Emery Ballard followed Warden Hassett into the station that morning, rather than bounding ahead. A part of him was hoping to make a good first impression with his more sedate, more mature, pace and a part of him was a little anxious about meeting the new team of forensics magicians that had been added to the force.

“You know, some of them have been on the force for a while, just not as forensics magicians,” Hassett said. His tone was meant to be reassuring, but Emery found the words less so. The forensics team was meant to work with any and all of the wardens that were on call when they were, but in the year since his graduation from the academy, Emery had only worked with a select few. Veterans of the force or not, these men and women would be complete strangers.

“Are they being supervised by Morrissey too?” Emery asked. He glanced back at Miles. His brother was both strangely quiet and reticent to be in the station. Without waiting for Hassett to answer his previous question he asked, “What’s wrong, Mi?”

“Hannah,” the younger boy said softly.

“You know her?” Hassett asked.

“We were in school with her,” Emery said. “She and Miles have a bit of a history with each other. As I recall, you two went out together a few times. You were quite taken with her.” He glanced at his brother for confirmation and received a glare in reply.

“She was just using me to get to you, brother,” Miles said softly. “She had no interest in me at all. When she figured out your preferences, she dumped me before I could even blink.”

“Ah, so she’s a heart-breaker,” Hassett said softly.

“Yes,” Miles replied. “I ain’t saying she’s a gold-digger…” he hummed, edging ahead of them.

Emery smiled and shrugged. “She likes to date people she thinks are going to gain her power or prestige – or she did in school. She might have changed, Mi,” he called to his brother.

“Don’t count on it,” Miles shot back. They ducked into a conference room just off the lobby and paused as they noticed that they weren’t alone. “Here they are. Good morning,” he greeted the new team, all animosity gone from his features. He may dislike Hannah, but he’d hide it well – at least in front of other people. Emery doubted very much that his younger brother would ever have a good working relationship with the girl.

“Hi Miles. Hi Emery,” she greeted, bounding forward. “You must be Warden Hassett,” she added, looking up at the older man. Her green eyes roved over him as if taking in every detail and Emery caught Miles scowling out of the corner of his eye. He sent a brief smile toward his brother, along with a sense of calm that the empathy was likely to pick up on.

“We should wait until the rest of the team arrives for introductions,” Hassett said. “Though the boys told me that they knew you already.”

“We were in school together. Emery saved my life,” she said. She caught his hand and smiled at him. “He’s a hero.”

“She wasn’t really in any danger,” Emery said quickly. “She was in the woods on school grounds and… broke her ankle and… well, I found her.” He darted a glance at Hassett as if to ask if the other team should be let in on their secret. The warden caught his look and nodded once. “I just followed the trauma from the injury – and her distress, I suppose.”

“Emery can sense trauma and I pick up on emotions,” Miles said. “We both have off-magic but we’d prefer that no one knows.”

“Especially since Em was recently kidnapped by a group that is trying to exploit people who are specially gifted as they are,” Hassett said.

“The presence of off-magic tends to indicate Cygman blood,” one of the newcomers said.

“The blond hair and blue eyes tend to agree with that, Elsa,” another said. She smiled at the boys and added, “We can keep a secret.” Her dark, angular eyes and equally dark hair announced her Shynian heritage as much as the brothers’ coloring announced theirs.

“Technically, we’re all Shynian,” Hassett pointed out. “Whatever our ancestry, we live in Ameria, which is a Shynian state. Here’s Morrissey and Serenity. Is Armand on his way?” he asked the supervisory investigator.

“He had some things to do this morning to wrap up a case,” Serenity said. “He wanted your input on something Miles. He found some anomalies in the samples he was analyzing.”

“Some of the sample was connected to the region we found it in and some was,” Miles surmised. When the older investigator nodded he grinned. “I thought it might be. That’s not an anomaly. The samples were mixed. The suspect was trying to throw us off. If you’ll excuse me, I’ll go talk to Armand about it.”

He didn’t wait for permission, he simply left, glad to be away from his former girlfriend. Emery nodded at him as he passed, well aware of how tense the younger boy was. “Since everyone who’s coming is here, shall we proceed?” he asked.

“Very well,” Morrissey said. “All of you know me. I interviewed you. In case you’ve forgotten, I’m Robert Morrissey, supervisory investigator and ballistics expert for the first team. This young woman is Martha Sheppard, the ballistics expert for the second team.” He gestured at the woman who’d spoken to Elsa earlier and she bowed at the team members.

“Pleasure to meet you all,” she said.

“Miles Ballard, who left to help Master Armand, is the first team’s trace specialist. Cliff Woodin is his counterpart on the second team and also will act as my second, supervising them when I’m not present,” Morrissey continued.

Emery looked up at Woodin. Like Armand, the man was unusually tall for a magician, approaching what was considered average height for a non-mage. Unlike Armand, the man had dark features typical to those who were ethnically Shynian. With a glance at the other team members, Emery wondered if this was a trend or if there were just more ethnic Shynians in Piedmont than in his hometown of Lyroron.

“Samuel Perkins is the second team’s hair and fiber analyst; just as Serenity Adams is ours,” Morrissey continued. Perkins was as different from Woodin as night was to day. The man was even shorter than Miles and fair enough that he could have been an albino.

“Hey all,” he greeted in a softly drawling accent. “Glad to be working with you. I hope we can all manage to get along well.”

“I hope so too,” Emery replied. “I’m Emery Ballard, Miles’s older brother. I’m the trauma and bodily fluids analyst for our team.”

“Elsa Adamson,” the woman who’d pointed out their Cygman roots said, extending her hand. As Emery shook it she smiled and nodded at him as if in approval. “I know your teacher, Rafael Cain. We were apprentices to the same master.”

“Professor Cain?” Emery said, beaming enough that his cheeks hurt. “You know Professor Cain? How is he?”

“He was well when last I saw him,” she replied. “I’ll have to tell him how you boys are doing when I talk to him. Would you like me to give him your contact information?”

“And how!” Emery said, bouncing up on his toes. He blushed as he realized how youthful his actions seemed and settled back, murmuring, “I’d very much appreciate that.”

“I’m sure that Emery knows Hannah Keller,” Morrissey continued, ignoring the interruption. “She is the counterpart to our own Armand Livingston. Master Armand is, as Master Serenity stated, in the lab, wrapping up a case.”

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