The Big Sleep Jazz Club
“Is that your answer?” Miko snorted, “You won’t help me because you’re afraid Phobos is gonna hunt you down and hack you apart?”
Somnus chuckled. Quick as a whip, he summoned a bartender, ordered drinks, and beckoned her to sit.
“Well?” she demanded.
“Well,” he murmured, fingers curled around his glass, “Why don’t you ask me for what you want?”
“Puhlease. You’re as crafty as the Fae when it comes to words. I ain’t askin’ you for shit.”
“They should be. After all, it was my magic that made them.”
Miko shivered. There was something about the slow cadence of his speech, the way his words curved so sweetly as if dipped in honey. It would be her downfall if she let it.
“It’s an audition, by the way.” He nodded at the stage.
“In a crowded bar with a jukebox blasting in the corner?” Miko rolled her eyes, “She must be thrilled.”
“If she can draw a crowd, the jukebox won’t matter. It’s her dream, after all.”
“Bullshit, I know you. That girl has a dream, and you’ll grant it to her with some hidden clause because one of the gods wants to bind a musician’s spirit to their court for eternity, and you want to get paid for it.”
“You flatter me.” Somnus laughed, “I promise I’m just doing my job. Elmyra despises musicians, Omar would never take my suggestions, and Sol and Nyx don’t want anyone at the Court of Night who they can’t sleep with.”
“And the God of Death?”
“There’s already a devil at the crossroads,” Somnus reminded her. “And that little lady could sell me her soul and still not surpass his talent. Now,” he paused to shake his drink, the ice clinking in the glass, “Tell me what it is you want, and I promise not to bind you in any way unless you ask for it.”
Once, the God of Sleep had held her prisoner. He fed off her dreams and magic for months, using them to power an army that had, predictably, led to an apocalypse.
“I’m not a Thread. I’ve had a promotion, as you well know.”
“Oh? And what of your compatriots?” he asked, clearly fishing for information, “Three Fates are better than one. All that work…”
“Is a pain in my ass,” she agreed but didn’t elaborate. Information was her currency; she couldn’t waste it all right now, and certainly not on Somnus. “Anyways, it’s like I said: I need a place to stay.”
His gaze turned melancholy as he picked up his glass, staring into it. “I’m fond of them,” he said.
Miko’s drink soured in her stomach. “You want to talk about Akira.”
Somnus sat back, the corner of his mouth kicking up in amusement. “Of course. Don’t you?”
Corporeal forms were tricky beasts. They never behaved. Sometimes, they crumbled, cracked, or if you were as unlucky as Grim, you had an eye snatched out by the physical manifestation of Fear Itself, and it never grew back.
That’s why this particular situation was so unnerving. Magic could do all sorts of things, but bodies? They had minds of their own.
“If you’re looking for your torso, I’ve placed it outside your line of sight.”
Ben refocused on Lilith. There wasn’t a speck of plasma on her. She remained graceful even while hacking them to pieces. Or maybe showy was a better term. Flamboyance was a Straud family trait.
“I’ve placed all your parts in various locations,” she continued, “I thought that would be more fun.”
Grim snorted. He disagreed with Ben’s assessment that Lilith would make an excellent god. The Reaper thought stumbling through a field while having his appendages sliced off randomly was a stressful experience.
Not that Ben enjoyed being cut up; the pain was excruciating, and he thought his heart would burst from terror. But upon reflection, he could appreciate the creativity of her approach. “So why are you doing this…uh…”—‘Scavenger Hunt’ didn’t seem like the proper term—“Thing that you’re doing. You know we can’t be killed. Why go to all the trouble?”
“Because you’re mysterious ancient beings sniffing around Alice.”
Ben brightened. “You’re protecting her! I was worried you didn’t like her.”
“I don’t,” Lilith squinted at a piece of paper in her hand, crumpled it up, and tossed it over her shoulder. “I think she’s insufferable and needy, and she’ll ruin my father’s life. But it was my task to slow you down, even if you’ll just go after her again and feed her some other lie about your presence.”
Ben smiled, “Oh, I don’t lie. I obfuscate.”
“Whatever,” Lilith narrowed her eyes, “I can’t believe I risked being late for you two assholes.” With a rude gesture, she disappeared in a hail of sparks. As soon as she was gone, the Grim Reaper exploded.
“I am done with this stupid favor. Fuck you, and fuck Morgyn. When I get my godsdamned body back, you are on your own. For fucks sake, we are not even supposed to be here!”
The Reaper’s fury was understandable, but Ben couldn’t allow him to leave. “Your husband is here.”
There was a herald of grief in that one word. Ben would feel bad about it, except gods were cruel and capricious, and it was hard to shed old habits. “In this universe, Deacon still exists and—” Ben paused at the sound of a vehicle rumbling up the driveway. “Do you hear that?”
“Hear what? You telling me that I’ve been mourning my husband for nothing?”
“No.” Ben shushed him. “Like I said, we’re exactly where we’re supposed to be. Someone just pulled up to Alice’s house.”