Once they had done all they could, the cleaners left the scene, joining at Kratt’s high-rise. It was a two-bedroom, small, but big enough for the bachelor to live in relative comfort while paying off his student loans. Upon entry, there was the dining area which had dark hardwood floor and matching table. To the right was a wall which he kept blank so that no one would be touching anything with saucy oily fingers. The left side was where he let his life shine. Around two small monitors hung pictures of his family and uni degrees culminating with an MD in dermatology. A small round table and chair sat in front of a cramped bookcase. Beyond that was the kitchen. He didn’t cook much, but subtle peer pressure from Lillas had him buying all kinds of appliances that he didn’t need. “Cooking is a survival skill,” she’d said. “I’m helping you. You’re welcome. Now, this mixer…” Inside the kitchen and to the right was his bedroom. To the right of that was his bathroom. It wasn’t the best design, but it worked for him. He didn’t have to go too far to grab cookies or hotdogs in the middle of the night. The living and dining areas shared a floor with barely any wall between them. To separate them he used a big sofa. Lillas had suggested he keep the space open. He suggested she mind her business. In front of the sofa, a TV sat on a table. Behind the TV was a large window that overlooked the city and made the space seem much larger. He could’ve moved to a bigger, far less expensive, place, but that view…ten stories in the air, the river in the distance reflecting the cluster of lights around it that spread out like a ripple… “That’s how they get ya,” Lillas said one day. And she was right. That was absolutely how they got him.
The trio gathered around the rectangular table that sat against the wall. Lillas exchanged looks with her cleaner partners, tapping the table. Between the three of them, one of them had to have something. Jet looked like he was going to say something. His mouth opened, he did hand gestures, but nothing came out. Kratt’s face twisted; his eyebrows did a series of lifts and falls. He looked at Lillas who just shrugged then he looked at Jet and lifted his shoulders up and down still nothing came out. They all had the same questions, but none of them knew where to start or which question to ask first.
The death of the knighthood should have been a source of celebration. Instead it was a cause for concern. Who the hell had the kind of strength needed to take out the entire knighthood and the stones to do it? What were the cleaners going to do about it? Most importantly, in what magnificently chaotic way would Izzy retaliate?
They finally video called the Council. Four of the nine members were on one of the two monitor screens. The senior member, Colin, of Cyprus seemed especially agitated. “I’m going to be frank,” he said. The trio expected no less, having spoken with him before. “Did one of you do this?” They all answered in the negative. “Mik?”
“Why does everyone think I did it? I was working.” He gave her a look of impatience that conveyed his real meaning. “Oh, right. They’re telling the truth, too. We have no idea what this is. And if I had done it, you know I’d say so.”
He tightened his lips and sighed. “This emblem is the cleaner’s shield.”
The three looked at each other for an explanation that none of them had.
“You see here, the writing around the edges? That’s our oath in the original Angel script. We wouldn’t expect you to know this. The emblem was used for cleaner magic which was banned 200 years ago…because it kills people. As the public’s opinion moved more towards law and order, the methods used by cleaners became less tolerable. The magic was banned to protect the cleaners. Using it places us in danger of imprisonment, thereby impeding our ability to do our job and protect the people, who would undoubtedly turn on us if they perceive we are behaving as judge, jury, and executioner. If it wasn’t any of you, it is imperative we find out who it was and stop them.”
“What about the knights,” Sonya of Brazil asked. “With the knighthood gone, the leader now is Isadora Castor.”
“I spoke to her earlier and made it clear we were not involved. Whether or not she chooses to believe me is on her.”
“Did she seem hostile?”
“No more than usual. But I’m sure she understands she does not want a fight with us regardless of the circumstances.”
“Mehkinnan,” Collin said, “You are not the only three cleaners in the city. And they are not the only knights. We don’t want the weaker of us to become targets in a war between you and Castor. I’m sure you understand.”
“I understand that, but the same can be said about her. I’m saying she would never endanger her people by engaging us.
“What are we going to do about this?” Kratt asked. “Whoever killed the knighthood, if they’ve used this magic once, they’ll do it again.”
“If it’s used again, we need to know how to stop it,” Lillas said. “Collin?”
Unfortunately, no one knew anything about cleaner magic. Once it was banned, it was no longer taught. What little they knew came from the digital archive. It was used to drain power from a knight. That power was then locked away where no one could retrieve or even feel it. This process was said to be torture and ultimately killed the knight which was why it was banned.
“Sounds like we’re looking for a magician using cleaner magic,” Kratt said.
Colin agreed. “No cleaner would go against the council, and even if they did, no one knows this magic exists. We didn’t even know until you messaged us. We had to run the image through archive.”
“It’s likely the magician specializes in outlawed magic,” Sonya said. “That’s the only way to come across this.”
Colin asked, “Have you talked to the Drays?” Everyone groaned, except for Colin, who kept his personal feelings about the magician family to himself. “Call them immediately. If the magician doesn’t come from among their ranks, we may be looking at a rogue. I want to know either way.”
“Yeah, Collin, it’s almost 4 in the morning here,” Kratt said. “If we call them now, they will throw a spell to make sure we never sleep again.”
“Share as little as possible with them,” said Rhys, of Ireland. “Do not tell anyone this is cleaner magic. We don’t want people thinking we’re involved. That includes your detective friends.”
“Including Lenshrader, Lillas”
“Contact us when you have more information.” With that, the council left the three alone to discuss matters among themselves.
Jet and Kratt eyeballed Lillas. “What?”
“You have to call Merris tomorrow,” Kratt said.
Her face twisted in agony. “Oh…no. I can’t. I just…I can’t.”
“I get it. We hate them, too, but she can lie to us. She can’t lie to you. You gotta call her.”
“This is bullshit.”
“So, a magician is running around using cleaner magic to kill knights,” Jet said as if in mid-thought. “When we find this person what are we going to do with him?
Lillis answered quickly. “Give him a medal.”
Then Kratt answered. “Give him over to Lens because it’s the right thing to do.”
“Or we could give him over to Lens because it’s the right thing to do,” she said. “Can we take a vote?”
“No!” They both answered. She gave a look of disagreement, but didn’t argue.
Jet spent a moment in thought before blurting out, “I have a problem.”
“What?” Lillas asked like it was the last few minutes of a meeting and he was fucking up the escape.
“Something the Council said.” He went on to break down his thoughts. The knighthood was dead. When a knight or cleaner dies they take their power with them. That didn’t happen this time because the shield took all of their power. But that power was meant to be sealed away. However, that meant there was one startling problem they overlooked.
“I can still feel their power,” Jet said. “It’s as clear as if they were here. Why? How is this possible? Their power should either be locked away or gone with them. It should not be here. But it is.”
“In the cabin???” Lilla said, knowing that made no damn sense. “I mean, we did see the shield….Fuck! I don’t know, Jet. It’s too fucking late for this. I am exhausted.”
“You don’t even need that much sleep.”
“That’s not the point!”
“Ok, calm down,” Kratt said, reeling in his younger partners. “Jet, you bring up a good point. We’ll sleep on it and come back tomorrow.”
“It already is tomorrow!”
“Mik, calm down. As soon as you talk to Merris, I want to know what she said. Alright. Go home. I’ll see you tom…later.”
Worn out, Lillas exited with Jet. They talked and walked to their cars, throwing around ideas as to what may have happened that the power wasn’t locked away. Maybe it was in the cabin, but since it wasn’t sealed properly, the power was still hanging around.
“Which means that any active knight that happens by will have access to that power. Are we ok with that?”
“Of course, not, but what are we supposed to do? Torch the place? Then Lens will arrest me for arson, destruction of public property, destruction of a crime scene, destruction of evidence, obstruction of justice, endangering a forest…”
“Endangering a forest? Is that a thing?”
“It will be by the time he’s done.”
They continued to discuss the problem with neither having a solution. But Jet did have a question. And now was the perfect time to ask.
“Why didn’t you call me?”
“Um, well, I thought, you know, it was late, and maybe you were sleeping. I didn’t want to wake you.”
“This was important, Mik. You should’ve called me. Unless there’s some reason you didn’t want to.”
“You’re right. I mean, about me shouldn’t have… should’ve have called you. I mean, there’s no reason, you know, unless you just trying to, you know it was really late, and maybe it would be awkward, I’m tired. I’m…I can’t think. I don’t know why I didn’t want to call you. I like calling you. Oh my God, are you just gonna let me keep talking like this?”
He smirked, grabbed her hand, and kissed her rosy cheek “Good night, Mik.” He turned and walked away to a red Jeep, his long legs launching him into a stride that was as sexy as it was powerful. His smooth, deep, chocolate skin was…
“Wait. What am I thinking? I work with him. I can’t do this.” She thought about that Scrabble board of words that dumped out of her mouth and smacked her forehead. “Am I stupid? What the fuck language was that? Shit!” She stormed off to her car, berating herself for her smooth English skills. Why was she like this with him? He was her partner. They worked together. This wasn’t some stupid soap opera.
Whenever Jet’s presence gave her jitters she remembered his one flaw. Beneath his well-kept, low-cut fro was a brilliant brain, a brain that was on path to becoming a doctor. Not just any doctor. A psychiatrist. He was specializing in the science of reading people. And what she didn’t need was someone constantly analyzing her moves and behaviors. Some things were better kept to herself.