For the previous installment of this story, click here.
Or, visit the Cleansed By Fire portal page for comprehensive links to previous chapter installments and additional backstory and information about the novel.
Cleansed by Fire
Chapter 8, Framed in Pain
“So, Demus, what is your assessment of the scene?” Ather asked.
“A right hackety mangle that yar,” Demus replied.
“Once more, with less of the colorful local patois.”
“Pah-TWAW?” Demus mocked. “Yeh’ll clamber that meh lipping is hard to pigeon and yeh squeak out a banger like ‘patois’ in this clime?”
Ather pinched the bridge of his nose, closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “Demus, it’s been years, I know, and I’m sure you want nothing better than to twist me off a bit just for laughs after so long, but I simply don’t have the…”
“Right smart hindbrain twaddlin’ yeh cervical and it cain’t handle meh patois?” Demus was grinning now, something midway between a rictus and a smirk.
“Yes, Demus, my hindbrain is functioning perfectly well. I would simply prefer not to have it load up a lexicon of backhome-twit jargon to conduct our conversation,” Ather responded with his own grin, which managed to mix annoyance with a trace of amusement. “Carrying on a conversation with you is tiring enough, as I recall. Doing so and listening to the hindbrain whisper translations to me at the same time seems like a circle of Hell to add to Dante’s Inferno.”
“Yeh ain’t gazed nothin’ Dante scribed since we ‘tended secondary school a’gether, yeh tonne-assed effeme,” Demus sniped. “Couldn’t tell me how many circles of Hell heh scribed on if yeh life hinged on it.”
Ather started to speak again and Demus waved him off. “I’ll tone down meh canto if’it please yeh then, Ather. Make meh speech all boring like yeh urbs enjoy s’much. I was telling yeh, if’n I might return to yeh first question, that I think the scene is a godawful frigful mess.”
“If you want a consulting fee for this little visit, you’ll need to be a tad more specific, Demus.”
“This femme yeh’re trackin’ took down this ugly hulk and worked on his ear canal with the handle of a spoon like sh’wuz rooting fer truffles,” Demus noted. “Then sheh turned it the fuck ‘round and started cracking off bits a’skull inside. An’ when sheh finally finished with him, sheh slit ‘im throat something slow and methodical. Either heh wronged her bad or she was workin’ ‘im over for some kinda information, I ken.”
“Or both,” Ather suggested.
“Or both,” Demus agreed. “Pretty sure she was fishing at least though. Smells like a torture-with-purpose t’me. Fishing for a lead of some sort, I ‘spect.”
“Lovely bait she uses, eh?” Ather said, picking up the tagged and plasz-wrapped spoon and examining the bits of flesh and blood still clinging to it. “Wonder what she caught with it.”
“Well, the hulk here idn’t like to tell us, seeing his soul hopped on,” Demus notes. “Hain’t got a meme-loop implanted in’im, so we cain’t play back his final minutes neither. Hired a ghouler to scrape his cortex a bit but nothin’ coherent from it ‘scept a vague sensation of a name at the end. Could be a place or could be a person. Could be the femme told ‘im a name or could be heh told her. Too muddled to know f’sure.”
“On the sunnyside, at least the note that was stickin’ out’a his business sure tell us who she hoped to be gettin’ the corpse instead’a us,” Demus continued. “Near’s we can tell, she shoved it in post-mortem. Guess she has a merciful streak in’er.”
That note, previously wrapped around a thin stylus, had long since been removed from the corpse’s orifice and encased in plasz like the spoon. Ather didn’t need to look at it again; the note was short and committed to memory: Stavin, I’ll be pushing a great deal deeper when I catch up with you. And I’ll be filling all of your holes. Might make a few new ones, too.
“Word to the wise, Demus,” Ather commented absently. “If you run across Maree Deschaine, I would strongly suggest a double-think before doing anything that might cause her to bear any lasting animosity.”
From a very safe distance, with an ocular to her eyes, Maree observed the milling local constables and handful of templars that had followed in Ather’s wake.
He was here only because she wanted him to be. She fondled the small disc in her pocket. The shielded container that held her actual IDentipod rather than one she had pilfered from a corpse and put into her wrist days before. The container that she had flipped open for just a moment as she passed an active security pylon elsewhere in the city. So that for just a moment, Maree Deschaine registered as being here—then gone again.
The kind of thing that might happen from time to time if one was carrying a device to block out the signals from one’s IDentipod, and it had a little hiccup in its system routines.
Soon, Ather would be having his pets scouring the records for anyone in town who was carrying a passport because they would be assuming that Maree was masquerading as someone from outside the Union, and still had her own IDentipod, and that her defenses had slipped for a moment at just the wrong time and wrong place.
They wouldn’t be assuming that she had someone else’s ‘pod, so they wouldn’t be trying to cross-reference the ‘pods of women who had been both here and in Houston recently. As Debrah-Ayn Baylor’s IDentipod had been, Maree thought as she absently rubbed the small scar where she had opened her wrist.
But doing a flay-dance with Ather’s mind wasn’t the point. She wanted him to get together with local law enforcement and see that little note, hence her two anonymous calls earlier today about a ruckus in the cargo center. So that he would know whom she was hunting.
After all, finding Stavin would be very difficult indeed, and Ogre had been helpful, but not precise. Getting Ather to help as he tried to track her down through her own quarry—and following behind him for a while—could make the task so much easier.
A shame that Stavin would never see the note though. I do so want the wyvern-fucker to be squirming before I find him.
(To read the next installment of this story, click here.)