The Fiend was gone.
More to the point, Gdon's summoner was gone. She swung her head from side to side, peering up and down the dim street in confusion. A moment ago she'd been mauling the Black Rider's mount, ripping and shredding, leaving huge ragged gashes in unholy flesh. Delightful. But what had gone wrong?
She thought she remembered a blow to the head--maybe she'd been slower to dodge than she should've been. Come to think of it her skull was ringing a bit. These things happened even to the most agile of tigers. She would've been back on her feet in a minute, rending and tearing, toothing and clawing--delightful--if only her summoner hadn't sent her back to the tube.
But that was the puzzling thing: she wasn't in the tube, and she seemed to be alone in the street.
Gdon swiveled her ears, then lifted her chin and sniffed the rank Dark Realm air. There was no sound of Raidou, and no scent either. She called out.
With a lash of her tail she began to pace down the street. This was strange, very strange. Except for solo missions she had never been apart from him, not once since she was fused. Could he be hiding somewhere? But why would he hide from his own Gdon? Was it the Black Rider's doing? Even without her help, her summoner would make mincemeat of the Fiend. She had no doubt of that.
Wherever he was, if he was lost, she would find him. She was a mighty hunter. Her senses were keen. Besides, she could claim detective experience that few tigers could. Even flaming ones.
The buildings she stalked past meant nothing to her, but she recognized the salt smell of the sea. Here was the harbor; a flock of Anzu were wheeling in the dark sky above the wharf. Their shrieks grated on her nerves, but from their vantage point they could see much further than she.
She leaped at the flock. Before they could scatter she seized one of them in her claws and slammed it down to earth, pinning it hard. The Anzu screeched and thrashed and tried to bite her forelegs.
"WE TALK," suggested Gdon. The flaming aura that surrounded her raged as if someone had doused her fur in gasoline. "WHERE IS SUMMONER?"
"GRAWK," gargled the Anzu. "LEGGO. GEROFF."
"TALK FIRST," explained Gdon. "WHERE IS SUMMONER?"
It was not a productive interview.
Raidou spent the entire length of the streetcar ride back from Harumi-Cho berating himself. If he'd been more careful--if he'd brought more Ox Bezoars into the battle, or better rationed his strength, or done anything other than returned Gdon to her tube at just that moment, when the luck of the Rider's roulette had turned.... He had lost other demons since coming to the Capital--minor ones, Pixies and Pretas--but never one that he'd fused, one that had been with him as long as Gdon had. His right fist clenched on his knee.
The cat on the seat beside him glanced up and twitched an ear. "I know you're sore about losing a demon, but you also just wiped the floor with the Black Rider in two minutes flat, so you'll have to excuse me if I'm not panning your performance."
Raidou looked away, toward a lone empty seat on the far side of the car.
Gouto huffed. "What, you want me to dole out a lecture? Same one I gave to Nagi? Demons come, demons go, that's the way it is, and it's no use getting too attached--that old saw? Chances are she'll come back, and if not, you fuse another one."
Raidou said nothing. He continued to say nothing for the rest of the trip back to Tsukudo-Cho, all the way to the detective agency. At the office he said nothing until Narumi asked him what was the good word, whereupon Raidou explained that he had defeated one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
Narumi sprayed a mouthful of coffee across the rim of his cup. "Apocalypse?" He wiped his chin. "The Biblical kind?"
"Well," said Narumi after a pause, "that's a good thing, no? Can't throw an apocalypse without horsemen. I'm in favor of keeping apocalypses to a minimum around here. So why the long face?"
After a pause Raidou confessed that he had lost a demon. Narumi's expression turned sympathetic.
"Sorry to hear it. A good one?"
Raidou nodded again.
"That's a shame. But can't you just order up another one at Victor's?"
From his perch on the sofa Gouto shot a look at Raidou, as if to say: much as I hate to agree with muttonhead over there, he has a point.
Avoiding the look, Raidou resigned himself to private grief. No one understood his pain. If he had been the sort of person who wore his heart on his sleeve, he might've let out a sigh, but as it was he only lowered his head by perhaps three-quarters of a centimeter. Nevertheless this was enough to provoke renewed alarm in Narumi, who came out from behind the desk to clap him on the shoulder and say things like "Buck up" and "It's not as bad as all that" and "Why don't you go forget your troubles for a while, have a tall one at the soda joint. On me." He made a show of digging though the pockets of his trousers, and a show of coming up empty-handed. "Ahaha--tell 'em to put it on my tab."
Raidou lowered his head another quarter of a centimeter, then turned and left the office.
As she made her way across the city Gdon grew more and more adept at interrogation. If nothing else, she got better results when she didn't maul first and ask questions later. She had a vague sense that her summoner's lair was somewhere to the north and west, so she prowled in that direction, stopping to question other demons as she met them. When she came upon a Mokoi in Dark Ginza-Cho, she inquired politely: "HAVE YOU SEEN SUMMONER?"
"Summoner?" The Mokoi squinted. "Which one? Skinny kid with a sword, never takes his hat off?"
"YES. THAT ONE."
The Mokoi waved one blunt arm dismissively. "Sorry, can't help ya."
Politeness had its place, but so did snarling. Gdon bared her teeth. "YOU LIE. I AM NOT FOOLED. YOU HAVE SEEN SUMMONER!"
"Hey now, easy, tiger! Don't get your stripes in a twist! Sure I've seen him, but not lately. Not since the last full moon at least. What d'you want him for, anyway? Revenge? Evisceration?" The Mokoi whipped out a boomerang and tossed it playfully in the air. "I'm always up for a good evisceration. Except maybe in this case, because that kid is bad news. Plenty of tough guys go in looking to eviscerate and come out more on the eviscerated end."
"YES," agreed Gdon, "SUMMONER IS FIERCE."
"Or worse, they wind up in a tube. Ugh, I shudder to think."
"TUBES ARE CRAMPED," allowed Gdon. "BUT GOOD FOR NAPPING."
"Good for--holy smokes, you're not one of his flunkeys, are you?" The Mokoi began to back away in a hurry, but Gdon hardly noticed. She was staring at a paper bill plastered to a nearby wall.
Raidou had elected not to drown his sorrows at the soda joint. Instead he had gone to his room, sat down at his desk, taken out several sheets of paper, and in the course of an hour produced a stack of hand-drawn posters that would've done any missing persons bureau proud. The posters read:
Last seen at Harumi-Cho Catholic Church
(Here there was a rough likeness of a striped animal with wavy lines rising from its back. The lines might've been flames, or they might have indicated that the animal stank. This was the only portion of the poster that Raidou found somewhat lacking.)
REWARD: 20 Life Stones
If found please contact Narumi Detective Agency
Ginroukaku Building, Tsukudo-Cho
"Of all the harebrained--" muttered Gouto, as they tramped down an alley in Dark Fukagawa-Cho. Raidou had put up posters near the harbor first, and since then had been working his way back slowly across the city, nursing a faint hope that Gdon might turn up somewhere along the way. Gouto was growing more disgruntled by the minute, although Raidou had told him there was no need for him to come along. "Aren't you even the least bit ashamed of yourself?"
Raidou went on scanning the storefronts, looking for the next likely spot to post.
"Leaving aside the fact that we're talking about a demon here, not somebody's missing kitten, is this any way for a detective to handle a case? Putting up posters? You really think another demon's going to see one of those and--"
"Hey Mister Summoner!" squeaked a voice.
Both Raidou and Gouto turned to see an Onmoraki bobbing in midair like an onion strung from a rafter, its mouth agape.
"Are you the one looking for tigers on fire? 'Cause my friend said he saw a tiger on fire in Harumi-Cho, an' my other friend says he saw a tiger on fire in Ginza!" The Onmoraki squirmed. "Do I get the reward? Do I huh do I huh?"
Raidou glanced briefly but meaningfully at Gouto, whose ears went flat.
Gdon had never been much of a reader. The writing on the poster was lost on her, and if the drawing was meant to be a tiger, it was some sort of modern art. But as she prowled close to peer at it, cocking her head from side to side, she caught of a whiff of familiar scent clinging to the page. Not just paper, not just ink, but--
"SUMMONER!" In her enthusiasm she lunged against the side of the building, putting one paw on each side of the poster and rubbing her chin against it. In short order the poster was charred and smoking, but Gdon spotted another one some distance down the street, near the corner of the main thoroughfare. She bounded toward it, ablaze with relief.
The scent on the second poster was fresher than the first. She had only to follow the trail of the posters, and they would lead her to him. Clever summoner, to think of such a thing. Good summoner. She sprang out into the open street.
No sooner had Raidou landed in Dark Ginza-Cho than he heard a familiar roar. Not just any tiger on fire, but his very own tiger on fire was charging toward him, leaping the streetcar tracks and bowling over a passing Pabilsag in her haste. At Raidou's feet Gouto twitched his tail and made no comment, not even when the Onmoraki who had guided them surreptitiously pulled out a handkerchief and dabbed at its eyes, mumbling something about happy endings. Gdon reached Raidou's side and bounded in circles around him, growling with ferocious satisfaction.
"I FOUND YOU, SUMMONER. I AM GLAD. IN FUTURE SUMMONER SHOULD NOT GET LOST."
Raidou agreed that in future he shouldn't. He wanted to throw his arms around her neck and hug her, and he would've if it hadn't been for the flames.