I knew something was wrong the moment I stepped out of the car.
The summer air hung dead and limp upon my shoulders like a heavy blanket as I made my way up to the temple at the top of the cliff. Gravel crunched loudly under my feet. The leafy trees around me stood motionless in the thick, still air, festooned with luckless windsocks, downed kites, immobile pinwheels, and other offerings left by desperate worshippers.
Something bad had happened at the Temple of Wind. It was my job to find out just how bad.
A hand-lettered sign taped to the gates indicated the temple was closed for a private ceremony. That in itself was a bad sign—Aestros was never big on privacy, not for Himself, nor His priesthood.
I pushed the intercom button, glancing up at the security camera perched on top of the entrance. The voice that crackled through the speakers managed to sound both bored and anxious at the same time. “Please read the sign. The High Temple of Aestros Windtamer is closed to public worship today.”
“My name is Iris Tharro. I serve at the whim of Themia, the Huntress of Justice,” I said. I eased Themia’s blessed oak branch, which marked me as a Justix, out of its belt loop and waved it in front of the camera.
“Know how many times I’ve heard that one today? Take your offerings and go home.” I noticed there was no blinking red light on that camera. Interesting.
“Look, you and I both know Themia doesn’t look kindly on those who bandy Her name about. Send someone down here and I’ll show them my credentials.”
A hiss of sound. Another pause. Then some more white noise. “Wait just a minute.”
I heard the crunch of footsteps behind me. My hand tightened around the handle of my oak. I could do quite a bit of damage with the goddess-blessed wood. Themia was practical in regards to arming Her servants.
“If you can’t trust a priestess of the Goddess of Justice, who can you trust?”
My hand relaxed, marginally. “Andy Eriki. Wonders never cease.” I turned around. “Wait. Are you wearing a suit?”
“Like it?” The demigod tugged at the lapels. It was a nice cut, in a soft grey that set off the darkness of his skin, as well as the iridescent scales on his cheekbones and the turquoise sheen in his hair that gave away his Pantheonic heritage. But Andy didn’t do suits. Hells, he didn’t do shirts if he could help it. “Figured it would make me look more responsible.”
“Why do you suddenly care about looking responsible?”
“I’m just here to ask questions. Same as you.”
“Themia anointed me to this case two hours ago.” The oil on my eyelids had barely dried. “How in hells do you have questions?”
He shrugged. “Word travels fast in the Pantheon. You let me into the temple as your partner, maybe I’ll be nice and share what I know.”
“Oh, I’m sure Themia would just love that.”
Justixes didn’t typically work with criminal informants, but Andy existed in a diplomatic grey area. One of the benefits of being the consequence of a turbulent cruise-ship tryst between a lounge singer and the Seamother. Demigods are a mixed bunch—some have powers, some can’t tie their shoes. Some are stable, some are barely housetrained. Any deity who sleeps around without protection is rolling the dice, and legislating demis is a whole other can of worms. A demi who remains on his immortal parent’s good side can get away with just about anything. Andy had toed the thinning line of the Seamother’s patience for years.
But this was a particular case. The smell of Themia’s incense clung to my clothes, and I could still feel the overpowering rush of the goddess’ regard, of Her trust, from when She had emphasized the importance of discretion when dispensing justice. Discretion and a delicate touch.
Andy, charming and useful as he could occasionally be, was about as subtle as an airhorn.
And yet, if I left him out here unsupervised, he would just find some other way to cause trouble. When a barefoot priestess in light blue robes finally came up to the gates to check for my blessed oak, I fought back my misgivings and waved toward Andy. “He’s with me.” As the gates opened, I nudged him. “Provided you behave.”
Aestros’ temple was designed to be bright and open-concept—few walls, light materials, that sort of thing. On a normal day, the temple seemed like a living thing. Banners and ribbons snapping and unfurling, wind chimes tinkling, priests in flapping robes floating in and out like helpful birds.
Today, in the stark, immobile air, the temple looked like an abandoned...