Daph watches Radiance and Charlotte return. Menagerie business? Or just a curious teammate being brought to heel by a wiser one? Who knows.
She’s been following Ghostheart around the market. The villain hasn’t made a false move - as far as Daph knows, anyway - and has spoken to nobody yet. They seemed to recognize something on the trip, and confirm this when Charlotte comes back.
“Ms. Palmer. I’ve found the individual I must deal with, but to satisfy your concerns I’ve foregone contact until you could observe. Shall we?”
The quartet approach a robed and veiled figure, holding a glowing orb in one withered hand.
Ghostheart pulls their sleeve up, revealing a chilling green aura where their arm should be. At first Daph wonders if she’d just missed this detail before. Or, perhaps, is it something that can only be seen when the person chooses to reveal it?
More importantly, there is a symbol, looking for all the world like a cattle brand burned into spectral flesh.
“Speak your wish, halfblood,” commands the figure with the orb.
“I was marked, but I did not consent to any bargain,” says Ghostheart.
“What is it to me?”
“Ereshkigal’s good name is at risk, if it is said that the Orphean Market now compels souls to servitude.”
The figure looks from behind their veils, glancing from face to face. “And you would perhaps say this, in the presence of the Magus and a priestess?”
Ghostheart doesn’t waver. “I cannot say else, unless I know who branded me thus.”
The figure raises its orb. There is a flash of something that obscures vision, but isn’t light - a darklight - and the five find themselves standing inside what must be a library. The shelves are niches carved in the stone walls, and they are filled mostly with inscribed tablets and scrolls.
“I give you leave to search, and to leave whence you came,” advises the figure. With that said, it takes its ease on a throne at one end of the room.
Ghostheart nods to the others, showing them the symbol again, and they split up to start searching.
Daph finds herself assisting Charlotte Palmer, carrying some of the heavier stone tablets to a workbench for inspection.
“So, like, where are we?”
“The city of the underworld,” replies Charlotte. “One of the oldest afterlives. Mesopotamian. There are prehuman afterlives, but this is one of the first places you’ll find recognizably human souls.”
“So who is this Erish Kogal person?”
“Goddess of the underworld. Spouse of Nergal, ruler of the City of Seven Gates. We’re in a library inside that city, if I am not mistaken.”
Daph carefully positions another tablet for inspection. “So basically Ghostheart’s gonna talk mad shit about the market to some big names, like you and me, unless they get help finding out whoever did that brand?”
“That seems to be the arrangement.” Charlotte pulls out a pair of spectacles for easier reading of the tablet.
“You got that much pull down here? 'Cause I don’t.”
Charlotte’s smile is charming, but Daph can see the doubt it covers. “I hope we don’t have to find that out, darling.”
Radiance’s voice comes from across the room. “Found it!”
Daph can’t help herself. She puts a finger to her lips and makes a “keep it down” gesture with her other hand. It is a library, after all.
Ghostheart is paler than usual when they inspect the tablet Radiance is holding.
“It is not one of the psychopomps after all,” they whisper.
Charlotte has a peek, and draws back. “Finally drew a bargain you couldn’t honor, I see.”
“No! No. I swear to you, this is not my doing.”
Daph holds up her hands. “Yo. Occult newbie here. Whassa problem?”
Charlotte points to the tablet. “This seal is a binding placed on Ghostheart, not by a member of the underworld, but by a demon. Paimon, a King of Hell.”
Radiance blinks. “Paimon? The little fairy from Genshin Impact?”
Charlotte pauses a moment to muster her civility. “No. No. This is a far more serious matter.” She returns to Daph. “This is a sort of infernal spirit, supremely powerful, who can be conjured for knowledge of the arts and sciences. All of the goetic demons hold secrets that could unmake the world, and the danger is that they’re relatively easy to conjure.”
Charlotte now turns her eyes to Ghostheart. “Explain your connection to this being.”
The mysterious occultist glances down at their arm, and says nothing, even under Charlotte’s increasingly intense glare. Finally they’ve had enough. “The binding compels me to silence.”
“That’s not very helpful,” says Radiance with a frown.
“You’re heroes,” smirks Ghostheart.
Daph isn’t impressed. “Hey, you pale piece of shit. That’s all we get? What about our deal? You’re gonna help me with Palamedes.”
Ghostheart glances at their branded arm, then at Daph. “If a forced bond can be broken with a demon, it can be with a god. To confront Palamedes, follow the soul of the butterfly.”
They incant something before anyone can speak further, and disappear.
Charlotte scowls. “They must be returned to custody before they can work any further mischief. I trust the both of you can find your own way out.” She, too, vanishes.
The veiled figure approaches Radiance and Daph.
Radiance shrugs at Daph, then turns to their host. “So um, neither of us have a library card. Um, do we need to put the reading materials back, or…?”
The orb glows, and the world goes dark.
Radiance and Daph find themselves outside Halcyon City limits, near the entrance to the cave. According to their phones, perhaps four minutes have passed.
The robot hero transforms herself into a human-looking girl. She smiles and offers a hand. “Summer Newman.”
Daph takes and shakes. “Daphne Palin. Mutual friends with Alycia Chin, huh?”
“Friend and roommate. I know she’d like you to visit any time you want - when she’s home, that is.”
Daph nods, and glances around the landscape. “What are we gonna do about this mess?”
Summer taps her chin with a finger. “It felt like Ghostheart wanted out of whatever deal they’d gotten into. I think they brought us along so we’d know as much as they do, so we could help them.”
Daph rolls her eyes. “Imma help them into an early grave if I see that schmuck again.”
Summer laughs. “I’m sure Charlotte will beat you to it.”
Daph starts looking around. “They said they left a bike around here. Let’s ride back to town and get something to eat, and let’s talk about this. One butterfly hero to another.”