As quietly as the mouse for which she was named, Ixcho Moe slipped out of the main building, dashed along the courtyard pillars, and scurried into the garden.
The sky dawned clear!
In the six weeks since she’d arrived in the Land, every morning had been a dreary affair—rainy, rainy, rainy. But this was the second day in a row born as a cloudless sky. The vivid black-purple of night peeled slowly away from the arcing sunlight, with nothing to interfere.
Cho was due every morning to the kitchens to help fry maize cakes for breakfast, but first she made her way into the courtyard to watch the sun rise. The moments when light spread across the sky, painting the world one color, then another, and then another, inspired her to be bright herself, to display her inner rainbow for all to see.
Sighing prettily, head tilted up, Cho imagined these clear dawn colors as banners for her lady Ixchel. For this blessing of a beautiful day, Cho would drip blood onto her offering tamale at the Rainbow Lady’s shrine, giving thanks.
Just as Cho turned to skip toward the kitchen, an odd sound caught her attention: a scratching, and a soft thud at the side door.
Cut into the exterior wall of the Balam compound, the door was used for quiet exits and deliveries that did not require the wider front gates. Perhaps it was a cat. There had been so many seeking shelter from all the rain, from the flooded gutters, searching for scraps and begging food. Cho unhooked the heavy bar across the door. She was not supposed to let any cats in, but there couldn’t be harm in checking, and perhaps petting it for just a moment.
As she dragged the door open a man’s body fell halfway across the threshold.
Flinging her hands up to her mouth, Cho managed to gasp back her scream. She panted hard, staring. He was no Kinwiinik, not with that dark blond hair and City-pale face. And his uniform—he was one of the City Watch!
Carefully, Cho crouched, sweeping the feathered hem of her skirt away from a pool of blood beneath the man’s torso. She touched his cheek, which was hot, as if fevered. Terror shot through her—so many in the City had fallen deathly ill. But those sick did not bleed like this.
He groaned. Cho noticed some of the blood was smeared carefully, and splattered on the outside of the wooden door, as if he’d tried to write something.
The young man’s eyelids fluttered, revealing glassy blue irises. “Saabim,” he whispered—in Kindaan!—then grimaced. “Where is Saabim?”
THREE DAYS AGO
The stench was intolerable.
Corporal David Rook of the City Watch breathed shallowly, though everyone had become more accustomed than usual to bad smells this summer, thanks to the constant rain. Minor flooding kept drowning the rats in cellars, everything near the river stank like dead fish, and there were puddles of piss and filthy gutter water along the docks and throughout the Middle City. Not to mention the sickness sweeping through every neighborhood. It wasn’t an epidemic yet, but it was bad enough that some of the Watch had been diverted to dealing with unclaimed dead bodies. Like this one.
“Rook.” Clipper crouched beside the body that was sprawled across the patched rag rug, the sleeves of his uniform shoved up to bare his forearms.
“Who is he?” David asked, taking a handkerchief out to turn the dead man’s face toward them. Blood brightened the whites of the corpse’s staring eyes.
“According to the woman downstairs, he just rented the room three days ago, said he wanted the third story because there’s a view of Riverside from the window. She didn’t know his name, but he was doing a survey for that fancy architect in charge of the new bridge. She didn’t notice him having any of the fever signs.”
Nodding, David pushed the corpse’s chin down. The lips peeled apart and, though it was stiff, the jaw moved. Dead more than a day, then. And David was fairly certain now it had been poison. The tongue wasn’t just swollen, which could happen to a dead body, there was also a vivid purple tinge to the muscle. Could be the man had suffocated, but there were no marks on his neck from physical strangulation. The blood in the eyes could happen with suffocation, too. But no injuries, so he hadn’t fought. No vomit, no flecks of blood—both of which David had seen at the deathbeds of those dying of this fever.
He stood. “All right, thanks for letting me know.”
“This the kind of thing you’re looking for?”
David sighed, feeling grim. “I’ll tell that new kid downstairs to come help you with the body.”
Clipper grunted. “Be glad to get back to knocking heads when this damned rain ends. Too many people. Too much rain. My toes are rotting in my boots.”
Quickly, David dashed down the narrow stairway to the building’s landing, grabbed...