Inspector Camille Pherigo was on foot today, which was as much a burden as a mercy; patrolling chroveback had its downsides – sore unmentionables being one of them – but navigating the crowded, dusty maze of the Dives on a warm Yaris day wasn’t one of them.
He had a complex relationship with this sort of heat. It wasn’t that he liked it, precisely; personally, he had always found it loathsome. With each second spent in it, even now, he was conscious of the sweat prickling underneath his heavy Seventen uniform – of the way that one or two curls of thin, white-blond hair would find themselves out of place, plastered to his scalp. It was impossible to keep oneself in perfect order, under these conditions; one drooped in the heat, it had always seemed to Camille, like a withered flower. Under the deafening bell of the sun, the whole world drooped.
But he remembered – and how! – Yaris in the central erg, and sometimes, on days like today, Vienda felt like a strange, shivering mirage; as if he could tear it apart, tear down the thick-set buildings and the bustling crowds, and find the desert somewhere underneath it all. He remembered the years he’d spent stationed at Paora Fo, and how the wind had whipped the sands up thicker than the smog in the Soots, so thick that you could scarcely see your hand at the length of your arm.
Pherigo did not much like the heat, after all, but looking up at the broad blue sky, or the sliver of it that he could see between the rooftops – he couldn’t keep the turning of his mind away from what that sky might be looking at elsewhere. There was a gulf in Pherigo’s life; there was a before, and an after, and a place in between.
But now was After, and Pherigo had plenty to occupy him today.
It had seemed petty to him, at first, but much of this job was petty, and he was hardly the one to question it. He had been briefed, and he knew a little of Catriona Fraser: he knew that they called her the Black Cat (a charming moniker, he had to admit). He knew that much of her clientele was galdori; she had been well-recommended, having trained under a galdor smith, one Raynarus.
Other things had not been a part of his briefing. He did not know Harry Greer very well – they had seldom spoken, and never worked together – but he knew that she had run afoul of the Greers, one way or another. Isolda, Greer’s wife, seemed particularly inflamed. That was the rumor, at any rate. Camille also knew, through his own private enquiries, that Miss Fraser was known to be mute.
For the moment, all of these details floated apart, scrambled and scattered; there was no way to put them together, and so he did not even try. The whole thing, in Pherigo’s opinion, stank, and he would be glad to wash his hands of it as soon as possible.
But as strong as his doubts may have been, an accusation of affiliations with the human resistance was no small matter. Not now. In ordinary circumstances, he would have gone, and he would have had a chat with the blacksmith, and, having discovered nothing, he would have reported to his superiors in the Oculus that the accusation was invalid, and that his investigation had yielded nothing. But it was Yaris, and the heat and the winds had whipped up their own sort of sandstorm in Vienda – and if Pherigo was correct about the direction of the winds, Catriona Fraser would not be the first human taken into custody on false accusations.
The sun was heavy, and he was growing tired, and he was thinking of this as he skimmed the crowded street for the smithy’s sign. Thinking of what he might do, and when, and how. But when he saw it, he did not hesitate. Pherigo knew how to navigate a crowd, and his Seventen uniform with its sash didn’t hurt; he wove among the press of bodies, touching a shoulder here, slipping sideways there, his dark eyes fixed on one, and only one, thing – the sign of the Black Cat.
Slowly but surely, he followed the little streams and tributaries of the throng; slowly but surely, he broke out into a clearing, and found himself very near to the sign. He hadn’t taken his eyes off of it the whole time, but now he let them wander down, and he found himself looking at a forge.
Fitting his customary pleasant smile on his face, he approached it.
“Good afternoon,” he called, despite the fact that it was morning – then laughed, as if realizing he’d made a fumble. He hadn’t the strongest voice, and it didn’t carry well over the buzz of the crowd behind. He pushed his spectacles up on his nose as he approached the smithy, leaving them a bit crooked. When he caught sight of a slim, soot-streaked figure at the forge, he dipped low in a proper, respectful galdor bow.
When he raised up, there was a smile on his face. He moved into the forge slowly, as if tentatively; he looked nothing if not hesitant. Unassuming, despite his uniform and its glinting snaps, as if he’d simply found himself dressed in it that morning without knowing why.
“W-would you be, ah,” and he hesitated, as if struggling to remember the name, “Miss – Cat? The b...b-blacksmith, by chance?” He tugged at his blond mustache with a plump hand, and his smile brightened.