“You like a goddess, and in your song most of all she rejoiced.”
“Miss?’ Reliable Barthelmess had never been conscious of just how tiny her voice sounded until this very moment. “I don’t understand.” The city messenger cast another sideways glance at the tall robed woman who’d insisted on accompanying her personally as she ran the message. It wasn’t really against the rules, but you weren’t supposed to let a client follow you if they didn’t know the address, at least that was what grumpy Brother Slapus told them not to do since that weird french guy came looking for him, but the old codger the lady had been with when Reliable met them had paid her extra in gold for it. Real gold coins!
She was beginning to wonder if she had made a mistake by not running away when that old couple started getting all weird on her. It creeped her out the way the woman always seemed to be looking at her. And the crazy old bag kept saying all this poetical stuff.
”My dear little Miss Barthelmess,” the crone rasped. “You don’t have to understand. You just have to do as you are told.”
Reliable’s face felt a prickly chill while the long hairs running down her spine stood on end. She noticed the lady licking her lips. She felt almost sickened to realize – perhaps too late – she should have run from the start.
It had been an old couple. She met them in Clockhaven, usually the safer end of town. But it had been beside that sunken building. That was the first sign that this wasn’t a normal delivery. The man had also insisted on paying her in gold – a lot of gold. And so Reliable had relented and agreed to allow the lady to accompany her to verify the message was delivered to Fathers Pizarro and Moonwall.
As the two continued to make their way through the streets, Reliable felt her pace quickening until she could go no faster without beginning to jog. The old hag must have been fitter than she looked since she was managing to keep pace with the young messenger.
“It is so lovely to go for a walk in the spring,” the black-robed woman hissed. And then she did something that almost caused Reliable to gasp out loud. She placed her bony hand with its abnormally long white fingers upon Reliable’s shoulder – as if they were a couple of friends promenading through the park.
“My, Ma’am…” Reliable began.
“Call me Nefertiti,” said the woman. Though she inclined her head, Reliable could still not see the woman’s face clearly due to the hood.
“My… Miss Nefertiti, what long fingers you have,” squeaked Reliable.
“The better to wrap them around that thin neck, my dear,” replied Nefertiti.
Reliable focused once more on the destination rather than the conversation. She was leading them to the Mnemonics Institute, there would be people there, rather than to the apartment block above it where most of the clergy lived. It had taken her quite a bit of effort to discover exactly where old Father Goonwall lived, and she still had not seen more of how he lived beyond what she could see when he opened the door just enough to take his dinner tray.
“Do you know the Fathers, Miss Nefertiti?” the girl asked. Reliable had not meant to be nosy. It had been nerves that caused her to blurt out the question. Truth be told she wanted to get this old crone to the Fathers as quick as she could and then get away with her little bag of gold, but something wasn’t right about this. She had to get to where there were other people.
The witchy woman curled her nails into Reliable’s thin bodyfur, reaching all the way to the skin. “I did child. I knew those two men when I was not much older than you. But that is ancient history. I don’t expect them to remember me.”
“My, Miss Nefertiti, what sharp claws you have,” Reliable shrunk back from the sharp pain.
“All the better for combing through all that soft fur to your delicious skin, my dear,” Nefertiti crooned.
Reliable fell silent once more. They walked without a word for several more minutes. Then, quite suddenly and unexpectedly, Nefertiti stopped dead in her tracks. Reliable could hear the woman taking several deep breaths.
“It’s the spring run off Miss Nefertiti,” Reliable said. “We’re right above the sewers.” She indicated the steaming manhole cover about ten feet further along the road.
Suddenly the woman dropped to all fours and crawled until she was directly above the manhole cover. She curled her fingers and pried the lid away from the hole and hung her head over the opening.
“We’re not supposed to go in there ma’am.” said Reliable, though she was half hoping the woman would fall in. “Tepic put up the signs warning against going in the sewers in this area. Not sure why, I just know we’re not to go in there.”
“They are in there!” the lady said , though Reliable got the impression the woman was speaking to herself. “Little brother,” the lady called into the hole in a sing song voice that sent a new round of chills down Reliable’s spine. “I know you are in there, dear Thomas, wouldn’t you like to come and give your big sister a kiss?”
To be Continued