Co-written With Malakai Octavian.
The streets were busier than usual, but none of them paying customers. Consequence had once again become the sanctuary for those poor wretches that were coming in from the regions to escape- well- no one really knew what it was, or where it came from. But the whispered recanting of traumatic events, the cloud of sunshine yellow that brings with it only madness, pain, suffering and death, from these survivors that appeared as though a death would have been favorable than living long enough to be witness to the madness and death of their children, of their families.
Whole communities uprooted and streaming into the city. A city that was barely able to look after its own following the Giovanni War. The city was heaving with people, all of whom needed to be fed, to be clothed, sheltered, supported through this horror- and no one prepared to step up and do so. The Govt was in disarray and ill- equipped to deal with such an emergency, and so, small groups from among the population were starting to organize, sharing what little they had with these unfortunates- and Cielo and her industry was among those that stepped up.
What else could she do? The property that she had bought should be in full swing by now, operating and bringing in the revenue- Certainly Malakai would be expecting some return on his investment. But she had not seen anything of the illusive and enigmatic vampire half breed, and had wondered if his kind was using the emergency to hide their activities, skimming a few here and there to fatten their own population.
Who would notice- there were plenty of survivors who had lost their people, solitude and without protection, no one would miss them, report their disappearance or even know who they were. It was because of this that Cielo had opened the doors and she and her co- workers were operating an unofficial soup kitchen and flop house.
But they were running out of everything, especially space and food and if the local government, who were quick to make themselves known when it came to be elected, but were nowhere to be seen when they were actually needed, didn’t do something soon, put in some emergency measures, there was going to be trouble as resources dwindled, the price of everything went up and refugees and locals struggled to survive. She had seen it before. Riots outside bakeries over a loaf of bread. The tension was mounting. It was palpable. One could taste it.
His ‘kind’ were often prone to profiting off of the woes of others. Unfortunately, and very uncharacteristically, he had no such plans. The night after he had learned of the Golden Death Cloud, Malakai had gone on damage control. After all, he was among the few who would lose profit if the death cloud truly consumed Consequence and its surrounding areas. Among the few business oriented, he was also the financial manager of the Red Light District and Antinous and him both had been dead set on putting a plan into action that would guarantee that the Red Light District was covered in the event of a crisis. Unfortunately, the majority of his plans were expensive and required the influx of money that came from his own side businesses which were also in disarray with the news of the impending doom upon the city.
Construction on brothels, on medical facilities for the injured had been halted with the rise of crowds in the street, crowds that made it hard to work and harder to keep the people safe. Food was harder to come by, not for the people like him who only required blood as sustenance, but for those who had little money to offer in turn for the bread from bakeries or the meat from butchers. Long lines at gas stations, at grocery stores that had been full up to the point the refugees had started coming in kept businesses calling, screaming for more inventory while they were pillaged and riots started up over the remnants of their stocked goods. In the end, it would have been best for him to remain at his estate, out of public eye and a place he could hide from the fall out of the cloud.
He wasn’t the kind to hide, though, and that’s what had brought him to the streets outside the building he had invested in for Cielo’s sake. He was tall, taller than his father, with broad shoulders and a runner’s physique. Typically, he would have worn a suit. In this event, a rich individual in the midst of the worst parts of the city during a crisis like this made that impossible. Instead, he wore jeans, a gray t-shirt that made him look and appear as anyone else on the streets. The thing that set him apart most was his haircut that had to cost more than most here could afford, the shadow of an unshaven stubble resting at his cheeks and the rings on his fingers that signalled to his riches. Of course, those hands of his were stuffed in either of his pockets.
He approached the building without judgement. Of course, he didn’t understand why she felt the need to drag in urchins from the streets, the drudges of society that even now could have sent her to an early grave but his face remained stoic as he took his gander at rising the stairs and squeezing into the building passed the growing line of citizens and refugees alike. It wouldn’t take long to find her, he was sure, for there were faces here that he had seen in the past and throughout his time in the Red Light District. Many were faces he had bought, even if just for a few hours.
The steps leading to the open door were crowded with people. Malakai would have to squeeze past the stench of unwashed humanity and through a miasma of sour sweat drenched in fear, loss and desperation. Inside the building, there was a crush of people. The law firm had closed its doors however Old Mr Levin had set up a desk and was registering the names and details of everyone that presented. To keep track of numbers, individuals- hopefully to reunite some with families or at least people known to them.
Malakai would recognize faces of women that worked in the industry, that were now scraped clean of their professional masks, donned aprons and were doling out food, what there was anyway, to those that were queueing. Some of them already had that grey, pinched appearance that only malnutrition and starvation can deliver, and the empty soulless eyes of those that had seen more than their minds could take.
A couple acknowledged him with a nod, a raise of their hands but were soon drawn back to the task of feeding the masses. Cielo herself had been upstairs trying to get some children to rest. It was heartbreaking how many of them had arrived alone. Where were their people? Perhaps dead, lost, on the road with other refugees, the chances of reuniting them was becoming ever more distant the longer the remained. Just hearing the stories was traumatizing enough, what was more distressing was the amount that didn’t speak, didn’t talk, would just look through and past at some point in the far distance where images played out unseen by the rest of the world. They slept because they passed out when their bodies could keep them lucid no longer. They ate because they were told to.
Cielo was pushing her way down the stairs, past the grumbling entitled and the eerily silent.
“We are out of blankets!” she called down to the table that was set up to distribute food.
A rather harried woman, ladle in hand retorted with “And we are almost out of food!”
This brought a growing murmuring of dissent and complaints. Cielo appeared as though she hadn’t slept. The smudge of dark shadows underlined eyes that were hooded with weariness. Her hair tied back in a tail but she had hardly the well- groomed countenance of previous encounters, wearing track pants and a baggy hoody that one would not even think someone of Cielo’s tastes even owned.
“I’ll hit up Harry and see if he can help” Cielo responds, pushing a descent through the crowd before she sees Kai in among the crowd, a full head and shoulders above anyone else.
Dark eyes meet his, there is a pained expression on her face momentarily, as though his appearance would herald a requirement for explanation.
“Kai!” she acknowledged, before strafing her way through the crush to his side. “It’s chaos here” moving with the current of the crowd and jostled by elbows. “Come”.
Kai would feel a tug at his elbow as she moved towards the open door that let the only light into the windowless lobby and took a breath of clean, freshly polluted Consequence air as she staggered down the stairs and into the open street, away from the claustrophobia that resided inside the building.
His observance of the crowd gathered inside the building is one not borne of surprise but some sort of recognition. It reminds him so much of the plague days where doctors had tried their best to nurture those who were ill, or those who weren’t yet ill but were still showing signs of the struggles of their lives. Unfortunately, he can’t show much respect in the way of stifled breaths and the overpowering scent of musk, sweat… shit and piss. It’s everywhere, on each person in the building aside from those who had some chance at a bar of soap and fresh, clean water. His tongue traces his bottom lip and his eyes rise to the scan the room.
Only then does he hear her voice, does he catch her eyes. A once over is all he gives and he doesn’t look perturbed one way or another at her simple facade. He’s seen her in extravagant clothing, in business attire. Like him, she’s in a different tier among the clients she’s brought in… clients without pay.
As citizens and refugees begin to push their water toward food, sleep, rest, Cielo makes her way to him and Kai settles until she’s within reaching distance, combing his fingers through his hair before he’s following her suit and inching toward the doorway to the streets outside. Chaos is everywhere, though, and even going out there won’t resolve that issue. It only takes so long for them to reach the door way, spread wide open due to the flow of the crowd entering the building. Soon, they’ll have to shut the doors for there is only so many people that can fit in one building, one room, before you can, before it’s a matter of safety. Both a fire hazard and one that could lead to the crushing death of anyone who fell inside in the crowd’s desire to get free.
“When did this start?” he asked, the moment she’s stepped on the street and he’s followed to stand against the studded rail of her stair case leading to the inside of the building. “Things were going well, I thought, a week ago. Who had this idea?”
Two questions, first and foremost, before even asking how she’s doing or if she needed anything. He’s curious, after all, since she had goals and now with everything going on, those plans are surely on the path to derailment.
Cielo knew she would have to give explanations. He had arrived to see the place that promised to be a private members club and would rake in the money that filtered down from the financial district- his investment- turned into nothing better than a flop house for refugees. He would have a right to be perturbed by this and when the questions finally come, she appears reluctant at first to respond to them.
“Walk and talk?” Cielo suggests indicating that she would be heading towards the one place that might well be able to offer some assistance- The Blue Moon.
That crisp and business-like demeanor was unchanged, though it was clear she appeared out of her depth with what was happening.
“I have to see if Harry can help as we have had none from anyone at City Hall.”
A flash of irritation coursed about her visage and was gone as quickly as it appeared.
“I would appreciate some help carrying it back if you have time?”
But it was obvious she was deflecting until the silence as they moved away from the chaos became almost too much to bear.
“They were sleeping in the streets Kai, fighting over any scraps that came their way.”
She knew he wasn’t going to be impressed with her decision.
“I saw too many lost children, and too many who needed help so I rounded up a few of the girls, canvassed the local businesses for material aid and have set up somewhere they can get food”
Her brow creases with agitation.
“But it’s just not enough. We are swamped here, and running out of everything…and there are so many of them…nowhere…”
Her voice cracked a little. Damn, the woman hadn’t slept in two days and was existing on coffee and adrenalin.
“Nowhere for them to go.”
A sigh. She was spent, but pushed on along the sidewalk with the same imperious determination that she used to tackle any challenge she faced.
“No help. We have sent people to City Hall. It’s closed. Can you believe they have closed the doors?” whipping her head round and showing him an expression of purest outrage. “Local government is doing nothing and so it’s up to us.”
Consequence was hardly in a state to help anyone. It was still recovering and had been doing a good job of it. This was an unexpected, unplanned emergency and no one really knew what was happening or what to do- so she and a few others of the locals were filling a gap in service.
Perhaps it’s memories of the past that has him so quiet while she explains, especially when she suggests walking and talking, rather than remaining still at the site of their joint operation, though she was truly the one doing all the work with it. OR had been until disaster struck.
With most of his assets on hold for the remainder, the money from the private club would have been well spent in reassuring the safety of at least his home if he’d had the ability to transport it as he had assumed he’d be able to.
She had a right to be angry, as so many of the people on the streets did. But he had been through wars, lived through plagues, had undergone things that most people in this life would never suffer through. His steely gaze is not one that lacks understanding of her priorities but is of someone who understands thoroughly the damage that could be done during these times of strife and misunderstanding.
The halfling shifts and moves to step along side her, that is until the point she turns to face him, eyes gleaming in anger at the cities’ seeming abandonment of the lower rated citizens.
“The city is protecting its assets, which should involve the people but don’t. Tye Sampson has dealt with problems like this in the past.” He starts, his voice firm for the most part.
“His job isn’t to protect the people of the city but to ensure that its ties with the other continents aren’t broken. That’s why the city established rule of each district to those who were voted in by the citizens,” he murmurs, stuffing his hands back into his pockets.
“Harry and the imps will probably be able to provide some food, some blankets, but there won’t be nearly enough to satisfy your need, Cielo, if you intend on helping the people in the streets. You’ll need real support and someone who has the earnings to provide it.”
Is he really? Now, of all times?
“I don’t need anything in return. I just want this to be over and for things to be back to the way they were so my business can continue as normal.” He pauses, his steps slowing for a moment.
“I can provide blankets, food, even jackets and clothes. Medicine, though, is a different story and I’ll need to speak to the Red Light District’s leader about spending government funds to provide that to the sick ones, the ones the Golden Plague has affected.”
Up till now, she’s probably not realized she’s been dealing with someone involved in the government at all. If she had, she wouldn’t have said what she had, he imagines. “You’ll have to tell me what you need, otherwise. Security and the like. I’ll have it done.”
“Otherwise, I can carry what we take from Harry back with you. Let you deal with it in your own way.”
The pressure was starting to tell register upon her face. She appeared paler than usual, which made the shadows beneath her eyes appear all the more prominent. Without the powder and paint, there was still beauty there, but scrapped and withering as exhaustion takes hold. When Kai starts to speak and so smoothly come up with solutions to all of the problems instead of, what she was expecting- a perfectly entitled anger, she was both relieved, touched and starting to brim with emotion that had been buried firmly and deeply while she had to deal with this crisis.
“So where are these representatives?” outrage tilting her tone and volume. “There is no sign of them. No statements. No reassurance. No plans to deal…”
Again her voice cracks and she slows down her pace to a stop, a hand rubbing to shade a harried brow. Malakai just sweeps straight in to the rescue yet again, just as he did at the auction, just as he always seems to do, well placed enough to do exactly that, offering a lifeline when others were desperate.
As he had Cielo.
As he was doing now.
Her shoulders sag a little and her face is hidden by her hand. Had she known Malakai was involved with the Government and possibly had a natural role to play in managing this catastrophe, she probably would have given it to him with both barrels, perhaps it was just as well then that he did not make that implicitly obvious.
Instead, his suggestions, all of them good sense and logical, filled her with relief and an overflow of emotion that wouldn’t have been a factor had she not been working herself to a stupor, she and others, looking after the hundreds of people that passed through the threshold.
“We are sleeping only the children that arrived alone and mothers with families. People are desperate Kai, and it won’t be long before they start to turn on us for not being able to do enough. We need EVERYTHING! Food, blankets, medical supplies- baby formula! Women are unable to feed, they have been walking for days and exhausted.”
As she was listing off all these things, the rate of her voice increasing as words tumbled desperately from between dry lips.
“Yesterday I saw a man stabbed over an apple. People are losing their humanity through pure desperation so yes- we need more help, workers, people to be able to wrangle the crowds. Poor Mr Levin refuses to go home. He is a darling but I’m scared the lack of sleep is going to kill him.”
She starts to walk again and only now is able to appreciate the silence as they pass businesses that are closed through necessity. The strip is like a ghost town but for the women, but then- who has managed to get work with so much competition from those refugees who were willing to do anything for some food to feed their children.
The gangs were becoming restless as their profits decreased to almost nothing.
It was a powder keg, and it wouldn’t be long before the whole place exploded.
He could provide goods, could provide more employment. He could even provide her with tools to ensure her job is made easier. Of course, now he has to watch his spending and the amount of items she’s listed off is a small fortune compared to what most would have been willing to do free of charge.
His admittance of wanting his businesses back in working order should have been enough hint that there is a limit to the good will he can offer but he makes no second admonition in response to that particular sentiment and instead shifts his weight so he can reach out, grab her by the hip and tug her close as a bicyclist reels by, unresponsive to the fact that there are other people on the street. He nearly clips her, too, until Malakai releases her and lets her go back to her walking.
“It’s going to be alright. You’ll get three shipments tomorrow and a slew of employees will report in tomorrow morning. They’ll answer directly to you.” He doesn’t mention that most are mercenaries, bought with blood money.
“You’ll need to sign for the shipments and provide proof that you are who you say you are but otherwise, it’ll be a painless venture.”
He doesn’t need to tell her what’s in each shipment. One, of course, is bound to be a refrigerated truck with food. The others, blankets, clothes, pillows, even, stuff for children. The obvious.
“You’ll need to store things in the green house. Clear away the plants and dirt in the mean time.” He offers a small half-fanged grin before his blue gaze shifts from the street to her.
“You could have gone for office in the Red Light District and I’m sure you would have won. You care enough about the people that I’m surprised you didn’t,” he meanders with a small shrug of his shoulders. The past is the past. Not that he’s fighting the way things are now. “I’m going to need you to promise me something, though, Cielo. I’m serious.”
His steps pick up again, this time in tune with hers. They’re still going to Harry’s after all, right?
Malakai was so smoothly providing solutions to all her perceived problems that it was all she could do not to sag completely and release. By God, it was not as though they had not been prickling there long enough in the corner of her eyes, her throat tight with unshed tears. She could feel them, but refused to let them have their way.
If she was going to weep it would be in a private place, away from prying or judgmental eyes and certainly not in front of Malakai. Fingers pressed against lower lids and sweep swiftly the informants of moisture that would make her state clear.
The cyclist that rushed past did so with the same determined and single minded blinkered tunnel vision that seemed to afflict many in Consequence as they all struggled to survive. She wasn’t aware until after the cyclist passed what the man was doing, and it would not be unreasonable to misinterpret this contact.
Luckily she did not berate him for it for she would have appeared very foolish and instead, offers him a smile before her gaze follows the cyclist disappearing into the distance.
“I have never been so proud of my city.” she says quietly as she watches him fly. “People who can ill afford it have given up so much, not just material goods but good will. ” A tilt of her head and she looks up to greet his gaze
“You included. I know this was not the auspicious start that you probably envisioned for the place. I’ll get there Kai- I will, when the mandatory services start to show their faces and actually take some of the load.”
It was pure practicality right now that had forced her hand and all their plans, all of HER plans- would have to be put on hold.
She starts to walk, the sign of the Blue Moon appears in the distance and the familiar glow of cheery light streaming from its windows.
A cynical snort as he mentions running for local government and says “Oh I think I’ll stick to the ultimately less filthy business of whoring then dip my toe into that snake pit of corruption.” a chuckle at this.
It was not the popular opinion but then she never did have much call to involve herself in the machinations of the Power Struggles between the gangs, the drug lords who controlled the streets of the red light district more accurately than any politician or even law enforcement.
A nod at each of his provisos. She assures Malakai that she will be there to take delivery of anything and everything. She would not be leaving any time soon. There was just too much to do!
“Promise?” she echoes finally. “Promise what Malakai? All I can think of right now is promising myself a stiff drink at the Blue Moon before I head back with what I hope will be more food”
She had given him trouble from the start. Begrudging him on the street when he had just approached and offered his company, nearly casting him off as a client when this had been a business relationship from the start.
Of course, Malakai had his hidden objectives that even she was unaware of. This was how he got to people, making them think he was a white knight riding in on a white horse to save them or to show kindness when none other would. A ploy to get closer before he sprung and made his move, either to kill or at least toy with his intended target.
At least that’s what he’d been prone to in the past and he was no different now than he was then, a broken snake with fangs sharper than razors. She smiles when he saves her, though her smile is tinged with stress and he can see the exhaustion in her facade, the bags beneath her eyes that signal a lack of sleep or the steadfast nature of her degree of help she’s offered in the days since the Chronicle had left Consequence in such a sad state of affairs.
His fingers move to curl back inside his pockets and he shrugs tirelessly.
“What matters is that we get things back in order as soon as possible. Doesn’t matter the state that things are in right now. If people are counting on you, you have a responsibility to do what it is you’ve promised. You’ve taken up a cause tougher than most.”
And he only knew this from his experience in the field. “The business will return to its prosperity when this cloud passes Consequence and we’re freed from its embrace.”
He nods, as if to confirm this to himself before he glances her way once more.
“I’ll see to it they’re on time and that it’s rush service.” He nods again.
“I want you to promise me that if it comes to you and the building, you’ll leave when that cloud gets to Consequence. Don’t stay behind with the people or your friends. Take them with you, if you have to. My employees will get you to safety if need be, but get out of there. The insurance on the building will cover the lost structure or pay for the loss of life there but you can’t be replaced,” he finally manages as The Blue Moon Tavern comes into view.
“You don’t have to be happy about it but you’ll at least get the money back and I’ll be able to help with whatever needs to be done afterwards.”
He leaves it to her because she’s the one who has to make the choice in the end. The trucks will likely remain parked in the parking lot next to the building or in the alleyway opposite it. She’d have enough time to get free and out of the city if she needed to. He, personally, could see to it that she left but he’s not prone to forcing people into situations when he’s in this state of mind.
The halfling looks to the Blue Moon and then her once again.
“Now let’s get this done. You can fill your belly and I’ll gather what supplies Harry’s willing to give right now.” Truth was, probably a dolly with a couple of large boxes, he’d imagine.
She had heard the stories of course, of this golden plague, and her brow creases in consternation at his insistence. It was counter intuitive to be sure.
“You think it will come here?”
With everything that was happening, it hadn’t ever occurred to her that her safety and the safety of Consequence would be affected. She was too busy dealing with this crisis to ever consider her own well- being.
Most of the refugees that she has spoken with were from the outlying farms and villages around the once great Providence. No one lived in that metropolis any more, though there were rumors that eldritch beings lived in the dark of the caverns beneath the ruined city. She had heard the stories of the survivors and some of them had been chilling. Stupid! Of course it would be coming here.
“I will” she replies to Malakai. “I promise” but her thought automatically drift to those trucks and how many people will fit in the containers if the time ever comes to get the hell out of Consequence.
Both of them head into the Blue Moon and Harry is greeted by a very determined looking Cielo and the enigmatic smile of Malakai which could mean anything.
Cielo was not stupid. She knew that all of this could cost her dearly when all was said and done. But what was the alternative?
No- it wasn’t her choice to accept him into a kind of partnership but she was backed into a corner and needed an out which he had provided. She wanted to do all of this independently of anyone, especially men. If Malakai was going to be backing her then she really was no better than the only other Madam who ran a brothel in the Red Light District. And she had so wanted things to be different!
Right now- he was offering help. She would take it and concern herself with the consequences afterwards- and there were always consequences…
“Harry!” she greets the bar tender and is instantly at the bar and immediately explaining her predicament. Harry was no fool. he could see with his own eyes what was going on in Consequence, had fed enough of the newcomers at the tavern but it was limited what he could do and so was rather relieved to hear that Cielo was organizing the local community. He listened quietly and patiently to her pleas.
“We need only a few days worth, but we are literally down to nothing Harry. These people need to be cared for.”
With a nod, he disappeared off out the back of the bar and soon returned with an assured smile and she knew he would be able to assist. A gasp of thanks and an almost manic burst of relieved laughter and she throws herself onto the bar and hides her face for fear that she will cry with the kindness shown. It seemed a permanent state for her to be in these last few days- close to tears.
Malakai would stand a little away from her but it was clear the woman was running on empty and so as Harry was away, the vampiric half breed reaches over the counter and pours for her a large whisky that she receives gratefully.
They would get through this. With the help of such sterling Consequentials such as Harry and Malakai, Cielo would do her part. She could not help everyone but for the few that she could, they would love her for it.