Prologue

I wiped the blood off my knife with a handkerchief I retrieved from my bag. Disgusting. But necessary. The air was cold. As cold as the blade in my hand. My fingers were numb, tingling. I was angry at the cold, for existing; for bringing me so much irritation. Though there are worse things that I could've been enduring.

I made a clean kill. No witnesses. No evidence. Just that dead man, lying in a pool of blood on the ground. His appearance stayed with me. His neat, auburn hair. His blue, lifeless eyes... They'd haunt me for a while.

The bounty wasn't much, but we needed the money nonetheless. A few thousand dollars would be sufficient.

"Is it done?"

"Yes, I've confirmed his death," I muttered into the phone at my ear, my voice deeper and raspier than usual, as if I was a man. "I'd put him on, but I doubt he could speak even if he was still alive." I took a picture of the dead body, a hole in his back where the knife had punctured his lung, and sent it to the address.

"Well done. Your payment will be delivered at the agreed upon place shortly."

"Excellent. Should you require our services again, you know what to do." With that, I hung up, hurled the phone to the ground, and crushed it under my boot. I turned a small dial behind my right ear. "The Shinigami Syndicate..." I groaned, my voice returning to normal as I brushed some of my hair from my face. "What a joke."

/

"Konbanwa," I said, to a plain wooden door. One might assume I was insane, if not for the voice that responded over a quiet but intelligible intercom.

"Desu ne? Anata wa hoshi o mimasu ka?" I heard from the speaker. Right, this one. I never understood this one; talking about stars?

"Un. Soshite, karera mo watashi o miru koto ga dekimasu." Stars have no eyes. They're made of gas. It doesn't make sense. But, it'll get me through the door.

"Hey Al, good to see you," Zachary smiled warmly at me, as the door swung open, holding an arm out for what I guessed he thought would be a hug. I recoiled slightly with disgust. The dark but cozy interior of the house behind was much more welcoming. Zachary was just a pest.

"I told you at least a hundred times to call me Allison," I murmured, frowning in response as I pushed past him and into the house.

"I know. But you don't even call me Zack, so why should I?" I slipped my shoes off on the dilapidated, muted red mat that sat in front of the door, and placed them on a shoe rack next to it.

"Maybe I would if you'd call me Allison," I shrugged, procedurally taking off my coat and hanging it up on a nearby hook.

"And we're back where we started. It doesn't really matter either way, so you should just forget about it," Zachary waved me away, grinning cheekily. I sighed, marching straight into the living room and plopping down onto the nice, cushy sofa. I was so glad to be inside after such a cold day. Winter is the worst season, I decided, wrapping myself in a blanket I grabbed from beside the couch. Without warmth, I wouldn't have been able to put up with him.

"I probably should've asked before I left, but who was that guy I just killed?" I asked, coiling up into the blanket like a snake in a boot. So cold...

"Eh, just some guy working for the mafia. Guess he stole something he wasn't supposed to, or got on the wrong guy's nerves. That's pretty much all I know about him."

"I see..." I sighed, hugging the covers a little more tightly. So very cold...

"Why the sudden interest?" I hesitated to answer. Zachary is always so nosy about my motives, and it vexes me. Nevertheless, I felt he deserved to know, so I caved.

"It's just... he was speaking on his phone to his wife, right before I killed him. Something about being off work for the next few days, getting a large bonus and things like that... He was talking about going on vacation. It just... didn't sit well with me. I suppose the mafia really does treat you nice before they bump you off." I stared at the floor, solemnly. I don't know whether to think that's sympathetic or sadistic.

Zachary hummed in acknowledgement. "It didn't sit well with you, huh?" I gave him a sideways glance. I saw the corners of his mouth lifted into a small, sad smile. That smile... struck me as odd. For a reason I can't really explain. I quickly looked away, for fear he would see me staring. I worried for him.

"Al, you alright?" His words returned me to my senses, and my eyes darted in his direction. "You're shaking like the washing machine."

I buried my face in the blanket, my eyes narrowing. I'm so, so cold...

/

Translations: Sometimes in a chapter, there'll be a few sentences in languages other than English. For all the non-speakers of the language, I'll be putting the translations here at the end of the chapter. Please let me know if the translations are inaccurate, or need to be simplified.

Konbanwa - Good evening.

Desu ne? Anata wa hoshi o mimasu ka? - Isn't it? Do you see the stars?

Un. Soshite, karera mo watashi o miru koto ga dekimasu. - Yeah. And they can see me too.

Information Leaks: The Rat is a notorious information broker, as dangerous as she is crafty. Known by a few as the Houdini of Harlem, she has more information under her belt than just about anyone in New York, and some would consider her trade more valuable than a chest full of gemstones. Sometimes, the Rat gets a little too tipsy. And some free information leaks out of those mischievous lips. Of course, these secrets are either spread far and wide, or held close to the listener's chest. Either way, they're here for your reading pleasure.

"The Shinigami Syndicate? Yeah, I've had a few run-ins with those guys. Most dangerous sons of bitches this side of the world. People may say they don't exist, or it's just a conspiracy theory, but experience doesn't lie. Something's out there. You'd best be mindful of it."