The field of arson investigation has been one of the more successful specializations of guard forces. There are now entire branches of magic dedicated to legally identifying the cause and source of such blazes.
— When the Fire Burns Blue
Linsan shifted uncomfortably on the back seat of Brook’s car. The shattered glass and twisted metal had been brushed aside to give her as much comfort as she could on the torn and scorched leather. No matter what position she found, a throb or itch from her injuries caused her to find a new location.
Frowning, she scratched the thick pad of bandages wrapped around her upper arm. She could still feel the sting of the stitches the barber had sewn before wrapping them. The hand below her injury shook and she couldn’t help but worry if she had lost the ability to play the violin.
She glanced to the front of the car where Brook sat in the passenger seat. Brook’s eyes never wavered from the smoldering building across the street, even when the barber held her head to the side to finish stitching the wound in her brow. Blood matted her dark hair and streaks of crimson had turned brown as they dried.
The barber, an older man with steady hands, had a shop a few blocks away. He was already running up when the explosion threw Linsan and Brook out of the building but it took a while to look for the most serious injuries and dole out bandages.
By the time he came around again, this time for stitches and poultices, it had been almost an hour. The brigade had put out the fires with a bucket brigade and two talents with water magic. She even saw an old woman with ice powers working her way through the flames.
“There you go, Sweetie,” announced the barber as he stepped back. “There might be a scar, I can’t do anything about that.”
Brook said nothing.
He leaned over to peer at her. “Sweetie?”
She leaned to the side to stare at the fire.
With a sigh, he straightened and turned to Linsan. “Anything, Sunshine? How are those stitches holding up?”
Linsan’s injuries ached and burned but they were properly bandaged and there was no leaking blood. She had a long time to heal but nothing else that could be done at the moment. “I think I’m good, thank you.”
He bowed and then hurried over to the next serious injury.
Linsan returned her attention to the bank. The flames were gone but it continues to smoke and smolder. A guard walked among the ashes; it was a fire fighter judging from his red outfit and the way he picked up blacked hunks of wood with his bare hands. Around him, the air wavered from the heat.
She turned and looked at Brook. Her dark hair was matted with blood. Soot marked her face and hands. Her green dress had been ruined with various cuts, tears, and scorch marks. She scratched her nose with a finger that had ripped free of her glove.
Linsan didn’t know what to say. She reached up to put her hand on Brook’s shoulder but then pulled back. She sighed and shook her head. Brook wasn’t a friend, not after everything that had happened.
“Dame Kabisal?” One of the city guards came up. It was a hawk-faced woman that looked like she couldn’t smile if her life dependent on it. She held a clipboard in her right hand.
“Yes?” answered Brook in a dead-panned voice.
“My name is Tirain Valos, a senior guard here in town. Could you tell me who was in the bank when the explosion started?”
Brook didn’t look away from the blackened ruins. “I already told you.”
“Please? I need to confirm everything.”
“Fine,” she said with a sigh. “Before the three men came, only daddy was working today. Everyone else had the day off to celebrate Salamin Day.”
Linsan had never heard of Salamin but Tirain just nodded and wrote something down. She shook her head and sighed. Then she looked over her shoulder at the ruins and then back again. She cleared her throat before focusing on her words again. “No one else in the building? Are you sure?”
A prickle danced across Linsan’s skin. Tirain was acting as if she had bad news. Linsan’s mind spun furiously over the words until only one answer seemed obvious: they had found a dead body. She inhaled sharply. It had to be Dukan. Trembling, she reached over the back of the seat to rest her hand on Brook’s bared shoulder.
Brook jumped. She turned and looked at Linsan with a strange mixture of shock and horror. Her brown eyes focused on the hand.
“Please, Dame Kabisal. I need to write this today. You said three men. Could you tell me what you know about them? And if anyone else could correlate?”
Linsan held up her other hand, wincing at the pain. “I saw the three guys go in.”
Tirain asked them to describe everything that had happened, including the fight inside the bank. It was tedious and detailed, with the guard asking the same question many times.
By the time the questions trailed off, the fire investigator came walking up. The air shimmered around him as he brushed off embers onto the cobblestones. “Sargent?”
The guard turned to him. “Yes, Mage-Captain Kamel?”
“I have my initial report. You should see this.”
Tirain gestured for him to walk a short distance. Linsan watched warily as they talked among themselves. The feeling that there was bad news only grew as she saw the lines furrowing across the guard’s face.
Brook pushed Linsan’s hand from her shoulder. “Don’t touch me.”
Linsan flinched but pulled her hand back.
“Why didn’t you fight?” Brook’s voice was low and bitter.
With a cringe, Linsan sat back. “I tried.”
“You just stood around.”
“I need an instrument to use my talent. I’ve tried without, but it doesn’t work.”
“I don’t,” Brook said. “I could have stopped them if you were just stronger. If you actually could do anything.”
Linsan sighed and shook her head. “I’m sorry.”
“You should be.” Brook turned away from her.
Tirain returned. “Dame Kabisal?”
“I hate to ask you this, but…” She tightened her grip on her board. “I need you to…”
Linsan finished. “You found a body?”
Brook tensed and her back straightened. “No,” she whispered.
The guard cringed and nodded. “If you can, it would help with the investigation.”
Another cringe. “I’m sorry.”
Brook pressed her fingers against her upper lip. Tears sparkled in her eyes. “No.”
Linsan realized she was crying also. She sniffed and pushed herself up. “Can I help?”
Brook glared at her. “You haven’t seen him for years. What can you do?”
“But I can still try.” Linsan frowned at the truthful words. She didn’t know what Duncan looked like anymore, she just wanted to do something.
With a groan, Brook stood up. She stepped in front of Linsan. “I’ll look,” she announced before she strode toward the bank.
“Um, please be careful, your dress might catch fire,” said Tirain.
The fire mage held up his hand and waved it dismissively. “Everything has cooled down, it won’t even scorch the fabric.”
Tirain gave him a hard look. “And the soot, Kamel da Kasin?” The “da Kasin” meant that he was from Tarsan, country to the east.
Kamel, the fire guard, shrugged. “That will probably make a mess of it.”
“I don’t care,” Brook said sharply and kept walking.
Linsan and the others looked at the scorched, ruined dress. A few more moments in the bank wouldn’t do any more damage to the already ruined material. They followed after Brook.
The smoking ruins were still hot. Heat rippled the air around him. Linsan was surprised how much damage was burn and how much was cracks and shattered stone. She wondered if Brook’s power had contributed to the collapse of the bank.
“In the vault.”
The vault was the only part of the building was was completely surrounded by stone. It had no bricks, just the smooth surface of magically shaped rock. Despite that, much of it had been burned out and everything was a jumble of scorched wood and pieces of paper. The stench was overpowering.
Then she spotted the body. Right in the middle of the floor, there was a charred corpse. At the sight, Linsan felt bile rising up in her throat. “By the Couple,” she whispered.
“I hate to ask, but is there any way of telling us if that was your father?” asked Tirain.
Brook hesitated before she knelt down. She grabbed his wrist.
A stench of burnt meat rose up, choking Linsan. Her stomach heaved for a moment.
Brook let out a groan herself and clutched her stomach. With a trembling her hand, she turned the body’s corpse over to show the blackened bracelet. “That’s Daddy’s,” she said in a quiet, dull voice. “The other half of the pair is at home.”
She shook as tears splashed down on the charred ground. Lifting herself up, she held her dress off the ground before stepping and then knelt down on the other side. She pointed to his ring. “That’s also Daddy’s.”
Tirain nodded and wrote quickly in her notebook.
Brook patted the corpse’s pockets. ” He should have his auto-driver activation gear here…” Her voice trailed off for a moment as she finished tapping his pocket. With a sicking groan, she reached over to test his other.
Linsan circled around, fighting the urge to vomit. She couldn’t look at Brook or the corpse. Instead, she focused on the ruins inside the vault. There were destroyed shelves everywhere, thousands of boxes destroyed in the flames.
Her foot thudded against a box. She pulled back and then realized it was familiar. Memories came rushing back. It was the wooden case she had found in the attic. The heavy wood was scorched and blackened but it had survived with relatively little damage.
She knelt down and touched the warm surface. She cringed as she opened up the top and let it fall back.
Kamel cleared his throat.
She looked up.
He shook his head.
Brook sighed. “I can’t find his auto-driver key. That would be more proof.”
Tirain sighed and wrote on her clipboard. “Two pieces of identification is sufficient. Could I summon a wagon to take you home to verify against the other piece?”
Brook stood up. “I guess,” she said. Her eyes scanned the room before fixating on Linsan. Then a deep frown furrowed her brow. “Yes, let’s go. I need to get away.”
Linsan sighed. She looked down at the box. She could see the letters inside, the edges burnt but the names still visible.
The one thing she didn’t see was Palisis. There wasn’t even charred wood or ashes inside. Only an empty space where the nearly priceless violin would have been stored.
Her ears pounded as she stared at it. She squatted down to inspect the case.
“Dame, you need to also go,” said Kamel. He had approached.
“It isn’t here,” Linsan said as she felt her throat growing tight.
“What isn’t here?”
“Palisis. M-My father’s violin. It was right here.”
“Maybe it burned up?” He said even as he was squatting down himself. His bare hands ran along the velvet inside the case. When he flipped up his finger, it only had a few motes of dust clinging to the tip. He looked around at the damage, obviously looking for it. “Maybe it fell out.”
She glanced at him. He had a scruff of a beard just staring to color his cheeks. His hair was short but there was a strong scent of old smoke and wood; after so many years of visiting the ruined workshop, she knew the smell by heart.
After a few seconds of peering around, he shook his head. “Maybe it wasn’t. I don’t see any metal from the body or anything in the right shape. You’re right. If it was here, there would be signs. Maybe your father removed it?”
“No, we wouldn’t have touched it. It was precious to my family. No one would have ever sold it. I thought I saw it in May’s bag but I couldn’t believe it. But… but… it’s not here.”
She blushed. “I-I don’t know his full name. He was one of the robbers that attacked us. I… told the other woman.”
“Tirain is her name.” The guard sighed and shook his head. “Well, I need to report this. But right now, I have more questions. Is your family in town? Where do you live?”
She reflexively gave her name and address.
“Sterlig?” His voice grew sharper. “You had a fire a few years ago. A workshop or store? I remember it being outside of town.”
She sniffed and nodded.
He straightened. “Come, I’m going to take you home. I have more questions.”