Category: Ballard Brothers

Rescue Me

Emery knew he was sleeping. He knew it was a dream. That didn’t make it seem any less real, however. That didn’t keep him from crying out in fear and closing his eyes against what he saw. He knew this man. He recognized the worn, decrepit form before him. “Hello, again,” the monstrous being said.

“Go away,” Emery said softly. “This isn’t real. You… the spell was interrupted. You died.”

“I left my body and then had no place to return to,” the man corrected. “My soul remained… still searching for a new body.” He floated over to Emery, and the boy slid back in the bed. His back came firmly against the wall. The chill of the wall seemed real enough. “This is no dream, boy. I intend to finish what I started.”

“No,” Emery hissed. He tried to stand but his legs became tangled in the blankets and he fell to the floor. As the form floated closer, he closed his eyes firmly and screamed.

Then he was in a dark room and the man who wanted to take his body was younger. He stood handsome and erect, looming over Emery, a snug grin on his face. “Now all there is for me to do is push your soul out of my new body.”

“No,” Emery repeated, forcing himself to his feet. “This is my mind. This is my body. You get out.” He felt more than saw a door behind each of them. If either was pushed out the doors, the other would take the body. There would be no second chances, Emery was sure. He needed to win or this monster would take his body; his life.

The man reached out to him and Emery ducked under the reaching arm, catching the man on his shoulder and continuing the forward motion; propelling him toward the door. His opponant skidded to a stop and spun back toward Emery.

Both were crouched with their hands out, but Emery knew his own stance was more defensive than offensive. The man was taller and stronger. He hand more reach in addition. All of these added up to a distinct disadvantage on Emery’s part. There was also the fact that Emery was certain the man had done this before. He was experienced in fighting in someone’s mindscape, where Emery was not.

The man approached slowly, not gaining enough momentum for Emery to use it against him, slowly forcing the smaller man back, toward the door. Then he gently caught Emery by the shoulder. All he needed to do was push and the boy would tumble through.

However, Emery shifted his weight and kicked out with one leg, catching the man unaware and knocking him off his feet. Emery rolled with the man and landed not far away, bouncing to his feet and turning back to his opponent in one smooth movement. “I’m not going to make this easy for you, old man,” he snapped.

“Where would the fun be in that,” the man said softly. Again he was moving slowly across the mindscape toward Emery. This time, the boy kept his eyes on both doors, careful not to back toward them. He gasped in surprise when his foot encountered insubstantial air.

“Getting a little anxious, boy?” the man said.

“You can move the doors,” Emery hissed. “Because it’s not real. It’s in my mind.”

He thought back to something Miles had told him. “Magic and imagination are inexorably connected.” Emery had always been more hands-on than his brother. Where Miles pictured the glyphs in his head, Emery traced them on tablets or wands.

He needed to think more like Miles, if only for a moment, if he hoped to win against the man. Emery closed his eyes, imagining the doors spreading all around them. Now there were no walls. He’d have to be even more careful but he might take the man by surprise. Then he felt a shove on his shoulder and he was falling.

“This is my mind,” he snapped, wishing his brother or Hassett was there to help. Suddenly a strong hand caught his wrist and he stood on firm ground again. Emery opened his eyes to see Miles standing beside him. “Mi?” he asked in shock.

“How did you summon your brother?” the man asked, just as shocked as Emery was.

“This is my mind,” Emery repeated. He closed his eyes and imagined the platform dividing and shrinking until they were parted by a huge gulf of emptiness. The man couldn’t attack him. A reckless lunge would send them both tumbling over into oblivion. “I told you, get out.” He dissolved the platform beneath the man and closed his eyes as the man fell into the emptiness.

When he opened his eyes, he was once more in his bedroom. Miles stood in the doorway. “You were calling for help, Brother. Are you alright?”

Emery nodded and sat up. “Thanks for the rescue,” he said softly. His smile broadened at his brother’s baffled look but he only shook his head. “Never mind, Mi. Just thanks for always being there.”

Surprises Await

“Emery was running late,” Miles said as he followed Morrissey out of the car. “The only thing we got told was the case was weird. What’s going on?”

“According to people who really should know better, a ghost. We’re supposed to investigate the caverns. Apparently people from the rail company have been attacked by person or persons unknown.” Morrissey paused in his recitation when he noticed the boy was no longer following him. He turned back to frown thoughtfully at the younger Ballard. “Miles?”

“Stevrim Caverns? We’re going in there? Oh, no. No, no, no. I’m waiting in the car. Bring me any trace you want identified.” He was pale but otherwise seemed alright as he spun on his heel and all-but-ran back to the waiting vehicles.

“Miles? Miles!” Morrissey called after him. The teen ignored him and just kept going, however. Shaking his head, Morrissey waved a welcoming arm at Emery. Maybe the elder Ballard would be able to explain the younger’s actions.

Emery ran towards where the other forensics wizards were setting up and was surprised to see his brother running the other way. He almost turned and called to the younger boy but Morrissey was waving so fiercely at him, he reconsidered. Instead he ran all the faster to join the supervisor.

“What’s the problem?” Emery asked as he caught up to Morrissey. The rural area they were in, which was surprisingly close to the old Ballard Family homestead, was far from the city but still within their jurisdiction. The forensics team had been called in on what the local people would only describe as a weird case. Emery frowned as he realized where exactly they were. He had a sinking feeling he knew exactly what the case was.

“Supposedly there’s a ghost,” Morrisey explained as they walked toward a rocky outcrop. Emery nodded. He’d heard about the ghost since he was a child. “It started out as things going missing from houses. Then, when the rail company came through, it escalated. As it stands, it’s been attacking anyone who gets close to that cave. The problem is that there’s a new rail that’s supposed to be running right past it so the workers have been attacked. Three people have been hospitalized so far. It’s only a matter of time before someone is killed.”

“So we’re here to… antagonize the local spirit?” Emery asked. He was from this area. Everyone knew the Ghost of Stevrim Caverns was not to be trifled with. “Can’t the rail company just avoid the area?”

“You don’t believe in ghosts surely?” Morrissey said with a teasing note in his voice.

“I grew up near here. I’ve been hearing stories about the Ghost of Stevrim Caverns since I was a small child. Bold kid that I was, I still steered well clear of that place. The old tales would curl your hair, Morrissey. There is no doubt in my mind that there is something odd in that place.” Emery shuddered at the thought of actually entering the cavern to investigate.

“Are you sensing anything?” Morrissey asked.

“Trauma, mental and physical both, but I can’t say whether from the ghost or its victims,” Emery returned.

“Your brother took one look at the place and said he’d wait in the car,” Morrissey said.

“I’m not surprised. He had a bad scare one night while we were returning home. He swore he saw unearthly eyes peering out from the cavern at him. He was only about ten at the time so it pretty well freaked him out,” Emery replied. He gave the elder magician a strained smile and took out his wand. Once his hands touched the wand the vague sense of trauma became much more clear.

“Is the trauma directional?” Morrissey asked. Emery nodded and began walking toward the cavern mouth.

“I assume if I’m supposed to find the ‘ghost’ we’re bringing wardens with us,” Emery murmured. Ordinarily he hated the escort he was forced to continually deal with because of his status as an investigator. Today, however, he would be glad to know there was a person with an actual weapon beyond spells and scurd-flit.

“Here’s Hassett waiting for us,” Morrissey said. “He must have gone ahead to get a briefing from the other wardens.” Hassett wasn’t alone; Franklin, Grant and Everett were all waiting with him. “Emery’s got a bead on him,” Morrissey called to the officers. They nodded and moved into a protective formation around the young wizard.

“The trauma’s getting stronger and not because of proximity. The… ‘ghost’ is scared,” Emery reported as he darted a glance at Hassett.

The lieutenant nodded once and said, “Go easy, guys. We don’t know what he’s capable of and we don’t want to spook him.”

“He feels so… familiar,” Emery murmured. “I’m not usually any good with connectivity and it seems to me that I’ve felt this before.” He led them around a corner and a dimly lit, and very rude, shelter greeted them.

Suddenly a brilliant light flashed and they were blinded. Emery closed his eyes and sat on the ground, trying to make a smaller target of himself. He heard a guttural roar and several outcries from the wardens who’d been protecting him. Soft thuds of bodies hitting the hard earth around him were followed by a larger body landing nearly on top of him.

“Morrissey! Hassett!” Emery yelped. He opened his light-dazzled eyes to find the others all unconscious. An older man was standing about five feet away from him. His hair and beard hung in wild strands all around his head and face. He was frightened and angry but also territorial. Emery dropped his wand and held his hands up in what he hoped was a non-threatening manner. “Alright, just… just relax. I… I’m not armed.”

He swallowed thickly and his breath was coming in short gasps. He could tell the officers and Morrissey weren’t hurt badly but only unconscious. He’d escaped because he’d made himself a small enough target that their attacker had missed him. However, that wouldn’t work a second time. He was relieved to find that it was a human attacker and not a spectral one; but he was still alone in a cave with someone who was most likely not entirely sane.

“I’m Emery. Who’re you?” he asked with a voice that trembled slightly.

“I’m the ghost,” the man replied. Emery was again struck by a sense of familiarity. He’d heard that voice before, though the last time he’d heard it, it had been more refined and less strained.

“D-Dad?” he murmured in wonder. No wonder they hadn’t been able to find their father before their mother’s death. He’d come unhinged and been lost in the hills. “You… you aren’t a ghost. You’re Nathaniel Ballard. You’re a magician, not a ghost.”

The older man roared again and Emery had time to gasp before his world narrowed to a point and darkened.

continued here

If You Go Into the Woods

By the time Emery made his way home, it was well after dark and he sorely wished he’d left the little tavern earlier. He hadn’t been drinking, as a minor adult he wasn’t permitted. If there was one thing he disliked about the harvest festival, it was the late night tale telling.

Miles had begged out of the night of frightful stories by saying he had a report to finish writing. Emery, on the other hand, had already said that he was finished with his work and couldn’t use this excuse. After hearing enough spine-chilling tales to keep him from sleep for a month of Sundays, he’d finally left. Now he walked, alone, down the dark, deserted country road that led to his home.

He paused and looked back along the path toward town as a strange sound reached his ears. It seemed like the stomping of huge feet alternating with a scuffing like something being dragged in the dirt. However, there was nothing to be seen along the path and he turned back to continue on his way, now at a faster pace.

After a few moments he noticed that the sounds had also sped up, as if someone was trying to keep pace with him. Once more he stopped, trying to orient himself to where the sound was coming from. For a moment, all he could hear was the panting of his own breath. Then there was a deep moan that chilled his blood. Almost against his will, he turned toward the noise and finally saw the source of the strange sounds.

There, in the forest to his left was a tall, humanoid creature. The thing had long arms that dragged the ground, large feet covered with heavy boots, a wide grinning mouth full of pointy teeth and a thatch of unruly black hair covered by a horned helmet. It moaned once more and started toward him.

Emery whimpered but in his fright he couldn’t make himself move. Then the thing reached one of its long arms toward him and caught him in one huge hand. Emery screamed as he was unceremoniously lifted off his feet. With Emery still struggling and screaming, the thing carried him off into the forest.

After what seemed like hours, Emery had worn himself out with screaming and simply lay limply in the beast’s hand. Only then did they stop. Emery gasped as the beast put him on the ground. “Please don’t eat me,” he whispered.

He was shocked to see the huge head shake back and forth in denial. Then the beast began pulling on his trouser-leg. “Off,” it said, the voice deep and gravelly, like rocks rolling downhill.

Emery nodded once and stripped himself naked, taking care to fold and neatly stack his new clothes. He looked up in horror to find that the monster was likewise naked. Without the helmet it seemed slightly more human but it was still tremendously huge. The giant settled on the ground and drew Emery into its lap.
“Taste,” it said and note wanting to anger the beast, Emery did as he was told. As the giant rubbed its huge erection over his body, he licked and nibbled the tip. Finally, with a great cry, the giant climaxed, showering him with its juices. Then it laid Emery, panting, on the ground as it dressed once more.

When he was finished, the monster lifted Emery up once more and carried him deeper into the forest. It paused at a river, looked around and then it laid him in a net that stretched between two trees.

For a moment, Emery lay, terrified, in the net. Then the beast walked away into the forest. Once he could no longer hear the distinctive sounds the monster had made when it moved, Emery carefully climbed out of the net.

He slumped to the ground and swallowed heavily as he realized that he was hopelessly lost and naked in the middle of nowhere, late at night. Miles was likely already asleep and wouldn’t be looking for him until morning. Then a soft sound reached his ears and he gasped.

He sat on the forest floor, heart pounding in his ears, as the sound slowly drew closer. It was too dark in the forest to see anything at all, save for the faint light from above the trees that had guided him out of the net.

When a slick, supple tentacle coiled around his ankles, Emery screamed. He cried out again as he was dragged across the forest floor. He came to a stop with something enveloping his feet and drawing him further inside. He gasped as light began to increase around him. He looked up for the source and saw small flowers all around opening to the night, a soft glow escaped their petals, lighting the area enough that he could see what was drawing him further inside with each passing moment.

Emery screamed wordlessly as his eyes took in the sight. Whatever the monster was it had a single eye and crawled on its belly like a large lizard. It was easily larger than he was and appeared to be devouring him. “No!” he screamed. “No, no, no!”

As the monster reached his hips, strange sensations flew over him. Far from hurting the sensations were almost pleasurable. Tentacles, like the one that had drawn him into the creature, were coiling around him and slowly easing into him. His protests became moans of pleasure as the monster took him deeper.

As it reached his chest, tentacles eased out of the orifice to tease his nipples, ears and mouth. He opened his lips to them and tasted them as he might his lover. His eyes eased closed and he felt himself climax within the creature. Then the creature was filling him and he fell free. The monster’s juices carried him as they flowed to a nearby river.

He almost expected to be carried away, or to drown. Instead, he sank beneath the water, still somehow able to breathe, and came to a stop on the silty riverbed. Emery lay back in the silt, a part of him wanted to swim to the surface, but he couldn’t draw up the will to even move. Then something caught him around the waist and he was brought to the surface.

In the light of a full moon he could see that the being who had brought him to the surface appeared to be a human, at least from the waist up. Below that was the tentacled body of an octopus. The tentacles spread Emery’s legs apart as the being began to nibble gently on his neck. Emery moaned as he felt their penises rub against each other.

Then he cried out as something slipped inside him. The being echoed his cry and they arched into each other. Against his will, Emery pulled the being closer as he was taken deeper.

The being shifted and he slid free of Emery for a moment before thrusting his erection fully inside. Emery cried out, as much in ecstasy as fright as what he now realized were tentacles joined the being’s hard member. Then the being climaxed, filling him. As he eased back out, he nibbled and sucked his way down Emery’s body until he reached the boy’s still erect member. Emery squirmed and moaned until he climaxed. The being disappeared into the water and he was alone, panting on the shore.

Soft splashing drew his attention and he looked up weakly. A woman was swimming toward him. It took only a second for Emery to realize that she wasn’t human. She swam up to him and began caressing his balls. As he grew erect, her fingers slid down to his anus. Soon she was fingering him deeper than he’d ever been before.

His member twitched, weeping precum and his legs and hips jerked spasmodically. Her hand was inside his as far as her wrist and she seemed intent to reach even deeper. Suddenly a shimmering light appeared above his head and the being fingering him hissed and dove beneath the water.

Vines emerged from behind him, once more drawing his lags apart as a smaller being lighted on his chest. Moaning softly the being slipped down, easing onto Emery’s erection. “Take me, human,” the being whispered as the vines pulled Emery away from the shore and up the shore until his back was against a tree.

As if the words were a command that he couldn’t fight, Emery thrust into the little being deeper and harder than the octopus being had taken him. The small creature moaned and arched into Emery until both climaxed with a sharp cry. The small being sighed in pleasure and flew away, leaving Emery panting on the forest floor.

He wasn’t there for long however. In moment the vines had lifted him into the trees. “Oh God, please no,” he cried as the vines began to slip inside and coil around him.

“It’s too many,” he murmured with a sob as first one, then another and a third vine eased inside him. A vine coiled around his nipple and he screamed. His eyes slid shut as another vine entered his mouth and another began to tease his other nipple. So many entered him, so many coiled around him, Emery thought for a moment he might go mad. Then he climaxed and felt the ground beneath him. He screamed against the vine in his mouth as he felt something hard slip inside him from one of the vines that was raping him. Another followed it and soon his belly ached with a fullness he’d never felt before.

The vines eased out of him and left him moaning on the forest floor, though they still held his wrists and ankles. Then he cried out as something began to slip free of his anus. Another joined it and another. Soon, he was surrounded by small pods. He watched as they grew small tentacle-like legs and shuffled away into the forest. Then he slumped to the ground and closed his eyes.

Time seemed to pass slowly, like it was edging by. Then, suddenly the sun was rising and Emery could hear his name being called in the distance. He moaned and sat up. He was surprised to find that he was dressed and unharmed. Maybe his adventures were simply a dream, cooked up by the horrific stories he’d listened to the previous evening.

“Miles?” he called back as he recognized the voice that was calling to him.

“Brother?” Miles called back. As he came around a thick copse of trees, Miles saw Emery and smiled. “Brother, thank goodness you’re alright. How’d you end up all the way out here?”

“I… can’t… I don’t know,” Emery said finally. “Anyway, let’s get home.” Miles nodded and led the way. As Emery moved to follow, he caught sight of a strange, one-eyed creature staring out at him from the forest. With a soft gasp, he darted ahead, catching Miles’s hand as he passed the younger boy. One thing was certain, he’d never go past those woods after dark again.

Lights, Stars and Snow

Emery loved everything about Christmas, except the fact that Miles wanted to get up extra early. Their father would too, he was sure. He pulled the blankets over his head as the lights in the sitting room came on.

“Merry Christmas, Emery,” Nathaniel said as he peeked into the bedroom. “Emery,” he repeated.

Emery moaned and snuggled deeper into his blankets. He was warm, cozy and almost asleep when the light above him popped on. Groaning, he burrowed deeper into his pillows.

“Merry Christmas, Emery,” Nathaniel said again. There was a soft giggle from the doorway.

Suddenly the warm and cozy blankets were pulled off of him and as Emery tried to catch them, he felt someone catch his waist. His eyes popped open as he was tickled. Giggling, he tried to glare at his father, who was the one tickling him. “Dad!”

“Merry Christmas, Brother,” Miles said from the doorway. “Are you ready to open presents?”

“Right,” Emery said. He rolled out of bed and grabbed his bathrobe. He tried to shrug into it but lost track of the arm. For a moment he chased the garment around in a circle. Then his brother helped him and guided him out into the sitting room. “It’s still dark out, Mi,” he said as he looked out the window. Then he blinked in shock. “It must have snowed a foot… at least.”

“Two feet,” Nathaniel said, sounding a touch over-cheerful at the prospect. “The snow that started as we were leaving church last night really mounted up. We’re snowed in. Let’s go open some gifts.”

Emery smiled tiredly and followed his father out of the room. His medicine was already waiting for him and he smiled his thanks at Miles as he picked it up. The family headed into the dining room. The tree was piled with gifts and Emery smiled tiredly. “Merry Christmas, Dad. Mery Christmas, Miles.”

“Merry Christmas, Emery,” Miles said. He bounded into the room and grabbed a beaten elf cap. “I’ll give out the gifts,” he exclaimed.

“How about you let me do it this year,” Nathaniel said.

“Right, Dad,” Miles said, handing him the hat. He plopped down on the floor beside his brother and grinned.

“We have to give you yours though,” Emery said. He smiled as his father handed him a wrapped box. He slowly unwrapped the box as Miles tore into a similar one. As the paper was removed a beautifully carved wooden box was revealed. “Is this what I think it is?” he asked.

“It’s a wand case! Dad, it’s beautiful! Thanks so much.” He stood and hugged the older man. He hopped back down on the floor and grinned at his brother.

Nathaniel was opening the gift that Emery had chosen for him. He smiled as he drew a new suit jacket out of the box. “What a fine jacket, Emery. Thank you so much.”

Emery grinned. He looked down at the wand case and opened it. It had a fold out panel that gave access to more space for wands deeper inside. “We can fit all our tools in these,” he said softly. “Thanks Dad.”

Nathaniel nodded and smiled as Emery looked outside. The stars were twinkling in the sky. The snow was thick and white on the rolling hills and here and there white globes shined through the darkened street. “It’s beautiful outside.”

“It really is,” Nathaniel said. “We’ve each opened one gift. How about we set this aside and go for a walk.”

“There’s two feet of snow,” Miles said with a giggle.

“And we’re in our pajamas,” Emery added.

“We used to go out every Christmas morning after opening one gift,” Nathaniel said. “Your mother and I, I mean. I want to show you something.”

Miles hopped to his feet and Emery stood more slowly. In moments, they were bundled and out into the predawn light. They were magicians so they didn’t have to trudge through the snow. Nathaniel led the way toward the small copse of trees that wasn’t far from the back of the house.

“Look up,” he said, pointing into the sky. “This is the perfect time to see it. Look just there, that way.”
Emery looked up. Just above the trees he could see a pair of stars that almost seemed like eyes staring down at him. Nathaniel sighed softly. “Even if I didn’t want to admit it, your mother knew she was going to die. She told me that those stars would be her eyes, watching me when she was gone. They rise at nearly dawn.”

“She’s always there, even when we can’t see her,” Emery said softly. “Thanks for sharing it with us, Dad.”

“It’s beautiful here,” Miles said softly. “The snow coating the trees like icing on a gingerbread house.” He smiled and rocked on his heels.

Unfinished Business

Emery leaned forward and said, “Warden Hassett, if you don’t mind, can you stop at the bank?”

“The bank?” Hassett repeated. “It’s a little out of our way but since it’s snowy out I’ll take you. I don’t like the thought of you going out on these streets with that bike of yours.”

“Thanks,” Emery said. “It’s about time we read that letter Mom left us,” he added softly to Miles. He smiled wanly and squeezed his brothers hand.

“What do you think she wanted to tell us that she couldn’t say?” Miles asked softly.

“She was dying and she knew it,” Emery said just as quietly. “She had a lot to say and it wasn’t just you two need to take care of each other. It’s been a couple years and I think we’re ready.”

“Ready or not, we should have done this a while ago, Brother,” Miles said. He settled back against the seat.

“We had to get back to school,” Emery said softly. “They hardly let us stay long enough to stay for the funeral and reception afterwards.”

“They, as in the school officials?” Hassett asked.

“Yes,” Emery snapped. “We had to get back and take our exams after all. We didn’t have time to stop in Piedmont to look in the safe deposit box and read Mom’s last letter to us.” He leaned back and stared out the window.

“Here it is,” Hassett said. “You have the key?”

Emery nodded and climbed out of the car. He paused and let Miles catch up. “Ready to find out what Mom had to say?” he whispered.

Miles only nodded and followed Emery into the building. Hassett also followed. The bank manager met them in the lobby. He smiled at the trio and said, “How may I help you.”

“Our mother left something for us in her safe deposit box,” Emery said. “We have her key. She left it to us… when she died.”

“Her name?” the man said solemnly.

“Margery Ellis Ballard,” Emery replied.

The manager nodded and led the way toward the back of the bank. “I remember when she and her husband came to the bank to open a safe deposit box. They left all their important papers here – birth certificates, the deed to their homestead and later a letter arrived by courier. I figured that you’d come sooner or later.”

“Schooling,” Emery said softly.

“Miss Margery was very proud that her boys were attending the Academy in North Lake,” the man said with a grin. He stopped in front of the cage door for the safe deposit box and unlocked it. Emery and Miles followed him inside. Moments later they emerged with Emery holding a folded envelope.

After they were once more seated in the back of Hassett’s cruiser, the warden pulled away from the curb. “Well,” he said. “Planning on opening it now or will you wait until you’re home?”

Emery shook his head. “There will always be something to wait for. Niether of us really wants to open it. It had better be now.”

“You don’t want to know what she had to say?” Hassett asked, peeking at the boys through the rearview mirror.

“Yeah, but I’m not sure why. It just seems like it’s probably bad,” Miles said.

“Something she couldn’t say out loud, even though she knew she was dying. Something she didn’t want to be the last thing she said to us… bad about covers it,” Emery agreed. He broke the seal and pulled the letter open.

“Dearest Miles and Emery,” he read. “My darling boys. I hope you can forgive your father. Even though I can’t tell you what they are, he has very good reasons for what he did. He never meant any harm and he loved us more than anything in this world.”

He looked up at Miles and shrugged. “She always defended him.” Anger colored his tone. He loved his mother and a part of him still blamed their absent father for her death.

“Keep reading, Brother,” Miles said.

Emery nodded and continued with the letter. “By now the doctors or your granny will have told you what is wrong with me. My aura is disintegrating. I have an illness known as Auric Decay Syndrome. It is the self-same thing that took your older sister’s life on the day she was born.”

“You had a sister?” Hassett asked.

“Yeah, but she was stillborn,” Miles said. “Mama and Dad never spoke about her or what she’d died of. All we knew was that we were born in hospitals because they were afraid the same thing would happen to us. Mama was fragile. That was all we were told.”

“It pains me to say this, my boys,” Emery continued. “It pains me and it frightens me. Emery, it is likely that you too have Auric… Decay…” he trailed off and handed the letter to Miles. He was pale and looked terrified.

“Chief?” Hassett asked softly. “You alright?”

“Our sister and Mama died of this… and I might have it?” he said.

“Mama says you need to see an auric specialist, Brother. She says that you had an attack on the day you were born but then the illness seemed to go into remission. She and Dad kept an eye on you, made sure that you had auric stabilizers and such. But since you’ll be a practicing magician now, you might come out of remission.”

“Right,” Emery said, his voice distant. “An auric specialist.”

“Brother?” Miles said softly, catching Emery’s shoulder. “We’ll get through this the same way we’ve always gotten through everything else… together.”

“Right,” Emery replied. He smiled tremulously at Miles but shook his head. “I… have been feeling a little off lately,” he whispered. “Little dizzy spells and such. I just brushed them off.”

“Don’t borrow trouble, Brother,” Miles said.

“You won’t add a moment to your life with worrying, my mother used to tell me,” Hassett said. “Want to stop by the clinic before we leave town?”

Emery nodded and caught Miles by the hand. “You’ll stay with me?” he asked.

“Always, Brother,” Miles promised.

Plans for the Future

Emery got up with a brighter outlook than he’d had the previous morning. Today, Miles would be coming to join him. Today, he’d begin work officially as a deputy investigator. It was one step closer to his dream of being a forensic investigator. One inch closer to being able to find people who’d gone missing as his father had.

He still remembered the helplessness the family had felt, him most especially since he’d been the last to see Nathaniel, when the older man had disappeared. The wardens had nothing to go on. All their leads had led to nothing. He’d heard that day about forensic investigators. With a magician on the case, the wardens had said, there would have been less questions and more answers. Perhaps they would have even found the missing man. Perhaps their mother would not have had to die still wondering where her husband was and if he was safe. Perhaps, without the stress and worry to exacerbate her condition, she wouldn’t have died at all.

He shook the thoughts away. He had to get ready. Hassett would be picking him up today and he didn’t want to keep the man waiting. He dressed and bounded out into the corridor.

He quickly drank his tea and brushed his teeth. Snatching a slice of bread from the counter and vowing to wash the dishes from the previous evening when he got home, Emery dashed out the door. He exited the building just as a dark green car pulled up to the curb.

He was still eating when he climbed into the back seat. “You’re not as spiffy as you were yesterday, chief,” Hassett remarked. “What happened to your tie?”

“Not interviewing today. Don’t have to dress up,” Emery replied amid bites of bread. “They going to give me a uniform?”

“Yes, the investigators wear uniforms, though theirs are – or yours, rather – are a bit less military inspired and more office-like,” Hassett replied with a chuckle. “You will be wearing a tie, you know.”

“I figured,” Emery said, not sounding very enthusiastic about the idea. A moment later, he added, “I hate ties. I feel like I’m being strangled.”

Hassett chuckled again and said, “So why did you decide to become an investigator?”

“I don’t want anyone to have to go through what we did,” Emery said softly. “Our dad disappeared a few years ago… shortly after we started at the Academy. The wardens who came to investigate wanted to call in a forensic magician but there was none available. By the time there was one the trail was cold.”

“So you want to be able to help people the way he could have helped you if he’d gotten there sooner. If there were more forensic mages, then cases wouldn’t wait so long the trail would go cold.” Hassett nodded and kept silent for a little while. H pulled into a parking garage and turned off the car. “Here we are, Emery,” he said. “Excited about seeing your brother today?”

“And how!” Emery replied. “I could hardly sleep thinking about it.”

“When he gets here, Morrissey will probably set you to work on one of the cases we’ve already been on. He’s forming this team because the department needs more of your kind. Eventually there will be a whole forensic squad, but for now it’s just a team of five people.”

Emery nodded. It seemed he wasn’t the only one with plans for the future.

Memories of You

Miles sat alone in the room he’d shared with his brother until just a day ago. He looked around the room and frowned. Soon another boy would share this room with him. While he and Emery had very randomly split the space, the newcomer would probably expect a clearer demarcation of territory. Shelves that had been mutual would now be individual. Chairs that had been up for grabs would now have clear assignments.

He stood and headed over to the shelves on the other side of the room. One was his – meant to be on his side of the room. The desks, too, would have to move back to their former positions. The beds were already on opposite sides of the room. The chests and dressers stood nearby, also in their proper positions.

He cleared first one shelf, then the other. He chose a shelf at random and moved it to the foot of his bed. The desk followed it. He ended up with a neat little alcove for studying at the foot of his bed. Sitting in his desk chair, he began filling the shelves with his books and little knick-knacks.

Each item had a memory for him. This was the first journal that his father had given him. It was full of childishly drawn glyphs and hardly comprehendible notes. This was the book discussing common trace found at crime scenes. His brother had seen it in a bookshop and bought it, thinking it might help in Miles’s future career. Then a trinket – a crystal engraved with Miles’s personal glyph joined the books.

He looked up as the door opened. A boy about his own age stepped inside. “Are you really finished with all your classes?” the boy asked without preamble.

“Apparently not,” Miles replied softly.

The boy nodded and began unpacking. Miles watched him silently. If Miles had a box of memories to house on his shelf, this boy had even more odd and ends. The books were crammed on the shelf in any way they would fit. Some stood; others layed down in stacks. Knick-knacks, likewise, were squeezed into every nook and cranny.

It was these that caught Miles’s eye. To say they were strange was an understatement. Animal paws and tiny skulls peeked out from between books. Bags of power and stones leaned on one another on the top of the shelf beside a treaure box that appeared to hold many glass baubles. Bottles of strange liquids and jars with eyes staring out lined the edge of the shelf.

The boy looked up and smirked. “Alchemy,” he said. “Studying the same thing my dad did, though he wanted me to do something more lucrative. I spent my whole young life watching him practice alchemy, I can’t imagine anything different.”

Miles relaxed and nodded. If it wasn’t for Emery’s almost polar differences with their father’s personality, he would probably have followed in their Master’s footsteps too. It wasn’t unusual. That was, in fact, the reason why the school had been founded. “Did you study under him?” Miles asked softly.

“Wouldn’t let me but I’m here now and he can’t stop me,” the boy replied. “Travis Nash,” he added, pointing at himself.

“Miles Ballard,” Miles replied. “I guess we’re room-mates.”

“Might not be for long,” Travis said, pointing toward the door. A grim-faced school official stood in the doorway. Miles recognized her as the woman who’d escorted Emery to the train station that morning and stood.

“You’ve been requested by the head master,” she said before she turned and left.

Miles nodded and with a wave at Travis, he left the room to follow her. What, he wondered, could she want now?

Not Home Without You

Emery looked around the entrance of his new flat. They’d arranged to rent it through an agency almost a month before they’d planned to graduate – about two weeks before the school officials had called Miles to the office to inform him that they would keep him for another year. It was meant to be shared by the two of them – not house him alone.

He walked slowly down the corridor. Flamel chirped inside the carrying case. Miles had insisted he take their cat. Flamel would be more comfortable with more space to roam than a small dormitory room could provide. He put the case on the floor and let her out. She padded out and around a corner, already exploring her new home.

The first room was furnished as a bedroom. It was meant to be Miles’s room. There were no personal touches but the colors were all his favorites. The soft blues and brilliant violets spoke strongly of the younger Ballard brother. The agency had done well with their decorating.

The next room was also a bedroom – his own. Again blue was a predominate color. However, instead of violet a flaring red accented the décor. He set his bags on the floor and continued down the hallway.

The last three rooms lay at the end of the hallway. To the right was the kitchen. He knew it was already outfitted with pots and pans. The pantry and cooler were probably even already stocked. Just as their kitchen at the old house had been, the walls were a soft yellow color, accented in green. This room reminded him of his mother and he pushed away, toward the left side of the corridor.

Here was the living room. It was cozy. A pair of desks along the wall once more reminded him that his brother was absent. There was also a soft couch and a matching arm chair. A table with a lamp joined to it set between them. He stepped fully into the room and flicked on the radio absently. A soft bluesy jazz tune was playing. It went well with his mood and he left it on.

He flopped into the chair and closed his eyes. Tomorrow he’d be interviewed for his new position. He had no doubt that he’d get it. There weren’t a lot of people qualified for the post of forensic magician. He should get some sleep. He should make dinner. However, he couldn’t find the energy to move.

Flamel hopped into his lap and nuzzled his hand, insisting on being petted. “You miss him too?” Emery asked. “Or you want food.”

The cat bounded down and out of the room, answering the question with a chirp. Emery smirked and followed her. “Right,” he said. “We should both eat. Let’s see what we’ve got.” He peeked into the pantry and pulled out bread. In the cooler he found lettuce, tomatoes and bacon. “Excellent,” he said.

He set his findings on the table, poured kibble in a bowl for Flamel and then started cooking his bacon. Once the meat was sizzling merrily, he tore leaves off the head of lettuce and cut up a tomato and the bread. He flipped the bacon over then toasted the bread. When the meat was cooked, he slathered some mayonnaise on the toast. He swallowed heavily as he noted that his brother’s favorite dressing was also there, as if waiting for him. Then he made up his sandwich and sat at the table to eat.

He ate heartily enough, if not happily. “Let’s go to bed, Flamel,” he said, not bothering to clear the dishes. He’d wash them after his interview. He thrust the greasy pan in the sink and ran water in it so the cat wouldn’t get herself sick on bacon fat then padded down the corridor.

He kicked off his shoes, pushed off his pants and unbuttoned his shirt, leaving a trail on the floor as he headed to the bed. He pulled his light nightshirt out of his bag and tugged it on over his head before settling under the sheets. “G’night Mi,” he whispered to the dark sky outside the window.

Though the hour was early for him, he lay down, sniffling softly. He stifled a sob and shook his head. Crying wouldn’t help. It wouldn’t get the school officials to send him his brother. He’d just have to stand on his own for once – ready or not.

He sat up again and drew a book out of his bag with enough force that he sent some papers flying. Reading might get his mind off his worries and at least he wouldn’t lay in bed half the night not able to sleep. He could do this. He’d just have to take things one day – one moment – at a time.

It only took about a half an hour to reach the city of Piedmont by train. As the train rumbled up into the station, they could see a crowd of children with their parents getting ready to board the train. As with the children from Lyroron, they varied greatly in age.

Amelia saw one girl who looked even younger than Miles head back to say good-bye to her parents three times before she finally boarded the train. Others were boarding the train boldly and with a great deal of enthusiasm. She sighed and returned her gaze to the Ballards.

Miles was dozing, in spite of his father’s words. Emery was, like she had been, gazing out the window. He watched everything keenly for several moments, and then rose to his feet. “How long is the train going to be here?” he asked.

“Not long now,” Amelia said. “They only planned on stopping long enough for the passengers to embark.”

Miles sat upright and looked over at his brother. “Stay put,” he said sharply. “I know what you’re thinking, Brother, and the answer is ‘No’. If we miss the train, we have neither the time nor the money to get the next one.”

Emery sighed heavily and settled back into his seat. “We’ve never been to the city before. I was hoping for a little time to explore. I guess it’s near enough to lunch-time.”

Both boys opened the bagged lunches they’d been given. Within each was a sandwich wrapped in wax paper, a small box and a bottle. After examining the sandwiches for a moment, they traded.

Amelia chuckled and said, “I’m sure there’s an explanation for that?” By all appearances both were bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches.

“Miles gets dressing on his sandwiches and I get mayonnaise,” Emery said around a bite of food. He chewed for a moment before he continued, “Otherwise everything is the same; so Dad mixed them up.”

“He did it all through school too,” Miles said. He took a sip from the bottle and made a face before handing it over to his brother. “Peach nectar,” he said.

“He doesn’t like peaches, but they’re good for my aura,” Emery explained. He rolled his eyes as he handed the bottle that was in his bag. “I think this is orange juice.”

“Thanks, Brother,” Miles replied. He looked keenly at Amelia for a moment before he asked, “Did your parents pack you a lunch?”

“Grandmother gave me some money for something off the snack cart,” Amelia said with a shake of her head.

“They have snack carts?” Emery asked. He glanced toward the door, then beamed and said, “Hi.”

Miles and Amelia both looked at the door then. There they saw a girl about their own age. She was tiny with short dark hair. Her eyes looked huge behind a pair of thick glasses. “Is there room here?” she asked softly.

“Sure,” Emery replied as he pointed at the seat across from him. “I’m Emery Ballard and this is my little brother, Miles. This young lady is Amelia Fairisle. We all come from Lyroron. Are you from Piedmont?”

“Yes,” the girl replied. “My name is Michelle Drummond. Do you all know what year you’ll be in?”

“Fourth year,” Miles said in a quiet voice.

“Wow, I’m only going into second year,” Michelle said. She leaned forward in the seat. “Next year you’ll specialize. Do you know what in?”

Emery shook his head and grinned, “Not yet. If we’d stayed back home, we’d have been research mages, like our dad, but I’d like to see what other specialties there are before I narrow my focus.”

Almost a month later, Amelia stood with the other children on the platform to wait for the train that would carry them to the city of North Lake. She’d been told that she would start as a first year, though that didn’t seem the case with all the students. She was startled when two boys she didn’t recognize bounded up to her, grinning brightly.

“Hi, Amelia,” one said. He paused and looked at the other boy. “Brother?” he murmured.

“Amelia,” the other boy said, aggravation creeping into his tone. “It’s us; Emery and Miles.”

“Oh,” she said, looking from one to the other and back. “You – you look so different.” Then she looked around, wishing to change the subject. “Is Althea coming?”

“No, the tests said she had the wrong kind of magic so she’s staying her to be her father’s apprentice,” Emery explained. “She wants to be a healer, like him, and the school isn’t set up to teach that yet.”

“It’ll be so strange not to have her to play with anymore,” Miles said softly. He glanced back over his shoulder as their parents approached. “Dad, Amelia’s going to the school with us.”

Emery grinned and said, almost conspiratorially, “We’re entering as fourth year students. Next year we’ll specialize.”

“So soon?” Amelia whispered.

“That’s what those tests were for,” Emery said. “They were to determine what kind of magic you had and what kind of prior knowledge you had. We’ve been apprenticed to Dad since we were little kids. We’re nearly finished with all the preliminary stuff that you’ll learn as a first year.”

“It’s not polite to brag, Emery,” Mr. Ballard said in a soft but firm voice. Emery, immediately looked contrite and nodded. “No, children, the train will go through Piedmont but you are to remain in your car. Don’t disembark. You don’t want to miss the train when it leaves for North Lake.”

“Dad, what if… what if,” Miles paused and looked away, suddenly embarrassed.

“If you have an emergency, speak to one of the adults on the train – the ones in the uniforms. They’ll make sure you’re taken care of and don’t miss the train,” Mr. Ballard said. “The bus station isn’t far from the train station in North Lake. You’ll be able to take a bus to the school. Remember that you have to be there by five o’clock. Don’t be late or there’ll be consequences.”

“What sort of consequences?” Emery asked.

“Most likely demerits, Emery, but you don’t want to push your luck,” Mr. Ballard replied. “They might send you to bed without supper. Now, I know we couldn’t get all your supplies here in Lyroron, but you should have about an hour between your arrival in North Lake and when you’re due at the school. If you don’t dilly-dally, you’ll be able to stop at a magic shop and get the last of your supplies.”

“You have your list and the money we’ve saved?” Mrs. Ballard asked.

“Yes, Mama,” the boys replied.

They turned their gaze back to their father as he continued, “Be good on the train and don’t go to sleep. You don’t want to wake up and find you’ve missed your stop.”

“Nathaniel,” Mrs. Ballard scolded softly. “We’ll see you at the holidays, boys. Behave and study hard.”

“We will,” they promised as she kissed each of them on the cheek. She handed each of them a lunch bag and whispered into Miles ear before they bounded up onto the train. Amelia followed them and found a compartment quickly. She wasn’t at all surprised when the boys sat across from her.

“Didn’t your parents drop you off?” Emery asked. “They seemed thrilled that you could go the other night.”

“They are thrilled,” Amelia said. “They’re just too busy and grandmother dropped me off, but we said our goodbyes at the ticket booth.” She sighed and looked out the window as the train pulled away from the station. Most of the parents were waving at the train as it departed. She smiled as she spotted her grandmother in the crowd.

A soft sound caught her notice and she looked up to find Miles crying silently. “We’ll see Mama and Dad again before you know it, Mi,” Emery assured his brother. “Meanwhile we’ll be learning so much and having such a good time that the time’ll fly right by.”

“But – but Mama’s sick,” Miles argued as he rubbed at his eyes. “What if – what if she gets worse while-while we’re gone?”

“It’s going to be alright, Miles,” Emery whispered as he hugged his brother gently. Amelia noticed that he was rubbing circles onto the younger boy’s back just as her grandmother did with her when she was upset.

“Oh, is the little baby crying?” an oily voice said from the doorway. Amelia frowned and looked in the direction to find a familiar boy with dark brown curls standing there.

“Want a pounding, Charles?” Emery growled. “It sure sounds like it, from the way you’re talking.”

“But it wouldn’t be at all lady-like, would it?” the older boy teased.

“Keep talking,” Emery said, rising to his feet. “I wasn’t very lady-like when I wore skirts. In case it skipped past you, I’m not in a dress anymore.”

“Brother, Mama said to behave,” Miles warned.

“I’ll be have, Mi,” Emery said. “If I know Charles, the only thing I’ll need to do is defend myself.”

As if the words were a signal, Charles threw punch after punch, Emery ducked and dodged, allowing the older boy to strike the walls of the compartment instead of himself. Soon enough, Charles gave up with a growl and stomped off to find someone else to bully.

continued: here

Monica Ferris

an author with many hats

A Land of Curiosity

From the files of Shynian Intelligence

Heather's Fancies

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