Exalted: The Sun Also Rises


"I'll catch up."

The moon hung one day past full, swollen and smirking over the streets of Mishaka, throwing the alleyways of lowtown into sharp, cold shadow.

It was the third night in a row Snapdragon hunted. She’d never . . . indulged . . . quite so much before. Her hunger was gone, the darkness inside her satiated and lazy, but she still had work to do. Gideon had said there were three serial killers operating in the city, and so her job was yet unfinished. If nothing else, she would be thorough. Her need was fulfilled with the two kills she’d made so far, but she could not let the last go unchallenged.

This one was by far the most intriguing. Bodies left in public places without a mark to say how they died, and no one witness to anything. Unusual to say the least, and it concerned her. Humans rarely managed to be so tidy.

Silently she flitted from shadow to shadow, waiting, watching, alert for the flutter of black wings, the song of blood that would warn her she was near to a murderer. Not all of them had her darkness, but she felt almost certain a serial killer would. Why else would they kill like they did, unless it was a need; one she understood all too well.

She missed Vesper. She hated to admit it even to herself, as the thought did nothing for her, but there was no use denying it either. It felt strange that he’d been the one doing the leaving. After so long she was accustomed to being the one who ran away from him. She wondered if it felt this way for him when she left.

She shook her head, trying to dismiss the thought. It was hard to focus, and she cursed herself for letting her mind wander. She’d barely noticed she’d approached a small square with a cracked and sluggish fountain. She was about to move past when she noticed a man walking through the plaza. It had grown late, and he was the first person she had seen in some time. It was the only possibility she’d come upon thus far, and she paused, hiding in the shadows, watching him.

There was no sense of menace or killing intent in him that she could feel, nothing in his body language to indicate a predator. In fact he seemed nearly awkward, his footsteps heavy and loud. Still, it was the only activity thus far that night, and she waited. The man was short, balding, unassuming, though she did not discount him as a possible threat; many creatures could take on innocuous forms to lure prey. Still, he appeared to be someone whose worst crime was overindulging in drink. He stumbled a bit, and seemed to be making for the residential district. She nearly turned away when movement caught her eye, making her pause.

She frowned. How could she have missed the girl? It was strange; one moment there had been nothing, the next she saw a child, a little girl wearing ragged, threadbare clothing in an old fashioned cut. Her dark hair was coming loose from a pair of braids, and her wide eyes were pale in her thin face. The man caught sight of her at the same time, his pudgy face registering surprise, and then a smile Snapdragon was certain boded ill. Before she could start moving, however, the girl looked up at the man with a bright, innocent smile, and hopped once toward him.

“Please, sir, I’m so cold. Can you warm my hands?” The girl held up her thin hands toward him, pleadingly, and Snapdragon hesitated. The night was balmy; it seemed strange that she would ask. Still, the speed with which the man stepped forward, the predatory grin on his face, made her release her billhook from its sheath and begin creeping forward. Just as she drew her arm back, the girl clasped the man’s hands in her own.

“My, little one, you are cold aren’t—“ he never finished the thought. Instead his eyes widened, he gasped once, and fell to the ground, his eyes open and staring, rimed with frost. Snapdragon froze, staring in surprise as the girl gasped, clasping her hands to her mouth, tears welling in her eyes. She spun, and hopped away into the dark. Snapdragon followed, but as soon as she turned the corner, the girl had vanished.

Puzzled, she returned to the body, touching it and finding it very nearly frozen, as though the warmth had been pulled forcibly out of him. As she feared, the serial killer was not human. What she hadn’t counted on was that it was a child who didn’t seem to mean what it was doing.
She melted back into the shadows, contemplating what she’d seen, closing her eyes and replaying the memory. She’d felt no intent to kill, the child seemed sincere in her approach, though not entirely surprised by the result; she was dismayed, as though she had hoped it would not happen this time. It was clear this was the reason people died in public places with no evident method of murder. The man seemed to have frozen to death, though by morning he’d likely have thawed, warmed only to the chill one would expect of a dead body.

What sort of creature was the girl? Her clothing seemed far older in style than it ought to be, even for hand me downs. And she hadn’t been running, or walking. She hopped, both feet together, even when fleeing. Something touched her memory, something she had heard or read at one time. The girl was a ghost or something like it, but she needed someone with more knowledge of such things. It wasn’t the child’s fault that she was what she was, and ghosts were not normally her expertise, but Snapdragon was unwilling to leave the girl in this state. She was dead, had to be, but rested uneasily.

For a long moment she contemplated the problem before her. Clearly if one needed to let the dead rest, one should consult someone who makes it their living. She headed into the night, looking for a likely place or person.

Half an hour later, Snapdragon found what she was looking for. She had remembered Gideon mentioning the Sijani Undertaker who had helped him with the mystery of the grave robberies in Yelang, and so an outpost for the group seemed a likely place to find the sort of help she was looking for. She was pleased to notice, walking into the building just as she arrived, the same young man Gideon had pointed out to them in passing. Apparently Mortician Soot had traveled to Mishaka for supplies or something of that nature; his work was mostly a mystery to her.

She was, however, uncertain how to approach him. It seemed a matter to keep discreet, so as not to cause a general panic. Mentioning the unquiet dead tended to provoke upset, likely even among those who worked to keep such things from happening.

This was far more a job for someone like Prism, or Blazer, she reflected. Blazer had more knowledge of magic and occult creatures, and Prism could simply burn away impure things. For some reason, though, she was reluctant to involve them. She had started this little project, true, but the terms of the game had changed. This wasn’t a task suited to a monster such as herself, since it seemed that she had no monster to hunt. Even so, she felt obligated in some strange way, as if doing this good deed could in some way help atone for . . . everything else. It could not, and yet she couldn’t quite bring herself to leave it be, or push the responsibility to the others. They had their own affairs; they were the shining host to bring light to those who needed it. She was the dweller in darkness, quietly removing things that were worse than herself. Usually it was acceptable, rarely anymore did she entertain the possibility of being the sort of thing Vesper wanted her to be. Only with him, and on rare occasions such as her dealings with the boy king.

She pushed the thought from her mind; she’d done what she could for Voshun. At the moment she had to do what she could for this child. She waited for the young undertaker to go inside, and watched for the flicker of light that would indicate which room he entered. Silently as death, invisible as a wraith, she followed him.

The room she entered was small, Spartan but serviceable, obviously guest quarters, and Soot was just putting down a bundle of wrapped herbs and sticks of incense, running a hand through his dark, messy hair. Up close the young man was pale, dark circles under his eyes, as though he slept poorly. She sympathized, though it occurred to her even as she entered that her appearance would be unlikely to help him rest that night. Still, it was too late to leave now, and she was impatient to get on with her task. When the man turned back, he found her leaning against the door, silently.

He started, eyes widening, and nearly juggled the candle he’d been holding, leaping back a step as she caught it, setting it on the small bedside table. “I need to ask you some questions.” She rasped, without preamble.

Soot’s dark eyes flickered, nervously, considering the locked door, the window, the bathroom door, and finally settling back on her, wide and nervous as he backed away. “I . . . you . . . what are you . . . ?” He hesitated, clasping his hands, unclasping them, his eyes sliding down to her chest. “I . . . did the others send you . . . ?”

She cocked her head, curious. “Others?”

He took a slow breath. “I mean, well, the others here. I—well no offence meant but I don’t think I’d like your . . . type of services, you’re quite attractive I’m certain but—“ He trailed off as she raised an eyebrow. “O-oh, unless . . . well they’re always saying I’d be less neurotic if, you know, but I—well I’m not sure I’d want particularly to be tied up or hit, it’s an interesting prospect perhaps but my personal—I’m sorry I’m rambling, aren’t I?” He pushed a hand through his hair and looked away, blushing slightly.

Snapdragon closed her eyes a moment, gathering her patience. “I am not hired by your fellows.” She growled, crossing her arms.

He looked up, sharply, his eyes widening. “Oh. OH! I’m sorry I thought—“ he frowned, suddenly wary. “Are you here to kill me, then?” His voice held no real fear, instead mostly curiosity, and that even more than the question unbalanced her.

“What?” She stared at him, uncomprehending for a moment before she composed herself. “No I’m not here to—why would you think someone wanted to kill you?”

He blushed slightly, rubbing the back of his head self-consciously. “Well, it seems unlikely, yes. But when someone appears without warning in your bedroom, well, there’s only a few possibilities to consider, and with your penchant for leather I couldn’t help but think . . . “ He coughed as her eyes narrowed. “I . . . well, you have to admit you cut an . . . impressive though shall we say ambiguous figure.”

She glanced down at her clothing, the leather harness, the gorget, and couldn’t bring herself to disagree entirely. She sniffed, shaking her head. “I didn’t come to discuss my outfit.”
He nodded, embarrassed. “I—yes, I know. I apologize, I just thought . . . Though, honestly I don’t think I’m important enough for someone to send an assassin, still, I was curious as to who it might be if they did, and I’m rambling again.” Soot shifted a little, uncomfortably, and looked away. “Ah, well . . . at any rate, would you care for some tea?”

Snapdragon shook her head. “Thank you, no. I’m intruding. But I need your expertise. You helped my associate, Gideon, with the grave robberies in Yelang, so I hoped that you might be able to help me as well.”

He blinked at her, his interest clearly piqued. “Ah, you’re a friend of Gideon, that explains a lot I suppose. He did me a good turn in Yelang, but that’s neither here nor there, how can I help you?”

She took a breath, and described what she had seen that night, describing the girl, particularly the strange way of moving, hopping rather than walking, and the condition of the man’s body after she’d touched him. As she spoke, Soot’s eyes became sharply focused, and he nodded quickly once she stopped speaking.

“Yes. That’s an unquiet dead. I’m sure of it.” He said, his voice no longer hesitant. He strode purposefully to the shelf, pulling a dusty, leather bound book, and opening it on the table, flipping through pages and tracing an entry with one long finger. “Jiang Shi.” He pushed the book toward her. “A type of, well, I suppose vampire is as good a word as any, though that’s a bit misleading. They’re unquiet dead; they feed on life force usually, in one way or another.”

“Jiang Shi . . . “ Snapdragon repeated, feeling the word out. “I thought something seemed familiar. I remember stories of undead who hop.”

Soot nodded, almost eagerly. “Yes, you were right to come to me, ideally we prevent this sort of thing from happening, but once it’s loose, well, if it’s not put down it will just keep killing.” He sat, steepling his fingers and closing his eyes, thoughtfully. “It said it was cold, yes? It may be stealing life force in the form of heat, it sounds like it’s not even aware of what it’s doing.”

“She.” Snapdragon heard herself say, quietly, surprised at her own interruption, though she continued when he looked at her, curiously. “She’s . . . just a child.” She looked away, uncomfortable.

Soot paused, his expression softening. “Yes. Forgive me, ordinarily a Jiang Shi is malevolent, vicious. It’s . . . rare that one is in such a state as this girl. One grows accustomed to speaking in vagaries to distance your thoughts from the unfortunate creatures former humanity.”
She looked up, nodding once. “I understand. I’m used to dealing with monsters, not people.”
He smiled, the expression reaching his eyes, brightening his face. “Well, I suppose we’re in similar situations, I’m far more accustomed to the dead, I suppose that’s why my conversational skills are somewhat lacking.”

She chuckled, softly, reflecting that it was a shame Vesper wasn’t there to see her small smile. She pulled down the gorget anyway, letting Soot see her face in full. “I’m hardly the one to judge on that.” She shrugged a bit, leaning forward to look at the book. “Now that she’s risen, what can we do to lay her to rest?”

Soot considered, flipping a page and tapping a passage. “Well, it seems fire, or an axe in some cases . . . hmm, thread stained with black ink . . . the blood of a black dog . . . peaches . . . “ he murmured, thoughtfully. “Probably beheading with an axe and burning the remains would be easiest . . . “

Snapdragon frowned a little, shaking her head. “I would prefer a method of laying her to rest non-violently.” She said, quietly. “If she’s unquiet, then she never had a proper burial and her death . . . “ She trailed off.

Soot raised his dark eyes from the page, meeting hers in full for the first time, his expression unreadable for a moment before becoming sympathetic. “That will be more difficult, but . . . yes, I’m certain we can do this gently.” He nodded, once, and stood, moving to check his supplies. “In that case, you’ll need to find her resting place, the one she returns to during the day. While she’s dormant, we can move her body to the cemetery and cleanse it. I’ll need to find vinegar and sticky rice, this time of night . . . well, I’ll manage. Once we’ve quieted the spirit, we’ll cremate the body and bury the remains with proper ceremony . . . once that’s done, she’ll be at peace and free to find her next rebirth.”

She nodded. “I would prefer that. It’s not as though she’s killing purposefully, so I . . . can’t quite bring myself to deal with her as though she’s a monster.”

“I understand. Just . . . well, be careful. If she touches you it’s almost certain death. She won’t mean to, but she can’t help pulling the life out of you. Honestly from what you’ve described it sounds as though she draws warmth from her victims. That’s not unheard of. They freeze to death and, well, since it’s not nearly cold enough for that, no one really thinks of it.” He turned another page, nodding. “So . . . well, take care. While you’re finding the body, I’ll make preparations.”

She nodded. “Done.” She said, quietly, turning toward the door.

“It’s kind of you.” Soot said, suddenly, and she turned back, looking at him in surprise. He shifted, smiling nervously. “It’s just that . . . most people would be more inclined to be expedient since either way the result is the same in the end, really. She wouldn’t remember.”

“I would.” She said, simply, and turned back toward the doorway, pulling her gorget back up. “I’ll come back soon.”

With that, she headed back out into the night, silently, resuming her evening hunt with renewed purpose.

Back in the square, no one had moved the body, likely it had not yet been discovered. Passing it by, she made for the direction the girl had gone. It was still full night, so it followed that she would likely still be awake. With luck, the presence of another person would lure her out and she could either follow her to where she slept, or somehow convince her to come along with her. The child couldn’t seem to keep herself from approaching, from trying to get warm, so she moved patiently through the streets, not hiding. Eventually, she imagined, the girl would approach her. She did not have to wait long.

“L-lady?” The small voice came from behind her, from a place she’d already looked. Either the girl was quicker than thought, or she could materialize out of the very air. Snapdragon turned, looking down at the small girl in front of her. She was thin, her clothing threadbare and years out of style, her skin pale and her lips blue-tinted. She held out thin hands, looking up at Snapdragon pleadingly, her eyes wide. “I’m so cold . . . will you hold my hands?”

Snapdragon shook her head, slowly. “No.” She said, as gently as she could manage. “I will not.”
The girl looked startled. “Everyone else lets me hold their hands. I’m just so cold.” She said, softly.

“And then they die.” Snapdragon replied, kneeling to be at eye level with the girl, pulling the gorget down to let the child see her face. “Don’t they?”

The child’s pale green eyes filled with tears that frosted over slowly, leaving frozen trails down her cheeks. She nodded. “I . . . I don’t mean to, but . . . but they’re so warm. And I can’t help being cold, I just want to be warm and they always fall down, but I keep hoping one day they won’t.” She sobbed, bringing her hands up to her face, wiping her eyes with her ragged sleeves. No more than nine, Snapdragon guessed. Just a small, scared little child who wanted what any child would want, comfort. She ached to reach out to her but didn’t dare.

“I know. It isn’t your fault, but you can’t keep doing it.” She sighed, softly. “Do you know how long you’ve been . . . like this?”

The girl shook her head, looking up. “I don’t know.” She admitted, after a long moment. “My mama left to find things and I was so tired, and it was so cold and I went to sleep. Then I woke up and I couldn’t get warm except . . . except when people touched me.” She considered this, quietly, as Snapdragon watched her. “I was just so cold and hungry and no one would help, and now when they do help . . . they fall down and they die and then I’m warm again for a while.”

Snapdragon nodded quietly, not certain how to reply. There was nothing she could say that would make things better; the girl was an undead. For her own sake, for the sake of everyone else, she had to be laid to rest. “It’s all right. I’m going to help you, if you’ll let me.”

The girl looked up. “You’ll make it so I’m warm? And I don’t have to hurt people?” She asked, hardly seeming to dare to hope.

“Yes. I promise.” She said, softly. “Will you come with me? I have a . . . friend I suppose, who can help, if you’ll follow me.”

The girl considered this, staring up at Snapdragon, her eyes older than they had any right to be. “Did the gods send you?” She asked, finally. “I . . . I know I don’t have to eat or drink, and I can go places and no one sees. Am I a ghost?” She bit her lip, looking down.

Snapdragon sighed. She had hoped to avoid this question. The truth would be meaningless, and this was close enough. “Yes. I’m sorry. But if you let me and my friend help . . . we can make it so you’re not cold and lonely anymore. That I can promise you.”

Finally, the girl smiled up at her. “If you can help, I’ll go with you.” She said, finally, and cocked her head. “My name is Green Eyed Cat. What’s yours?”

“Snapdragon.” She replied, smiling a little in return. “It’s a type of flower.”

“It’s pretty.” Green Eyed Cat said, and looked down. “You’re nice. I’m glad you’re going to help me. I wish I could hold your hand. I miss walking with mama and holding her hand.”

‘Nice’ was not a term Snapdragon was used to hearing applied to her, and she pushed a hand through her hair, embarrassed as she stood. “I—thank you for saying so. We should be going.”

She was about to turn away when a thought occurred to her. If her power came from the sun, then the glow that surrounded her might be enough to shield her from a Jiang Shi’s drain on her warmth. At the very least she thought she might be able to try without the effort killing her. It might hurt her, but the risk was worth it. Concentrating, she tapped into her powers, a golden glow surrounding her form as she held out a hand to the child. “I cannot promise I’ll hold your hand the whole walk. But a while might be all right.”

The girl’s smile was ecstatic as she wrapped her tiny hand around Snapdragon’s. She was cold as death, but her touch didn’t seem harmful for the moment. Snapdragon felt her power flowing into the girl, dimming the golden glow of her anima banner. Green Eyed Cat smiled up at her in wonder. “I feel warm! And you’re all right! I knew you were from the gods!”

If it had been someone other than a child, she might have laughed bitterly, or given a sarcastic reply. Instead she forced a small smile. “I’m told there is one that favors me, though . . . well, Prism says a lot of things.”

In this manner they headed back toward the Sijani Undertaker outpost, Snapdragon holding the little girl’s hand as she hopped along in the strange manner of a Jiang Shi. They spoke of fripperies, though Green Eyed Cat seemed apprehensive as they approached the imposing outpost, with its black and somber décor. As it happened, Undertaker Soot was just exiting the outpost as they arrived, and he jumped slightly, startled by their arrival. The girl giggled, peering up at him.

“Is this the, er, child?” Soot asked, blinking down at the girl, and frowning as he noticed Snapdragon’s hand wound around the girl’s.

She nodded. “Yes. I’m . . . protected from her powers for the moment.” It seemed as good an explanation as any, and Soot let it pass without remark.

“Well then, I suppose . . . the cemetery would be the best place.” He said, gently. Snapdragon nodded and he led the way, silent as Green Eyed Cat continued to speak to Snapdragon.

This time the conversation was more somber. The girl spoke of her mother, and how she missed her. From what she described, Snapdragon gathered that during a harsh winter, when they had no food or fuel for a fire, Green Eyed Cat’s mother went out to find something, anything, to keep her daughter alive. She had told the girl to stay up, keep moving . . . but she was so tired she’d fallen asleep. When she woke, she was no longer hungry, only cold. Her mother had not returned, and Green Eyed Cat never found her. Instead, she found other people who had warmth she could take, though they all fell and died when she did. She tried not to, but she was so cold all the time, until now. She looked up at Snapdragon and smiled, happily.

In return, Snapdragon told her some small part of her past, told her about Dahlia and the flowers she grew, of happier times with her sister. She was surprised it wasn’t harder to talk about; as she spoke she found herself smiling as she remembered pleasant evenings spent helping Dahlia with chores, or her utter hopelessness at tasks such as arranging flowers or decorating pastries. Green Eyed Cat laughed as she described her failed attempt with Vesper to make a pretty cake for Dahlia, which left them both covered in flour and the cake lopsided and hideous. Soot said nothing, though she got the impression he listened. It should have bothered her, but this night it did not. The child’s laugh was enough to make the openness worthwhile. She hadn’t spoken so much in some time, and was painfully aware of the roughness of her ruined voice.

In time they arrived at the cemetery, a vast expanse of darkness, dotted with stones. They grew silent as they moved through, Green Eyed Cat hopping at Snapdragon’s side. She felt the beginnings of fatigue from her contact with the Jiang Shi child, but ignored it. If all went as they planned, the girl would go to her rest and next incarnation soon. The least she could do was let her be warm.

Soot led the way through the darkened cemetery, pausing only once to light a lantern as they got farther from the lit streets. Eventually they came to a large stone slab on which was arranged a large metal grate about waist-high, the metal blackened by many years of pyres. They stood silently as Soot opened his parcels, laying out bottles and pouches.

Green Eyed Cat looked up at Snapdragon, her expression sad. “It’s time for me to go away now, isn’t it?” She asked, quietly, her tone far too mature for such a small girl.

Snapdragon nodded, kneeling down, still holding her hand. “Yes. But you won’t be cold anymore. And maybe . . . in your next life we’ll see each other again.”

The girl smiled, clinging to Snapdragon’s hand in both of hers. “I hope so. You’re nice.”

Snapdragon didn’t correct her, only ran her other hand over the child’s long dark hair. “I hope so too.” Finally Soot cleared his throat, quietly, and she looked up at him.

He held out a wooden spool, wound haphazardly with black thread. “I wasn’t sure if we could use this since I can’t touch her, but since you can . . . it’s thread stained with black ink. If you wind this around her it should render her dormant.” He said, quietly.

Green Eyed Cat looked up at him, smiling. “Thank you, sir. You’re very nice too. I hope I meet you and Snapdragon again someday.”

Soot’s eyes widened slightly at the mention of Snapdragon’s name, only momentarily showing what might have been recognition, but then he smiled, a bit awkwardly. “I . . . that would be nice. I’m glad I could . . . help.” He handed Snapdragon the thread, stepped back, and began to pile wood on the grating with practiced efficiency, giving them a moment alone.

Snapdragon chose not to question the reaction she wasn’t certain she saw. It was hardly important now. She held the spool, tightly, and looked into Green Eyed Cat’s face. “It’s . . . going to be all right.” She said, softly, and started a little when the girl embraced her.
“Thank you.” She whispered, and stepped back, looking up. “I’m ready now.” She smiled a little. “It’s been so many years. I want to rest now.” Her voice was steady, and a decade older than she looked.

As the Jiang Shi broke contact with her, Snapdragon’s anima began to glow again, softly, no longer siphoned into the child. Soot watched this, his expression curious, though strangely unsurprised. Taking a slow breath, Snapdragon knelt, and slowly began winding the thread around the girl’s body.

For a moment, nothing happened, but as she finished the final pass around the child’s form, and the thread’s end touched her, Green Eyed Cat smiled suddenly. “I’m warm! I’m finally really warm!” Then the light left her eyes and she crumpled into Snapdragon’s arms.

She wasn’t certain how long she sat on the ground, holding the child’s body, her head bowed. She reached up with one hand, gently closing the lifeless eyes, and held the girl cradled to her for a long moment before she felt Soot’s hand, hesitantly resting on her shoulder.

“It’s . . . we’re doing the right thing. I wish it could be otherwise but . . . this is the kindest.” He said, quietly.

She nodded, standing, carefully carrying Green Eyed Cat to the pyre he had built up, settling her with infinite tenderness on the dry, dark wood. “I know.” She replied, stepping back, and looking to him, waiting for him to direct the next step.

Soot gathered up a bag, sprinkling dry white rice over the body, then laying herbs around her, and finally pouring vinegar lightly around the pyre. “The thread and fire should be enough but . . . it pays to be thorough.” He murmured, splattering oil on the wood and bringing a box of matches out of his coat pocket. He looked to Snapdragon then, giving her an apologetic smile. “I . . . am little good with words.”

She smiled a little, sadly. “Neither am I.” She took a long, slow breath, and closed her eyes. “Green Eyed Cat . . . I hope your next life is warm and well fed. Be free.” She stepped back as Soot struck a match, and the oil caught.

Late into the night they sat side by side, watching the flames dance away into nothingness. They spoke little, neither quite comfortable with opening up. Snapdragon was little used to others seeing her so open and vulnerable, but Soot discreetly said nothing of it, and they sat in companionable silence.

Finally, the embers died, leaving only a too-small skeleton on the metal grating, which Soot carefully gathered into a dark wooden box. “I’ll see that she’s interred safely here in the cemetery. I’m sure I can get a stone marker should you be here again and wish to visit.” He laid the box down on a square of black silk, and paused. “Is there anything you wish to leave inside?” He asked, looking up. “I’m afraid I didn’t think to bring flowers . . . usually the family leaves offerings.”

Snapdragon hesitated, reaching into her jacket, her hand closing on the snapdragon blossoms she’d meant to leave with the body of a serial killer. She held it in her palm for a long moment before placing it, gently, in the box with the small skeleton. It was all she had, but she thought it was enough. Soot smiled at her, almost sadly, and wrapped the box with practiced skill.

As the dawn crested the hills, she walked slowly back to the Undertaker’s outpost with Soot, and they paused outside.

He smiled a bit. “I’ll look into a more permanent location for her later today when the cemetery custodians come by.” He promised.

Snapdragon nodded. “Thank you. You’ve done more than I could have asked.” She said, quietly, not certain now what to say. She felt uncomfortably intimate now that all was said and done. “I’m not sure how I can repay you.”

He waved a hand. “It’s fine. I feel I did a good and important thing. Laying the dead to rest is what I was trained for and I know its import. I’m glad I could help you.”

She inclined her head, finally pulling her gorget up over her face again. “Still, I’m in your debt.” She paused as she shoved her hands in her jacket pockets, her hand encountering the small, round communication device Blazer had made. She took it from her pocket and held it out to him. He cocked his head, curiously. “It’s a device one of my companions made. It will enable you to contact me . . . If you ever need my help, it’s yours.”

He raised his eyebrows as he took the item, turning it over in his palm. “I . . . thank you.” He said, finally, looking rather pleased. He beamed at her, the second time his smile fully reached his eyes. It transformed his face, making him look even younger, erasing the signs of weariness. “Thank you very much, Snapdragon.” He said her name as though testing it out, but smiled, apparently happy.

“I know you’ll take good care of her.” She said, touching the wooden box, lightly. With a final glance back at Soot heading inside, she melted back into the streets, following the Brothers Bond gemstone toward her companions. They were moving rapidly, as she expected they would be. She had told them to go ahead, that she would catch up.

As the dawn broke in full, she set out after her companions, satisfied. The night had not gone as she had expected, but she had accomplished her goal; there would be no more mysterious deaths from the lonely Jiang Shi.

With a final glance back, she set her sights on the path her companions had taken, and began to walk.


blackwingedheaven eldritchMortician