Tendrils of smoke rose from the corners of the ruined slabs of metal resting in front of the doorway. What was left of the door was bent almost in half, an unsuspecting victim of a gut punch that could probably have put a hole through a stone wall.
Starting at the door with a mixture of profound relief and abject terror, Samuel could not believe that this was the same man he had met just yesterday.
Gone was yesterday's earnest young man, deferential and happy to assist. In his place stood fury and wrath that could level buildings and slag districts, held in check by a force of will tempered during the worst of the Sixth Invasion.
"I am Captain Gerald Raeth, of the Midnight Songbird," the City's first airship captain said, as he stepped into the middle of the room. There was a subtle change in the air, a cool and gentle breeze that smelled faintly of rain.
It reminded Samuel of something Bertram had said, just yesterday, on the deck of the Songbird. "To be within a Crafter's heat haze is to be within their power."
"It's over," Captain Raeth said, as he deliberately stepped towards the hostages sitting in the corner of the room. "Your captors have agreed to surrender themselves to the Orderlies outside. Please just sit tight for a minute longer. We'll have you home with your families soon."
"Captain," Samuel said, striding over. "Thank you for-"
"No, Inspector Fraser," the captain interjected, a little too loudly to simply be a conversation. "I, and the entire City, owe you a great deal. This took you less than an hour to resolve, and you did it without any bloodshed."
"I couldn't have done it alone," Samuel said.
"You shouldn't have to do anything alone," Gerald said loudly, clapping Samuel on the shoulder. The captain leaned forward, and in a near whisper, added, "We need to speak. Have Mister Hannover pour you a drink. I'll have the bar empty in a few minutes."
Bemused, Samuel shook his head and sat down at the bar across from Clovis, who had buried his face in his hands.
"You should pour us some of that Northwatch Hill Mead," Samuel said. "This might be your last chance."
Clovis scoffed, but got up from the bar and drew out a pair of mugs from a cupboard. He filled both from a wooden barrel a few steps away, then set one in front of Samuel.
"I suppose we both deserve a last drink. You didn't move quickly enough, Inspector. The City has us now," Clovis said.
Samuel gawked as Clovis took a long, slow sip. "You really think he's going to kill us to keep us quiet?"
Clovis chuckled. "I do. I would in his place. You really didn't get very far into that notebook you took off the shelf, did you?"
"Not at all," Samuel admitted.
"Then you'll probably die ignorant."
"You seem pretty certain of that," Samuel said.
"He shouldn't be," Gerald Raeth said, as he sat down beside Samuel. "After all, the Inspector is too calm for someone who learned what was in those notes you kept. And I should thank you, Mister Hannover, for burning them just a few minutes ago."
"What? I," Clovis began to say, but something passed between the two of them that Samuel didn't understand. Samuel clenched his teeth to bury his anger, knowing what was lost.
"It seemed like the right decision. You don't need more evidence against me than you have," Clovis eventually said.
"Prudent," the captain conceded.
YOU ARE READING
Bitter Cold Truth: A Tale of the Everburning CityFantasy
There is no night in the Everburning City. There can never be. Fourteen people lie dead on the platform of Billows Station, killed by fire and rage. And as the perpetrator hides within the millions of people who inhabit the City, the task of findi...