Wracked by waves of nausea and thirst, Kyri staggers downstairs from her apartment over the Copper Pot. Her face is paler than usual, her hair a disheveled pile on top of her head, her only thoughts of the cool, salving water she so desperately needs.
Grabbing the mermaid handle of the antiquated water pump with one trembling hand, Kyri pumps out water, plunging her face into the hopefully reviving stream. Moments later, she falls away from the pump, spluttering and retching at the taste of the tainted water. Once she has recovered, she fills a jug with water and purifies it by infusing it with mana, grimacing at the unexpectedly great, head-throbbing exertion.
Marginally recovered, she retires to a table with a large steaming mug of coffee, the first light of dawn shining fitfully through her windows, ruefully remembering the events of the previous evening entangled with her memories of the strange dreams which tantalised and tormented her in the brief hours of sleep following her drunken revelation. Engulfed in waves of thought and recollection, Kyri does not immediately notice the arrival of Corporal Aliyah and Inspector Tuma-Sukai with a woman she has never seen before. As they sit down at the table with her, Kyri grimaces with amusement, He comes in here with a different woman every time! It might be for an investigation, but maybe Mister Sky has some form! Aliyah waves to her with a smile, then stands off to the side, near the door, to let the gods converse.
“Morning Inspector Sky... you’ll have to bear with me, I’m not quite up to singing and dancing this morning. I’m just a teensy bit hungover,” says Kyri quietly, cradling her sore head in her hands.
His forehead creased with concern and concentration, Sky replies, “I am sorry to hear that. You know, I’m not good at the healing arts, but I have learned a pretty reliable spell for banishing hangovers...”
“Oh no, I couldn’t possibly! I’m sure I’ll be right as rain in a jiffy!” declines Kyri with a forced cheerfulness. If he tries to heal me, he’ll know all about me! she thinks to herself.
“Who is your lovely friend?” Kyri asks, turning her gaze to the other woman.
“I’m Doria,” says the woman, holding out a web-fingered hand. “Sky thought you might be able to help us out.” She and Sky begin to explain what has been happening to the water in Three Rats.
As Kyri listens to their explanation, she observes the woman sitting opposite her. Tall and muscular, her shoulders are nearly as broad as Sky’s, her short, wet hair shining blue and green in the light of the café. As Kyri looks at Doria’s webbed hands, which rest lightly clasped on the table, she notices a small puddle forming around them, and thinks, Maybe I’m not the only one here who isn’t quite a god.
Bringing her full attention back to the conversation going on in front of her, Kyri comments, “So that would explain why the water tasted so horrible when I tried to drink some this morning!”
“You didn’t drink any did you?” queries Sky, his face once again concerned.
“No, it tasted so horrible I had to spit it out. I purified the water before I drank any,” replies Kyri.
“Would you mind if I check the water you purifed? Just to make sure you didn’t miss anything,” asks Doria.
“Of course, come with me,” says Kyri, getting up and walking to the kitchen.
As the two women walk into the kitchen, Sky sits at the table, deep in thought. Who to put in charge of acquiring water from outside Three Rats, who to bring it in, the cost... This was on a scale that made paying even a small fraction of it out of his own pocket untenable. Perhaps Kyri and Doria could negotiate with local merchants to raise money, and merchants from neighboring wards to be charitable. And what about gods purifying the water? Kyri had done so, and as far as Sky knew she was not water-aspected at all. But his own attempts had revealed that it was too exhausting to be practical – and Sky actually had quite a bit of experience in purifying salt water. Still, if he could organize all the gods of the ward, and get the mortals to pray to them to replenish their mana…
Suddenly Sky’s stream of thought is interrupted by the ringing of the bell over the café door. The street preacher Sky had seen the previous day is walking into the Copper Pot, his tin-foil hat perched at a rakish angle on his head. As the man approaches, Sky can feel himself begin to change, slowly. He stands and backs away, saying, “I’ve been hoping to speak with you, but, if you don’t mind, it seems I need to keep some distance between you and me.”
Aliyah, seeing her boss’ uneasiness, shifts her stance as the man passes her, ready to tackle him if the Inspector signals her to do so.
“Suit yourself. Your alien mind-power can’t control me,” the man replies.
Standing far enough away from the strange man to feel the edge of the nullifying effect without actually experiencing it, ready to move if necessary, Sky says, “I am Inspector Tuma-Sukai of the Guardia, and I have absolutely no interest in controlling your mind. I would however like to know who you are and what you just did to me.”
“Oh, the ‘charming Inspector Sky,’ huh? They call me Atheist Jack. I don’t believe in any of you so-called ‘gods,’ and because you can’t control my mind, you have no power around me.”
“‘Charming Inspector Sky?’ Really?” Sky asks. Jack rolls his eyes and jerks his head toward the sound of Kyri and Doria talking animatedly in the kitchen. Aliyah puts her hand over her mouth to stifle laughter, while Sky shakes his head ruefully, before saying, “I see. Well that’s an interesting ability you have, Atheist Jack, turning off gods’ powers. So why would you visit a café run by the ‘enemy?’”
“For an alien, Kyri’s a nice girl, and besides, she makes good coffee and knows not to try any god-tricks. While you’re here though, I need to make a report. Someone attacked me,” says Jack, sitting down at a table.
“That is something I need to know about. What happened?”
“I was walking home after having a drink here last night when someone knocked me out – strangled me, I think,” says Jack, gingerly touching the side of his neck, “When I came to I was lying next to an old warehouse with a gag in my mouth. I think I’d been tied up but someone had cut the string.”
“That is a very serious assault. Would you be comfortable allowing Corporal Kaur to examine you?”
Jack looks Aliyah over. “Yeah fine, at least I know she’s no alien.”
As Aliyah begins taking Jack’s statement and taking note of the cord marks on his wrists, Kyri walks back into the café, carrying a pot of coffee and some mugs, Doria follows close behind, carrying two large jugs of water. Both women are giggling. “That is the most anatomically correct mermaid I’ve ever seen!” laughs Doria.
“I know!” cries Kyri, “why do you think I’ve never replaced that old pump!”
Seeing the serious expressions on the faces of Sky, Jack, and Aliyah, the goddesses try to regain their composure. “Kyri is more than happy to distribute purified water from here,” says Doria to Sky. As she steps a little closer to Jack, she frowns as if feeling uncomfortable, but not quite understanding why.
“Provided no one minds a little bit of singing, they can have all the clean water they want!” trills Kyri. “Hello Jack! You aren’t looking so well – in fact you look worse than I felt this morning!”
“Well you did drink a hell of a lot last night,” replies Jack blandly.
“Kyri,” interrupts Sky, “Jack was attacked after leaving here last night. Did you see anyone suspicious hanging about? Perhaps someone who might have followed him?”
“Oh no, Inspector, I didn’t,” Kyri cries as she rushes over to Jack. “Oh my! Look at those bruises on your neck! You poor thing!”
Aliyah says to Sky, “Minor bruising on the neck, Inspector, consistent with a blood choke-out from somebody wearing something like a bracer on his forearm, with a buckle that pressed into Mr Jack’s skin. Whoever it was knew what he was doing.”
“Oh, Jack!” gasps Kyri. She breaks away and rushes back into the kitchen.
“And the bruises on his wrists and ankles?” asks Sky.
“Thin cord, sir, like twine maybe,” Aliyah reports.
“Anything stolen from you, Jack?” Sky asks.
“Like I told this cop, I don’t carry much cash on me, but none of it was missing.”
Kyri returns with a small wet towel, wrapped around some ice. “Thank goodness the ice man made his delivery only a couple of days ago. Wrists please, sir!” commands Kyri imperiously, giggling. Sighing grumpily, rolling his eyes, Jack holds out his wrists and lets her ice them for him.
“Kyri, Doria – Corporal Kaur and I had better be on our way,” says Sky standing to leave. “We’re going to look into this right now, Jack. I think someone may have been using your ability for something, and I want to know what. If you remember any other details, please come to the Guardia station – there is always at least one Guardia Popula on duty.”
“Yes, well... I’ll be seeing you,” responds Jack.
Jack watches Sky and Aliyah leave the café, and Doria soon after makes her farewell and leaves to start organizing the Oracle’s worshipers to bring in water from outside the Three Rats ward. Kyri pours a cup of coffee for Jack, refilling her own in the process. Sitting down opposite Jack, she asks him, “Are you all right? Those bruises look painful.”
“I’m fine,” he replies. “What about you? You were pretty drunk last night.”
“I’m still a little under the weather,” she says, grimacing, “but I'll be fine. Um... I didn’t do anything too stupid last night did I? I know I said some things but...”
“You didn’t do anything,” he responds, all the while thinking, Why am I reassuring this alien and keeping her secrets? And why is she being so kind to me? She knows she has no power over me...