The Consultant awkwardly sat across Daos in his beloved tearoom. They'd both ordered their usual, but neither was drinking. And they hadn't brought any books.
He was still angry with her and they both knew it. But she was also looking tanned and well-fed, which piqued his curiosity.
"Where have you been?" he asked, keeping his tone light.
"I was in the Philippines," she replied right away. "I went to see the Oracle at Malabon."
Daos eyebrows went up. His face even brightened somewhat. "How is Angara these days?"
"Well," came the solemn reply.
By her somber facial expression (and the way she avoided his eyes), Daos knew the Consultant and Angara had had one hell of a conversation.
"She confirmed I'm not the Umalagad," he smirked.
"Correct," her tone was soft, but begrudging. "It was Angara who prophesied the Umalagad's arrival in the first place."
Daos was intrigued. "And did she confirm who it is?"
"She can't confirm, Daos," the Consultant wearily sighed. "The reincarnation is apparently protecting itself with an extremely powerful concealment charm. Aside for you, it could be almost anyone, and what's worse, they may not even realize it."
That's when it truly and fully hit Daos. Clark Kent doesn't know he's Superman.
He'd been in a sort of denial about that, partly wondering if Dominador was just being clever or feigning ignorance about his true nature. But now he realized once and for all that when Dominador said he "dreamt" about saving Daos, from his perspective, it was really was just a dream. The poor man had absolutely no clue as to what was really going on.
"I'll have to issue some sort of retraction," the Consultant grumbled. "I'll have to admit to everyone I was wrong."
"Not so fast," Daos said. "I survived the 'water-shaped bullet' - don't ask me how or why, but I did. The Lower Beings who suspected that I was an Umalagad, believe it now more than ever."
"Daos," the Consultant rasped, catching onto his meaning, "you'd be a target, a marked man, more so now than before. You'd literally be a human shield."
"I don't think so," he reasoned. "In fact, I think people will be a little more hesitant to attack me. I survived the embrace of a rusalka - how many humans can make that claim? Besides, it's a rare and priceless honor to protect an Ancestor. I'd give my life for...them without hesitation. For all we know, that's why I'm still alive."
The Consultant's voice came out low and there was a darkly ominous look in her eye. "This is a dangerous gamble."
"Always has been," he shrugged.
"You'll need more weapons, stronger enchantments, an even more powerful agimat."
"And possibly a new book," Daos smirked. "I may not be an Umalagad, but I have a feeling I'm close to its fate. I need to know more about my ancestors from the Classical Era - every seer, hunter, and shaman who carried the name Daos."
And just like that, they were back, like old times. Finally on the same page again, gearing up for a new mission. It was as though the universe had suddenly gotten itself back in order.
"I'll put in a call to Angara," the Consultant nodded. "She can probably help narrow our search down. Anything else I should ask her to look for?"
Daos paused, staring into space. "When I was dying, I saw...light, I guess? Warm light, golden...it felt like solar energy, but much more powerful."
"Like a sun god?" she asked.
"Yes!" he exclaimed. "Just like a sun god...maybe one who was patron to my family a long time ago."
He was half-lying, of course, but it was an operational necessity. He needed her to do the research correctly without actually knowing what she was researching. He was willing to be Dominador's human shield, but as far as Daos was concerned, the Consultant was at the very top of the list of people to protect him from.
She should've invited Daos to dinner. Sure, he would've dragged Dominador along as their unwilling, unwitting chaperone, but she'd rather have the two of them than her current dinner partner, who refused to actually order any dinner and had already taken his single obligatory sip of white wine for the night.
As usual, Antonello Gomez spoke to her in Spanish.
"Another building, Bibiana? This is getting out of control."
"It wasn't Daos," she replied promptly, sipping her Spanish sangria and savoring the blackberry undertones. "It was your friend, the handsome Korean gentleman who wears all those fancy suites and drives the brand-new Benz."
Mayor Gomez scoffed. "Mr. Im? You're blaming him?" His eyes were wide with incredulity.
"He leveled that building with a mere wave of his hands in front of witnesses other than Daos, including a member of the press," she assured him smugly. "What I don't understand, Antonello, is how you could invite that thing into our town, and then keep him here when you began to realize what he really was."
Gomez's whole body stiffened. "Bibiana --"
"Don't," she scowled, switching back to English. "You've been in denial. You've always been in denial. You've lived in the desert your whole life, and while our friends, our relatives, members our community dropped like flies day after day, you buried your head in the sand. Well, that was all well and good when we were children, Antonello, but that won't work anymore. You are the Mayor of this town, I'm its Chief of Police, and we need to get our shit together. How long have you suspected Hyun-jun Im wasn't what he claimed to be?"
Gomez appeared unable to speak; he seemed to have trouble focusing his eyes, as though he were struggling to remember something he'd wanted nothing more than to forget.
After what seemed like a tense, breathless eternity, he spoke.
"Our first meeting," he finally whispered in English, eyes lowered. "He came to me out of nowhere. He seemed to have the answer to every problem, offeing me exactly what I needed, just when I needed it most."
Bibiana was visibly repulsed, finally realizing why she'd never dated Gomez as a boy, nor married him as an adult. Everyone had always expected them to become some sort of power couple - Carmen Arellano had even spent years being jealous of Bibiana - but tonight, she once and for all understood why things could never work between them. Gomez was a politician, purebred, quick-to-denial politician. He wanted the photo-ops and the galas, the big salary and his portrait in a government hall, but the moment he was needed to actually do something for someone else, he balked.
"So you made a deal with an actual devil and told yourself everything would be all right," she growled at him.
"No," he rasped defiantly, even as his eyes betrayed pain. "Our people are dying from perfectly natural problems, Bibiana; they don't need help from the Other Side as it is. They don't have jobs, our high school burned down, people can't support themselves or their families, and the cartels come and go as they please. Hyun-jun offered me a way out of that."
"What is the price?" she demanded. "Your soul?"
"Nothing so prosaic," Gomez snorted. He leaned in, his voice going even lower. "Our town's population is about to grow, Bibiana. There will be new business-owners. They will open banks, shops, a factory or two, offices...and they will not all be human."
Next: Amateur Night