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The late afternoon sun spilled warmth over the city, hovering just an inch above the crest of buildings to the west. The car's side radiated the captured heat against my back, and I allowed my head to tip backward on an exhale. The grit and gravel crunched under my legs as I shifted to poke a blade of yellowed grass at the ladybug creeping over my knee. I exhaled again, louder this time, and the meandering insect flew away.

Leaving Eoul's office had been difficult. Amoroth dropped us from the Realm twice before reaching the parking garage, cursing more flagrantly with every passing minute and failed attempt. She physically stuffed me into the passenger's seat of a car I couldn't afford in my dizziest daydreams and drove us to an abandoned lot on Verweald's outskirts. She didn't give a word of explanation. We'd been in the lot for almost two hours now, with only the words "neutral ground" traded between us. Behind the car rose a highway overpass leading into the eastern high desert. In the shadows of the brush-strewn underpass was a corroded access gate to the sewers where thick plumes of sulfurous steam belched up from the rank depths. The concrete walls and supports of the highway surrounding the access were predictably painted in layers of graffiti—but the crimson words "The sting of death is sin, the power of sin is the law" were clear and untouched.

Amoroth sat on the hood of her car, smoking her third or fourth cigarette with a spare shirt from the trunk swaddling her bleeding arm. The Sin was staring toward the distant city, where her tower was only a slip of darkness against a golden sky. The woman was plainly nervous as her left hand tapped an anxious rhythm against the car's paint. The constant ping of her ring striking the fiberglass was irritating the living daylights out of me. She was terrified of Darius, of what my Sin could do once he got his hands on her, but even deep in thought as she was, Amoroth's mannerisms were glaringly human. If their roles had been reversed, Darius would have been perched above the wheel-well like a gargoyle, baring his teeth as he sneered into the wind. I figured their behaviors came down to the fundamental differences of their natures; Amoroth was not Original and had once been human. Darius was Original and had once been Absolian.

"You could have dropped me off at home," I complained as I kicked dirt with my heel. I ground my palms together, trying to scrub off the dried patches of Amoroth's blood, which had stained my nails a disgusting shade of brown.

"I could have," Amoroth agreed as she flicked the ash from her cigarette. "Or you could learn the meaning of the words 'neutral ground' and comprehend that your hovel of a house is not neutral ground. Idiot."

"And you could have been rational and used a telephone to send a message, instead of throwing me off a building."

"The latter method ensures my point is taken seriously." She glanced at her watch, tongue clicking. "Waiting here gives Darius a chance to cool his temper before he does something regrettable. Darius always does regrettable things, but being torn apart by an ancient, half-crazed moron for a simple misunderstanding is not on my agenda for the evening."

"How will he know where to find us? What with this great locale you've chosen?"

"He will know. He'll know right after he extracts his head from up his own ass and remembers."

Amoroth crushed the cigarette, snuffing it in her palm with little thought to the burn it left behind. She began pacing, though she kept her gait modulated and unhurried, obviously aware of her nervous bearing and wishing to cover it. She was barefoot but didn't spare the prickly weeds any attention. I watched her and prepared myself to dodge if she tried sifting me through the Realm again for whatever reason. Her last attempt had been disastrous and painful.

"He's not completely irrational, you know," I said slowly, speaking to my scuffed knees. "I don't understand your antagonism toward Darius."

The woman scoffed, her voice cheap and withering. "No, no of course not. God forbid I don't conform to the little mortal's narrow understanding of our vastly more complicated lives and histories."

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