Welcome to the world of Syn City, where magic is a thing, a host of races walk the streets, and the hardworking detectives of the SCPD are tasked with keeping the peace in a city where, on occasion, shoplifting means lifting an actual shop.
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Catch-all charms aside, Lena didn’t find anything in the alley that was obviously connected to the body, or whoever had dumped it.
While it was possible the alleged dumper had been responsible for the empty coffee cups, cigarette stubs, flyers, newspapers, and the lonely broken umbrella Lena collected, the body’s composition indicated it had been deposited by other, less physical, means.
The crime scene investigator, an airen or medium height—meaning her head reached Lena’s waist—arrived just as Lena was completing her sweep of the alley.
The CSO, who introduced herself as Nausara d’Vivianne, apologized for her lateness, having driven straight from a mass charm event at a fraternity party.
“Idiot kids,” Nausara muttered, her gilded eyes narrowed as she entered Lena’s evidence into her commulet. “It’s a shading miracle no one was killed.”
“What kind of charm did they set off?” Lena wondered.
“The morons ran out of beer,” Nausara explained, her copper brown features twisting into a grimace. “So one of the pledges decided to test his vast experience of Intro to Charmology to replicate a spilled puddle of Ninkasi—and not even the regular Ninkasi, but Ninkasi Light.”
“Why even bother?”
“Exactly,” Nausara pointed a finger at Lena before she tucked the evidence bags in her carryall. “So, the next thing you know, the entire frat house is flooding. Had to call in STAT to break the charm before we could even start clearing the scene. Shading mess.”
It’d have to be, Lena figured, to call in the Strategic Thaum and Tactics squad.
At that point, Kai returned from his scan of Mercy Street and, after a quick hello, Nausara headed into the alley to run her own sweep.
“Find anything useful?” Kai asked as four engineers from Syn City Thaumic and Electric arrived, all wearing helmeted suits that looked like something from a fantasy fiction convention.
“Not unless the killer was a chain-smoking coffee addict,” Lena replied. “You get anything?” she asked while the engineers marched past, two by two, guiding a rolling cart on which sat a long, slender cask, with a series of controls and gauges on one side.
“Not unless the killer transmutated into a cat, a rat, or a stray tanuki,” he replied as Bast, still in the alley, pressed the tent’s retract control, sucking the entire canopy into its containment disk.
As Lena and Kai watched, the engineers popped open the cylinder and then, to Lena’s delight, Bast waved a hand the body levitated into the cylinder.
“I didn’t know he could do that,” she murmured, studying the net of thaumic energy expanding from Bast’s extended fingers and around the untouchable corpse.
“That’s nothing,” Kai said, a hint of reluctant pride in his voice. “You should see him in the lab. It’s like watching a three ring circus.”
Lena wasn’t sure that she wanted to see the medical examiner’s equivalent of a three-ring circus.
Once the body was safely contained, Kai jerked his chin towards the street. “We’ll let Nausara and the uniforms finish up here,” he said as they walked out of the alley. “We can hit the hospital, which is just a couple blocks away, then move on to Delavan’s house.”
Lena looked over the street, which was showing the first signs of life, in the occasional window light, or the rumble of a truck at the cross streets. The snow, she now noticed, had ceased falling sometime during her sweep of the alley. “Do we want to do a knock on doors?” she asked, shoving her hands in her coat pockets for her regular gloves.
“The unis will handle that,” Kai said as they came up even with Officer Massu.
“Yippee,” Massu said, but with the quirk of a smile.
“But, seeing as the block is mostly retail, there won’t be a lot of doors to knock on,” Kai continued, then he glanced towards the east, where the dour clouds were picking up a little more light, hinting that sunrise might be a thing in the near future. “Have your team keep the alley blocked off,” he said to Massu, “but we can clear the street. Also talk to the business owners, see if they’ve got active security cams and, if so, get whatever footage they’ve got. Same goes for next shift,” he added, glancing at the chrono on his commulet.
“You know the power would have interrupted the record,” Lena pointed out as Massu nodded.
“It would,” Kai agreed. “But there’s no guarantee that Delavan, or his killer, didn’t show up before, or after, the power blipped.”
“I still say he teleported,” Lena muttered.
“That’s not a thing,” Kai said. “At least, it’s not at thing until we know it’s a thing.”
“It better not be a thing,” Massu muttered. “Hard enough dealing with your average B&Es, snatch and grabs, whatever. People start teleporting their takes, I’m quitting the force and joining with my cousin Vai’s air freight business… and I hate heights.”
“I don’t think it’ll go that way,” Lena said, staring over the officer’s shoulder as she viewed the various paths teleportation could take. “The learning curve of shifting matter of various weights and densities safely through the aether would be impractical. A few ambitious wizards might go for the Mona Lisa, say, or the Ring of Pallion, but most thieves would find the process difficult, expensive, and probably boring, given the thrill-seeking behavior that drives a high percentage of career criminals.”
She blinked, then realized both Massu and Kai were staring at her.
“That was a very certain opinion,” Kai noted.
Lena managed a quick grin as she closed her mind to the myriad possibilities opened by the potential of teleportation. “I minored in sapient neuro-psych in college,” she said, which was true, even if it wasn’t the entire truth.
“Okay,” Kai said, then turned back to Massu. “Send any statements or recordings you might get to my and DS Morai’s commulets. Also contact Dispatch for a new team to take over at shift change, with the same orders, for the surrounding area. I’d like to get a picture of Mercy, University, and Cannal between Brane and Tanis.”
“Got it,” Massu said, already activating his commulet’s record function as he headed off to find his partner.
Lena and Kai turned for their vehicles, which was when Lena remembered she’d have to drive again.
“How far did you say the hospital was?” she asked, thinking maybe she could walk.
Kai looked at Lena, then her car. “I’ll drive,” he said, without so much as a hint of censure. “And while I drive we’ll have the precinct garage send a mech to update your car’s weather charms, so it’ll be drivable by the time we swing back.”
Lena frowned. “They’d do that? I mean, they’ll handle charms on personal vehicles?”
“If there’s any chance you’ll be using your car on the job, yeah,” Kai said as they reached his unit. “I got my bike charmed, Alex has her minivan covered. You never know when the police-issue will crap out, so the city picks up the freight on the a lot of personal vehicles.”
“Why didn’t they tell me that when I went to the garage to request a police issue?” Lena asked as they reached his vehicle.
“It’s an unwritten law that the SCPD motor pool doesn’t like to advertise,” Kai noted dryly, “mostly because they also don’t like to work.” As he spoke, he tapped his commulet, which unlocked the car with a ubiquitous beep. “As evidenced by the dent in the passenger door,” he nodded to where Lena stood, “where a minotaur high on oracle t-boned us mid pursuit.” He climbed in and waited for Lena to slide into the passenger seat before adding, “That was over two years ago. Alex almost had a litter when we got the unit back from repair, and they hadn’t touched the dent.”
Alex, Lena recalled, was Kai’s partner, and the owner of the charmed wellies Lena was currently wearing. She was also, according to Max, the dispatcher who’d called Lena in on this case, a lycaen, which would explain the bundle of spare clothes resting on the floor next to her feet.
Every lycaen Lena had met kept stashes of spare clothing in as many locations as was feasible, which always seemed a hassle to Lena… but also a small price to pay for the ability to turn into a freaking wolf whenever you wanted.
As a child, she’d always considered the lycaens at school the coolest—right up there with the sa’arens—and bemoaned, as only a nine year old can, how lame her own Family traits were.
Mamá and the tias simply shook their heads but Abuelita had pointed out how much Lena’s friends wished they, too, could race through their schoolwork with the speed of a Morai.
Lena, at age nine, hadn’t been impressed but, over time, she’d come to appreciate Abuelita’s lesson, that the quiet gifts were just as worthy as the flashy ones.
She glanced at Kai as he pulled into the street. His expression remained calm, but it couldn’t hide the rippling heat mirage she’d noticed before.
It was enough to make her wonder if Kai possessed of any particular gifts—and if so, were they of the same quiet nature as her own?
Even as she thought this, the wavering mirage intensified, which meant, Lena thought with resignation, her own gift was trying to tell her something.
Unfortunately, as was so often the case, what her gift was trying to tell her was as clear as the I-35 corridor during rush hour, in the middle of a thaum-storm.
Since she knew pushing would only lead to a headache, and quite likely a false read of the message, Lena turned her attention to the car window, and the slowly waking Syn City.
In the bare week since she’d arrived, Lena had found the city to be a fascinating, beautiful, endlessly busy place, all crowded streets, dramatic skylines, and scattered parks…not to mention the shining tower on the East Side from which the PanEannan Triad—the elected leaders of the planetary government—ruled for a third of the year.
But compelling as it be, Lena would never have moved here—would never have left her home, her family, or her career in Aux’ian—if her gift (and her mother’s, her sisters’ and her Abuelita’s gifts as well) had not, for once, made it explicitly clear that she was needed in Syn City.
The only question remaining, she thought as Kai pulled into the hospital parking lot, was why?
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