The pastries at Kyri’s are without a doubt the best in Three Rats. People come from all corners of the ward and even from neighboring wards just to taste them or even to buy a batch and stock their own cafés. But interestingly enough, Alma has never seen the Copper Pot full. Well, except for when it served as a water supply point during the crisis with the Pearl. But other than during that incident, the Copper Pot has always looked like the perfect, quaint little place, with a half dozen tables inside and the same number in the street outside, with the glass display always full of colorful, delicious pastries, filled with Kyri’s ever-changing music perfectly attuned to her customer’s mood and to her own. Even the air that escapes from the backdoor exudes a constant mouth-watering perfume into the street, the best advertisement for any bakery. It is somehow just the most wonderful place to visit.
Provided one does not mind the way Kyri tends to make people sing and dance to her tunes. Her powers are well known in the area and some customers will actually visit the Copper Pot just for a good sing-along but Alma mostly tries to avoid Kyri’s distortion field by buying her pastries and eating them elsewhere. But not this morning. The whole situation with the hunt for the demon market, combined with the physical and mental exhaustion from Pak’s training and, later, Saira’s return to her room the night before, frustrated and using Alma as a target for her anger at her own body, has not allowed for much rest or relaxation.
The goddess now tries to find a little peace and indulgence in treating herself to a quiet breakfast at the Copper Pot. Maybe sensing Alma’s tiredness, Kyri has been keeping her music very calm and soothing. The coffee here is quite good and, combined with the half a cinnamon-and-apple pastry she has just eaten and the tranquil reading of the local newspaper, it has been doing wonders to make the sergeant feel much better about her day.
The gentle ring of the bell over Kyri’s front door makes the goddess glance up from a story about a local gang member found severely beaten in an alley not far from the market. She smiles at Somrak, who is standing at the door and looking at her as if he has been searching for her. Nodding his acknowledgement of her, Somrak walks to the counter to order some coffee.
“Now, how about a pastry to go with your coffee? I’m guessing you’re an almond croissant,” says Kyri.
“No, just the coffee, thanks,” he replies, not noticing the shock on Kyri’s face.
“Seriously? I offer a free pastry and you say ‘Just coffee’? Here? You must be new in town,” she says, incredulously.
He sighs irritably, “Just coffee.”
As he walks back across the cafe, Kyris glares, petulantly, at the back of his ponytailed head. Suddenly, the music in the cafe changes to a fast jazz number. Somrak looks at his feet, trying desperately not to panic or fall over as he starts to tap-dance. The other customers in the cafe barely look up as a tap-dancing fire god tries to make his way to Alma’s table. As abruptly as the music started, the music segues back to the soft melody previously playing, and Somrak stops dancing.
Panting slightly from the exertion, Somrak tries to recompose himself as he walks over to Alma’s table and stands in front of her, thumbs in his trouser pockets.
“You didn’t just refuse one of Kyri’s pastries did you?” she asks, quizzically.
“Mmmaybe,” he replies. “You’re not telling me that I wound up dancing over a croissant?”
Alma nods. “To you it’s a croissant. To her it’s a deadly insult. Consider yourself lucky you were only dancing.”
As he stares cautiously at the figure behind the counter, Somrak remembers the reason for this meeting. “Anyway, Saira’s fine. No fighting, no injuries. But she had spasms on our way back.”
Alma nods, her smile feeling strained to her own lips. “I know. I was awake when she returned to my room, ranting and yelling and throwing accusations.” She shakes her head, trying to dislodge the memories of Saira’s horrible words. “Please, sit.”
Somrak obeys, sitting in the chair opposite to Alma’s. He waits in silence while Kyri brings him a cup of her delicious coffee. After the petite goddess leaves, muttering under her breath about coffee and ungrateful gods, the fire god leans forward, elbows on the table.
“She didn’t like hearing that I’m not taking her when I go into that demon market,” he says grimly. “The spasms came after that.”
“Was she…causing problems before?” Alma asks, sipping her own coffee.
“No, she behaved…Mostly,” Somrak replies, shaking his head. “But the cuttlefish we got the information from made me for Guardia…” Muttering, he adds, “For the weirdest of reasons…”
He lifts his cup and drinks from it with obvious pleasure. “Anyway, if he starts letting it slip she’s working with Guardia… I fear something could go wrong.”
“Of course,” Alma agrees, folding the newspaper and bending over to leave it on another table. “Well, she knows that she is in no shape to go out on a venture like that. She does not like it but she has already screamed away her anger.” She sighs. “I am just glad it was at me and not at the Bunnies.”
Somrak nods and his right hand jerks forward, only to stop and rest on the table, not far from Alma’s. “Sorry about that. In the meantime, I need two things.”
“Name them,” the goddess requests, trying to sound brighter. She pushes her plate with the other half of her pastry, still untouched, towards him. “And please, save me from myself.”
Somrak smiles at the offer, “I see I’m having the pastry whether I want it or not.”
“Be nice,” chides Alma. “She might make you sing next time.”
Feigning horror, he promptly takes a bite of the pastry, looking somewhat surprised at the taste at first and then pleased. Alma smiles at this, used to being surprised herself by Kyri’s artistry with flavor.
“Well…oh that was good…well, first I’ll need a partner,” the god says after some more satisfied munching. “Demon market means demon summoners. Maybe even already-summoned demons. I’d normally rely on Sky for that, but I understand from the report on your fight with the demon that Gwydion can banish them.”
Alma nods her agreement as she finishes her coffee. “He is surprisingly good at it, from what I can tell. And I would be just a little less uncomfortable if he were to accompany you. He can easily pass for a mortal and will watch your back if things get out of hand.”
“Hopefully he won’t have to lift a finger,” Somrak notes, drinking as well. “And I know some pretty good disguise magic so locals won’t recognize him. Second thing, I need a shopping list.”
Alma looks at him with suspicion. “What are you planning to shop for?”
Somrak glances around to make sure Kyri is out of earshot and keeps his voice low as he answers. “Components for a Soul Bomb.”
Alma opens her mouth to protest but then closes it. Although she has already stated she does not want people to risk themselves by going after the necromancer, she also knows that Somrak is not the type to back away out of concern for his own safety. She shakes her head. It would be like punching the tip of a knife, as Sheila would say. “I can’t keep you away from that investigation, can I?
Somrak smiles a roguish, mischievous smile. “Why would you want to? I just want to find a lead – the dealer or dealers who sold our necro the goods. You’ll be following it up.”
Alma looks at him in silence for a moment, trying to keep a straight, serious face but feeling the corners of her lips twitch. “I don’t have that list. My clan is not too keen on sharing information about this issue.” She shrugs helplessly. All of her requests to her father for information about necromancers and Soul Bombs have been left unanswered so far. “Paranoia runs in the family…”
Somrak looks slightly disappointed but no less determined. “Well I was going to contact the Commander about it, with your permission.”
Feeling embarrassed by her own lack of information about an issue that should fall in her area of expertise, Alma analyses all of the resources she could possibly have available feverishly. The idea that pops into her mind makes her grimace at first but she decides to push through and go for it anyway.
“There may be someone I can resort to,” she hesitantly says.
“Do you think you can get it more quickly this way?” Somrak asks, studying her face intently.
Alma summons her brand new record book into her left hand and opens it on the page dedicated to sending messages to other clan members. A pen appears on her right hand. “Let us put it this way: if she does not get me the list, then not even the Commander can get it from my family. And trust me, the Commander will sooner or later know about it.”
She starts writing a message but stops. The market will mean disguises, so there is no need for her to stay behind instead of providing proper backup. Besides, undercover operations are always an exciting prospect.
“There is one more thing,” she says, looking down at the page where she scribbles her message.
Somrak’s voice sounds surprised and concerned. “What thing?”
“I am coming along on this one,” Alma announces, the book disappearing from her hand to the tiny self-generated pocket universe where it is normally kept.
The fire god’s eyes narrow for a moment, in consideration. “Well, it is your investigation…”
“I will be relying on your expertise, of course,” Alma assures him with a soft smile.
Somrak looks at her appraisingly. “Can you…pass for mortal?”
Alma’s smile widens. She seldom bothers to dampen the aura of divinity that exudes from her as naturally as the scent of her skin. To both death and life gods, hiding one’s nature is an almost unfathomable concept and trying to pass for a mortal even more so. It is, after all, one of the reasons why life gods are so popular and death gods so…unappreciated by most. The auras they cast around them attract and repel specific types of people as much as their personalities do. No matter how elegantly dressed or how softly spoken, Death will cause people to feel uncomfortable merely by standing in the same room.
But, of course, Guardia work does have its special requirements every now and again so Alma has learned to rein in her aura. She closes her eyes for a moment, takes a couple of deep breaths to concentrate and slowly compresses her soul to hide her divinity, stopping it from radiating its energy and reducing the feeling of transcendency she casts around her. The result is more felt than seen, since Alma barely has anything blatantly magical about her appearance, other than her divine beauty.
Somrak studies her for a long time, finally nodding his approval. “We’ll have to do something about that hair.”
Alma tilts her head. “Why, do you not like it?”
Somrak’s eyes widen suddenly and he tries stutter a quick response. “I w– I didn’t–” He sighs. “It’s a bit too easily recognizable.”
Alma laughs at his panicking. “Oh, I know, I know… I was just teasing.”
A sudden tingle in her senses makes her stop laughing. Someone has entered her territory. And the sensation she gets feels like… Could it be?
Alma stands up and Somrak does the same, looking at her questioningly. “Time to go,” the goddess says. “I think the answer to my request has arrived.”