“A demon? Aren’t those just fairy stories the humans tell?” Dare scoffed at the god’s proclamation. As for me, it sent a cold, slimy worm of dread wriggling through my belly.
“You are young in existence and naive of mind if you believe demons to be human stories,” Kairon replied coldly, addressing Dare for the first time.
“We’re almost as old as you are,” Dare countered. It was true, though Dare acted the age he looked, instead of how old he was. To be fair, that was in our construct. After 300 years or so, even the youngest of gods will mature a little, most of the time. Dare was the exception to quite a few rules.
“Mother seemed to think someone has messed with our memories. She recognized…something about him when I showed her, but couldn’t put her finger on what,” I said, pulling Kairon’s attention back to me.
The news deepened the worried frown on his visage. He leaned forward, threaded his fingers together, put his elbows on his knees, and pushed his thumbs against his lower lip in contemplation.
“I do not like this. Memories removed, and a demon supposedly in the city.” I bristled at the ‘supposedly’, but fumed internally instead of protesting out loud. It would only serve to offend Kairon, and we needed what information he had.
“But you’re expecting some kind of trouble,” Dare interjected, and gestured to the totems in the shadows of the shrine.
Kairon hesitated for only a moment, and something passed through his eyes.
“Babaga paid me a visit,” he muttered, even more annoyed by this news than he was at Dare’s presence.
I recoiled from his words, and Dare cursed. No one knew exactly what Babaga was, but she was older than dirt and scary as all get-out. No one wanted her to pay them a visit, as she always bore unwelcome news, but no one turned her away. She wasn’t evil, but she wasn’t playing for team good, either.
“What did that crone want?” Dare spat the words like a bad taste in his mouth that lingered longer than it was welcome.
“That is my business, but she did say something was coming,” Kairon said, then paused as a thoughtful expression came over him. “Maybe you should pay her a visit.”
Dare jumped like a pincher beetle bit him. “Are you freakin’ out of your gourd?” he yelled. The totems stirred restlessly, and my breath caught as they rumbled their displeasure at Dare’s antics.
I grabbed a fistful of his dirty tunic and yanked him back down to the mat. “Sit down,” I hissed, and he fell unceremoniously to his rump with a loud thump. He glared daggers at me, but I had a warhammer in my glare, and he backed down. I’d take sullen and quiet over loud and getting us killed, even if it meant he’d get me back for it later.
“I apologize, Kairon; you know Dare has no manners.” The last came out harsh, and directed more toward Dare than Kairon.
Kairon nodded synpathetically, and didn’t look toward the other god again. “As I said, I believe you should pay her a visit. It may be most enlightening.” Kairon’s words had a finality about them, so I stood and bowed again. This time a little lower than I had before to make up for Dare’s attitude. Then Dare stood and bowed, more angry than mocking now. It wasn’t as low as he should have, so I put my hand on the back of his head and shoved him down till he was level with me.
“We appreciate this, Kairon, and will do as you suggest,” I said. Kairon waved a hand through the air, dismissing us, and we headed back out of the shrine.
Once we were a couple streets away, Dare whirled on me, fists ready to fly. I was prepared for it, though. He was seething through the link, and I was set to handle whatever impulsive action he was about to take.
“What’s the big idea, you little bitch?” he growled, standing on the balls of his feet for quicker movements, and ready to throw down.
“Kairon is an arrogant ass,” I said, and my proclamation threw him so off balance he stumbled forward. His mental and physical floundering gave me time to continue without fear of being walloped. “But you have to tread carefully around his ego, or he clams up faster than, well, a clam. We needed information,” I reminded him.
“I ain’t gonna be no bootlicker,” he said, falling into the familiar lingo of the street kids, and spat on the ground.
“Nobody said you were,” I ground out, finally starting to lose my patience with his accusation that I was a bootlicker. “You have to play his game, or you don’t get what you want. We found out who the man with the silver eyes is, even if we don’t know why our memories of demons,” I choked on the word in disbelief, “are gone. We also got another lead: Babaga.”
“Some lead,” he said, and scuffed the ground. He knew he’d hit a nerve, though he’d never apologize. His averted gaze, staring at the cobblestones that had been swept for the evening, was as close as I would get to him making amends. Then his head shot up as he felt my decision resonate through the link. “You aren’t thinking about seeing that old witch, are you?”
“We have to.”
“Uh, we have to go see her just about as much as we need a visit to Hollow.”
I shuddered. “Don’t talk about that place–it’s nothing alike.”
Hollow was where gods went, or rather were sent, when they’d become useless or gone crazy from disbelief. It wasn’t so much a place, as an entity that absorbed the gods and dispersed their energy back through the world. Making way for other gods to be created. Devourers, on the other hand, consumed the energy and gave nothing back. It was reincarnation versus a dead end–literally.
While one sounds infinitely more useful than the other, neither was a fate any god wanted.
“We don’t know what she is, or what she wants. She could kill just as easily help us,” he pointed out, and I didn’t disagree with him. But…maybe I was too curious for my own good.
“If you want to go back to Haven, I won’t fault you, but I’m going to visit her,” I said, firm in my decision.
“We got what we wanted from Kairon, and I don’t think Mother or Bash would like this,” Dare warned, a last ditch effort to sway me with the threat of Bash’s and Mother’s wrath.
I shrugged. “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission.”
With that, I headed northeast. Dare gave a resigned sigh, and followed me not long after I started running. Our destination was the entrance to a cave system connected to the sewers beneath the city, known as the Atramen Caves. Since they were beneath the city we were still technically within city limits, and were able to go there.
Able, but not willing. Though there was a demon running around who could control Devourers, and I was more concerned about where we were currently headed. I knew a Devourer would eat me, but what I didn’t know was what Babaga would do if she wasn’t up for visitors.