SUNNY LIVED IN BROOKLYN Heights, in a loft apartment on a quiet street. Not a place I visit often, which accounts for my not having spotted her sooner. Most of our kind take the discreet approach; gods have enemies too, you know, and we find it pays to keep our glam to ourselves.
But Sunny was different. For a start, according to Arthur (what a dumb name!), she didn’t know what she was anymore. It happens sometimes; you just forget. You get all wrapped up in your present Aspect; you start to think you’re like everyone else. Perhaps that’s what kept her safe for so long; they say gods look after drunks and half-wits and little children, and Sunny certainly qualified. Transpires that my old pal Arthur had been looking after her for nearly a year without her knowing it, making sure that she got the sunshine she needed to be happy, keeping sniffers and prowlers away from her door.
Because even the Folk start getting suspicious when someone like Sunny lives nearby. It wasn’t just the fact that it hadn’t rained in months; that sometimes all of New York City could be under a cloud but for the two or three streets surrounding her block; or the funny northern lights that sometimes shone in the sky above her apartment. It was her, just her, with her face and her smile, turning heads wherever she went. A man—a god—could fall in love.
Arthur had dropped his raingod Aspect, and was now looking more or less like a regular citizen, but I could tell he was making a hell of an effort. As soon as we crossed the Brooklyn Bridge I could see him beginning to hold it in, the way a fat man holds in his gut when a pretty girl comes into the room. Then I saw her colours—from afar, like lights in the sky, and the look on his face—that look of truculent yearning—intensified a little.
He gave me the critical once-over. “Tone it down a bit, will you?” he said.
Well, that was offensive. I’d looked a lot flashier as Lukas Wilde, but looking at Arthur right then I thought it a bad time to say so. I turned down the volume on my red coat, but kept my hair as it was, hiding my mismatched eyes behind a pair of snappy shades.
We were standing outside the place now. A standard apartment at the back of a lot of others; black fire escape, small windows, little roof garden throwing down wisps of greenery into the guttering. But at the window there was a light, something rather like sunlight, I guess, occasionally strobing here and there—following her movements as she wandered about her flat.
Some people have no idea of how to go unnoticed. In fact, it was astonishing that the wolves hadn’t seized on her before. She’d not even tried to hide her colours, which was frankly beyond unwise, I thought—hell, she hadn’t even pulled the drapes.
Arthur gave me one of his looks. “We’re going to protect her, Lucky,” he said. “And you’re going to be nice. Okay?”
I made a face. “I’m always nice. How could you possibly doubt me?”
SHE INVITED US IN straightaway. No checking of credentials; no suspicious glance from behind the open drapes. I’d had her down as pretty, but dumb; now I saw she was a genuine innocent, a little-girl-lost in the big city. Not my type, naturally, but I could see what Arthur saw in her.
She offered us a cup of ginseng tea. “Any friend of Arthur’s,” she said, and I saw his painful grimace as he tried to fit his big fingers around the little china cup, all the while trying to hold himself in so that Sunny could have her sunshine…
Finally, it was too much for him. He let it out with a gasp of release, and the rain started to come down in snakes, hissing into the gutters.
Sunny looked dismayed. “Damn rain!”
Arthur looked like someone had punched him hard, right in the place where thunder gods keep their ego. He gave that feeble smile again. “It doesn’t make you feel safe?” he said. “You don’t think there’s a kind of poetry in the sound, like little hammers beating down onto the rooftops?”
Sunny shook her head. “Yuck.”
I lit the fire with a discreet cantrip and a fingering of the rune Kaen. Little flames shot out of the grate and danced winsomely across the hearth. It was a good trick, though I say it myself—especially as it was an electric fire.
“Neat,” said Sunny, smiling again.
Arthur gave a low growl.
“So—have you seen anything strange around here lately?” Stupid damn question, I told myself. Move a sun goddess onto the third floor of a Manhattan brownstone, and you’re apt to see more than the occasional pyrotechnics. “No guys in suits?” I went on. “Dark overcoats and fedora hats, like someone from a bad fifties comic strip?”
“Oh, those guys.” She poured more tea. “Yeah, I saw them yesterday. They were sniffing around in the alleyway.” Sunny’s blue eyes darkened a little. “They didn’t look friendly. What do they want?”
I was going to tell her about Bren, and what had happened to Old Man Moony, but Arthur stopped me with a glance. Sunny has that effect, you know; makes guys want to do stupid things. Stupid, noble, self-sacrificing things—and I was beginning to understand that I was going to be a part of it, whether or not I wanted to be.
“Nothing you need to worry about,” Arthur said with a big smile, clamping a hand on my upper arm and marching me onto the balcony. “They’re just some guys we’re looking for. We’ll camp out here tonight and keep an eye out for them for you. Any trouble, we’ll be here. No need for you to worry. Okay?”
“Okay,” said Sunny.
“Okay,” I said between gritted teeth (my arm felt like it had been pounded several times with a hammer). I waited until we were alone, and Sunny had drawn the curtains, then I turned on him. “What’s the deal?” I said. “We can’t hold back the Shadow-wolves. You must know that by now, right? You saw what they did to Moony and Bren. Our only chance is to outrun them, to take your lady friend with you and to run like the blazes to another city, to another continent if we can, where the Shadow has less influence—”
Arthur looked stubborn. “I won’t run.”
“Fine. Well, it’s been a blast—Ow! My arm!”
“And neither will you,” said Our Thor.
“Well, if you put it that way—”
I may be a trifle impetuous, but I know when to surrender to force majeure. Arthur had his mind set on both of us being heroes. My only remaining choice was whether to set my mind to helping him, thereby possibly saving both our hides, or to make a run for it as soon as the bastard’s guard was down—