Coronation or decapitation.
These words circled round and through Maria's head as she followed Sin through the streets. With the setting sun the cold began to spread, shooing most people either into restaurants or homeward until only a few people remained.
She had put Sir Screech into her handbag, causing his head to peek out, every once and then she ran her hand across it to calm herself. "So, what kind of person is this contact, Sin?"
They had reached the northern part of the city, where the neon lights and bright advertisements made way for more sophisticated ornaments and street lanterns, even fewer people strolled through the streets and the value of an average car was higher than some of the apartments Maria's classmates had grown up in.
"Well, my master, how do I say this. I would call her a beast, and mean it solely as a compliment." Sin stopped at a street corner, right in front of a beauty saloon. "Her name is Saphire, though I would not say it unless you speak directly with her. She-"
Sin began to trail off, furrowing her brows. "How to say. She offers protection services, you could say, as well as contacts. She is one of the few individuals of note who could be called truly neutral."
Her words caused Maria to sigh with relief. "Well, that is good, right?" Sin shook her head in awkward amusement. "No, my master. There is nothing more despicable than neutrality. And in that field she is the most despicable of all." With this she opened the door to the saloon, holding it open for her master who walked through first.
There was nothing out of the ordinary that Maria could see. The ground was covered in expensive red carpet, a counter separated the waiting room from the few seats where a few women were already being treated by the staff. The lady at the counter stared first at Maria, then she looked at Sin. "I would assume you are here for the VIP treatment?" She spoke in a soft and melodic tone, paying no attention to Maria.
"That is quite correct, do we have to wait or can we just go through?" Sin took a step closer to the counter. After shortly looking through the list, the lady gave a nod. "There are no appointments going on currently, just go through."
Sin answered with a bow and took Maria's hand. "Stay close by, my master." She whispered and lead her past the counter to and through a door labled as "staff only." The first Maria noticed was the biting cold, making her shiver. Sickly white light illuminated pale walls, floor and ceiling and tall women stood guard, still as statues.
They all wore the same dark blue dresses, they had the same grey eyes that did not wander. That did not blink. They continued to walk down the hall, and with every step Maria grasped more tightly onto her servant's hand. She could not take her eyes off the guards, everything about them unsettled her. How they all looked so eerily similar, how they all stood in the exact same distance apart.
How none of them were breathing.
They reached the end of the hallway, and Maria was feeling sick to her stomach, she wanted nothing more than to leave. Her grip was tight enough to leave marks on Sin's hand. Her servant was unphased by everything, and gave her master a reassuring look before opening the last door.
Here the heating worked, it was mercifully warm and the light of candles bathed the room in a more lively light. It was very applicable to call the room Spartanic, outside of a row of filing cabinets and a single large desk there was no furniture to speak of. Opposite of them sat a woman who was unnervingly tall, easily two and a half meters she towered even over many of the heroes Maria had been forced to look up to.
Her long black hair flowed down her back and she looked at them expectantly with deep green eyes and spread her arms in a gesture of welcome.
"The great and terrible Sin and, I would guess, the heiress of the last great queen? I must say, it is an honour." Her voice had the same melodic trail as her staff, making it hard for Maria to tell if she was being genuine or mocking.
"Please do have a seat and tell me what it is you need. Guards, Ghouls, Golems? I am sure that someone as," the woman paused for a moment, running her hand across her chin. "bellicose as you could need and want additional bodies?"
Sin never took her eyes off of the woman and pulled a chair back for her master, preferring to stand at her side. "If I remember your prizes correctly then I am afraid that they are not quite within my master's budget. No, all she seeks is a teacher, preferably a Shaman."
The woman followed Sin's words patiently, before turning her attention to Maria. "I would prefer to speak to you directly instead. I find that more civilised than having to speak through an abomination, would you not agree? You can call me Saphire, young heiress." Maria clenched her hands in her lap, biting her lip. "Sin speaks for me only with my permission, Madame Saphire. Can you help me, or not?"
Saphire leaned back in her seat and rose a single eyebrow. "Very well. The short answer is no. And your 'servant'," she put as much disdain into the word as she could, "should know that even if I could still find one, then they would rather be killed by her than help you."
She looked back at Sin, shaking her head. "I would think that even 'you' would understand that. Or did you already forget that you drove them to near extinction yourself?"
Maria did not take her gaze off of Saphire and interrupted as the woman set up for another tirade. "So they wont be help. Do you know of anyone else that can help me? I need to learn." For a few moments there was nothing but silence. Saphire stood up and began to sift through her filing cabinets.
She produced a folder and returned with it, slamming it on the desk before sitting back down. "Artemis Weld. Failed the ascension ritual four times, but he should know enough to get you started. You needn't be soft on him for my sake, he still owes me quite a lot and I am certain he wont find the means to pay me back."
Maria let out a sigh of relief and reached out for the folder, only for Saphire to pull it back. "Normally I would give someone this insignificant out for free." She reached out her other hand, rubbing her fingers together. Sin growled quietly and rummaged through her bags, before throwing a small purse onto the desk. "There, but this lead should better be fruitful."
Saphire caught the purse and looked through it with a sigh. "Very well. If you could do me the favour of having him disappear at the end then I would remember it." She slid the folder over to Maria, who quickly handed it to Sin.
Slowly Saphire rose up. "I suppose that is all then? I hope this little meeting did not damage your view of me, young heiress." Even in the rather dim light Maria could tell that the woman's smile was forced. "If you need my services, whether protection or information I can assure you, none can compete with my prices."
Maria rose up as well, scoffing quietly. "Even with your extra premiums?" Her words caused Saphire's smile to fade entirely. "I will excuse you this time for your obvious ignorance. But in the future it would do you good to know who you are speaking to. While I hold no grudge towards you, young heiress," Her eyes now rested on Sin, alight with a cold, enduring hatred. "But I cannot say the same for the butcher of my family."
Maria looked from Sin to Saphire and back, shock and embarrassment flooding her mind in equal measure. But before she could speak Saphire clapped her hands, causing two of her guards to open the door. "I have a few other clients tonight, so I am afraid I will have to end our meeting. Just as a last piece of advice, heiress of the last great queen: You should not have your pet speak for you if you do not know her history with who she is talking to. Or in other words, don't let her speak at all."
With that she shooed them out of her room, and the unsettling, dead atmosphere of the hall did the rest to make Maria want to leave this place as fast as possible.
Outside she took a few deep breaths, her body shaking. "Why did you, not tell me you, you did, what you did?! Now I looked like a fool in front of her!"
Sin bowed deeply, batting her eyes. "I beg for your forgiveness my master, but if I were to tell you of every slight I committed towards those important enough to talk to, well we would be here for a few years."
Maria stomped her foot onto the ground in frustration. "Why did you think it was a good idea to go to her if you knew all of that then, couldn't we have gone to someone who's family you DIDN'T murder?"
Sin did not raise her head, staying locked in her subservient pose. "While my deeds are not equally as terrible everywhere, I felt Saphire was still our best lead, which I feel has been proven true."
She looked through the document, a low sigh escaping her. "Not too far away, but on the opposite side of town. I would advise that we return to the stronghold first, I believe you could use a bit of rest, my master."
Her words and display of deference caused Maria to slowly calm down, reducing her anger to embarrassed pouting. "Alright, yes I would, like to settle a few things first." She ran a hand through her hair. It was then that a darker feeling of worry overcome her. "Sin, when you did, you know, what you did. Did my ancestor order you to do that?"
It took a few moments for Sin to rise back up. When she did the same wide smile was running across her lips, though it was wider than usual. Wide enough to expose a little of her monstrous teeth.
"No. She asked me to 'solve' the issue with the shamans for her. That is how she told me that I was free to act. The shamans are terribly dull and backward savages, my master. Good for quick and simple results, nothing more. I did not consider them worthy subjects of my great queen."
The more she spoke the wider her smile grew, the less she could hide her fangs. "So I slaughtered them down to the last, or so I thought. It seems my sloppiness has become a boon for once, is that not a joyous occasion?"