In the aftermath of the fire, Tam felt covered in soot and suffused with smoke, despite the fact that she hadn’t been within a dozen miles of the building while it was burning.
“I still don’t get how you got those water people out there?” Cynthia said, as they jogged down the park lane.
“Technically, you were the one who got them out there,” Tam said, checking her watch to see if their pace was keeping her heart rate in the proper range.
“Oh, because I definitely knew what I was doing there. You had me hose them down and when the water stopped flowing they were just gone!”
“You gave them a lifeline out of there by bringing in the fire hose,” Tam said. “Elementals have a weird relationship with tangible forms. They need them but they’re not stuck in any particular one.”
“So they went from inhabiting the bubble bodies I saw to inhabiting the fire hose?” Cynthia asked, checking her watch as well. They didn’t normally get their runs in after Cynthia got out of work, but she’d been on shift for a few days and the two of them were falling behind in the workout schedule. Tam had suggested they head to the park to catch up a bit out of a desire to feel the clean wind in her hair as much as anything else.
“It was more the water in the firehose and the water it was connected to that the elementals bonded with,” Tam said.
“But the water was coming out at pretty high speed there,” Cynthia said. “How were they able to fight upwards against the stream?”
“They didn’t have to.” Tam said and quickened her pace to keep shoulder to shoulder with Cynthia. With shorter legs, she had to work a little harder and run a little faster but the exercise felt good. After too many months of holing up in her sanctum to work on the Club’s issues, she’d managed to institute a decent training program so that her body wouldn’t fall apart while her mind overworked itself to the point of exhaustion. Val had helped her plan out the program and Cynthia had helped her stick with it.
“The moment the water from the hose touched them, they were able to join with all of the water in that flow,” Tam continued. “Getting out of the building at that point was just a matter of shifting where their focus was. Kind of like paying attention to your left hand instead of your right foot.”
“How did you know I’d be there to help them though?” Cynthia asked.
They came out of the forested part of the park lane and entered the stretch the circled the park’s largest pond. There were more people around, some walking, some running, and some just enjoying the day. Their presence didn’t deter Tam from answering the mystical part of the question directly though.
“I didn’t. I heard the Water Elementals cry out for help and just went to them. I knew they were close but I didn’t have a sense of exactly where they were until you showed up.”
“That’s not just an odd coincidence though is it?” Cynthia asked and glanced over at Tam.
“Probably not,” Tam said. “Obviously Water Elementals aren’t usually big on hanging around in burning buildings. In this case though someone had enchanted the pipes that were part of the fire suppression system to become a part of their home.”
“Magic fire sprinklers?” Cynthia raised an eyebrow. “That sounds either awesome or awful. I guess more awful now that I think about it. Wouldn’t that have been a death sentence for the Water Elementals?”
“I was thinking about that,” Tam said. She was beginning to feel a bit winded, but better than that, she was feeling like the wind had finally pulled most of the smoke’s spiritual essence out of her. “If the fire suppression system had worked, it would have gone off well before the building was engulfed in flames. The Water Elementals would have been fine then because there would have been plenty of water around for them to inhabit.”
“So the person who put them in the pipes meant for it to be a good thing then?”
They passed by a large group of runners, several of whom were wearing coordinated jerseys bearing a logo of a donut segmented into four equal pieces, each piece with a different color.
“Maybe?” Tam said. “It feels like there was more going on there than that though. Enchanted pipes playing home to water elementals is weird enough, one’s that just happen to be in a burning building where the sprinkler system is broken though? That sounds potentially deliberate. Then add in that it was a building your crew got called out for and it moves from ‘potentially’ to ‘almost certainly’ I think.”
“This might add to that as well,” Cynthia said. “The fire wasn’t accidental either.”
“Why am I not surprised,” Tam said, picking up her pace. Her mind was starting to wander off into conjectures around the puzzle before them, which distracted her from keeping her jogging at the proper speed.
“I don’t know that officially yet,” Cynthia said. “The investigation will take a while but from what we saw it’s pretty clear it was arson by someone who’d watched too many movies.”
“Well, they did manage to burn the place down, so they couldn’t have been too far off right?” Tam asked.
“The tricky part about arson isn’t getting dried out decrepit old wood to burn,” Cynthia said. “It’s setting the blaze so that it takes out enough of the building that we can’t stop it while at the same time making the fire look natural. Thankfully that’s not a skill very many people have. Assuming this was a person that is.”
“Did you see any evidence that it wasn’t?” Tam asked, her eyes narrowing in concern.
“I did stumble on some enchanted pipes, and a group of Water Elementals,” Cynthia said. “Which makes me wonder if any other elementals were around there? Like Fire ones maybe?”
“Ah, yeah, that’s a good question to raise, but I can answer it for you. The fire itself was purely natural. No supernatural component of it.”
“And the cause of the fire?” Cynthia asked.
“It’s possible it was started by magic, or by a magical creature,” Tam said. “I don’t think a Fire Elemental could have done it without the Water ones knowing about it though. They’re supposed to be able to sense each other at fairly broad distances.”
“Any other magical creatures a possibility then?” Cynthia asked.
Another small pack of runners passed them, wearing the same team jerseys the previous pack had sported.
“Oh sure, lots,” Tam said. “But there wasn’t any evidence I could see of them being there. No phoenix ash sparkling in the wind. No smell of brimstone. No flaming hoofprints on the walls. For now it’s probably good to let the forensic teams sort things out.”
“They might miss something,” Cynthia said with a note of caution in her voice.
“True, especially if someone is using tricks they’re unfamiliar with to hide what happened. On the other hand though, if they are magical, they’re good enough to hide from me, and if I poke around for a better look, I’ll definitely contaminate the scene, and probably throw off the regular forensic results.”
“What about Sarah? Is this something that’s more in her area of specialization?” Cynthia asked.
“Not specifically, though she probably has different techniques than the ones I use so she might turn up something I missed,” Tam said. “Unfortunately she, Connie, and Jen are off in Mozambique at the moment.”
“What’s happening in Mozambique?”
“Quite a lot it turns out. In this particular case though, they got called in by a friend of James’ to help with a werewolf problem.”
“Mozambique has werewolves?”
“Not typically, and not this kind of werewolf before. The local magic wielders haven’t dealt with a Siberian werewolf before, and while it seems like they could kill the wolf pretty easily, our contact was more interested in bringing them in alive and getting them the treatment they need.”
“That sounds like a fun adventure.” Cynthing said, her complete lack of desire to join them an accent on every word.
“We have a betting pool going for which of them comes back and needs the lycanthropy cure for getting bitten,” Tam said with a grin.
“Who’s your money on?” Cynthia asked.
“Sarah. Connie’s used to being around critters that bite, and Jen’s too quick on her feet to get caught. Sarah though gets a bit distracted at times.”
“Huh. A wizard who loses all track of their surroundings. I can’t imagine what that would be like.”
“When was the last time I zoned out like that?” Tam asked.
“We’re off the path and heading towards the pond,” Cynthia said. “I’m sure you just wanted to take a closer look at the water though right?”
“What?” Tam asked, glancing up and stumbling to a halt. Cynthia was not wrong. Lost in the conversation, Tam had missed the last turn in the jogging trail and had lead them down a long worn path through the trimmed grass which would have brought them to the side of the pond.
She shook her head. That was unusually out of touch even given the questions she was mulling over in the back of her mind.
In the distance a car horn sounded, except it wasn’t from any make or model that had ever been assembled on Earth.
“Did you hear that?” she asked, reasonably certain she knew what the answer would be.
“Hear what?” Cynthia asked, the smile she was suppressing turning to a look of readiness.
“It sounded like a saxophone being played by a carburetor,” Tam said, closing her eyes.
She knew she could look around all she wanted and the only things she would see would be the normal denizens of the park. Listening however might be a different story.
“I definitely did not hear anything like that,” Cynthia said. Seeing Tam with her eyes closed, Cynthia chose to keep hers open for the two of them. They’d been sucked into another world before, and while the park looked normal so far, looks were all too often deceiving when magic came into play.
“That’s good,” Tam said. “It means whoever is doing this is probably trying to get through to me.”
“So everyone else here should be safe then?”
“Safe-ish? I’d feel more certain of that if I knew what it was our mystery caller wanted.”
“Could they be looking for someone else?”
“If they’ve mistaken who I am, then sure,” Tam said. “There’s definitely a spell that’s reaching out to me though. I think the fire was the start of it.”
“So, not a good guy then,” Cynthia said, her arms and shoulders tensing.
“The odds favor it going like that,” Tam said.
“Why would a bad guy go to so much trouble to get in touch with you though? Don’t they normally just attack?”
“Depends on the bad guy,” Tam said. “Some of them just can’t do anything without making it as dramatic as possible.”
Another car horn went off somewhere far away. This one sounded like a duck inflating a whoopie cushion by screaming at it.
“I don’t think they liked that description,” Tam said.
“Should we go somewhere else in case they decide to change their mind on the whole ‘attacking you in public’ thing?” Cynthia asked.
“Probably not a bad idea,” Tam said, starting to walk towards the bridge over a stream leading to the pond which they’d been jogging towards. “If we can make it back to the Club, we’ll be pretty safe within the wards.”
A series of plaintive warbles that weren’t even pretending to be related to car horns echoed from a spot more distant than the earlier sounds.
“Or maybe that’s not a great idea,” Tam said. “I know this is going to sound strange, but I don’t think whoever’s trying to get my attention is after it for a bad reason.”
Bird chirps echoed from afar, not growing more distant, but not coming closer either.
“But they were involved with the fire?” Cynthia asked.
A see-saw sound replaced the bird chirps.
“I think so, but I’m going to guess they weren’t the ones who set it. I think maybe this is the person who led me there. Maybe because I needed to see what was going on?”
A bell dinged in the distance, but much closer than before. Tam smiled at the confirmation.
“I think I’m being invited to go for an otherworldly visit,” Tam said. “Care to come along?”