First half of the scene. Second half tomorrow.
Three minutes after I left the Order’s chapter, I realized I had picked up a tail. To be fair, the tail was almost painfully obvious, so it wasn’t that much of an achievement.
I shifted in the saddle, turning my head slightly. The female knight who had escorted me to Nick’s office was following me on foot, making no effort to hide herself. She must’ve decided that even if I knew she was there, I couldn’t do much about it.
I let her follow me down Magnum, across the post-Shift bridge that spanned the railroad tracks, and down the narrow Packard street. Normally I would’ve just ignored her and let her merrily tail me wherever, but I was going to the murder scene, and I had a feeling there were things there I didn’t want her to see.
Packard brought me to Ted Turner, lined with reclamation shops and construction offices. Turner ran next to the ruined Downtown. Scavenging the ruins for metal and other usable materials was a big business. The traffic went from nonexistent to heavy, as the street channeled carts with supplies, craftsmen, and laborers. Both of my biological parents used to work here.
I should’ve turned south, to the right. Instead I turned north. The buildings at the intersection blocked me from the knight’s view. I nudged Tulip into a trot. She picked up the pace, nimbly dodging the crowds. A collapsed building loomed on the left, pure white, its four remaining floors rising from the rubble. We reached it, I dismounted, and tapped Tulip’s neck. “Around the block.”
She took off down the street.
I ducked into the hole in the building. From the outside it looked like the interior had completely collapsed there, but there was a narrow gap on the right, if you knew where to look. I squeezed through it, into the gloomy interior, jogged a dozen feet to the inner wall and jumped up. My hands caught the familiar handholds on pure muscle memory, and I scrambled up, all the way to the exposed third floor. I padded to the half-wrecked wall and glanced out of gap, keeping myself hidden.
The female knight jogged out of the traffic and halted below. If she was tracking me by magic, she would have no problem finding me. If she tracked by scent, she would likely follow Tulip. The horse scent was stronger and easier to track than the rider’s.
She looked left. She looked right. She looked confused.
The knight turned in a slow circle, scanning the streets, and went right, down Trinity Avenue. Neither magic, nor scent then, just plain old eyesight. She lost me, and she correctly figured out that I would be going to the crime scene, so instead of wasting time on finding me, she decided to go to the crime scene as well and wait.
On paper, Trinity Avenue would be a good way to get to Pastor Haywood’s house. But Trinity Avenue ran into Wolf Bridge, which spanned the rubble and crossed over I 85. This time a day the reclamation teams would be bringing the first loads of salvage from Downtown. At the same time, the teamsters would be transferring this morning’s freight from the North leyline to the West. Wolf Bridge would be packed hoof to bumper. It would cost her at least half an hour. Forty-five minutes, if it was a busy shipping day. She was likely a capable knight. Nick didn’t tolerate incompetency. But she spoke with a touch of Upper Midwest, and I’d been running away from monsters on these streets since I could walk. Atlanta was my city.
I climbed down and whistled. A few seconds later Tulip came trotting down around the corner. I mounted and headed south on Turner.
Twenty-five minutes later I dismounted in front of Garden Lane Chapel. If there were gardens here, no trace of them remained. The street bordered the Warren, a patchwork of ruined houses and crumbling apartments, that had been hit by magic so many times, everyone who could afford to move had. The neighborhood looked bleak; abandoned buildings staring at the world with black hole windows, ugly grey lichens on the walls that seemed to suck the color out of the paint and stucco, and the black trees. The trees were the worst, their bark coal black and slightly fuzzy. Even their leaves had turned dark and narrow, sharp enough to cut.
Against this backdrop, the chapel all but glowed. White and freshly painted, with a bright red door, it perched on the corner like a beacon of safety. A young cop stood by the door, a gladius on one hip, and a service revolver on the other. The revolvers tended to misfire less than semi-automatics. Traces of magic sometimes lingered during the tech waves. Simpler design with less moving parts meant less for the magic to mess with.
Personally, I preferred blades. They always worked.
The cop tilted his head, presenting me with a flat expression. In his mid-twenties, tan and fit, with blue black hair, he wasn’t a rookie or a veteran putting in time till retirement. He was in the prime of his copness, and the way he stood told me he enjoyed every minute of it.
He took in the tattered cloak that hid most of me, the worn saddle bag on Tulip, and the bow protruding from the scabbard attached to her saddle and classified me as “move along.” I clearly had no business on this street.
I pushed back my hood. He blinked. The flat expression slid off his face. Suddenly he was alert and professional. This was his polite badass persona.
The face strikes again.
Like many teenage girls, I had gone through the stage when I thought I was the ugliest thing on Earth, but by eighteen, I had realized that I was pretty. I used to have one of those pixie faces that could look beautiful or mousy. My old face was like a simple black dress. I could dress it up or dress it down.
That was no longer an option. My new face made an impact no matter what I did to it. Dirty, clean, make up, no make up, didn’t matter. The magic I had absorbed reshaped me. Nobody even remembered my old face except me.
“Can I help you, ma’am?” The cop asked.
I pulled out my freshly minted metal shield and Order ID and presented it to him. “I’m here to take this murder off your hands.”
“I haven’t seen you before. I would have remembered if we met.” His face moved a little. He had considered hitting me with his “smooth smile” but decided that the professional colleague angle might work better.
“I just transferred.”
He gave me an understanding look. “New guys get all the shit jobs.”
“Isn’t that the truth?” I smiled at him.
He raised his eyebrows slightly. I waited, but nothing came out of his mouth.
“I would like to see the crime scene, Officer …” I let it hang.
“Officer Fleming. This way.”
He opened the red door and walked through. I followed.