Roz was already in the office. Of course; he'd barely sleep if there was still a case to solve.
I shuffled in and left the door to clatter shut behind me. He didn't look up before stating, simply: "You're a wreck."
I half-mumbled, half-rasped something at him. To my pounding ears it sounded vaguely like "fuckyouneedashower."
"Water shut off today. Pipe rusted through or something. Apparently the basement's flooded."
"You have a client."
I stopped. Blinked. The greasy fog in my field of vision swirled and resolved into my partner, Roz, and a woman.
I glared blearily at Roz. He shrugged with the minutest of movement, but his face remained infuriatingly nonchalant, eyes casually running over some of his case files in one hand, a mug of coffee steaming in the other. He was sitting on the desk.
On the desk. When we had a client.
We had a client!
My gaze lurched toward her, while my mind struggled to keep up in between imagining the darkest of punishments for Roz.
"Gurgh." My greeting came out as a turbulent cough. Fuck. Fuckfuckfuc―
I became vaguely aware of the woman's face. Her eyes. Wide. Abundantly blue. Terrified. She was barely registering my obscenely disheveled act.
But that could change. Fuck, but my head hurt, and my stomach. I doubted her distress would hold out if I belched bile and yesterday's dinner all over the floorboards, and our firm could not afford to lose clients. There was, of course, only one solution.
Of course, a nagging, self-loathing voice in the back of my mind chided, it's not like we weren't about to do this very thing regardless of who was in the office this morning. We were looking forward to it...
I dropped to my knees and sat back on my heels, letting my arms rest palms up on my knees. My eyes were already closed. Try as I might to avoid it, to forget it, the action had become automatic.
I focused my thoughts on a single passage, a mantra. Everything else, all other sensation, was nullified. I'm told that I sometimes speak it, so low that it borders on inaudibility, but of course I can never hear it at the time.
Worshipful we praise You
MotherJoyous we sing to YouPure and whole we sanctify our bodies
All for You
MotherCleansed and shining
Your light undarkenedOur flesh unmarked, uncorrupted
Our Lady of the Universal SolventMother of the Sterilizing Catalyst―"
SHE seized me, and suddenly "I" was no more.
Contact with the Divine is not a good experience―although, to be fair, it fails to be experiential for most of it. The simple fact is that the gods are not human, never were human (despite the baffling number of apotheosis myths), and can barely be said to possess intelligence as we understand it. Oh, they know things, that much is never in doubt―one might more precisely say that they are, in essence, the knowing-of-things. But how can you emotionally relate to living concepts?
One wonders why the gods are so "interested" to sentient physical life. It's the wrong word, of course, but to talk of the gods is to insist on metaphor. Then, one makes contact, and the system of world becomes terrifyingly clear.
The gods eat ego and shit power. Your consciousness is put to work cohering their own, and (pursuant to your prayer) they may use those brief moments of executive function to help you out. Key word, "may." That's why it's a leap of faith.
SHE, "Our Mother of the Sterilizing Catalyst" and so on, less poetically called the Homeostatrix, is one of "ours," a deity with a portfolio directly touching on the peculiarities of humanity. Somehow part of HER essence contains a description of human "baseline" blood chemistry, and HER tendency is to convert any pollutant directly into what I've heard is a rather hypnotic play of light in the visible spectrum, emitted from the pores, with brief bursts in the low ultraviolet. No one has quite figured out where the extra mass-energy goes, but such is to question the ways of the divine. Whatever the means, it all comes down to the simple fact that HER presence, for the low price of a few minutes' oblivion, makes for a superlative hangover cure.
When I regained integrity, my pores still sparkled with the last photons of what used to be alcohol, and my head spun with a sense of purpose and wonderment at the vast glory of the univ―I shook it off and stood up.
"So it's true." The woman's voice quavered, but just barely. Her eyes were as wide as ever.
"Apologies for my poor behavior, miss. Allow me to introduce myself. I'm..."
"Valiant-heart-steadfast-before-the-gaze-of-the-universal-One. I've heard of you."
I blinked. Very, very few people knew the given to me at my... birth. "You've... heard of me? That's―" but I quickly regained my composure. "But call me Val. I know my liturgy well enough, obviously, so I don't need any verses repeated."
She blinked back, and didn't laugh. "Val then." Her voice had lost its quaver. "I need your help."
I blinked again. And again. "I... I'm sorry, but I don't handle the investigations. You should direct your inquiry to my partner Rostilev there―" I nodded towards my infuriatingly calm partner, still reading notes as if we didn't exist, but the woman shook her head.
"I know that. I don't need an investigation. I've heard what you can do. What you do. What you are."
Oh hell. Oh fucking hell. "I don't know what you've heard, lady, but I'm not―there's no such thing as―"
"Beloved of the gods."
Incarnated, I almost said. Thankfully I held my tongue long enough to switch that word―never a good one to just blurt out―for a much more blurt-worthy "What?"
"I can see that. I know. Because I am too, in my own way."
This was a new one. The gods are many things to humankind, and humankind are many things to the gods, but never 'beloved.' Maybe it was because my little ritual actually worked, so apparently spontaneously, and did what I wanted? Maybe I could believe that, but...
"What do you mean, 'beloved'?"
She pushed herself off from my desk and walked toward me, her eyes growing liquid, about to tear up.
"I need you to bring my husband back."
I took half a step back. This conversation was entirely too strange. Something about gods and love, but now a simple missing persons case? "Your husband? Madam, I still believe that falls under Rostilev's purview..."
"My husband is a god."
I vaguely registered silence to my left as Roz stopped rifling through his papers, the nonchalance vanished.
To this, I had no answer.