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Amaya PI - The Spice Man

ELH Dec 1st, 2016 (edited) 1,224 Never
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  1. G Doc Version: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1YE3P4uacCylNehJhSmGO2oyoheOeLJJ0xuEOw58PCDU/edit?usp=sharing
  2.  
  3. #####
  4.  
  5. For a city located in the middle of the desert, you’d think there wouldn’t be that much rain. Yet it pounded against my window like waves crashing onto the beach. The muted cityscape on the other side of the glass was soothing, in a way, when coupled with the dimmed lights of my office and the glass of scotch I was nursing. My midtown office is located on the third floor of a complex shared with a small law firm. I keep things fairly spartan: a desk, several chairs, a fridge, some filing cabinets, and a plant or two to bring everything together. Even then, it wasn’t the most roomy place in the world. But it was cozy.
  6.  
  7. Unfortunately, my rare moment of peace was interrupted by a knock at my door.
  8.  
  9. My name’s Amaya Minami. I’m a private eye, one of the best in town. You might be wondering why a Ryu of all things is one. It’s pretty simple. Tending my family’s shrine back in Zipangu just wasn’t for me. That sort of thing fell to my elder sisters, who are more than capable of managing without me. My passions instead lie in mysteries. The thrill of tracking down clues and solving cases called to me like nothing else, and the pay’s not too bad either.
  10.  
  11. All sorts of people come to me with their problems. Missing persons, cheating spouses, murder victims, you name it. The latter usually comes my way via the Sedis Police Department when their backs are against the wall. So the moment a uniformed Hellhound stepped into my office I knew I was in for a tough case. Not that they ever brought me any easy ones…
  12.  
  13. “I’ve got something for you,” said Hitomi as she shut the door behind her. Towering over most at six feet tall, the ashen-skinned wolf was one of SPD’s finest. Today she was clad in a two-piece uniform that left her midriff and most of her legs bare. She and I had built something of a rapport with all the cases she’d brought me thus far. It made conversations with her blunt and to the point. Just the way I liked it. Still, I couldn’t resist cracking a joke.
  14.  
  15. “It’s not a bottle of whiskey, is it?” I replied with a smirk.
  16.  
  17. She laughed, tossing a folder between us onto the desk. “One day maybe. Take a look.”
  18.  
  19. I straightened up, set my scotch down, and began perusing through the folder’s contents: Photos, lab reports, and bags of evidence. The centerpiece was a man that must have been in his mid-twenties. To say he looked like he went through a blender would be an understatement. Hitomi was kind enough to narrate:
  20.  
  21. “The victim’s an unaugmented human male. He was found yesterday in an alleyway in near the Red Light district. At first glance it’s got all the markings of a rape gone bad. Manticore spikes, claw marks, the works.”
  22.  
  23. I paused on a picture of the body in question. It was as she said. There were four venom-laden spikes jutting out from various spots on the arms, accompanied by long claw marks and other signs of a struggle. But what stood out to me was the fact the victim’s clothes, a turtleneck and jeans, were completely intact. They should have been in tatters.
  24.  
  25. Hitomi continued, “As you can see he put up a fight. But something went wrong and he ended up with a bullet in the back of his head.” She nodded at the accompanying photo. It showed the man’s face. Or, more accurately, what was left of it.
  26.  
  27. “No bullet could have done this much damage,” I said matter-of-factly. “Whoever did this wanted to make sure he couldn’t be identified.”
  28.  
  29. Hitomi nodded. “We couldn’t even pull dental records.”
  30.  
  31. “I’m guessing he didn’t have anything on him either.”
  32.  
  33. “Only a card which we weren’t able to identify.”
  34.  
  35. I thumbed through the stack until I came across a bag with the card in question. By chance, I did recognize the black and purple striped bit of plastic.. But I pushed that aside as something in the autopsy report caught my eye.
  36.  
  37. “Says here he had spice in his system?” I asked.
  38.  
  39. “Trace amounts of it, yes,” replied Hitomi. “It’s lucky the coroner caught it during the autopsy with all the manticore venom in his system.”
  40.  
  41. Spice was a relatively new drug to hit the streets. An offshoot of the Stoic Love herb, it essentially heightened the user’s pleasure while simultaneously increasing endurance. It might be legal were it not for its dangerously addictive nature and nasty withdrawal symptoms. It was the kind of thing that quickly consumed your life for the worse. Didn’t keep people from using it regardless.
  42.  
  43. “Seems pretty simple to me then,” I returned, letting the papers in my hands fall back to the desk. “The kid got mixed up in spice, got addicted, then began associating with the wrong sort of crowd. One thing lead to another and he ended up dead and dumped in an alleyway.”
  44.  
  45. “Maybe. But that’s why I came to you. We’re out of leads and yet we’ve failed to come up with even a name.”
  46.  
  47. I raised an eyebrow at her. SPD didn’t have the most amazing magic users in the world. It’s partially why Hitomi comes to me in the first place. But they still had them. Now granted, magic isn’t a cure-all. It has its limitations. In this instance, talking to the dead was out of the question. Using a spell to track a person was also near impossible due to the sheer size of the city. Yet they still should have been able to discern something. I decided to ask her about it.
  48.  
  49. “Surely you used magic?”
  50.  
  51. Hitomi nodded once more, though this time with a frown. “Yes. But the only thing that it gave us was the precise energy signature of the manticore spikes. We checked the surrounding area but no hits.
  52.  
  53. She pointed towards a small plastic bag on the table. “There should be a small fragment of the spikes in there.” I held it up to eye level and considered the tiny, crystalline sliver inside. With a simple spell, I’d be able to “smell” the demonic energy inside and that of the surrounding area. Each mamono has its own unique energy signature, sort of like a human’s fingerprints. The one problem with the spell was its range. In a populated area like this, anything outside of a block’s radius would simply be white noise.
  54.  
  55. “That’s it?” I asked. “Nothing else?”
  56.  
  57. “Sadly yes. The bullet we recovered from his skull wasn’t made of demon realm silver. So no dice there. Best we could do was narrow the likely firearm down to a .45 caliber pistol.”
  58.  
  59. The more she went on, the more it sounded like this was the result of a professional sting. Most, if not all, bullets these days are made of demon realm silver. Like weapons made of the same material, they’re designed to sap the strength of those hit without actually harming or killing them. For a slug to be made of other metal meant the shooter wanted the kid dead without complications. There was no way to trace the bullet back to its owner short of finding the gun in question. Even with magic.
  60.  
  61. I must have let my emotions show, as Hitomi bit her lip then added, “We’ve kept things low-key for now but it’s only a matter of time before the media picks up on it. They’re liable to have a field day with this one unless it’s handled properly.”
  62.  
  63. Even with all the technological and societal advances over the years, one thing remained constant: human males were a precious minority. Despite the current Demon Lord’s best efforts, mamono could still only give birth to other mamono. The only way to get more men was from straight human couples. Something that was dying out with all the corruption of human women into mamono and the men into incubi. The human population was definitely on the decline these days, though they certainly weren’t in any danger of dying out anytime soon. In a way they were a privileged class, especially in demon realms like Sedis.  For one to end up dead like this meant someone somewhere had an agenda. Something that would invite endless speculation from the media. Not to mention a small societal uproar that an eligible bachelor had been killed. Even I couldn’t help but feel disappointment at his death.
  64.  
  65. I sighed and leaned back in my chair. “Well you know my daily rate. I’ll let you know when I have anything credible.”
  66.  
  67. “A pleasure as always, Amaya…”
  68.  
  69. Hitomi bowed her head and excused herself from my office. The moment she was gone I closed my eyes and reviewed the facts. There wasn’t much to go on. No augments meant no tracing the kid back to a chop shop or clinic. The spice could have come from any number of dealers, and without so much as a name it’d make shaking them down useless. Similarly, narrowing down the source of the manticore spikes with magic would be like searching for a needle in a haystack. Only the keycard offered any sort of investigative venue. It belonged to a place I’d been several times before. One I wasn’t exactly thrilled to visit.
  70.  
  71.  
  72. ***
  73.  
  74.  
  75. Mistress Reri’s Mansion had been around since the early days of Sedis, back when the city was actually called Arum Sedis. From the beginning it catered to only the best: male, female, augmented, mamono, human, or otherwise. It didn’t matter what your kink was. With the wide variety of mamano and incubi on staff there was always a way to explore whatever perverted scenario you had in mind. The only way someone got inside the pleasure den was if they were recommended first. It kept the usual riff-raff out and meant spending a night there made you one of the elite. Very exclusive, very private. Normally PI’s like me wouldn’t be allowed in the front door, but it just so happened I had an in with the owner.
  76.  
  77. I grabbed the keycard and some photos, donned my coat, then slithered out into the rainy night. I would have flown to Reri’s, but the rain would have made the trip miserable. Sure, there was a spell that’d keep the water off me, but it’d cost more energy than it was worth. So instead I stayed on the ground. There was plenty of foot traffic despite the late hour and atrocious weather. I had to keep my coils tight against me to avoid tripping up passersby. Most still gave me a wide berth. Possibly because I was a Ryu, but more likely because I was augmented.
  78.  
  79. Augments in general were still a budding enterprise. There’s two types. The first type is outright replacement. Anyone, mamono or human, could lop a limb or an organ off and have it replaced by metal. Fairly straightforward. The second type is more involved. It uses a person’s innate energy stores and a few wonders of technology to enhance what’s already there. The end result is a sort of bio-metal that’s self-sustaining and self-repairing. In my case, both my golden-tinted tail and my claws are of the latter type. I’m much faster and stronger than a normal Ryu for it.
  80.  
  81. Despite the benefits of being part-machine (or perhaps because of them) there’s a social stigma surrounding augs. Less so for humans than mamono. The former tend to get a pass since the latter are already far more powerful in terms of raw strength. Any mamono who undergo a procedure are seen as either being crazy or power hungry. Somehow it’s different than fucking your husband and constantly feeding on his spirit energy to become more powerful. But that’s an argument for another time.
  82.  
  83. The long walk passed by quickly. Still, I was drenched by the time I arrived at the gated entrance to Reri’s. The mansion itself was surrounded by a head-height, brick wall that segregated it from the surrounding high rises. At the metal gate stood two guards, both Automatons. Each swiveled their heads to watch me approach. Once I was within talking distance, one spoke in a monotone:
  84.  
  85. “This area is restricted. Please present your identification or move along.”
  86.  
  87. I came to a stop and rummaged through my coat. Once I found the black and purple striped card I pulled it out and presented it. The Automatons looked it over then stood aside. Behind them the gate parted without a single word. I wasted little time in moving through it and up the stone driveway. The path was flanked by vibrant floral arrangements that stood out despite the late hour and the rain. Any other night there’d be all sorts of exhibitionists enjoying their favorite kinks among the greenery. Thanks to the rain, the only shadows belonged to various bits of shrubbery.
  88.  
  89. After about five minutes I finally reached the ornate, double wooden doors of the mansion. They swung open on their own and permitted me entrance. Inside was a vast foyer with sweeping stairs leading up to the second floor. Before them was a desk occupied by Reri herself. The dark furred Manticore practically oozed seduction without even trying. Her midnight black dress was just revealing enough to be tasteful while also accentuating her womanly features. She was Lady and Mistress of her domain and you knew it the instant you looked at her. Nothing escaped her notice, no matter how trivial. In another life she’d have made for a phenomenal PI.
  90.  
  91. “Ah, Ms. Minami,” said Reri with a grin. Even her voice was layered with sultry honey. “To what do I owe the pleasure? Could it be you’re finally interested in trying out what we have to offer here?”
  92.  
  93. I cast a quick spell and dried myself off before closing the gap between us. “Even if I were, I wouldn’t admit it you.”
  94.  
  95. Reri playfully pouted. “I’m hurt. Here I thought we were making great progress.”
  96.  
  97. I ignored the jab. Instead I reached into my coat and pulled out two things: a picture of the John Doe and his keycard. Both of which I placed on the desk before Reri.
  98.  
  99. “Well if you help me with this, I might be more inclined to listen to what you have to say,” I began. “There’s been a murder and I believe the victim’s connected to this place.”
  100.  
  101. My Manticore counterpart eyed both items appraisingly. Her voice shifted from one of playful teasing to one of pure business. “Am I to guess that this card belonged to him?”
  102.  
  103. I nodded. “You catch on quick. I was hoping you’d be able to tell me his name at the very least. As you can see there isn’t much left to identify him by.”
  104.  
  105. A sigh escaped Reri’s lips. “You know full well that I keep our client records strictly confidential. They’re off limits to almost everyone.”
  106.  
  107. “Ah, but I’m not almost everyone,” I quipped back.
  108.  
  109. “Maybe. Maybe not.” A smug grin crept across the manticore's face. “Depends what you have to motivate me this time.”
  110.  
  111. This is how things with Reri usually went. She never gave out information without getting something in return first. Even then, I usually had to swear up and down that I wouldn’t tell anyone where I got it from in the first place. Especially the SPD. Unfortunately for her, I didn’t have the time, nor the patience, for the run-around.
  112.  
  113. I dropped my voice to a low whisper. “Look, the kid in question here had spice in his system. I don’t think I need to tell you how bad it will look if it gets out that he came here often.”
  114.  
  115. A steely edge crept into Reri’s voice. “You know full well we don’t dabble in those sorts of aphrodisiacs.”
  116.  
  117. “Sure, I know that. But the police? They’ll turn the place upside-down like rabid dogs. If I know you and this place half as well as I think I do, then there’s definitely things you don’t want the general public to know.”
  118.  
  119. She bit her lip and eyed the card on the desk, weighing her options. I could see the gears turning in her head, trying to come up with some angle that’d let her keep the upper edge. Much to my dismay, she smiled smugly once more. I knew that look well.
  120.  
  121. “I’m quite confident that SPD will find nothing of value in a raid,” Reri purred. “But perhaps we need not go that route. You see, I’m going to be hosting a few classes on the application of rope tying techniques to the more ‘exotic’ of mamono. As it just so happens, you’d be a perfect subject to teach with.”
  122.  
  123. I shook my head. There was no way I was going to be tied up by her or anyone else. Especially not in a classroom setting. “Nuh uh. Not happening.”
  124.  
  125. Her spiked tail swayed behind her in amusement. She was like a lion toying with her prey. “It’s either that or you walk out of here empty-handed. It’d be a shame if you couldn’t connect the dots any further.”
  126.  
  127. She had me. She’d seen right through my bluff and realized I had literally nothing to go on. As far as compensation went, this rope course was relatively tame. By Reri standards, anyways. It wasn’t as if she was asking me to “play maid” again. I hated the idea of being restrained, but I hated the idea of cleaning up the mansion in a frilly skirt even more.
  128.  
  129. I acquiesced, much to my chagrin. “Fine. But I want everything you have on this guy. His name, who he played with, the works.”
  130.  
  131. Reri’s face lit up. “Wonderful! I’ll send you the details about the rope course via email. As for the name, it might not even be his real one. You know how we work here. Also I expect you to keep our association with him confidential.”
  132.  
  133. I had no choice but to agree. She snatched up the keycard and slid it into a card reader attached to a laptop. After a few minutes, she produced a bit of paper and scribbled something on it.
  134.  
  135. “Here,” she said, offering it out.
  136.  
  137. I took it from her and gave it a once over. There were two names on it. The first was what I assumed to be the kid’s name. “Carter Luxford? Why does that name sound familiar?”
  138.  
  139. My question was met with a shrug. “I’m afraid I don’t know.”
  140.  
  141. “Great,” I growled. I read the second name, one of Reri’s employees, then asked “Where’s this ‘Katrena’ right now?
  142.  
  143. “You can find her down in the dungeons. She should be cataloging our rope stores. I’ll have one of our maids escort you.”
  144.  
  145. I collected the photo and keycard and tried not to scowl. “Pleasure as always, Reri.”
  146.  
  147. “Of course, Ms. Minami~”
  148.  
  149. With a snap of her fingers, a Kikimora dressed in the usual maid attire appeared from a back room under the stairs. The two shared a quick word, then the former beckoned for me to follow. Soon after descending a wide spiral staircase I found myself being led down dimly-lit, carved-stone corridors. Unlike the halls above, these were permeated with the smells and sounds of various debauchery. Without my guide I would’ve surely gotten lost in more ways than one.
  150.  
  151. Katrena herself stuck out like a sore thumb when I finally laid eyes on her. The brown-winged moth looked far too innocent to be amid such a wide variety of rope coils. Especially in that white sundress of hers. When my escort announced us, she jumped in surprise.
  152.  
  153. “A-Ah! I wasn’t expecting company down here,” Katrena stammered meekly, brushing a lock of light pink hair out of her eyes. “Did Reri send you?”
  154.  
  155. I stepped forward and extended a hand. “Yes and no. Name’s Amaya. I have a few questions for you if that’s alright.”
  156.  
  157. She looked at my hand for a moment before tenderly shaking it. “Depends what it’s a-about.”
  158.  
  159. “Carter Luxford, a client of yours. Ring any bells?”
  160.  
  161. A furious blush crept across Katrena’s face. Yeah, it did. “He’s one of my f-favorites! He’s not in any trouble, is he?”
  162.  
  163. I frowned slightly. “I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but he’s dead. I was hoping you could help me figure out who killed him.
  164.  
  165. Katrena reeled in shock. She ended up using one of the various ropes hanging from the hooks above her as support. It took her several seconds before she was able to compose herself. “I just saw him a couple of days ago. He was such a nice guy. Very fun to play with. A-Anything I can do to help.”
  166.  
  167. “I’ll be brief. What sort of things were involved in your ‘play?’”
  168.  
  169. “W-Well he was into heavy S&M. It’s not often I get to be the d-domme so it was a real treat. He had a thing for lasting marks…”
  170.  
  171. She trailed off and fidgeted in place. Her, a domme? It made about as much sense as pants on fish. What mattered, though, was the tidbit of information she’d just shared. If Luxford really was into being smacked around for fun, then it wouldn’t be out of the question for him to have the sort of injuries he had. That’s why his clothes weren’t ripped apart like the rest of him. Those weren’t defensive wounds.
  172.  
  173. I kept all of this to myself for the time being. No sense in upsetting Katrena with the gruesome details. Instead, I asked, “Did you ever use any aphrodisiacs?”
  174.  
  175. “No!” she exclaimed. “He was very adamant against using them.”
  176.  
  177. “So you never tried them, not even once?”
  178.  
  179. Katrena shook her head. Either she didn’t know Luxford was using spice or he was simply clean. The latter possibility raised all sorts of questions. Mainly how and why spice was in his system to begin with. I made a mental note to dig into it further once I was back in my office.
  180.  
  181. I thanked Katrena for her time and left her to her work. In short order I was escorted back up and out to the main foyer. Rather than linger under Reri’s gaze, I beelined for the mansion doors.  Luckily for me the rain had stopped outside. That meant I could actually fly back to my office instead of slithering along the sidewalk. I launched up into the damp night air and quickly left Reri’s behind. From up here the city was a blur of twinkling lights. Barely any of the ambient noise made it up this high, leaving me with time to think.
  182.  
  183.  
  184. ***
  185.  
  186.  
  187. I’d definitely heard about Luxford from somewhere before. Something I’d read recently. My first instinct was to beeline for my own computer when I made it back to my office. But along the way there I found myself noticing several newsstands along the city streets. I followed my gut and landed next to one of them. After recovering from the surprise of seeing a Ryu drop from the heavens, the incubus owner sold me a copy of the day’s newspaper. I perused the black and white pages, looking for anything that was related to Luxford. Sure enough, I found something on the cover of the sports page.
  188.  
  189. Carter Luxford, co-captain of Sedis University’s baseball team, was featured along with the rest of his peers. In particular, the article was an interview about where the team went after their recent victory over the University of Lescatie. It wasn’t more than a few days old. A timeline was beginning to form in my head. Luxford wins his ball game, goes to Reri’s to celebrate, then ends up dead shortly thereafter. The latter of which I still didn’t have any clues for. But at least now I knew where to go next.
  190.  
  191. Sedis University was the sort of preppy engineering school that was every Gremlin’s wet dream. Most of the population were STEM-inclined mamono, but occasionally you’d find a rare human. That made someone like Luxford stand out, as if being a human male in this city wasn’t enough. Finding one of his friends or teammates would be easy. I just hoped they’d be able to offer up something of value.
  192.  
  193. I waited until the following day to begin my questioning. Since SU’s campus was centrally located within the city itself, not ten blocks away, it made the trip there fairly easy. Similarly, locating Luxford’s teammates was a cinch. I caught them between classes and asked them a fairly standard array of questions. Questions like, “What was he like” and “Have you noticed anything unusual lately?” In each case I was given the same answers. The kid was a straight-shooter aside from his sex life. The latter was only of note because his teammates occasionally noticed his marks from Reri’s. No one had even noticed he’d been gone. I had to take a different approach if I was going to get answers.
  194.  
  195. It didn’t take me long thereafter to track down Luxford’s dorm room. All it took was a little asking around. It’s surprising how far a smile and a few white lies can get you. Still, I’m sure people took note of the fact an augmented Ryu was running around asking questions. So I let myself into his room when there was no one around to see. Inside was a fairly standard layout, right down to the lofted bed and various pinup posters on the walls. Against the closet door rested a baseball bat and a pair of dirty cleats. Otherwise the room was rather clean for a guy. No overflowing trash bins, no clothes on the floor, not even a stray plastic cup. It all reinforced the picture I had of the kid thus far: he had his head on straight. So what caused it to be knocked off?
  196.  
  197. I began combing through Luxford’s room for new clues. Anything that’d tell me what he was doing or what he was like. I didn’t find much of use at first. Even the few spells I cast didn’t yield results. There wasn’t so much as a single spirit-energy soaked tissue in the place. Without a sample of his seed I wouldn’t be able to use magic to retrace his steps. It wasn’t until I found a laptop bag underneath the wooden desk next to the window that I caught a break.
  198.  
  199. I’m no computer whiz, but I know enough to get around. Fortunately for me, the computer’s password was written on a sticky note I found in a desk drawer. Soon I had full access to Luxford’s emails and calendar. Very quickly my earlier timeline was confirmed. Almost every single baseball game was followed by a simple “R” entry on his calendar. Something that stood out to me, though, was a monthly “V” appointment. It never occurred on the same day, nor at the same time. But if my hunch was correct, “V” was a person, and likely the last one to see him alive. In particular, there was a meeting right after Luxford’s recent visit to Reri’s.
  200.  
  201. Using this information, I checked for any emails that matched up with the dates in question. Sure enough, there were a few. They all followed the same sort of format:
  202.  
  203. ##
  204. From: L
  205. To: V
  206. I have your shipment. Meet at the usual place. 10:30.
  207. ##
  208.  
  209. All of them were made out to a throwaway email account. Still traceable, but not by me. No, for this one I’d have to go to a friend. So I gathered up Luxford’s laptop and prepared to slip out of the dorm. Though before I could even turn around to face the door, there was a loud knock.
  210.  
  211. “Hey Carter!” yelled a feminine voice. “You in there? Some lady’s been asking around for you. I just wanted to make sure you’re alright.”
  212.  
  213. I stood still and remained silent, praying that the unknown caller would just go away. No such luck, however, as I heard her talking to someone on the other side of the door.
  214.  
  215. “You’ve got a key, right?” she asked.
  216.  
  217. “We have one, yes,” answered a gruff male voice. “Stand back.”
  218.  
  219. Shit. I did not want to be caught red-handed snooping around by campus security. It’d mean all sorts of questions from the SPD. Not to mention they’d likely take the laptop into evidence, preventing me from doing my job. I was a PI because I operated outside of the bureaucracy. The last thing I wanted was to be dragged into it. Or to jail for breaking and entering.
  220.  
  221. I weighed my options. There weren’t many. I was too big to fit through the window. Bluffing my way out might be possible, but I doubted how effective I’d be standing in a dorm room I’d just turned upside-down. Similarly, blowing past the people on the other side of the door would likely not pan out in my favor. No, I’d have to use quick and dirty magic and hope those outside couldn’t sense it. Something that’d let me hide in plain sight.
  222.  
  223. I flung myself into the farthest corner from the door and reared up on my tail. With a muttered word and release of energy, my entire body shimmered and became transparent. It was uncomfortable as hell to have my upper body squished against the ceiling, but I didn’t have much choice in the matter. Not a moment after I’d disappeared I heard a key being inserted into the lock. Three people entered the room. One, a Salamander in hot pants and a t-shirt, who I recognized as one of Luxford’s study buddies I’d questioned earlier. The other two, an incubus and his Minotaur partner, were adorned in blue security uniforms.
  224.  
  225. “What the hell happened in here?” remarked the Minotaur, looking around. “Seems like someone tore this place apart.”
  226.  
  227. “I’ll bet it was that Ryu,” said the Salamander as she balled up her fists. At the same time her tail flame flared. “I knew something was off when I talked to her.”
  228.  
  229. The incubus glanced in my direction. I held my breath and prayed. His gaze lingered on me for what seemed like an eternity, then he looked away. “Well it doesn’t look like either her or Carter is here now. Have you tried calling him?”
  230.  
  231. “Twice, but I suppose it couldn’t hurt to do so again.”
  232.  
  233. The Salamander produced a cell phone and began dialing a number. As she placed it to her ear and waited, the others began poking through the room. They drew ever closer to my hiding spot. I began gathering energy for a spell to generate a gust of wind strong enough to knock everyone off their feet. Just as I was about to cast it, the Salamander sighed.
  234.  
  235. “No answer. He’s got to be in trouble. I just know it. What should we do?”
  236.  
  237. Both members of campus security looked at one another. Then the incubus said, “We should file a report and call SPD. Better to leave this sort of thing up to them. Laura, stay here and watch the place in case he turns up or that Ryu comes around.”
  238.  
  239. Laura grunted and folded her arms across her chest. “As you say, John.”
  240.  
  241. This seemed to satisfy the Salamander. She nodded and let herself be escorted from the room by John. Laura followed in their wake, giving the room one last look-over before closing the door behind her. I relaxed and released my held breath. That was close. I wasn’t out of the fire yet, though. Now I had to figure out a way past a Minotaur before SPD showed up. But that’d be easy.
  242.  
  243. Time and energy are the two main limiting factors of magic. If you need something done fast, you have to use a lot more of energy than if you had time to prepare. Also, the longer you channel a spell the more energy it drains and the more concentration it requires. On top of that, some spells simply take time to take effect or to cast. It’s why some spells, like the one that instantly turned me invisible, aren’t used all that often. They’re major energy drains that require constant focus. Luckily I had plenty of both to spare. The benefits of being a Ryu, after all. We tend to have vast stores thanks to our draconic heritage. In any case, now that I had the time, I was able to cast a spell that temporarily shrunk me down just enough so that I could squeeze out through the window. I quickly left SU’s campus behind and flew off deeper into the city.
  244.  
  245.  
  246. ***
  247.  
  248.  
  249. Camille was the sort of back-alley augmetic dealer you went to if you wanted your augs tuned right the first time. Or if you wanted an Automaton with no questions asked. The Gremlin was an absolute master at all things technology. Usually I came to her for a tune-up, but now and again I turned to her for her other services. Today I happened to find her elbow-deep in what was either a half-built Automaton or an interesting pair of mechanical pants.
  250.  
  251. “Who’s the lucky boy?” I asked as I shut the door to her garage. As usual the place was a mess of various bits of tech and miscellaneous parts. If there was a method to the madness it was beyond me.
  252.  
  253. Camille didn’t even look up from her work. “Some visiting ambassador. Wanted a companion to take back with him.”
  254.  
  255. “Ah. And how did he come to find you exactly?”
  256.  
  257. “The same way they always do, Amy. Hand me that socket wrench, would you?”
  258.  
  259. I moved over to her toolbox and fished out the tool in question. As I handed it over, I asked, “Think you’ll be able to spare some time for me?”
  260.  
  261. “Depends what you want,” Camille grunted as she attached various ligaments together. “If you need your claws and tail tuned you’d be better off coming back in a few days.”
  262.  
  263. “Actually I was hoping you could help me track down the recipient of an email.”
  264.  
  265. She stood up straight and wiped her forehead. Even at her full height I towered over her diminutive frame. Like most Gremlins, she kept her green hair shoulder-length and spiky. Her outfit was also standard: a one-piece that left the middle of her chest and inner thighs bare. When she turned to look up at me, I smiled and offered out Luxford’s laptop. “What’s the case this time?” she asked as she took it and walked over to her desk.
  266.  
  267. “A kid got offed with spice in his system,” I replied. “Pretty brutally too.”
  268.  
  269. Camille wasted no time in booting up the laptop and hooking it up to her network. “And lemme guess: SPD didn’t have a clue.”
  270.  
  271. I shrugged with a smile. “Do they ever?”
  272.  
  273. “Hey if it keeps you in the green and able to afford my services, who am I to judge. Anyways, who’s my target here?”
  274.  
  275. I moved over and pointed out the “V” emails. “This one.”
  276.  
  277. In short order, Camille’s hands began to work the keyboard like an Ice Queen clawing at her husband for warmth. I returned to the other side of the desk so as not to hover. As she worked, she inquired, “So how are the old augs holding up anyways? It’s been a while since I last saw you.”
  278.  
  279. I tapped the bio-metal of my tail with one of my claws. “Just fine. Whatever you did worked wonders.”
  280.  
  281. She grinned back at me. “Most mechanics wouldn’t think to recalibrate the DEM cells. Generally they only need to be tuned to one’s energy once. But if it’s not done properly it leads to all sorts of small quirks like the ones you experienced. And since there’s a myriad of potential causes for those…”
  282.  
  283. Before she could gloat too much, I interrupted her, “A lot of people wouldn’t think to try the DEM cells. I get it.”
  284.  
  285. “Just as long as you’re grateful.” Her attention returned to the screen in front of her. “Speaking of augs, have you tried out the shock claws I gave you?
  286.  
  287. “Not yet.”
  288.  
  289. She raised an eyebrow, still typing away on the laptop. “In your line of work? I’m surprised. Especially with all the stories you’ve told me about your investigations.”
  290.  
  291. I did seem to have a nasty knack of getting jumped or surrounded by less-than-savory types. Hazard of the job. But I’m a big girl. I can handle myself, even without using the full potential of my augs. “Just haven’t had the right moment yet.”
  292.  
  293. “Mm. Well hopefully when you have to use them they work fine. I’d hate for my work to backfire on you.”
  294.  
  295. That earned a laugh from me. “When has that ever happened?”
  296.  
  297. “You’d be surprised. Just the other week I had a guy’s legs stuck dancing polka. Had to practically tie him down to the table before I could operate.” She sounded somewhat annoyed but I could tell she secretly enjoyed it.
  298.  
  299. “Kinky.”
  300.  
  301. Camille rolled her eyes. A small moment of silence passed between us. I fiddled with a fan encasement on a nearby shelf while I waited. Eventually, she asked, “So how goes the search for a husband?”
  302.  
  303. I groaned. She made it a habit of asking me every time I came to see her. Not that she was doing any better in that department.
  304.  
  305. “That good, huh?”
  306.  
  307. “Most guys here aren’t into Ryus,” I said. “And even those that are tend not to like augs for whatever stupid reason.”
  308.  
  309. The corners of Camille’s mouth twitched. “I hear you. It’s no picnic for me either.”
  310.  
  311. “With all the guys that come to you for their augs? Surely you have your eye on someone.”
  312.  
  313. She shrugged. “One night stands aren’t the same thing as having a steady boyfriend. Finding someone who can tolerate my genius is rare.”
  314.  
  315. I declined to comment. I did agree with her about one night stands though. They hold no appeal to me whatsoever. Compared to other mamono I’m rather tame and calm in my pursuits of the opposite sex. Not because I’m a hopeless romantic or anything. I just think there ought to be a bit of real passion, chemistry, and trust before doing the dirty. Although I’d be lying if I said the thought of taking a guy by force didn’t cross my mind from time to time.
  316.  
  317. After another pause punctuated by the sound of the keyboard, Camille said, “Alright, I think I’ve got something. Come take a look.”
  318.  
  319. I once again rounded the desk to look over her shoulder. “That was fast.”
  320.  
  321. “Well it’s not like they were encrypted emails or anything. Pretty easy to track down who was getting them. I even have a street address for you.”
  322.  
  323. Sure enough, Camille had pulled up a map of Sedis and zoomed in to one spot in particular. It was an apartment building in the slums. “Whoever ‘V’ is they’re likely in this complex. Can’t really narrow it down any further.”
  324.  
  325. I patted her on the shoulder and noted the location. “That’s fine. I’ll stake the place out and see if I can figure it out on my own. Thanks Cam.”
  326.  
  327. “Any time, Amy. Though you do owe me for this.”
  328.  
  329. “Right, right. Why don’t you keep the laptop for now in case there’s anything juicy on there I didn’t notice.”
  330.  
  331. She sighed, stood up, and returned to work on the Automaton. “You really should just keep me on retainer at this rate. No promises though. I do have to get this done before the week’s out.”
  332.  
  333. I took the hint and began heading for the door. “I’m sure you’ll find the time. You never could resist a mystery.”
  334.  
  335. A non-committal grunt was all I got in reply. Camille was already absorbed in her work once more. I left her to it and headed back to my office. I needed to pick up my camera if I was going to be staking a place out for an extended period of time. My memory’s great but not nearly comprehensive enough to forgo taking photos. Maybe one day I’ll spring for bionic eyes and a brain interface to fix that. Until then, camera it was.
  336.  
  337. Not two minutes after entering my office the phone on my desk began ringing. I stopped digging in my cabinets to pick it up and give the standard, “This is Amaya, how can I help you?”
  338.  
  339. “What’s this I hear about you terrorizing some college kids?” It was Hitomi. She sounded somewhere between amused and exasperated.
  340.  
  341. “You saved me the trouble of calling you,” I replied. “I was chasing up a lead.”
  342.  
  343. I could hear her rummaging around for a pen and some paper. “Go on.”
  344.  
  345. “The kid’s name is Carter Luxford. He used to be a student at Sedis University.”
  346.  
  347. “You sure it’s him?”
  348.  
  349. “Positive.”
  350.  
  351. “How did you come to that conclusion?”
  352.  
  353. I decided on a half-truth. “I saw him in the newspaper. It also matched with what my sources said.”
  354.  
  355. “Right…” After a moment in which I’m sure she was barking orders at someone, she continued, “One of these days you’re going to have to introduce me to these ‘sources’ of yours.”
  356.  
  357. Suddenly I had the mental image of Reri stringing Hitomi up in front of a classroom. That got me laughing. “Trust me, you wouldn’t mix well. The less you know about them the better.”
  358.  
  359. That earned me a begrudging growl. “So what are you doing now? Tracking down his murderer I hope.”
  360.  
  361. “A potential suspect, yes. When I know more so will you.”
  362.  
  363. “Just try not to turn up in any more police reports. I get enough flak as it is hiring you instead of keeping it in the department.”
  364.  
  365. “No promises,” I said.
  366.  
  367.  
  368. ***
  369.  
  370.  
  371. The slums of Sedis are perhaps one of the most polarizing things about the city. They’re a series of tightly packed, grungy buildings with narrow alleyways in between. The rest of the city, in contrast, is a series of sleek, shining towers. Personally I prefer the former. There’s more character in a single block than there is in half of the more modern parts of the city. A story for every street, a tale behind every face. Real struggles, real pain, real emotions, real people. You can’t manufacture that sort of culture if you tried.
  372.  
  373. That said, I didn’t necessarily want to spend too much time in the slums if I could help it. Plainly said: I stood out, in more ways than one. The longer I stayed the more people would spread word I was snooping around. And unlike at Sedis University, it wouldn’t be paid-by-the-hour security breathing down my neck. It’d be something far worse. To that end, I flew most of my way towards the apartment complex Camille had pinpointed, keeping to the rooftops otherwise.
  374.  
  375. By the time I’d arrived night had fallen. From my vantage point on the roof opposite the complex I could see almost everything in the immediate block. The streets below were awash in the glow from countless neon signs, and the buildings themselves were a mix of window lights and shadows. Foot traffic was sparse for the time being, which played in my favor. I’d brought the manticore spike sample with me on a hunch. My hunches were rarely wrong, and if I was right, “V” would be the owner of said spike. The less people were around to dilute the “smell” I was after, the better.
  376.  
  377. I removed the sliver from its bag and held it up to eye level. Even in the dim light, it gleamed between my claws. I focused my energy and began to concentrate on the tracking spell. With a deep breath in through my nose and muttered word, I suddenly could sense the lingering demonic energy within the spike fragment and that of the surrounding area. Each energy signature had its own colorful trail that wafted off of it into the night sky. The “scent” of the fragment was weak, almost drowned out by my own energy signature despite my efforts to conceal it. But I still could hone in on the specific smell with a bit of effort.
  378.  
  379. There was good news and bad news. The good news was there was indeed a similar energy signature in the apartment complex. The bad news was the place was so saturated with demonic energy that I wasn’t able to specifically pinpoint which apartment specifically contained my quarry. The best I could manage was narrowing it down to one of the three apartments facing the street. I’d have to get closer to be sure. The only problem with that was someone was bound to notice me. No, I would have to rely on the old PI adage of watching and waiting.
  380.  
  381. As far as stakeouts go, this one was pretty boring. There wasn’t much to entertain me between snapping pictures with my camera and watching the door to the complex. That’s just how things are sometimes. The PI life isn’t all glamour and action like some people tend to think. Really, it’s the downtime between the bouts of activity that make or break a good PI. It’s when you have the most time to observe your surroundings and reflect. Often that’s when you make connections you normally wouldn’t.
  382.  
  383. For instance, I’d only seen mamono in the apartment complex thus far. That meant the package referred to in Luxford’s emails was something the mamono couldn’t get themselves. Usually that meant men’s spirit energy or its derivatives. But what purpose would he have whoring himself out if he could afford to go to Reri’s? The answer: none. He may have lived a sort of double life, but Luxford wasn’t stupid. He kept things segregated and compartmentalized. The only clue that connected his two lives was the markings he got from Reri’s. For him to be seeing someone else, “V,” on the side suggested that it was a deeply personal affair. It scratched some itch that wasn’t being fulfilled otherwise. Perhaps he simply enjoyed having power over someone, when otherwise he preferred it the other way around? Or could it have been an old flame? Or even estranged family? Someone he had to help regardless of the consequences?
  384.  
  385. Whatever the case, it narrowed things down. My current hypothesis was that the package contained aphrodisiacs, possibly spice itself. All evidence thus far pointed to him supplying a pleasure junkie. Whether or not he partook himself was debatable. If he did, it’d explain the spice in his system. Or why he was loaded up on Manticore venom. Possibly both. There was really only one way to find out: finding “V.”
  386.  
  387. On that front I was making some progress. I eliminated one of the three apartments I was watching as it belonged to a Werewolf with a regular incubi lover. My gut told me that Luxford would likely be involved with a single and unattached mamono. A couple had their own source of spirit energy, and could likely get their own aphrodisiacs. So I scratched the second floor apartment off my list.
  388.  
  389.  
  390. That just left the one on the first floor and the one on the third. The former belonged to a Holstaur, while the latter a Raiju. Following up on the pleasure junkie angle, the Raiju fit best. They were a type of mamono that tended to be hedonists. They preferred to remain constantly stimulated to the point of orgasm. It’s what keeps their bodies charged with electricity, something that could be used to generate even more pleasure. Also as an attack, if I recalled correctly. I’d have to play things carefully.
  391.  
  392. I waited until evening on the third day to hop down from my rooftop stakeout. I’d noticed the Raiju returning to her apartment with takeout. She spent maybe ten minutes eating in her kitchen before going around to every window to close the blinds. Shortly thereafter, the lights began flickering as if from a power surge. It didn’t take a genius to put together that she was likely recharging via masturbation. It was something she did multiple times a night, if not one long continuous chains of orgasms. By confronting her at the beginning of the cycle I’d be at less risk of electrocution.
  393.  
  394. It took several loud knocks on her door interspersed a few minutes apart to garner a response. I was just about ready to open it myself when it barely cracked open. A single blue eye glared at me from the darkness.
  395.  
  396. “What do you want?” she asked, voice hot and heavy. Even through the door I could hear her furiously rubbing herself with the hand that wasn’t on the door knob. More specifically, I heard the little pops of sparks along her azure-colored fur.
  397.  
  398. It didn’t usually pan out so well when I told people I was a PI. So I smiled and lied through my teeth.  “I’m a Health Inspector. I just need to take a quick look around.” I had seen one around the complex, after all. Hopefully she’d buy it.
  399.  
  400. A growl emanated from somewhere behind the door. “I told the landlord last week that the smell wasn’t coming my apartment. Try across the hall.”
  401.  
  402. I threw out my right arm to stop the door from slamming shut in my face. “It’ll only take a few minutes. I’d hate to have to come back with your landlord in tow.”
  403.  
  404. “Piss off.”
  405.  
  406. For a moment the two of us struggled to keep the other from moving the door. Then I actually put my full strength into it. The door flew open and knocked the Raiju back onto the floor. I quickly stole inside and shut the door behind me. My opposite, stark naked, lept to her feet and began crackling along the edges. I had only moments to dodge out of the way before a ball of lightning flew at me. It hit the wall and left a large scorch mark, along with a small clap of thunder.
  407.  
  408. I needed to end this quickly, before we made too much noise and attracted the attention of her neighbors. Restraining her was out of the question. Not while she was charged up. I needed to somehow deplete her reserves without causing lasting harm. There were several spells that might do the trick, but they all would require about fifteen seconds of casting. That was fourteen more than I had before another blast was headed my way. I’d need to take a more direct approach.
  409.  
  410. “Sorry about this,” I said as my claws began to hum and glow. It was time to see if Camille’s mod would do the trick. If the shock was actual electricity it’d have no effect on the Raiju. Instead, said mod was specifically tuned to channel my own demonic energy into a high-frequency pulse much like a lightning strike. Enough to temporarily short-circuit the Raiju and prevent her from fighting back.
  411.  
  412. I lunged at her using my powerful tail muscles. She tried falling back but I was too fast for her. With a palm thrust, I discharged my claws into her abdomen. The results were instantaneous. I felt some of my energy leave me as if I’d cast a spell. At the same time, the Raiju reeled and fell to the floor as if the wind had been knocked out of her. Her electric barrier dissipated with a pop, leaving her defenseless.
  413.  
  414. “The fuck did you do?!” she slurred as she curled up into a ball.
  415.  
  416. “I gave you proper motivation to answer my questions truthfully,” I replied. “Else I’ll do it again. Do we understand each other?” I made sure to give my words enough weight to be threatening. Though I hoped I wouldn’t actually have to zap her again.
  417.  
  418. In return I got a sort of non-committal grunt. “Alright then,” I said. “First things first. What’s your name?”
  419.  
  420. “You barged in here not even knowing that?” she spat.
  421.  
  422. I raised my claws for effect. “That doesn’t sound like an answer.”
  423.  
  424. “Vivian. My name is Vivian.”
  425.  
  426. “See that wasn’t so hard, now was it? Now, Vivian, how do you know Carter Luxford?”
  427.  
  428. She sneered at me, despite still laying on the floor. “Who?”
  429.  
  430. This time I didn’t use my claws. Instead I used the very tip of my tail to smack her across the face. If she wasn’t already sober she was now. “You know who,” I said authoritatively. “The guy supplying you with spice.” The way her eyes widened told me I’d guessed right.
  431.  
  432. “What about him?”
  433.  
  434. “What happened the last time you saw him?”
  435.  
  436. “Same thing that always happens. He brought me some stuff. I paid him. That’s it.” Vivian looked up at me and narrowed her eyes. “What are you, his bookie or something?”
  437.  
  438. “I’m the one investigating why he turned up dead with spice in his system,” I replied. “And right now you’re number one on the suspect list.”
  439.  
  440. This revelation had less of an effect on Vivian than it had had on Katrena. She immediately became defensive. “He was alive when he left here. I didn’t do nothing to him that he didn’t want.”
  441.  
  442. “I thought you said you just bought ‘stuff’ from him. Which is it?” I leaned down, met her eyes, and maintained a glare.
  443.  
  444. Vivian chewed on her lower lip and looked away as a result. “I… I may have shocked him.”
  445.  
  446. “Shocked him?” If true, it meant that Vivian had essentially hyperstimulated Luxford with her electricity, to the point of multiple orgasms. “That’s all?”
  447.  
  448. “Of course not,” she shot back incredulously. “Once I got rid of that stick in his ass for him we had a great time together.”
  449.  
  450. “Meaning?”
  451.  
  452. She grinned. “Meaning I pumped him full of stuff and raped the ever loving shit out of him.”
  453.  
  454. “Including Manticore venom and spice itself?” I asked.
  455.  
  456. As she replied, I noticed one of her hands wandering to her lower body to rub herself. “That and more. Just thinking about it…”
  457.  
  458. I reached down and wrenched her hands free from her body. “Don’t even think about charging yourself back up. Not while I’m here. What happened after that?”
  459.  
  460. It was Vivian’s turn to glare at me. “I let him go. He said was expected elsewhere, otherwise I would have kept riding him.”
  461.  
  462. “So you let him wander the streets by himself while high on Demon Lord knows what?” I said. “Not smart.”
  463.  
  464. “It ain’t a crime,” retorted Vivian. “You can’t pin nothing on me.”
  465.  
  466. “Oh but I can. I’m sure SPD would love to hear everything you just said and more. All it’ll take is one phone call. Unless…”
  467.  
  468. “Unless what, you bitch?”
  469.  
  470. I released my hold on her arms, stood back up straight, and smiled knowingly back at her. “Unless you tell me more about where Luxford got his spice from and what he did with it.”
  471.  
  472. “Like I know that.”
  473.  
  474. “A pity. Though I hear SPD jail is nice this time of year…” I turned as if to leave and reached for the door.
  475.  
  476. “Wait!” interjected Vivian. “Wait. I don’t think he was supplying just me with the stuff.”
  477.  
  478. I looked back down at her over my shoulder with borderline contempt. “And what makes you think that?”
  479.  
  480. “Because he had way too much of it this last time. Even I don’t use that much.”
  481.  
  482. “Where’s the rest of it then?”
  483.  
  484. She pointed at a door further into the apartment. “In my bedroom with my other stuff.”
  485.  
  486. “Fine. Stay here.”
  487.  
  488. I snaked around her and headed towards the indicated room. Inside was a mattress flush with the floor and a small nightstand. I found what I was looking for in the end table’s bottom drawer: a half-brick of spice the size of an apple, some manticore spikes, and various other aphrodisiacs. I took small samples of the first two and stowed them away in my coat. I’d run them by SPD for Hitomi so they could compare them with what was found in Luxford’ system. I could tell by “scent” alone that the manticore spikes were a match. But Hitomi would want a chain of evidence. I just had to tie up one last loose end with Vivian.
  489.  
  490. “You never answered my earlier question,” I said as I came back into the entryway. Vivian had managed to pick herself up and lean against a wall. “How did you know Luxford?”
  491.  
  492. “We used to be childhood friends,” she wheezed. For her to still be that out of it meant my claws had been more potent than I’d thought. That or she was experiencing spice withdrawal. “I made him lunches and all that sort of shit. Looked out for one another too. We never got together though, not until…”
  493.  
  494. “Until you forced yourself on him,” I finished. I almost emphasized with her. From the eyes of a mamono, Luxford had essentially teased and taunted Vivian to the point of giving her blue ovaries, simply by existing. It made sense why she finally snapped and attacked him. Had he still been alive, I’m sure the two of them might have ended up a couple. Sex with a mamono is a hell of a drug all on its own, after all. Doubly so if, as I suspected, it had been Luxford’s first time ever using aphrodisiacs.
  495.  
  496. “So what now,” demanded Vivian. “You gunna turn me in for doing what any sane mamono would have done?”
  497.  
  498. I shook my head. “No. It wouldn’t solve anything. Locking up a pleasure-junkie just adds to the inmate population. You’re going to be in your own hell soon anyways now that your spice supply has been cut off. I don’t need to do a thing.”
  499.  
  500. Once again I moved for the door. Before I could leave, though, Vivian asked one final thing. “What do you expect me to now? You came in here, dropped a bombshell on me, and are just gunna walk out like nothing happened?”
  501.  
  502. I shrugged. “Not my problem. Go back to masturbating maybe. Frankly, I don’t care. Just know that if our paths cross again, I won’t be as lenient.”
  503.  
  504. It was another empty threat. But my poker face is pretty good. Vivian bought it hook, line, and sinker. As she slinked off, head cowed, I let myself out and back into the night. She’d given me quite a lot to think about on flight over to SPD HQ.
  505.  
  506.  
  507. ***
  508.  
  509.  
  510. SPD HQ is centrally located in Sedis, only a few blocks down from the castle where Ilassa, the lilim who rules over the city, lives. It stands out among all the surrounding buildings for being the only brick-and-mortar place around. Even at this late hour, policemen and women were coming and going. Crime doesn’t stop just because the sun goes down, after all. A few of them waved at me as I landed and headed inside. Waiting for me at the front podium was the night sergeant.
  511.  
  512. “Here to see Hitomi then?” asked Liam as he looked up from his paper. He was one of the few human members of the SPD. It was a wonder no one had snatched him up yet. Usually beards and muscles like his are in high-demand. Though he also had augmetics, in his case, a set of bionic, golden eyes. He knew me well enough with all the times I’d been by and chatted with him.
  513.  
  514. I nodded. “She in?”
  515.  
  516. He also nodded while thumbing over his shoulder. “Yeah. Head on back.” Before I made it past him, though, he asked, “By the way, where do you get your augs tuned? My usual guy’s out of town and these things are on the fritz.” He indicated his eyes with a wave of his index finger.
  517.  
  518. I paused and smiled. “I may know just the Gremlin.” I gave him Camille’s address. “Tell her I sent you.”
  519.  
  520. Liam jotted down the address and then pocketed it. “Thanks.”
  521.  
  522. With that out of the way I proceeded further into the station and up a flight of stairs. Hitomi’s office was at the end of the third floor. An official looking plaque hung on her door read “Detective Hitomi” in golden lettering. She’d only just gotten the office a few months ago. Before that she’d been down in what was colloquially referred to as “the tank,” a series of cubicles covering the entirety of the second floor. I guess she got rewarded for cracking a augmetic smuggling ring, something I’d played no small part in.
  523.  
  524. I knocked twice and waited. “It’s open,” called Hitomi from the other side. As I moved in, she said, “Ah, Amaya. You have good news for me, I hope?”
  525.  
  526. “Depends on your definition of good news,” I replied, setting down the samples I’d taken from Vivian’s on her desk.
  527.  
  528. Hitomi looked at the two small, plastic bags and raised an eyebrow. “What are these?”
  529.  
  530. “If I’m right, and I am, they’re the spikes and spice found in Luxford’s system.”
  531.  
  532. “So you found his killer then?”
  533.  
  534. I frowned slightly. “Not his killer, no. His rapist though? Yeah I found her.”
  535.  
  536. Hitomi rummaged around for a pen and paper. Once she had them, she motioned for me to continue.
  537.  
  538. “His childhood friend, whom he was supplying spice to, snapped after her advances were ignored for Demon Lord knows how long.”
  539.  
  540. “And why was he getting her spice?” she asked.
  541.  
  542. “Pleasure junkie. My guess is she got addicted then turned to Luxford for help. Rather than help her get clean, he fueled her addiction.”
  543.  
  544. “Sounds like we’re dealing with a dead dealer then. I can’t say I’m not a tiny bit pleased if that’s the case. The less of that stuff going around, the better. So what, or who, killed him then?”
  545.  
  546. I folded my arms across my chest. “Well he left his friend’s house hopped up on all sorts of things. I’m sure him being that high played no small part in his death. But as to whom actually did him in? That I’ve hit a dead end on.”
  547.  
  548. Hitomi sighed deeply. “That’s a problem. Since you brought attention to his disappearance at Sedis University, the media’s been hounding us for information. We’re going to have to release a statement soon.”
  549.  
  550. “How long?”
  551.  
  552. “Two, maybe three days tops.”
  553.  
  554. I grimaced. That wasn’t long at all. “I’ll see what I can do.”
  555.  
  556. Just then, Hitomi’s phone rang. She picked it up and said, “Detective Hitomi.” She looked directly at me. “Yes she’s here. Who’s this? ...Right.” The phone was offered out to me. “Your ‘sister.’”
  557.  
  558. I tried not to act surprised as I took the phone and said hello. “How did you know I was here?” I asked.
  559.  
  560. Camille was on the other end. “You know full well there’s a tracking device in your tail, Amy. I just pinged it and saw you were at SPD HQ. Play along or the dog will get suspicious.”
  561.  
  562. I forced a smile. “It’s good to hear from you then. Though you could have waited until I was back at home or the office.”
  563.  
  564. “No this couldn’t wait. I think I’ve found something. Can you stop by ASAP?”
  565.  
  566. “Sure, I can do that. See you in a bit then.”
  567.  
  568. I gave the phone back to Hitomi. She hung it up and waited for me to speak. “There’s a bunch of control freaks in my family,” I said with a shrug. “What can I say?”
  569.  
  570. Hitomi didn’t look like she was buying it. But with nothing to press me on she let it go. “You’ve got three days, Amaya. Don’t forget it.”
  571.  
  572. After that I excused myself and hurried outside. I launched into the air and soared as fast as I dared to Camille’s garage. I landed heavily with a thud next to her door. It was open to the night air. Inside I could see my Gremlin friend tapping away at Luxford’s laptop.
  573.  
  574. “You really should have waited,” I said as I slithered up to her. “Hitomi’s bound to try and trace the call.”
  575.  
  576. Camille laughed. “She can try. I bounced the signal enough that she’ll never trace it back to me. Besides, it was important and you don’t have a cell phone. Come take a look.”
  577.  
  578. I swiveled so as to look over her shoulder. She’d pulled up a spreadsheet and several emails. The former was a medium-sized list of perhaps ten rows. Each contained a shortened name like “V,” followed by two numbers. If the second number was smaller than the first it was colored red.
  579.  
  580. “What am I looking at exactly?” I asked.
  581.  
  582. “You’re a smart girl,” Camille said. “Figure it out.”
  583.  
  584. It took me a moment to put the pieces together. “These are the people he sold spice to. This is how he kept track of who owed him what.”
  585.  
  586. She nodded. “You’ve got it! Now take a look at this.” She highlighted one of the rows in particular. Whoever “M” was, he or she was really behind on payments. Pretty substantially.
  587.  
  588. “Alright, so this one here really owed Luxford big time. How does that relate to these emails you have here?”
  589.  
  590. “They’re all to/from them, Amy.”
  591.  
  592. I squinted at the screen. The email address used didn’t even contain the letter M. Though they did follow the same pattern of Vivian’s emails: a time and a pre-agreed place. “And you know that, how?”
  593.  
  594. Camille puffed out her modest chest. “By checking when the spreadsheet was modified against the time in the emails. It was always updated an hour after the meeting.”
  595.  
  596. “Okay. Let’s say you’re right. Why these emails in particular?”
  597.  
  598. “Just read them for yourself.”
  599.  
  600. I quickly read through the emails in question. They all seemed to be similar except for the last one. It read:
  601.  
  602. ##
  603. From: M
  604. To: L
  605. This stops tonight. You and me. Midnight at the corner of 22nd and 3rd. If you don’t show I’m going to the police.
  606. ##
  607.  
  608. “Someone called Luxford out,” I said. “And the time fits with when he was killed. Very good work, Cam. But why the anxious summons?”
  609.  
  610. “Because, dear Amy,” Camille explained. “I just got a hit from where ‘M’ is accessing their email. They’ve been jumping around town so I haven’t been able to nail down a specific spot. But if you hurry you might catch them this time.”
  611.  
  612. “How far away are they?” I asked, readying myself to bolt out of the door and into the night sky.
  613.  
  614. “They’re in a net cafe on Mason Street near the opera house. You’re looking for someone playing Lovedagger Online. Been there perhaps an hour. Hardly anyone plays that anymore so you should have an easy time finding our ‘M.’”
  615.  
  616. “Right. Thanks, Cam. I really-”
  617.  
  618. She waved her hands in a shooing motion. “Yes yes you owe me. Now hurry along! We’ll talk about how you can repay me and why you don’t have a cell phone later.”
  619.  
  620.  
  621. ***
  622.  
  623.  
  624. It didn’t take me but five minutes to zoom over to the net cafe. In fact, I nearly startled the owner when I barged in. It took me slipping him some gold for him to help me out, but soon I was directed to a room containing perhaps thirty computers set up in rows. Most were unoccupied, given that it was nearly past midnight, but two were currently in use. Only one of them was playing Lovedagger. Or so I was told, anyways. I never really got into the whole video game craze. I just knew I was looking for a third-person game with lots of gothic themes. Soon I’d picked it out and headed in that direction.
  625.  
  626. The human guy in question was short. Camille-type short. He was clad in fairly standard street clothes save for one very distinguishing feature. He had a small emblem of The Order pinned to his collar. Order members were rare in Sedis, but they were accepted just like anyone else. Well, so long as they didn’t cause any problems. Most of the time it was former Order members that came to Sedis seeking asylum. Not the types to attack anyone. It was hard to say what type this guy was just by looking at him. My gut told me he was a practicing member, though, if only by how he carried himself.
  627.  
  628. “Excuse me,” I said as I approached and tried to get his attention. “Do you have a moment?”
  629.  
  630. He glanced in my direction, frowned, then went back to his game. “Save your breath, monster. I am not interested in speaking with you.” My hunch was right.
  631.  
  632. “Good. Because that’s not what I had in mind. I understand you have a sister, is that right?”
  633.  
  634. That got him to stop what he was doing and devote his full attention to me. “What about her?” he growled.
  635.  
  636. “I’ve heard she’s in trouble,” I simply said. “I’m here to-”
  637.  
  638. I didn’t get to finish my sentence. Without warning, the man whipped out a pistol and began firing at me. Most of the shots went wide, but two hit their mark. Luckily for me they hit my left arm and my tail. As such, my augs were already healing the wounds as I lunged at him. I noted in some small corner of my mind that he was using real bullets, not demon silver. That meant I needed to incapacitate him before he caused any real damage.
  639.  
  640. Even the weakest mamono tends to be stronger and faster than your average human. As far as power levels go, Ryu are pretty high up there. So it took me little effort to wrench the gun from his hand and ensnare him with my tail. My coils squeezed down around him, just enough to knock the breath out of him but not enough to choke him out.
  641.  
  642. “Let… Let me go!” he sputtered. “I won’t be intimidated by you! I’ll never tell you where she is!”
  643.  
  644. “Quiet,” I commanded. He struggled for a bit, necessitating a tighter grip by my tail. When he stopped, I continued, “Good. Now you’re going to answer some questions for me. Starting with why you think I’m here to shake you down.”
  645.  
  646. He scowled at me. “Because my sister owes you money. Because you got her addicted to that crap! Because now she’s no longer human!!” The emphasis he put on the last word cemented my view that he was definitely a die-hard Order member.
  647.  
  648. “Believe it or not, I’m here to help fix that. Well, maybe not the not being human part. That tends to be permanent. Why don’t you start at the beginning? You’re not going anywhere until the SPD gets here so you might as well talk.”
  649.  
  650. For a minute I thought he might shut up and remain silent. But then he began to pour out information. “Monica came here to get away from our family. She didn’t like the way the Order did things in our town. I tried to stop her but she escaped during the night. That was five years ago.”
  651.  
  652. His eyes closed. “I thought I’d lost her. But then I got a call out of the blue from her. She was crying, said something about her being in trouble. Naturally I rushed here, only to find she’d been corrupted into a Succubus.”
  653.  
  654. “Which you didn’t like one bit,” I observed dryly. At the same time, I could hear sirens wailing in the distance.
  655.  
  656. “Of course not. But she was family. Monster or not, she needed my help.”
  657.  
  658. “With what exactly?”
  659.  
  660. “She got addicted to some drug. I don’t know what it was called. All I knew was she couldn’t pay and her dealer wasn’t happy. A bunch of goons ransacked her place and threatened her. If I hadn’t showed up when I did…”
  661.  
  662. “Spare me the waterworks,” I quipped. “What did you do about it?”
  663.  
  664. He scoffed. “What do you think I did? I moved her somewhere safe. Then I saw to it the person who did that to her wouldn’t do it to anyone else.”
  665.  
  666. I knew what he meant and whom he meant, but I wanted to be sure. “You did what to who exactly?”
  667.  
  668. Even in my coils, he puffed out his chest a little in pride. “Her dealer. I brought justice to him.”
  669.  
  670. Sheesh. The Order was loony even on a good day, but to go so far as to kill another human in a mamono-run city? This guy definitely wasn’t thinking straight. But it did finally answer the question of how Luxford died. He’d gone to meet this Order guy to settle things with Monica, all while his blood was on fire from Manticore venom and spice. The two got into a fight, and Order guy got the better of him. The reason Luxford’s face was bashed in post-gunshot wound wasn’t to obscure his identity. It was a crime of pure passion.
  671.  
  672. “Where is your sister now? Is she still in the city? Why aren’t you with her now?” I asked.
  673.  
  674. Mr. Order clamped his mouth shut. Despite any further questioning or prodding he stayed vigilant until the SPD arrived. I passed him off to the Dullahan officers and went to make a phone call.
  675.  
  676. “Detective Hitomi.”
  677.  
  678. “Hitomi, it’s Amaya. I just passed off Luxford’s murderer to your sisters in blue.”
  679.  
  680. “Hell, Amaya. I should have known that code two forty-five was you. Are you alright?”
  681.  
  682. “I’m fine,” I replied. “I didn’t get the guy’s name, but he’s indoctrinated Order. Supposedly has a Succubus sister in town that might now be in trouble for Luxford’s death. He wouldn’t say anything to me about her though, so you’ll probably want to interrogate him. Sooner she’s in protective custody, the better.”
  683.  
  684. Hitomi agreed. “That we can do. So why’d he do it then?”
  685.  
  686. “Didn’t like the fact his sister was being supplied drugs. Or that she was getting into trouble for being behind on her payments. So he took matters into his own hands and delivered some vigilante justice. I’ll have a full report written up and to you before morning.”
  687.  
  688. “You do that. And thanks, Amaya. The press will have a field day with this one, but at least it wasn’t a mamono who killed him.”
  689.  
  690. “Small blessings, I suppose.”
  691.  
  692.  
  693. ***
  694.  
  695.  
  696. As expected, the story about how an assumedly upstanding, human male was involved in drug violence caused waves. Most news outlets took the opportunity to cry for stronger drug control in the city, while others tried to dive into what drove Luxford to deal in the first place. Only a few tried to stir up sympathy, that his life might have taken a different path if he’d been betrothed to a mamono. His murderer’s fate was almost an afterthought. He ended up getting twenty-five to life in an Ushi Oni run prison. Don’t do the crime if you can’t handle the time, I suppose.
  697.  
  698. Me? I got a fat paycheck from the SPD and a personal thank you from the chief of police. Most of my reward went to paying off Camille and in getting a cell phone from her. Apparently it gets 5Gs, and never roams, whatever that means. I also had her turn off my tail’s tracking device, just in case anyone besides her had the means to track me. Better safe than sorry. She didn’t protest, though. Something about a strong, well-bearded man walking into her shop on my recommendation helped.
  699.  
  700. The only loose end was Mr. Order’s sister. By the time they’d gone to where she was supposedly staying she’d disappeared. I wasn’t hired to find her, though, so I closed the case. I can’t save everyone, after all. She eventually turned up in an SPD raid on a spice den a few weeks later. Battered and bruised, but alive. She went into rehab and apparently made a clean recovery.
  701.  
  702. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and get tied up by a Manticore.
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