(11-6) True only so long as they live

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Samuel wasn't sure if he had been knocked unconscious. His body ached, but it was a dull throb, as if his body knew the danger he was in and was only sending him the abridged version of his injury report.

Because he was still in danger.

A man in a rust red coat stood overtop him. His hair was unnaturally perfect, his coat and clothes immaculate. Even the rage on the man's face looked like he had practised the expression just so that he would get it right.

The man wasn't looking at him, though. His eyes were fixed on some small piece of metal by the man's feet. The only thing that moved was a single tendril of smoke that wiggled lazily as it wafted up into the air.

"Inspector. Samwise, wasn't it?" The man asked without taking his eyes off the piece of metal.

Finally, Samuel realised what that piece of metal was. It was a small triangle, ending in a tapered point, like the prow of a ship.

"It's Samuel," he said as he tried to turn and push himself up.

Samuel's body complained quite a bit louder now, but nothing objected too much. He managed to rise to a sitting position, and a moment later he staggered to his feet.

"Right," the Crafter said. "Wise really isn't a good word to associate with your current circumstances. You picked a bad day to go snooping around in the Foundry."

The quiet, menacing tone, as well as the deceptively gentle mannerism finally reminded Samuel that he had already met the man now standing over him. "Crafter Ratterson. What the burning hell was that for?" Samuel asked.

To Samuel's surprise, Theo grabbed him by his collar and pushed him into a nearby wall. "Listen, you irritating little speck of ash! I have gone very far out of my way to help you. I even provided Amanda Destir to assist your investigation. And a day later, I find you sneaking into Research working for Captain Raeth? Tell me why the burning hell I shouldn't turn you into hot ash."

"You were," Samuel shook his head, disbelieving. "You were aiming to kill me, back there."

"Burning lucky for you Captain Raeth had that little trick of his, or you would be smoke. Now tell me what you're doing here. Or I'll try again. And Gerald has spent his only chance to help you."

Samuel pointed over to the pile of bodies in the corner of the room. "Is that your doing? Either you personally or Research?"

Theo didn't answer. Samuel didn't expect him to. But the Crafter did look that way, and the way his mouth curled, the grip on Samuel's collar tightened, and the sudden rise in the temperature of the room was more than answer enough.

"Thought I asked you a question, Inspector," Theo reminded him.

"I'm hunting Silas Miller. But that isn't news to you. And frankly, given your disposition and willingness to fire first and interrogate the ash, I don't know how much of my case I want to share with you."

This time, when the temperature did rise, it didn't come back down. Samuel's breath felt like he was in a sauna, and his neck already broke into a clammy sweat.

"Reconsider, Inspector. Part of my job is keeping Research's secrets. Some of the ash in this City is what's left of nosy fools like you."

"Is Amanda Destir here?" Samuel asked.

"She showed up for her shift earlier this morning," Theo replied.

Samuel looked at him intently. "Is she here now?"

Theo didn't answer, but he released Samuel and began pacing back and forth slowly. His gaze was distant and unfocused, and he started muttering to himself.

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