"What does that even mean? 'Cease to be'?" I said.
"It means precisely what it sounds like. What is your name?" Red asked.
I got to my feet. "Sally. Sally Bruiser."
"Miss Bruiser. You said you are here on the Skull's behalf. To what end?"
"I'm looking for a girl," I said. "Gina McKennith. Disappeared a while back. Following the trail brought me here--to the Stix."
I still couldn't see her eyes, but I could tell something about what I just said troubled her. The way she shifted--the way her lips twisted into a frown. Her mouth was a wet, coral pink cradle; I had to wonder where on earth she found lipstick in a place like this.
"Gina McKennith," she said. "Was this person... important to you?"
"Kind of, yeah. There are other kids, too--a bunch have been disappearing. Do you know where they are...?"
She held out her gauntlet. "Can I trust you, Miss Bruiser?"
I peered at the gauntlet, then at her. "You're asking me if you can trust me."
"Sure," I said, and then I took the gauntlet.
I felt a soft and pleasant buzz spread through my fingertips; it flowed down my hand and into my arm, through my chest and legs. There was a brief flash of vertigo--a moment where I felt my hips rising up into my stomach--and then I realized that I was floating.
"Uh," I said. "Wow."
"Please come with me," she said, and then we flew.
I had little choice, of course--she pulled me along with her arm. We swept down across the Stix, watching the streets from far above--the sight was dizzying. Something giddy rose up from my stomach; I had to suppress the urge to giggle.
We were floating--no jets, no rocket-packs, no gliders. It was as if gravity had ceased to exist and we were caught in an effortless breeze; we swept over and between buildings, with the hustle and bustle of the streets existing as no more than specks beneath us.
"Do you--like, do you do this all the time?" I asked.
"Not since Voodoo Jones has acquired several guns to fire at me with when I fly," she said. "But I think we will be safe for now--so long as we move swiftly and do not wander too high."
We came to a six story building that was nestled near the north-end of the Stix. I could see the bottom half of it was barricaded and covered with graffiti--some of it strangely geometric, connecting together to form a ring of patterns around the entire building's circumference. We landed on the roof, where a door lead downstairs.
"Okay," I said as my feet touched ground--momentarily reluctant to let the dizzying sensation of weightlessness go. "So, are you going to tell me what's going on, or--"
"Voodoo Jones is selling lost children to a spirit that feeds on the forgotten," Red said. "He is using them as currency to purchase more power. And I believe he intends to do the same to the entire Stix."
I stared at her.
"Ah," she said. "Yes. I apologize; I sometimes forget it is better to start at the beginning rather than the end. Please come with me."
"I have been locked in a campaign against Voodoo Jones for some time now," she told me.
"Why?" I asked as I followed Red into the belly of the building. It had once been an apartment complex; the walls and floors were a sight better than Voodoo Jones' place, but it still looked like it lacked the basic amenities. I could see kids and teenagers watching me around the corners with barely cloaked suspicion. Some looked like powers--others looked relatively normal. "I mean, I get that Voodoo Jones is a bad dude, but why are you involved?"
"I arrived here six months ago, shortly after I was thrown out by my parents," she said. "Some of the people here took me in--helped me. When Voodoo Jones moved in, they were among the first people he 'dealt' with."
I shifted awkwardly mid-step. "...why not call the police?"
"The police are unconcerned with the state of the Stix or politics between what they perceive as street gangs," she said, and there was a bitter edge to her voice. "Voodoo Jones actively recruits the disenfranchized--those who are useful to him, he puts to work. Those who are not--"
"He sacrifices to a demon?"
We had reached the end of the hall at what I assumed was Red's room. Inside was a bed, a shelf full of books, and paintings.
The paintings numbered three in total--oil-based, they looked like the sort of thing you'd expect a highschool art class to produce. One showed the Stix burning from above--the other was an image of an enormous horned demon locked in battle against a knight in shining armor amidst a raging inferno. And the third was an image of the Skull--black save for the helmet--descending from the top of a building and reaching for a falling girl in a red hood.
"What--what the hell are these things?" I asked.
"Visions of the future." She shuffled awkwardly back, then reached to pull down her hood. She was pretty--dark skin and tight charcoal curls as thick as a thumb. Molten gold eyes and short, stubby eyebrows. "I saw, each in turn, through dreams--that the Stix would burn, a knight clad in vestments of steel would face a duke of Hell--and the Skull would save my life."