Mylo and the Summoned Hero
Mylo peered down the scope, stacking each turn in the ruin as a mental card in his head and making note of rusty mana plumes along the way. He kept stopping to look behind him, and to the ladder. There was no one there.
Yesterday’s running around with Pelgram—or Kasumi, or whoever they really were—left him pretty ragged. Not that it had lasted all that long. He hadn’t payed the clocks much attention at the time, but Mylo knew the sun hadn’t climbed much between when he met Pelgram and when he climbed into bed. Short though the time was, it had been frantic. Now his eyelids drooped in front of the lens. Mylo was sunsetting at six in the morning.
The sleep he got barely had helped. Mylo had suffered all through last night’s shift. His mind had drifted, his arms had ached, and his boss had bombarded him with questions.
"Oi, rookie, you eating properly?" Ezre stood on the mana splitter's tank, and called out questions and barked instructions in equal measure.
Ezre struck an imposing figure, stood up there with her arms crossed. Short, fiery red hair that wanted to form spikes pulled back in a messy ponytail. Though the pumping station lacked any noisy machinery, Ezre talked like she was making herself heard over a whole factory.
"I’m fine," Mylo said as he diverted a little too much to pipe seven. He caught his mistake and corrected it.
"Haven’t been impelling, have you?"
Ezre gave a doubting look. She was a strobilus herself, and something of a prodigy at that. Though seven years Mylo’s senior, she’d gone to exhibitions and beaten a few strobili old enough to be his grandfather at load balancing. Beating an old man might not sound impressive, but their class steadily grew stronger as they aged—an old strobilus was less like a doddering old man and more like an ancient dragon. If anyone could detect Mylo’s lie across a room, Ezre would be the one to do it.
"Getting your sleep? I better not have to scrape you off the floor at the end of shift."
"I said I’m fine," Mylo said. In the privacy of his own head, he added, We’re short staffed as it is. What happens if I bail?
When he first started working here, Mylo had assumed Ezre was up on the splitter just to impose, just to be bossy. But that was before he noticed that the lack of a pump. She couldn’t jump in to balance the load if someone fell, because she was busy being the source for most of the mana.
Mylo had kept correcting the balance between the pipes into the early hours, just like everyone else. By shift’s end he had felt faint and nauseous, but he got through it. This morning’s scrabble up the ladder wouldn’t have been possible without impelling mana for a minute, but here he was, with a complete mental map to the boss room.
Mylo looked around for Pelgram again. The platform remained empty.
In a few minutes, Veronica and Ulfberht should swing by. He hadn’t canceled their arrangement yet. And why should he? Not like the Callawea family had Paul’s talents for investigation...but they could hire such people. Paul would find out again, but Mylo didn’t think he’d go so far as to tell the management. If Mylo was ever going to get out of this city and see anything else the world had to offer, he would have to pay his own way. Every coin counted.
He looked around the platform once again. No Pelgram.
Paul’s lecture from yesterday tugged. The old man meant well. Worried too much though. But Paul wasn’t the only one on Mylo’s mind.
"Fine, you win," Mylo muttered. Then he went to the ladder and slid back to street-level, the boss-room route unsold.
Once changed into his baggy gray shirt and old blue jeans, Mylo’s steps took him homeward—for all of three steps. The sandwich tin swung idle in his hand while he decided.
Warm sunlight spilled over slate roofs onto sleepy streets. Edule was big enough a town that you could spend your whole life here, as Mylo’s neighbors had. But something slipped in with the spices and silks coming up from the south: whispers of ships the size of castles; rumors of the Ruk and other peculiar beasts; the hard truth that whatever you wanted was in Dioon, not here. Edule could be where you lived, but this town needed no help from the wind to be stirred up, restless. A hard place for a young person to be content.
Mylo started down an avenue, looking at the passersby as he went, not exactly retracing yesterday’s tour. He couldn’t imagine someone with such frantic energy would be content to slip into a rut and just go to the same places over and over again. He hadn’t wanted to either, but 12 hours a day shunting mana between pipes would be taxing enough if he didn’t have to use his body as a transfer conduit…and as a spare generator during shortage…and as a surge buffer.
Passing the now fully-restored clock tower, Mylo would have poked his head into Etier’s, but it was locked and the sign turned to "closed" in the window. Strange—not like him to take a day off in the middle of the week.
Mylo went as his feet led him, apparently toward the Lemon Square fountain. Most of Edule wasn’t very friendly to the obsessive compulsive, but Lemon Square took the top slot. Even without a view from above, the area was clearly hexagonal, but no two sides quite the same length, no two corners the same angle. And in this mildly infuriating place, no lemon trees had ever been grown—wrong climate. But the fountain was pretty special. Beautifully carved from granite, it was shaped like a tree—a pear tree, for some reason.
This was a decent spot to get food. Mylo usually saved a little money by buying all his ingredients at the market, other side of town, and assembling them into something portable each evening. But today the scents of roasted chicken and rosemary proved too tempting. Mylo approached a rickety wooden stall and found he recognized the person in front of him in line.
He was a coworker at the pumping station. They’d never really talked before now, so it took Mylo a moment to remember his name.
"Oh, hey Mylo. What’s happening?"
Mylo tried to be nonchalant and asked, "Have you seen a guy around, about my age but a bit taller, black hair, gold eyes, and enough energy to vibrate a mountain into dust?"
"Uh, no. Pretty sure I haven’t."
"Goes by the name Pelgram?" Mylo added hopefully.
They tried to make idle chat as best they could, but it was full of distance and awkward pauses. Brendan pulled at his collar and glanced around the square over and over.
Maybe I should just give up on making friends with this guy, Mylo thought.
But Brendan’s vibe didn’t improve when Mylo let the conversation die. If anything, he seemed worse now.
"Mylo, come over here." Brendan grabbed Mylo by the wrist and led him to the fountain. "I need to ask you something."
In the fountain’s shadow and in its continuous splashing, they faced each other in a furtive whisper. Brendan wore a pained look, like a man who preferred the deep blue sea, but knew the devil controlled his salary.
Brendan looked around one last time before beginning at a wild pace. "Okay. Has the boss—I mean Ezre, not Mr. Morin—has the boss questioned you where you stand yet? On the union thing, I mean. I’d like it to happen—Ann would be thrilled if my schedule let us spend more time together—but I don’t think I can join the effort. I mean, all the cigar men of Edule know each other. Cross one and you cross them all. I’d never get another job if we failed…"
He rambled on for a bit, slowly running out of steam, till at last all he had to say was the question in his eyes: was Mylo in or out?
Almost too low to be heard over the falling water, Mylo said, "This is the first I’ve heard of it."
"Oh. Really? I was sure the boss would have told you first."
That caught Mylo’s interest. Of course he’d like to have better hours and wages—get out of this boring town sooner. But the possibility of a unionization vote at Callawea felt abstract, distant, like a shimmering heat mirage at the horizon. The notion that Ezre would tell him, well, anything, represented a concrete contradiction of his experience.
"Ezre just berates me."
Brendan’s face dawned with realization. "You mean, you don’t know…"
A gray cat blurred by, sprinting towards Edule’s southern exit with its eyes wide in abject terror. Few people in the square noticed. Mylo was too busy prying for what he’d missed, and Brendan tried his level best to disengage without letting anything else slip.
"Erm, I should get going. Nice seeing you."
"Get back here and tell me!" Mylo grabbed for Brendan’s arm, but only got his sleeve. Brendan shoved him off.
Just as things were about to get proper unreasonable, the fountain stopped flowing. It gurgled and popped. Then the fountain erupted, spraying water all the way to the edge of the square. Some people screamed and ran from the deluge. Others hunkered behind tables or chairs. The deluge stayed at full strength for about 5 seconds, then eased back down to its normal flow.
Mylo and Brendan stood in a brand new puddle, dripping like the fountain itself.
"What was that?" Mylo asked.
Brendan laughed. "Looks like those goons at the waterworks have it even worse than we do."
"No, that’s not right," Mylo muttered. "This fountain is on the old network, gravity fed from a little spring in the woods west of here. It’s isolated from their pumps."
"Well, at least they have pumps."
Mylo’s shoes squelched down the street. He got odd looks, especially when he stopped to ask people if they’d seen Pelgram. Some had, but not today, and no, they couldn’t tell Mylo where to look.
He stuck to the shade where he could. His clothes felt almost dry now, but that left Mylo at the mercy of a brutally hot, cloudless day. Still hours till noon, but already sweltering. Summer in Edule sucked.
A voice called out behind him, "Ah, Mylo!"
Mylo turned to look and almost fell over. The second day impelling was always worse. It wasn’t fair. Why did shoving a poorly understood mana source directly into one’s bloodstream have to have consequences?
As Mylo recovered from the whirl of gold motion trails, he saw Paul waddling toward him.
"I went to your apartment, but you were not there." Paul stood there, somehow not sweating in his cream colored suit, eyes narrowed and accusative.
"Have you seen Pelgram?"
"Damn." Kasumi had just disappeared. For all Mylo knew, she might be skipping down the road to Dioon by now. That mental image came too easily. Mylo had hoped…for what exactly? More time in her company. Just to hang out. That was it. He decided not to admit anything more.
Now there was the minor problem: Paul probably thought he’d broken his little promise regarding not-using the outage spotting tower for personal gain. Mylo had the truth on his side—he hadn’t sold anything this morning—but would he use it?
"I thought you broke that cane last year." Mylo left truth on the curb and went straight for deflection.
Paul beamed. "Ah, good, you are starting to notice the subtle details."
Mylo didn’t think a mirror-polished chrome handle styled after a running ferret counted as subtle. But perhaps Paul wasn’t entirely wrong—most people would only register that it was a cane and move on.
"Come, Mylo, I must speak with you on a matter most sensitive."
"But I was looking for Pelgram."
"That can wait."
At the detective's behest, Mylo put his search on hold and followed. They did not have clandestine meetings very often anymore, but they used to repair to secret places almost everyday, until Mylo found the courage to break the old detective's heart and admit he didn't want to be an investigator. A little coffee house by the west gate was their oldest haunt. The owner owed Paul, and made a room on the second floor available. At a lone table they sat to coffee for one, water for the other.
"Mylo, I have good news. We have a job."
Mylo gave him a warm smile. "You’re a detective again. That’s great. You’ll be going back to Dioon, then?"
"That is my hope, but after—we must do a little digging first." Paul took a long sip, then added in a whisper: "A hero has arrived. We must find them."
Really? A hero? I’m a little busy looking for Kasumi to be chasing a myth.
"We?" Mylo said. "Surely whoever hired asked for you, not me."
"But I need capable help, and for your able assistance, we will be rewarded Dioon, to stay."
It was a temping offer. The capital is spectacular, Mylo had been told, over and over. You haven't lived till you've seen it, he was told. Truly the place for a young person. Culture! Adventure! It was all there. The girls prettier, the guys handsomer. Good food and dark grottoes. Not Mylo's fault he saw the capital city as more myth than place—everyone mythologized it to him.
It had to be better than Edule.
"Well, I suppose I could."
"But what am I supposed to do?" Mylo asked.
"Eyes and ears, Mylo. I require your observations. Only with your help can I make the Jagai’s dream pleasant."
I wish you would stop going on about that...whatever the Jagai is.
The irony wasn't lost on Mylo that the place he most wanted to live in the entire world was the Jagai's city. But it was a big place, surely the Jagai wasn't going to pop in to borrow Mylo's sugar.
Paul told Mylo a few vague things to look for, and promised more concrete guidance later. It was mainly a feeling, apparently? The detective trusted the young man's instincts, or judge of character, he left it up in the air.
They left the coffee house and parted ways. The sun was climbing towards noon now and Mylo couldn’t remember the last time he had sustained an impel so long. Not that he did anything taxing with it, but still. He switched it off and let sleepiness come back, but at least he felt like he could breathe again.
Mylo turned a corner, heading home down a tree-lined avenue, lost in thought. How was he supposed to search for a hero? He only knew vague scraps of adventures. Maybe Paul would—
"Mylo! Over here!"
Exhaustion fled. It sounded like…
It took him a moment to locate the voice, but there she was. "Ka—Pelgram!"
"Mylo!" She waved at him, grinning.
She was behind a high, small windows, with iron bars.
For a second, Mylo stood dumbstruck.
"What are you doing in jail!"