Matilda and Ellison exited the Aldwich Row Community Center through same back door that they had come in through. There was a line of people in the alley and they pressed in as soon as the door was opened.
Matilda pushed the most aggressive devotees aside but Ellison had neither her forceful personality nor the upper body strength and was quickly surrounded.
He had to tell three women that he wasn’t interesting in human sacrificing them and that he didn’t know how sacrifices were chosen before Matilda reached in and pulled him out of the crowd.
“That’s what you get for wearing your assassin cloak to a sex cult,” she said.
Ellison followed her down the alley and around the side of the building to Aldrich Row.
“I can’t believe anyone would voluntarily sign up to be a human sacrifice,” he said.
“They don’t usually do it more than once,” said Matilda.
She shrugged. “There’s a guy I know who likes the attention. You’re lying there naked, hundreds of people chanting at you, while some guy in a creepy mask cuts out your heart. Most of the cults don’t want anything to do with him anymore. It’s no fun cutting into someone who’s enjoying it that much.”
They paused on the corner of Aldwich and Barking. The cart that did not sell ham and cheese sandwiches was still not selling them and Ellison ordered one.
“Well, I’m going to head off and talk to some torturers I know,” said Matilda gesturing straight ahead. On the other side of Barking, Aldwich turned into Marylebone Place, which led to Knots Hollow Way. That area was home to the Armforge Guild, the Paladins of Death guild of assassins, and the Butchers of Serenity, one of the bigger torturers’ groups. “I’ll probably hang out at the Butt and Oyster for a while. That’s where most of them hang out when they’re not at work.”
“What do we do if we find him?” Ellison said, paying for his food.
“Nothing,” said Matilda. “Unless the Rounders pay us enough to get him out. But I think they’ll be happy enough to just know where he is, and that the grid admins don’t have him. If they want him, it would probably be cheaper for them to buy him out, anyway.”
“If they want him back at all,” Ellison said. “I think Linota would really prefer that the admins took him.”
“Or, like people keep telling us, he staged his own abduction and is hanging around somewhere laughing at us.” She glanced back towards the community center. “He could have been back in that alley somewhere.”
“No, he wasn’t in the alley,” said Ellison. He’d seen Fulke’s ID when he was at Crewe Investigations. None of the people he’d seen anywhere around the community center — or anywhere else he’d gone recently — had matching auras. He was sure that if Fulke was free, he’d be around somewhere.
“You’ve got to tell me how you know that,” said Matilda. “If you’ve got a mole in grid management, can’t you just ask them where Fulke is?”
“I don’t have a mole,” said Ellison. “But I’ll know him if I see him. And I haven’t seen him anywhere. We’d know if he left he grid — my brother is keeping an eye out for me.”
“So if he’s laying low voluntarily, he’s got to be staying with someone,” said Matilda.
“We’ve already talked to everyone he knows,” said Ellison. “I didn’t get the sense that he had a lot of friends. Anyway, if he’s gone off on his own, he’ll turn up eventually. Either he’ll leave the grid at some point, or I’ll bump into him somewhere. So, assuming that someone’s keeping him locked up somewhere, where would you hide a prisoner?”
“Me?” Matilda thought for a second. “I wouldn’t know where to start. There are so many options. Glad the Impaler, obviously, if he’s got spare room. I’ve already mentioned that the torturers’ guilds are always looking for people to practice on. There are a few sex dungeons. I’ll ask around about those, too. You already know about the sex cults.”
Ellison thought back to the Flat Krim captains.
“Could he have have been press-ganged? Maybe he’s on a ship somewhere right now.”
“Not a ship,” said Matilda. “Too easy to jump off and drown. Nobody bothers with press-ganging around here.”
“He probably wasn’t drafted into some military unit then, either.”
“No, there are more than enough people volunteering for battles,” said Matilda.
“There’s another possibility,” said Ellison. “Fulke realized that he was being an idiot about the whole Krim being round thing and went off to raise sheep in some village out there in the countryside.”
“In that case, we might never find him,” said Matilda.
Ellison didn’t say anything. He’d found plenty of people who had tried to do something similar. It took a little longer, but it was doable.
“You know what you have to do?” asked Matilda.
“You need to go back to the sex cult, get in with them, find out if they’ve gotten any new human sacrifices in lately. If they have Fulke, either they’re keeping him in the city somewhere, or they’ve already shipped him off to their temple.”
“Do you know where the temple is?”
“No. Now, if you’d asked me about one of the bigger cults, like Evjun, then yeah, been there, killed a few priests, the usual.” She thought it over. “Evjun could have him. But if you had kidnapped Fulke and were looking for a sex cult to stash him with, why not start with one that’s right there in the same building?”
“Fine, I’ll go back there and see what I can find out,” said Ellison. “I’m probably going to have to change avatars.”
“Good luck.” She clapped him on the shoulder, gave him one of the invites she picked up from the cult earlier, then looked down at the newspaper-wrapped sandwich in his hand. “I guess you’re not going to eat that,” she said, grabbed it, and walked away.
Ellison went back to the cart to get another sandwich and thought about what avatar he should switch to. He probably had just enough time to get to the gate, switch bodies, and come back to the community center while the cult finished up its choir rehearsals and set up the room for whatever rituals they planned to perform. He should get an avatar that looked completely different from his normal self, so that the cult wouldn’t suspect that he was spying on him. Maybe he’d go as a wench.