Chapter 1. “Still waters burn deep”
Boss wasn’t anyhow ambiguous. If she told him to be totally drunk tonight, then better listen to her and ask nothing. Not to say Mark didn’t like the opportunity to get ‘warmed up’ again, but… Still, it was pretty unusual to get Maya’s straight order to be as far from his job as possible. She made it clear: her people were everywhere, and she would know if Mark obeyed before the dawn could embrace the city.
Thus, he found himself looking at the bright neon sign of the nightclub.
Maya’s words still echoing in his head when Mark passed the security. A big guy with a bandaged nose threw a frowned glance, but Mark was quick to calm him down.
“Not on duty. Relax, buddy.”
The guy sighed and turned his head away, too fast. It was his, Mark’s, fault that the club security had a bandage on his face. It had happened not long ago, maybe two or three months, when Mark was chasing one of the biggest drug traffickers of Polis. According to the case, the detective needed to check exactly this club, and it turned out that the dealer was there that particular night. There was a huge fight, lots of citizens were injured, as well as many police officers.
Security guy was hurt too. Got a couple of punches and concussion, and several broken bones.
It was Mark who broke his nose. Not being aware of who was and who was not the dealer’s man, he just did his best trying to arrest every single face looking similar to the description of the trafficker’s gang.
And the club… Nothing changed inside. And nothing reminded him about those days full of hard work. Loud, as usual, music vibrations made everything tremble. At the blink of an eye Mark felt early signs of the migraine. It had been haunting him for the last several months, maybe half a year. Every time nothing but strong drinks helped him.
He supposed it was connected with his… Fire issues.
“Detective? You’ll have your usual?” It was too kind of a no-name bartender to remember Mark’s favorite drinks, but speaking frankly Mark didn’t mind using his privileges if it didn’t mean breaking any law or hurting anyone.
Like, none got anything bad if he allowed bartenders and sellers in the shops to make him a sale or remember his preferences. He was a law abiding citizen, and was going to keep this position. Also, Mark never asked for any favors. He just wanted Polis to be a more secure place, more quiet and peaceful. As it was created. Better than it used to be in his childhood.
After the second mug of ale was drained Mark allowed himself to examine the dance area. Colorful, stormy sea – the crowd moved following the strong beat of the music. People were shouting, laughing and touching each other in spots not so decent. Mark was no saint and he didn’t judge anyone at all.
The only glance, short, brief as rare summer lightning, was enough to make him half-sober.
…he didn’t judge people for being people, and that was true.
But he never understood if it was correct to see one of the most powerful and dangerous criminals in the Polis history having fun in the club. He didn’t expect Noah to be alive and free, and having a handsome couple – a girl and a tall guy, both young – hold his waist on their path to the exit.
So many things Mark could do.
Wanted to do, but didn’t.
Didn’t scream and didn’t threaten staff with his bronze badge. And in those images, already drunk, he saw himself as insane. Everyone knew that blood mage Noah got killed by his own brother.
But there was something he could afford.
Mark could try to stop Noah right now.
Sight of his sharp face, dark hair combed back summoned a light vertigo of memories, pictures of the past, when he was naïve and weak, and could not save his friends. He was strong enough to only show a good resistance to blood magic, but…
He needed to know the truth.
A detective was always a detective, even when his own powers drained just like his ale glass.
‘If I go to Maya, I’ll definitely have my head twisted off…’
Congratulating himself with a sudden circumstance that spoiled his ‘warming time’, Mark left tips for the bartender and pursued Noah. Thankfully, he and his company went far enough for the detective not to be seen or look suspicious.
The cold night wind was touching his temples in a soft, soothing caress, bringing him a stream of fresh air. Fog in his head didn’t vanish at once, but loosened its grip in his mind. Now he was able to trace, to watch attentively, noting every detail.
His second nature element – investigation.
Polis itself was his territory. Lots of Mark’s colleagues migrated here from distant regions, they didn’t know, didn’t see the true history of Polis. But Mark did. He had been watching it for the last 30 years. With a younger brother who now didn’t want to even see him. And that feeling was mutual.
Mark knew Polis city, and Polis knew Mark. They were old pals, opening doors for each other when needed, bringing rumors and secrets in exchange for peaceful periods. Mark helped Polis to become cleaner, Polis helped Mark not to climb back inside a bottle for the rest of his life.
And, damn, he was good at it!
The very last, the only by his 30 years, thing Mark was confident in.
“…sorry to say goodbye right now…” Few blocks later Noah caught a cab and watched the couple get in. Ex-revolutionary paid the driver and leaned towards the driver’s window. Probably, he was telling the address. “…hope to see both of you soon.”
Mark always considered himself as a professional detective, very intuitive and having a sharp mind tempered in tough cases. With an analytical mind, he showed all his talents and skills, and got his job because of being well-trained, because of hard working…
“Well, Mr. Detective, I assume you have questions to ask.”
…and he never imagined he could be caught that simple.
Maybe, it was an unintentional sound he made because of being drunk and didn’t notice that? Or…
“I know you’re following me since we left the club. I’m a blood mage, detective. I can feel your heartbeat from miles away. Would you kindly show yourself? Hiding behind the bus stop doesn’t suit you at all.”
…or simply Noah was a blood mage.
“You’re alive…” No need to ask obvious things, but Mark felt it necessary to distinguish his position. The position of one demanding explanations.
Noah nodded. Of course, he was alive. And Mark said nothing more. Just watched those crystal clear pale eyes. Most of healing mages having talents in blood art had their eyes much lighter than others had. And this glance was scanning Mark’s face now in response. Trying to find a weak spot?
Blood mage had not changed a bit since their last meet.
Tall and broad-shouldered. Clothes of dark tones, hair combed in a simple way, nothing reflected his origin. Mark forgot nothing, he knew Noah was too strong and skilled even for him.
“We got reports about your death. Your brother killed you before committing suicide.” Mark forced words to leave his throat. Sound of his husky voice entwined with the distant siren.
Red and thick, dark malting haze raised above the city center. Yet not confident, but the air started filling with a smoke scent.
Even under the thick layer of ash Mark’s face was burning furiously, just like the dawn that was already rising over Polis city.
His boss, the chief of police, sighed and almost fell into her chair heavily, pressing her fingers towards the bridge of her nose.
She had been woken up in the midst of the night because of the huge fire; she didn’t sleep well and now was not able to find any powers to keep standing on her feet. And worse of everything else, when all citizens had been calmed down, one smart (sometimes not enough) detective rushed into her office with the head healer of Polis in handcuffs.
“Miss Phong, may I explain the situation?” The man in civilian clothes was rubbing sore skin on his wrists. He had red eyes and dark shadows, just as both of the policemen in the room did. This night was extremely tough for lots of citizens.
And all of them smelled like strong, heavy smoke, it stained their clothes. And if their conjunctiva wasn’t already irritated, all three of them would have had their cheeks wet of tears.
Maya made a sharp move with her shoulder. It meant she allowed talking.
“I understand this confusion of yours, detective Mark.” The healer turned to the man with a dirty face. “Our last meeting was not…suitable for having any peaceful conversation. Thus, I strongly recommend both of us find another place to talk, since Miss Phong is not ready to explain one simple thing to you again.”
Mark didn’t understand. He was trying, he forced himself to, tortured his exhausted empathy, and still was not able to catch Maya’s design. Noah was a revolutionary. He did humiliate people, lots of policemen, medics, teachers, peacekeepers lost their natural magic, their lives and future. And Noah was the only to be responsible for those crimes.
Why now Maya called him head healer?
Why didn’t she tell him? Mark had also been captured by Noah’s people during the revolution, Mark was on that line – when he could be left without his magic.
And yet, he did lose it, but it was nothing about Noah, it was his own fault.
“Either you both get out, or I’ll see you both are thrown in single cells in order to have a break from your senseless jibber-jabber!”
They had to leave the office and the police station. None of them wanted to see Maya in her full rage mode, and Mark chose a small tea room located in the basement of the nearby building. Though it was close to his workplace, policemen usually were too squeamish to visit it. It wasn’t that bad, but it had a pretty bad reputation, too gloomy environment, and too stuffy, thick air imbued with tea spirit.
The ideal place for his occasion, but Mark had to hide his police badge.
Nobody would recognize them here, and therefore they could talk without being nervous about eavesdropping.
It was one of the few places where people tried to find information peacefully.
“Fire away. Now.” Mark demanded when the waitress walked away after bringing them their order.
Green jasmine tea for Noah, strong black one with cardamom for Mark.
“It won’t bring you any good if you mix your words with tea. It looks ridiculous.” Noah shrugged indifferently as if nothing bothered him at all. “It’s more effective to ask correct questions without jumping into the deep end, isn’t it?”
What a bastard.
Mark could not and didn’t want to find any other word, that one was the most fitting Noah. Especially after a sleepless night and with his eyes full of invisible sand, with ache piercing over his body, there was no chance to save a little piece of any good mood.
And Noah was definitely not that person who deserved a good attitude.
At least until Mark could know the details of his miraculous rescue. Nobody knew if his opinion could change.
“Well, I suppose the first thing you want to know is why I am free now, huh?”
Hardly stopping himself from making a stingy comment, Mark sipped his tea in silence. With his eyes closed the drink felt more relaxing than it usually was for him. Just a thing for distraction, a point of concentration in the situation of confusion, a situation full of nervous thoughts and sharp brief movements.
Black strong tea wasn’t anyhow an equal substitution for a person who had just broken up with coffee half diluted with brandy.
Fire mages found it difficult to get warmth by virtue of so-called ‘déformation professionnelle’
Fate had a picky humor.
“My brother… Council Theodor died that day.” Noah’s glance was clean though dark shades didn’t vanish, and he looked no better than Mark himself. But those eyes, pale and terrifying, were full of sincere, strange harmony. This was the purity of calm waters. “Theodor, be the spirits merciful to him, thought he was the one to judge others. Including me. And to be honest, I don’t blame him. But seconds before the explosion… It came to me that I was not the person to kill the power grown by our father. Force, detective Mark. It is the Force of healing and knowledge, the true, inner sight of blood art. I saw it precisely that day, just as I can see you now: this Force is created to serve people, to save them from themselves. My death – and other’s deaths too – is not able to turn the time back. And it pays for nobody’s sins. Blood is not a currency.”
Turbulent tea surface in his cup reflected two amber flashes – detective’s eyes. The dark water shifted when he coughed and sipped again.
“And Maya believed in this trashy tale about sin paying?”
When the tea surface became smooth, Mark could distinguish little wrinkles in the corners of his eyes.
“I’m not trying to pay for my sins, detective.” Frowning, the detective lifted his head to only be confused by the still and quiet glance of Noah.
Spring ice, that what they called that glance of outstanding blood mages.
Mark was aware of hearsay about the hypnotic effect of blood mages’ straight look, but… He wasn’t a person to believe unsubstantiated facts.
“And I am not currying Miss Phong’s favor. Or president’s, or anyone’s else. The Force guides me, young detective. And now the Force requires help in restoring the balance you and your fair friends damaged when destabilized spirit tension in Polis. Not all mages were strong enough to survive the nightmare. And I’m saving mere people, saving life which is always precious, and it cannot be ignored by you, police. No one has any right to put himself above people’s lives. You thought you’re doing the right thing. And now I am the only person in Polis able to fix equilibrium mistakes.”
“Equilibrium mistakes?” Mark didn’t even notice Noah called him ‘young’. He watched those spring-ice-eyes, and he couldn’t turn away. He felt the emanation of power, of deathly dangerous will. It touched his mind lightly, the sense barely registered.
“Mistakes appeared after your failed attempt to make so-called new balance. I know you tried to help. But you didn’t. Polis needs healing. And if it’s the only thing I can do before I’m sentenced to death, then I won’t hesitate.”
A disturbing, hardly tangible feeling raised in Mark’s soul, just like the loose teas found their way from the bottom of the tea cup. Because of that feeling the detective didn’t have a word to say, no reason to make Noah stay. Head healer of Polis was generous to leave tips and polite enough to say goodbye. Noah said he had a shift in the hospital.
Mark, abandoned, with two empty cups, was sitting in the room and frowning towards the decorations of lianas and shiny little spots of synthetic spirits flying around.
His instinct of hiding his face under the red scarf awakened.
Though it was not his father’s scarf already, Mark needed it as he never did.