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All Disasters Out of Season

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Sherlock paid the night attendant $200 to look the other way while the three of them entered the morgue. Joan pulled on some latex gloves and quickly examined the 17-year-old boy's corpse. Nothing new jumped out at her.

Curtis Atherton had died in a car crash. According to the autopsy there was no indication of drugs or alcohol in his system, and no sign of foul play. He hadn't even been using his cell phone at the time. Witnesses said the car had suddenly accelerated and driven straight into a highway pylon.

The coroner's preliminary findings suggested that Curtis' death was a suicide. His family had hired Sherlock to investigate other possibilities.

Joan looked up at Sherlock and shook her head.

"Let us proceed, then," he said. "Ms. Hudson, if you would?"

Ms. Hudson gracefully removed her overcoat, revealing the simple white robes of an acolyte of the Bastard. She looked for somewhere to put her coat. Sherlock genteelly accepted it, walking across the room to hang it over the back of an office chair.

"I normally perform funerary rituals before the friends and family of the deceased," Ms. Hudson said, sorting through her over-sized handbag to pull out a large glass jar.

"Curtis' family are non-believers, so his funeral will be purely secular. That's no reason to deny him his miracle, is it?" Sherlock replied, taking the hand-bag from her and placing it on the desk near her coat.

Joan shivered in the mortuary's chill. Quintarians believed that this ritual represented the choosing of an individual's soul by one of their five gods. It was considered a miracle, in their faith. Joan had never seen it in person, but had watched the ritual during Princess Diana's televised funeral, when a magnificent lioness representing the Mother had lain down on the princess's funeral bier.

"I never would have taken you for a devout Quintarian," Joan said to Sherlock.

"Oh, I'm not. I don't worship the gods, despite my family's history," he said, sharply. After a moment's pause, Sherlock shrugged. "Neither am I such a fool as to deny the gods' existence and occasional influence in our world. This particular ritual may reveal information that we could not hope to gain in any other fashion."

"Such as?" Joan asked, watching as Ms. Hudson began a soft chant over the glass jar.

"One would expect a young man such as Curtis to be taken up by the Son. Should that be the case, we will have learned nothing new. But if he is claimed by the Father, then we will have evidence that he fathered a child with his girlfriend. Another heir to the family fortune, as it were. If he is taken up by the Bastard, the most likely explanation is that he himself is illegitimate, and the suspect pool will widen nicely."

Ms. Hudson stopped her chanting. "I'm very surprised to hear you repeating that type of prejudice," she said, glaring at Sherlock. "I'll have you know that my parents were, and still are married, and that I dedicated myself to the Bastard at the age of eight."

"But you, my dear, are exceptional in every way," Sherlock responded. "Curtis Atherton appears to have been far more conventional. So while illegitimacy is not the only possible reason for the Bastard to claim him, it would be the most likely. In any case, it would indicate that there was more to the boy than meets the eye."

"Well, you talked your way out of that one neatly enough," Ms. Hudson said fondly. "The world lost a great theologian, when you became a detective."

Ms. Hudson visibly gathered herself, taking on the mantle of an acolyte, and called out an invocation to the gods. She slowly opened the top of the glass jar, singing softly as she did so. After a moment, Sherlock reluctantly joined in. Joan tried to hum along, vaguely recognizing the ancient hymn.

Ms. Hudson tipped the jar above Curtis' body, and five honeybees, each daubed with a dot of a different bright color, emerged from the jar. They buzzed around the corpse for a moment, a tumble of blue and green, grey and red and white. Joan waited, as the hymn increased in urgency, for one of them to settle on the corpse. Four of the bees abruptly retreated back into the jar, leaving the white bee to bumble towards the bank of closed mortuary drawers.

Ms. Hudson gently shooed the bee back towards Curtis' corpse, still singing, although Sherlock and Joan had fallen silent. It hovered over Curtis's face for a moment, and then flew back into the jar. Ms. Hudson gasped.

Sherlock pulled out his phone and began frantically texting.

"What … what does that mean?" Joan asked. "Doesn't one of the five sacred animals always choose, to show which god claimed that soul?"

Ms. Hudson had gone pale. "Always," she said, screwing the lid back on the glass jar and hugging it against her chest. "They always choose. There's only one reason …"

"Death magic," Sherlock crowed, gracing Joan with a fierce smile. "The deaths come in pairs. So was Curtis the victim of the magic, or its perpetrator? Oh, Watson, this will be a case to remember."

"We need to go to the Temple, immediately," Ms. Hudson commanded, standing tall and straight.

Sherlock's jaw set. "Ms. Hudson, I have the greatest respect for you, personally and professionally. But if you think the Temple of the Bastard can buy my silence, or strong-arm me off this case –"

"No, it's nothing like that, Sherlock," Ms. Hudson explained urgently. "There is information about death magic that is never revealed to anyone outside the Bastard's clergy, and my vows won't allow me to make an exception in your case. But you'll need to know, if you're going to investigate Curtis' death. Come with me to see the archdivine, please. More than two lives might hang in the balance."

Sherlock hesitated.

"We'll go," Joan said.

Sherlock looked at her, startled.

"Of course we'll go. Sherlock, you've always consulted experts as needed to solve cases, and it sounds like the archdivine is the expert on death magic. So no matter what your issue is with Quintarians, or the Bastard, or his clergy, are you seriously planning to work this case blind?"

"You make a compelling argument. Very well." Sherlock picked up Ms. Hudson's coat and held it while she shrugged into it. "Lead the way, acolyte," he said, coolly. As they followed Ms. Hudson out of the hospital, he murmured to Joan, "I do hope we don't come to regret this."

Joan hoped so, too.