NEW ORLEANS

THE DAY AFTER MARDI GRAS

Zarek leaned back in his seat as the helicopter took off. He was going home to Alaska.

No doubt he would die there.

If Artemis didn't kill him, he was sure Dionysus would. The god of wine and excess had been most explicit in his displeasure over Zarek's betrayal and in what he intended to do to Zarek as punishment.

For Sunshine Runningwolf's happiness, Zarek had crossed a god who was sure to make him suffer even worse horrors than those in his human past.

Not that he cared. There wasn't much in life or death that Zarek had ever cared about.

He still didn't know why he'd put his ass on the line for Talon and Sunshine, other than the fact that pissing people off was the only thing that truly gave him pleasure.

His gaze fell to his backpack that rested by his feet.

Before he realized what he was doing, he took out the handmade bowl that Sunshine had given him and held it in his hands.

It was the only time in his life anyone had given him anything he didn't have to pay for.

He ran his hands over the intricate designs that Sunshine had carved. She had probably spent hours on this bowl.

Caressed it with loving hands...

"They waste their time over a rag doll and it becomes very important to them; and if anybody takes it away from them, they cry..."

The passage from The Little Prince ran through his mind. Sunshine had wasted much of her time on this and given him her hard work for no apparent reason. She probably had no idea just how much her simple gift had touched him.

"You really are pathetic," he breathed, clutching the bowl in his hands as he curled his lip in repugnance. "It meant nothing to her, and for a worthless piece of clay you just consigned yourself to eternal death."

Closing his eyes, he swallowed.

It was true.

One more time, he was going to die for nothing.

"So what?"

Let him die. What did it matter?

If they didn't kill him on the trip in, he'd go out with a good fight, and good fights were all too few and too far between in Alaska.

He looked forward to the challenge.

Angry at himself and the world at large, Zarek splintered the bowl with his thoughts, then brushed the dust off his pants.

Pulling out his MP3 player, he scrolled to Nazareth's Hair of the Dog, put his headphones on, and waited for Mike to lighten the windows of the helicopter and let the lethal sunlight in on him.

It was, after all, what Dionysus had paid the Squire to do, and if the man had a lick of sense he would obey it because if Mike didn't, he was going to wish he had.




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