Tinker suffered a short-lived downturn in customers over the course of the next week. Scuttlebutt around the neighborhood hinted that patronage of the gadgeteer might be frowned upon by the authorities. He thought nothing of the slump until Jobe, his building’s know-it-all, told him the rumor. After putting out a few feelers, Tinker was able to trace the story to Cyril’s front door.
A few dropped hints of his own later and Cyril was found dead in his flat, lying in a pool of his own vomit. Cyril was a known drunkard, so no one thought much about it, figuring the man drank one too many whiskeys. Life on the block was back to normal before the end of the day.
Such was life in the city.
Tinker himself had no idea who had done the deed, but he suspected a lightspinner. Those with healing abilities were equally adept at sickening someone, even to death. There was a time when he might have felt guilty about possibly instigating a murder, but in a world where innocents were afforded no protection, in an empire where someone born as a fluke of nature lived under a mandatory death sentence, pangs of self-reproach were easily done away with.
By the end of the next day, a fresh, new block Warden named Dec had moved into the building’s sloven penthouse. Full of energy and enthusiasm, he spent the entirety of the next day knocking on every door in every building on the block, introducing himself to all those who would open their door, promising to watch out for the public welfare and deal with citizens in a fair and just manner. His second full day found his smile fading as the neighbors went out of their way to avoid him. On the third, his good humor was broken as he awoke to find his penthouse door defaced with several obscenities.
Before the week was done, the once bright-eyed Dec, rising star of civil service, was a jaded young man who had taken his first bribe, cheated his first prostitute, and turned his first blind eye. The neighborhood nodded in collective approval as he settled into his proper place within the community.
Glance had suffered a downturn of her own. Her failure to bring some food home from Tinker’s pantry had been the final straw with her boyfriend. He’d tried to beat her, but was so drunk he was easily confused by her illusions. She escaped with her life, but none of her possessions, ending up back at Tinker’s flat on the very same evening she’d delivered the sunstone for Cyril’s watch. She begged for a place to stay. Two weeks later, she was still taking up his bed while he slept on makeshift pallet on the floor.
If that weren’t enough, Tinker’s wayward brother, another of Glance’s old boyfriends, showed back up for the first time in months. He’d managed to get himself kicked out of wherever he’d been staying.
“Whew,” whistled Sultry as he stood looking out Tinker’s window, “would you look at that. There goes another one.”
Sultry, a confessed firebug, watched with glee as an entire city block in the slums went up in flames. Given the city’s fuel oil system, such occurrences were fairly common, happening at least once a month. If a fire began in a flat, the entire building was nearly always lost because of the grid of oil-filled pipes inside the walls.
One of the duties of a block Warden was to prevent such catastrophes. If a fire did somehow break out, he was charged with shutting the valve that connected his block to the city’s main supply. Cheapside tenements didn’t have plumbed water, making the fire brigade’s job a futile struggle.
“Those are human beings dying or losing their homes,” Tinker scolded. “You shouldn’t be so happy about it.”
“I’m sorry,” Sultry blushed, “but a fire that big is exciting. I can’t help myself.”
Tinker grunted in grudging acceptance. He had a hard time understanding his little brother. When Sultry’s lightspinner powers manifested, he transformed into a different person. He became prone to fits of passion, giving in to him impulses rather than thinking things through. Most Torches, those able to master their power before burning themselves out, were notorious pyros. So far, Sultry had kept himself from becoming a firebug, but the flames still called to him.