Deltan Skies Chapters 1-3

Chapter 1

Quintanelle Fillion quickly scanned over the job listings at a workstation at the New Delta Unemployment Office, like she had been doing every day for the past month.

The office was empty in the late afternoon. The only other job seeker was a round thing with tentacles called a Brac’tai. Quintanelle could hear it slowly coo as its tentacles flashed over the keyboard. Quintanelle yawned and continued searching.

A few minutes later she felt a nudge. She looked to over to see the Brac’tai looking at her, then at the screen, and then back at her. It whirred while it gave her a toothless grin, drool dripping onto the floor.  Quintanelle felt like she wanted to kick it away, but that would’ve gotten her in trouble.

“You want me to look,” she asked.

Its eye-tentacles raised and lowered.

Quintanelle leaned over and read aloud, “Dear Brac’tai designated Dave-237: Ashram-Uriah is pleased that you have floated safely across the Toxulic Ocean to New Delta from Elemchi. Now that you have arrived, we are excited to offer you the five-year data-entry position that you were promised at our annex in Bononogog… Compensation is the use of a sleeping tank in our Brac’tai dormitory and an unlimited supply of nutrient solution. In addition, you will be allowed a stipend of twenty thousand credits a year. Congratulations!”

Dave-237 let out a celebratory chirp. He logged off the workstation and jumped out of the chair. The Brac’tai then slid across the floor and out the door, leaving a trail of slime behind him. Quintanelle cursed that tentacle-thing for snagging a job when she couldn’t find anything.

Time was running out. She had rented a small apartment, but her savings wouldn’t last much longer, and once it ran out, she would have to scurry back home, her dreams of freedom defeated.

Quintanelle moved to New Delta because her home city of Teolos was controlled by an oligarchy called the Mage Council, who brainwashed the masses and stabbed each other in the back. She was a young elf of only thirty-two and just couldn’t see spending the rest of her life being suffocated and brainwashed to hate half the world for no reason at all.

Quintanelle was a Teolian mage, one of the most powerful magic practitioners in the world. She had graduated at the top of her class with a very prestigious apprenticeship under a member of the Council.  The skills she learned might have gotten her a very good job in Teolos, but didn’t prepare her for likes of plasma engineering, DNA writing or mainframe technician. Teaching jobs required degrees obtained in New Delta with no credit transfer from Teolos. She was also shut out of many jobs, especially ones with the New Delta government, because she wasn’t a citizen. There were jobs, strip clubs were always looking for elven strippers, but she’d rather get tortured than take those.

Quintanelle sat up, wiped her tears, and starting searching one last time.

Then she saw an older listing she hadn’t seen before because it was buried deep in the mass of listings. Next to the picture of a scruffy-looking human male, it said, “Private detective Alfonso Deegan looking for one assistant to help with cases on a full-time basis. Interview between the hours of 09:00 and 17:00, 3/3/10021 through 3/8/10021. Tower K-23, Height 4100, Suite B. First come, first served. No experience or resume necessary.”

Quintanelle checked the date and time: 3/8 at 16:30. Just enough time to get over there and interview. She prayed to her deity, Illwyn the Life-Bringer, for good fortune. Then she summoned on her purple mage robes with blue and green trim, and dashed out the office.

New Delta was made up of towers laid out in a forty by forty grid of square mile-sized plots, with some towers taking up more than one plot.  New Delta towers were not simply buildings; each tower was a small city unto itself. Teolos was able to completely fit inside some of the largest towers in the city.  To make room for transportation, each tower narrowed significantly as they rose, allowing room for the walkways at a thousand feet and the skyways at four thousand feet.

The commerce tower she had been in, H-34, was a square-shaped tower that extended as far she could see in any direction. It was a mixed-use tower that contained shops and offices on different floors.

Quintanelle often wondered how offices or shops could fill up an entire tower,  but considering large sections of the city were so old and run down they were hardly used for anything at all, usable space came at a premium in New Delta. Also, despite how they looked from the outside, the floors inside towers were grouped in blocks with large expanses of empty space in between. This was to prevent fires from spreading. Weird creatures known as tower mutants lived in these expanses and crawled between walls and floors, feeding on vermin and trash. Late at night, Quintanelle could hear the mutants crawling by her vent. They ignored residents and served an important function, but it was still creepy to her.

Quintanelle ran down the metal walkway outside H-34, ignoring the ads blaring from large screens on the sides, trying not to look at the abyss around her. The ground a thousand feet below was covered in a toxic sludge made up of dissolved waste and liquefied corpses. Since the rainy season had just finished, the sludge had risen several feet and was especially foul, as the wind carried the stench upwards. Still, the sludge was welcome, as it was collected and refined into clean-burning aircraft fuel.

Then Quintanelle came to a tram station, which was built out from the walkways into open space. The tram system ran between the towers on metal rails just below and to the side of the walkways. They were free and were the fastest way to get around if one did not have an aircraft or riding-dragon.

Quintanelle walked down onto the platform. Finding no tram in the station, she sat down. She summoned a small mirror to check her appearance for the interview. Her brown hair looked fine. Her light skin was unblemished. Her emerald eyes were clear. Her robes were non-ruffled. She then dismissed the mirror.

All summoned items were copies of a physical item in the summoner’s possession that had a twenty-four hour life span before disappearing. Her robes and the rest of the clothes were safely at home, and she simply summoned on all of them to avoid having to do laundry.

A tram screeched into the station. Quintanelle got up and entered after a few passengers exited. The tram was nearly full with commuters going home; mostly human with a few elves. The last empty seat was next to an elf with purple skin. She debated to stand or not.

New Delta sat in the tropical grasslands of the Southern Deltan Plains where humans originated. The harsh sunlight of the Plains gave humans their dark brown or black skin. Despite the towers being large enough to the block out the sun, their shiny metal exteriors did a very good job channeling sunlight downwards. In addition, all interior apartments and offices were outfitted with specialized lamps that recreated exterior sunlight so occupants didn’t go crazy.

While there were small groups of humans living in the more temperate and rural Northern Deltan Plain, they were the descendants of humans from New Delta and hadn’t lived in the area long enough to be affected.

The same sunlight which gave humans their skin color also affected elves, but in a peculiar way. After a few generations of living in New Delta, white elven skin turned dark purple, eyes red and hair silver. These elves were known as Deltan elves.

Teolos believed Deltan elves turned to Armagda the Destroyer, the forbidden deity who would bring about the end of the universe in a few billion years. In actuality, the color change was an adaptation and Deltan elves still worshipped Illwyn, took similar names and were as proficient in magic as their Teolian brethren.

But logic never entered the picture, especially when confronted with the fact that Deltan elves outnumbered Teolian elves at least six to one.  Although New Delta’s true population was anyone’s guess, it had an official population of 200,854,127 with a makeup of about fifty percent human, thirty percent Deltan elf, translating roughly to 60,250,000 Deltan elves. That number didn’t include all the Deltan elves that lived elsewhere in the various towns that dotted the Southern Deltan Plains. Teolos only had 9,364,432 residents, just about all of which were Teolian elves. Almost nothing but wild forest surrounded Teolos.

Quintanelle didn’t see the disparity a sign of calamity; it was just how things were. She came to New Delta hating Deltan elves as she was raised to do. Having Deltan elves as her neighbors in Tower B-13, a residential tower consisting largely of elves, didn’t instantly make her see differently. However, the fact that she was even debating meant she was slowly coming around.

But by the time Quintanelle made her decision to just sit down, the tram arrived at a station where an ogre couple walked on. The entire tram shook with every step. The female was noticeably pregnant with sweat pouring down her dark beige body.

Ogre males averaged around eight feet tall and were ripped with muscle. Ogre females were seven-foot blubber cauldrons. Yet, female ogres weren’t morbidly obese as their babies stuck out and were only slightly weaker than males. Male ogres could rip her head right off her body with one yank. Female ogres would take a few tugs, but her head was still coming off. Consequently, Quintanelle liked being around them the least.

With ogres making up roughly ten percent of New Delta, there was little Quintanelle could do especially when it seemed nearly every single one rode the trams. While the majority of the city utilized the trams to a high degree, the problem with ogres was that they were so large. Often trams would be so crammed with ogres, she could not get on, and would have to wait for another one. Fortunately, there were only those two in that tram car.

“Can we h’ve da seats?” The ogre male asked, his tusks slightly garbling his speech.

The entire row got up and the ogres sat down.

“Thank ya.” The male said. “We’s goin’ to have biby at hospit‘l.”

“Congratulations…” Quintanelle replied.

Two more stops and she was at Tower K-23, an oval office tower. A sign at the station exit pointed her to Entrance A, which, fortunately, was right in front of her. She’d be late if she had to jog half a mile to the other entrances.

As Quintanelle gingerly stepped into the east lobby, she could swear she felt the tower move. Even in her own apartment she could feel the structure creak and move. Some towers were more stable than others, but since she arrived she had always been on edge. She knew how to magically glide and float, but they were no match for the heights and distances of the city and therefore no solace. Fortunately for her earnings prospects, she was slowly gaining her resolve.

Next to the lift banks was a table with a sign that read, “If interviewing with Alfonso Deegan, stop here first.” Sitting behind the table was a human male in a pressed grey suit looking mightily pleased as he checked a tablet.

Quintanelle hadn’t interacted with humans much at all in Teolos. All she had known beyond their skin color was that they worshipped Elohim the Holy, couldn’t use incantational magic but excelled in technology, and they took two millennia to build New Delta.

Quintanelle walked over. “I’m here to check in. I hope I’m not too late.”

He looked up and extended his hand. “I’m Emmanuel Jones of Hightower Detective Agency. Nice to meet you.”

“Excuse me? I though I’m here to—”

“I’m offering all of Mr. Deegan’s applicants the opportunity to interview with us tomorrow at 11:00.”

“But why—“

“We offer a salary, hours, and benefits that Mr. Deegan just can’t match. Plus you’ll have the opportunity to work with a large team of experienced individuals who will help you gain the skill you need to excel.”

“But I don’t—“

A lift door opened and large group of dejected looking people stepped out, complaining to each other about it wasn’t fair for him to lock the door right at 17:00.

Emmanuel pulled out a business card and handed it to her. “Just don’t be more than ten minutes late and you’ll be fine…” Emmanuelle suddenly looked concerned and quickly grabbed the tablet and the sign.

Quintanelle looked behind her to see a tall, thick human with his hair in cornrows and wearing a three-piece suit. Quintanelle looked back to see Emmanuelle rushing across the lobby towards the door.

The other human walked towards her and said in a deep baritone, “You would’ve been an interesting candidate as no other mages interviewed. Unfortunately, interviews are finished.”

“Can’t he make an exception?”

“I could go tell him, but I’m going to dinner instead.” The man turned and continued out the door.

If that’s who Alfonso Deegan worked with, maybe not getting an interview was a good thing.

Quintanelle walked back out to the walkway. The man stood in the walkway intersection in front of her. When it was clear, the man leaped into the air and in transformed a red-scaled dragon ten feet tall and thirty feet long. He flew up and away.

The dragon was an Uthiran, a member of a race of highly-intelligent, shape-shifting dragons from the continent of Uthira. No Uthirans lived in Teolos, but a few would fly in from time to time to give guest lectures on various subjects at the Academy.

Alfonso Deegan working with one was interesting, even if he was rude. Since she no longer had any chance of working there, it did not matter.

 

Chapter 2

Very late that evening, Alfonso Deegan sat in his office smoking a cigarette behind his desk as a goblin named Ebb sat on the other side, eyes closed, holding a quill above a piece of parchment. Alfonso was a mid-thirties scruffy human male, about six feet tall and with short curly hair. He wore cargo pants, combat boots, a black shirt and a Kevlar vest.

Ebb was a typical goblin, around five feet tall with grey skin, stringy black hair, and pointy ears. He was dressed in simple shorts and a t-shirt. Ebb was a celebrity since he was the only known shaman in the city. He had a talk show, a lecture circuit, a charity foundation and a bestselling series of self-help texts. He also had a mate who demanded that he help raise their seven kids.
But Ebb was always willing to take time out of his busy schedule to help a good friend hire the best candidate.

Slowly his hand moved to the inkwell and then down to the parchment. With his eyes still closed, he wrote something on the parchment. When the message was complete, Ebb opened his eyes and handed the parchment to Alfonso.

Alfonso stubbed out his cigarette in an ashtray on the side of his desk. He opened the parchment and read it. “Hire the transplant mage Quintanelle Fillion, who arrived too late today.”

Alfonso crumpled the paper in his hand. “Please tell me this is a joke and you’re about to write down the real candidate.”

“Nope, mage be best choice,” Ebb said in the peculiar way goblins spoke every language. “Mordridakon see her on way home as she be snared by Mr. Jones.”

“And he didn’t tell me about her when I just talked to him because she arrived too late.”

“Ye regret ye last hire so ye ask me. She be who be written. There be a reason she be written down.”

Alfonso smoothed the parchment and then brought a screen out of the desk to look up her profile in the Teolian Embassy database. Alfonso went slack-jawed as he read it.

Alfonso looked at Ebb, who nodded. “Now ye see why ye must hire her?”

“Yes. I’ll contact her right away.”

When Alfonso was alone, he tried to find a tablet access code to call her, but none was listed. He contemplated calling via her home’s wall-screen, but decided it was best if he just went over there. She would not believe how he found out about her unless he did.

***

Quintanelle lay in her bed with her blinds closed because the outside view made her uneasy. She was watching some Teolian drama on the screen attached to the opposite wall. At that moment a mage was confronting his girlfriend because she was sleeping with the high mage he apprenticed under.

She did not pay much attention to it because she was nervous about the interview. This was it. If she did not get this job, it would be back to Teolos.

Quintanelle flipped off the screen and the lamp on the nightstand. She snuggled under her covers. She tried to clear her mind and get some sleep.

Then the doorbell rang.

Quintanelle sat up and magically ignited her left hand, ready to protect herself if necessary. Nobody who rang the doorbell at midnight had good intentions.

She wondered if she should she call the NDPD. However, the NDPD never responded, or so she was told. Besides, she was a mage. She could defend herself.

She squelched her hand and slowly made her way to the door in her nightgown. The doorbell rang again as she turned on the door console.  She instantly recognized him as the man she would’ve been interviewing with. Still Alfonso Deegan showing up at midnight only made Hightower more appealing.

She pressed the intercom button. “Hello?”

Alfonso pressed the intercom button on his side of the door. “Ms. Fillion, I know it’s midnight, but it if you’re up to it you can interview now.”

“How do you know I even showed up? I never made it past the lobby.”

“I know this sounds strange,” he pulled out the parchment, “but a friend of mine with deity connections told me to hire you.”

Quintanelle opened the door just a crack, and stretched out a hand. Alfonso handed her the parchment.

She shut the door, turned on the lights, and her heart skipped a beat. Shamanism was the reception of messages directly from a deity named Ulax the All-Seeing, something that only certain goblins could do. This had to be from a legitimate shaman, because how else would Alfonso have known? The Uthiran didn’t seem like he was going to tell him.

“One moment, let me summon something more appropriate to wear.”

Alfonso nodded.

Quintanelle summoned on a casual dress and then opened the door.

She motioned him toward the only seating in the living room, a few simple wooden chairs around a simple wooden table. “I don’t have the credits for a lot of furniture right now.”

“I don’t mind.” They sat down. “Ms. Fillion, do you know exactly who I am?”

“Should I?”

“Emmanuel Jones was in the lobby siphoning off applicants in order to screw me, not out of concern for your career.”

“And why would he do that?”

” Hightower is actually a very sophisticated extortion racket posing as a legitimate detective agency. If you work for Hightower, you’ll be extorting the poor within a year and killing babies within two.”

Quintanelle knew little about private detectives, but the title itself suggested what she needed. “So you must be investigating him?
He took out cigarettes from his vest with a lighter and portable ashtray. “May I smoke?”

“Go ahead, though I don’t smoke.” If Quintanelle was going to work for him, she’d have to let him.

He lit a cigarette, puffed, and continued. “You’re correct. I investigate organizations like Hightower, one of the thirty-two most dangerous criminal organizations in the city, plus the one that controls them all.” Quintanelle was about to speak but he put his hand up.

“You don’t need to know the specifics now. But all you need to know is that I need someone to work directly for me and help me investigate these organizations full-time. While I have others who help me, including the Uthiran I heard you met, they’re independent contractors who can’t be relied upon to help me at a moment’s notice.”

Quintanelle sighed. “But I don’t have the skills you need.”

“Then why did you show up?”

She quickly told him the situation.

“You’re not giving yourself enough credit,” Alfonso said. “I think you’d be a good fit working with me, seeing as you just spent four years working directly under High Mage Dahlia Runeshadow, the espionage queen herself, investigating your friends and neighbors for the good of the glorious city of Teolos.”

Quintanelle blushed. “Not exactly…”

“Whatever you did for her, you can do for me.”

“As an apprentice mage, my job was to update Citadel Repository databases with collected information, and retrieve records on request for various offices.”

The Citadel, the headquarters of the Teolian Mage Council, had a giant underground vault that was only accessible via a heavily-protected teleportation portal. It contained the only existing access points to the repository mainframe, which contained databases with files on everyone and everything in Teolos.

“And that’s exactly why I’d like to hire you,” Alfonso said.

Quintanelle suddenly realized her job predicament was an illusion. When looking at job ads, she never considered her computer skills because the Repository positions were always held by apprentices and were seen as menial work. While Quintanelle never saw the listings for the position the Brac’tai was applying for, she did see similar listings looking for database admins.

“What about the Hightower interview?” She asked.

Alfonso stood up. “Still go to that interview. Then when you’re done, contact me.” He handed her a metallic business card.

“Alright…” She took the card.

Alfonso gently closed the door behind him as he left.

Quintanelle summoned back on her nightgown and went back to bed. As she lay in the darkness trying to sleep, she realized that Alfonso was not about to let her walk straight into an enemy, so it either had to be a test or her first assignment. She also debated looking up Alfonso on the DeltaNet, but decided she would find out who he was soon enough.

***

Alfonso did not live in an exterior apartment because it was too dangerous. With no windows and the lights all turned off, the apartment was pitch black. Alfonso tiptoed into his bedroom, stripped down to his underwear, and slipped into bed without seeing anything.

He felt stirring beside him. “How did the job interviews go today?”

Alfonso felt around and discovered his wife was lying on top of the covers. He clapped on the lights to find his wife, a middle-aged Teolian elf, still in her pants suit. Leyla had not even taken off her black pumps.

“Interview with the mayor didn’t go so well?”

“Everyone knows he bought that vacation house in the Mederwari with public funds, yet he still denies it.” She turned over to look at him. “Alfie, just arrest him already.”

“So would every detective in the city. But Abernathy always covers up just enough evidence so he’d never be convicted.”

Leyla stood up and undressed. “So tell me about the interviews.”

“Emmanuelle Jones seemed to divert every decent candidate today so I got a bunch of completely worthless candidates.”

Leyla rummaged through her closet and brought out silk pajamas.  She put on the top and said, “There had to be somebody today. You thought Trogg was worthless until you looked into his background a little more closely.”

“And so I took a risk and discovered he was still worthless.”

“Regardless, there had to be somebody who came close.”

“Nobody who made it had anything remotely close. But there was a mage, Quintanelle Fillion, who apprenticed under Dahlia Runeshadow. She never made it at all, but Ebb still picked her when he stopped in.”

Leyla slipped on the bottoms. “And that’s the one you’re hiring?”

“She is.” Alfonso explained what happened earlier with Ebb and at Quintanelle’s apartment.

“Then I’m assuming your plan has changed?” Leyla replied as she lay back down.

“Not really. Now they’ll just be two going instead of one.”

Leyla pulled the covers up. “If you hired people like everyone else, you might not have had to hire her at midnight.”

“If I did that, then I’d have to deal with a bunch of impeccably dressed liars telling me exactly what I want to hear.”  Alfonso clapped off the lights.

Just as Alfonso was drifting off, Leyla said, “You know who Quintanelle’s father is?”

Alfonso sighed while keeping his eyes closed. “Yes, and if he tries to intervene in her employment, I’ll tell him the same thing I told your father when he tried to get our marriage annulled: Fuck off.”

 

Chapter 3

Quintanelle arrived at the Hightower lobby to find it filled with nervous-looking candidates. The only seat was next to a Deltan elf in khakis and a button-down. This time, she instantly sat down.

The Deltan elf visibly ogled her and said, “What’s a hot mage like you doing interviewing here?”

She turned, glared at him and said, “Excuse me?”

The elf leaned back and said, “Why do you hate? Anwen only got love for the Teolian mamas.”

“Because ever since I was a little girl, I’ve been told you were all evil beings who should be wiped from the face of Terrall.” Quintanelle wasn’t going to tell him the real reason she was angry was because he was hitting on her, not to mention he was an idiot.

Anwen stiffened and his face turned purplish-red. “Never mind.”

A human female in a fashionable dress who was sitting on her other side leaned over and said, “Don’t worry, he hit on me too right before you walked in. That’s why you ended up sitting next to him.”  Quintanelle chuckled as Anwen groaned. “I’m Contanza.”

Quintanelle introduced herself and Contanza replied, “Are you here because Mr. Jones approached you on the way out of Detective Deegan’s office?”

“I never made it to interview with Detective Deegan because I arrived just before 17:00.” Quintanelle debated telling Contanza about Alfonso’s late night visit, but decided against telling a complete stranger.

“You’re lucky. I interviewed and was shown the door after two minutes. Detective Deegan never said why. And I have a degree in forensics from NDU.” She rolled her eyes.

“I’ve seen many job listings looking for candidates with forensics degree,” Quintanelle said.

“I know. I have few job offers already.”

“Then why are you interviewing here?”

“Keeping my options open.” Contanza replied.

Quintanelle could not help noticing how similar Contanza looked to the Uthiran who worked with Alfonso in human form. They both had the same hair and piercing eyes. But being in New Delta for as long as she had, human still mostly looked alike.

Emmanuel walked into the lobby. “Thank you all for coming. If you follow me to our auditorium, I’ll begin our presentation.”

Emmanuel took a snaking route to the auditorium, giving a small tour. Hightower’s offices were located on the highest floor of Tower E-33, built in the shape of a step pyramid. Glass wrapped the entire exterior and frosted-glass interior walls let light in everywhere save the restrooms. The offices were populated with mostly administrative staff as the detectives were out working cases.

Quintanelle noticed something telling which Emmanuel did not mention and the rest of the applicants wouldn’t have a clue about. The furniture was made from Kifari wood, which could only be obtained from Kifari trees. They were native to the Forest of Illwyn and were illegal to log. Quintanelle knew this because Kifari wood had a distinctive red tint that was impossible to miss if one had seen it before. Unfortunately, it was way too late to alert her sister, a member of the Teolian Rangers, who protected the forest.

***

 “This is not an interview,” Emmanuel said. “If you want to work for us, you can all walk out of here with a job.”

He stood at a podium at the bottom of the small auditorium. The fold-up seats were all soft leather. They were bathed by light from the glass walls in front and to one side. It was a cheery place, but Quintanelle didn’t feel cheerful. Contanza, sitting next to her, sat with her full attention on Emmanuel.

“I know we have at least one immigrant in the audience, so let me back up,” Emmanuel said. “New Delta is simply too big and the city’s budget too small for the New Delta Police Department and its various divisions to keep law and order. Private Detectives were the solution the city’s government devised. Private detectives have all the rights and responsibilities that the official police do. The only difference is that we are paid by the clients instead of the city. It’s a conflict of interest, sure, but it’s a necessary and profitable conflict of interest.”

Contanza’s hand went up.

“Yes?”

“But none of us are private detectives,” she said.

Quintanelle saw a purple flash out of the corner of her eye. She turned to look but it was gone.

Emmanuel smiled. “I’m glad you brought that up. To be a licensed private detective, you must pass the Private Detective Licensing Exam.”

Sighs erupted across the room.

Emmanuelle put his hands on the podium. “The PDLE is widely considered the hardest exam ever created, with a ninety-five percent failure rate the first time, eighty-three the second, seventy-five the third. It is a grueling twelve-hour virtual reality exam that will test your abilities with a constantly-changing bank of ten thousand simulations covering a millennium of history. It took me three times to pass. Believe it or not, that’s better than the average number of four.”

There was a nervous silence.

“But there is a loophole, and it’s called the Assistant Private Detective. APDs were designed to help candidates pass the exam. They can do everything a licensed detective can do except close cases. That means that only cases reviewed and presented by a licensed detective to Legaltron are legally binding. If they aren’t, civil or criminal proceedings cannot be conducted. Plaintiffs cannot be sued and arrested criminals walk out the door.”

Purple flashed outside again and this time more people turned to look. Emmanuel didn’t notice.

Contanza’s hand went up again.

Emmanuelle sighed. “Yes?”

“Can’t that be exploited so literally anyone can have law enforcement powers?”

Emmanuelle nodded. “That’s why it’s considered a loophole to get around the PDLE. However, an APD must work under a practicing licensed detective. That detective is criminally liable for any illegal actions their APD commits.

“Moving on, while submitting to Legaltron is the preferred method of handling things, it’s a huge hassle. Legaltron is a computer! You have to present your cases in a certain format and even when you do, Legaltron could throw your case out on some technicality and order your payment be refunded to the client. We do things differently here at Hightower. We give the target of our investigation a choice. They can either pay up or they can try their luck with Legaltron. And trust me, we always make sure that the money we demand is a punishment in itself.”

It seemed odd to Quintanelle that Emmanuelle would freely admit to Hightower being an extortion racket, but considering his arrogant attitude, it was not very surprising.

Quintanelle stood and silently shuffled toward the door. Contanza was right behind her.

“You know you ladies are turning down six figures by leaving?” Emmanuel said.

They ignored him and swept out of the room.

“Well, now that everyone who hates money has left, let’s get down to specifics.”

***

“I think we’re lost,” Contanza said as they went down a dead-end hallway and ended up in yet another office with workers who shooed them off.

“I swore the lobby was this way.” They backtracked, went left instead of right, and came to the lobby.

They walked towards the lifts when Contanza stopped them. The walls were turning purple. Murmurs could be heard all over.

“We need to leave,” Quintanelle said.

“No, you’re safe with me.” Contanza gripped her hand, hard.

Quintanelle faced her. “Why—“

An epiphany went off in her head. Contanza had legitimate job offers, so working for an extortion racket didn’t make much sense. Then despite not knowing her, Contanza stuck by her since the moment she arrived, as if she was watching her.

“What aren’t you telling me? Did Mr. Deegan send you too? What is going on?”

Loud shrieking shook the walls.

“My name isn’t Contanza; she didn’t make it in this morning. My real name,” her brown eyes shimmered deep red as a primeval growl escaped her throat, “is Selkath.”

“You’re an Uthiran too!”

Selkath didn’t flinch. She looked beyond Quintanelle. “Have you ever dealt with the Avian Syndicate?”

Glass began to shatter. “What’s the Avian Syndicate?!”

Screams echoed as blood splattered against the walls. ”You’re about to find out!”

Selkath slammed Quintanelle to the floor and transformed into a Red Uthiran. She coiled her tail around Quintanelle as the lobby walls shattered. Several avians flew into the lobby.

Avians were five-foot tall purple birds with short, laterally-immobile arms attached to their upper torso. Quintanelle had seen pictures of avians and thought their arms were awkwardly placed. Now she was terrified of what those arms would do with the various blunt and edged weapons they wielded.

Selkath incinerated the avians with several short bursts of fire. She then swung Quintanelle onto her back as a familiar red Uthiran stormed past chewing on an avian. Alfonso appeared behind him, blasting away with twin laser pistols. The last glass wall burst when an ogre smashed through batting one avian with another.

The remaining avians fled in all directions.

In what seemed to be only a minute or two, the fancy Hightower Detective Agency was nothing more than a blood-covered wasteland of glass, wood, and corpses, ruffled and tossed by the howling winds.

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