The mud squelched as Flavia pulled herself from it. The last person who had killed her strangled her, and her throat was still tender with where his hands had wrapped around it. Around her in the muck and filth, there were people to fight, people who spoke the language of rage just as she did. They ripped her hair, pulling it out by the roots. They clawed her skin, but she grabbed their arms and wrenched them out of their shoulder sockets. Their chests exploded at her touch as she crumbled their bones to powder inside of them. Sometimes they brought her down, like a pack of dogs attacking a bear, but ultimately, she would destroy them, then rest, panting, waiting anxiously for them to revive, so she could massacre them again. She didn’t know who she was. Fury incarnate, maybe. All she could feel was anger. All she could remember was rage.
When an opponent caught her, it strengthened her. Fingernails became razors and sliced with the precision of a surgeon, curling skin and muscle into ribbons. She reveled in screams, howls, and groans, lasciviously dancing in blood and offal. The swamp was full of people she could kill for an eternity, their bodies mending and knitting back into killing machines. She had never been more alive. No one doubted her strength now.
“Flavia! Oh God, no!” A voice from outside the pit. Actual words.
Flavia stopped. Words were foreign now. No one talked to her. They only screamed and shrieked when she attacked.
Her eyes darted to the edge of the swamp. New blood. New lives to take. One was a black demon with the misshapen head of an equine, and his soul called to her, offering her the same opportunity to destroy which was within easy reach in the swamp. She had no desire to tear herself away from certainty to the possible promise of more, although he promised her greater destruction and greater pain. The other one? No one of consequence. A haunted man with pity and horror on his face. Pinpricks of anger made her want to rip off his limbs. Who was he and why did he made her feel this way?
Stopping to examine them was a mistake. A wild man jumped on top of her and plunged her down under the swamp, muddy water filling her nostrils, cloudy strings of vegetation blinding her. She groped, seized her attacker’s hand, and, because of her touch, his fingers fell into the water. Air from her lungs released in one giant bubble. As she surfaced, she plunged her hand through her attacker’s chest, smiling as blood and muscles slithered over her skin. She released his body into the swamp where it fell with a clammy splash.
The demon beckoned to her. Come now. Claim what is yours. She slogged toward them, scooping strands of soggy hair out of her eyes.
“I am here for you,” said the demon. “I have finally come for you.”
“You…” said Flavia. Another memory from the time before the fighting. She knew his voice. She was destined for this god who stank of destruction. Now she knew they were well-suited. She finally knew who he was: Set, the god who should have been her birthright. This man with him, she knew with absolute certainty, had stolen her god like he tried to steal everything else from her. His blood thrummed as it pumped in his veins. She would bore her hand into him and pluck out his heart. She would kill him over and over and she would enjoy it.
A moment of clarity flashed like a bolt of light, memories of her life before Hell flashing in front of her eyes. Her hand flew to the stone embedded in her neck, feeling the anger emanating from it, filling her being.
“Greg?” Flavia tottered on the edge of reason. Could she stop killing long enough to get answers? Why had he stolen her god? Was he hurt? Did she care?
“Run,” said Greg. “Run as fast and as far as you can.”
Set squeezed fingers around Greg’s neck. Greg clutched at Set’s fingers, gagging.
“You’ve been waiting for me your whole life, Princess of Hell,” said Set. “I can give you more power than this. These paltry battles are a waste of your talents.”
Two of the fighting souls pulled her back to the swamp. Flavia eviscerated them, gore splattering her face, her world narrowing to flesh and anger. Behind her, the pull of Set and Greg’s feeble struggles as life drained out of him. It seemed wrong to let Set kill Greg, especially when she wanted to kill him herself.
“Greg,” she said, her voice harsh with exertion, “Set is mine.”
Set dropped Greg into the dirty water. Greg pulled himself up, choking. “Run,” he gasped. “Flavia, I’m begging you. Run.”
“Come closer,” said Set. “My beautiful Princess.”
“No,” said Greg. “I won’t let her.”
The souls behind Flavia, from under the water, from behind and above, all of the darkness drained from the swamp and centered on Greg. The shadows gathered and smothered him, covering him in a giant hill of throbbing nothing. Then the darkness boomed outwards, a shock which shattered her eardrums. In the unnatural silence a circular blade of black cut across the landscape, making the swamp bubble and churn into nothing. There was fiery pain as she was ripped apart. Then nothing.
Until she was remade. When she returned to life again, the swamp was black and charred. Greg sat on the ground, hands wrapped around his knees, rocking back and forth.
Set rubbed Greg’s head affectionately. “Good,” he said. “I will reward you later.” Set motioned Flavia forward with the crook of a finger.
Flavia stood as straight as she could, naked and new, her head clear. This was her god. “You’re mine now,” she said. “I’ve come for you.”
“So you have,” said Set.
She glanced at Greg, who wouldn’t look at her. “What have you done to him?”
“I have Bound him, like I will Bind you.”
“You can’t Bind him,” said Flavia. “He has Horus. Greg, where is Horus?”
Greg would not answer.
Flavia wasn’t afraid. A small voice told her it was foolish not to be, but she wasn’t. “Set, you serve me. I Bind you.”
“You intend to fight me?”
Flavia crouched. She could take him. “I will defeat you.”
A chain rattled in Set’s left hand. “You are magnificent here, like a weapon. You will serve me.”
Flavia studied Set, waiting for him to move. “Greg, where’s Horus?”
“I killed Horus,” said Greg. His face was covered with bruises and tears.
“Like you killed me?” Flavia asked.
“We can’t die here,” said Flavia. “Can Horus?” Why shouldn’t death for the gods also be temporary in Hell?
Greg stared at her. The recognition of the possibility made his eyes come back to life a little.
Set stepped toward her, the ground trembling. His black chain caught her around the ankles and she fell, clouds of gray ash coating her. As Flavia coughed and choked, Set dragged her toward him.
“Master,” said Greg, “I beg you. Don’t do this.”
Flavia’s nails scrabbled to find something to hold, but there was nothing, only dust. Set dangled her upside down like the hanged man in a tarot set. “You will serve me,” said Set, “as my slave.”
“A slave?” Flavia flushed. “I am no one’s slave.”
“You have always been my slave.” He looped the black chains around her, and they sank into her, under her skin and into her bones. Then he punched her, and she pendulumed back and forth.
Flavia’s head snapped. Her eyes lit up. Violence she understood. She swung her body back at him, her long nails sinking into his chest. Set ground his teeth, dropped her, and kicked her. Blood trickled out the side of her mouth, and her ribs cracked. Her anger tore a savage snarl out of her mouth.
Greg stepped between them, taking one of Set’s kicks. “Stop!”
“She is arrogant,” said Set. “I will not have it.”
“Please,” said Greg.
“You are still defiant yourself.”
Greg knelt and lowered his head. “I’m not. I promise you I’m not. Master.” His blue eyes pleaded.
Set grabbed his hair and pulled him up to his face. “You will pay for this later.”
“Yes,” said Greg. “Anything. Let me make her understand.”
Set nodded. He sat to watch the two of them. Greg helped Flavia sit and he held her back as she lurched toward Set.
“Why didn’t you run?” Greg said. “Why?”
“I didn’t want to run. I wanted what was mine. Now I want to kill him.” Her anger burned hot. There was no fear in her, which part of her found strange.
Set laughed. “You’re not afraid of anything, even me. Truly, you are the Princess of Hell.”
“Princess of Hell?” said Greg.
Flavia swallowed. Adrenaline coursed through her and she brushed off Greg’s hands. “Didn’t you see what I did to everyone in the swamp? I like fighting.”
“You like it?” Greg took off his stained shirt and draped it over her nakedness.
She tied the neck closed with shaking hands. “I have powers and they are infernal. I understand you better now. Since I’ve been here, all I’ve wanted to do is hurt things.”
Greg averted his eyes. “I’ve never wanted to just hurt things.”
“You shouldn’t be ashamed of being what you are! How did you destroy the swamp?”
Greg wouldn’t answer her.
“I want that kind of power,” Flavia said. “How did you do it?”
“My powers are broken!” Greg snapped. “I belong to Set now. All I can do is destroy.” Tears fell.
Flavia knew it. Greg was weak.
“I know it’s hard,” Greg said, “but you’ve got to control yourself. When we kill, Set’s hold on us is stronger.”
Flavia laughed. “You might as well ask me not to breathe. I was so angry I fought Minos. Marc couldn’t stop me. Nothing can stop me.”
Greg grabbed her arms and searched her face. “Marc is here?”
“I can defeat anyone!”
Greg shook her.
Flavia slapped him.
“Please, Flavia.” Greg looked over her shoulder at Set, lowering his voice. “Tell me. Is Marc here?”
Flavia willed herself calm. “I think so. I’m not sure. I remember seeing him, but everything before Minos is cloudy. I can’t control myself, Greg. I don’t want to control myself.”
Set snorted. “Poor boy. You think someone will save you from me? No one can.”
Greg said nothing.
Flavia stared at Greg. “What is wrong with you? Why are you letting him speak like that to you?”
Greg shook his head as Set watched.
“Coward!” said Flavia
“Time to walk,” said Set. Set pulled them after him, as they stumbled across the landscape, clouds of soot at their feet, dragging them when they stumbled. Flavia thought of all the ways she could hurt Set. She was certain, given the right opportunity, she would win against him.
Should she kill Greg for revenge? Now that he was a coward, doing so seemed a less attractive option.
“I don’t know what to do,” said Greg after some time.
“We fight Set,” said Flavia.
In front of them, Set laughed deeply. “Princess, you are ambitious.”
“I can’t fight him,” said Greg.
“He is my slave,” said Set. “As you will be. He understands his place.”
Flavia touched Greg’s shoulder. “You’re a force of nature and an ill-tempered jerk. Start behaving like one. He’s no match for the two of us.”
Greg’s shoulders heaved.
“Are you crying?” Flavia asked.
“I never thought, in my whole life,” said Greg, “I would be glad of your company.”