April 1st, 1619.
The Willow’s Misty Branch was once a might and proud library. Now, it was nothing more than a smoldering ruin. A skeleton of what once was. A repository of knowledge was gone. A place of learning… now nothing more than ash beneath the feet of those treading the ground.
Myler Willow stood upon the ashes of his Library and mourned its loss. His wife, sons, and daughter busied themselves by searching for any books that might have survived the blaze. But it had been so complete- so thorough- that Myler doubted that any would be found.
He was but a humble human man who wanted to run a library and help the future generations learn of what came before… now, his dreams were dashed upon the ground and his heart felt… empty.
Kaitlyn, his beautiful Sylph wife, came up to touch her hand upon his shoulder. “Myler, are you sure you’re okay doing this today? We could put it off for later…”
“No,” he said, his voice creaking under the strain like a burnt timber that had once supported the roof of his Library. “I’m not okay, but it needs to be done if we’re to rebuild.” And that was a pipe dream. Really, it was. This particular Library was gone. Even if he rebuilt… he would not do it here. Too many bad memories. Too many opportunities that were now wasted.
“Of course, the sooner the better I sup…” Kaitlyn paused as she saw Eugene approach the library’s entrance. “Oh! Eugene!”
“Hey, I’m back,” he said, glancing around for Aysha, who was busy talking with her older brother, Ken. “I got Mystryal to take the case. They’re coming just as soon as they can. They should be here any minute now.”
“That’s incredible!” Kaitlyn smiled, hugging her husband by the arm. “Did you hear that, Myler?”
“I did.” If only he could be so hopeful as to believe that the culprit could be caught. No doubt whoever was insane enough to burn down a library would be long gone by now.
“What’s incredible?” His other son, Russel, approached them, wiping some soot off of his hands with his shirt.
“Mystryal is coming,” Kaitlyn told her Spriggain son. “They’ll make sure to solve this arson case as soon as possible!”
“That’s…” Russel blinked- his crimson eyes welling up with clear excitement. “That’s incredible! I can’t wait to meet them!”
“Eugene!” Aysha ran over then, having seen her boyfriend return. “You’re back!” She gave him a hug- tight, but not one quite as tight as his cousin would give.
“Yeah, I am,” He nodded. “Liv’s class is coming to help.”
“That’s great,” Ken spoke as he approached behind Aysha- his gruff voice booming with anticipation of revenge. “Seeing whoever did this put behind bars will ease the pain of this loss. I can assure you that.”
“Yes, yes,” Russel rolled his eyes, refusing to meet his older brother’s piercing blue gaze. “But I’m more excited to meet the detectives! When will they get here?”
“Right now, as a matter of fact,” spoke an attention grabbing voice. The family and one boyfriend all turned to see Ahr’tur Llewellyn leading his class into the Library ruins. “This is quite the mess, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is,” Myler nodded. “Hopefully we can–” He stopped as everyone heard a shrill squeal emanating from the back of Russel’s throat.
The poor Spriggain was staring with wide, taken back eyes as he recognized just who had shown up to the crime scene. Ken nudged his younger brother in the shoulder, snapping him out of it.
“Oh my- By the Creators! You’re him! I mean- You’re actually him, aren’t you?” Russel asked, staring at Mr Llewellyn. “You’re the Researcher who found the Ruby Heartstone! Ahr’tur Llewellyn!”
“I, uh…” The man was taken back by his being recognized for such an oddly specific feat. “Yes! I am, as a matter of fact. A fan of mine?”
“Russel’s a complete fan of anything historical from the Cataclysm era,” Aysha answered for her brother. “You should have seen him when he read the paper a few months back and found out that the rumors were true and that some thieves had actually stolen Kyiahlnah’s lost treasury.”
“Erm,” Russel worked at his collar, “I just thought it was a shame that the historical societies can’t get access to it all.”
“Well, the people behind that ended up dead, so,” Detective Kaie quipped, which got Ahr’tur to glare at him. “Maybe someday, eh?”
“Yes, maybe…” Ahr’tur shook his head. “Anyways. May I have a look around?”
“Yes, of course,” Russel said, stepping forwards with the offer of, “I could give you the tour? Er, of what’s left of the place, anyways.”
“That would be appreciated.” Ahr’tur nodded, then glanced at his students. “Why don’t you all ask some questions and see what you can dig up.”
“Yes, Sir!” Elise answered with a nod.
And so, as soon as Ahr’tur Llewellyn was out of hearing range, Eugene glanced at Mikari and asked, “Is he always that intimidating?”
“Pretty much,” Alec said, absently glancing around the burnt down library as if he were casually observing.
“Yuup,” Mikari agreed.
“And that’s him trying to repress it, too,” Kaie remarked.
“So…” Aysha began, “where do we start, with this?”
“The Main question, I suppose,” Mikari began, “is if you guys have had any problems with anyone who’d want to burn the place down?”
“No,” Kaitlyn shook her head. “Myler’s always been loved by the community. And I haven’t had any problems with anyone personally in years. Ken?” She looked to her oldest son.
“I haven’t had any problems myself,” Ken mused, “but we did have a break-in at the metalwork shop a while back.”
“A break in?” Mikari asked, frowning. “Was anything stolen?”
“Just some new flash forge molds for a chess set a client requested, and a welding mask.” Ken shrugged. “No idea why someone’d want to steal a welding mask for. They’re not that expensive, and ours aren’t any more special than the ones the blacksmith uses. Hell, we both source them from the same supplier who deals with metal workers all across the world. There’s nothing unique about the mask.”
Mikari frowned, glancing at Kaie, who frowned as well. The flash molds were likely what the explosive crystals had been made in. The welding mask- maybe an item of opportunity? Maybe part of a disguise?
“Who would know about the molds?” Elise asked.
“Hrm,” Ken frowned, musing, “not many people. Just the Client, the people who work at the shop, and the associated families.”
“Was there anything special about the chess set?” Elise continued, “Like, was it to be made out of special metals, or…?”
“Not really,” Ken shook his head. “It’s just a variation on the usual chess set molds we use- the client wanted something themed for their waiting room. It would use the same metals as any other chess-set, really.”
“What company?” Mikari asked, interrupting Elise’s next question.
“Ah,” Ken scratched at the side of his head, trying to remember. “Some doctor, I think? Savee… Savage… Savant?” He nodded, “Yeah, that was it, Dr. Jamie Savant.”
“So what was it themed after, exactly?” Mikari asked.
“No idea, I didn’t work on those molds directly,” Ken shook his head. “I’m more of a large statue person, myself.” He saw Alec raising an eyebrow, and corrected, “I mean, I work on the large statue designs, not the smaller stuff.”
“Ah,” Alec nodded. “Gotcha.”
“So, do you think there’s a connection?” Eugene asked, as he linked his hand with Aysha’s. “Between the theft and this fire?”
“Not likely,” Alec shook his head.
“Maybe,” Elise mused.
“Definitely,” Mikari nodded.
Her other two classmates turned to look at her, Alec specifically, raising an eyebrow as he asked, “Why’s that?”
“You heard how Mr. Llewellyn described that crystal Eugene brought to us,” Mikari said. Upon getting a blank stare from Alec, she sighed, and repeated their teacher, “They’re ‘carved from specially grown pieces of crystal- typically something from a Chess Set’, which we just learned molds for one was stolen- er,” she looked to Ken, “how long ago was that robbery again?”
“Last month, uhh,” Ken tried to recall exactly when, “probably around the sixteenth?”
“That’s probably long enough of a time span for whoever made them to build up a stock pile of them,” Elise noted, her voice full of concern.
“We could be looking at a wide-spread attack,” Alec gulped, ears twitching nervously. “What if this is just the start?”
“It probably is,” Kaie agreed, “but why start here?” He and Mikari already had their suspected answer, but they still had to come at this like they didn’t suspect it was a trap- mostly so that way they could spring the trap on their own time.
“What kind of crystal was it, exactly?” Myler asked, speaking for the first time since the detectives arrived.
“Zy…Zygardian?” Alec frowned, trying to remember.
“Zyparian,” Mikari corrected him. “Mr. Llewellyn told us they were banned after the Cataclysm war.”
“Ah,” Myler’s face scrunched up as he wracked his memories for what he knew of the subject… And he remembered something. “Well, I’d recently gotten a book in on that subject- supposedly, it had a chapter on how to neutralize them safely, but I hadn’t gotten that far into it before the Library-” he choked up, eyes meeting his wife’s in concern. “You don’t think that whoever burned the Library might have been trying to destroy the book, do you?”
“Who could have known about it?” Kaitlyn asked.
“Half the people I talk to for book acquisitions knew I’d gotten it,” Myler answered her. “And I stupidly made no attempt to keep it hidden when we all went out to dinner last week. I was talking so excitedly about it, anyone there could have heard that I’d had it and come to the Library trying to destroy it, or steal it—” And then a thought came to him. “Wait. No. It might not have been here.” He turned to his wife, “Did you see it back at home last night?”
“You leave so many books around, I might have.” Kaitlyn replied, smiling. “What did it look like?”
“Its cover was dark brown, with gold trim around the edges,” Myler described.
“I did see that, actually!” Ken spoke up, “Last night when Aysha returned, I had to move some books off the kitchen table so she could put her bag down. I put it on your reading desk!”
“The book might still be there, then,” Myler said, eyes widening with hope. “We have to hurry. If that book was the real reason this fire was set then whoever is after it might go there next trying to find it.”
“Lead the way,” Detective Kaie said with a nod. “We’ll follow.”
And so they left in a rush, not once thinking for a moment to fetch Ahr’tur Llewellyn or Russel Willow to bring them along.
And that was just fine for the Lamia being most-definitely lead into a trap by the Spriggain.
“You know,” He began, interrupting whatever it was Russel was rambling on about, “there are very few people who even acknowledge that I was the one who retrieved that Heartstone. Who did you hear about it from?”
“Oh, ah, Bell,” Russel answered, caught off guard by the question. “Rodney Bell mentioned it in one of his old treatises.”
“…” Ahr’tur narrowed his eyes as he tried to work out timing math of it all… And thus, attention divided between the problem and watching Russel’s facial expressions for any tells, he failed to see someone sneaking up behind him and slamming the broad side of a shovel into the back of his head.
CLANG! And down he went.
“About time you made yourself useful!” Russel hissed as Ahr’tur hit the ground none too silently. “Did you have to wait until the last possible moment to do anything?!”
“Well, excuse me, little sir starts-a-fire!” His accomplice hissed back in return, mocking him with a well deserved scorn. “We didn’t plan for the boy to bring THAT many detectives- let alone a Lamia with the sight! Let alone THIS particular Lamia!! He could have spotted me through my invisibility cloak at any moment. I had to be careful.”
“Whatever!” Russel growled as he bent down to pick up Ahr’tur by the shoulders. “Now help me get him down to the bunker, so we can start phase two of the plan.”
“Phase two?” His accomplice laughed as they helped him do so, grabbing the Lamia by the tail, “No, my dear little fire-starter, we’re already on phase three.”
“Then the other side…?” Russel didn’t dare finish his question for fear of jinxing it.
“Has taken the crystals and assembled them into the Checkmate,” His accomplice flashed a toothy grin. “We’re just waiting for the beacon you left for them to find to be shelved in the Archives.”
“Good,” Russel said, feeling hopeful as they finally started moving forwards. “Maybe this endeavor won’t be such a complete waste of time after all.”
“Hold up a second,” Mikari pulled Eugene and Aysha to the side while everyone else went into Myler and Kaitlyn’s house to search for the book. “I need to ask you two to do something for me. Something really important.”
“What’s that?” Eugene asked.
“Why me?” Aysha asked, frowning.
“I need you-” she pointed to Eugene, “to drop Aysha off at the nearest door to the Cat’s Cradle.”
“Woah, wait, what?” Eugene blinked. “Why?”
“Because I need her to deliver a message to either Hergie or Hecate,” Mikari continued.
“You want me to speak to one of the Creators?” Aysha asked, eyes widening in disbelief.
“Why not me?” Eugene asked.
“Because you’ll be returning to Mystryal and doing two things,” Mikari said. “The first is simple enough, Check up on Olive and see what she’s found on her end of things.”
“Easy enough,” Eugene nodded, “and the other thing?”
“I need you to find a Lycan girl, Ayako Mayoi, you met her before, briefly, back in Lightsygn with the randomly appearing sphere.” Mikari continued, “Aya’ll be in the public hospital visiting a girl who’s going to give birth, her name is Miri Nori.”
“Find Ayako Mayoi and… Miri Nori? Right, got it,” Eugene nodded. “And then?”
“You need to tell her to go back to my place and get something Lizzy’s been experimenting with,” Mikari continued. “It’s like a hand-held version of the device that brought that sphere across the world. She should know what it is just by the look of it. I need you to get it from her, and then bring it to me as soon as possible.”
“Why do you need that?” Eugene asked.
“Because I’ve got a feeling we might be walking into a trap somewhere with this case, and I’d like an escape plan in case things go sideways,” Mikari admitted.
“A trap?” Aysha gasped, “Why??”
“Because my friends and I might have pissed Kyiahlnah off in the past and she could be coming for revenge?” Mikari shrugged. “Who knows. All I know is that this is all really, really suspicious.” She paused, and then added, “And if Ayako doesn’t believe you, ask her to bring you to Chief Nahgi Llewellyn, and tell her everything that’s gone on so far.”
“…” Eugene processed this, and then nodded. “Alright, that’s doable.”
“If this thing is so necessary, why didn’t you bring it with you to begin with?” Aysha asked.
“Because I didn’t even think of needing it until now,” Mikari shook her head. “It was stupid. I should have thought to grab it but I was so flustered already with the mere idea of walking into a trap- then running into Kendal and finding out Miri’s pregnant and…” She planted her hands into her face, and groaned. “I’ve been stuck in a classroom for the last eight months and haven’t done any field work,” she admitted, looking Aysha in the eyes. “This is the first case I’ve worked in a while and I’m nervous- alright? I’m scared I’m going to screw something up and I feel like I already have, somehow- and-” she started to wobble on her feet.
“Woah, easy there,” Eugene said, reaching out to stabilize her. “Are you okay?”
“No…” Mikari shook her head. “I’ve been fending off this bad feeling all day and it’s just gotten worse since you showed up with the crystal.”
“Yeah, I know that feeling,” Eugene sighed, looking at Aysha, who was staring at Mikari in concern. “Alright. We should get going. What are you going to tell the others?”
“That I sent you out on an errand to bring me something important,” Mikari answered. “Which is the truth, really, but… hopefully they won’t dig too deeply into it.”
“Okay. Count me in,” Aysha nodded. “What’s the message I’m supposed to deliver?”
Myler cheered in success as he found the book on his desk. “Yes! This is it!” He picked it up and opened it, “Now we just have to…” His excitement dropped off in a heartbeat.
“What is it?” Kaie asked.
“…It’s not the right book.” Myler said as he dropped it to the ground.
“What?” Everyone turned to look at the book as the illusion spell around it shattered- revealing that it had been some random other book disguised to look like the one they’d been hunting for.
“…Well,” Alec took a deep breath, then exhaled slowly. “Somebody should have seen that coming.”