"All Gods are real now," they said. They didn't say they could escape.


8. Four

I don't know how long I'd laid in the dirt, stomach tied in knots, but I'd heard them padding around. Humans, animals, who cares? Eloise was gone...forever. And it was all my fault.

Sitting up, I reached out in the dirt, searching for...what? A rock? The sawn-off? No...Eloise. Gone...Eloise is...gone. No point in reaching out, she's not gonna be there. Not anymore.

"Hey?" Someone whispered from next to me. Soft, curious, gentle. As if they'd been the one crying though my throat was still burning. Turning around, I watched as she kneeled in the sparse grasses next to me, peeping over like some shy woodland creature wrapped in a grey-blue dress. Her blonde spiral curls boinged free from a bun at the back of her neck, a golden crown in her hair seemed to glow, and a pair of white, feathery wings sprang from her back.

I staggered back, my heart racing. She...that was...fuck me, that was one of...oh fuck that was a deity! A fucking deity! There, in the grass, watching me.

She inched back, raising her hands in the classic 'Hey, I'm harmless!' stance, her dress tumbling to her ankles as her wings lowered. "Easy...I'm not going to hurt you. It's getting dark and it's dangerous for you to be out alone."

I just froze, staring, her wings glowing in the sunset that had snuck up on us. "I wasn't involved in what Yanisin did, by the way. He was watching your fight with Rán and he's an opportunist." She paused, biting her lip, a white scar on one of her canines. "I'm sorry..."

Sorry? My sister's dead and sorry? Some Yasinin whatever held a fucking gun to my head and this deity's sorry? "Why...?" The word left my lips in a gasp.

"Yasinin said he had to. Had to make sure you weren't a Hunter, with Faith's End or not. Had to make sure you weren't...well weren't hunting..."

"Your kind?"

She nodded, lowering her hands, holding them together in her lap. "I didn't know he was doing that. Or that he'd seen...well, your sister and..."

She fell silent, her wings drooping. "You're welcome to join us, you know. First human in Project Hoperise but...well you mean us no harm."

Join them? "What?"

"'s not exactly safe to be out here after dark. Not every deity on the North American continent abides in or by Project Hoperise."

Project Hoperise? Twice now the deity mentioned that, whatever it was. Whatever she was. "What-" Easy, Mick, don't piss off a deity. "Who...Who are you?"

She smiled. "Tiffany. Call me Tiffany."

Tiffany...was there a goddess Tiffany? I mean...never heard of one before. "Tiffany?"

" the old pre-Breakout jewellery store. Is that an issue?"

Kinda yes. "No...I mean...I didn't know there was a goddess Tiffany."

"There wasn't," she sighed, "Tiffany's my old name, before they made me Astraea."

Made you Astraea? "Who?"

"I don't like talking about it. Are you coming with me or not?" She got up, a rusty orange underskirt poking out and her wings perking up. "It's only a short walk. Just down past the ruined electro-station. Come on, it's getting dark."

I crept to my feet, them struggling to support my weight. "Come on, it won't be too bad. Felicity's cooking is pretty good, even with pre-Breakout foods."

She took my hand, her soft fingertips brushing the back. "Listen...about your sister. I-"

"I'm glad you didn't rip me apart. Like one of the others."

"I can't." She tugged me, leading me down a steep path. "They stopped me from ever being able to fight. Instead I was a beacon of peace, or some bullshit. Now whatever you do, don't come back up this path. Especially at night."

Well that was a subject change and a half. "Why not?"

"I said not every deity follows or lives in Project Hoperise. Living up here is one of them. He's not awake yet, bastard's nocturnal, but it won't be long. Better move quick, he's got heightened senses and I paid a visit to one of his arch rivals this morning."

" go between deities?"

"I live in a village made by them, for them, so could say that. I'm kind of the mediator of the Outer Hall."

Mediator? "What's the Outer Hall?"

"You'll see. Be easier to explain if you see us. I think Felicity's cooking game tonight. Pheasant probably, Yanisin's catch. Want some?"

She lead me down behind what was once some kind of superstore, breaking into a run. A narrow smoke pillar rose up from the trees ahead of us, waving over the ruined buildings. "So what, you live in like some town for deities?"

"If that's what it sounds like, yes."

Great, a group of them. "And...I'mma guess the Outer Circle is some part of a...leadership thingy?"

"Not exactly. You having pheasant or not?" She turned into some old plaza from the road, the smell of fire and smoke heavy in the air, and came face to face with the mouth of a shotgun.

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