The abandoned tannery loomed above Gil Hadrian as he dismounted his horse. The windowless brick building still threw off the smell of stale urine and other chemicals, even after sitting unused for almost four years. Gil squared his shoulders and felt for the talisman on his chest even though he could feel the chain around his neck. It was dinged and dented from years being worn by officers of the Constabulary, but it should still do the job.
Two junior officers had come with him. They had climbed down from their horses, and were whispering to each other excitedly where they thought he couldn’t see them.
“Hey!” Gil whispered harshly. “Get yourselves over here. You two go around back and be ready to support me if things go wrong. These Sparkle cookers tend to resist arrest.”
“Yes, sir,” the two boys, Gil couldn’t think of them as men, said in unison. They scurried off around the side of the building, half-crouched.
Gil loosened the strap holding his cudgel to his belt and headed through the door of the tannery. Inside the smells were stronger but there was an underlying acrid odor of recent alchemy. The large single room was scattered with barrels, crates, and other debris. Near the center of the room was a single table covered with a carefully arranged alchemical lab.
“Hughes! I know you’re in here. You’re under arrest for creation of an alchemical narcotic with intent to sell. Come in peacefully.”
From between two barrels shot a jet of fire as thick as Gil’s wrist. The fire splashed around Gil, the talisman on his chest cold, the barrier it cast flickering visibly. A nasal voice called out that he should do something very inappropriate with his own mother.
“Come on, Hughes, you’re only making this worse for yourself.” Gil raised his cudgel and walked deeper into the tannery. From the back of the room, Gill could see the two junior officers creeping up to the barrels.
A dozen balls of clay rolled out from behind Hughes’s hiding place and unfolded into two-foot tall rat-things without tails. They began skittering towards Gil on hind legs, clay teeth gnashing.
“Oh gods, homunculi,” Gil sighed, wading in and swinging his cudgel, clay bits flying. “Stop wasting time, Hughes. Ah!” He kicked the homunculus that had clamped onto his leg and a hit from the cudgel shattered it.
“We got him!” a voice called from behind the barrels. The two young officers emerged leading a short, thin, man dressed in crimson robes poorly stitched with stars and moons. He looked like something out of a bad bedtime story. His hands were raised in front of him. One of the constables carried a carved wooden staff gingerly.
“You, on the left. Don’t worry about the staff, it’s just for show. Secure his hands before—”
A blast of wind erupted from the alchemist, blowing Gil off his feet and sending the other two constables flying into the barrels behind them. Hughes made a quick dash for the door, robes streaming behind him. “Damn you to the Abyss, coppers!” he called as he ran past.
Gil clambered back to his feet, trying to catch his breath, and began to follow the perp. The other two were stirring, but not standing up. He pulled a smooth stone out of his pocket, and as he squeezed, it began to glow. “Rozz. Do you read me?”
“I got you, Gil,” a feminine voice responded from the stone. “What do you need?”
“Send a med team to the tannery for the boys. I’m pursuing on foot.”
“Okay. Go easy on this one, will ya? The paperwork is awful when you hurt them.”
“I’ll do my best, Rozz. Out.”
As Gil shot out the door of the tannery, another blast of fire targeted him. This time he could feel the heat on his skin, and he knew his face would be the pink of a long day in the hot sun. The coldness of the amulet on his neck was a sharp contrast. He caught sight of Hughes’s red robes dashing down an alley and into the Shambles, an old and narrow area of the city, known for less than savory denizens. Gil followed, narrowing the gap between them.
“Stop that man!” Gil called as he saw Hughes run into a nearby shop. His call was followed by a sharp crack of wood striking something hard. When he made it into the shop the view surprised him. A large man was standing over Hughes holding a thick stick and the alchemist was holding his head, moaning faintly.
“Thanks. I’m not sure if I would have caught him on my own,” Gil said, binding the small man’s hands and placing a gag in his mouth. He looked around the room and saw that it was a pawn shop, random wares covering the shelves. In this area, most were probably stolen.
“No problem,” the shopkeeper said. He stood at least two hands taller than Gil. “I’ve seen him around. He’s been selling Sparkle to kids. It’s isn’t right. I’m always happy to help the Constabulary.”
Gil nodded, understanding passing between the two men. “I’m glad for your help today. Mayhap I forget where I apprehended him.”
“That would be appreciated. I’d hate to be away from my store for a tribunal. Have a nice day.” The large pawnbroker turned and headed into a back room of the store.
Gil pulled the talkstone from his pocket and squeezed. “Rozz? I’ve got Hughes. Send the paddy wagon down to Lower Fourth Street, around Knavesway. How’re the newbies?”
“They’ll be okay. Just stunned. Wagon’s on its way. See you back at the shop.”
“Thanks, Rozz.” Gill hauled Hughes back out into the street. “Gods,” he said to himself. “It’s only Tuesday.”
Ben Nein writes from his basement office about things he could never even imagine doing himself. When he’s not writing, he’s teaching in Winnipeg, Canada.
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