The Impossible Wizard: Chapter 21

If you ended up here before reading the earlier chapters, you can return to Chapter 1 here

 

Terra stood, arms crossed, as they finally started digging in the ruin of the flophouse. A week had passed since the fight with the bikers and the bomb squad had finally given the go ahead. No one had seen any sign of Mercia after she left the airport. Lin had gone to search for her and found a note with the ticket he bought her. The note read, “Hope you can get a refund.” Terra’s fist clenched. When she finally got her hands on Mercia…

She shook off her anger and focused. First the artifacts, then Mercia. The gauntlet at least had to be in there somewhere. Terra had no idea why she couldn’t sense it. Maybe some residual energy from her fire spell was interfering with the detection magic.

A huge excavator with a claw on the arm grabbed some of the rubble and spread it out on the ground nearby. Terra examined it through the glasses and found nothing. She shook her head and the operator gathered up the debris and dropped it in a waiting container. For over two hours they repeated the procedure until they reached the concrete foundation. Someone had smashed a hole in it.

Terra examined the hole and found a mixture of earth and dark magic in the dirt. She poked it and found the soil loose. Lin came over and crouched beside her. “Find something?”

“There was a tunnel here, but it collapsed. The magic holding it together was negated. I’ll bet you our missing artifact is buried in that tunnel along with the biker from the hospital.”

“That would still leave us one short based on the video Lacy, I mean Mercia, provided.”

“True, and we still have no idea where those five cases ended up. What do you say we dig out this tunnel and see what we have left to find afterward?”

Lin nodded and motioned the excavator over.

Three tedious hours later they had two bodies and the fire gauntlet. The magical weapon was every bit as powerful as Terra had first thought. In the hands of someone that really knew how to use it, a lot of damage could be done. Not that the thug had been any slouch in the damage department, but in the hands of a fire wizard what he’d done amounted to nothing. She’d feel much better when it was locked up in the Department’s secure storage room.

Though they’d stopped digging when they found the bodies, the tunnel clearly continued on to a garage a little ways away. Lin drew his pistol and the two of them eased over to the building. Terra spoke a short incantation and the door slid up out of the way. Lin lunged in, weapon leading. Five bikes, including the one from the hospital, sat in the middle of the dirt floor.

While Lin searched the saddlebags Terra checked for magic. There was just a hint of dark energy around the bags, but that was it. “They must have transported the cases somewhere else.”

“There’s nothing here but more guns and a dirty bandana. Shit! Another dead end. We’re running out of leads.”

Terra chewed her thumbnail. “Where’s the other bike?”

“What?”

“There are six dead bikers. Did any of those guys strike you as the type that would ride double? Where’s the other bike?”

“’Scuse me.”

Lin spun and raised his pistol.

A skinny guy with black, lanky hair and covered in tattoos raised his hands. “I surrender.”

Lin lowered his gun. “This is a crime scene. You’re going to have to leave.”

“Okay, but I had some information for you about the gang that lived over yonder.”

“If you have some information for us, sir, we’d be most grateful if you passed it along,” Lin said.

“I thought you might be. One of them badasses paid me two hundred bucks to give you guys an address on the off chance there was a fight at the house. I thought he was nuts, but it’s three weeks later and I assume he’s dead and you’re here.”

Lin and Terra shared a look. “What address?” Lin took out his notepad.

The informant rattled off a warehouse number on the docks. “He said you’d find what you were looking for.”

“Why did you follow through?” Lin asked. “He’s dead. You could have kept the money and not said a word with no one the wiser.”

“Hey, man, when Tito gives his word and takes your money, he does the job.”

The sun was low in the crimson sky when Tito wandered off the way he’d come. Lin and Terra headed back to the cars. Terra stretched and yawned as they walked.

“It’s getting late,” Lin said. “What do you say we head out to the docks in the morning?”

“Good call. If there was trouble I wouldn’t be much use, tired as I am.”

“I’ll pick you up at your office at eight. Okay?”

Terra nodded, climbed into her car, and headed home. She’d be glad when this case was closed and she could return to her regular work. Being a policewoman exhausted her and she didn’t even have to do the paperwork. She’d miss seeing Detective Lin Chang. A faint smile curved her lips. She should do something about that, assuming she found the courage.

* * *

The cry of gulls and the stink of a mixture of salt and rotten fish assaulted Lin the moment he stepped out of his car. He put his hand over his nose, but it didn’t help. At all. From her grimace Terra wasn’t any more pleased with the odor than Lin. She muttered something and swirled her finger around. The stink vanished, replaced by a sweet, cinnamon odor.

“I don’t know what you did, but thanks.”

“My pleasure, believe me.”

They’d parked in an empty lot beside warehouse thirty-two, a rusted-out metal building with three condemned signs nailed to the walls. He sighed. Why couldn’t these thugs ever do their dirty work somewhere nice. Then again, if they ran into trouble he was just as glad the nearest people were the longshoremen working a quarter mile up the dock unloading a cargo ship.

Further out to sea another pair of the huge container ships waited their turn to dock and unload. One of them sounded a horn that echoed across the waterfront and sent the birds scattering.

Lin and Terra headed toward the warehouse. The main doors were covered in rust and bird shit. It didn’t look like anyone had opened them in a while.

“I think Tito sent us on a wild goose chase.” Lin shook his head.

Terra raised her hand, closed her eyes, and cast another spell. “No, there’s something in there. It looks like the missing motorcycle. There are two more doors on the back side of the warehouse. We can get in that way.”

It was a short walk to the rear of the building. The back doors were every bit as rusty as the front but scratch marks and a few scuffed areas indicated they’d been moved recently. Scattered shafts of light pierced the darkness inside. Lin grabbed the door and yanked it open enough for them to squeeze through.

A light switch hung on the wall a little ways to the left of the door. Lin weighed the chances of getting electrocuted then flipped it. Not so much as a spark.

“I’ll handle the lights.” Terra held out her hands and spoke a spell. Six glowing pebbles appeared on her palm. She blew a puff of air over them and they flew up to the roof and grew bright enough to reveal everything in the vast space.

Not that there was much beyond the mix of empty beer cans, rotten scraps of food, and a torn mattress stained with god only knew what littering the floor. A little ways further on a black chopper rested on its kickstand. The bike had skull-embroidered saddlebags. Whatever they were supposed to find would be in those.

“Don’t touch anything.” Lin worked his way over to the bike, careful to follow his own advice.

Lin reached the bike and flipped open the first bag. Another gun, terrific. How many weapons did these guys have? The next bag yielded an envelope labeled “pig.” 

“I guess it’s for me.”

While Lin studied the letter Terra crouched and carefully reached inside the bag. “I found one.” She spoke so softly Lin barely heard her.

A black coffer identical to the ones from the videos rested in Terra’s hand. It shined in the magical light. At first glance there appeared to be no seam. “Can we open it?”

“It’s empty.”

“How can you tell?” Lin moved in for a better look. He reached out to touch it.

“Stop!”

Too late.

His finger brushed the smooth wood and darkness descended on the warehouse.

The scream of a bird filled the air. Terra grabbed him by the collar and began to chant.

A bubble of white energy surrounded them and pushed back the darkness. Movement flickered here and there.

Lin pulled his automatic, but couldn’t find anything to shoot.

“Put that away. Those are shadow beasts. Your bullets won’t do anything.”

Lin holstered his weapon. “What should I do?”

“There’s nothing you can do. This is my fight.”

Lin hunkered down behind Terra. His gaze darted back and forth, trying to figure out what sort of creature they were dealing with.

The answer came a moment later when a huge black raven slammed into the barrier and disintegrated. Terra flinched and her barrier wavered for a moment.

She chanted another spell, this one in the hissing language of fire. A dome of flame appeared over the white one already in place.

Lin hated feeling so useless. There was more stuff in the bag and it was within her barrier. Even if he couldn’t fight he could still investigate.

He reached into the open bag. Inside was another envelope, a big manila one stuffed to the top and unlabeled.

“We have to make a break for it,” Terra said. “Be ready to run.”

Lin snatched the envelope and tucked it inside his jacket. “Where to?”

“Outside. If we can make it to the sunlight it will weaken the shadow beasts enough for me to destroy them.”

“I like the sound of that. Say when.”

She snapped her fingers and the flame dome exploded outward. Lin caught a glimpse of dozens of ravens swirling around. It looked like they were made of living darkness.

“Now!”

They ran for the open door.

Terra stumbled on a pizza box.

The light barrier wavered as she struggled to catch her balance.

Lin grabbed her by the elbow and around the waist and they ran on. The flames holding off the ravens flickered and began to die.

Only a few strides to go.

He put his head down and pushed Terra along as fast as he dared.

A raven slipped through the flames and slammed into the barrier. It burst and cracks appeared in their protection.

Two more strides.

Another raven flew at them. Lin pushed Terra out the door and into the sunshine a step ahead of it. He staggered and spun around. A cloud of shadowy birds swirled around the warehouse. There had to be hundreds of them.

Beside him Terra began another spell. A ball of flame appeared above her head and continued to grow as she chanted.

“Can you really destroy all those monsters?”

She ignored him and kept casting, her voice getting louder as the fireball grew. With a final shout she hurled the sphere at the collection of shadow beasts. It detonated in the center of the group.

Lin looked away from the blinding explosion. When he turned back the ravens and most of the warehouse roof were gone.

Terra fell to her knees and wheezed, her bloodshot eyes leaking tears. Her skin had turned ashen and her lips pale blue. Lin had seen drowning victims that looked healthier.

“You okay?”

She offered a weak nod. “Used too much power with that last spell. This is the backlash. Give me some time.”

“Can you make it back to the car? This is no place for a rest.”

“Hurts everywhere. You go ahead. I’ll be along as soon as I can.”

“I’m not leaving you alone in your condition. I can read standing up.”

“Thanks.” She fell over on her side and curled up in a ball.

Lin didn’t have a lot of experience working with wizards, but he’d never heard of one collapsing after using magic. Not that it was probably something they advertised.

* * *

Lady Raven sat at her desk, a tome bound in black leather open in front of her. Two crimson, blood candles burned on either side of the book, shedding a flickering glow over the twisted Infernal script. Her workshop apartment was the only place her enemies hadn’t discovered yet.

It was rented in the name of another persona that had no connection to Lacy Winn or Mercia Bottomley, so she had no reason to think she’d be discovered. Still, her hunters had proven disconcertingly adept and determined. She would have to be careful for the next year. One more mistake could jeopardize the project, not to mention her life.

She rubbed her eyes and refocused on the text. The black magic book had been her reward when she achieved the rank of Sub-Hierarch two years ago. Lady Wolf had delivered it herself, a great honor indeed. If—when her current mission succeeded, Lady Dragon would grant Mercia the privilege of joining the true Hierarchs. That would be an even rarer honor, as few ever met the secretive leader of the Society face to face.

Lady Raven’s head popped up when a distant ward triggered. Had one of the shadow gems been discovered? No, that was impossible. They were too well hidden.

A full-length, black glass mirror hung on the wall and Mercia walked over to it. It was vastly better suited to scrying than the simple bathroom mirror she’d been forced to use at the motel. She focused on the tingle in the back of her mind and spoke the words of activation. “Show me what lies beyond my sight, Spirit Vision!”

The glass grew cloudy then resolved into an image of the docks.

Her shadow ravens swirled around a decrepit warehouse. Lady Raven frowned. She hadn’t hidden one of the shadow gems there, in fact she’d never even seen the building before.

What in the world was going on?

“Closer.” The image zoomed in. Detective Chang and Terra staggered out of the warehouse and onto the docks. What was she holding?

The image zoomed further. How had Terra gotten ahold of one of the coffers? Wait, that wasn’t one of the ones she hid, that was the sixth that had held the gem she’d used at the carnival to try and kill Conryu. That should have been consumed along with the gem when the spell ran its course.

Goddamn useless bikers.

They must have kept it after removing the gem instead of leaving them together like she told them. But why? Iron Skull would never have disobeyed her. Lady Raven had had the great dumb thug wrapped around her finger. Not the other one though. What was his name, Bone? He’d always looked at her with suspicion. He had to be the one that betrayed her.

Back on the docks Terra cast a spell that destroyed her ravens along with a good-sized chunk of the warehouse. Perhaps she’d underestimated the quiet wizard.

Even if Terra was stronger than Lady Raven had thought, the wards she’d placed around the hidden gems were far stronger than the one she just bested and judging from Terra’s condition that effort had about killed her.

If Terra continued to interfere she would finish the job her ravens started.

* * *

Lin draped his suit coat over Terra as she lay moaning softly on the ground. The warehouse still smoldered and every once in a while a steel rafter would come crashing down. He’d called in the incident then turned his attention to the envelope marked “pig.” Clearly whichever biker had left it here expected a member of the police to find Tito and eventually track the letter down. That spoke to a level of planning Lin wouldn’t have expected from one of the brutal gang members.

He tore open the envelope and pulled out a single folded sheet of paper. A note written in flowing script said: 

Dear Pig. If you’re reading this the bitch wizard has betrayed us. I knew she would, but Iron Skull refused to listen. She looked at us the way I look at roaches. I’ve set up this somewhat elaborate treasure hunt both to conceal my work from Lady Raven and to see if you have the brains and determination to carry out my revenge. Since you’re reading this I assume you do.

Lady Raven had one major job for the gang and that was to place five boxes like the one you found throughout the city. We each took one to a specific location. After we placed it she must have cast a spell on us, because I can’t remember any details. I’ve spoken to the others, all except Iron Skull, and pieced together as much as I could. It’s all gathered in the second envelope.

I don’t know what the witch has planned, but I’m certain it’s nothing good. Not that I care, you understand, but no one betrays the Black Skulls and gets away with it. One of our boys already died doing the wizard’s errands. Stop the bitch and avenge my brothers, Pig.

It was signed “Bone” and beside the name was the image of a stylized skull. It seemed Mercia wasn’t as well loved as she might have hoped. Whichever of the dead bikers was Bone Skull, Lin owed him a thank you.

Terra groaned behind him and he turned to find her struggling to her feet. Sirens in the distance heralded the approach of the police and fire departments. The area would be crawling with people soon. Once Lin gave his report he’d leave the cleanup to others. Terra staggered over and returned his jacket. Her lips were pink again and she’d stopped crying.

“You good?” he asked.

“No, but I’m better.” Terra leaned on him as they walked back to his car to wait for backup to arrive. He quite liked the feeling. “Anything interesting?”

Lin handed her the paper.

When Terra had finished reading she said, “Lady Raven, huh? That explains the shape of the defensive ward. Though I can’t prove it, I’m certain it’s Mercia. Have you looked through the other papers yet?”

“No, I was going to wait until I got back to headquarters.” The first fire truck pulled in. “I’ll have to explain what happened then we can head out. That reminds me. How come the trap went off when I touched the box, but it ignored you?”

“I didn’t touch it.”

Lin stared. “You picked it up.”

“I conjured an energy barrier between my bare skin and the coffer. It’s standard procedure when handling an unknown magical device. You can understand why.”

“You might have warned me.”

Terra shrugged. “I tried, but I wasn’t quite fast enough. It never occurred to me that you might try and touch it. We’re trained in how to handle magical items. I guess I assumed you were too. See what comes from making assumptions? From now on we’re going to have to be much more careful.”

Lin couldn’t argue with that.

* * *

“I don’t believe the threat is over, Captain.” Lin sat in front of his boss’s cluttered desk and tried to remain calm. “Just because the bikers are dead doesn’t mean we’re finished. The letter clearly states that the wizard, Lady Raven, still intends us harm.”

Lin had dropped Terra off at the Department of Magic and continued on back to his station. The moment word got out that he was back his commander called him into his office and gave him hell for destroying the warehouse. It was mostly pro forma since the thing had been condemned anyway. What wasn’t, however, was his captain’s very real desire to have this case be closed. A pile of dead thugs made for an excellent ending, one he could show the mayor and get a pat on the back in return.

The captain liked a good pat on the back, but Lin couldn’t sign off on the case when he knew those boxes were still out there.

“Lin, I understand, really. But this is now a matter for the Department of Magic. Our part is finished. Turn over all your information to them and move on. We have a backlog of murders as long as my arm that need investigating.”

“Sir, I really don’t think we should leave this investigation unfinished. The risks are too great.”

“You’ve been working this case, what, a couple weeks nonstop? Take the rest of the day off, tomorrow too, then come back in ready to start on something new.”

“Sir—”

“This isn’t a debate, Detective. Go home.”

Lin got up, nodded, and reached for the door.

“Lin.”

He turned back. “Sir?”

“You did good work on this case. The Black Skulls were wanted in three other sectors for crimes ranging from murder, to arson, to kidnapping. Getting them off the streets is a huge deal. Don’t think I don’t appreciate it.”

“No, sir. It’s just I don’t think the job is finished and I hate leaving something half done.”

“The wizards will take care of their own. Regular folks like us will only be in their way.”

After the mess he’d made of things at the warehouse Lin didn’t have a good argument for that one. “Understood, sir. If they need us I’m sure they’ll let us know.”

Lin took his leave, pausing at his desk to collect the letter and packet. Terra was smart and hard working. He had no doubt she’d get to the bottom of whatever was going on. Probably better than he’d have done it himself.

His battered pickup was parked at the far end of the crowded lot. The long walk helped clear his head. He had a day and a half, maybe he could still help, at least for a little longer. The starter whined when he turned the key, but it finally caught.

The station was only ten blocks from the government complex so five minutes later Lin was parking again. He collected his evidence and marched through the main doors. Only one of the secretaries had a customer so Lin chose the farthest-in slot and walked up to the man behind the desk.

“Can I help you, sir?”

Lin flashed his badge. “Detective Lin Chang to see Terra Pane.”

“One moment, Officer.” The man picked up his phone and punched three digits. He murmured something, nodded, and hung up. “She’s with the chief. You can head on up. His office is on the top floor.”

“I don’t want to interrupt.”

“It’s okay, Chief Kane wants to speak to you as well. The elevators are in the back to your right.”

Lin took the elevator up. A short hall led to a closed door. Behind a desk to the left of the door sat an attractive woman in her mid-thirties. She brushed her brown hair out of her eyes and smiled. “You can go right on in, Detective.”

“Thank you.” Lin nodded to the woman in passing then tugged the door open.

Inside was a spacious office with a glass wall overlooking the city. The floating island was still visible far out over the ocean. Two walls were lined with bookcases. Directly ahead was a huge cherry desk behind which sat a broad-shouldered bald man that had to be Chief Kane. In one of the two chairs in front of the desk he recognized the back of Terra’s head.

The chief stood up and walked over to the staring Lin. “Come in, Detective. No need to be shy.”

Chief Kane shook his hand and guided him over to the empty chair. “Sit down, make yourself comfortable. We’re all friends here.”

“Thank you, sir.” Lin settled gently into the soft leather chair. It probably cost more than his truck.

“Orin, please. I know you and Terra are already aquatinted. She tells me you’ve been a tremendous help in trying to locate Mercia.”

“That’s why I’m here.” Lin placed the documents on Orin’s desk. “My captain says as far as we’re concerned the case is closed. Dealing with Mercia is a matter for wizards.”

Orin smile vanished. “Is that right? What do you think?”

“I don’t think we should close out the case, but it’s not my call. The plain truth is I’m a very small fish in a big ocean. If the captain says I’m done, I’m done.”

“We’ll see about that.” Orin picked up his phone and dialed a number. A moment later he said, “Tom? It’s Orin, I need a favor. Of course we’re on for golf this Sunday. I wouldn’t miss it.”

“Who’s he talking to?” Lin whispered to Terra. He was relieved that her color had returned to normal.

“Probably the mayor. They’re old friends. I suspect very shortly you’re going to be back on the case. And thank god for that.”

“Why? I’m sure you could have handled it.”

“I’m a researcher, Lin. I don’t know the first thing about criminal investigations. I’ve consulted once or twice, but I never ran one on my own. If the chief dropped this in my lap I wouldn’t know where to start.”

“Thanks, Tom.” Orin hung up the phone. “There, that’s all sorted out. You’ll be getting a call shortly, Detective. Until then how about you show us what you brought?”

Lin handed him the letter. “I haven’t had a chance to even open the packet yet. Have you examined the box at all?”

Terra shook her head. “Nothing more than a cursory look. It’ll take me weeks if not months to fully reconstruct the spell from the residual energy. At first glance it strongly resembles the energy from the carnival ritual. I assume at one time it held whatever catalyst Lady Raven used to activate the spell. If I use that as a starting point it might speed things up a great deal, unless I’m wrong, in which case it’ll set me back.”

Orin shook his head and dropped the letter on his desk. “Not terribly encouraging, Terra. And this letter is too vague to be of much use.”

Lin’s cell rang, interrupting Orin. He looked at the Department chief who nodded. “Detective Chang.”

“No,” his captain said. “Lieutenant Chang.”

“I don’t understand, sir.”

“You’re being promoted and reassigned as liaison to the Department of Magic. You’ll also serve as their chief investigator. Congratulations.” The captain hung up.

“Good news?” Orin asked.

“I guess. I’ve been reassigned to your department as chief investigator.” Lin’s head spun. He’d worked out of the same station since he joined the force. He knew everyone there and they knew him; some of them were like family.

“We can always use good people at the Department.” Orin handed him the letter. “Terra, I believe there’s an office up the hall from yours. That should be a good place for the detective. Get him settled in, won’t you?”

“Yes, Chief.”

Terra groaned and stumbled to her feet. Lin followed her example. Orin shook his hand again and Terra led him out of the office. 

Just like that his whole career had changed. Lin had wanted to finish what he started, but what would happen after? How much use did the Department of Magic actually have for a detective?

He followed Terra out and back to the elevators. They rode down to the fifth floor where she guided him to a closed door. Terra opened it and a musty smell mixed with bleach washed over him. Lin stared at the so-called office. It looked more like a storage closet. Someone had shoved a cheap particleboard table and plastic chair into it and rechristened it an office. There wasn’t even a computer or shelves. Hell, he didn’t even have paper and pencil. On the other hand it had four walls and a door, which put it head and shoulders above the cubical he’d worked out of at the station.

“I know it doesn’t look like much,” Terra said. “But I can get you a Department laptop and there’s a supply closet down the hall, just help yourself to whatever you need. I’m right next door if you have any questions.”

Terra ducked into her office down the hall and closed the door, leaving Lin to his own devices. First things first. He tossed the letter and packet onto the table and went to fetch a notepad and pencil. Getting to the desk was a squeeze, good thing he stayed in shape. If he was ten pounds heavier he doubted he’d fit.

The contents of the packet spilled out onto his desk. Page after page of handwritten notes in the same hand as the letter. Lin scanned the first five, trying to get a feel for what he had. It looked like Bone had simply written down everything the other members of the gang remembered about their missions. There was no rhyme or reason and most of it lacked context.

One said he remembered mostly birds and trees. That could describe any one of a hundred parks in the city. Another described rushing water, but was it the sewer or the Gallen River entering the ocean? How was he supposed to make sense of this?

 

I hope you enjoyed reading Chapter 21. Click here to read Chapter 22

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