The small, dingy room was quiet, except for the buzz of the fluorescent light overhead. Mac sat at the industrial grey metal table, an untouched styrofoam cup of soykaf tiny in his massive hand, the right side of his face swathed in bandages. Between the pain meds and the local the DocWagon boys gave him, he felt like he was feeling the world through thin cotton gauze.
It was still too much.
The door opened and a woman walked in. She was big, for a human, though nowhere close to Mac’s size. She wore black biker leathers, high-heeled boots, and a shock of purple hair. Mac indicated the submachine gun hanging at her hip as she approached the table.
“Got a license for that?”
“After the night you’ve had, do you care?”
“Not really.” He looked down at his soykaf, swirling the thin, pale liquid around in the cup. “You’re not one of us.”
“Pretty obvious, isn’t it?” She turned around the chair on the other side of the table and sat straddling the back, her arms folded across the top. “You can call me Jane.”
“I got debriefed already. I want to go home.”
“This won’t take long, I promise.”
“No, you look, omae. You lost your partner tonight, and I’m sorry about that, I really am. But it’s my job to find the mage who geeked him, and I need your help to do that.”
He really looked at her for the first time, his one unbandaged eye blinking as if he were waking up. “KE is on it. And when they take me off medical leave, I’m on it. The bastard won’t get far, don’t worry.”
She sighed. “I’m consulting on this case as an Awakened expert. You don’t get taken off leave until I sign off on it.”
Mac’s voice dropped an octave into a low, threatening growl. “My face got burned, that’s it. I don’t see where you get off having any input on my medical leave.”
“It’s more complicated than that, Tyler,” Jane said, waving her hand in the air. “There’s magical aspects to consider. Ever heard of a poisoned fireball? Mind control? Emotional tampering? On top of the physical and psychological trauma, you got hit by a mage, and from what I understand, he or she had at least a few minutes with you out of commission.”
Mac’s face burned again, this time with shame and guilt. “I’m frakking fine! Let me get out after this guy!”
Jane shook her head, her purple bangs flopping into her face. “We both know that’s not the case. But you can still help! Tell me what you remember.”
“Mitchell takes good notes. You can ask her.”
“I need to hear it from you. There’s no substitute for that.” Jane reached across the table and touched one of Mac’s massive hands. “Please, Tyler.”
He pulled away from her, closed his eye, and sighed. “It wasn’t supposed to be anything serious. Stubs and I responded to a call on Tchoup, one of those old, flooded-out warehouses by the riverbed. Caller said somebody was sneaking around. There’s kids down there doing stupid, small-time stuff all the time: drug deals, fights off of school property, secret parties, that kind of shit.”
Mac swigged his soykaf down in one go, crushed the cup in his bony fingers, and tossed it into the wastebasket across the room. “We went in with flashlights drawn, not guns. It just wasn’t that kind of neighborhood, you know? We got about fifteen, twenty steps into the warehouse. It was old, hot, dark, smelled like mildew. Nasty place. We were just about to call it in as a GOA when we heard a noise on the catwalk above us. Stubs flicked up his light and…it happened.”
“It was a really bright flash of light, and a…I guess a big, roaring sound. Knocked me down hard. I could smell my flesh cooking and I guess Stubs’ too. First thing I saw…once I could see again…was Stubs laying next to me. He was dead, for sure. There was somebody standing over me — maybe a tall human or a short ork, hard to say. He was saying something I couldn’t really hear, or maybe I just couldn’t understand it. I grabbed for my gun and pulled it, but it discharged accidentally before I could aim. Frakker turned and ran when he heard the gunshot. After that…I called for help. And I don’t really remember anything else until the DocWagon showed up.” He shrugged and looked up at Jane. “Does that help?”
She nodded. “It does, thanks. I just have one question for you.”
“Shoot. I wanna go home.”
“When you were hit, you said you smelled burning flesh. Did you smell anything else?”
Mac furrowed his brow, and then winced in pain. The meds were starting to wear off. “Anything else?”
“Ozone? Sulfur? Smoke?”
“I don’t…wait, yeah. Now that you mention it, it did smell kinda like sulfur. Does that mean anything?”
“It might. I need to check it out.” Jane stood up and flipped the chair back to forward-facing on one of its legs. “Go home. Get some rest. I’ll keep you up to date on my investigation, I promise.” She turned and left the room.
Mac didn’t remember leaving the Knight-Errant station, or the drive home. All he remembered was locking the door of his little flophouse apartment and falling onto the bed, then being claimed by restless, nightmare-haunted sleep.