. “That is strange.” Or it was for him; he loathed his brothers, hated his father. “Poor, sad Wolfe,” Lethe said, and now he knew that the drink and the free feeling of wonder that followed her eating a soul had taken her. She wouldn’t have goaded him like this if she weren’t feeling her drink and the soul she’d just stolen.

“I think you—” “I don’t need your pity,” he said, and rounded on the door, one of his toe claws gouging a long trail in the boards as he turned. “Find me again when you’ve slept off this drink and soul delirium.” “We can’t all feed ourselves by blood lust alone,” she said, still taunting, as he ripped the door open and stalked out. “Even you can’t be sated by that only, Wolfe—” He slammed the door so loudly the entire hall shook. His footfalls thumped until he regained control of himself, his feet carving little scratches in the wood as he walked. There were dozens, hundreds of them along this path already, measures of the time he’d spent in the quarters of daughter of Death. Wolfe reached the main hall with its stone floors and burning pits of fire, smoking up toward the great holes in the ceiling. The whole place had an oaky aroma, the warriors of Odin gathered around the centers, smoke puffing toward the chimneys above. The remains of the evening’s feast were beginning to curdle on the tables at the far end of the hall, beneath the banners and painted shields of Odin and his house. The idiot son with the hammer laughed loudly at one of the fires, a wench under each arm, and Wolfe avoided him, going toward the other fire, where he saw Freyja sitting, a cloth cowl over her head to ward off the chill of the night that crept in through the boards.

“You look like a man whose slumber will not be easy this eve,” Freyja said as Wolfe slipped into the circle by the fire. He might have preferred to stalk off through the village, to leave the meadhall entirely, but it would have required cladding his feet, and Wolfe had no patience for that tonight, nor the biting chill outside these walls. “My slumber is ever easy,” Wolfe said, turning a feral grin toward Odin’s queen. “It is the sleep of the untroubled mind.” Freyja was no fool; her eyes gleamed in the firelight. “Somehow I doubt that.” Wolfe turned his face away from her. “Wolfe doesn’t care what you doubt.” He looked up, catching sight of movement across the hall. That thin waif, Vivi, was staring at him again, dirty face and clear eyes finding him across the fires.

“Still you circle around little Vivi,” Freyja said, eyeing him, far too fearlessly for his liking. “I would have thought you might have killed her by now.” When Wolfe snapped his head toward her, Freyja merely smiled. “Did she tell you something?” Wolfe stared down into the flames, away from Freyja, away from Vivi. “She avoids me—wisely.” “Hmm,” Freyja said. “She has a prophecy, then. About you. Your…future.” Wolfe just bared his teeth.

She needed to leave him be, though he could hardly make it overt. Perhaps he should find his foot covers, stalk into the snow for a time, leave all this behind him. “My future is my own business.” “Oh, I expect your future touches any number of others,” Freyja said softly, “like an insect plucks the web of a spider and sends its killer toward it. You will kill many yet, won’t you, Wolfe?” “As many as I can,” Wolfe said, low and rough. “Is that to be your legacy, then?” Freyja asked, after only a moment. “Will that be how you are remembered—after you die?” “I will not be dying,” Wolfe said, and rose, looking down at her. “Death is a friend of mine. I have nothing to fear from him.” “Wolfe,” Freyja called, just as he was about to leave the hall, to plunge into the snow and let it cool him of this anger, this reckless anger, before he turned it loose within the bounds of Odin’s home, “just because you know Death…” and he realized what she meant, “…doesn’t mean you’ll be ready…for death.

” “I will never be ready for death,” Wolfe said, turning just enough to look back at her. “For I serve strength. And strength…will ward me against any comers, and see me through more years than you… witch.” And with his teeth bared in a smile, he left the meadhall, certain in his heart that he would see more days than anyone else within, save for perhaps the strongest woman he’d ever known, who waited, lingered somewhere within the walls, filled with ecstasy for herself, while Wolfe only churned inside with rage. 1. Reed Eden Prairie, Minnesota The windows of the agency exploded in a shower of glass and fire as everything left within the office building lit off in a giant blast. The parking lot was covered in flame that rolled slowly across the pavement, little glittering fragments of glass running ahead of it like earthbound stars racing across the ground. The concussive blast was deafening, a hazard to one’s hearing, and it sent little tingles running across my skin, which was already chilling from sitting outside in the October wind. I wanted to feel mournful as I watched the agency I’d worked so hard to build disintegrate in a blast of fire and thunder so loud it’d probably wake everyone between Eden Prairie and Minneapolis, but… Unfortunately, I’d known this moment was coming for months now. And I was ready for it.

“Eyes on target, repeat, I have eyes on target!” Augustus Coleman’s shout rang in my ears, crackling in my earpiece as the fire receded back into the agency building, the explosion mostly done. It settled into a steady fire, the kind that would burn the building down eventually if someone didn’t— “Moving to suppress the fire,” Scott Byerly said, flat, almost monotone. “No need to deal with a building collapse while we’re fighting the biggest battle of our lives.” “Oh, you’re such an innocent little sweetheart,” Veronika Acheron’s snide, all-knowing voice issued forth in my ear. “I’d let it burn and see if I could throw chunks of it at the enemy.” “I don’t have eyes on the enemy yet,” Jamal Coleman said, cutting in on the radio frequency. “Where is she?” “Jamal, she’s at your six o’clock high,” Abby’s voice crackled in. “Turn around.” “Uh, thanks,” Jamal said. “Oh.

There she is…” There she was. Red hair glowing like it was about to join our office in bursting into flame, hovering over the parking lot like a damned avenging angel, and throwing fire down on everything I’d freaking built over the last year, there she freaking was. Rose Steward. Succubus. Scot. Asshole. God, I wanted to kill her. “All right, team,” I said, “let’s put this bitch in a coffin. For Sienna!” I shouted it like a battle cry, and launched forward from my hiding place— A thousand feet above, I was hiding in a low cloud bank. At the call, I came spiking down at the head of a tornado the likes of which every trailer park in Oklahoma feared to high hell.

But I didn’t come at her alone. The parking lot below exploded, as though someone had planted a massive bomb beneath it. Which we sorta had, spending the last three months working on defenses for the agency, because… I knew this day—technically night, I guess—was coming. Over a billion fragments of rock launched upward into the sky and toward Rose like a funneled shotgun blast of earth, enshrouding her in a cloud of grey that closed in around her. I saw movement from below and then a glint of bright red; Rose lasered her way through the cloud of rock in seconds, cackling in the night like a crone. “That’s not good,” Augustus muttered into the radio. “Option Alpha is ineffective,” J.J.’s voice sounded through my earpiece. “Reed?” “On it,” I said, and my tornado wrapped up Rose in a gust that blew something like five hundred miles an hour, sustained winds strong enough to annihilate any structure man could build.

I was about three hundred feet behind it, figuring she might try and— She looked around, eyes glowing, trying to find me in the dark but not having a lot of luck. She blasted at the wind around her, hands glowing plasmatic blue, superheating the air. I killed the tornado; I’d seen what happened when plasma blasts were combined with a tornado earlier this year during a mission in Orlando. The effects…were not pretty. “Veronika,” I said, almost pleading, “see if you can dispel her—” “You know my powers don’t work at long range,” Veronika said. “Fortunately, there’s a lap-dog for that.” There was a pause. “Get it? Like an app, except—” “Terrible,” Augustus said. “Rock armor ready to go in five seconds. Artillery in ten.

” “Fire’s out,” Scott Byerly said. “I’m ready to pull out Option Gamma in thirty seconds.” “Good to go on Option Gamma,” Jamal said. “Good to go on—do I have to say it like that?” Taneshia French’s high voice came through the earpiece. “Y’all so geeky.” “You date Augustus and have the nerve to call us geeky?” J.J. asked, umbraged to the nines. I couldn’t see his face because he was safely parked several blocks away, him and Abby leading the comms effort from there, but I could imagine it. I imagined it was faux angry, red as a tomato.

“Come on, lap-dog,” Veronika said, “throw me, you big wuss.” “I am not a—” Guy Friday sounded super pissed. “Shut up and throw me!” Veronika shouted, and then I saw her. “For Sienna!” Friday had heaved Veronika from one of the rock blinds Augustus had created for us. He’d bored a tunnel system interconnecting the building and the various berms in the parking lot over the last few months. It seemed like a little thing, really, moving earth and rock around under the surface so we could go from our office to anywhere in the area. It had about a dozen exits, every single one of which was currently hiding our people. All except— “She’s a little high for a shot,” Phinneus Chalke said in his low, gravelly voice. “If I let loose now, the bullet has a lot of room to overtravel.” “Hold your fire, Phinneus,” I said, keeping in my position above Rose as I watched Veronika launch toward her from her hiding place below.

Friday had thrown her like she was a softball. She was coming up fast on Rose from behind, hopefully gonna catch her unawares— “Hi, bitch!” Veronika shouted as she reached the apogee of her arc and slammed into Rose, grabbing hold of her and burying two glowing blue hands into her back and pushing straight through her skin and out the other side. Gravity caught hold of her and she started to dip, her hand just sticking through Rose at the chest and the lower back, bright blue in the night. “Bye, bitch!” Veronika fell, arms tearing right through Rose’s center as she dropped. I could see the damage and it wasn’t pretty; Rose was shaped like an upside-down V now. Uh, more of one than humans normally are, I mean, like her crotch had been extended to mid-chest. She was bowed right up the middle, too, split nearly in half, and I felt the need to exploit this situation. “Gravity! Tear her in half!” I ordered, hoping that said order would fall on the right ears at the right moment, which was obviously now. “Dude, what if it makes two of her?” J.J.

asks. “Like a worm?” “People don’t work like that, sweetie,” Abby said. “Not even super succubi.” “I…I can’t really do that…” Jamie Barton’s usually steady voice sounded a little…flustered. “I’m not—I don’t really kill people…” “Gravity,” I said, using her preferred superhero name, “we didn’t ask you to come here because this lady wanted a stirring game of tiddlywinks; if we don’t kill her, Sienna is dead!” My own words hit me right in the feels, blurted out in a scream in the night, much higher than I’d intended it to be or it needed to be in order for Gravity to hear it through the earpiece. The truth was…Sienna might already be dead. “Screw it; I’ll do it myself,” I said, and let loose of the winds beneath me, launching toward Rose, aided by a tailwind I was adding second by second. I’d cut the thousand feet between us in heartbeats. “Option Gamma, go.” “Go for Gamma,” Scott Byerly said, and I saw a hard stream of water glitter in the night as it launched into the sky, aiming for the nearly bisected Rose.

It hit her right in the face, like a clown’s flower, drenching her. And then it lit up like a strobe as Jamal and Taneshia both applied lightning to it. The water blasting Rose in the face acted like a perfect conduit for the lightning, which traveled the couple hundred feet from where Scott, Taneshia and Jamal had combined their powers, and zapped the living hell out of Rose as she hung there, suspended above the wrecked parking lot, lit by the flashing lightning as it wrapped around her. She hung there, unmoving, for just a second, and then the split that started at her chest began to shrink, pulling back together as she healed, completely, her shredded clothes the only sign that she’d even been hit. “That was a refreshing dip,” Rose said, and I couldn’t see her face from where I streaked down from above, but I could imagine the smile from the thousand surveillance photos and vids I’d studied over the last three months. I wanted to wipe it off her face, along with all the skin and fat and other tissue, clean it off all the way to the damned bone. Then I wanted to shatter that to pieces. “Uh, Option Gamma is a failure,” Jamal said, like we all hadn’t just seen it. “Epsilon go,” I said, and I was almost to her. She must have heard me a second before I hit, because she turned, movement streaky and fast.

Her eyes lit up, and I had a quarter second to watch them go from surprise to pleasure before I landed on her with an F-off-the-scale tornado, wind speeds in excess of a thousand miles an hour. I’d never done anything so powerful before, but the tornado reflected my absolutely pure fury. This bitch had taken my sister, captured her, imprisoned her in Scotland, maybe even killed her—I didn’t know. But I was going to find out. “WHERE IS SHE?!” I shouted over the winds, ripping at her face, her body, at everything else around her. Her clothing shredded in a second as particulate dust within the whirlwind was sped to velocities that would turn it into a kind of granular blender in seconds. Rose just grinned at me as streaks of blood appeared across her face, little pieces of dust and sand ripping her skin. I was dragging us to the earth, her cheeks flapping so hard that she had jowls as her eyelids ripped off in the fury of my storm. Her answer was nonsensical, lost to the wind, and I settled for riding her to the earth, dragging her down to the ruptured parking lot below. Augustus’s rock armor sprang up from beneath us, built over him to the point where it looked like a twenty foot tall golem of solid stone.

I parted the winds to allow him to take hold of her, and he did not disappoint. He ripped both of Rose’s legs off, which I imagined would have caused her eyes to widen in surprise if, y’know, I hadn’t already ripped her lids off. Her face was streaky with blood, looking like the first phase of it melting off, as though someone had opened the Ark of the Covenant nearby. But the wrath of God here was being provided by the small “g” gods, every single one of us pissed off about what she had done to our friend. Augustus’s golem tore Rose’s arms off next, just plucked them clean off and threw them wide, and now she was nothing but a torso and head. If she evinced surprise at this turn of events, she didn’t show it, her grin bloody but still present, shocking in the fact she was able to maintain it with her face as shredded as it was. The golem wrapped its arms around her, snugging what remained of her to its chest and holding her there as I descended from above, staring her right in her bloody eyes and face. We had seconds. “Where is she?” I asked, still yelling but having dialed it down a few notches as I addressed the half-skinned, limbless thing in front of me. Augustus was piling the rock around her, driving gravel into her limb stumps in a bid to shred any potential healing.

It looked like a rock polisher operating at high speed, shavings of bone being chipped off as quickly as they regrew, blood sluicing down from each stump as he kept her healing at bay. “Wouldn’t ye…like to know?” she managed to get out between grunting squeals of pain. “Uh, yeah,” Jamal said, and I heard him clearly through the earpiece even though he was now less than fifty feet away. “That’s why he’s asking.” Rose let out a screech, and I thought it was of pain, but then it turned into a long, high laugh. “Is that Jamal Coleman I heard?” Rose’s head twisted, and she seemed to be trying to look around. “Augustus has me in his loving grip, I can tell. And Reed, the loving brother, he’s right here, o’ course…I saw Veronika earlier, as she got a bit handsy with me…lovely Scott put out the fire and tried to give me a shocking with the others…” She laughed low. “Surely J.J.

and Abigail dear are near at hand. The gang’s all here, it seems…just what I was hoping for, of course…” “Of course,” I said. “Did you doubt we’d all band together to stop your sick ass?” Rose laughed, and it was a hideous sound. “I fucking counted on it, Reed m’boy.” She blew up, shattering Augustus’s golem without any warning. Blue plasma lit the night as the dust cloud from the golem flooded over us, and I braced, blowing the particulate matter away as quickly as it appeared, rechanneling it into a tornado above her head. If she didn’t want to answer my questions, I’d just kill her, and without her to guide me, I’d spend the next month, year, decade, thousand years—however long I lived—overturning every single stone in Scotland to find my sister. Because she had to be there. She had to be. “It’s so funny that you think you’re going to trap me!” Rose said, her limbs replaced by writhing blue tendrils of plasma, as though she’d suddenly become some sort of plasmatic octopus.

She sent one of them my way and Veronika jumped in front of me, diffusing the energy away as though she were carrying a shield. “I’m the one that did the trapping here, my lad. And you fools went and stayed right here in it rather than run. Do you even know what I am? What I can do?” “You can shut the hell up,” I said, and brought the tornado of particles down on her like an infinite sandstorm, dropping it upon her head and all the rest of her, ready for it to be over. She’d die taunting us. She’d die before telling us anything. “This is going nowhere,” I said. “Let’s finish her. Go Zeta.” “Wait, which is Zeta?” Guy Friday’s voice crackled in my ear.

“It’s where we kill her to death, you idiot!” Veronika shouted over the fray. “Pull out all the stops and execute!” Lightning flashed as Jamal and Taneshia both poured on their fire. It diffused over the sandstorm I’d caused, the tornado I was bringing down on Rose’s head right now, playing through the storm and lighting everything with a frightening aura. Veronika had halted her assault to play defense on catching Rose’s plasma bursts, and the others were joining in now—Augustus was hurling boulders at Rose’s back, which she was fending off with one hand, lightning absorbed into her body like it was a small tickle, wrapped around her naked torso and flashing as she absorbed it without noticing. Rose flared into fire, and I reversed the tornado, sucking the heat up and into the sky, turning it into a bellows for removing the flames from the fight. It lit up the Eden Prairie night in a way that the lights in all the corporate parks and malls didn’t, turning our battlefield into brightest day. Guy Friday came at Rose with a length of fallen light pole, smashing it against her without effect; Augustus’s golems kept throwing themselves in the path of Rose’s red energy walls, erupting into a million pieces of stone and then coming back a second later. Taneshia and Jamal were still pouring it on, and steady gunfire was running, Phinneus Chalke firing a machine gun from the covering rooftop nearby. And none of it was doing a damned thing. “Chase, Friday, Kat, Gravity—let loose! Theta option!” I called in the thunder.

Well, technically we didn’t have thunder, but they were our second team, and I was calling them in.

.

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