“Now,” the Black Lotus settled back in her little nest of smelly rags, “I am going to assume you have tried everything on offer from my basic catalogue, so we will not waste our time, hmm?”
“I’m not a big fan of trial and error,” Çrom agreed. “I came to you because you’re the best, not because you’re some poxy assassin who will want to see what happens if I’m cut into a hundred pieces and – and burned at a crossroads.”
“Ah. You met Wildehoss Hont, then,” the Black Lotus said.
“He was an almost perfect moron.”
“I always felt so,” the Black Lotus grinned her yellow-and-brown graveyard grin. “I can list off some of the more exotic compounds available at a price, even though I think we can also safely discount them … essence of challathart? Weaponised Bharriom dust? Abbromain? Any of the abbroprone derivatives? Mydia’s heartblood? Neomor? Glymethyl protocarbon? You see,” she went on, as Çrom shook his head at most of these, and shuddered and shook his head at the rest, “I cannot hope to carry out this lofty commission by any lesser means.”
“Bharriom dust is an almost pleasant way to die, though,” Çrom said. “In case that information is valuable for your next … commission.”
“Is that so?” the Black Lotus’s eyes widened. Çrom once again found himself embarrassingly fixated by the intensity he saw there.
“Right up until the moment you come back to life and remember the last few seconds,” he said, “when the God stone has its way with everything you are in its attempt to rewrite you into something you’re not … but that’s really more of a ‘me’ problem,” he concluded. “Up to the coming-back part, it’s just fine. And it’s the coming-back part that’s really the sticking point, for me.”
“And all of the more spectacular methods,” the Black Lotus persisted. “Atomic dispersion, atomic transpersion, aactur-level reconsignment…” she studied him, then craned over and peered into her cauldron. She took the spoon and stirred it, apparently lost in thought.
“The cauldron is a bit much,” Çrom said delicately.
“A woman has to eat,” the Black Lotus replied. “It’s not a witchy cauldron. I operate only in hard science. And occasionally on the frayed edges thereof. There is a Portal, in the absolute centre of the urverse-”
“Yes,” Çrom said wearily, “I’m aware of the Limbo Portal and its thirty-six-month suicide waiting list. It doesn’t let me in.”
“I landed on it, bunged my knee up spectacularly, and then just sort of dragged myself off to the edge while forty thousand tourists watched me and a half-dozen other jumpers went straight past me into the damn thing,” he said. “I created a minor stir in the Capital Mind tabloids, but it was a bit before your time.”
“And you have explored the possibility of-”
“How many Gods have you killed?” Çrom asked abruptly.
“I – what?”
“You said ‘God’,” Çrom said. “In your little opening spiel. I was just wondering if you’d killed any I might have heard of.”
“I do not discuss my other clients,” the Black Lotus said, “and I will thank you not to cast snide aspersions.”
“We’d get on so much better if you thanked me to cast snide aspersions,” Çrom said. “Far more securely in my wheelhouse,” the Black Lotus looked cross, which was an oddly endearing expression on her ravaged face. “It was a very impressive line,” he offered feebly. “It just made me wonder, surely I’m not the first person to ask…”
“I have administered and directed the deaths of three Gods,” the Black Lotus said stiffly. “I confess, all three were achieved with the assistance of more powerful Gods, but-”
“Hey,” Çrom raised his hands, “that’s still amazing. Gods don’t just wander around doing what mortals ask Them to do. And I’m sure it was more complicated than just asking Them,” he added, before the Black Lotus could do more than open her mouth.
“Two of Them were enhanced entities from Beyond the Walls, Gods in taxonomy only,” she conceded. “But They still count.”
“Yes,” Çrom said appeasingly. “They definitely count.”
“And the Corporate God…?” Çrom raised his hands again when the Black Lotus scowled. “Never mind. Not my business.”
The Black Lotus still looked cross, so Çrom did his best to start afresh. “You also said some of those exotic substances were available at a price,” he offered. “We haven’t actually discussed what sort of payment you’d require for this. The lady down in the info kiosk was very good with directions, and her dire warnings of dark and unholy things to come were absolutely top-notch, but she was a bit fuzzy on the topic of remuneration.”
“Ah,” the Black Lotus smiled suddenly. “Price is something we can only discuss over food.”
– Posted from my Huawei mobile phone while woohoo another long weekend.