Part I - Bringer of Storms :: 7
Heat. Heat was his world now. Unbearable heat. The stench of burnt flesh and fur. Suffocating heat. Stinging smoke in his eyes. Excruciating heat. The cries of a child in his ears. Heat. Fire. Death.
The blast had knocked the sense from him. One moment, he had been leaning against the back wall of the Sigil office, having a long pull on a stowed away whisky flask. The next, fire. Burning. Heat. Death.
He had heard cries go out, only to be shut down by the greedy heat. It sucked at the air, growing stronger, feeding on the living and turning them into the dead. He had to move.
How long had he been there, on the ground in misery? How many minutes, how many hours? Could he move? His leg shifted. His other leg unbent from underneath him. He could.
Protector Greer began the slow journey to his feet. The heat beat at his squinted eyes. He closed them fully and instead reached out to attempt to find purchase on something. His palm ran over cool stone so he leaned on it to right his balance. With a great heave of his chest, he drew in a sharp breath. The air burned his throat and forced its way back out in a hacking cough. He turned towards the cool stone.
Facing away from the heat, he opened his eyes and met the gaze of a wall older than most of the buildings in the Chop. He looked up and saw the large spire of the Chamatri Temple. The blast had sent him dozens of paces away from the Sigil office's back alley.
His ears picked up more screaming, near the west, and he turned back around. The heat was still there, as mean as ever, forcing him to wince as he tried to focus his vision.
Through a thick haze, shadows were moving back and forth near what looked to be the main road of Little Mille. Every five or so shadows were glowing bright orange, thrashing about.
Greer pulled the collar of his shirt over his maw and nose, tried to squint even harder, and started a slow shuffle to the exit of the alleyway.
One of the shadows turned at the alley's entrance and began growing larger. It was calling his title.
"Here," the lawman replied with a raspy cough.
The shadow gave a great heaving cough itself and paused. Greer grew closer.
"I'm here," repeated Greer. "What's happened?"
"Magic," the shadow replied. Greer could see it had two large ears.
The bar owner coughed and nodded her reply.
Greer moved closer and gripped her shoulders. "Are you ok?"
"Don't worry about me. I think magic was used at the script store."
She nodded. "Fire magic."
Greer's eyes opened as wide as the stinging haze would allow. "Does Wilcox know?"
"He's already over there. He told me to find you before he headed off there."
Greer nodded. Though he couldn't quite catch the look on her face through his tautened eyes, he could hear the inquiry in her tone of voice.
He bounded off before she could ask him what he had been doing.
The main street was chaos. His quick exit from the alleyway sat those near him on edge, their heads snapping to the sound of a newcomer. Greer saw dozens of Humes and Animas on the ground. Some were being tended by Chamatri healers, their hands glowing with the blue sparkling light of the only type of magic that was still legal. Others were clearly dead, their bodies curled and gnarly, frozen in shrieks of agony, fear, and dread. The dead were not of concern now.
He pointed to a canine Chamatri healer. "Survivors?"
The adept waved his hands in the Chamatri holy greeting, a gesture that resembled an embrace. Greer briefly returned it and repeated his inquiry.
"We are tending to them as quickly as we can."
Greer nodded. "Lasting damage?"
"Only to those nearest the fire. And the dead, of course. May their ashes return to the Mother."
Greer sighed but returned the Chamatri idiom to the holy adept. He didn't have time for formalities.
"Any adepts from Humbolt?"
The healer frowned. "They are too afraid to come out. They claim this to be one of the portends of the Storm of End. Hah."
With a shake of his head, Greer moved forward, weaving through the dead and wounded. The stench was beginning to become nearly as unbearable as the heat.
He saw Leona crouched next to a sobbing Hume child, her hand clasped over his shoulder and glowing bright blue. The child, a girl, was wailing, calling for her papa. Leona was cooing at the little girl, trying to calm her. Greer continued.
The path curved for a few paces and then the heat really hit him. He grimaced and turned his head away from it. The afterimage of what was left of the script store and the store house next to it had burned onto his eyelids. Flames leaped left and right, over and under, trying to eat at everything on offer. The heat had been so intense that the clay brick facade of the store had fused into one large lump and shifted to the side. Behind it was black charred rubble. The screams here were much less in volume, replaced by the hungry roaring of the flames.
He saw Wilcox and a few others, most of them lesser Machine workers, beating at the flames with cloth tarps and their own coveralls. One worker was pulling what looked to be a large chunk of coal from beneath an burnt wooden beam. As Greer got closer, he realized the chunk was a body. A child's body.
Something pulled at his gut and he stepped to the side, his boots crunching on fused shards of glass. The heat had been beyond intense, beyond even that of the bowels of the Machine. There was no way to deny it now. Magic had been used here.
"Greer," came the Watcher's grim voice.
"Here," the Protector replied as his boss strode out from a flame-less corner of the rubble.
Greer tilted his head. "Yeah, why?"
"You're missing your shirt."
Greer patted at his chest and looked down. Indeed, his uniform's top had been removed. Fur was singed down his stomach and arms.
"I hadn't noticed. The heat was so bad."
Wilcox frowned. "It's still bad. It'll be bad for a while. This was not a natural explosion."
"Have you found anything to prove that?"
Wilcox started to reply, "I've only found corpses- Briar!" He punctuated it with a yell, pointing over to the worker that had been dragging the charred corpse out of the rubble. "Show him."
The Machinist, a tall and bearded Hume with broad shoulders, walked over and reached into his pocket. From it he extracted a metallic rock.
"That's a rock," replied Greer, taking the rock when the Machinist offered it.
"Look again," replied the Watcher as he bent and moved a few charred items to the side.
Greer brought the rock up to his eyes and began to examine it. It was bulbous and looked to have had bubbles in its composition. Odd for a rock. He turned it over and saw milky flakes shinning in the light.
"Not a rock," replied the Watcher.
"I've seen that many times," came Briar's deep baritone.
Greer motioned the rock at him. "Seen this?"
The large Hume nodded. "In the war, this'd be all that was left of a spell canister after it hit a target."
"Are you saying that someone shelled the Script Store?"
Briar shrugged. "Just sayin that looks like a spell canister. Ain't got much else for ya."
Greer nodded. "Thanks." He turned to Wilcox. "So not a rock."
The Watcher shook his head. "Briar's right. I've seen that before too."
"So we start at the Alchemists?"
Wilcox shook his head. "No, we start with counting the living and the dead."