LUX #16

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Besides Phoebe, the only person who actually seemed to do any work in Lethe-2 was the cook. Breakfast was just as hearty and delicious as dinner: corned beef and cabbage sandwiches, pot roast with ginger, fried chicken and waffles, bean soup, yogurt with chunks of almonds and dark chocolate, and literal barrels of rich hot coffee.

Eve sat with Eirene and Coronis, trying to enjoy her hot tea and waffles in peace. She stayed away from coffee… she didn’t need to feel any more restless and jittery than usual.

Coronis seemed to have totally forgotten their awkward encounter the night before and was happily chatting away about, of all things, other Matres. “I read a really interesting article about Blood and Treasure,” she said. “You know them, Eirene?”

“I don’t. Is that their name?” Eirene’s voice was nasally and she inadvertently whistled on “s” sounds. She was so close to Eve that her face was flushed from the ambient heat. “What about you, May?”

“Nightshade, the Mater Sanguinis, and Majuro the Mater Auri,” Eve replied, sipping her tea. “Nightshade led intelligence and Majuro organized the internal economy during the Cenotaph War. They went on to found UMBRA and SPRING, respectively.”

Coronis’ smile flickered. “Y… yeah, them! Nightshade handled killing and Majuro money, so Astra called them Blood and Treasure. Oh, they were both so amazing, Eirene. They’re both gone now, though.”

“They are?” Eirene asked with a frown. “I didn’t think Matres died very often.”

“They don’t, those two are some of the few… and technically, Nightshade’s only missing.” Coronis stroked her chin as a shadowy figure appeared next to her head, slitting the throat of a golden woman.. “She was the architect of the Snuffing of SMOKE, you know. But she disappeared right after. My pet theory is she committed suicide, which would really suck..”

“…Wait, you’re a fan of hers? Even after she killed all your… umm, all those SMOKE sisters?” Eirene glanced at Eve.

Coronis giggled. “I’m not one of those neo_SMOKE sisters who’s all militant and angry. The Snuffing was terrible- but why hold a grudge? UMBRA’s never gotten in the way of my business… speaking of, Eirene, have you swung by medical yet for those bumps and bruises?”

Eirene touched her swollen lip. “Not yet… maybe you could help me? You don’t ask as many questions as they do.”

“Sure sure,” said Coronis cheerfully. “Friend price for my favorite wrench wench.” She emitted an illusion of bandages wrapping around a broken wrench.

“You really don’t have any shame, do you?” Eve said before she could stop herself.

Coronis’ smile faded. “W-well, it’s not like that. All I ever do is give people what they want. What’s wrong with that?”

“It’s okay, May.” Eirene idly scratched at one of her bruises. “Corey helps me. She helps everyone… and it’s all voluntary.”

Coronis nodded. “Y-yeah! I don’t force anyone to do anything, I just make things available to them and charge for my trouble. If OPTICA or some other law force cared, they’d have a cop stationed here… but I don’t see any law.” A police officer wagging her finger appeared next to her cheek for a moment, then vanished. “And trust me, there are people who do much worse than I do down here.”

Eve narrowed her eyes. Maybe Coronis was right… maybe she did provide a valuable service. Living in an intoxicated stupor seemed more appealing with every moment she spent in this miserable place.

Midway through breakfast, a large, powerfully-built woman approached the three of them. Her build was rangy and athletic, clear strength behind her movements, but her grey eyes were massive and soft. They were partially hidden behind her iron-filing hair. “H-hey Eyes,” she said nervously. “Corey. Uh, new girl.”

“Oh, introductions!” chirped Coronis. “Cress, this is May, our new cryptobiologist. May, this is Cressida- we call her Cress. She’s all muscle on the outside, but don’t be scared, she’s soft and gooey on the inside. You two probably have a lot to talk about.”

Cressida wore an Arcane Suppressor behind her bangs, the dark grey metal block outwardly identical to Eve’s own. “We’re all witches down here,” she said sheepishly. “Guess you and I are a little more witchy than most, eh?”

Cressida’s speech was oddly clipped, she swallowed the last sound of most words. Eve wondered if it was a side effect of the AS interfering with her brainwaves or if she was consciously holding back. It’d be rude to inquire into her magic power, and Eve wanted to make a good first impression. “So what do you do, Cress?” she asked instead.

“Security… on paper. I don’t really do much securing, to be honest.” Cressida stared at Eve with fascination, then said the four words Eve dreaded most. “Have we met before?”

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