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An Odd Couple Chp 1

nonanonymous Oct 9th, 2016 (edited) 1,698 Never
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  1.     The city of Versyl was dark tonight, an odd occurrence for a place that had a more active nightlife than daylife. It was first night of the citywide Fertility Festival. A lone figure walked up to a podium atop a makeshift stage in the plaza, the singular light in the whole city shining on him. Wearing a polo shirt and slacks, he looked like he was ready to go golfing rather than make a speech. He had a gentle demeanor, akin to a kind grandfather. The master of ceremonies, and the one who would officially begin the festival.
  2.  
  3.     A figure was hunched over the balcony of the clock tower overlooking the central plaza, cradling a rifle. The figure breathed steadily, difficult as it was through a mask, and lined up the old man in the scope’s crosshairs. Then the figure waited. The old man’s speech was ending. The fireworks would begin soon.
  4.  
  5.     At the old man’s signal, a stream of lights flew into the sky behind the old clock tower, illuminating the town as they exploded. He descended from the stage and went behind it, away from the crowd. He found a seat and marveled at the fireworks alone, relieved after a month of preparation. He was glad to be a part of all this, for the many years he had coordinated this festival and all the other festivals. It always proved so fruitful.
  6.  
  7.     The figure waited still, rifle aimed at the old man. The stage crew, having accomplished their task, began to filter out into the plaza with the rest of the crowd to enjoy the fireworks. Only the old man was left.
  8.  
  9.     An immense amount of fireworks had been launched, it was time for the grand finale. A crack rang through the air in perfect harmony with the fireworks. Shot through the heart, the old man laid dead in his chair, arms limply dangling.
  10.  
  11.     The figure stood up slightly to survey their work, but immediately tensed. They were being watched. Looking into the crowd, the figure locked eyes with a red-haired man for a few seconds before slinking off to the other side of the tower.
  12.  
  13.     No one noticed the sound amidst the explosions. No one noticed the flash amidst the fireworks. And in their jubilation, no one noticed the old man’s death until after the first night had ended, when an unfortunate stage technician stumbled upon his bloody corpse.
  14.  
  15. ----------
  16.  
  17.     The next day, the festivities were still ongoing. Although there was worry lingering in the air, there was too much tradition and money on the line to cancel the festival. A certain bar in the entertainment district was dark except for the stage and the front entrance. On the stage were several musicians, perplexed as to why their limelight was stolen by an intruder at the front door. The intruder herself was a wyvern with burgundy scales who towered over the heads of everyone else.
  18.  
  19.     As she stomped through the bar, yellow eyes fixed on the stage, the patrons were quick to scurry away from her, occasionally moving tables and stools as she seemed ready to plow straight through them. She understood why. Her scars, flak vest, the rifle slung on her back, and her sharpened talons must have been quite the intimidating presence. Unfortunately, that same presence was useless against her prey.
  20.  
  21.     “There you are, you son of a bitch.” She growled.
  22.  
  23.     After hopping onto the stage, she extended her right arm out to her side and began accelerating towards a red haired man. The man chuckled and casually handed his violin to one of his fellow musicians before walking forwards. The wyvern drove her arm into his midsection, hoisted him onto her shoulder, and sighed.
  24.  
  25.     “The Sinstran consulate has kindly requested that you actually do your job for once, Mister Thalia.” She said through gritted teeth.
  26.  
  27.     The man, who remained unfazed as she swiftly turned around, exited the bar, and continued walking down the street, laughed jovially.
  28.  
  29.     “Miltia! It’s been what? Two months since we last met?” the man exclaimed while positively beaming. “Perhaps our love for each other has moved even the Fates to tears. Oh come now, being so aloof and tense must be terrible for your heart.”
  30.  
  31.     “Hello, Aidan. You’re idiotic as always. That’s terrific.”
  32.  
  33.     “Hello, dear. You’re caustic as always. Also terrific.”
  34.  
  35.     “Yes.”
  36.  
  37.     “And terse as always, too. Ooh, I bet you’re scowling right now.” He placed a hand underneath his chin. “Just my personal opinion, but you would be far more beautiful if you smiled every once in a while.”
  38.  
  39.     “Growing up with you has robbed me of that ability.” Miltia’s pace hastened, desperate to hand Aidan off to someone else as quickly as possible.
  40.  
  41.     “Indeed, quite the tragic curse. Why, I attended one of the Cognos Magocracy’s schools for the magical arts and sciences to research a cure for such an affliction.” The man said as he made grandiose gestures.
  42.  
  43.     “All you did was become a candidate for expulsion and deportation, repeatedly.”
  44.  
  45.     “Sacrifices must be made for love, love. And more importantly, my guile and charm ensured that I suffered neither of those fates.”
  46.  
  47.     “Yeah, you need to shut up. Now.” Miltia said as her stride reached a full blown sprint.
  48.  
  49. ----------
  50.  
  51.     Aidan continued to spout whatever came to mind to an increasingly irritated Miltia until they reached the consulate of the Sinstran Kingdom. The consulate itself was a converted warehouse built in the harbor district of Versyl. It was ugly. The white paint on the walls had washed away to reveal the rust underneath and the noise of ships and harbor machinery droned on in the background. These conditions were deemed acceptable sacrifices by the diplomats, as the location allowed them to monitor the ships coming in and out of the bay with ease. Aidan and Miltia passed the flagpole carrying the banner of their country, a dark purple cloth with a bright red spear and rifle arranged in a diagonal cross, and entered the consulate through the large cargo doors.
  52.  
  53.     The interior was mostly empty, brightly lit by magical lights installed into the incredibly high ceiling. In a corner of the room were a series of soundproof white rooms that made up the consulate proper, like an enlarged terrarium built for people. At the opposite end of the warehouse was another series of rooms made for the security staff. Every now and then there would be the crack and muzzle flash of Sinstran rifles. In response, there would be the hiss and vibrant trails of Cognos’s mana accelerator guns.
  54.  
  55.     After she set Aidan down, a diplomatic aide guided them through the series of boxlike rooms. When they reached one of the many uniform windowless offices, the aide opened the door. The room itself was a dull white with featureless walls and fluorescent lights, the very model of utilitarianism. Inside was a winged woman with light blond hair and blue eyes, wearing a business suit and reading something in a file. She would have been the stereotypical example of a Valkyrie, except her wings were dark grey. When Aidan and Miltia entered the room, she looked up from her file and did a curt nod.
  56.  
  57.     “You must be diplomat Thalia, and our Ranger attaché,” When her eyes moved to Miltia, she looked surprised and somewhat happy. “Miltiada? Miltiada Stigand?”
  58.  
  59.     “No need to be so formal, Asta,” Miltia said as she scratched the back of her head. “We’ve known each other for four years now. Just Miltia is fine.”
  60.  
  61.     “Oh my, so many joyous reunions today!” Aidan exclaimed as he sat down. “It’s as I told you, Miltia. The Fates smile upon us.”
  62.  
  63.     “And you just had to ruin the moment. Why are you still here? Go do diplomat things. Or whatever you need to do.” Miltia said with an air of exasperation before sitting down and turning to face Asta again. “Anyways, didn’t think you’d be my point of contact on this case.”
  64.  
  65.     Asta chuckled. “Likewise. And it seems you two have a history as well. Command has definitely assembled a peculiar trio.”
  66.  
  67.     “W-wait just a minute there Asta. I thought it would be just us two.” A look of horror began to surface on Miltia’s face.
  68.  
  69.     “Oh, you didn’t hear? Your country’s Intelligence Division decided to get involved in this case too. So they called the local Internal Affairs Taskforce branch about three hours back and said Mister Thalia would be assisting us.”
  70.  
  71.     “You can’t be serious,” whined Miltia as she look over to Aidan, who just winked at her. She buried her face in her talons. “FUCK!”
  72.  
  73.     “Your panicked voice is as shrill as ever, Miltia. I’m relieved there isn’t any glass to break in here.” Aidan joked. “And come now, if my presence is truly that dreadful, you wouldn’t keep coming back to me again and again.”
  74.  
  75.     “When I got here this morning, I thought all I had to do was pick you up and drop you off at the consulate. I spent four hours looking for you with the hope that I never had to see you again while I was here. Now I learn that I have to put up with you for an extended period of time.” Miltia said through gritted teeth. “You can’t spring that shit on me. If I have to spend more than five minutes with you, I have to mentally prepare myself first.”
  76.  
  77. ----------
  78.  
  79.     The two of them continued to, in Miltia’s mind, argue or, in Aidan’s mind, banter for a while before Asta coughed loudly to get their attention.
  80.  
  81.     “Well, you both seem lively. That’s good, but please save that energy for the field; it’s only noon.” Asta said, somewhat dumbfounded by what just happened. “Alright, moving on to why we’re all here. The Internal Affairs Taskforce has been hunting down a group of blood mages, the Sanguine Cabal, recently, and we have potentially discovered some high-ranking members. Since you two are here, I assume you have information pertinent to our investigation. Mister Thalia, from the intelligence reports I’ve received, your case is the first.”
  82.  
  83.     “Thank you fair angel. And please, call me Aidan,” Aidan said as he bowed slightly in his chair. “This prior winter, I was assigned to a dreadful tragedy and vile diplomatic squabble. Why, a boy of the Winged Sword had disappeared in my nation’s vibrant capital. Noble watchers found the pitiable carcass of the lad a quarter moon later, desiccated and deprived of his life-force. A terrible crime, most assuredly, but an even more terrible crime was the accusation levied against the Rifle and Spear’s sanguinivorous servants, trampling over the oaths the queen had so mercifully made. An oath fanatically guarded by Sinstra’s sworn.”
  84.  
  85.     Asta’s jaw was hanging open and she looked incredibly confused as she reread her files over and over again. In contrast, Miltia just sighed and shook her head. “He’s saying that last January, some tourists from the Holy Occidial Empire were visiting Savacion when one of the boys in the group disappeared,” Miltia clarified. “The city police later found the guy’s corpse a week later. The body was drained of all its blood. The Empire, being an angelic realm, naturally blamed the denizens of Sinstra, a demonic realm. More specifically, they blamed the vampires living in Sinstra.”
  86.  
  87.     “That’s…quite the skill you have there, Miltia.” Asta said, still perplexed.
  88.  
  89.     “I’m not nearly as good as his parents, but I’m pretty damn good at deciphering his gibberish.” Miltia said neutrally. “Anyways, The Empire ignored the fact that our queen allowed the vampires to live in the country on the condition that they feed solely on donated blood packs or trusted partners and that they never practice blood magic. The vampires’ adherence to this promise is strictly monitored by the Intelligence Division, police forces, and military Rangers, not to mention their own. In other words, we can rule out the possibility of a rogue vampire being the murderer.”
  90.  
  91.     “Alright, yeah. That matches the info I received about the murders.” Asta said as she started flipping through her papers again. “Miltia, I think your report is next, so go ahead.”
  92.  
  93.     “Alright. I was called to the capital in late February to help an investigation on another potentially related spree of murders. From profiling the victims, we found that all of them were young adult men, either about to graduate or recently graduated from high school. Social class didn’t matter, but all the victims were recluses or introverts. From their diaries, we found that they all met a girl that they fell for and began to spend time with. When they were invited over to her house for the first time, well,” Miltia took one of her talons and ran it across her neck.
  94.  
  95.     “And all the victims died the same way the Imperial boy died. Completely drained of blood and left in an alleyway in the poorer districts. By this point, the primary suspect was the Sanguine Cabal.” Asta said as she continued to read over her files. “This girl, do you have any idea who she might be?”
  96.  
  97.     “We managed to find a name. Anne. But that could just be a pseudonym. From the diary entries and photos, we have no distinct characteristics. Suspect varied wildly in appearance and description of appearance. Even personality has no consistency. Could be that Anne was really multiple members of the cabal. Could be that Anne was using some form of glamour magic to change her appearance. Never saw her in person once, so we couldn’t verify anything.”
  98.  
  99.     “But you did find a lead eventually.”
  100.  
  101.     “Yeah, took us two months of investigation, but we found out where Anne’s hideout was. Unfortunately she or they somehow managed to beat us to the punch. But the time we got there, the whole place was burnt. On the outside it looked fine, but inside? Cremated. From what little survived, we found a letter, addressed to a Noah Mason. Said she would pay him a visit after she left Savacion. That was about a week ago.”
  102.  
  103.     “Okay. That also matches the reports on these cases I have thus far.” Asta said as she put away her file. “Sorry for making you both go through that. The truth is, I got assigned this case earlier today, so I had to get the files and rush to get here.”
  104.  
  105.     “It matters not, fallen messenger. These are dire times, and our villains seem to be crawling out of the woodwork. And yet they are being squashed like roaches, by we’re not the squashers.”
  106.  
  107.     “Um. Right. I think. This Noah Mason you tracked down Miltia,” Asta began, having regained her composure. “He’s dead. Shot last night during the start of the Fertility Festival, after he gave the commencement speech. Turns outs, aside from being a member of the mayoral staff, he was also a trafficker for the Sanguine Cabal.”
  108.  
  109.     “Yeah, I think I remember the guy from our meeting four years ago.” Miltia said as she nodded. “Old, acted like everyone’s grandpa? Nice guy. Hard to believe he was a member of the cabal. How’d the IAT figure it out?”
  110.  
  111.     “After your government told us about the Anne case last week, other Internal Affairs agents began investigating Mason in secret. What I’m about to tell you is highly classified, even the city police don’t know this.” Asta warned. “In his cellar, they found books and treatises on lichdom and necromancy. Additionally, they found refrigerators filled with corpses. Corpses which happen to match the description of several people that went missing during festivities. We were going to apprehend him and interrogate him after the speech, but someone else just shot the guy instead.”
  112.  
  113.     “I have some sympathy for the devil, impending mortality is a rather universal fear.” Aidan said nonchalantly. “Eulogies aside, I was there when the two-faced grandpa was killed by our wild card.”
  114.  
  115.     “So did you see the killer?” Miltia asked.
  116.  
  117.     “I was enraptured by the fireworks at the time. Oh, how splendid they were, we should have gazed at them together, Miltia.” Aidan said, causing Miltia to roll her eyes. “During the grand finale, I did notice one strange and peculiar oddity. One of the glorious plumes of fire seemed lower than its peers, and smaller as well. And when the dwarf-firework ignited, a figure rose up from the blackness of the clock tower, holding some long implement. Alas, the night withheld all else from me.”
  118.  
  119.     “If you actually did your job every once in a while, maybe you could have seen more.” Miltia grumbled. “But, now that one of their own is dead and the rest are being hunted by us and potentially by this vigilante, I’d say our chances of the Sanguine Cabal are slim to none.”
  120.  
  121.     “Agreed, but we do have one lead we can follow, Mason’s killer.” Asta proposed. “The killer might have targeted Mason because of his ties to the cabal. We all said it, he acted like everyone’s grandpa. In a public poll last year, he was voted best public official and had very few detractors. The one’s he did have were critics on very small issues, not nearly enough to warrant violence. In other words, the most obvious reason why anyone would want to kill him is if they knew about his secret.”
  122.  
  123.     “Find the killer, find the cult. Alright.” Miltia said as she nodded. “Let’s get moving already, we’ve been talking for far too long.”
  124.  
  125.     The three of them stood up and exited the room.
  126.  
  127. ----------
  128.  
  129.     “If I may inquire,” Aidan asked from the passenger seat of a police car. He had changed into a suit and bowtie, befitting of both his roles. “Scripts usually dictate that detectives divert their destination to the scene of the crime first. What caused us to case the cadaver instead?”
  130.  
  131.     “I was ready to go to the plaza, but the police there radioed me while you were getting ready.” Asta answered from the driver’s seat. “They already searched the plaza and clock tower. And get this: They found nothing. No casings. No footsteps. The tower workers don’t even remember seeing anyone suspicious. It’s like the vigilante just disappeared.”
  132.  
  133.     “Seems like we’re dealing with one hell of a professional here.” Miltia replied from the back seat. Due to her large size, she had to prop one arm behind her on the top of the backseat and extend her legs to the opposite side, forcing her into a semi-reclining position. She groaned. “Fuck me, I should have just flown behind you. All this starting and stopping and all the damned festival traffic isn’t helping either.”
  134.  
  135.     “Oh, and miss my company? Please Miltia, you know exactly why you’re here.” Aidan said suggestively.
  136.  
  137.     Miltia looked at Aidan for a brief moment and shook her head. “Nope. Still can’t think of a reason.” She said flatly.
  138.  
  139.     “Well, it’s nice to see you two still so lively.” Asta said, still incredibly perplexed at the interactions the two had with each other. “So, how do you two know each other?”
  140.  
  141.     “Lovers.” Miltia stated bluntly.
  142.  
  143.     Asta sputtered and coughed. “When you say it like that, I can’t tell if you’re lying or not.”
  144.  
  145.     “Believe me, fair messenger, she isn’t. She is decisively damned at deception. After all, she always smiles or laughs when she crafts falsehoods.” Aidan started.
  146.  
  147.     “And I never smile or laugh.” Miltia immediately finished with a deadpan expression.
  148.  
  149.     Aidan chuckled. “Deary dear’s weaknesses aside, you asked how we met, yes? Oh yes, such a fond memory, I remember it as if it were yesterday.” Aidan looked off into the distance, deliberately, and cleared his throat very loudly while Miltia glared at him. “It all began two decades ago, when I was at the tender age of five. I hadn’t known the joys of theater and the arts yet, but my wit was already beginning to blossom.”
  150.  
  151.     “In other words, he wasn’t nearly as pretentious. Still an dumbass though.” Miltia commented.
  152.  
  153.     “I was living in a quaint village called Provtown, nestled against the Aldegund Mountains to the west.” Aidan continued, unfazed by Miltia’s verbal jabs. “The sun was flooding through the cracks of the sky, and Father Winter was eager to grasp away the gifts of Mother Summer.”
  154.  
  155.     “It was fall, and it was partly cloudy and a bit cold.”
  156.  
  157.     “The village elder had told all of us that the wyverns above would be descending to do commerce. But I knew better. I knew that they were looking at candidates to continue their bloodline. I did not understand what that entailed, but I knew that I had to make my mark on them.”
  158.  
  159.     “We lived high in the mountains, so we had to rely on bottom-towns like his for crops. And the majority our marriage candidates are soldiers, mountain climbers, or hunters rather than local farmers. Got to pick a man who can actually survive up there and all.” Miltia clarified. “He was hopeless then and he’s hopeless now. He’s actually deathly afraid of heights.”
  160.  
  161.     “I knew I was not the strongest, nor the bravest, nor the fastest, nor the toughest of my peers. But I had something they didn’t, a heart and soul made for expression. I approached the group, which was clad in the dangerous air of feminine strength, but I did not waver. For in my admittedly shameful nighttime excursions, I had once heard my father serenade my mother with the most beautiful song I had heard in my nubile years. Using my innate musical talent, I recited that same song to the wyverns with great precision and tremendous success.”
  162.  
  163.     “The only thing he succeeded in doing was replicating his dad’s drunken slur. The song was really raunchy, and his rendition of it was absolute garbage.”
  164.  
  165.      “After I finished, all their eyes were fixed on me, stunned to silence by my prodigal prowess. And yet, all their attention was meaningless to me once my eyes rested upon a little wyvern, clinging to her mother’s leg. Her reptilian eyes stared at me, like ambers preserving the secrets of the past. Her scales the color of the mountains themselves, a dark and inviting red; it was as if the very earth had gifted her to us. Her hair the color of lilacs after a summer rainstorm. Even though her visage was marred by the frown she wore and still wears to this day, I knew she had captured my heart. And so I turn to face her and-“
  166.  
  167.     “Hey, I can see the hospital from here.” Miltia interrupted. She seemed annoyed and was trying to hide her scowl. “Sorry Aidan, looks like you’ll just have to continue this story later. Make sure you remember where you were.”
  168.  
  169. ----------
  170.  
  171.     Inside the coroner’s office stood two men, one in surgeon’s scrubs and another in a police uniform. Both of them were middle-aged and seemed haggard, with dark bags under their eyes. The office had a faint scent of disinfectant mixed with sweat. A small table was covered in cloth, although the shape of surgical tools was apparent underneath. The two men were staring at the partly covered corpse of Noah Mason lying on an operating table. A knock on the door caused them to jolt. When Asta entered the room with her two foreign attaches in tow, she turned to the policeman and saluted.
  172.  
  173.     “Sir, detective Asta Dolfori, reporting.”
  174.     “At ease, Dolfori.” The cop said half-heartedly, not even bothering to look before Aidan and Miltia walked in. “Seems we have some new faces here. I’m Lieutenant Joshua Ashworth. The egghead over there is Frederick Bonham. Sorry you have to see us like this, it’s been a long day.”
  175.  
  176.     Miltia saluted while Aidan did a grandiose bow, causing Miltia to glare at him out of the corner of her eye. “Miltia Stigand, Ranger.”
  177.  
  178.     “The illustrious Aidan Thalia, Sinstran diplomat extraordinaire and man of continental mystery.”
  179.  
  180.     The lieutenant yawned and nodded. “A Ranger and a diplomat. The chief has got you working with some weird folks, Dolfori. Especially a Ranger, figured you types would be busy prancing around in a forest somewhere.”
  181.  
  182.     “I’m fine with the forest, but I much prefer the mountains. Easier to fly. And for your information,” Miltia clarified, “The Rangers were designed as a rapid response force capable of acting independently in regions where the normal military can’t, in theory. In practice, we’re glorified adventurers on government payroll.”
  183.  
  184.     “And yet I find the diplomat to be the most peculiar one here.” Frederick rambled slowly. “A detective, a police officer. Absolutely. A soldier, I can imagine. But a diplomat? That is an archetype I am not familiar with in this setting.”
  185.  
  186.     “Freddie, please. Don’t talk like that, you’ll confuse our guests.” Lieutenant Ashworth said with a sigh.
  187.  
  188.     Asta looked confused, an expression that was far too common for her today. Miltia had a face of poorly concealed dread. Aidan, on the other hand, seemed positively excited. “Ah, a fellow intellectual! Oh, the Fates smile upon me still. And to elucidate, I am merely here as a handler for our rough and uncouth comrade here.” He said as he placed his hand on Miltia’s forearm.
  189.  
  190.     “I’m sorry. Who’s whose handler now?” Miltia quipped as Aidan and the coroner had some indecipherable exchange.
  191.  
  192.     “Oh good.” Lieutenant Ashworth groaned as he shot a sympathetic look to Miltia. “Someone knows how I feel. Why are intellectuals always so kooky?”
  193.  
  194.     “I once heard that genius and madness were two sides of the same coin. But after spending time with him,” Miltia looked over at Aidan, “I’ve yet to see proof of that.”
  195.  
  196.     “Um, guys…” Asta meekly said. She started this day eager to solve the case, now she just wanted the day to end. “The…the autopsy. Can we please…you know?”
  197.  
  198.     “Ah yes. Of course.” Frederick immediately corrected his posture and adopted a more serious face. “The victim was killed at approximately 10 PM last night, which coincided with the opening ceremony. Subject was shot through the heart and died very quickly. Based on officer reports, there were no signs of struggling, so Noah-“ Frederick coughed. “That is, the victim, most likely passed out almost immediately after penetration.”
  199.  
  200.     The coroner’s professional countenance broke as his eyes started misting. “I knew him for twenty years, and he never once got into trouble. Everyone loved him. And he never had malice for anyone. Why? Who would do such a thing to you, Noah?”
  201.  
  202.     “You have my sympathies.” Miltia stoically said. “He…seemed…like a good man.”
  203.  
  204.     There was a brief moment of silence as Frederick dried his tears. No one knew how to break the silence, but Lieutenant Ashworth decided to try. “I only knew the guy for three years, but still. I’d never expect him of all people to be assassinated like this. Still don’t know why the chief delegated such a big case to a single detective and a foreign entourage, but I suppose the only thing we can do is leave it in your hands now. We’ll show you the bullet, but I don’t think it’s going to be very helpful.”
  205.  
  206.     The coroner pulled a clear plastic case from beneath a covered up surgical tray. As he opened it, the curiosity of the three detectives quickly turned to defeat. Inside was a slightly deformed rifle bullet, partially caked in dried blood.
  207.  
  208.     “Gerhild bullet. You’re right, that wasn’t very helpful.” Miltia flatly stated.
  209.  
  210.     “Keep your spirit high dear Miltia. Our villain’s choice of weapon is only the most mass-produced rifle on the continent.” Aidan snarked. “Why, if we limit our search to the city registries and cross-reference the absolute nothing we know about the perp, we have a list of only a few thousand suspects to go through.”
  211.  
  212.     “Trail’s gone cold. Rather not wait for another murder to happen, but what can we do.” Asta worriedly mumbled to herself, her wings beating slightly from frustration and fear. She yelped and nearly jumped as her personal radio came to life with a loud burst of static. She turned away from the others and faced a corner of the room.
  213.  
  214.     “Dolfori here. Chief? Are you serious!? Ok. I see. Don’t worry, we’ll manage. I hope.” Asta put her radio back onto her belt and faced the others again. “Seems we just got one solid lead and one potential lead. The mayor contacted the police hotline a while back, seemed rather distraught. He was incoherent, but Mister Mason’s name came up a lot. So we’re to question him.”
  215.  
  216.     “Not the talking type, is the other lead any better?” Miltia asked.
  217.  
  218.     “Potentially. Apparently, beat cops in the harbor district spotted an odd group of thugs in an abandoned warehouse. More importantly, they appeared to be in possession of several blood bags.”
  219.  
  220.     “Well that’s a smoking gun if I’ve ever seen one.” Miltia enthusiastically said. “If we’ve got two leads, why don’t you and Aidan handle the talking while I handle the roughhousing?”
  221.  
  222. “Splitting the party is oft an ill-advised move, dear. Are you certain this is the path you wish to undertake?”
  223.  
  224. “I’ll be fine, Aidan. It’s just a couple of thugs and a few egomaniacal mages. Lieutenant, get some cars ready. Time to bust some skulls.”
  225.  
  226. ----------
  227.  
  228.     Outside the hospital, Aidan and Asta were leaning on the railing near the front entrance. Asta was leaning forwards, looking her car and Miltia while Aidan was leaning backwards with his eyes closed. Lieutenant Ashworth was at his police car looking at a map and holding a radio in his hand. Every so often he would stomp his feet or make wild gesticulations, pacing as much as he could in the crowded parking lot, his curses mixing in with the car horns.
  229.  
  230.     Miltia was rummaging through the trunk of Asta’s car, occasionally picking up various pieces of equipment and depositing others. She cradled her Gerhild rifle in her hands momentarily, a look of deliberation on her face, before reluctantly placing it into the trunk. She was still wearing her usual flak vest, although its pouches were now filled to the brim.
  231.  
  232.     “Any reason why she told us to wait up here?” Asta asked. She kept staring at Miltia, as if her car was in danger of being torn apart.
  233.  
  234.     “Just a peculiarity of hers. She doesn’t like people looking over her shoulder during her preparations. That lesson was learned the hard way for this poor boy. Haha.” Aidan answered as he turned to face Asta.
  235.  
  236.     “I think you should go with her. She seems rather sure of her capabilities. Too sure. Especially if there are mages present.”
  237.  
  238.     “I will admit that she has consistently underestimated the power of magic. But, at the same time, she has always been very resourceful.” He said casually. “We all have our roles to play. Soldiers fight. Detectives search. And spies merely observe.”
  239.  
  240.     “That’s hardly the role of spies, Thalia.” Asta’s remark was full of venom. Her eyes squinted.
  241.  
  242.     “Of course, but one must know all the cards in play before one can manipulate them. And you’re still quite the wild card.”
  243.  
  244.     “Come now,” Asta chuckled. “I’m Internal Affairs and I moonlight as a city police detective. What hidden agenda could I possibly have?”
  245.  
  246.     “From what Miltia has told me, I had in my mind that you were a paragon of justice and truth and morality. And yet you seem very skilled at deception. So answer me this, Valkyrie: The people here most assuredly know you as Asta Dolfori, detective of the Versyl City Police Department. But how many of them know you as Asta Dolfori, agent of the Internal Affairs Taskforce?”
  247.  
  248.     Asta nervously laughed and her wings fluttered slightly before abruptly stopping. “Hold on, wait. Why can I understand you?”
  249.  
  250.     “Because I know you do not have Miltia’s comprehension skills. And please refrain from changing the subject, no ill will come.” Asta’s eyes shifted away from Aidan. “You’re rather insecure about this. Very well, for the sake of fairness, the only people who know of my true profession in this city are the consul, Miltia, you, and your chief. There, my dirty secrets are out.”
  251.  
  252.     Asta looked to the sides of her warily. “Alright. Fine. You’re gonna bug me about this all day, aren’t you?” She took a deep breath. “For the five years I’ve worked for the police, only the chief knows who I am. None of my friends or colleagues know anything.” She sighed and looked skyward. “A part of me does regret it. Having to lie and keep people an arm’s length away. Ha. Torn between my duties and my morals again.” She laughed bitterly. “And here I thought I left the Empire because of this.”
  253.  
  254.     “You can take the Valkyrie out of the Empire but you can’t take the Empire out of the Valkyrie it seems.” Aidan joked. “Such is subterfuge’s suffering. Even my parents think of me as just a lowly diplomat. Oh, if only they knew about the adventures I have.” He turned to look at Miltia. “She’s quite the unsung hero too. Although I suppose that’s more because she’s rather horrible at storytelling. And because her trials are, at times, even more clandestine than my own.”
  255.  
  256.     “Really now? Do tell.”
  257.  
  258.     “I am merely a humble field agent, thus there are many things I’m sadly not privy too. Sorry to disappoint.” Aidan said, still looking at Miltia. “All I know is that all power plays, in crime and politics and war and whatever else, are a gamble. And sometimes the smallest of moves can have the biggest of effects. And her? Well, if this were a game of cards, she’d be a joker.”
  259.  
  260.     Both of them were silent as they watched their third compatriot. Miltia was studying a map while Ashworth pointed to various spots. She nodded and crouched low to the ground before springing upwards, keeping her wings close to her side as she rocketed into the air. When she stopped ascending, she began to beat her wings and flew off.
  261.  
  262.     “I believe that is enough griping and speculation for now.” Aidan said. “An onus still lies on us, and the world will not wait for our worries.”
  263.  
  264.     Asta regained her professional demeanor as the two descended from the entrance ramp and into the parking lot. They waved to Lieutenant Ashworth before getting into Asta’s car and driving off.
  265.  
  266. ----------
  267.  
  268.     High above the city, Miltia was gliding towards the harbor district. It was about 5 PM before she started flying, and the sun was beginning to lower. Off in the distance she spotted some harpies flying by and she looked down to see the hustle and bustle of the festival. It reminded her of a colony of ants swarming about. When she passed the commercial districts and reached the harbor district proper, she started looking around.
  269.  
  270.     Three blocks north of that old diner. Then two blocks west of the condemned worker housing. Down below she saw two police officers leaning against a brick wall surrounding what looked like an empty warehouse. Miltia set down a block away, her descent blocked by the buildings nearby.
  271.  
  272.     “Carson, look alive. Seems our help has finally arrived.” Said the older looking police officer. He had a somewhat gaunt appearance, which belied the poise and gaze of an experienced marksman. He was casually holding a revolver in his left hand.
  273.  
  274.     The younger officer, who seemed pudgier yet somehow frailer, was jolted from his daydreaming. “Sorry, Mister Pendleton. Sir. And hi. Um. The lieutenant mentioned you were coming and…” he trailed off as Miltia approached them. He let out a whimper as he craned his neck to meet Miltia’s eyes.
  275.  
  276.     “Well met, gentlemen. I assume our guests are still around. How long until backup arrives?” Miltia asked.
  277.  
  278.     “With the damned ‘fucking festival’ going on, we’ve got maybe twenty minutes until the first two squad cars get here. Then thirty-five until the three other cars get here.” Pendleton answered. “As for our guests, I saw about eight of your stock standard thugs and one guy in a suit, their boss or pencil pusher or something. They’re all inside the old foreman’s office, and from what I can tell they don’t even have people looking out the windows.”
  279.  
  280.     “These idiots seem pretty damn incompetent, wonder if we’ve got the right people.” Miltia whispered to herself. When she noticed the officers staring at her, she turned to face them. “Since we’ve got some time to kill, might as well lay down some traps.” She opened one of her vest’s pouches and pulled out what looked like a piece of chalk.
  281.  
  282.     Carson’s eyes lit up. “You know how to use Kheprite?”
  283.  
  284.     Miltia shrugged. “I can’t tell you how rune scribing works, the theoretical stuff is over my head. But I at least know how to draw pictures.”
  285.  
  286.     Pendleton grinned. “You know, kid, I’m beginning to like you. I can’t tell heads or tails of the manual they gave us on this shit, but I know I can draw at least half as well as my granddaughter can.”
  287.  
  288.     “What? It’s not that hard. I mean, all you two have to do is first create a concentration point and line a circuit and…” Carson continued to drone on about the basic theory of rune scribing as Miltia and Pendleton drew some test runes and a map of the warehouse.
  289.  
  290.     “Your chief probably wants these people alive, so we can scratch the more destructive or uncontrollable runes off.” Miltia said as she pointed to various points on their impromptu map.
  291.  
  292.     “I say we barricade the side entrances to keep them from escaping and maybe put a few in the warehouse proper to disorient them when they run out. Using earth Kheprite to conjure rock walls could be useful for the entrances, but maybe not for the interior. Don’t want to give them cover. It’s this rune here.” Miltia pointed to a circle filled with geometric shapes she drew.
  293.  
  294.     “Hmm. Alright, that doesn’t look too hard. We also don’t want to hurt ourselves if we storm the place. I remember Carson using some sort of quicksand and ice traps last time we did a drug bust, perhaps we should put those near the entrance too.”
  295.  
  296.     “That could work, but it all depends on how we choose to deploy.” Miltia said as she motioned for Carson to join them. “What equipment does the VCPD supply you?”
  297.  
  298.     “Well, that depends on who we get. Most of us veterans use our own custom equipment. I know we have Morrel, Johnson, Richards, and Perault coming in the first wave at least.” Pendleton reported. “I know Morrel and Johnson still use those fancy magic guns and all.”
  299.  
  300.     “They’re mana accelerator guns, Pendleton.” Carson pedantically said. “They use Kheprite batteries to power a central fire unit and police models are designed to fire less-than-lethal elemental projectiles.”
  301.  
  302.     “Yeah, yeah, what he said.” Pendleton flippantly responded. “Richards carries around a machine pistol, and Perault...well, aside from just constricting the poor bastards, I heard she managed to get her hands on one the newest Gerhild models.”
  303.  
  304.     “The 103? Semi-auto, right? Yeah, I’ve heard it entered mass production a while back. Should probably switch myself, my old bolt-action 86 model is starting to get worn down. I still can’t figure out how they managed to compensate for the recoil without switching to a smaller caliber…”
  305.  
  306.     Carson was glaring at her, so she cleared her throat and refocused. “So that gives us at least three lethal and three nonlethal shooters and here I am without a gun. I suppose if we barricade the side entrances, we can have you guys set up at the main entrance.”
  307.  
  308.     “Sounds good, I’ll shoot anyone that gets too close or runs while Carson, Morrel, and Johnson stun the targets in the warehouse. But what are you going to do?” Pendleton asked.
  309.  
  310.     “My scales should be able to take a couple shots before it gets too bad. And I can throw a man across this warehouse. Plus I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve. So, I’ll be point man and keep them tied up. If we’re all in agreement, let’s prepare a welcoming party.”
  311.  
  312.     The three of them stood up and silently entered the warehouse, drawing runes on the ground like mischievous children vandalizing public property. Near a corner, Miltia took one of her pieces of Kheprite and drew a rune on the wall. She then placed a black box the size of a hand onto the wall and pressed a button on it, causing a light on it to glow green.
  313.  
  314. She then took the same piece of Kheprite she used on the rune and pressed it against the wall, the purple color draining from the stone. When the Kheprite had been completely depleted and bore a pale white color, the rune and the device vanished, as if they were never there to begin with.
  315.  
  316.     While she was waiting near the door leading to the foreman’s office, she saw Pendleton and Carson and four other police officers, an elf and a lamia among their ranks. Taking care to not be spotted through the windows, she leaned out just far enough for the cops to see her. Pendleton gave her a thumbs up, and she stood in front of the door. As a last minute preparation, she took another piece of brown earth Kheprite out and clasped it between her hands.
  317.  
  318.     “Come on Miltia, just like the matriarch taught you.” She whispered to herself as she felt the mana flowing into her. She then rapped her knuckles on her forearms, satisfied that it felt like striking against rock. She then put her fist close to the wall and gently knocked.
  319.  
  320. ----------
  321.  
  322.     A confused and irritated thug in a weathered leather jacket and jeans answered the door. “Who the fuck are you?”
  323.  
  324.     “Police. I’m here to arrest you.” Miltia said with utmost calm and professionalism.
  325.  
  326.     “Police. You’re here to arrest us?” The thug parroted, completely confused.
  327.  
  328.     “Are you going to resist? That would be like flying to fall or swimming to drown.” Miltia warned.
  329.  
  330.     “Um. Yes?” The thug unsurely replied. “Of course we wou-ACK!”
  331.  
  332.     The thug was interrupted as Miltia’s fist slammed into his face with a wet crack, causing him to topple over backwards. To add insult to injury, Miltia then stood atop of him as the rest of his compatriots stared at the intruder, her talons slightly digging into his torso.
  333.  
  334.     Before any of them could react, she charged forwards and collided with the leftmost thug, hooking his neck in her right elbow before spinning around and throwing him into three additional foes who all landed on the table at the center of the room, which broke with a loud crash.
  335.  
  336.     The three crooks still standing finally processed the situation and one tried to strike at Miltia with a crowbar. She simply lifted her arms up, causing the strike to bounce off and the thug to clutch his wrist in pain.
  337.  
  338.     She picked him up and threw him back down like a broken toy, a loud thud echoing through the room. The remaining two thugs began to back up and shoot wildly in abject horror, the bullets uselessly plinking off her scales. She charged forwards and slammed both of them into the wall.
  339.  
  340.     As the eight men writhed on the ground in agony, the ninth man just shook his head. He looked rather frail and was wearing a suit and what looked like a theater mask, with overly large eyes and a massive frown. The mask glowed red with arcane power. “You can never get good help these days. Damned overgrown lizard. I suppose you’ve forced my hand.”
  341.  
  342.     The man put his hands into his suit jacket and pulled out two blood bags. Holding them near his heart, the blood began to glow red, as did he veins and arteries, which glowed bright enough to be seen through his clothing. When Miltia charged at him he discarded his emptied bags and ducked. He then put his palms flat against her midsection before pushing hard. Miltia stopped momentarily, shocked, before rocketing away from the man, through the wall of the foreman’s office, and tumbled across the ground, barely avoiding one of the runes she had set earlier.
  343.  
  344.     Covered in plaster dust, she coughed before propping herself up on her elbows. She saw the man take out another blood pack and watched as the thugs she had previously defeated rose up like reanimated corpses. They had a similar glow to them, although dimmer, and they looked furious as they reclaimed their weapons. As she got up, she let out a pained groaned and said, “I hate mages.”
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