Illusion 1, Chapter II

by Mallard

I’m twenty-nine years old. I can’t be considered old or wise by any means, but I’ve been around long enough to have seen some of the world and experienced many joys and pains. Joy in my parents as I read aloud my acceptance letter from the Kestral Academy of the Magical Arts; sorrow as my aunt fought and lost against a terrible wasting disease. The little joys and pains that all students encounter, culminating in the great day of graduation, and the sinking realization that my old hobby of typesetting was my most immediately marketable skill.

But nothing has ever taught me how to deal with a woman’s tears. It is, I suspect, one of those things I’ll never learn. And frankly, I don’t want to experience it often enough to form any habits of response. So when Emelia Withers began to sob, I could only sit helplessly, wondering what I should say, what I could say.

(Offer her tea.)

Emelia looked up at the sudden burst of music–meaningless to her–from my fireplace, where Kristopher had settled when we arrived at my flat. I thanked the salamander silently and rose to fill the kettle at the bathroom sink.

“Please, take your time,” I said as I set the kettle on the stove. “I’ll make some tea and you can tell me the details at your leisure.”

“Th-thank you,” Emelia managed. I pulled a pair of mugs from the cupboard above the stove and rummaged through what tea I had.

“Black or green?” Where had I gotten green tea? It must have been a gift because I never drink the stuff.

“Black, please,” Emelia murmured. She waited in silence as the kettle boiled, and seemed to calm slightly as we went through the ancient ritual of cream or sugar, one lump or two? I handed her the mug and she held it in both hands, as if still cold despite her proximity to the flames.

She didn’t say anything at first, and I let her sit in silence, blowing across the surface of her tea, relaxing into the cushions of the high-backed chair.

“Robert has been missing for four days,” she began at last. “He came home from school on Wednesday and went out again to play with his friends. He was not to stray far before dinnertime, and he promised he would stay near. They were just going to play tag in the street, he said. He’s always been an obedient boy.”

“How old is Robert?” I asked, jotting down notes of what she had said.

“Nine, just this summer,” she said and took another sip from her mug.

“And he didn’t return after going out on Wednesday afternoon?”

She nodded. “He left at four and-and didn’t come back.” Emelia was gripping her mug tightly in both hands, so that I worried she might break it and hurt herself.

“Do you know where they were playing? Was it near your house? Where do you live?” I added this last as an afterthought. Kestral is not the largest city in Cest-Weldersheen, but it is very dense. It’s easy to wander just a little too far and end up in one of the more unpleasant parts of town, facing anything from simply getting lost, to autobike gangs, or mindless automats that would run a person over without pausing. A young and active kid could climb up a rail support truss and fall off or be hit by the train, or he could just be run over by a careless taxi or picked up by a deranged scientist with questionable morals. The stuff of scary stories, mostly, but it happens.

Of course, I hoped it was just a case of a kid with poor direction–or common–sense. But four days?

Emelia spoke for the span of another mug of tea, and I dutifully wrote down what she said, hoping that somewhere in there was an answer. And I didn’t say it, but I was also fervently hoping that we were still searching for a warm, living nine-year-old boy, and not a small and sad corpse in some back alley.

To some extent though, and to my relief, all this was academic to me. I’m not a private investigator, and while I’ve worked with the police on several occasions through my missions with the Peace Workers, I’m not a member of that organization either. So why, then, had Emelia come to me? I’d put off asking, since I wanted to be of what help I could, but really, she should have been talking to the police.

“I have,” she said when I mentioned this at last. “I went to them when Robert did not come home that night.” She sounded a little indignant, and I apologized. “They promised me they would find him,” she continued, mollified somewhat. “That he could not have gotten into too much trouble.” Which I agreed with, based on what she’d said. She lived within walking distance of a prominent grade school, and from there a brisk jog to KAMA, the Kestral Academy of the Magical arts, and my alma mater. And while there are a number of shady places and dark alleys near the university, the neighborhood where Emelia and her son lived was, to my knowledge, a fairly safe and crime-free area. There weren’t any big abandoned buildings or hazardous factories near there. It should be fairly difficult for a young boy to get into serious trouble on a Wednesday afternoon, surrounded by friends in a neighborhood with a high population of students and schoolteachers.

The fact that Robert had managed anyway disturbed me quite a bit.

“So, forgive me for asking,” I said after a pause. “But if you’ve already been to the police, and if they are looking, why come to me? I’m no detective, and I apologize if I’ve led you to believe any differently.”

She shook her head. “It was one of the police who said I should come to see you. He said he has worked with you before, that you would be able to help.”

“Oh?” I said, and blinked. There was only one man I could think of who would send a case like this to me. “Was it a man by the name of Scott Casterly, by any chance?”

Emelia nodded. “Yes, Casterly. He says he has worked on missing persons cases with you before.”

I winced. Technically true. But Scott also has a habit of telling only part of the truth. I only work with the police when one of the tasks given me by the Peace Workers overlaps with a police case. Since one of the the purposes of the Peace Workers is to clean up remnants of the Mage Wars, this usually involves dangerous characters, and the missing persons we seek are often no longer alive when we find them. I hoped that Scott sending this case my way didn’t mean he thought something like this was involved.

On the bright side at least, Scott and I knew each other and worked well together. Knowing he was working the case made me more optimistic that we’d find something, at least. And having had three full days to work, he’d probably already have examined the scene and conducted all the logical interviews. With luck, all he needed was another pair of eyes looking at evidence he already had.

Of course, it’s never that simple, but I can always hope, can’t I?

* * * * * * * *

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4 Responses to “Illusion 1, Chapter II”

  1. Good writing, good enough to draw me in and read it voraciously. Your protagonist is beginning to remind me at least a bit of my own, as far as personality goes, though he is not quite so full of himself or wise-cracking. Scratch that, he actually reminds me a bit of Harry Dresden from Jim Butcher’s books. You read them? If not, you should give it a try, they had some minor degree of influence on my own writing style. This time I didn’t notice any typos so you’re good there! Keep up the good work, man! And hey, maybe you’ll find interest in my last two blog posts, you also being a writer and all.

  2. Thanks again, JokiLoki! I love the Dresden Files, so I’m glad you said that! I have to admit, Victor’s character was influenced a little by Harry Dresden. Though hopefully not too much, since I don’t want to just make a clone of someone else’s character. I’ll definitely take a look at those posts. The one about characters looks interesting just from the title.

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