The morning sun’s light shining through the curtains was grim reminder of the previous night as Kana Mayoi groaned her way back to consciousness. The general feeling one got upon waking up in the morning was strangely coupled with a strange sense of de-ja-vu the likes of which came only with the wake of a fading dream, and the sensations of reliving a memory of some other time.
It was almost enough to make Mayoi want to go right back to sleep and pretend last night had never even happened.
Having come home from the crime scene with a briefcase full of work, Mayoi had expected to have a short breather in the form of cleaning up the failed dinner party. What she found instead had been the girls chatting over one of the many detective novels in Mayoi’s collection (The rascals had found her not-so-secret library! ‘How dare they!’ she had thought with a bit of mock annoyance), and that all the pizza had been either put up or thrown away hours earlier.
Things were starting coming back to her now, piercing the veil of de-ja-vu, and separating the jumbled sleep-induced hybrid memories of the fictional world of dreams from the fictional world of the detective novel she had been re-reading last night.
Chapter Three of the first book in the series that her unexpected overnight house-guests had been reading from. (Ironically, they had started with book two, much to their confusion and Mayoi’s benefit (It made it easier to grab the first book and re-read everything of importance)). The main lead and his girlfriend would return from a crime scene and fall in bed the night before, and the morning after, they discuss the case in the early morning light of the sun beaming through the window…
‘Shut up!’ Kana Mayoi grabbed at a pillow to throw at the window, hoping to make the light, and the memories of a poorly written love scene by an inexperienced author, go away entirely.
Instead, Kana Mayoi was rewarded with a pillow AND a hard-cover book hitting the bar supporting the curtains, and knocking it loose from its frame, sending the three objects tumbling down to the floor with a loud clatter and a crash. This, of course, had the added side effect of pouring raw, unfiltered sunlight into the room through the now curtain-less window.
Great. Just. Abso-freaking-lutely. Great.
Mayoi groaned and shoved her head beneath the covers.
Life, as Ranagi had so often reminded her, was not like a detectives novel. If it were, all Mayoi would have to do was turn to the final pages of some book, discover the culprit, and try to match that person’s identity to whoever existed in the real, very live, case. Alas. Life was not that great.
Only a few moments after the ill-advised pillow tossing, Mayoi heard the clatter of dishes drift from the kitchen, along with Nahgi Llewellyn hissing loudly about something.
A second later, Mayoi could hear Kendal talking to her. Kendal? When had she…?
Oh. Right. Not too long before Mayoi had gotten back and… Miri had been asking about magical subspace pockets? Was that a dream or…? Mayoi let out a long groan as she threw her bed sheets towards the foot of the bed and rolled out onto the floor rather loudly.
From the other room, Kendal dryly remarked, “Sounds like sleeping beauty’s up.”
“I resemble that remark!” Mayoi growled at the door, causing laughter to spawn on the other side.
“So, any luck with the briefcase?” Nahgi asked as she poured out a cup of coffee for Mayoi and then handed her the filled mug.
“No,” Mayoi sighed, but gave her former roommate an appreciate smile before taking a sip out of her favorite decorative coffee mug. “Terran was just experimenting with insane math formulas. The one he was working on primarily was…. uh…” She turned her head over her shoulder and called out into the apartment, “What was it again?!”
Lizzy leaned out of the bathroom and replied, “P Versus NP is a hypothetical end-all encryption breaking magical formula that could break any kind of cypher, code, or magical scrambling in an instant.”
“Thank you!” Mayoi called out in return, and then said simply towards the Chief, “Yeah, That.” She shook her head, “Basically, something that’s pretty much impossible without some kind of mass-computation spell or construct.”
“Could it be Golems, maybe?” Kendal asked as she stretched out across the table, obviously waiting for food of any kind to be served.
“I wanna say that seems a little far-fetched, but considering-” Mayoi sighed, “Well, It’d fit right in line with the novel that this all this has been stolen from.”
“Novel?” Nahgi asked, frowning. “What novel?”
“Well, if whoever’s doing this is from my past, then they’ll definitely know that one of my biggest influences after I became a detective was this one particular novel series.” Mayoi paused to take another sip of coffee. “The first book opens up with a magi-mathematician being killed for his work, and the lead detective being called out by a message written in blood. That body was….” She grimaced, “a completely brutal dismemberment. Limbs, legs, and head.”
“That’s really mean,” Miri grimaced, ears flattened against her head, as she exited the bathroom along with Lizzy, Tsukia was nowhere to be seen.
“That was the book you were swearing at last night?” Lizzy asked.
“Yeah,” Mayoi nodded. “I wouldn’t have made the connection if you two hadn’t been reading the second book from that series.” She paused, “Get this,” and then laughed flatly, “in the book? It was the same math problem that Terran was working on. Nine Versus Whatever.”
“Okay. Interesting! But back to the other thing,” Kendal sat up in her seat, “you were saying about a golem?”
“Oh, right,” Mayoi nodded. “Well, the guy had a daughter that he’d transferred her soul into a golem to help her survive an accident. So if Terran was working on a golem to run the program on, that’s another parallel- and a stolen plot hook too.”
“We didn’t see any sign of a golem or parts for one at the scene,” Llewellyn frowned. “Maybe that was what they were looking for?”
“It’d explain why they left the math work in the briefcase, or maybe even planted it,” Mayoi frowned. “They’re taunting me with clues I know are there but can’t prove are there.”
“So the question is, who’s got a big enough grudge against you to do something like this?” Lizzy asked.
“Hell if I know,” Mayoi groaned, and stared into her coffee, hoping for an answer. “But… if there is a golem running about…” She sighed. “We need to dig into Terran’s office life.”
“After we visit your coroner,” Nahgi interjected with a smirk. “That was why I came over. He called and said he was almost done with the autopsy.”
“Can that wait until after breakfast though?” Kendal asked.
“Gotta agree with Kendal, as much as I hate to keep Bones waiting,” Mayoi agreed, propping her elbows onto her table as she lightly rested her coffee cup against her forehead. “I’m hungry.”
“He said there wasn’t any rush, actually,” Nahgi added with a shrug, “told me he was going to eat breakfast himself once he finished. So we can take our time.”
“Great,” Mayoi smirked. “So what’s for breakfast?”
“Leftover Pizza,” Nahgi’s tongue lashed out from side to side in a fit of devilish joker-y.
Mayoi just stared blankly, blinking in that tired way that suggested that she didn’t appreciate the joke. “No. Seriously. What’s for breakfast?”
Nahgi just smiled on and replied, “Just give me a minute to find a pan that’s not dirty, and I’ll fry up some pancakes, how’s that sound?”
“Pancakes! YES!” Kendal let out a cheer of glee that rarely left her mouth these days.
Meanwhile, Tsukia had slipped in quietly, not a single footstep noticed by anyone. Her feet graced the floor almost as if they ignored gravity entirely. And not a single living soul in the room continued to notice her presence until she sat down at the table.
“Cause of death is- drum roll please-” Tyler Obonz reported as he slammed down a hefty report onto the nearest morgue counter top. “Strangulation.”
“He was strangled to death?” Lizzy, who had opted to come with Detective Mayoi and Chief Llewellyn on their visit to the morgue, asked in confusion.
“Yes,” Tyler nodded. “And they covered it up by first cutting his throat to let him bleed out, then by twisting his head off rather than cutting it off with any blade.” He held up the skull of someone who had obviously been of Gnome Descent- Terran’s skull- showing that it had minor fracture marks to both sides of the skull.
“Yeesh,” Mayoi grimaced at the fracture patterns.
“So,” Tyler continued, “whoever or whatever did this was strong. I want to say a transformed Lycan, but there aren’t any claw marks on the skull and weren’t any on the flesh to indicate a really firm grip. So it was either another Gnome, or maybe some construct that did it.”
“Maybe a golem?” Mayoi asked.
“Could be,” Tyler mused for a few moments, then nodded in agreement. “Yeah, I’m not willing to bet a golem DID this, but it could, among other things.”
“Well, so much for that being a dumb theory,” Llewellyn face-palmed. “If it was a golem, we’ve definitely got a copycat killer on our hands.”
“Copycat?” Tyler frowned. “What case does this even match up to?”
“One from a book,” Lizzy supplied helpfully.
“Ah,” Tyler nodded in understanding. “The copycat who reads. The most dangerous kind.” He then paused in putting the skull down where he picked it up from, as something occurred to him, “Also, my earlier assumption was sort of correct. They didn’t completely drain the guy of all of his blood when they tore off the head. They only got about three fourths of it out before they, well,” he coughed once to be polite, “Did the twist.”
“So either they were in a rush, they were just plain impatient,” Mayoi deduced, “or something interrupted them.”
“Izumi’s discovery maybe?” Llewellyn asked.
“Could be,” Mayoi frowned. “Is there anything else, Bones?”
“Nothing much,” He shook his head. “I think there was something jammed down his throat, but whatever it was got removed when the head was pulled off. Ah,” a thought occurred to him suddenly, “actually, that could be why the head did get torn off.”
“That’s odd,” Lizzy frowned. “What was it?”
“No clue, but whatever it was, it managed to keep his throat from being completely crushed by whatever strangled him,” Tyler replied. “The way that throat was torn up by the twisting, they obviously couldn’t remove it before tearing the head off.” He shrugged, “Could be the beheading was to get whatever the thing inside his throat was out of it. I could have probably gotten a more exact shape imprint if the throat was intact more, but it was a lost cause. All I have is a general imprint.”
“Maybe not,” Lizzy smiled. “I know Miri was trying to be an enchanter, but I know she was really great at art! She might be able to help us out.”
“Hmm,” Tyler nodded. “All right, if it’s alright with you, Mayoi, I’d like to ask Miri to try to help with a reconstruction?”
“Give it a try,” Mayoi nodded. “I want to catch whoever did this.”
The Dispatch Office was contained to its own floor in the Mystryal Agency’s main office building- the 10th floor, to be exact. Terran’s office had been in Office #25, and that was where they were now. Mayoi’s skin paled as she saw boxes upon boxes filling up the office. Normally, a dispatcher kept their office rather clean, and in fact, compared to some of the other offices, Terran’s office looked more like a storage locker than an office!
“There’s gotta be at least forty different boxes stacked on top of forty OTHER boxes in here,” Llewellyn scowled. “How did Terran work in this mess?”
“He didn’t,” a different Dispatcher answered as he entered the inter-office hallway space for his shift. “Terran worked at home most of the time. Used the office space for storage rather than work.”
“So, you didn’t know him that well, did you?” Mayoi asked.
“Nope,” The draconian dispatcher held out his hand, “Name’s Dean.”
“Nice to meet you, Dean,” Mayoi shook it. “Did you see Terran at all within the last week or month?”
“Hmm…” Dispatcher Dean mused for a moment. “Yeah, actually, about a couple days ago. He came by asking if anyone had been poking around.”
“Why would he ask that?” Llewellyn asked.
“You’ve got me,” Dean shrugged. “Nobody saw anything, and Terran left after he checked everything. He seemed upset so someone asked him if anything was missing and he said no.”
“What day and time was this?” Mayoi asked.
“Hmm. Sam was on desk duty that day so…” Dean counted in his head. “Probably Wednesday, about lunch hour or so?”
“Thanks for the help,” Mayoi smiled.
“Any time, Captain, Detective,” Dean nodded to each of them in turn, and then returned to his office.
“So,” Llewellyn began with a hissing sigh. “How much do you want to bet we’re going to find nothing of use?”
“Can’t that sight of yours help out?” Mayoi asked.
“Only if Terran kept magical supplies in here,” Llewellyn mused as she shifted into the sight and peered into- “WOAH!” She quickly snapped out of The Sight. “Okay. Was NOT expecting that.”
“What was it?” Mayoi asked, even as Dean and a few other Dispatchers leaned out of their offices.
“Just take a look,” Llewellyn slithered into the office towards a specific box and opened it.
Mayoi looked inside, then whistled, “That is a lot of Heartstones.”
Carefully packed inside the box’s foam filled innards were a dozen glittering gems that were decidedly familiar. Much like the stones that had been used in the zombified harpies back on Egg Roost, these were Heartstones, used for powering golems and magical constructs of various kinds. Unlike the ones that had been recovered from those mutilated harpy corpses, however, these Heartstones were clean and pristine- never been used a day in their entire existence.
“It’s enough to power a dozen golems,” Llewellyn closed her eyes, willingly ignoring the blinding presence of the gems in the box next to her, and searched the room. “I’m not seeing much else besides these. We’ll have to search the rest of these boxes the old fashioned way.”
“Damn, and here I was hoping for an easy day,” Mayoi joked.
“Yeah,” Llewellyn scoffed in a joking way, “here I was thinking I’d not have to spend all day behind a desk.”
Miri looked up from the novel she was reading as a knock came to Mayoi’s apartment door. But, before she could get up or say anything- “I’ll get it!” Kendal went for the door, and answered it a moment later. “Oh, hey, Tyler. Welcome back, Lizzy.”
“Thanks,” Lizzy smiled as she and Tyler entered the apartment. “Hey, Miri! We’ve got a puzzle for you!”
“A puzzle?” Miri asked, putting down her book and looking very interested. “What kind?”
“Well, if you’re up for it,” the boy held up a small imaging gem, “do you think you can help us try to figure out what the hell was inside the vic’s throat when he was strangled to death?”
Miri considered it for a moment, then nodded. “Sure! I’ll give it a go.”
In the back of the apartment, looking out through the crack in the guest room door, Tsukia watched as they settled onto the table and began working on the puzzle before them.
Detective Neia dropped by an hour into the search through the office/storage locker, “Hey, I heard you were looking in Terran’s office today,” She’d began with a light knock on the door before actually looking into the room. “How goes it in he– oh wow that is a lot of boxes!”
“Wow is right,” Mayoi griped from the middle of a room full of expanded diagrams of golem design and various notes of magical and mathematical origin. “Terran was working on trying to create a golem that could pass for a living, breathing, sentient person!” A pause, then she added, “On Request. Someone was paying him to do this!”
“…That’s…” Neia blinked, ears flicking and tail swishing in confusion. “Weird?”
“And he wasn’t getting anywhere with it at all,” Llewellyn held up a sheet to show the Lycan. “Everything was failing. He couldn’t get one golem to work even with five Heartstones. According to the angry notes written on this worksheet, he was going to call it quits and return the money.” She shook her head, “Honestly, it makes sense. I can’t recall Terran ever having a knack for Magic work like this. Even if he spent every hour of the last two years researching it, he’d be far from being an expert.”
“So… what does this even mean?” Mayoi ran her hands through her hair. “Ugh. At this point I’m pretty sure that whoever killed Terran didn’t plan all of this very well. It’s just too easy at this point. It’s like we should be at chapter six instead of chapter three.”
“Well, life isn’t a mystery novel,” Llewellyn reminded her.
“Except for when someone’s stealing the plot from one for their crime spree,” Mayoi reminded in turn. “Which is really why this doesn’t make any sense. With all this stuff in this office, I’m pretty sure I was supposed to figure it out and try to make the connection to the book now, instead of last night,” She frowned. “But what’s the point? Why call me out with a stolen book plot? The murder’s off, the logic of half of the book’s actual twists doesn’t even work for in our world!”
“How’s that?” Neia asked, confused, and slightly concerned by this talk of book plots.
“Well for starters, in the book they’re riffing the plot from,” Mayoi explained, “golems were used simply as vessels for souls to be transplanted into after death.” She then explained for Neia’s benefit, “The world in the book didn’t have a confirmed reincarnation like we do, so yes, while it might sound silly when I explain it like that, it made sense in the book.”
“Okay, so reincarnation through golem is out of the question,” Neia nodded, as if confirming something inwardly to herself. “So what else is wrong?”
“Well, in the book, there was a money trail the heroes were able to follow because the killers didn’t know the victim did his own accounting,” Mayoi frowned. “Huh, did Terran do that?”
“I can run a check?” Neia volunteered.
“No, I’ll do it,” Llewellyn got up off the floor. “Ugh… I could use a break from all this anyways.”
“Oh… okay then,” Neia’s ears flinched backwards in surprise. Because really, who was she to take something away from the Chief of the Agency?
“Well, anyways,” Mayoi continued, “I’m not seeing much of a money trail in the notes here. But if Terran did do his own accounting, then it’s possible that we’ve got a shot at the same trump card clue thing-a-ma-what’s-its.” She grimaced, “Oh Alcor, what did I even just say?! That sentence makes no sense.”
“Just like this case?” Llewellyn asked as she went for the door.
“Just like this freaking case!” Mayoi answered with extra volume.
“Anything else?” Neia asked as she stepped out of the way for the chief to leave, “That’s not matching, I mean?”
“Like the Chief said, Terran never took any golem classes back in the academy that I can remember,” Mayoi continued on. “The guy in the book was an avid developer and producer of golem chassis and the soul matrixes that ran them. Skills that, even hypothetically, would be impossible to learn in two years.”
“So why come to Terran?” Neia asked.
“Hell if I know,” Mayoi scowled. “Could be Terran set everything up himself, though?”
“What?!” Neia let out a pup-ish yelp of surprise. “Why would he do that!?”
“Why does anyone commit suicide?” Mayoi asked. “Could be Terran thought that he was in over his head and knowingly decided to use the similarities of the book plot to whatever is going on, sort of giving us a heads up about what’s going on?” She scowled. “I dunno. I just feel like something is really, really off about this case.”
“Yeah,” Neai nodded, frowning. “I don’t know what’s going on either.”
“Story of the day, my friend. Story of the day.” Mayoi took a moment to sigh, then asked, “Hey, so is Izumi settled in all right?”
“She’s rattled, and everything’s secure at her place,” Neia replied.
“As long as she’s safe,” Mayoi shook her head. “We don’t want the killer waltzing right in through the fire escape, now do we?”
“The model shape is all weird,” Miri frowned as she looked over the holographic image of whatever it was that had been inside their victim’s throat. It was supposedly cylindrical, but also rectangular at the same time. “I can’t tell if it’s meant to be some kind of alchemical tool or some necromantic runestone.”
“You’d be surprised at the overlap in design themes when it comes to wounds in the body,” Tyler shook his head. “So we’re basically running on a stolen book plot, right?”
Lizzy nodded. “Yeah. Looks like it.”
“Okay, so… let’s say this was intentionally left behind as another clue towards the stolen plot that’s going on. Maybe the differences in the cases are the answers we need?” He continued, “Narrow down our range of focus to Constructs. It was constructs, right?”
“Yeah, constructs,” Lizzy nodded once more. “Or Golems, whatever. Same kinda creature, right?”
“So, what’s used in creatures like that?” Tyler asked. They all went quiet, thinking on the subject matter to themselves while Miri played around with the holographic image’s shapes and forms.
“Oh!” And then Miri stumbled upon some shape that made her gasp in recognition, “Heartstones!”
“…Someone shoved a heartstone down his throat?” Kendal’s face scrunched up into a scowl, and then- “OH! Wait. Not One. Try multiple heartstones!”
“Yeah,” Lizzy nodded. “The shape doesn’t work because we’re looking at it as one object!”
Miri adjusted the holographic model to become three or four spherical objects all next to each other in a line, rather than being one solid object. “Huh.” Miri blinked, “That’s actually… kinda mean, when you think about it.”
“I dunno,” Tyler frowned, looking at the projection with interest. “Those seem kinda small for heartstones.”
“Prototypes, maybe?” Lizzy suggested.
“Maybe,” Tyler sighed, and ran a hand through his hair. “But this really doesn’t get us anywhere though.”
“It’s a start, though,” Miri smiled as she saved the current image model. “Is there anywhere on the islands that we can do… like… a comparison search on objects like this?”
“The only place I can think of that we’d have access to during a lock down is back at the Science and Medical lab,” Tyler answered. “There’s a giant storage crystal they use for teaching. It’s got various images stored in it and we could probably just compare the image we just generated here to what’s on record.”
“Awesome! Let’s get going then!” Kendal stood up and grinned.
“Wait! Wait, wait-” Tyler sighed, and face palmed. “Kendal. You DO remember that the Mystryal Academy is one of the most highly secured places in the entire world. Only registered Students, Staff, and Detectives are allowed onto Kono Yisela normally. Plus the fact that the gem we’d be interfacing with is a high priority area, and that the islands are in lock down right now because of a murder… The guards are just as likely to kick me out even with approval.”
“Crap,” Kendal swore, “I forgot about all that.” She then muttered, half under her breath and half sort of intentionally aloud, “Stupid Rules.”
“And we’re still not officially registered as students yet,” Miri said, and then she and Lizzy both sighed at once.
“I’ll take care of it,” Tyler sighed as he took the imaging gem from its spot on the table. “I’ll go find Mayoi or Llewellyn and talk them into letting us access the database gem to compare our model with.”
“I’ll come with you then,” Miri stood up to join him. “I’m kinda tired of sitting around right now anyways. I could go for a walk.”
“That’s not…” Tyler stopped once he saw the look on her face, and then sighed, knowing he couldn’t argue his way out of this one. “Fine. Just stick close, and try not to get lost.”
“We’ll hold down the fort, then,” Lizzy volunteered. “Maybe Mayoi’ll come back here before you can find her, and then we can tell her where you two went.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Tyler nodded.
“Boo,” Kendal huffed, leaning back into her chair as she crossed her arms. “And I wanted to go out on a case!”
“Maybe later?” Miri offered with a smile.
“Meh, Dad’ll never allow it,” Kendal scowled. “He’d….” She shook her head. “You know what. I don’t even care anymore. I’m gonna go for a walk.” And with that- she threw herself out of the chair and strolled for the door. Miri went to say something when Kendal added, “Maybe there’s a restaurant somewhere near where-ever you two are heading. I want something to eat that isn’t left over pizza.”
Miri smiled, “Sure, sounds like a plan to me.”
Tsukia returned to her room, having never said a word.