Magic Graves Page 24

Blood stained the rubble. Gobs of flesh lay scattered here and there, some looking like they could possibly be human and others sporting weird bunches of fish bladders strung together like grapes. About ten feet to the left a chunk of an oversized, flesh colored tentacle curled around a piece of cloth. Long strands of yellowish slime covered the entire scene. And to top it all off, the slime stank like days old vomit, harsh and sour. The deputies downwind, on the opposite side of the ruined plaza, valiantly tried not to gag.

The tall broad bruiser who was the Sheriff of Adriana was giving him an evil eye. His name was Kaminski and he was clearly having doubts about the wisdom of Kaldar's presence at his crime scene. Kaldar couldn't blame him. His skin was at least two shades darker than most faces in the crowd. He wore brown leather, fitted neither tight nor too loose, and he looked lean, flexible, and fast, like a man who scaled tall fences early in the morning.

The Sheriff stared at him. He could just go over and introduce himself, but what fun would that be?

Kaldar grinned. The Sheriff's blond sidekick began weaving his way through the crowd toward him.

Strange pair, these two, but probably highly effective. And respected too. They didn't bother with putting up any barriers, not even a rope. Just a line of paint around the crime scene and a dozen undersheriffs, but the crowd stayed way back.

Cops were the same everywhere, Kaldar reflected. In the Broken they called you sir and tazed you, while in the Weird they called you master and hit you with low level flash magic, but the street look, that wary, evaluating, flat look in their eyes was the same everywhere. Cops noticed everything and few of them were stupid. He had committed too many crimes in either world to underestimate them.

The blond Undersheriff stopped before him. "I'm Undersheriff Rodwell. Your name?"

"Kaldar Mar."

"Do you find the destruction of Adrianglian landmark humorous, Master Mar? Perhaps you would like to visit our jail and spend some time in our jail cell to collect your thoughts and explain to all of us what is so funny?"

"I'd love too," Kaldar said. "But my employer might take an issue with that."

"Who is your employer?"

Kaldar sent a spark of magic through his spine. A faint sheen rolled over the earring in his left ear. It dripped down forming a dull tear hanging from the hoop. The tear brightened, and Rodwell stared at his own reflection in a mirrored surface.

"Kaldar Mar, agent of the Adrianglian Secret Service." The tear sparked and vanished. "The Mirror is grateful for your assistance, Undersherrif. Thank you for securing the crime scene for me."

"I just want to know one thing," Sheriff Kaminski kept his voice low. "Is the Hand involved in this?"

Kaldar considered before making his answer. He needed their cooperation. It would make things easier and he needed to build contacts in law enforcement. "Yes."

The Sheriff chewed on it for a long breath.

"How do you know?" Rodwell asked.

Kaldar cycled through his options. Neither one of the men struck him as a social climber. They were good at what they did and they were happy right where they were. If he came on with an imperious aristocratic air, they'd stonewall him. The buddy-buddy approach wouldn't work either - their town was on the line and they were both too grim for jokes. A straight shooter, just-doing-my-job type was his best bet.

Kaldar delayed another half a second, as if weighing the gravity of the information, and pointed at a fragment of a tentacle a few feet away.

The two men looked in the direction of his fingers.

"That's a piece of a Hand operative, pieuvre class. Six to ten tentacles, amphibious, weighs in close to five hundred pounds. A nasty breed." He clipped his words a bit, adding a touch of a military tone to his voice.

"You've seen one before?" Rodwell asked. The hint of challenge in his voice was a shade lighter.

Kaldar pretended to think for a moment and grasped the sleeve of his leather jacket. The clasps on his wrist snapped open and he pulled the sleeve down, revealing his forearm. Four quarter-sized round scars dotted his forearm in a ragged bracelet, the reminder of a tentacle wrapping around his wrist. The suckers had burned into his skin, and not even the best magic the Mirror had at its disposal had been able to remove the scars. He let them see it and pulled the sleeve closed. "Yes. I've seen one."

"Did it hurt?" Rodwell asked.

"I don't remember," Kaldar answered honestly. "I was busy at the time." He heard people say that you couldn't kill a pieuvre operative with a knife. You could. You just had to have the proper motivation.

The Sheriff stared at the wreckage. "What do they want here?"

Kaldar gave him a flat look and clamped his mouth shut. Giving up the information too easily wouldn't do. Kaminski didn't like him and didn't trust him. However, if Kaldar risked his neck and broke the rules to put his fears to rest, well, it would be a different story. But no straight shooter would break the rules without serious doubts.

A wise man far away in a different world once said, "Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world." Kaminski was worried about his town. It was written all over his face. That worry was the lever. Apply the proper amount of force, and Kaldar could shift the sheriff to his side.

The silence won.

"Look, Master Mar, I know you're breaking regulations," Kaminski said. "I just need to know if my people are safe."

Kaldar rocked back on his heels, looked at the sky, and sighed. "I don't normally do this."

Kaminski and Rodwell took a step closer, almost in unison. "It won't go anywhere," the Sheriff promised. "You have my word."

Kaldar took another breath. "Eight hours ago the West Egyptian authorities discovered that a group of thieves broke into the Pyramid of Ptah. The perpetrators stole a magic device of great strategic value. It was a theft for hire, and Louisiana's Hand was the intended recipient of the device. In the early morning hours the thieves crossed the border and arrived here, to meet the Hand's operatives. The Hand is infamous for double crossing the hired help, so the thieves picked a public, well known location for their own safety. As you can see, their fears were justified."

"So Adriana was never the intended target?" Kaminski asked.

"No, Sheriff. It was simply the closest public place. Your people are safe."

"Thank you," Kaminski said simply.

"If the city was never the target, why is the Mirror involved?" Rodwell frowned

"Because the attempted exchange took place on our soil, West Egypt requires our assistance in recovering the device. It's a diplomatic nightmare already. We must resolve this and quickly, or they may take matters into their own hands. Nobody wants to have half a dozen of the Claws of Bast running around in the realm."

The undersheriff winced. Even Kaminski looked taken aback for a moment. The Claws of Bast had a certain reputation.

Kaminski surveyed the rubble. "All those pieces look like they belong to the same body, and according to you, they're pieces of a Hand operative. No other body parts. The thieves got away."

Kaldar nodded. "Indeed. Somewhere out there, in that mess, is a clue that will tell me where they went."

"I can have my men pull the rubble apart," Kaminski said. "I can put sixteen undersheriffs on this. We'll throw up a grid, work in shifts through the night, and have every crumb and rock cataloged for you by the next morning."

Kaldar grinned. "I appreciate the offer, but time is short."

The two men stared at him. Showtime.

"Do you have any coins on you, undersheriff?" Kaldar asked.

Rodwell dug into his pocket and came up with a handful of change. Kaldar plucked the small silver disk of a half-crown from the man's palm and held it up with his thumb and index finger. The rays of the morning sun shone, reflecting from the small disk of silver. "I bet you a half-crown that I'll walk out there and find this vital clue in the next three minutes."

Rodwell glanced at the half crown and back at the sea of debris. A small smile bent his lips. "I'll take that bet."

A spark of magic pulsed from the coin in Kaldar's fingers. It shot through him like lightning, awakening something laying hidden deep in the recesses of his being, just on the edge of consciousness. The strange reserves of magic sparked to life and solidified into a tense, shivering current that burst through the coin, through his spine, up through his skull and down through his legs and soles of his feet. The current speared him, claiming him, and he shuddered, caught like a fish on the line. This was his own special talent. If he got someone to accept a bet, his magic skewed the odds in his favor.

The current pulled on him and Kaldar let it steer him. The magic led him, guiding each step, maneuvering him around the pitted pavement, over the heap of shattered marble, to a cluster of splintered wood. The coin tugged him forward. Kaldar bent. Something shiny caught the sun in the crevice underneath a twisted wreck of metal that used to be a tea making machine. He reached for it. His fingertips touched glass and the current vanished.

Kaldar pulled a handkerchief from his pocket, wrapped it over his fingers, and gently pried the glass object free. A six inch long tube with a wide bulb on the end. Dark soot stained the inside of the bulb. How about that?

He turned and brought his find back to the two men.

"What is that?"

"That's an 'I Love You Rose'. These tubes are sold in certain shops." Namely the gas stations near ghettos in the Broken. "There is usually a cheap fake flower inside. They're bought by addicts who drop cheap narcotics into the bulb and smoke the tube like a pipe."

Kaminski raised his head. "Bring the goleeyo!"

A young woman, whose blonde hair was carefully braided away from her face, hurried over, carrying a contraption of light bronze resembling a long flashlight. She glanced at the pipe, snagged a small leather book chained to her belt, tore a piece of thin paper and looked at Kaldar. "Hold it up please!"

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