Darkness falls across the ward – all right, things are getting to be repetitive. It’s dark. It’s freaking dark. It’s always freaking dark. Clear? Clear. Good.
Truth be told, it isn’t always dark everywhere in Three Rats but when someone tends to lurk in the shadier areas and move preferentially in nighttime, darkness is sort of a given. Heck, darkness is a blessing. Last thing anyone trying to go unnoticed wants a big, great shining light following him or her or jyr around. Nothing a few cobblestones and crossbow bolts to the occasional street lamp won’t fix, though!
Anyway, the darkness does not bother Saira as she moves swiftly and soundlessly toward the meeting place she set up herself. She really has no desire to rush or even attend the meeting but the vague message in Alma’s handwriting, stuffed in the old crack in the wall of the abandoned school has her curious enough to meet the death goddess. She anticipates a huge part of the conversation to revolve around her sudden departure from Alma’s room and her care on the night of the gift-giving party, but she is prepared to counter that word for word. She is even half surprised it took any of the Dei in Three Rats this long to contact her. Well, not Dion. She would never expect Dion to contact her. Somehow her athletic, well-toned frame has failed to grab the attention of the magic god with a foolproof libido. Oh well, she doesn’t really like him, anyway.
Saira arrives at the place where an old circular plaza somehow got rammed by a huge stone building with tall spires and an insane amount of tiers of carved statues of people with too many arms, the wrong sort of legs and tongues too long for comfort, cutting three of the plaza’s exits and seriously narrowing the only remaining one. Flecks of paint keep falling off the once garish walls of the pyramid-like building, littering the ground below. Saira watches Alma from behind the massive sculpted head of a mean-looking snake with way too many teeth, wondering just how much the goddess realizes what she is doing to her expensive boots. Shouldn’t gods glide on air or something? Must be a bonus feature.
“This better not be a call for a scolding,” Saira calls out from her hiding place on the second tier of statues once the goddess gets close enough. “I have better things to do.”
She watches Alma look exactly to where she is hiding – wait…she was already looking in that direction, wasn’t she? She didn’t even turn her head looking for where the sound was coming from. Cringe.
“Why would I be scolding you?” Alma asks, looking toward Saira as if she could see through stone.
Thing is…she can, Saira reminds herself as she comes out of hiding and drops onto the floor, raising a small cloud of what must be really colorful dust. Mean night-vision, too.
“Come on, get on with it,” she coaxes the goddess. “Get it over with.”
“Get what over with?” Alma insists.
“Really?” Saira asks blankly. She waits for a full minute of silence but Alma just looks at her with a witless expression. Are those crickets chirping in the distance? Aaarrghh!!! “Come on! I can just hear it!”
She tilts her head to the right and makes a mock, too-high-pitched imitation of Alma’s voice. “‘Why would you leave without saying anything? Did we treat you wrong in any way?’” Tilting her head to the left, she adds in her own voice. “‘No, you didn’t.’” Head to the right. “‘Then why?’” To the left. “‘I needed to be on my own, out here where I belong.’”
Much to her surprise, Alma merely watches impassively as she goes on with the one-sided dialog, mimicking the goddess’ voice, words pouring out faster and faster. “‘You don’t belong in the streets. No one belongs in the streets. We wanted you to become a part of our family and you were enjoying it, weren’t you?’ ‘Uhh…Kinda.’ ‘Then why leave? All the Bunnies were distraught at finding you gone. Especially Cherry. You know how much Cherry likes you.’ ‘Well, it was your fault for bringing me to that station in the first place. I was perfectly happy dying from being stabbed in the gut by some demon, thank you very much!’”
She catches herself raising her voice to a near-shout on the last line and stops herself from going on with the scolding session. She feels scolded enough already, anyway.
Alma holds her silence for a little while longer as Saira regains her breath, watching the woman with a pair of eyes that keep glowing in a really eerie way – not the usual flare of her using her hocus-pocus-mambo-jambo scary death goddess thing but something different. Effortless, like the goddess doesn’t even realize she is doing it. Nothing Saira has ever seen her do unless strictly necessary and for as short a period as possible. Huh…weird. But kinda pretty too if you can get past the fact that, in the darkness of the alley, Alma’s head looks like it’s just hanging there and not really attached to anything else.
“You have…really put a lot of thought into this, haven’t you?” the goddess asks slowly.
Well, that was anti-climatic. Oh, well…
Saira shrugs. No point in forcing the issue. “Heh, I had the time. This ward is getting to be a bit boring with you goody do-gooders going around putting criminals in jail. Messing with my livelihood. So, what took you three days to call me?”
Much to her surprise, Alma actually looks embarrassed at the question. “I have… been busy,” the goddess replies, looking away.
It takes Saira a moment to decypher the sudden shyness. And once realization dawns, her jaw drops in surprise. “Oh…holy…crap. You didn’t even notice I was gone, did you?”
Alma sighs, looking annoyed. “Contrary to popular believe, Saira, my life does not revolve around you.”
Oh, but she can’t fool Saira now! And she is not denying it either. Oh man, brilliant! Just brilliant! Saira bursts out in laughter. “Oh, this is hilarious! Everyone’s favorite mommy-cop managed to miss a whole person being gone for three days!”
Alma looks down at her laughter, glow-in-the-dark eyes dimming a bit in result. Saira wonders for a moment if she should feel bad for making the goddess feel self-conscious but she is currently too busy wishing she had enough light to see if she has managed to make Alma blush in shame to do the right thing. Oh, it’d just be perfect if Alma were blushing. Blushing over not noticing a mortal gone – gotta be something new to a death god.
“I am not proud of it, trust me,” Alma replies in a low voice before looking back up again. “Have you been feeling well, at least?”
Man, she really does look like she feels bad about it. Maybe Saira should go and give her a hug. Hmm…naah!
“Oh, I feel great,” Saira says, stretching as if she could encircle the world with her arms. “Wild and free again.” She grins. “And a lot more entertained now.”
“I’m glad I could brighten your day,” Alma retorts. “I do come with bad news, however.”
“Wait, wait, wait… You’re seriously not gonna scold me?” Saira asks, incredulously.
Alma shakes her head. “Alas, I think I’ve lost the moral high ground for that.”
Awww man! Three days of practicing for nothing!
“You just ruined a perfectly good speech,” Saira mutters. “So what’s up? What’s keepin’ you busy?”
“Sky has been kidnapped by the necromancer,” Alma replies deadpan, not even taking the time to beat around the bush a bit first.
Saira flashes back to an undead rat leaping teeth-first toward the death goddess not long ago. While Sky was asleep in his apartment. Yeah, he was asleep back then. So why’d he get taken instead? Did she skip a chapter or something? “I thought the necromancer wanted you.”
Alma nods, sighing almost inaudibly. “So did I. But instead they broke into Sky’s home and took him. There were demons involved.”
“Bad guys, huh? Always changing their minds,” Saira notes conversationally. “And let me guess, you want my help. You people are gonna ruin my street cred with your constant cries for help.”
“All I need is to know where I might find a salesman called Lucky Pete,” Alma says, clearly not in the mood for small talk about unimportant things like people’s careers in criminality. “Deals in infera aura. Have you heard of him?”
Saira shrugs. “Stuff like that isn’t usually what I’d go for. I’m guessing he doesn’t have a shop?”
“He has a stall at the demon market,” Alma explains. “We identified him as a possible lead when we went undercover. We think the necromancer buys her spell components from him.”
“And you’re thinking he might do house calls,” Saira half-whispers, thinking over the whole situation. She doesn’t particularly like the idea of exposing her sources to blueshirts, especially because a lot of her sources could tell a blueshirt from a civilian just by the way they walk into a room. But she has to admit that the thought of this necromancer being connected with that Whisper gang which, from what she’s heard, is yet another shard broken off the ex-Dukaines, with an unhealthy habit of employing demon summoners and diabolists (one of which might just be the very same guy she’s been hunting for years now), is enough to leave her a teensy bit…tense. She’s killed enough gods and demigods to fill a trophy room with stuffed heads (very ugly ones in some cases) but her last (and admittedly only) experience with demons has left her banged up enough to seriously consider doing that again in a hurry. At least not alone. She doesn’t have anything in her arsenal that can kill a demon. But she would love to add a certain diabolists’ head to her collection. Time to make a little investment. “All right, I gotta admit I like the big guy enough to help out. But for my next trick, I’ll need someone to come along with me. Not the kind of source I can just shoot into submission.”
Alma nods at this. “I will go with you. When–”
Saira cuts her off with a raised hand. “I’m sure you’d love to but uh…you’re kinda well-known around the block, if you get my meaning.” She looks the distinctively-transcendental goddess up and down to strengthen her point. “I need someone that can pass for mortal under close scrutiny. Maybe your boyfriend wouldn’t mind a walk with me?”
“I’ll let him know,” the goddess replies dryly, without a hint of humor at Saira’s use of the word boyfriend. “When?”
Huh…tough crowd tonight.
“Tomorrow morning,” Saira tells her. “At the Rio Novo bridge. Tell him to get ready to put on the charm. My source likes a little flirting going on and she’s all about the boys these days. Unless you’ve decided to finally put a leash on your little puppy.”
Again, that humorless tone. “Do as you must. He is his own dog.”
Sad. She doesn’t look annoyed or angry, she actually looks sad. Must be trouble in paradise. Saira wonders what must have happened there but Alma is already turning to leave, saying, “If you need anything else, Somrak is staying at the Singing Cockroach. First floor, third window from the left.”
“Any reason he isn’t at the station?” Saira asks. As in, is that why the fallout with Loverboy? she adds mentally.
He’d be stupid enough to do it, wouldn’t he? Of course he would be…
Alma stops in her tracks and turns back to face Saira again. “The necromancer threatened to kill Sky if I call for help,” she says with a meaningful look at the woman that is pretty much a whole conversation on its own.
“Oh, I see.” Well, so much for that theory. “Hey, what’s with the spooky eyes?
Alma sighs again and shakes her head. “Something that has been keeping me busy. Thank you, Saira. And please forgive my oversight. Anyway I can make it better?”
“Yeah, your cat followed me out,” Saira complains.
Alma’s chuckle at that feels strangely relieving. “And you want cat food?”
Cat food?! The heck!
“No, I want you to take her back!” Saira exclaims in annoyance. “I’ve been trying to get her to go back home for days.”
“It seems to me that she is home,” Alma notes before turning back and walking away, with a “Goodnight, little one.”
Saira watches her go in dismay, mumbling into the darkness. “But…but – Ah, crap…”