Sky leaves Aliyah to watch over the bodies at the death-filled warehouse. Orienting himself, he realizes that the violent favela where his apartment is located is much closer than the Guardia Station, so he heads for Chowringhee Road. He moves swiftly through the twisting, mismatched streets, the crumbling buildings, ignoring the few local residents he sees, who at this time of morning are mostly ordinary citizens just trying to live their lives, too poor to live in a better neighborhood, too weak to challenge the motley assortment of small gangs that struggle for dominance. Sky knows that his presence is disrupting their shifting alliances and rivalries, and he plans to begin paying visits to the leaders in the coming weeks, after he has established his reputation more firmly, and encouraging them to reform or move on.
He notes how slowly people move, the few he sees, how exhausted they seem. The water, he thinks. Could it actually kill them? The answer, he realizes is that it very well could, or worse. Hell-tainted water...hard to predict the effects, but it could mutate unborn children, cause brain damage, cancer. What the Dukaines have done is unconscionable. He feels fury building in him.
He reaches his building without incident, but the rickety stairway up to his second-floor apartment has two young mortals sitting on the bottom steps, kissing, blocking his way. They are startled to see him, and separate. He realizes his anger at the Dukaines is showing, making them think he is a threat. At first he thinks it is a boy and a girl, teenagers, but then he realizes they are both male, one dressed in gang colors, the other – a year or two younger, perhaps – dressed in the uniform of the local school, hair long. The gang member is reaching for something, a knife perhaps.
Sky forces himself to relax and smile, and he says to them, “Com licença” in the local parlance. Continuing in Urbia, he says, “I live here. I need to get past you, that’s all.” He takes note of the empty bottles of beer on the bottom step, and realizes that while they might be somewhat drunk, and sleepy from staying up all night, at least they haven’t been affected by the tainted water.
The pair rise and begin to move off without a word, the gang member glaring an unspoken Do not fuck with me message at Sky, the younger looking more curious, perhaps recognizing that the deep indigo of Sky’s uniform means he is an immortal. Sky calls out to them, “Hey, what are your names?” He tries to sound more like a neighbor than a cop, but they still look at him with suspicion.
The smaller, long-haired boy glances at his companion, then says, “I’m Sundar. This is Paolo.”
“Thank you. I’m Tumai-Sukai, of Three Rats Station. It’s good to meet you.” He pauses, looking them over. “Listen, don’t drink the water. There is something in it, making people ill. You know the Copper Pot? Dona Kyri’s place? Tell your friends and family, go there. We’ll be distributing safe water there soon.”
The older boy looks worried at that, while the younger nods and says, “Obrigado.” They move off.
Sky climbs the stairs to his apartment, automatically skipping the steps that creak. He unlocks the door and enters, glad to see no one has yet broken into the place, strides past his unused furniture, thinking he really ought to dust it to make it look like someone actually lives here, and touches his hand to the far wall, forming a sigil in his mind. A large patch of wall glows briefly in the shape of a door, and he steps through into another universe.
He steps into the small kitchen – more of a food-preparation corner, really – and opens a rune-covered icebox that, for a trickle of mana, keeps things cold without actually needing ice or electricity. He takes out a large bottle of water and drinks it down without pause, draining it, then refills it from the sink, which is simply connected by a hose behind the walls to the bath. He sniffs the water, but it bears no hellish taint, not that he really thought it might. He has no idea where the water comes from or goes, just that it is constantly, slowly replaced, but he knows it would be too much of a coincidence for the water to have originated here in Three Rats.
He pauses and corrects that thought. I’m not in Three Rats, he reminds himself. I’m not even in the City. I am alone in a universe of one.
He shakes his head, too tired to be thinking thoughts like that, and puts the refilled bottle in the icebox. He returns to the same patch of wall as before and puts his hand on it, silently forming a different sigil in his mind this time. The door shape glows yellow and he steps through into his office in the Three Rats Guardia Station.
Just as he steps through, he curses himself for a fool, remembering that he had left Alma sleeping on his sofa. What if she wakes up? What if she sees me? She’ll know about my secret home. His shoulders slump with relief when he sees that Alma is not there. She must have woken and left. He cannot help but smile when he sees that she has folded the blanket he spread over her, the edges precisely aligned, and set the pillow on top of it.
He almost puts them away in his locker, but then thinks again. He hasn’t slept in over a day, and though he can put off sleep for several days more if necessary, doing so puts a constant, increasing drain on his mana. He has been doing that too much lately, ever since taking up this assignment as commanding officer of the station. And he is still healing as well, which in itself drains his energy. There is no telling how long this crisis will last. He decides he must pace himself, and catch some shut-eye, soon.
But not yet. He opens the door and steps out into chaos. Sgt Machado is shouting orders, but pauses when he sees Sky. The Inspector approaches him.
“Sir,” says Machado, looking confused. “I thought you were out.”
“I was. Corporal Kaur is at a warehouse, keeping guard over a crime scene.” Sky rattles off the address. “We need to send Doctor Velasquez there to examine the scene. And I would like Constable Lamore to accompany him.”
Machado looks at Sky a bit strangely, but the Inspector’s expression does not encourage questions. Instead he shouts across the room, “Lamore! Go find Doc Nate and bring him here!”
A minute later, Constable Lamore is standing at attention before them, with a sleepy, grumpy-looking Nataniel. “Doctor,” says Sky, “while you are checking the scene, I want you to be very careful. There is at least one crossbow bolt, embedded in the skull of a deceased demigoddess, that has demonblood ichor coating the arrowhead. If you are not familiar with it–”
“Oh, I am familiar, señor. But how did you know…?”
“I’ve encountered it before. The smell is quite distinctive. Just be careful with it. Even a small amount in a wound can kill a mortal very painfully.” Sky turns to Cala. “Constable Lamore...I need to speak with you privately.”
He takes her into his office, much to the surprise of Sgt Machado, who looks as if he might protest before Sky shuts the door behind them. Cala also looks worried. “Sir? What–”
“Corporal Kaur made a very unusual request. Our murderer seems to be someone she knows. She wants a chance to contact this assassin and bring in the pearl, which we assume she stole from the Dukaine thugs, which they had stolen from the Oracle.”
Cala goes pale. “You mentioned a crossbow bolt to Doc Nate...”
Sky looks at her grimly. “Three people...two mortals and a demigoddess. Killed by someone supremely skilled with a crossbow.”
Cala looks sick. “Sir...I…”
“Cala, I decided to trust Aliyah. I gave her a day. But she is going to need your help. And I need you to tell me right now...am I right to trust her? I appreciate her loyalty to her friend, but that is none of my business. I want to get this pearl back. Lady Doria says it is extremely important. Is this the best way to go about it?”
Cala looks back at him for a long time, struggling, and the moment of her decision is clear on her face. “Sir...Aliyah is right. She and I...we can find this person, speak to her. We can get this pearl back. I-I’m sure of it.”
Sky notes the quaver in her voice. He says very soberly, “You understand, if I trust you both, and it backfires… There is a great deal at stake here. Thousands of lives, potentially.”
Cala swallows. “Yes sir. I understand.”
He opens the door for her. “Very well, Constable. Go to it, then. You have one day.”
As Cala and Nate leave, Machado approaches Sky. “Inspector,” he says stiffly, “is there something I should know concerning GC Lamore?”
Fighting off another wave of exhaustion, Sky snaps in a low voice, “Sergeant, we are in a crisis. This is not the time to be asking me to explain myself, assuming there is any appropriate time for that!” Machado balks and takes a step back, and Sky cuts him off as he opens his mouth. “This is a Dei situation, but it affects the mortal population far more than the immortal one. As you know, we’re organizing distribution of safe water at the Copper Pot. I want at least four experienced Guardia there, keeping things orderly, and the rest spreading through the ward, telling people to go to the Copper Pot for safe water and checking on anyone who may need medical care. There may be looters, as well, outsiders coming in, or Dukaine scions who know not to drink the water, taking advantage of the situation.” He stops and takes a breath, and puts a hand on Machado’s shoulder. “Meanwhile, yes, Kaur and Lamore are taking care of something else while the Dei are handling the mystical side of things. Three Rats is in trouble. We all need to pull together now, and not worry about protocol.” Sky is heartened to see the resentment melt away on Machado’s face, followed by the man’s sober nod. “Good. Now I trust you to take care of deploying our forces. I need to check on something else.” Machado straightens and salutes, and Sky returns it.
As Machado begins giving orders, Sky heads downstairs to the records room. Like many things at the station, it is barely large enough to suffice in its purpose. He finds Mayumi and Sage standing at the desk that is squeezed into a corner, boxes of records pulled from the shelves, and folders from them on the desk. He notes how carefully the folders are organized so that nothing will end up out of place when it comes time to put everything away, and wonders absently which of the Bunnies is more responsible for that.
They both turn as he enters. “Inspector!” says Mayumi. “We know the demigoddess’ name! Gewyra...not sure if I’m pronouncing it right, but she’s been arrested before, in Little Falls, and is suspected in enforcement-style crimes for various organizations. And we think we know who the wizard and the muscle are, as well…” She trails off as Sky leans heavily against the frame of the door.
Sage asks, “Are you all right, sir? You look very tired.”
Sky straightens and shakes his head. “Sorry. Good work. Unfortunately all three of the suspects are dead.” He pauses as they take this in. “We believe the pearl is in the hands of their killer. So what I want to focus on now is finding connections between these three, and a female killer who uses a crossbow, possibly with poisoned bolts.” He wants to make sure he has all the information he needs to pursue the investigation in case Aliyah and Cala fail. And the Bunnies may well discover information about Kaur and Lamore’s old friend that they themselves do not know.
Sage breathes, “She killed a demigoddess?”
Sky nods as he moves between them and sits in the desk chair, bringing his head roughly level with theirs. “It’s not easy, but even gods can be killed. Now, take me through everything you know so far.”