The sewers hadn’t improved since my earlier visit, though the rodent population was making a significant turnout. The energy-charged atmosphere was likely driving them from their hiding places, and much the way animals flee prior to natural disasters. It was a veritable mass exodus going on in the sewers. Occasionally, one of the dog shifters would scoop up a rat, and chop the wriggling creature down in a single bite. Intellectually I could acknowledge that shifters burned a crazy amount of calories, but the rest of my brain was shouting: “Gag me with a spoon.”
I kept my fingers trailing along the wall to try and catch the entrance. I didn’t recall exactly where it was, and I did my best not to shudder at the slime building up on my skin.
“Where is this place?” the leader, Techur, growled. Patience is certainly not a shifter virtue.
“Not far,” I hedged, not wanting him to bite my head off–literally–for being wrong.
“Why are we down here in this gods-forsaken, stinking dump in the first place?” he snarled, and kicked a rat off the edge. It squeaked in high-pitched squeals as it fell into the water with a plop.
“Did you see the golden guy shooting arrows through cars on the news?” I asked, and tried even harder to remember where the entrance was, as his tolerance ran thin.
“Well, that’s Apollo. You know, the Greek god.”
“No shit?” he asked, not impressed that a living myth floated the streets, and was taking pot shots at the fine citizens and law enforcement of the city.
“Yes. He’s the reason the Strixes–the bird creatures–are here, and he’s looking for someone in particular,” I said, my voice growing someone distant as I laid my hand on the disgusting surface completely. We’re close.
It was the second shock I’d gotten from what came out of Techur’s mouth. If it wouldn’t have ended with my evisceration, I’d have halted in my tracks suddenly enough that the shifter behind me, Gil, would have collided with me.
“Uh, yeah,” I replied dumbly, still flabbergasted.
Techur grunted. “That piece of trash has been searching high and low for her, for centuries. Who’d have thought she’d be in the sewers under our city?”
“Certainly not most people, I’d wager,” I agreed.
“What’s so good about this bitch, huh?” The sewer echoed with Hank’s yelp as Techur, who was in front of me, smacked the back of his head.
“You talk that way in front of her, and you’re like to be drowned like the rats you’ve been eating. Maybe I should let you shoot off at the mouth, and be rid of your stupidity, though,” Techur said, scathingly.
Hank mumbled something sullenly, and Techur responded with a growl, followed by, “I know the difference between talking shit behind a deity’s back, and doing it to their face. You, however, are not so intelligent.” There were no follow-up comments, though the guys behind me snickered at their companion.
Just as I was about to give up hope, and have to admit I didn’t know where I was going to the guys who might very well eat me, my hand fell through empty space. I almost fell, ass over teakettle, into the tunnel, and gasped in astonishment. The only thing that kept me from doing so, was a hand that grabbed the back of my shirt.
“Found it,” I said, voice strangled as it tried to get past the knot of fear in my throat. You ever have one of those moments where you go to take a step on the stairs, going up or down, and you miss a step? That brief moment of heart-stopping fear? It was something like that.
“What are we going to do now that we’re here? The chick turned into a tree, for centuries, to avoid the douche bag up top, and you think she’ll just come along?”
Techur brought up a good point, but I was hoping to appeal to her good samaritan side.
“I sure hope so, ’cause I got nothing else. You know deities of different pantheons can’t get involved with other ones, under threat of retaliation. This might be our only chance at distracting him so the others can overpower him,” I pleaded.
Techur didn’t say anything for a heartbeat, then sighed. “Alright, lead the way, mouthy meat.”
For that comment, I almost didn’t want to warn them about the passage, but I wasn’t that much of a bitch. That, and the fact they could kill me with a flick of their wrists might have something to do with it. I turned to face the group, and though they were a little too close to my quaking boots for comfort, I pressed on.
“Breathe out before you go in. The passageway is enchanted, and you’ll want to inhale when you get out.” They all nodded, I exhaled, and stepped in.
It wasn’t any more comfortable this time around than the last, and just as predicted I gasped when I exited. The shifters weren’t far behind me, and one of them collapsed as gasps wracked his body. Some people just don’t listen.
“What are you doing here?” The tremulous voice came from near the burbling fountain, and I turned to find Daphne standing there, resplendent in her flowing, Mediterranean blue chiton.
“We need your help. We found out why the Strixes–”
“Yes, I know,” she said sadly, “Apollo is here.”
I nodded. “Yes, and we need you to distract him while Oliver and the others attack him.”
“I can’t do that.” She was firm, and unshakable in that statement, at least. Her beautiful features frozen with fear, though, and belied the strength in her words.
“Why not? He knows you’re here; it’s only a matter of time before he razes the city, and finds you hidden down here,” I reasoned.
She shook her head. “No, now please leave.” She turned away, and flowed into the fountain, her form wavering around the edges as she became one with the water.
“Well, fuck. What now?” Techur asked.
“I-I don’t know,” I admitted, and waited with bated breath for his growling response.
Instead, he huffed out a laugh. “You’re not very good at strategy, are you? Bet you suck at chess.”
“I’m more of a checkers kind of girl.” Then a sudden thought popped into my brain. “I think,” I said slowly, “it’s time to go visit a demon.”
Techur scowled and crossed his arms over his chest. “If you’re that intent on dying, we’d be more than happy to kill and eat you now. At least that way you wouldn’t be going to waste, and your soul would still be yours.” He shook his head. “Demons are a death sentence; nothing good can come of associating with them.”
“True, but I don’t have much of a choice, now do I?”
“There is always a choice. The alternatives might be shit, but they exist.” He shrugged. “It’s your life, but I’d advise against this.”
I shook my head back at him, and took a deep breath. “I have to.”
Techur shrugged. “Your funeral. We’re going to go and chew on some birds, and get some revenge for my brother.”
“Always wanted to be a bird dog,” Hank, the one with the mastiff form, rumbled. The others cackled like hyenas. Maybe it was some kind of inside dog shifter joke.
“Would you mind dropping me off at the Dancing Demon Diner on your way to fight?” I asked.
Techur snorted. “Fine, but if you change your mind on what kind of death you’d like, come and find me, instead. You’re not too bad, for being mouthy meat, and not many would go to such lengths for their friends,” he admitted.
I gave him a wan, half-smile. “What would we be without friends–even ones as annoying as Oliver?” I asked.
Techur let out a full, belly laugh. “True enough. The guy’s an asshole, but not the worst Omnie you’ll meet.”
It was as close to a compliment that Techur would get when speaking about Oliver.
This time my grin was wide, and almost manic in the face of what I was about to do. “Let’s go, ’cause daylight’s wasting, people are dying, and I need to make a deal with the devil.”