“Great,” Saira mutters under her breath. “A buncha ex-Dukaines, but the main one is all about snakes and poison.” Eater of Frogs has been down in the lower half of her list of targets for weeks. He is a minor up-and-comer, not really a prime target, and after being beaten down publicly twice by Tuma-Sukai, he isn’t quite so up or coming anymore. And he hadn’t had anything, as far as she could tell, to do with the massacre of her old gang in Little Falls. Still, he’d been a loyal Dukaine soldier, so he made the list.
But he is a god. And gods are tough to kill. Her favorite method – demonblood ichor, the refined blood of actual-holy-crap-Hellborn demons, muito ilegal, a possible death sentence, really, even to be caught with a vial of it – might not work in this case. According to her research, Eater of Frogs drinks strychnine for the kick and enjoys being bitten by the venomous reptiles that are his to control, just to get a buzz from their different poisons. Would demonblood do him in? Who could say? But Saira does not like to take a chance. She wants to take him out with no chance of escape, no chance of retaliation. Besides, she has a rep to maintain, as a ghost, a faceless assassin who strikes fear into the hearts of mortals and gods alike, who never makes a mistake and who always gets her kill on the first try. No stupid snake god is going to mess that up.
But there are few alternatives available. No surprise that the gods who run the Urbis Caelestis keep a tight hold on knowledge about what can kill them, and when that knowledge does get out, they try to rebottle the genie by coming down hard on anyone who dares even to attempt to access such methods. Demonblood ichor is really the only card she has to play, when it comes to being a godkiller. I really do need to consult a wizard or something. Time to diversify the toolbox. But Three Rats is such a target-rich environment, it’s difficult to find the time. So many Dukaines to kill, so little time.
So after catching sight of her target she followed him as he gathered his compatriots: some half-mad shaman worshipper, a dog-man, and a dark-blonde woman in body-hugging leather. She recognized dogboy, a very minor god named Zev. Local. God of Strays or something. The woman was new to her, but she acted like a god, ruler of the whole world even though she was surrounded by dozens of other gods. How can they stand each other? Saira wonders. Every one of them thinking they should be in charge, every one of them knowing they’ll live forever. What keeps them here, rather than out on those other worlds? Saira has only a vague notion of anywhere other than the Insula, the mountain-island in the midst of a sea of Chaos, but she’s heard that these other worlds exist. If I could get out of this crazy place, I sure would.
After I’ve killed every Dukaine I can find.
And now Eater of Frogs and company are trashing the Copper Pot. Saira frowns. She’s eaten there before. Kyri is a good sort, for a goddess, though once Saira learned about the song-and-dance routine, she’d never gone back. Nobody was going to cast her in a musical against her will.
Dogboy runs off. More glass breaking. A scream. Oh, punching. Somebody fighting back? Hard to see, the sky barely starting to lighten, the pre-dawn shadows so thick and long. A roar of anger fills the air from within the cafe, and suddenly Eater of Frogs is sailing out the broken front window to land on the street.
Hey, I know that voice! The God of Beer hurls himself out the window and lands on Eater of Frogs, flattening him just as he was staggering to his feet. The snake god weakly punches back, but his strike is backed by some kind of poisonous energy, injected into its target. Brew groans and flings himself away in pain.
The ragged mortal – well, probably mortal – with the rattlesnakes comes out the front door, looking nervous but still muttering and rubbing some stone while his snakes writhe, as from inside the bar come thunderous claps and sounds of furniture and glass breaking. Saira can hear Kyri trying to sing, but even without being able to see, Saira can tell it’s having little or no effect.
Don’t really want to reveal my presence without being sure I can take Snakeboy down, but… Maybe losing whatever hoodoo this bruxo is working will tilt things in the other direction.
She takes careful aim, but really, it’s not such a hard shot. A little far, sure, but the breeze is soft and forgiving. She gently squeezes the trigger of her crossbow, breathes out, and feels the smooth release, the bolt arcing, spinning, she can watch it go, the most satisfying thing in the world, a deadly, razor-tipped shaft sailing silently toward its target, and there, a hit, perfect, in the throat.
The shaman stumbles and paws at the bolt, eyes bugging out as his snakes seem to panic, one of them falling off and spasming on the street, another striking its master on the face. He goes down on one knee, blood pumping from his throat, then falls on the street.
As is her post-shooting habit, Saira scans for anyone who might be looking around for a sniper. No one has even noticed the fallen man yet. But she catches movement coming up the street. A familiar shape – no, two. Cala, looking bigger than usual with her armored jacket on, holding a Guardia crossbow in one hand and helping along Atheist Jack with the other.
Nice, Cala, she thinks. You’re learning.
“Eater of Frogs!” Cala calls out as she leans Atheist Jack against a wall and shoulders her crossbow. She tries to keep the fear out of her voice, and mostly succeeds. “Stand down! You are under arrest!” Then she remembers that this gangster cannot hear.
It appears that he understands something has changed, however. The snake god stands, glaring at Brew, who is himself shakily standing. Hissing, Eater of Frogs stares with his lidless eyes at his shaman, stone dead in a wide pool of blood, the rattlers slithering away, then finally at Cala.
“Good shooting, Guardia,” he hisses. “Sssssstill goin’ to show everyone they can’t messsssssss with usssssss and get away with it!” He shouts into the café, “Bya-ga! Blow this dump to ssssssssmithereenss–”
Cala, who had been on the verge of disclaiming responsibility for killing the shaman, gapes as a bolt thunks into the snake god’s upper back, near the spine. Clinically, she notes that it went in at the right angle to probably transfix the heart.
Eater of Frogs takes a shaky step, eyes even wider than usual, mouth opening and closing. He then falls to his knees.
Brew mutters, “…the Hell?” and looks around for the shooter. Cala, who saw the bolt go in and can more easily follow the trajectory, looks back along its path to see a familiar figure stand up from behind a low wall on a second-floor veranda across the road. Saira gives a jaunty salute to the Popula corporal.
A crash from within the café distracts Cala. Kyri is letting rip with a string of curses that would make an ancient sailor bite his lip in envy, followed by two more crashes. Before Cala and Brew can enter the Copper Pot, the door opens and Kyri comes through, looking very battered and bloody, her armor dented and scratched, the left pauldron hanging loosely from her shoulder due to a broken strap, her helm missing entirely, hair loose and wild.
“…thought she could come into MY place… Oh hello, Cala! Jack! Oh, what a sight for sore eyes! Literally sore…do you think this’ll swell, Brew? Ow…I can’t heal myself. Oh of course, Jack’s no-magic-field thingummy! You must’ve brought him, Cala – how good of you.”
“Kyri!” Cala gasps.
“Oh I’ll be well soon enough, love,” Kyri says, then grimaces in pain, her knee almost buckling before Brew catches her. She moans and holds his beefy arm, but recovers enough to twitch her head back toward the café. “Can’t say the same for Miss High-and-Mighty in there. Fancies herself a fighter. Doesn’t have any idea how to handle herself without her powers, though.” She chuckles. “Unlike me.”
A thud like a sack of rice being dropped brings attention back to Eater of Frogs, who has fallen over on his side.
Cala looks at him with worry. “I wonder…will he die from that wound?”
Brew and Kyri look uncertain. Kyri says, “The one inside…I, uh, might’ve left a spear stuck in her. Not that she wasn’t begging for it.”
Cala mutters to herself, deciding, then says out loud, “Jack! Please walk away from here. Otherwise, I’m afraid we’ll have more deaths on our hands.”
Jack, who has barely noticed any of this through his drunken haze, rouses himself and slurs, “Don’ hafta tell me twice… I know when I’m not wanted…” and sways off down the street just as Aliyah, Tuma-Sukai, and three other Popula appear from the direction of Three Rats Station.