START OF 'DANCE WITH THE DEVIL' ARC
Chapter 25: Carry It Forward
“Death is not the end. I think.”
-Enia Stockton, Astromancer, 168 U.E.
Yin wandered down the seaside strip of the Perch. The heat was hellish, not lessened in the least by the muggy breeze sweeping in from the water.
She was still nursing numerous wounds after her fight with Aucom, most of all a keen ache in her throat that made her voice croaky and ridiculous. Still, none of them were bad enough to take her out of commission, and a healing potion was speeding up her natural regeneration.
Yin had convinced Darling, using harsh words and threats of violence, to give her Aucom’s address. 13 Ayuara Street. Coming up on the place, she found the houses were only haphazardly numbered, strewn about the road seemingly at random. It took her a good while longer to find than it should have, but eventually she found what she could only assume was the right place.
An apartment, part of a duplex, made from frayed and rotted wood. Paint worn away to uniform grey, windows covered with black curtains. The only sturdy thing about the place was the door, kept in place with a fat locking mechanism.
She knocked on the door but got no response. After keeping that up for a few minutes, yelling at the fallen paladin intermittently, she gave up. The windows were firmly shut, and she wouldn’t be getting in that way without breaking them. Considering this was, more or less, a house visit, she’d prefer to avoid that.
Sneaking around the side, she found a back door. She found it open and stepped inside the dark, silent apartment.
Yin was immediately met by a hot, cloying stench. She retched and backed away, into the cleaner air of the back alley, gasping for air.
“Holy hell,” she croaked. “What the fuck is that smell?”
Pulling her shirt over her mouth and nose, she braved the darkness once more. She looked around a small kitchen, dishes piled up in the sink, gathering mold. After that was a living room. It was all bare except for a couch and a couple of books stacked on a coffee table. Not even a scryer.
“Aucom?” Yin called, straining her voice. “Are you there, bastard? I need to talk to you!”
Yin contemplated coming back another time, but morbid curiosity drove her forward. She needed to find the source of that smell. Approaching a closed door, presumably a bedroom, the stench grew more unbearable. She inched it open and peeked inside.
A dark silhouette spun lazily in the middle of the room, hanged by the neck with a belt looped around a ceiling beam. Four arms hung limp.
“Damn it,” Yin hissed.
She ran into the kitchen, found a knife, and came back. Leaping to the ceiling, she hung onto the beam with one hand. A horizontal slice cut the belt, and Aucom fell to the floor like a sack of bricks, landing on his side. She dropped back down, discarded the knife, and loosened the leather band around his neck. Checked for a pulse. Found none.
“I can’t believe it,” she said, sitting back on her haunches. “You stupid son of a whore. Why’d you go and do that, huh?”
Aucom stared up at her. His glassy, bloodshot eyes contained no emotion. No hint that might answer her question.
With a cursory glance, Yin decided there was no use in attempting resuscitation. The man had been dead for hours, already cold and stiff. Instead, she went over to a chair in the corner of the room, by a bed that reeked of sweat, and had a seat.
“I get it,” she said after a few minutes of silence. “It was too much for you. Living your whole life one way, and then being told you could have done things differently. Too many sins to atone for. Easier just to duck out on it all.”
The corpse was silent, its back turned to her.
“I hope you find what you’re looking for. Maybe some peace, at last. I’ll keep going for both of us. And hey, if there’s some kind of afterlife out there, maybe we’ll meet again. If we do, I’ll let you know how it feels. To be a hero.”
Yin stayed for another few minutes until the stench became too much to bear. She left the apartment and caught her breath for a few minutes, before setting out to find someone to help dispose of the body.
Stephan sipped at his coffee, protected from the worst of the sun by a wide parasol. A little cream, a little sugar, it made all the difference. He leaned back in his chair and enjoyed the early afternoon.
The cafe was just a street down from Sweet Devil. It was fairly busy this time of day—with everyone seeking some refuge from the beating sun—a light bustle around him.
He’d left the Rivello at the bar. Legs crossed, glasses folded into his breast pocket, he simply waited. He let his eyes slip shut, enjoying the warmth.
Then he felt cold metal on his temple.
“Get up,” spoke a gruff voice, slightly muffled.
“You work for the Butcher,” Stephan pointed out. He didn’t move, nor did he deign to open his eyes.
“Get. Up,” the man repeated. “I won’t ask again.”
Stephan opened his eyes. He looked around at the four, five gang members surrounding him, all with pistols drawn on him. White masks marked them as members of the titular gang. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw a beat-up, rusty rumbler idling in the street, one door open.
“I’ll stand up as soon as we agree where we’re going,” Stephan said.
The patrons of the cafe watched the scene with some interest, keeping their distance.
“You’ll go wherever the fuck we tell you,” said the first gang member. A red streak across his mask marked him as some sort of higher-ranked member. “Now stand up and get in the rumbler, or I blow your brains out right here.”
“You’re going to take me to the Butcher.”
“You heard me. Your plan is to take me someplace nice and quiet where you can kill me and mop up the mess. I’m telling you that won’t happen. I want to see the Butcher.”
“Are you mad? You’re in no place to—”
“Yuli Sakaarn,” Stephan interrupted. “He’s alive. I know where he is.”
The leader was quiet for a moment. He eyed his cohorts, who had begun to murmur amongst themselves. “Shut up, you!” he hissed. Reluctantly, they complied. “You’re lying, pale bastard. The Butcher’s son is dead.”
Stephan took another sip of his coffee. “I’m telling you he’s alive, and I can prove it. So go call your boss—the cafe has a transceiver.” Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a coin and flicked it at the leader, who caught it on reflex. “There. To cover the charge.”
The gang member eyed the coin for a long moment. Slowly, he took the gun away from Stephan’s head and stalked off inside the cafe to find a transceiver, muttering curses. The others were left standing around, shuffling uncomfortably.
Stephan swept the last of his coffee and smiled to himself.
He had never felt cooler in his entire life.