The city was unlike anything Arya had yet seen in Hades; great towering skyscrapers soared above them, and beyond them was a blue sky. She could see through it, however, her golden eyes penetrating the illusion to the cavern roof above them, enclosing them at all times. She'd never encountered an illusion the Leanashe's gift had not penetrated, and now it told her that even this city was a part of their prison.
They drew more than a little attention as they walked the streets, for all three of them were quite a bit worse for wear - Arya in particular, as her clothes were still torn and bloody, her pontytail a matted mess of both mud and blood. Baldur walked to her left, her hand tight upon his arm through the thick material of the black cloak he wore, and Forty-eight was behind them.
“Ms Anderson?” a voice said from Arya’s right, and she started at the sound of the name. It had been so long since anyone had addressed her with it, she felt she’d almost forgotten. She turned and saw a man, wearing a bag on his head. He was filthy, his clothes covered in what appeared to be rubble.
“Who are you?” she asked, bluntly.
“Bagman,” he replied. Arya’s eyes lingered on the shovel over one shoulder. “I’m a Fleet representative in the city, and I’ve been tasked with showing you your new place of residence.”
“Ah, when news filtered through about your… um… ascension, we took the liberty of having an apartment prepared. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s standard procedure. There will be clean clothes and the opportunity for you and your companions to freshen up.”
“Forty-eight?” Arya’s voice rose slightly at the end to mark a question, and the little alien rolled forwards, scrutinising Bagman.
“He’s alright,” he said finally.
“Good. Show us the way.” Bagman’s shoulders relaxed, although Arya hadn’t realised he’d been so tensed, and he turned.
“It’s this way,” he said as they began to follow, “Usually we’d ask you to come by fleet headquarters first, but… well things are a little hectic there at the moment. Minos has asked you to come see him, Lord Charon.” Baldur started and tugged his hood down lower.
“This isn’t Charon,” Arya replied shortly, “And he’ll be staying with me.” She continued to examine the city as they went, a strange foreboding building in her chest. Things were ending here, fast.
“Hunter said he spoke with Saturday recently though,” Ron said, frowning at the walkie talkie. “As in, after those rumours began doing the rounds.”
“I’m not saying he’s wrong,” Rin replied, “But they spared a fleet member to escort her through the city, and they’ve got to be short staffed – even if she didn’t kill a God, she’s someone important. Seems like a good idea to keep track of her.”
“Hmm, anything else to report?”
“Yes, actually. You said the guys you and Hunter went up against were all dressed in black cloaks?”
“Well, she was with a guy in a long black cloak. The Fleet member seemed to think he was Charon.”
“Great. I’ll look into it.”
"Ron..." Rin began, "about what happened yesterday..."
"I'm not talking about that Rin." His voice was suddenly very cold.
"She was beggin you for help, Ron," she whispered, her voice barely audible over the crackling of the walkie. "Literally begging."
"I said I wasn't talking about it," he repeated, stuffing the walkie talkie away and leaning back. Cassandra and her mess was the last thing he wanted to think about right now. He was alone, perched on one of the buildings high above the Fleet’s city. Somewhere below, his fledgling intelligence network was in full swing, and this was its latest nugget of information. They could worry about what Ron had or hadn't done for Cassandra later.
Arya Goldeneyes… Arya Godkiller. How had she done it? he wondered. Had she been given access to the same secret he had? Did that mean that if he went a little further and killed a God, he’d be in the same position as she was now? He sensed a strong feeling of discomfort, and knew that even the idea repulsed the Ghost. He couldn’t pretend it didn’t discomfort him as well, but if it was a choice between that and...
Well. He sighed and pushed himself forward, tipping off the edge of the building even as the Ghost formed a set of shadowy wings. Saturday and his army was the only lead they had left, and if this Arya had indeed killed him it meant there was an army hanging around Hades in need of a general. Perhaps, Ron thought to himself, he’d take a circuitous route to this Godkiller – quite possibly via the river Styx.
“And the bathroom is en-suite,” Bagman finished with a flourish.
“Thank you,” Arya said, barely suppressing her irritation. She just wanted this guy to leave, quickly.
“Like I said, if you need anything, just call the fleet – the red phone connects directly... or at least it did. Not sure if it's connected to anything these days, but either way we’re here to help. I mean, we're quite busy tending to the wounded and stuff... we had a minor explosion. Did I mention that?”
“Yes, and I understood the first time. And the second. And the third. Get out.” She was done beating around the bush. Bagman hesitated and then nodded, making a swift exit. Arya sighed, turning to look around.
“This is way nicer than mine,” Baldur said, sounding decidedly peeved.
“You’ll live,” Arya replied. “Don’t go to near the windows, I’m getting a shower. Forty-eight?”
“Keep a watch by the door; make sure no one comes in who you don’t like the feel of.” She headed through into the bedroom which, like the rest of the apartment, was state of the art – white walls, with slate grey and black furniture. It was nice, but entirely soulless, devoid of any personality.
There was a black wardrobe, and as she headed over, Arya tried to pull the bobble from her hair only for it to snap apart. She grimaced and threw it to one side, opening the heavy double doors. There were clothes inside, but not like anything she’d ever worn before. She snorted, remembering Saturday and his multi-coloured suits.
She hesitated a moment before moving into the bathroom. Everything within was white and clean, from the towels to the walls, and she felt out of place. Arya moved to the sink, resting her hands against the white porcelain. Her skin was blackened with dirt, her nails broken and crusted with blood and it was a while before she felt steady enough to look up at the mirror. Taking a deep breath, she tilted her head up. She found that she barely recognised the woman looking back at her.
She looked older. That was impossible, of course, but then she felt older too. She’d not had a conventional childhood, hadn’t ever really considered herself naïve, but she had been. Hades had taught her that much. Somewhere beneath all the grime, she’d gained a hard look that had been absent before. Her eyes, though still golden, seemed darker somehow, and mixed with many other colours as Prometheus’ had. Looking in the mirror, Arya confronted the girl she had been, and looked at the woman she was becoming.
It made her feel unbelievably alive just to clean her teeth.
When she emerged 20 minutes later, her damp hair hanging loose about her shoulders, Arya no longer wore her tattered jeans. Instead, she wore a fitted turquoise suit jacket, thin black trousers, and a ruffled white shirt. She did, however, retain her muddied and stained boots, and of course her sword and the mistletoe dagger were strapped to her hip. The final touch was the small glass pendant she was now tucking out of sight; she felt cleaner than she had since… well, since she’d died.
“Shall we get on with this then?” she asked, turning and looking for Baldur. She saw him, standing to the side of the window, staring down at the street.
“I said stay away from the window!” she snapped, striding over and pulling him back, anger clear in every syllable, “Anyone could be looking!”
“Oh, sorry.” He said, scratching at his neck, “It’s just… Hel’s down there. I kinda feel bad for not letting her know I’m alright.”
“Just get over there and sit down,” Arya growled, pointing him towards the white leather three piece suite that took up the corner of the room.
“Do you know what it is you’re doing now?” Baldur asked, rubbing his hands against the thick fabric of the cloak.
“No, but I’ve got help. Give that to me, please.” She held out a hand until Baldur had passed over the cloak, leaving him in the shorts and t-shirt he wore beneath. He looked like a tourist, Arya thought with a silent snort, except for the blood that still stained them. Her blood.
“Forty-eight?” she called, looking away from the gruesome sight and trying to dispel the memory that came rushing forward to accompany it.
“Yeah?” he moved a little closer so that he could hear her more clearly.
“I’m going into Baldur’s mind again. I could be a while, so please stand guard.”
“I will,” he said.
“I don’t like this city,” Arya said quietly, lowering her eyes and taking a deep, shuddering breath. “Everything here feels wrong, and I feel watched constantly.” The words were harder to say than she might have liked to admit, but she knew she had to say them, would regret it if she went not only her life, but also her afterlife without saying it to someone. “I don’t feel safe here. I’m trusting you to keep me safe, Forty-eight.”
“I will,” the sphere replied after only a moment’s hesitation.
“You’re getting into this now,” Saturday said. His voice was jovial, laughter in every syllable. He shimmered into existence before Arya, a physical manifestation within Baldur’s mind. “Truly, you look the part.”
“Can we just get on with this?” she asked bitingly.
“You mustn’t rush,” Saturday said, smiling a little. “Job satisfaction comes from doing something well, not doing something fast.”
“Can you at least tell me what it was you did to Baldur?” she asked, sighing impatiently. “This is a mess, everything’s muddled up, nothing’s in the right place, and every time I try to fix it, I just make it worse!”
“This was a stunning job,” he explained. “It took me some time to get it just right, to mix everything up in the perfect way.”
“Why did you do it?”
“I think you know that. Or you could work it out, if you wanted to.”
“When you altered his mind,” she said slowly, “You offered him something – a gift. You wouldn’t do that. I’m not sure you even could.”
“She’s not an idiot,” Saturday admitted, as though to himself. “Go on,” he said to Arya.
“It was part of a deal,” she realised, “What you did to Baldur was part of a deal you made with someone else.”
“Bravo!” Saturday laughed, clapping his hands together. He sat down, and as he did so, a chair materialised around him, settling upon the cobwebs and rot that Arya had used to represent the pollution to Baldur’s mind. The mindscape was all her creation, a physical manifestation of what was wrong with Baldur’s mind, his usual self dampened by the invasion, twisted into something it wasn’t.
“But who would want that?” she asked, horrified. Then she stopped, and answered her own question. “Someone who wanted a warrior who couldn’t die. Or at least, one who wouldn’t die easily.” Her hand instinctively brushed against the dagger at her belt.
“Hmm, the plot thickens.” Saturday laced his fingers together and placed his hands behind his head, smiling widely at her. “Perhaps things are a touch more complicated than you previously thought, girl.”
“A touch?” she snorted? “I started trying to find a missing ferryman for god’s sake, look where I am now!”
“Isn’t it better than where you were? Hounded, chased across the country? Are you truly so desperate for life? You died to get down here, after all - quite willingly, if what I heard was true, and you cling to that armour of yours so fiercely. The ceremonial wear of demon warriors, is it not?”
“I can’t change it,” Arya snapped, “It got stuck like that.”
“Because the demon wanted it to,” Saturday said with a shrug. “You’re a God now, Goldeneyes. Remember that.”
“I can’t forget it.” She didn’t wait for Saturday to reply, but conjured her own chair. Whereas Saturday’s was high backed, polished
wood, Arya’s was a simple plastic thing. She sat down and closed her eyes, feeling out into Baldur’s mind.
“Now,” Saturday said, “What do you see?”
She reached out, searching. Her mind felt stretched as she looked, traversing Baldur’s memories, searching for a clue. There was something – the false memories, skeletal before Arya’s Leanashe-heightened sight, were all linked to something, something she couldn’t quite see.
“Triggers,” she said at last.
“You’re getting there,” Saturday encouraged jovially.”
“Command phrases,” she realised. “You rigged the false memories to command phrases.”