Yami No Oozora: Chapter Five

Chapter Five: Overture

Action? What's action? You know, to be perfectly honest, I really did think there was going to be action in this chapter, but once again character interaction and introspection overtook me. I can't help it! *sob* So in this chapter, immortals get mad, immortals play, and immortals do a lot of talking.^_^ I liked it a lot though, so hope you enjoy.
And I promise there will be action in the next chapter. I'm serious. That's why this one's called "Overture," like, "Overture to the action." And as usual, standard disclaimers apply. :D (3/30/02, 11:51 AM ~ Filled in a plot hole regarding something Thanatos said earlier that I forgot about.^^;; Sorry about that...)

“Their names are Erian and Vesha?” Nemesis repeated her question for the umpteenth time.

Charon looked irritated, but the Sentinel replied patiently, “Yes, that’s how they addressed each other.”

Thanatos sat in awe of his colleague’s apparently inexhaustible well of patience. Nemesis had made the Sentinel recount his trip through the woods at least four times (or was it five) by now, and his friend remained cool and unruffled as Daitra herself. The comparison was actually sort of ironic, considering the Sentinel had actually pretended to be Daitra in the Minor. He wondered if the Darkness minded blasphemy very much.

“And you’re sure they were hurting the girl because she was Daitra and not because she was low-class?”

“That was my impression,” the Sentinel replied. Still no hint of impatience. How was he doing this?? Thanatos made up his mind to ask once Nemesis was finished…whenever that would be. “They called her Daitra-spawn and basically heaped insults on our Creator, but made no mention of her being low-class. Or if they did, it was before I came.”

Nemesis opened her mouth again, but to everyone’s collective surprise, Charon cut in. No.

“What?” Nemesis blinked in the stunned silence that followed as everyone looked toward the Guide of Souls.

Charon rolled his eyes in annoyance. “The answer to your question is no, Erian and Vesha don’t remember what happened because the Sentinel erased their memories, for the hundredth time. Quit asking questions you know the answers to.” This was said with a quick, dirty glance toward the Sentinel as if to add, “Like someone else I know.” To Thanatos’ waxing interest, the Sentinel hid a smile.

Nemesis bristled with righteous anger. “I just wanted to make sure—”

“I have memorized the sequence of your questions,” Charon snapped. “Get to the point. Or do you not have one?”

Thanatos burst into laughter that he quickly tried to stifle when Nemesis pinned him to his seat with a glare. “For your information,” she turned to Charon coldly, “I have a very important point to make.”

Charon snorted, but didn’t condescend to reply, which unfortunately only made Nemesis angrier. I think I’ll ask the Sentinel if he wants to bet how long it’d take for those two to come to blows. I’d wager around 10 more seconds, Thanatos thought to one side. Though he didn’t think the Sentinel would agree: his colleague only bet when he was absolutely positive he’d win, which made it pretty boring for everyone else. “You know what??” Nemesis was yelling, “If all you’re going to do here is make snide comments, why don’t you just haul yourself back to the mortal world and play?!”

If Charon had looked slightly upset at that comment, Thanatos thought Nemesis would’ve been a little appeased. As it was, his colleague the idiot practically turned up his nose and replied, “I wasn’t making any snide comments. I was stating what was obviously the—”

“Truth, right?” The Sentinel interrupted smoothly, leveling a look at Charon that clearly meant Don’t push it, and then turned to Nemesis. “Well, truth or no, it’s gotten me interested in your point.” Nemesis seemed slightly mollified, but then her scowl deepened, and she burst into a round of complaints about certain “rude and obnoxious colleagues.” Charon rolled his eyes, but one doesn’t ignore the Sentinel when he makes such an obvious warning, so the Guide of Souls shut his mouth. Thanatos made a note of that too—either Charon wasn’t as dense about other people as he’d thought, or the Sentinel was really starting to exert a positive influence on his attitude.

“I was listening to your every word,” the ‘positive influence’ in question was, at the moment, busy placating Nemesis with what was probably the truth, considering how attentive he’d been. “And of course I understand that you have to ask the questions over. I answered them, didn’t I? Now,” Nemesis was looking less and less angry, “what’s going on in Upperworld that has you so worried?”

Nemesis glared daggers at Charon, who studiously ignored her, before she plowed ahead with an explanation. “It’s disappearances.” She paced to the center of her room, turned, and faced the other Souls’ Immortals, her expression troubled. “There have been reports of the disappearances of low-class Daitra immortals coming in from all over the outskirts.” She told them of the reports she had received from all the scourers under her command. When she mentioned the characteristics of the missing immortals, Thanatos blinked and sat up in his seat, lidded eyes now wide open. “What’s the matter?” Nemesis looked startled.

“A few days ago,” Thanatos laced his hands together and leaned his chin on them, his countenance troubled, “I found two low-class Daitra, completely terrified by something.” Mild alarm flashed past Nemesis’ face as she leaned forward, and Thanatos saw the Sentinel’s eyes narrow for a very brief second. He kept going, describing how those two immortals had looked, how one of them had died and the other gone utterly mad. “I don’t know if the two things are related,” he confessed after he finished, “But since the two victims were low-class Daitra, I thought…” He trailed off. Nobody spoke a word in reply, all of them deeply engrossed in their own thoughts. Nemesis began twisting a piece of her shoulder drape, wrapping and unwrapping it around her finger. Thanatos closed his eyes and leaned back again. Charon still stood to one side, but his face was now shadowed in the depths of his hood, and his thoughts were inscrutable.

“Well, any theories we can act on?” The Sentinel finally said aloud, breaking the spell of silence. There was an almost audible sigh of relief following his words.

“I was actually counting on you to come up with some,” Nemesis replied. “This thing is driving me insane.” She shot the Sentinel a hopeful look.

The Sentinel’s brow furrowed in thought, and he rested his chin on one hand. Thanatos watched Nemesis wait for an answer with an eager sort of desperation that she tried to hide. This problem was obviously eating up her mind. As for himself, he tried to think things out, got nowhere, and—after stealing a peek at Charon—promptly decided that the Guide couldn’t make heads or tails out of the situation either, even though that annoyingly derisive expression hadn’t changed a jot. They all waited for the Sentinel to say something slightly more encouraging, but eventually the flaxen-haired immortal shook his head. “There’s too little information to go on, Nemesis—” He paused, realized everyone was staring at him (even Charon, out of the corner of his eye), and raised an eyebrow. “What?”

Nemesis deflated like those balloon-toys of mortal children. “Well, I guess I couldn’t just expect you to come up and fix everything…” she grumbled.

The Sentinel sighed on a note that hinted at self-suffering, and Nemesis had the decency to look embarrassed. “Don’t die of shock when I say this, Nemesis, but I am not perfect. Whoever spread that rumor ought to throw himself or herself to Beryllus.”

“What if the immortal were Beryllus?” Thanatos asked innocently.

“Then Daitra can deal with him. Or her. And we’re off the topic,” the Sentinel went back to business briskly, folding his arms against his chest. “All right. The only thing we might be relatively certain of is that the culprit’s Beryllus, because all the disappearing immortals have been Daitra.”

“Which gets us nowhere,” Nemesis groaned. “It’s like saying you have only half of infinity left to count!”

“What if it’s a powerful Daitra gathering immortals for a revolt against the Sages?” Charon cut in scornfully. “Something I’m surprised hasn’t happened more often.”

“Well, that’s just great,” Nemesis snapped back. “Now we’re back to an entire infinity! Thank you, Charon!” The Guide of Souls looked to the ceiling and muttered something uncomplimentary under his breath. Nemesis’ face rapidly turned interesting colors.

“Anyway,” the Sentinel interrupted before the situation could dissolve into chaos, trying to hide a smile at the Goddess’ expression. “Though Charon might have a point about a powerful Daitra, I think, at least until we get more information, it’s best to stick with the theory that our perpetrator’s a Beryllus, especially if Thanatos’ experience is related. I don’t think a recruiter would want to frighten potential followers to death or madness."

Ignoring Nemesis’ whispered comment about ‘half-an-infinity’, Thanatos gave his own opinion. “We can narrow the field down a bit, wouldn’t you say? It’d have to be a powerful Beryllus, upper level middle-class, very likely even high-class—”

“With a lot of influence,” Nemesis joined the conversation, contenting herself with giving Charon a dirty look. “Influential immortals won’t be questioned if their habits suddenly change, say, to accommodate the kidnapping and concealing of low-class Daitra.”

“And how do you know the immortals have been concealed and not killed?” Charon pointed out sardonically, and his colleagues all grimaced.

“But what would be the point of killing a group of people who aren’t a threat to anyone?” Nemesis cried.

“What would be the point of concealing them?” Charon countered, snorting. “I can’t believe you’re still so naïve.” The verbal jab turned Nemesis red for a brief second, then she paled with rage.

Thanatos wanted to smack his own head against the wall in frustration. Did it cost the Guide of Souls that much to be civil to Nemesis?? They were trying to discuss some important affairs of—

“You’re being so talkative, Charon,” the Sentinel’s voice was cool, very casual and noncommittal…and so it caught Thanatos’ attention immediately. That tone of voice usually meant the Sentinel was getting fed up—which didn’t bode well for the person who had caused that irritation. Thanatos shot a glance toward Charon, wondering if he knew…and noted with a start of surprise (and no small amount of amusement) that Charon was giving the Sentinel a wary look. Oh, he knew alright.

The expression on the Sentinel’s face was genuinely sympathetic, “This whole thing must be really worrying you.”

Charon’s eye twitched.

“You’re right, you know. Those Daitra immortals might very well have been murdered. The thought occurred to me, but I didn’t want to say it aloud,” the Sentinel continued, looking down at his hands. “Sorry. I should’ve mentioned it so you didn’t have to. It must have been weighing on your mind for our entire conversation.”

“What—I—all I did was point out a possibility,” Charon nearly lost his famous composure, and he tried to hide it behind a scornful question. “Where are you getting the junk you’re spewing?”

“So you’re not worried?”

No. Charon insisted emphatically, crossing his arms in a gesture of defiance and attempted to look intimidating by glaring at the Sentinel. It failed to have any effect because the Sentinel didn’t look up.

“Then why did you come at all?”

Thanatos had to fight hard against the urge to hoot triumphantly. Charon was so neatly trapped, it was almost a work of art. As it was, Charon’s scowl deepened, and finally, after a challenging pause, he gritted out, “Whim.” That said, he retreated (it could only be described as such) to a corner and stood, his expression far too much like sulking to be appropriate for an age-old immortal.

Now was that a fleeting smile on the Sentinel’s face, when Charon gave his one-word answer? Thanatos wondered. But then the Sentinel lifted his eyes from gazing at his hands, his expression a neutral, serene blank, and Thanatos couldn’t be sure. What he was certain of though, was that the Sentinel had managed to avert a crisis. Nemesis had been unusually silent throughout the whole exchange, watching both of her friends (though Charon was starting to edge into the ‘enemy’ list) with an intense air that Thanatos knew stemmed not only from suppressed anger, but also from curiosity. He had a feeling her curiosity came from the same source his did. Just what was Charon’s relationship with the Sentinel? How well did they know each other now? He doubted the Sentinel would answer directly, or even answer at all, if he should ask. Maybe he and Nemesis would discuss it later with each other, debating if maybe—just maybe—Charon had quit being such a block of ice. At least with one person.

Hm. And was it more the Sentinel’s doing, or—blessed Daitra—more Charon’s doing?? Thanatos shook his head to dislodge his rampant speculation. Too much thinking. For now it was enough that the Sentinel had managed to distract Nemesis from her anger and make sure Charon wouldn’t be making snide comments in the near future. Whether that was all due to his talent for manipulating conversation or if something…different had given him more leverage over Charon, Thanatos would decide later.

* * *

The arrogant, good-for-nothing bastard had been so lucky the Sentinel had intervened, Nemesis thought grimly as she stalked on the main road to her destination. She could have teleported, but that was too quick for her to be able to work off anger. And she needed to be calm and rational if she was going to talk to a Beryllus. They were never ones to be impressed by too much emotion.

Curse Charon and his…his conceited, obnoxious, aggravating… She went on listing until she ran out of insulting adjectives, then forgot what it was Charon had that she’d wanted to describe in the first place.

She could smell the sweet scent of asphealas hanging in the air like wind chimes, the fragrance drifting to her as notes drift to the ear, and she felt a little calmer.(1) Walking instead of teleporting had been a good idea. The main road was lined with aspheala trees, their blooming, light pink petals periodically dancing down, lining the pale golden paving-stones with a delicate carpet. Their scent, the way they swirled up and separated when she walked through them, like a water parting before a swimmer, soothed her frayed nerves.

She didn’t hate Charon. On the contrary, Nemesis thought wryly. She had always held people with talent in high esteem, respecting them and admiring them for the way they worked. People with talent had an innate grace in their movement whenever they undertook the task they excelled in, even if they could be complete klutzes in other areas. Nemesis remembered loving it when she saw Charon run—they used to race when they were all young immortals—run, and win, every single time. She’d rooted for him, then, because he was good at what he did. She admired skill, finesse, genius…and felt comfortable, at home, around talented immortals, since she could remember what it had been like to be ostracized, because of talent.

This preference of hers applied to Charon very much, ironically. Charon’s presence didn’t raise her hackles, so to speak, it didn’t set off warning bells, it—when he didn’t open that mouth—actually felt like Thanatos’ presence, and the Sentinel’s. But then he would speak, and it would always be rude, or callous, or selfish, or poking fun at her. Or all four combined, and she invariably wound up furious at him.

You’d think if he were colleagues with the Sentinel for that long, he’d learn some delicacy and some manners! Nemesis thought sourly. She kicked at a pile of pink petals and watched them scatter. What am I doing?? Disgusted at herself for lingering on a topic that angered her right before a formal meeting, Nemesis forced all gripes about Charon out of her head. Calm. She needed to be calm. Lux wouldn’t be exactly pleased if he came out and greeted a thunderstorm on his doorstep. And boy, if Vera were there, that would be even worse. That immortal simply could not tolerate fooling around. It was Nemesis’ personal opinion that though all Beryllus had minimal senses of humor, Vera herself had absolutely nil.

She hoped Vera wouldn’t be there—maybe Lux asked her to do something for him—and that she would only have Lux to deal with. Lux was at least good-natured and easygoing. Vera, on the other hand, gave her a vague uneasiness in the pit of her stomach. She had such penetrating, clear eyes that they seemed to strip Nemesis bare whenever she chanced to look in her direction. Always, Nemesis got the disconcerting impression that Vera had evaluated her against some mental checklist and found her unworthy. It wasn’t a feeling she enjoyed.

Blinking, Nemesis wondered at her train of thought. Hadn’t she told herself she wasn’t going to dwell on things like this before a formal meeting? She was usually able to channel her wandering mind better than this, and now her inability puzzled her. Maybe I’m just stressed. This disappearance problem is affecting me too much.

But Lux might have information that she could use. For one thing, Nemesis wasn’t sure if the disappearances were happening only in her jurisdiction, or if it spread into his as well. And maybe they were all wrong; maybe Beryllus immortals were vanishing too. Perhaps the criminal operated on some strange system that allowed him or her to take only Daitra immortals from the areas under the Chief Daitra Scourer’s authority, and Beryllus immortals from the areas under the Chief Beryllus Scourer. That didn’t make too much sense to her, but in her estimation, not all criminals had to make sense.

So, engrossed in her thoughts, Nemesis walked down the main road to Lux’s dwelling. By the time she reached there, standing and looking up at the vast white tower, Nemesis had achieved her calm mask-like formality. She was here to ask questions. Hopefully Lux would provide the answers.

* * *

They had decided to play taktika to pass the time, while Nemesis went to speak with Lux about their problem.(2) Thanatos, despite his early boast at being a master of the game, was currently losing badly to the Sentinel. (“It’s not fair! You haven’t played in eons!”) Charon, content to be an observer and to occasionally make a snide comment or two, stood between the two of them.

“So when do you think Nemesis’ll be back from Lux’s place?” Thanatos asked, striving to buy some time as he stared with no small amount of dread at his seriously disadvantaged white pieces. He looked up to find Sentinel’s eyes glinting with amusement—a disconcerting sight. It meant the Sentinel knew very well that he was stalling.

“She’ll come when she’s finished. Thanatos, your move,” the flaxen-haired immortal humored him briefly but refused to be completely sidetracked.

Thanatos resisted a groan, thought for a moment more, then moved one of his trackers, too tentatively. When the solid bottom of the piece touched the board with a dull, muted pat, Thanatos held his breath. Be a good move, be a good move… He prayed inwardly as he watched the Sentinel examine the board.

“Bad move,” Charon said flatly from the side.

“Hey, you stay out of this—” Thanatos began, then cutting himself off as he saw the Sentinel pick up a piece—his remaining fortress. Too late, he realized his mistake. “Oh no! Wait, can I take that ba…oh no.”

He’d lost. There was no way he could win the game now. Thanatos resisted the urge to bury his head in his hands. Damn the Sentinel for being so good at taktika even after cycli of not playing! And of course, Charon was still standing at one side, rubbing salt into the wound… “I think two more moves should do it,” he told the Sentinel. Thanatos tore his eyes away from the board to glare at the Guide of Souls.

“Have a little courtesy, Charon,” the Sentinel murmured, nudging a piece into the appropriate square. “Thanatos could still win.” Charon didn’t even deign to give that a reply; he snorted, unconvinced, instead.

I could? The God of Death thought wryly, wondering if that was his friend trying to make the ordeal of losing less awful, or if it were a true hint.

* * *

Unfortunately for Thanatos, Charon’s prediction rang true. Two more moves later, he was staring disconsolately at his white sage, boxed in on every side by one of the Sentinel’s black pieces. There was nowhere to go.

“See?” Charon said smugly.

“Well,” the Sentinel began to rearrange the pieces back into their starting positions. “It was a good game, Thanatos.”

“You wouldn’t say that if you lost,” Thanatos groused, crossing his arms and leaning back against the chair, studiously ignoring Charon because he really wanted to pop him one in the jaw right then.

“That’s not necessarily true,” the Sentinel replied, lifting his black sage back on the white square. “Depending on the circumstances, I don’t mind losing.”

“That’s because you never lose,” Thanatos frowned, then stood up and swept away from the game. “I need a drink…” A split second later, he was holding an ornate silver goblet in his hand and sniffing the contents. Then he sighed with satisfaction and took a sip. “Ah…good red wine… Want some?”

“No thanks,” the Sentinel shook his head, grimacing. “I can’t stand wine.”

Thanatos grinned over the rim of his goblet. “There’s one thing I can do better than you—drinking.”

“You can do plenty of things better than me,” the Sentinel replied placidly, looking at the God of Death through lidded eyes. “Though how many of those things are useful is open to debate.”


“I don’t feel like putting these away just yet,” the Sentinel continued, ignoring Thanatos. “I haven’t played in so long, it’d be a shame to stop after one game.”

“I’m not playing with you again,” Thanatos declared emphatically, then tilted his head back and finished off his wine. Immediately the goblet refilled itself to the brim.

“It doesn’t have to be you,” the Sentinel had finished setting up both sides of the board. “You forget there’s someone else here.”

“Charon?” Thanatos stuttered. “Charon?? Does he even know the meaning of ‘play’??” Close by, the Guide of Souls turned incredulous eyes on the Sentinel. He couldn’t quite believe what he was hearing.

“That was very rude, Thanatos. Considering Charon was pointing out your bad moves, you have no right to say he can’t play.” His ruby-red eyes twinkled as they met with his colleague’s blue eyes. “Charon, you did seem to know what you were talking about,” the Sentinel leaned back in the chair and smiled. There was a definite challenge hovering on the curve of his lips. “Want to play a round with me?”

For a moment nobody said anything. Then Charon abruptly shrugged, walking swiftly and sitting down in the seat Thanatos had abandoned. “Fine. One game.”

Thanatos’ eyes nearly detached themselves from his head.

* * *

The taktika game between the Sentinel and Charon had been going on for a while, with both immortals moving their pieces so quickly Thanatos couldn’t figure out what they were doing until a few minutes after the move, and by then they were far ahead of him. After one too many failed attempts at following his colleagues’ tactics, Thanatos finally gave up and walked to a couch, so he could sit down and enjoy his wine more fully. He let his mind wander, closing his eyes and savoring the taste of dark, red liquid…

A small cry of dismay from the Sentinel turned Thanatos back to the game, nearly spluttering on his drink. Charon was barely hiding the triumphant smirk hovering on his lips, and the Sentinel was staring at the board as if he couldn’t believe what he saw there. Thanatos glanced quickly at the progress of the game, and his jaw promptly hit the ground.

There, neatly trapped by Charon’s two white mages, was the dark sage. The Sentinel had just lost a taktika game. “I…I don’t believe it!” Thanatos finally stammered.

Charon’s smirk, if possible, grew wider, as evidenced by the fact that he could no longer hide its presence. The Sentinel was bent over the board thoughtfully, inspecting it with no trace of annoyance but plenty of puzzled curiosity. Thanatos couldn’t figure out why the Sentinel wasn’t exclaiming in disbelief or frustration or embarrassment, and he was given another turn when his (completely insane) colleague straightened, eyes gleaming in ill-concealed pleasure. “Great game, Charon. I didn’t see it coming at all.”

If Charon were a peacock, Thanatos was pretty sure he’d be primping and strutting all over the place right about now. As for himself—“That’s all you have to say?? You never lost a taktika game in your life, and you lose to some guy who doesn’t look like he’s ever played in his life, and all you do is compliment him??”

The Sentinel blinked. “But it was a great game, Thanatos. Charon’s moves are reckless and unpredictable, and fast—it was hard to anticipate, which was probably why I lost. I tried to anticipate too much.” He smiled broadly. “So now I’ve learned something, and it had been exciting to see a new strategy unfold. That’s a great game, see?”

“I don’t see,” Shaking his head, Thanatos glanced askance at his colleague. To him, a great game would be if he…well, won. “You’re telling me that you don’t feel the slightest bit of…of embarrassment or, or wounded pride, or whatever after losing to Charon? You have a reputation!”

“Reputations are usually wrong,” the Sentinel countered. “You have a reputation for being absolutely spineless, Thanatos, and we all know that’s not true—even Charon, who should stop snorting before he forgets how to inhale.” Charon took the hint, though his look of satisfaction didn’t fade.

Normally Thanatos might have grinned at that comment, but now his mind was on other matters. He pressed, “But don’t you like winning at all?” A second later, “Are you sure you’re normal?”

“I like winning,” the Sentinel replied with a shrug, ignoring the last question, “But if I lose there’s nothing I can do about it, so why be upset?”

“Too mature for me,” Thanatos raised a hand as if to ward something unpleasant off, “I’m afraid I can’t talk to you anymore.” The Sentinel rolled his eyes.

“Someone’s coming,” Charon interrupted, glancing in the direction of the door. “It’s Nemesis.”

“Finally, she’s back!” Thanatos rubbed his hands. “I was getting sick of all this taktika-playing.”

“You were the one who suggested it, remember?” The Sentinel pointed out.

“Yes, well…” Thanatos grinned, not even ashamed as he started walking toward the door. “I had counted on having more of an advantage, you know… Didn’t turn out quite the way I expected. Hey, Nemesis.” The door had burst open while he spoke, and Nemesis stood, framed in the doorway, starting in astonishment at seeing Thanatos right in front of her. “What’d you find out?”

She blinked. Peering over Thanatos’ shoulder to see the Sentinel looking at her curiously, and even Charon seeming marginally interested, she blurted out the first thing that came to her mind. “Didn’t you guys find something else to do while waiting for me?”

“Certainly,” the Sentinel smiled, gesturing at the gameboard before him. “Thanatos suggested taktika.”

“Oh?” Nemesis gave Thanatos a once-over. “And who won?”

“Thanatos was obliterated off the map,” Charon put in helpfully.

“Yeah, and then the Sentinel lost. To Charon.”


The Sentinel started to feel like a parrot. “In case you’ve forgotten already, I’m not perfect.”

“Why should it surprise anyone that I beat him?” Charon suddenly asked, annoyed.

No one chose to comment.

Charon made an irritated face, then had to hope the others didn’t see it from beneath the concealing shadows of his hood. It seemed his prayer was granted, because no one took notice of him. Nemesis and Thanatos began talking at the same time, moving to examine the as-yet-untouched results of the last game. The Sentinel tried once again to assert his own imperfection, leaving Charon alone.

Earlier today, he succeeded in making his oh-so-unruffled colleague completely speechless. Now, he had just beaten him in his forte—at taktika.

Charon pretended to study a tapestry hanging on Nemesis’ wall, turning away from his colleagues, and grinned hugely. Then he had to wipe the traitorous thing off his face, turn around and be completely aloof again, because the Sentinel said, “Enough, enough! Let’s just get back to the topic! What did Lux tell you!” It was more of a command than a question.

“See, you are bothered by losing,” Thanatos shook his finger at the Sentinel. “Your reaction to our hounding proves it.”

In response, the Sentinel leveled a glare at the God of Death that could floor a giant, then said in a perfectly calm voice, “Nemesis?”

The Goddess of Vengeance nodded, trying to mold her face into a more serious mask. “Alright. Down to business.” At her words, the Sentinel sat up straighter in the armchair, Thanatos sprawled himself on a plush, heavily upholstered couch, and Charon… didn’t move. “I think, first of all, that our theory about the high-class Daitra might be wrong.” She paused for a moment to let the words sink in. “The reason I think so is because Lux told me about disappearances happening in his area too…only the ones doing the disappearing are low-class Beryllus, and not Daitra at all.”

“Maybe it’s to throw us off,” Thanatos suggested.

Nemesis shook her head. “There’s practically the same amount of disappearances on the part of those Beryllus as there are Daitra. Now, if it’s some crazy high-class Beryllus behind all this, then the low-class immortals of our kind are accounted for—they’re most likely dead.” She didn’t acknowledge that Charon had made this point earlier.

“But then the Beryllus disappearances wouldn’t make sense,” the Sentinel continued, picking up Nemesis’ train of thought before Charon could decide to make a rude comment about being right. “Because there’s still no place to hide such a large number of immortals.”

“It could be a psychotic bent on killing low-class, regardless of their kind,” Charon interjected with a raised eyebrow. “Why are we so sure this has to have a reason?”

“Why are you always so grim?!” Nemesis threw up her hands, exasperated. She glared at him, “Do you take pleasure in saying things like—”

“No, Nemesis, Charon has a point,” the Sentinel stopped her from ranting. “The criminal doesn’t have to have a motive that we can understand. However, since that’s on a completely different branch, we’ll go back and discuss it in depth later. For now, let’s just say there is a more logical motive behind all this. What would it be?”

“Alright,” Thanatos tried again, “If it’s not to throw us off, then maybe this immortal wants to gather low-class from both kinds. Maybe he or she plans to do something with them—use them for something.”

“What, though?” Nemesis interjected.

“I have no idea,” Thanatos replied flatly.

“Oh thanks, Mr. Helpful.”

“Well what did you expect? We know next to nothing!”

“Then don’t say—”

“Stop. We’re getting off topic again,” the Sentinel held up a hand in a placating motion. “Let me just sum things up a bit. We have a few ideas. One, what we said earlier before Nemesis went to Lux: it could be a Beryllus immortal with a problem against low-class Daitra. He or she is powerful and gathers followers who have the same problem, and has them do most of the dirty work. This seems to be supported by what I witnessed in the forest, and what Thanatos told us, but doesn’t hold water against what Lux has told Nemesis. Alright so far?”

His words had a sobering effect on Nemesis and Thanatos, both of whom had settled down and were now listening intently. Nemesis nodded at his question, “Continue.”

“Two, in light of Lux’s information, Charon suggests that maybe we have a psychopath on our hands, out to kill low-class immortals indiscriminately. We have nothing to support this except for the fact that both Beryllus and Daitra low-class are disappearing, but we have nothing to prove it wrong either.”

“Well, I’d hate to disagree with Charon,” Nemesis cut in with a sarcastic, crooked smile, but then she bit her lower lip as if weighing her words. “The thing is though, I have this gut feeling…I can’t really explain it…that it’s more than aimless killing. It’s my intuition thing,” she sounded almost apologetic, “there’s no proof. But even so…”

“We’ll keep that in mind, Nemesis,” the Sentinel promised. “From experience, I have to say your intuition bears a lot of consideration. I’ve yet to see it wrong, but we won’t dismiss Charon’s idea completely, since we’re all just speculating anyway.”

“So is there a three?” Thanatos prodded, wanting the Sentinel to go on.

“Three is Thanatos’ vague suggestion that the low-class immortals are being used for something—what, none of us have any idea. Perhaps they do want to wage some sort of revolt…Charon, you said that earlier, didn’t you?...but I’m not sure how much damage low-class immortals can do, even if there’s a lot of them. The Sages are not without very powerful allies. And ten middle-class, plus maybe five high-class, will be more than enough to deal with the approximate amount of vanished low-class. They’d be like fodder, it’ll be so ineffective.”

“So toss out the revolt theory?” Nemesis asked.

“For now. We don’t have a lot of information, remember,” the Sentinel warned.

“Personally I don’t think it’s a revolt. It just doesn’t feel like a revolt,” Nemesis continued, shaking her head.

“We can’t chalk everything up to feelings and blind instinct,” Charon snapped.

“Is there any way we can get more facts about what happened?” the Sentinel asked before Nemesis could blow up at Charon for the fourth or fifth time. “Maybe we could visit one of the dwellings of the missing Beryllus?”

Nemesis demonstrated remarkable restraint and didn’t even look at Charon when she answered. “I think we can do that. Lux showed me where some of the dwellings are. Yes,” she nodded, making a decision, “that’s a good idea. Let’s go.” She stood up in one fluid, swift motion. Thanatos, who had been only listening for a while, snorted in laughter. “What’s so funny?”

“You, m’lady,” Thanatos grinned.

“What about me? And quit calling me m’lady!”

“Number one: How will we leave the Vindicar without arousing the attention of your Angels?” The Sentinel pointed out dryly. “Number two: How can we teleport there when the energy needed for teleporting to the outskirts will be detected by everybody who’s anybody?”

“You only have to worry about him. I’m not going,” Charon declared abruptly, turning away from the others.

“Why not?” Nemesis demanded, arching an eyebrow at him. “Then why did you bother coming?”

“You can deal with this by yourselves,” Charon didn’t answer her question. “I’m going back to do some work. My duty,” here he cast a dirty look at the Sentinel, “doesn’t involve a place with no time.”

The Sentinel smiled broadly. “But Charon, time runs slower in the mortal world than it does up here. And besides, you move so fast I’m sure a little break makes no difference.”

Charon couldn’t find anything to say without making himself sound slower than he actually was, which he hated. So he opted for a safer route—escape. “Hn. Just count me out.” Before anyone else could open their mouths, the Guide of Souls had vanished. And true to his prowess, none of them had felt even a ripple of his energy signature, which meant Charon had managed to leave undetected.

“Forget it,” Nemesis rubbed her head as if it hurt her. “I’ll never understand that guy. We’ll just go without him.”

“You might want to leave something to tell him where we’re going, in case he comes back and misses us,” the Sentinel advised. Both Nemesis and Thanatos stared at him. “What? Don’t worry about Charon, he’ll be back. It just takes him a while. Helping’s against his grain, you know.”

“No, no, I mean…” Thanatos found his voice, “What we meant was, how are you so sure he’ll be back? He just told us we can deal with it ourselves…”

“I know these things,” the Sentinel reassured, rising out of his seat. “Why don’t we go now?” He began moving toward the door.

“Uh, Sentinel…” Nemesis began, looking at her friend strangely. “Haven’t you forgotten that you don’t know where it is? And how are you getting there?”

Without missing a beat, the Sentinel replied, giving her a strange look of his own. “Well, obviously, I figured you’d be leading us. And as for getting there, you two are teleporting me. How else?”

* * *

(1) Asphealas (As fay a las)—singular: aspheala. Upperworld’s version of cherry blossoms.

(2) Taktika (Tak ti ka)—Immortal chess, coming from the Greek root for the word ‘tactic.’ Very similar to mortal chess, but with different styles, different names for the pieces, and obviously different rules. Some taktika game pieces and their chess equivalents are: sage=king, mage=bishop, fortress=rook, tracker=knight.