I’m not a god who runs. I’ve never been designed for moving at speed, and the years haven’t done anything to improve that. Yet, I sprint towards the roaring inferno left by the unexpected explosion. My feet crunch against the snow—damn me and my ideas—then I skid and almost go over. I recover, my overcoat sleeve scraping against a railing, lifting the snow and bringing most of it with me. My breath wheezes out of me, visible in the cold.
A wind whips at my jacket, and I inwardly thank Khione for sticking around. I’m not sure what’s going on in my city, but it feels reassuring to have an old pal nearby. I stumble again and wish that I’d asked the Blizzard Queen to zip me across the town with her. However, I wouldn’t risk anyone seeing me with an immortal. The last thing I want is to expose myself, to let anyone know that the God of Trickery is running their town. Or even cast any suspicion I’m associated with the gods, for that matter.
Sirens jerk me from my thoughts, and I watch as a fire truck zooms past the end of the road. I hope that others are already on the scene. I’ll be asking questions if not. Sometimes being in charge of the city gives you an opportunity to demand more, better, from those around you. Right now, though, I need more from myself. I try to move faster.
Eventually, I slide around the corner and dig in my heels, trying not to fall over as I take in the burning building. I’ve never seen anything like it. Flames pour from every opening, licking dark streaks into the brickwork. I’m relieved the explosion happened in a derelict warehouse. I let out a sigh of relief, noting my breath is no longer visible.
Despite the heat and noise radiating from the fire, there is plenty going on. Cop cars mingle between the city’s entire collection of fire vehicles, and mortals run this way and that, trying to get the blaze under control. I know there’s little I can do, but something deep down within me demands I get closer. Check on my people.
I don’t get far before I’m confronted by police tape stretched across the road. People gather near the black and yellow barrier, trying to find out what’s going on. I can see fear mingled with wonderment. Everyone appears to be curious and confused with questions on their lips. What’s happened? Are any other buildings at risk? I want and will demand answers, too.
I start to slip under the tape when I’m caught by a raised voice. It cuts across the din of the fire and the efforts to put it out.
“Hey, you! You can’t cross that! This is a restricted area!”
Suddenly a young cop is in my face. It doesn’t take a trickster to see that his fear has been channeled into rage. I feel like I understand how he feels and speak kindly.
“You know who I am, right?”
His eyes widen with recognition, and his cheeks blush even more vibrantly.
“I’m sorry…I didn’t…”
I wave him away.
“You’re doing a good job.” He isn’t. I would have been on the lookout for me or anyone else from my office, but he doesn’t need to hear that. “Who’s in charge?”
“Detective Foley, Mayor Till.” As he speaks, I spot the rotund detective’s silhouette directing a few of his troops. The wind whistles round past us, and the officer’s hat sweeps off his head. He immediately forgets me and gives chase. It should bother me that he’s distracted so easily, but it makes getting across the boundary easier. I move forward, buffeted by a gust of wind from the northwest. It pulls at the flames, keeping them away from other buildings. Khione really is all over this blaze. There’s something different, though. She never was great with her wind control, but they always came with flurries of snow. There’s none of that now. It almost feels like something else.
“Didn’t expect to see you here, Darnell.” Foley doesn’t waste any time getting to the point. You wouldn’t think I’d helped him bring a major criminal to justice recently. And he doesn’t seem to have benefited from it.
“I was nearby, detective.” I try to stand a little straighter and not show I’ve run fifteen blocks to get here. “Wouldn’t you prefer to have some support rather than me camp out at City Hall?”
A cheer suddenly goes up around us, and we turn toward the charred, now flame-free, building. The fire crews look exhausted as they pat each other’s backs and shake hands. The cops continue to ease people away from their cordon, but they are beaming too. I follow Foley’s gaze as it falls on the approaching figure of Fire Chief Beckett.
“Mayor Till. Detective.” Her tone is clipped as she nods at both of us. It’s been a while since I’ve been accosted by the tiny figure. I think the last time was when I denied her plans to expand the fire station.
“Chief, will you pass my thanks to your team?”
“We’re a small force, sir, won’t take long.”
Wow, some days I really hate politics. Foley interjects, clearly uncomfortable.
“You got this under control much quicker than I expected.”
“My people are the best.” Another pointed look at me. “We were also lucky with the weather. We had just been mobilising for the extreme weather when this happened.”
“You definitely got lucky with the wind. It was intense.” Foley gets a glare from Beckett, and I decide to save him.
“Do you know what caused this?”
“That is our next priority.”
“One of my squad cars was nearby when the place went up. They say it sounded like an explosion. This place should be deserted, so if that’s the case, I find it unlikely this was an accident.”
I don’t like the idea of that. I was meant to be cleaning up this city, making it safer. Huge, unexplained explosions are not going to win me any friends. And tonight was meant to be my night. My chance to be on the front foot. Somehow I’m now behind, and there’s still the impact of the snowstorm I got the Goddess of Winter to bring down to deal with. Right now, though, I have to focus.
“When you say unlikely to be an accident, what do you mean?”
Foley rubs at his double chins, but Beckett cuts in.
“We have to get the investigators in to assess that.”
“But since you’re here, Darnell, there is something I need you to look at. Come on.” Foley heads towards a side street close to the blackened remains of the warehouse’s door. I nod my thanks at Beckett, who is already ignoring me, and follow the detective. As we move, I catch a voice calling from behind the police barrier.
I turn and spot Khione in the steadily growing crowd of onlookers. She looks a little shaken, stray hairs poking from her usually immaculate hair. Is it whiter than before? I wonder as I beckon her towards me. When she’s stopped by one of the blues in blue, I call out,
“Can you let her through, please?”
Foley pauses, watching my companion approach with a slight grin. He’s clearly taken by her delicate features.
“Miss.” He nods. “I didn’t realise Darnell had such lovely staff in his office.” He’s being polite, the telltale downturn of his lips at Khione’s white locks obvious to me.
“Darnell…” Khione’s eyes flick to me. “Yes, I’m…errr…”
“Interviewing for a job with me, detective.” I step in, rescuing the Blizzard Queen. She never was great at mistruths, especially on the hoof.
“I’m Kia. Kia Moroz.” I give my friend an appraising glance. Clearly, both of us like to keep our identities hidden. I’m thankful. Foley’s features furrow as he mulls over the implications of my words.
“Is it wise that…”
“Anything you have to say to the mayor can be said in front of me as well.” Khione picks up my thread, saving me the need to find a lie to reassure the man. I nod my agreement.
“Shall we continue?”
Foley shifts apprehensively.
“Did we stammer, Detective Foley?”
“No.” He doesn’t even bat an eye at my tone. “It’s just what I have to show you is a little…unpleasant. Perhaps the young lady would prefer to stay here.”
Khione and I exchange a look, my features clearly asking: Do you want to take this? Her eyes narrow as she fixes Foley with a glare.
“Detective, don’t let this innocent face mislead you. There is little that can surprise me these days.” Foley shivers, feeling the blast of cold aura she has released, urging him on. He huffs, mumbles something under his breath, and leads us towards whatever has concerned him. I can’t help but smile. I’ve missed Khione more than I realised. She catches my look and gives me a long blink that tells me she’s enjoying this as well.
“My boys found this as they secured the scene.” Foley is now all business. “We’re not sure what happened, but our initial theory is that the body was dead before the fire. There is burning to the face and extremities nearest the building, but we think that’s a result of being near the blaze rather than involved in it or the suspected explosion.”
Foley shifts, revealing a body to Khione and me. The Goddess of Winter gasps quietly as she sees the figure. She looks paler as she locks eyes with me and breathes. “That’s you.”