Daniel hooked around the threshold of the door to peer into the lobby.
“Far end,” Sundown said, crouching, watching.
He followed her line of sight. Near the opposite end of the wide hall, where the boys had been playing their game, stood one of the youth in blue bandana and trenchcoat, arms outstretched, encircled in a white light that was emanating from the ground. The boy’s lips were moving but Daniel couldn’t make out what he was saying over the screeching and shaking of the building.
“Is he … summoning?” Daniel asked, incredulous.
“Nope,” Sundown said, taking a step out into the lobby. “He’s summoned. It’s done.”
The door opened to a grated catwalk, revealing another section of the Junction just as large as the makeshift skate park but a storey or so sunken. The catwalk ran down the middle of the room, ending — much like the rails Daniel had seen when they first arrived — abruptly, with scaffolding holding the pathway-to-nothing in place. To the detectives’ left, a spindly staircase was bolted to the wall. Sundown held the railing as she made her way down.
The staircase disappeared into grey mud. The walls of this section seemed raw, as though their flesh had been torn off; in truth, this room felt more like a sub-basement that had never been meant to see the light of day. The air was moist and damp with tendrils of black moss reaching out across sections of the coarse bricks. The corners were bathed in shadow, in stark contrast to the pool of sunlight that streamed into the middle of the room from a gaping wound in the roof overhead. This is where they found the Everseer.
Daniel sat in the slider quietly, feeling physically and mentally exhausted. He fiddled with the bubble, readjusting it to the cuff of his shirt. Sundown hadn’t said anything since returning to the slider. How had she known that he had magic?
“I take it you’re going to strap me in once we get to the Junction?” he said after a moment.
“Why, are you forfeiting?”
“You mean I passed your second test?”
Daniel went over the events of the ride thus far. The Grid question, then – what? Was it really a test to see if he had magic, or was there something else? What else could his partner have gleaned from pitching him out of the slider? What a question, he thought.
“We’re almost there, so you do want to keep playing or not?”
“Are you going to throw me out of the vehicle again?”
Daniel did his best to remain as neutral as possible. “What do you propose?” He was disappointed to hear the annoyance in his words.
Sundown was still smiling. “Three questions. You get two out of three right by the time we get to the Junction and I’ll let you keep playing detective with me.”
Daniel chose to look straight ahead rather than allow Sundown’s continuing pleasure at his frustration further seep into his body. “And who’s going to be the arbiter of what is and isn’t correct? You?” He didn’t wait for her to answer. “It seems a little stacked against me.”
She let out a snicker. “Welcome to the boden.”
He had studied conflict resolution, human psychology, workplace dynamics … none of which had prepared him for the resolute indifference currently being exercised by his partner. A frog is a frog. That was the last thing his sister, Maddie, had said to him before he had left for the boden. She spoke in dreamtongue now because the spark they had used to waken her had been tainted. It can’t be anything else, no matter how much it wants to be a salamander. Was Sundown the salamander? A creature of fire, it wasn’t entirely unfitting.
Daniel took a seat, exhaling, expelling as much negative energy as he could, and decided to try and wait out his new partner.
Two detectives walked by on their way into the captain’s office, sharing a smirk.
“Who’s this, Sunny? Mail order groom?”
“New intern,” Sundown muttered without bothering to open her eyes.
Daniel opened his mouth to say something but the two men had already left. He returned his attention to Sundown, finding his patience expended. “Are you going to tell me about what happened this morning?”
“Not right now.”
“Come on,” the man wailed. “I don’t know a thing about Jerrica, or anything.”
“Really?” Sundown commented. She began a slow tour of the one-room apartment. Daniel made a point of standing back as his new partner played her little game. She stopped in front of a beat up side table with a gaudy lamp sat atop it and started playing with the purple beads that hung from the shade. “Because Finley told me you were running crystal for Jerrica.”
“Fin? Come on, Sunny. That’s bad data. You know how much that one lies.” The man’s voice sounded calm enough but the sweat on his brow betrayed him.
“Exactly why I’m here, Diggs. Got to verify …” Sundown put a boot on the side table …
“I can’t believe you don’t trust me –”
… and kicked it over. The lamp shattered, and shards of rose quartz spilled out onto the dirty carpet.
Diggs, for his part, just stared silently at the pile of pink gems.
Curious, Daniel knelt down and picked one up. They buzzed softly in his hands. “Tuning crystals,” he said. “They’re pure.”
The sidewalk felt strange under Daniel’s feet. Maybe it wasn’t so much the concrete of the sidewalk but the knowledge that below the sidewalk was, quite literally, merely ground. The skin of the world. Solid was, perhaps, a better word than strange. The sidewalk felt thoroughly solid underfoot. It was an unnerving sensation for a man who had spent the entirety of his life in the himmelburg, the city in the sky.
Just one of many to come, Daniel decided.
So far, everything his brothers had warned him about the bodenburg seemed to be true. It was incredibly hot, smelly and occasionally sticky. Just like any long-unwashed body.
The badge that hung from his neck beeped, indicating that it had found his target – his partner. Well, his soon-to-be-partner. They hadn’t actually met yet.
“Tell me,” he said to the device.
Parker’s paws stung with each step. The cold, cold rain had made her pads raw. The earth was not soft anymore. The two-leggeds had turned it to hard rock that tore at her feet as she loped through the forest of metal and cement. A sharp stone caught her in between her toes, stumbling her, but she did not whimper. Her people were all but gone, and such sounds would only attract predators.
The rain seemed to be breaking against the cement in the same way the ocean once broke against the earth, trying to push it back maybe, or perhaps trying to destroy it one drop at a time. She did not know for sure. The rain beings and nimkee birds only brought storms now. She would not have been able to find her way if it wasn’t for her nose, the rain was so thick and violent. The acrid scent of the fire tugged at her nostrils.
The problem, of course, was that the fire hadn’t started yet.