Lyssa opened the last box stacked in the foyer of her new apartment on the sixth floor of the Olympian tower. She didn’t own much in the way of possession; as someone who travels constantly for her work, it was best not to hoard things. Now that her consulting firm was setting up shop, she could put down some roots and collect some bric-a-brac, maybe a plant or two.
“When did I buy these boots?” she muttered as she drew a pair of Victorian style granny boots from the box. “Oh yes, that summer that I was in Whitechapel with Jack. Hmmm, now that was interesting fieldwork. Brief, but infamous…Ripper, indeed.” She put the pair back in the box and wiped the London grime from her hands. The heel on the right boot was still stained with blood.
The apartment was huge but hardly had any furniture. She’d had a few pieces delivered already; the essentials consisting of a bed and a desk. Now that she had joined the world of social media, she had several large monitors set up on a glass topped desk, so she could watch the interactions of her employees. R+M was a new start-up but already they had several high profile clients, including three elected officials, a cable TV host, and a celebrity chef. Things could only go up from here.
Her shoes echoed on the marble floor, all this space making her uncomfortable. All this space and silence. No “Welcome to the Tower” casserole dishes were sitting on her countertop; no friends dropping by for a coffee and conversation; Lyssa didn’t have friends. She had never needed them. The work had always been enough.
“You are getting soft. What would mother say? A daughter of Night should be able to handle the sound of silence in her own house.” Her voice echoed back at her, which was more unsettling than her bootsteps. She needed something to fill the void in this place.
She heard the sound of claws against glass; something was scratching at the living room windows. Hovering just outside was a six-foot-tall Nightgoyle carrying a basket, wings unfurled and treading in the air. Even across the room, she could see the slack jaw that allowed its fangs to protrude, the glowing red eyes peering at her from behind a thin pane of glass.
“Tartarus be damned, what is a Nightgoyle doing at my window?” she asked the empty space and the question echoed back to her. The creature waited as she slid open the window, bringing in the brisk breeze along with a strong smell of sulfur. Lyssa blocked the window against the creature, crossing her arms against her chest.
“What brings you here, creature? I did not summon you.” The creature shifted slightly as it hovered six stories above the ground.
“Madam, we beg pardon of this intrusion. You have a gift from an admirer. We were summoned to bring it to you.” The Nightgoyle spoke in Gargish, but Lyssa knew the speech of his forked tongue well. She had learned it as a child in the dark recesses of the Underworld.
“A gift? Who sent you, creature?” She kept her arms firmly crossed. Any Goddess who accepts a gift without question is a foolish one indeed, and Lyssa was no fool.
“I am bound to secrecy, Madam. I cannot say. I must only give you the gift and depart. Please take it.” The creature’s red-rimmed eyes bored into Lyssa’s; she saw a flicker of fear within their sanguine centers. What or who could make a Nightgoyle afraid?
“Is that the gift?” She pointed at the basket. The creature nodded, extending a claw to offer it to the Goddess of Rage and Madness. Something squirmed within its depths, something covered by a dark cloth.
“Please take it, Madam. I must return to Tartarus.”
On any other day, Lyssa would have left the creature hovering in mid-air without a second thought, basket clasped in an ebony claw. But today was no ordinary day. The immortal was feeling what she presumed was melancholy; something new and not welcome. Whatever was in the basket might be a distraction.
“Give it here, creature. And be gone. Tell your master if the gift does not please me, I will be certain to find the sender.” She took the basket handle and felt the weight of whatever was in the wooden basket. It squirmed heavily, lopping the basket to one side and then the other. She carried it back into the apartment and shut the window on the Nightgoyle with a slam.
She placed the basket on the floor, squatting down to pull back the cloth. She wasn’t afraid but she couldn’t imagine what kind of squirming gift would come from an unknown sender. Was it a warning? Was it some kind of threat? Lifting back the cloth, there was a small furry creature with a whitish stripe down its head and back. The rest of the fur was the color of flint. Its wide mouth snarled at Lyssa, exposing tiny teeth. It was some kind of baby mammal.
“What on earth are you?” she said, reaching into the basket and lifting the creature with both hands. It was about the size of an axe-head, with sharp claws and dark, beady eyes. She could feel the needle claws digging into her palms, drawing blood. Did the creature know it scratched the daughter of Night and Ourounos? Even if it knew, it wouldn’t have cared; you could see that in its gaze. A baby full of rage, without a care in this realm or any other.
Lyssa placed the creature into the basket again and went to her computer. Whatever this thing was, the Internet would tell her. She typed “what animal has claws and a white stripe on its head” into the search bar and instantly a picture of the being appeared. “Who needed oracles and soothsayers when you had search engines?” she mused.
“A honey badger, so that is what you are. Who would send me such a gift? Whatever for?” She said to the creature, who was licking its claws, removing Lyssa’s blood from each sharp tip. It gave a chortled growl in reply.
“Well, I suppose I can’t get rid of you, at least not until I know what this is all about. I’ve never had a pet before. Not sure I want one now, but let’s at least get you fed on something besides my blood, tasty as you may find that.” She squatted down again and picked up the tiny monstrosity, adorably packaged in soft fur. She caught the scent of the Nightgoyle on it and wrinkled her nose.
“Do honey badgers bathe, I wonder? I suspect we should find out. No pet of mine should smell like a creature from the underworld depths.” She stood up, holding the badger close to her chest. Her throat was right there, so easy for his claws to reach for. She felt his paw reach out, grazing the skin with the needle points. Yet nothing, no scratch or bite from the creature. The paw rested gently against her skin.
“Yes, I think we will get along just fine. But you need a name, don’t you? I think I’ll call you Ire. That seems fitting, don’t you think?” The creature gave a small sigh, and she felt it burrow into her auburn hair. It was almost a pleasant sensation. She couldn’t remember the last time something living made her feel anything close to something pleasing.
“Ire, it is.” The pair headed toward the kitchen sink for the first bath for the honey badger.
Outside the window, the Nightgoyle watched, flapping his monstrous wings. His master had required him to stay until the gift had been accepted. The deed was done and he would need to report all or face the master’s wrath. Nightgoyles fear little, but he feared that most of all.
“It is as you commanded, Master,” the creature said into the air as it turned for home.