This high up the wind blows eternally, cold and strong like a snubbed lover. Alecto perches on a steel beam that juts out of the construction work for the skyscraper, one leg bent and the other kneeling next to it. Her hair is dark red like the fires of old furnaces and slicked back smooth and glistening against her skull. Her skin is perfect, a slight golden tone hinting at her ancestry, but her eyes are like winter storms; black and white in equal measure and seeming to boil inside her face. The wind tugs at her neat, black, military clothing. Silver insignia sit at the corner of a high collar, but there are few walking the world who would recognise them now.
"Alecto." Death's voice is measured and even and the wind cannot tug it away or mute its volume. Alecto doesn't turn her head but she does incline it slightly. There are some people, if people is really the right word, that you don't anger lightly. "What brings you here?"
"I could ask you the same thing," says Alecto. Like Death, her voice cuts across the howl of the wind as though it doesn't exist, but unlike Death's inflectionless tones there are screams hiding in the depths of Alecto's words. "I like it up here, watching the world below. The people down there are so rich, so full... it's like riding a wave that never crashes. But up here... who's to die? Are you killing birds now?"
Red enamelled fingernails rest lightly on Alecto's shoulder, and even though she's not strictly human she can still feel a chill emanating from them. Her shoulder starts to go numb, and she wonders if Death has actually come for her at last.
"I'm looking for you," says Death. "I'm negotiating with Life. A truce."
The world blurs and suddenly Alecto and Death are sat outside a maternity ward on plastic orange chairs. Death's has only three legs and she rocks momentarily, finding a balance on it. Across the hallway from them there are tired people sitting on similar chairs, dark shadows under their eyes. A man clutches a young girl to his chest, and an equally young boy leans against them both. There are windows at the end of the corridor showing a grey, rain-swept sky and trees that lash their branches in restless futility against the weather. No-one notices their appearance.
"How would that work?" Alecto's voice is like frost in here and echoes unpleasantly. Somewhere in the distance a baby wakes and starts to cry. "If Life ceases to keep things alive, and you refuse to take them, what happens then? A world full of zombies? Souls trapped until their flesh rots away and finally frees them to wander the afterlife? It doesn't sound like there's much fun to be had there for any of us."
"There'll be unending rage," whispers Death. Alecto smirks, she can't help herself. "But no, that's not the idea. I'm fed up waiting. I cannot die until everything else is done and ended, until Life herself lays down and rests. And I am weary, so tired, sweet Alecto. I want a truce, I want a break. I want eighteen years of no new Life and no final Death. And I want your help."
"My help?" Alecto puzzles over this for a moment, but then as she starts to speak she sees Death stiffen. Death's hand reaches out, a carnadine fingernail pointing through the doors of the maternity ward, and a tiny flame of life snuffs out. A baby's mouth falls slackly away from its mother's breast and its eyes close as air sighs from its lungs for the last time. Alecto stands and the doors are no longer an impediment to her vision. She steps forward, walking through the doors as though they're a mirage and comes to stand at the mother's side. As the woman realises what has happened Alecto lays a hand on her forehead, fanning the anger and rage inside her until it is unleashed in a scream of Fury.
"Your mother," says Death. She and Alecto disappear again, and reappear outside a garden whose gate is made of transparent crystalline iron. Bees buzz in summer air, and there is the sound of many voices from within.
"Gaia." Alecto's tone indicates that she understands.
"I want you to persuade her."