“You’re a hard god to track down,” I said.
“Do you take an especial pleasure in stating the obvious?” Aestros ran His fingers through His beard and miniature dust devils chased each other around the high priestess’ office. “In My experience, problems tend to work themselves out without My interference. This situation has proven to be an exception. Walk with Me, Justix Tharro.”
The wind god wafted out of the room, leaving me no choice but to follow. With His return to the temple, the bells and banners and ribbons fluttered to life once again. “Am I to understand I am no longer a suspect?”
I was already a bit breathless from trotting to keep up, and Aestros’ question threw me further off balance. “I . . . that is, the signs initially pointed to . . .”
Aestros waved off my excuses, causing a display of sacred windchimes to jangle. “Think nothing of it. I observed you long enough to realize you’d come to the correct conclusion eventually.”
“You observed me?” I thought again of the cheeky seagull outside of Mama’s Cooking. There’d been a seagull at the crime scene, too. “You’ve been following me this whole time?”
“Why not? It was more entertaining than sitting around watching My priests wring their hands.” A soft breeze played about the god’s face, braiding and re-braiding His beard into ever more complicated configurations. “Besides, I was rather hoping your investigation would lead Me to My relic so I could end this farce of an arrangement with Teddy Marwol. With his sister dead, he has little motivation to keep up the hunt for the thing.”
“She has a brother? I thought Pippa didn’t have anything to do with her family.”
“Mother Daphne’s nymph might have snapped a photo. I’ll check.” Aestros whistled, and a playful gust ruffled the hems of His robes like an invisible puppy. At the god’s gesture, it breezed back the way we’d come and returned moments later with one of Cicera’s surveillance photos wafting through the air toward us. I snatched it. It showed Pippa sitting in a dusty restaurant booth, her face partially obscured by a menu, deep in conversation with a familiar-looking boy.
“Holy shit,” I said. “I know this guy.” The weedy little dude from Mama’s Cooking.
“They came to Me seeking asylum. The boy ran with a rough crowd, at least by mortal standards, and somehow found out that local relic dealers were holding onto something of Mine. He hoped to trade the information for his sister’s safety. But what was I to do with information? Relic dealers have evolved ways to evade Our sight, and storming in Myself would attract . . . rather the wrong sort of attention from the Threemothers.”
“So You made a bargain with them.”
“Precisely. Teddy would ingratiate himself amongst the thieves, work his way up the ranks, and recover the relic—and in return, I would keep Pippa under My protection.”
Andy’s voice popped up in my head yet again. Relic dealing isn’t a matter of life and death—humans caught with relics don’t get that luxury. These guys are cagey, they suspect everyone, and they will not hesitate to kill anyone they mistrust. I looked at the photo again. They both looked so young, with Teddy barely more than a teenager.
“So in exchange for Pippa’s life, You threw her brother to the wolves?”
Aestros’ face darkened, and the scent of burning filled the air. “They were the ones who wanted to bargain. I merely suggested the terms. Teddy went of his own free will.”
I clamped down on an angry response that would only worsen the situation. What did Aestros understand of real danger? He was a god. But Teddy . . . I thought of this scrawny kid crawling through a pit of vipers to keep his sister safe and a hard, hot ball of sympathy rose up in my throat. No one had been willing to fight that hard for me.
“You see now, I had no reason to kill Pippa. I needed her alive to guarantee Teddy’s cooperation. What he’ll do now is anyone’s guess, and My relic is no closer to being returned to Me.”
Gritting my teeth, I asked, “Did either of them ever say what Pippa needed protection from?”
“No.” The air chilled around us. “I didn’t think to ask. I am the Windfather. The Gust Gatherer. The Cloud Tamer. Who would dare defy My edict and invade My own hall?”
“Well, someone did. And I’m guessing Pippa’s other relatives might know who.”
“Then by all means, proceed,” Aestros growled. “When I find out...