Morrissey was waiting for him when he arrived. “We have a meeting,” he said. Miles shot him a tremulous smile and followed the supervising investigator out of the office. Emery had no choice but to join them.

Emery sighed as he stepped into the Commander’s office. He already knew what the meeting was about. Somehow he wasn’t surprised to find two men in the office in addition to the expected Commander Hartley and Master Morrissey. Miles trailed along behind him silently. Both stood in such a way that the officials would assume that they were at attention. If Emery leaned a little or Miles didn’t have his head perfectly erect, no one bothered to say anything.

“Thank you both for coming,” Commander Hartley said softly. “This is Captain Abraham Wilder and Chief Avery Wallace.”

Emery nodded politely at them both but neither boy moved besides that. “You aren’t in any trouble so relax,” Morrissey said in a calm tone. “The Captain and Chief just want to make sure that there are no irregularities.”

“The… person who was found living in the cave and stealing from and harassing the locals was your father, was he not,” one of the men, presumably the captain, asked.

“Yes, but-,” Emery started. He stopped when the captain held up a hand. “Yes, sir,” Emery said, glancing sidelong at his brother.

“Do you know why he was in the cave?” the man asked.

“He wasn’t exactly very articulate when I found him,” Emery said softly. “He left us when we were little. We haven’t seen him since. We didn’t know he was there or why or what his plans were.”

“He was your master in magic, wasn’t he?” the chief asked. “Until you went to the Academy, he taught you magic. Was there any signs at that time?”

“We were eight and seven,” Emery snapped. “How would we know if there were signs that our father was crazy? He seemed fine at the time. He disappeared shortly after we left for school and then Mom died about a year later.” He shifted from one foot to another, wishing he could pace the room.

“So you claim to have no idea that your father was even still in the area?” the captain asked, giving both boys a cool look.

“We had no idea where our father was or even that he was alive still until we responded to that call,” Emery said firmly. He took a step toward both officials but stopped and shook his head. “It’s not a claim, it’s a fact. You can even ask the school. The whole reason that they were going to make Miles stay an extra year was because they couldn’t see emancipating some at age fifteen. That wouldn’t have been an issue if we’d known where our father was. If I’d known where Dad was I would have told the school Miles was going to live with him and then turned around and taken him myself.”

Morrissey smiled slightly and murmured, “As it was, Miles was released into my care.”

Emery’s eyebrows rose a fraction as he heard this. He had no idea that Morrissey had been named Miles’ guardian. He’d assumed that the older mage had convinced the school officals to emancipate his brother somehow. A glance at his brother told him that the younger boy was aware of the arrangement.

“You’d severed all ties with your father then, before the incidents?” the captain asked.

“Sir, he severed ties with us long ago. He disappeared without a trace. He never sent word of his whereabouts or even that he was still alive,” Miles said in a calm voice. “Is this an offical inquest or were you just wondering about something?”

“Your father seems to think that his life is in danger,” Hartley said softly. “Judging by your expressions that’s as strange to you as it is to us. Gentlemen, I think it’s safe to conclude that Mister Ballard burned all bridges with his family when he left.”

The two officials nodded and left the office. Emery sighed in relief and looked up at Morrissey. “What was that all about?”

“A fishing expedition,” Morrissey said softly. “They didn’t seem to have caught anything though.”

“Just remember, boys, not all burning bridges collapse,” Hartley said as Morrissey ushered them out of the office.

Later that day, a courier came to their offices and handed them each a letter. Both boys read silently for several minutes before Emery looked up, locking eyes with his brother. “Evaluation of our mental competence,” he said softly.

“What’s that mean, Brother?” Miles asked, though his expression told Emery that he already knew the answer.

“They think we’re as crazy as he is,” Emery hissed. He tossed the letter into the in-box on his desk and spun toward the door.

“Brother?” Miles said as he followed.

“I’m going to the lab,” Emery said. “I need something to do to keep my mind occupied.”

continued here