Tag Archive: Hassett


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

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.

A Challenge

Within twenty minutes the team, including Armand, was on the site. Morrissey looked around, ran his hands through his dark hair and started assigning people to their tasks. “Serenity, Armand, see if you can determine where he got the cadavers from. If he stole the bodies, there’ll be more charges filed.”

“Of course he stole them,” Emery put in as he looked around the room. “People don’t donate their bodies to madmen for research.”

“They might not have realized who they were donating their bodies to,” Serenity pointed out. She knelt beside one of the constructs and began to take detailed pictures and samples from various locations.

“Miles, get to work classifying the dark magic,” Morrissey continued, ignoring the conversation. “Emery, see if you can determine if the bodies are fresh.”

Emery paused and looked around the room. “Morrissey, let me see if I have this correct. In a room where a battle just took place, between ravenous constructs and warden magicians, you want me to see if there are traces of trauma from constructs – made up of parts from various cadavers, so they obviously got cut up – from murders that might or might not have taken place?”

“Think of it as a challenge,” Morrissey said, pushing him further into the room. “You’re always telling me I don’t challenge you enough.”

“I’ll think of it as well nigh impossible,” Emery said. Even so, he drew out his trauma wand and began to slowly draw his wand down the body of one of the constructs. For once he was careful while performing the spell not to allow his other gifts to augment his magic. The amount of trauma in the room would most definitely cause a spell, if not an attack.

Relying only on magic made the process slow going and frustrating. Unconsciously, he’d look up periodically and note that Serenity or Armand had moved on to a different construct, while he was still working on the same one. By nature, Emery was competitive and being slower than his teammates rankled him.

He looked up after he’d finished the last construct to find that only Hassett remained in the room and it was night outside. “Sorry,” he murmured, easing himself to his feet. “Lord, I’m hungry. Where’d everyone else go?”

“Back to the station,” Hassett replied. “I’ll get you something to eat on our way there. Find anything interesting?”

“Further analysis will have to be done at the lab, but the injuries were all post mortem. So he used dead bodies. He didn’t kill people.” Emery brushed off his pant legs and slipped his wand back into his bag. Then he bounded over to the door.

Mundane vs. Magic

Hassett followed the magicians into the storage unit. They had only just arrived when the call had come in from Miles to specifically check the back of the unit. Either the suspect or his tools would be found there; perhaps even both.

They’d just cross the threshold when a soft thumping sound reached his ears. He peered into the inky darkness of the unit and gasped softly as a pair of glowing eyes met his. Not three feet from him stood another construct. As it lumbered toward the team, Hassett backed away quickly. Apparently, the mage had merely gotten a headache from the earlier encounter with Miles.

He heard one of the mages curse and glanced over to see another pair of glowing eyes. “There’s more,” another of the mages said, tension flowing through his voice. “Someone make a light, they – ” his voice broke off in a grunt as one of the constructs hit him. A solid thud followed and the mage sank to the ground as several lights flickered into view.

“Not good,” Hassett murmured as he saw that the team was surrounded by about half a dozen of the constructs. Then they were fighting for their lives as the monsters attacked. Spells flared and mages cried out – either with effort or pain and fear as the battle continued.

Hassett gasped in horror as one of the constructs caught the mage in front of him and bore the man to the ground, biting deep into his shoulder. “Get it off,” the man cried. Hassett growled and kicked the thing in the same location that Miles had earlier in the day. He was rewarded by a pained grunt and the monster doubling over, releasing the mage.

“Are you alright?” he asked.

“We have to find whoever it is that’s controlling them,” the mage said as he pulled himself to his feet.

“Back of the unit,” Hassett replied, gesturing ahead of them. Then he led the way through the fighting crowd. They reached the back of the unit at nearly the same time. The mage pushed open a small door and Hassett could see a man that fit the description that Emery had given from his vision.

The man sat in a plush chair in the middle of what appeared to be a lab, much like the one back at the station. He was watching the fight on view screens laid out before him. He spun around as Hassett entered. “Get him!” he yelled.

“Stop him,” the mage behind Hassett said, spinning back to face the constructs that were now bearing down on them. “If you can stop him, the constructs won’t have anyone to command them. They’ll stop attacking.”

Hassett nodded and dashed forward. In his experience, most mages didn’t defend themselves well against more mundane attacks. He found that his assumption was right as his fist connected with the man’s nose, knocking him to the ground.

Morrissey looked the team over and then turned to Warden Fowler. “Keep the crime scene sealed for the next seventy-two hours,” he ordered. Without waiting for a response he began issuing orders to the others. “Serenity, can you go with Warden Roderick and see if the witness is ready to be questioned? Check her for any magical trace as well. She may very well have brushed up against the spell, which would help us trace it back to the mage who cast it.”

“Yes, sir,” Serenity said. She bounded over to a waiting cruiser with Warden Roderick and soon the pair had disappeared around the corner.

“Miles, I appreciate that you feel fine; but you need to realize you were attacked by a magical construct and it’s possible that the spell may affect you adversely. I’m sending you to the clinic to be checked out,” he continued. “Go now with Warden Everett, if you would.”

“Yes, sir,” Miles said with obvious reluctance. He followed Everett away from the scene.

“Emery,” Morrissey started.

“I’m fine,” the teen interrupted.

“I know,” Morrissey said, mimicking his tone perfectly. He sighed and glanced at Hurley, who was grinning and clearly enjoying the exchange. Returning his gaze to Emery, he said, “Wait until I finish before taking my head off, if you please.”

“Sorry, sir,” Emery said softly. He nodded once to show he was ready to listen.

“Now, Emery, I’d like you to perform a stress test on the body as well. Determine just what kinds of injuries, if any, were inflicted before she was killed. In addition, see if you can determine if she was also a mage. If someone attacked her with a magical construct and if, as you say, she knew what it was, it’s possible she’s a mage herself, even if she wasn’t a practicing one.”

“Yes, sir,” Emery said. “We have to go to the coroners.” He looked up at Hassett then returned his gaze to Morrissey as he asked, “What are you gonna do?”

“Armand and I are heading back to the lab with the construct. He can get on tracing the elements that made it up and I’ll prepare it for the spell trace. Get going, now,” Morrissey said.

Miles waved a healer over and smiled as the man began examining him. “It tried to kill me,” he said, gesturing at the monster.

“I can see that,” the healer replied. He applied a compress to Miles’s neck for a few moments and Miles sighed in relief as he felt the soothing energy flow through it. After a moment the healer stepped back and Miles turned to Hassett. “Are the others finished at the crime scene?” he asked.

“They appear to be,” Hassett replied as he gestured at the building.

Miles turned to see his brother dashing across the parking lot. “What did you do?” the older Ballard snapped.

“I sealed the construct,” Miles returned, in as calm a voice as he could manage. “I’m fine, Brother.”

“Fine?” Emery said, as his voice rose in both volume and pitch. He gestured at the compress that Miles was still holding. “This is fine? This is not fine. This is hurt. What happened?”

“I’m not hurt badly, Brother,” Miles assured him. “The mage activated his construct when I tried to seal it. I took care of it and then sealed it. I’m fine. Stop being a mother hen.”

“I’m not being a mother hen,” Emery retorted. “I’m being a big brother. It’s my responsibility to keep you safe.”

“Actually,” Hassett interrupted. He smiled as both brothers looked over at him and he continued, “it’s my responsibility to keep him safe. We were very lucky.” He glanced at Miles and added, “A little warning of just what could happen and just what to do if it did happen might have helped, Miles.”

Miles looked down, with a short nod. “Sorry, Warden Hassett. Sorry, Brother.”

Emery rolled his eyes and nodded. “I’m sorry too. I shouldn’t have snapped at you like that.”

Miles followed the unmistakable sense of a dark spell down the stairs and out the building to a park that was nearby. As he approached the source, the sense got heavier and thicker. He could almost see the dark magic that had gathered by the time he reached the locus of the spell.

“Here it is,” he said softly. “Warden Hassett, it’s so dark. It’s almost palpable.”

“I can see it,” Hassett whispered. “That’s unusual, right?”

Miles nodded and knelt down to look more closely, dispersing the spell he’d followed to the construct. “It’s here. It was buried by its creator but I think it’s still active. I’ll have to seal it so we can bring it back to the lab. Serenity can analyze the hair and fiber to determine the origins.”

“Armand can too, right?” Hassett said. At his answering nod, he asked, “How do you seal it?”

“It takes a spell and it’s a little dangerous. If the mage senses me trying to seal it, he could activate it and it could… attack me. So just watch me, please?” He pulled a different wand out his bag and waved it as he envisioned the proper glyph.

Somehow he wasn’t entirely surprised when a hand shot out and lifted him off the ground. There was a roar, several screams interspersed with the soft pop of a dart bow. Miles kicked his feet and struggled. He was choking, he realized as his vision began to gray around the edges. Suddenly his foot connected with something and he dropped to the ground.

“Dart bow doesn’t work,” he rasped. “It’s not alive. I have to seal it.” He stood and once more focused on envisioning the glyph for the sealing spell. He had to back away as the construct continued trying to grab him while he worked. Finally his efforts were rewarded by a bright flash and the sight of the construct collapsing to the ground.

With a sigh of relief, Miles also sank to the ground. “Well, that was exciting,” he said. “Please don’t tell Emery. He’d only worry and I’m fine.”

“You can say you’re fine after a medic checks you out and says that you’re fine,” Hassett snapped. “Is it dead?”

“It was dead already, Hassett. It’s a construct of the parts of various cadavers. It’s sealed. The mage who was controlling it has lost contact and can no longer animate it. In addition, since he activated it before I sealed it, it probably sent a backlash on him that at the very least gave him a demon of a headache.” Miles stood, albeit somewhat shakily. “If he put enough of himself into the spell, it might have given him a heart attack or a stroke.”

“You just killed someone?” Hassett asked softly.

“I sealed his construct. He killed himself trying to kill me with it,” Miles snapped. “He might not have, if he was careful. We should get this back to the lab.”

“Can you trace the mage with it?” Hassett asked softly.

“Medic first,” Miles said, massaging his throat. “What made it let me go?”

“You kicked it in the… it’s cees, Miles,” Hassett said. “You kicked the monster construct thing in the private place.”

Miles shook his head. “Why would you make a construct with those – oh… oh my. This mage is one nasty fellow.”

“I don’t want to know, Miles,” Hassett said. “I really don’t. Can we just leave him or do we carry him with us?”

“He called in for help right away,” Hassett said, spreading his hands. “Mostly it’ll probably be a civil case. The victim or his family might want to press charges, of course but was an accident. The only possible crime here was Mister Foley hiding his involvement.”

Emery nodded and screwed the filter onto his camera lens before taking pictures of the crime scene. He listened to the conversation that went on behind him as the pair of wardens discussed how best to proceed. Apparently, they weren’t sure if Foley would actually admit that he was the one using the trebuchet.

He turned back and tilted his head, “Is he coming here or are you going to him?” he asked.

“He’s on his way here,” Ingram replied.

“I can prove that the guilt is his then,” Emery said. “Guilt is an emotion only the man responsible for the incident would feel. Each person has a… unique psyche, a unique emotional signature. It can be matched up, like fingerprints.”

“So you can get a print of his emotions when he gets here and match it to the guilt that you already have,” Ingram said. “Can we use that?”

“Technically no,” Martha said.

“But he doesn’t need to know that,” Emery said. Martha looked at his with a mixture of shock and almost admiration. He turned and looked at the boulder and frowned. “I think I’m going to have to perform the kinetic stress test to get a more accurate reading,” he said, calmly.

“We’ll need to back up so we don’t interfere with your readings,” Hassett said. He looked up as they heard the crunching of leaves on the walkway toward them. Ingram and Martha stepped up to meet the small portly man who was approaching them.

“Mister Foley, I presume,” Ingram said. He gestured toward Emery and said, “This is Master Emery. He’s one of our forensics magicians. He’s performing a test on the crime scene that reads the emotions of those in the area during and after the event.”

“Fascinating,” Foley murmured, stepping up closer. When he came to stand before Emery, separated only by the boulder, Hassett snapped a picture. Emery smiled and the spell abruptly dissipated. “What?” he asked softly, looking around.

“Sorry, Mister Foley,” Emery said softly. “We needed your emotional signature, to compare with evidence we’ve already gathered. It seems there was guilt associated with at least one witness to the event. Guilt being a singular kind of emotion, belonging to those who feel… responsible for something.”

“It was an accident!” Foley shouted. He spun away from Emery and began pacing as he continued, “It was so early in the morning. I didn’t think there’d be anyone else out and about. I couldn’t see into the rock garden. There are trees in the way. I didn’t even know something had happened until – until I’d gathered up my things a prepared to go. Then everything happened just like I’d said. The rock was lighter than I expected and overshot. I didn’t mean for it to happen. I didn’t want to hurt anyone. I was just playing. I was getting ready for the Faire. We’re going to lay siege to the castle.”

Hassett stepped up and set a hand lightly on Foley’s shoulder. “Mister Foley, are you an innocent?” he asked softly.

Nodding the man whimpered, “I’m sorry.”

“It’s alright, sir. Accidents happen,” Hassett replied softly. “It’s important that you called for help right away and I’m very glad that you did. Please be more careful in the future when you’re playing with your trebuchet, though.”

“I will. I promise,” Foley said softly.

“Please go with the officer and he’ll finish taking your statement.” When they were alone, he turned toward the others, “Well, that’s once case solved. Shall we be getting back, so we can write our reports?”

“Innocents,” Ingram said with a shake of his head. “Don’t they have watchers for people like him?”

“It depends on how young he is emotionally,” Martha said. “If he’s an adult he doesn’t need any more supervision than Master Emery does but he’d be just as upset by something like this.”

“It would certainly be upsetting for me,” Emery replied.

Introductions

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.”

Monica Ferris

an author with many hats

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From the files of Shynian Intelligence

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