Chapter One - Ad Hoc

"I’m in such a good mood today that I might even crack a smile." - 'Old Man' Harris, Pawn Stars

"Well," Marrik said as he stared across the store counter at a man half-carrying half-dragging a wood carved statue taller than he was through the store's front entrance. "That's not something I see every day. Need help?"

The man dragging the statue shook his head before finally setting it upright. "I heard you take exotics from Star City?" A nod from Marrik before he looked up and down the Statue. As if this were a prompt to elaborate, the man that brought it in spoke, "I found it near what my map calls 'Big Bang Burgers,' but not there. It was like three buildings from there in a back room.

Another nod as Marrik looked down while straightened his shirt, seemingly using the action to hide the frown forming on his face. When he looked at the customer again he spoke with a practiced ease, "Well the problem isn't provenance since even if this were a modern reproduction it's obviously got enough work put into it to have some value." A hopeful smile briefly flicked on the customer's face before Marrik's next words wiped it clean. "The problem is not a lot of people want a seven foot tall carved statue, and there's only so much room I have in holding. I can call a buddy in from Centerdale, but that'd take a few days for mail to run, more for him to get up here, and... how long're you in town Sir?" Marrik asked as his mismatched blue and green eyes looked into the customer's brown eyes. "I only as since I saw you in here last week in the Outfitter section, and Roy said you were after him pretty hard."

The man made a dismissive wave with his left hand, "No worries. The scavenging trip went pretty well." Before Marrik could do more than open his mouth the man continued, "Most of what I found is actually going back home with me. Purely decorative items, a few odds and ends here and there. It's just this thing's..." His head shook, "It's too big to lug back and would take up too much space in the wagon."

Either the customer chose to ignore or outright couldn't tell the small gestures Marrik started making with his left hand were magically related. The man only saw the fingers on Marrik's left hand curl, uncurl, and then move in sequences as the store owner squinted at the statue. These finger motions got more complicated until Marrik stopped and spoke, "There are three doors on this thing that require a little magical finagling to open."

"Do you have to call a lock breaker?" The man asked, "Would you be able to open it before totally passing over, or what?"

As Marrik stepped over to the customer side of the counter he smiled, "Tell you what. I'll pay you, here and now in cash money what this is worth as a pre-war art piece. If there is anything of value inside I'll leave it up to you if you want to sell or keep those. Sound fair? I mean its your stuff do with as you want, but I'm saving you from getting this thing back out of here even if it turns out to be empty."

"This is true," The man said. "So what sounds fair to you?"

"Without having an appraiser on hand?" Marrik ran a finger over the smooth surface of the statue. It looked like carved wood, but felt almost like glass to the touch as opposed to finely sanded or even lacquered. "Three Fifty." He held up his right hand as his left traced along the statue's lines and curves. "It could be worth a lot more, but it could also be worth next to nothing especially after I try forcing the compartments open. So I'm taking a pretty hefty gamble here."

Several moments passed before the guy nodded. "Lets do it."

Paperwork was signed. Money changed hands before Marrik gestured for the man to stand back. Once that was done Marrik's legs widened, his posture changed as his arms moved, one forward, the other behind with his hand swept up towards his head. The man watched as he moved from this position to others, each much like pieces of a dance, or perhaps slow-motion demonstration of different hand to hand techniques.

Marrik's hands moved, palm forward, to hit the statue at two points, and then a third, and then he stood straight. His feet touching. It was as if the statue waited for the sound of his heels clicking together as its sign to respond, which it did so by opening in three different places. Each drawer only popping open slightly and just enough to be pulled open. Two of these contained old coins, jewelry, documentation and pictures.

The Third contained several books, each with midnight blue bindings. None had titles on their covers, but for all their generic appearance to mundane eyes Marrik's breath caught when he saw them. "These..."

The man watched, waiting on the store owner's verdict.

"These," Marrik said as his fingers ran along the spine of one of the books, "Are technically illegal to own privately."

"Necromancy?" The man asked. His lips twitched downward as he considered the implications.

A nod from Marrik, "The other two drawers seem to have more than enough for you to cart home and sell off piecemeal whenever you find a jeweler. I shouldn't pay you anything for the books since I'll have to report those for proper disposal, but I'll take them off your hands anyway since you're being a fairly good sport about all of this. Might never see you again, you might be a regular in the making. Either way pleasure doing business so far."

"Yea the less I have to do with them the better." The man said as he took the contents of the other two drawers and, without thinking, closed both. Marrik hadn't realized this as he was busy inspecting the books. It was only after the man left that Marrik looked up from his inspection of each. The books found their way into the holding room separate from the statue itself. As Marrik half-drug the statue into the room he noticed the drawers remained closed, which seemed to please him.

When he walked back to the front counter he paused by a record player he had in the corner and flipped the disc over. It was a recent attempt at re-creating pre-war 'Electronica,' though Marrik only knew the term from a book. It was an odd sound, but he liked it well enough and its peppy beat suited his mood. Good customers were hard to find and more valuable than the money they spent.

More customers came, some to buy what others left, and others to buy from the section of the store dedicated to 'outings' according to the sign. This section had what most would consider camping supplies; tents, sleeping bags, backpacks, books on knots, first aid, basic useful-to-know minor magics. It was while he was putting a fresh stack of books into this section that Marrik heard the sound of rapid wing beats in his store. Many from out of town would mistake the noise for a hummingbird, but Marrik merely went about his task until the source of the noise landed on top of the shelf he was working at.

He looked up and saw a woman, perfectly human like with only a few minor details such as pointed ears, cat-like eyes, pink hair, and being only a handful of inches tall alongside the delicate dragonfly wings poking out of the back of her work clothes pointed at her being out of the ordinary.

"Sparks," Marrik sighed at the sprite, "Urgent?" He offered a spot on his shoulder for the sprite to land on while he walked to the recent aqquisitions room. He had little to no interest in airing out anything that might have come in the post at the front counter. When he walked inside he gestured for Sparks to land on the statue he had recently drug in there before frowning at one of the now slightly open drawers.

"Eeeeh, just a couple letters from your parents," The diminutive lady chirped as she pulled two envelopes, each as long as she was tall, out of pocket-space within the shoulder bag sized to her proportions. Marrik did not seem in the least disturbed by the apparent impossibility of anything fitting in a bag that small as he took the offered letters. "Nothing on your requests from Newport, and they're sacking us effective end of the month." Sparks pulled a pamphlet from her shoulder bag to hand to Marrik.

"What? Sacked, as in the entire courier outfit?" Marrik set the letters aside before unfolding the pamphlet. "Effective on the Seventh all non-human couriers will be retired." His voice grew increasingly filled with anger as he continued reading, "At which time we will transition to an automated sorting mechanism. This is for your convenience and the safety of your packages. This brochure will detail any and all changes we expect you to have to make during the change-over." Anything else that might have been written was ignored in favor of throwing the pamplet away, not even bothering to watch as magic crushed then guided it into a garbage can near the door. "What is this garbage?" He demanded of no-one in particular. "Why wasn't the commerce association notified?"

"Because," Sparks said with more than a touch of anger in her voice as she settled onto the top of the statue, "city post is a civil service, not commercial." Her legs swung as she sat there looking at the storage room. "We've got a week before they start 'transitioning,'" More scorn was invested into that word than the rest, "Frank's gone on record saying the new system's prone to jams, needs constant tending to, and doesn't do half of what we do either."

With Frank's name mentioned, Marrik's posture changed and his voice grew more interested. "Wow, last guy I figure to ever stand up for you. I mean wasn't Frank the one that kept calling you guys thieves and beggars?"

"Frank's always been solid for what helps productivity." Sparks said in response while looking down at Marrik from her perch. "He's the reason we had better sleeping arrangements put in right before you rolled into town. He still complains, but yea." She trailed off while still looking Marrik over. "So now I'm trying to figure out where as many of us can go."

"Well, if they're just getting rid of most of you, won't it be a good idea to try staying with your customers til you can think of something different? Surely you guys don't each much. It can't be a burden." Marrik continued speaking even as he walked back to the front counter. "I'd be willing to take you in. You've been a pretty solid friend."

"It's.... not that simple." Sparks began, "'ang on, customer coming in." Her wings buzzed to life before she took to the air.

"How?" Marrik looked at the diminutive sprite as she buzzed along. Then, switched gears when he noticed the customer walking in and waved them through. "Sorry about that, minor hiccup with the mail system, anything I can do for you sir?"

The man shrugged before setting several heavy gold rings on the counter. "I got these while out and-"

Marrik held a hand up to stop the man. "Jewelry is tricky since those look fairly new. Now I'm not trying to say that whatever story you're about to tell isn't going to end up as true, but Jewelry is easily stolen, plus that one right there." He pointed to a silver ring with a large onyx with sapphires clustered along the band. "Those are still being made. Unless you have some kind of documentation I'm taking all the liability in case they're stolen."

"Uh," The man paused, his face flicking through annoyance, anger, and then finally resignation. "It's just the jewelry you have problems with?" It would be clear by how the man breathed and his posture he was still clearly annoyed and was making effort at choosing his words.

"Jewelry, guns are a flat no," Marrik ticked points off on his left hand as he explained as calmly as he could to the clearly annoyed customer what the situation was. "Magical items are a case by case basis. Mostly depending on how hard they are to trigger and any sort of artistic or historical value. I take a bounty on books on necromancy, ritual magic, and other borderline illegal material so I can then turn over for study or destruction." He then laid his hand, palm down, on the counter. "I don't mean to make this hard but say you got these from a guy in town, and even if you didn't realize they were stolen, I'm left with stolen goods I then have to hand over even though I've already bought them off you."

"Oh... Right then," The man fished about for his wallet and set a typed card on the counter. "Permit I got before poking around Star City, would that be paperwork enough?"

"It's definitely better than nothing," Marrik conceded after looking the rectangle of paper over, even holding it to lamp light, showing flecks of thread and other material only visible when light was shown through the paper. "I still have concerns so I'm going to see if a buddy of mine is able to swing by. He knows jewelry a lot better than me." He gave a short whistle. "Sparks you still in?"

The humming-bird buzz was the customer's only real warning about Sparks as she flew to the store's counter. "Whatcha got Boss?"

"What is that and why is it talking?" The man scowled at Sparks, who scowled back at him.

"Look here," Sparks began before Marrik put a finger on her shoulder.

"Mail-Sprite. Licensed courier and trained message runner. Technically she's bonded to City, but considering I'm her Primary so long as I don't intrude on her work schedule she tends to work out of here since it makes less paperwork for the post office to deal with if she can go site to site instead of through them for everything."

"...And she doesn't steal anything?" The man asked in disbelief.

"Pardon?" Marrik and Sparks both asked in unison.

The man looked from Man to Sprite then back. "So long as your pet is well behaved I guess it can't hurt."

"Take your stuff and get out." Marrik said without hint of anger in his voice. "There's a guy about two blocks down that deals primarily in jewelry."

"But," The man's posture shifted at the look Marrik was giving him. "I'm right here."

"Sir," Marrik said, voice still calm as he leaned forward. "I have a feeling this won't end on a good note if you stay. Please leave. I don't appreciate how you're talking about my friend here."

"Well," The man started to gather his rings, "If you're sure then I guess that's that." He left without any fuss or further trouble.

Only when the door closed and both were sure the man wasn't going to march back in did Marrik rub his face with his hand. "Possibly the biggest sale of the day and the guy just had to be a racist."

"Win some, you lose some right Boss?" Sparks said as she flew to rest on Marrik's shoulder. "I saw a few new books in the holding room. Gonna do any reading after you close up?"

A laugh from Marrik, "You know Necromancy's illegal, but til I turn them over those books are in my care and I really should make sure they're in good shape."

Chapter 2: Shadow Boxing

When the store closed Marrik's day was not done. Sparks watched as he checked the day's sale list against that morning's inventory before checking both against what was currently on display. It was a tedious process, but necessary to tell what might have been lost to shop lifting, and what had just been picked up then put back in a wrong section by browsing customers. There were always the few odds and ends pieces that would end up with one or two missing. These low value small objects were annoying when lifted from the store, but he has been lucky that nobody had tried taking any of the more one of a kind pieces on display. Few were stupid to try stealing a blasting rod if they didn't know if it would go off if they tried shoving it in their pants when nobody was looking. Even fewer seemed interested in trying after stories started making the rounds about a guy who literally lost the clothes on his back, along with the rest of him, when he tried. Marrik would neither confirm nor deny this, but it did help cut down on attempted theft.

To get to the building's basement anyone would have to go into the short term storage room and roll a rug to one side and lift a trap door. As Marrik started down the ladder Sparks hovered at the entryway. "Hey you gonna be alright down there Boss?"

"What," Marrik grinned back up at her. "Still don't want to come see my hobby room?"

"So long as it's a hole in the ground I can't fly out of? Nope!" Sparks smiled back and started to push the trap door closed. Then stopped before it was far enough to fall closed, "Hey you want me to let Cass in if she shows up?"

"Sure why not? I doubt she'll show, she's gotten several new Major Arcanea cards so she'll probably be tinkering with her deck, but if she shows she shows. You staying long?"

"Just til curfew. I still have a job, at least for a little while longer." Sparks then eased the trap door shut, leaving Marrik to climb down the short ladder into a dimly lit basement. Unlike the rooms above it was lit by glow stone rather than lamp light.

He looked to the book shelves to either side of the ladder and shook his head. Both were mostly empty and what books were there were battered third hand copies scavenged and repaired. He made a small gesture with his left hand, muscles rippling and tendons moving barely enough to make fingers witch, but it was enough for his magic to flow into and be directed by.

A table at the far end of the room pulled closer to one of the chairs he had managed to get down here. As he walked a cluttered work table he pulled one of the midnight blue books from his shoulder bag and sat the rest on the table he had just moved before seating himself. "Alright Mister Ian Woon," He spoke while flipping through pages. "Let's see if this book of yours is anything I can use."

More micro-gestures and Marrik had a trio of paper targets set against a far wall as he flipped through the book's pages. He then used his other hand to grab a book from beside the ladder and open it. Holding one book beside the other he compared diagrams and instructions. "Hey," He paused, looking at a familiar pair of legs as someone climbed down the ladder. "Cass, you mind taking a look at this?"

The woman adjusted her skirt then jacket once she was off the ladder. "Marrik you know I can't make heads nor tails of those books." She said with more than a touch of exasperation.

"Well would you mind if I try using you as a sounding board at least?" When Cass took her jacket off and sat in the other chair in the room he continued." So this book" Marrik held up the blue book he had gotten that day," Seems mostly like this one," He lowered the blue book and held up the other. "Problem is where they're different almost seems contradictory. I'm almost afraid to try since what Woon," Again holding up the blue book, "writes here acts like it's the only and absolute way."

"Any chance it could be designed to trip up newbies?" Cass asked while propping her feet up on a foot rest.

"Doubtful," Marrik explained, "Both are definitely from pre-war locations, and you just don't put traps in textbooks without putting a leading question in to make the student look at it as a problem instead of a guide."

"Check to make sure Amnion isn't either writing for Generalist or another elemental school?" Cass asked, "You made that mistake before with remote manipulation."

A pause as Marrik let both books drop before ruefully shaking his head and checking the older of the two books. "Well there's the problem," Another head shake before more magic and a little flexing sent the book to rest back in its place on the book shelf. "Generalist verses Specialist. Pity whoever had this thing didn't include lecture notes because it doesn't explain the why of anything."

"Well I guess that is a bit of a problem. Want to give it a try?" Cass asked, setting her feet back on the floor and leaning forward to watch Marrik stand. She watched as his stance widened and his arms slowly moved. He spoke each step as he made the appropriate motions. At the end of it the first target disintegrated, once wide paper yellowing with age before crumbling, and even the fragments fragmenting further until it became dust that slowly continued drifting ground-ward.

"Feeling alright?" Cass looked from target to Marrik then back just in time to see the second target disintegrate.

After the third target turned to dust Marrik allowed himself to smile. "That is so much easier and less messy than kinetic force spell work."

"Less messy til it's an actual person." Cass said as reminder. Then, seeing Marrik's face pale she asked, "So what's so different about a couple different motions? Just looking at the new form in action it looks like your average shove."

That turned Marrik's attention to something less gruesome. "Well it is a case of those extra and different motions causing me to pull in different energy," He explained. "Best I can describe is this. You need your morning tea right?"

"Yea?" Cass confirmed even though there was a note of curiosity in her voice.

"Imagine if you had to start the day with water." Marrik chuckled at the unamused expression on the lady's face. "Sure it's going to get you through and it's just fine, but if you're used to all the everything tea has and having to make do with something else, you're not going to get the same results. Best guess is the different shifts are needed to tap the right energy."

This caused Cass to nod, "Noticing the stands the targets are on aren't all banged up either. You're getting better at control. Good."

"Well," Marrik admitted, "It isn't me trying to shove one type of energy type through a conduit designed to work for another energy type. I could probably go for a few more repetitions. Make sure I have this."

Three more targets fluttered from where their stack on the shelves into place as Marrik skimmed further in. "Ah, here we are." He settled back into his chair.

"Was hoping there'd be some kind of explanation in the back. Now we're getting somewhere." Cass watched Marrik read, then as she caught herself beginning to nod off she slowly walked over to where Marrik sat, still nose down in the book before gently pushing the back of his headso his nose touched the page. "Hey might be good to not stay up late OK?"

"Yea, sorry." Marrik found a book mark before closing the book and sending it over onto an empty section of shelf along with the other blue books from his bag. "You going home or you want to stay over?"

It would add time to her morning ride to work, but Cass smiled. "Hey I have to stay, if I don't you'll end up not getting to sleep and trying to raise zombies or something." Marrik's response, after he got up, was to swat her pony tail and head for the ladder.

Sparks wasn't in the store when the two dropped the necromancy books in storage before they double checked the locks and went to the stairs leading up the side of the building to the second story apartment. Marrik jiggled the knob to his apartment door before both using a key and a series of small gestures ending with a traced pattern along the door before it swung open.

Cass immediately sprawled out on Marrik's sofa and started to snore, leaving Marrik to dress for bed in peace. His day ended with him gently laying a then blanket across Cass and going to bed. In the past he had tried to get her to take the bed and he the couch, but it was an argument he could never win, so now he stopped trying.

As he drifted off to sleep Marrik shoved aside his aggravation at the fact he would need to turn those books over before the end of the week. However even a week's time reading material suited to the magic he was attuned to was better than what he had before.

Chapter 3: Wake the Dead

"So what can I do for you sir?" Marrik asked as someone approached the counter. It was then he saw the man's face and smiled. "Ah, you again. How's your friend holding up, better?"

The man sat a dark wooden case on Marrik's counter, "Yea, they said it was a fungus that grew in the tunnels under Star city. Nothing they can't clear up, but the stuff he's having to vaporize and breath in to make sure it's all gone is just." The man's face was clearly disgusted at the memory. Marrik waited and then, when the man regained his composure, watched as the case was slowly opened.

The lid opened away from Marrik, letting him have an unobstructed view of a pair of forearm length ivory colored rods. He let out a low whistle as he picked one up, slowly turning it over and over in his hands as he looked at the gold, copper, silver, and steel wire wrapped and braided decoratively along its length. As he hefted the Rod and turned it about in his hands he raised an eyebrow before picking the second rod up.

The customer watched as Marrik examined the pair. He saw Marrik close his eyes as he made a series of small motions with each before slowly setting the pair back in the case. He saw Marrik ease the lid down and latch the case closed. "Do you know what this is?"

The man nodded while fishing out a series of papers ranging from his expedition permit, notarization from the west gate precinct's customs and inspections department, and a series of photos from Star City itself.

"Why are you bringing this here?" Marrik asked as he looked from the documents to the man and when the man did not answer he spoke again. "I'm a Pawn and Acquisitions shop. I deal with what people find out there, but this?" His head shook, "I want these, you don't know how badly I want these, but I don't know if I can find a buyer I'd actually feel comfortable selling them to." The man watched Marrik swallow as he put the fingertips of his left hand on the case. "Go big or go home. Make me an offer."

"Twenty thousand." The man said with a firm voice.

"That's your number?" Marrik asked, slightly unsure of what he was hearing.

A nod, "Not a farthing less."

"Are you sure?" There was uneasiness in Marrik's voice. "You know you're likely not going to find another pair of these. I don't want you to walk away and realize what you just did."

That made the customer pause and look at the wooden case. Then he slowly exhaled, "They're not useful to me, and I wouldn't want them to just sit out where the kids could accidentally start swinging either around." A nod, as if he were only just now sure of what he was doing. "Let's do this."

"Alright," Marrik extended his right hand and the two clasped forearms. "Let's go sign some paperwork."

When the customer left, there were several customers close enough to see what had happened at the counter. One of these walked over and looked at Marrik, who at this point was barely able to keep a straight face. "Before you put them up," the woman asked in the same voice a child might ask a parent to let them see a pretty tree ornament, "Can I see them?"

A nod before Marrik opened the case, revealing both rods set in soft green fabric. The woman reached for them before stopping herself and looking to Marrik as if asking permission. When he nodded she picked one of the pair up and held it by one end. She then acted as if she were going to make a motion, then stopped, placing the rod back in the case.

"Fire Walker?" Marrik asked when the woman closed the case. She nodded then looked at him. "Friend I was in school with ended up with specialist training from them, I recognize the stance you were going to take." He reached out to pat her shoulder. "For what it's worth if you were in a better place financially I'd trust you enough to try getting you to buy."

The woman nodded slow, "Here to make a payment so yea. Probably shouldn't be window shopping." She frowned and looked to the case as Marrik took both blasting rods away. When he came back he had a folder and a sheet of paper that had a series of times, payment amounts, and signatures.

When the woman set down a stack of coins on the counter Marrik went through the process of counting them up, then offered a pen to the woman. "You're actually early on your payment this time. Keep going like this and you'll get your radio back next week."

A smile from the woman as she signed the paper, then she watched as Marrik signed his name beside hers and added the date. "Take care, alright?" He watched the woman head for the door before putting the papers away.

Hours later Sparks flew into the shop in the process of digging something out of her shoulder bag. Marrik had put the case as well as the paperwork up and sat there, waiting to see what came in the mail. "Sparks?" He asked as he took the day's messages before handing her a thick envelope. "This one's a priority I need processed and sent out today if at all possible."

"So why not close shop for ten minutes and run down to post? Outgoing left an hour ago." The mail sprite sounded slightly annoyed before making the letter fit into her shoulder bag in spite of the laws of physics dictating there wasn't space enough in one for the other to go.

"This morning I got a pair of Dresdens in." Marrik explained. "Ever since then I guess word got out and I've had people coming in just to see them, and they've all been buying stuff just to stick around."

"Wow, so... are they real?" Sparks asked, her earlier aggravation gone. "I mean. Wow, even non-working ones go for a bundle." The mail sprite saw Marrik sigh and pull the case back out and open it for her. She landed on the edge of the case and looked down at the pair. She squinted and reached out with a hand until it almost but not quite touched one. "Yea, they're real."

"You sure?" Marrik asked. Then a pause as a thought occurred to him, "Just how old are you anyway?"

"Old enough," Sparks grinned before walking along the lip of the case as if it were a balance beam. When she saw the expression on Marrik's face she started laughing. "Nah man I'm just yanking your chain. Guy sent one through the post a few years back and it kinda got passed around so we could all get a feel before sending it along. Let a lot of the newbies know what magic items felt like, and I think Frank wanted an excuse to keep it in the office for a couple hours."

"Lemme guess, threw you under the cart for the delay?" Marrik shoo'd her off the case before putting it away again.

Sparks floated behind him as he walked back to the store-room. "Nah, he took blame for the whole thing, said it was a good live materials handling excersize opportunity." More laughter, except this was cut short when she looked back at the shop's front window. "Hey Marrik?" She landed on his shoulder to getting his attention before pointing. "isn't that Danny?"

"Yea?" Marrik squinted at the man staring vacantly through the window. The hair on his arms stood on end and he felt something Other, but tried to dismiss it as he had been handling something both rare and valuable. "Hadn't seen him in awhile. He's looking kinda off." As he started for the counter he noticed Danny grunt and resume walking down the street.

"That's probably because he's been dead a week." Sparks looked on as Danny walked away "I was at his funeral along with most of Danny's shift from the office."

Marrik stood there, trying to sort out the cold pit growing in his stomach before asking, "They didn't cremate the body?" Sparks shook her head at the question, prompting him to reach under the counter for something he had never had to use before other than to practice with, "What kind of half-brained morons-" He cut off his own words while he started loading bullets into the magazine for the pistol he had just pulled out. "Look never mind go get the cops. I'll try keeping him from hurting anyone."

Marrik saw Sparks fly through the front door. Not fly, push door open, and keep going. He saw her fly as if there were no door in her way.There had been a slight pin-prickle, a sensation that felt his own magic when it was being used. As he shouldered the door open he made one last check of the gun in his hands all while looking to see where Danny went.

"Hey," Marrik called out, causing the zombie to halt, and then shuffle-step til it faced him. The street was suspiciously empty. Just the two of them there. Then he looked around, saw people looking out shop windows, saw horses and foot traffic decide to go down the next street instead. People were there, but unlike him they knew to keep clear. "Danny, c'mere man."

The zombie made an incoherent grumbling noise in its throat as it started at a slow walk towards Marrik. With it getting closer Marrik could feel the magic animating it. "Hungry," It managed to say as its eyes locked on Marrik before its mouth opened.

When it started to howl those looking on covered their ears and cowered down. Marrik took a step back and his gun raised. "There anything left of you in there Danny?" His voice quivered as he asked. "Who woke you up."

The zombie continued its howl, only to be interrupted by a pair of gunshots from the weapon in Marrik's hand. Were the zombie a living man it would have fallen over from the bullets to its chest. It stopped, looked down at the wounds and the ichor that oozed out before leaping at Marrik with outstretched arms.

More gunfire as Marrik stumbled back, grazing the Zombie's scalp and blowing its left shoulder apart. He got off a third shot, into its skull as it knocked him over. For a moment he thought it was over. Headshots, all the pamphlets and stories said, were how you got rid of the undead. Yet Marrik found himself with Danny's good hand gripping at his throat and the zombie howling into his face. Danny's grip didn't falter or weaken even as Marrik punched him in the face. More howls that were soon silenced as the skin around where Marrik punched started to grow thin, yellow, and then blacken.

Even as the zombie that had been Danny started to decay with each blow it tried to snap at Marrik, attempting to put living flesh in its jaws with the intent to consume. Each time Marrik punched the zombie Danny chipped away further, decaying slowly and by inches until an armored pair of hands grabbed Danny's zombified body from behind and hurled it off of Marrik.

Marrik saw who the arms belonged to but could only catch his breath as he saw Danny's skull cave in from the armored boot that came crashing down. Only when it was clear Danny was not going to get up again did the armored figure offer Marrik a hand. "You alright?"

More attempts at catching his breath and gathering his wits as Marrik nodded, "Freaked out, but I don't think it bit me. Anyone get hurt?" He took the offered hand and stood, looking at the zombie's remains.

The person's head shook, "So far as we can tell this zombie got out of its grave, wandered without apparent motivating force or command, Was slow enough that people got out of immediate range, and then you engaged it. Reason it did not engage in usual feeding behaviors is unclear." They explained before turning more fully to Marrik, "I'm going to have to take you in for an exam and questioning. Do you understand?"

Marrik took a deep breath as he considered what just happened now that the rush of the moment was fading and what that meant starting to settle in. "Someone raised a zombie," and if they find out he's a necromancer they might charge him with the crime.

Chapter 3: Investigation

The ride to the police station was uneventful; no conversation, and people getting back to the day to day business of their lives were the highlights. As Marrik accompanied the armored officer through the station he noticed a small swarm of sprites hovering overhead and paused. "What's going on here, protest?"

"Nah, Chief wants to try seeing how they'd do as message runners for dispatch. They're small, fast, can get into and out of anywhere they're invited, and if the post office is going to dump a bunch of trained employees, might as well see if we can streamline things here with them."

As they continued through to the back rooms made expressly for taking statements Marrik allowed himself a small smile. "How many do you think you'll get to hire in? Sparks sounded pretty worried and she's been pretty solid."

The officer held the door with a gauntlet covered hand and motioned him to step through. "Yea I know how it goes. We're prioritizing those that're already paired off with officers though so there's going to be more that we can take in, but not nearly all of them." When the officer saw Marrik sit they removed their helmet, revealing a feminine face and vibrant red hair tied in a bun. "I am Samantha Winter, I will be the one to take your statement." She pointed to a mirror running the length of the wall to the left of the door. "We've got people taking down your statements on the other side of the glass, and you may have a public defender or other attorney present before you make any further statements. Do you understand?"

This caused a moment of pause for Marrik as he considered what he had just been told. Then he nodded, "I understand and wave my right to council for the duration of this session." Then he made a small gesture towards Officer Winter.

"I had seen most of your fight with the zombie, and we have the mail-sprite Sparks in for questioning." She paused when she saw the look on Marrik's face and smiled in what she hoped was a reassuring manner. "Don't worry, she's fine. We'd have most of the sprites working with us fly out if they thought we treated her anything like the decima novels say we do." When he nodded she resumed, "We have an account of the actual skirmish, and can trace the zombie's timeline from your shop all the way back to its point of origin."

"Alright?" Marrik said questioningly. "I'm guessing you want my relationship with the deceased, the last time I was in the area, and the like?"

"We also want your Affinity," Officer Winter added.

"Well," Marrik closed his eyes and took a deep breath. His heart sped up as the bottom dropped out of his stomach. There was a glance to the mirrored segment of wall, "You guys getting all this?" When he looked back to Officer Winter she motioned for him to continue. "Let's get the big one out of the way. My affinity is Necromancy. Sparks can confirm this, since you already have her in for questioning. I suppose this puts me high on your suspect list."

"It does, and you do realize you were not compelled to answer that question, correct?" Officer Winter asked.

"I do, but at the same time, "Marrik explained as he folded his arms and sat them on the table, "If I refused that would cast more suspicion on me, so while I wouldn't be an official suspect, you'd go hounding through any excuse justifiable or otherwise to get at the why." He then chuckled in spite of the situation. "Then you'd find the books on necromancy in my short term storage room I intended on bringing this way by week's end when doing my major errends and... yea that'd be all she wrote with me, my business would tank because association would hurt whoever minded the place while I'm in lockup, and whoever did this would still be out there."

"I.... see." Officer Winter frowned as she took that in. There was further pause as she tilted her head to one side as if listening to an unheard voice. "I will travel with you to your store to retrieve these books now. Easier than waiting on a warrant and those will be the only items I'll be able to take."

"Might as well." Marrik conceded as he sat there. "You've got me on record so probable cause would already exist if you wanted to go full bore flame and sword on my entire life." Given he genuinely believed his life as he had lived it had effectively ended in that moment Marrik managed to sound fairly calm about the matter.

A second officer walked in with a heavy pair of hand covering gauntlets held together with a thick metal bar. "Place your hands in here please." When Marrik did so he turned a key several times before handing it to Officer Winter. "Your cooperation is appreciated." The man's voice was carefully neutral when he addressed Marrik before leaving the room.

As he wiggled his fingers within the immobile gauntlets Marrik nodded in approval. "I'm sure someone a lot more talented than me could figure a way to magic without hands or larger arm motions, but yea." Another nod, "this is a pretty good set of restraints."

"I know," Officer Winter helped Marrik into the passenger side of the wagon before taking the reigns. "Off the record." She said as the wagon lurched into motion. "I'm well aware you didn't do it. Anyone capable of raising a zombie, even if they lost control, wouldn't have let one get as close as you did. Too much risk of infection."

"You're telling me," Marrik said while he tried to find a comfortable way to hold his arms. "I guess that's why I'm not in the back in chains?"

Officer Winter shrugged, "Less of a hassle talking to you up here." There was a a pause as she again seemed to listen to some unheard voice. "I will want to see where you practiced last night after acquiring these books." There was a smirk on her face at Marrik's mix of surprise and confusion. "Oh come on, you get new toy that actually lines up with your natural affinity and you're not going to take it for a test spin? Brother Please. Look who you're talking to and say I'm lying."

Marrik's head bowed and shook, "I'd be lying if I said you hadn't called it, but it was like stuff right after basic energy shifting. The sort of thing they teach in secondary. It wouldn't have been enough to even accidentally raise a corpse."

"True," Officer Winter's face grew still as she considered where they were headed, where the body had to have walked from. "On the other hand if someone else raised one, freaked out that it actually was going to work, and ran before giving it any instructions you doing whatever might have been enough to act as a beacon to draw it."

When the cart stopped Marrik waited for Winter to help him out before he spoke. "But it started walking on instead of trying to enter. My practice area and study are in the basement." He blinked when he felt his restraints loosen before looking at Winter questioningly.

"This mess isn't you're doing, and you saved people by holding its attention while your mail sprite flagged me down. I'll have to put the restraints back on, but for the time I'm drafting you as help."

"Oh." Marrik said as he went for the short term storage room. Winter watched him open a floor safe and pull out three midnight blue bound books. "Would it help if you saw my work area? It's in the basement so i don't know how you would get there without either leaving me unattended or-"

"Can you kill the 'I know how this should play out so I'm going to needle you about it' routine, please?" Winter let Marrik show her to the trap door to the building's basement. Once she was down she motioned him to follow. "Glowstone lamps? Huh."

"One of the perks of dealing in acquisitions fresh off the pack mule instead of out of at catalog." Marrik explained before walking to where the target stands had been set up the night before. "This is where I'd been practicing. I was seated about where you are right now," He gestured to the chair Winter was standing just in front of, "And I was on page...." A thoughtful moment, "Twenty on the topmost book."

There were page flips, first to the table of contents, and then to the page in question. "Entropy Projection." Winter read, "For use in self defense or utility situations only."

A shrug, "Part of where i was hung up was comparing the third set of micro-motions with the same step in the basic kinetic projection spell." He started to extend his magic out before pausing to look at the officer.

"Go ahead." Winter watched as Marrik pulled a book from the shelf and caused it to float towards her. "Thank you." She flipped through til she found the correct page. "Let me guess, the wording on how this is presented instructing you to never experiment?" When Marrik nodded she tossed the book at him. "Basic education books. You want your students to not try experimenting too soon.

"Right, right." Marrik said as he caught the generalist book and sent it back to its place on the book case. He watched as Winter skimmed not just the book he had gotten to, but also the pair he hadn't before tossing one towards him.

"You said books." She explained while tucking the two books away. "I will have to confiscate these, but you will have tonight to read that one and learn everything you can from it before I return to get you in the morning. Have your mail sprite also read."

An eyebrow raise from Marrik as he sent the book he had been tossed onto the book shelf.

"You know we go by a live and let live so long as you don't do icky things policy." Winter waited until they were both out of the basement before continuing. "For now you're free to go do as you like so long as you stay in town. If word were to get out about what you are..." She frowned and shook her head. "Sorry, that sounded too much like a threat. If it comes down to it I'd rather cut your head off in person rather than a pack of idiots go flame and pitchfork and burn half the town down. You?"

"That armor, it's a bloodlines relic right?" Marrik asked.

Winter nodded before handing him a business card. "I'll send Sparks to stay with you tonight. She'll know how to use the imprint on that card to find me." She then looked about the store and, "I heard you got a pair of Dreasdens in."

At that he blinked. Stared. And started laughing. "After all that, you... Fine. Fine give me a minute." The box the pair of rods were kept in were once again brought out of storage and opened for the officer to see. "Please tell me you're not going to just take the things and claim some kind of probable cause or other reason to keep them."

"Light no." Winter chuckled, "I get why you'd be worried, but I'm not one of those corrupt manure heaps you keep reading about from Haven or even Sancrest." She said as she held a gauntlet covered hand over the pair. "What I'm curious about is why you didn't use them."

"Lack of training?" Marrik offered. "Fear of torching the entire block?"

Winter put the lid down and slid the box back to Marrik. "Fair enough, but remember what I said. I'll be back tomorrow for that book."

He gave a thumbs up, causing Winter to leave him alone in his store. Slowly realization sank in that a literal thing out of his nightmares had happened, he was still a free man, and the police were wanting his help instead of his head.

By the time sparks returned she saw Marrik in the back room laughing to the point of tears. "Look. I know you're feeling really good about yourself for not being in a cell in irons, but we do kinda have work to do."

It took time for Marrik to calm down and catch his breath enough to speak. "Yea, see if Cass can come over. She'll give me grief, but she's good for catching things I can't, and keeping me on task." He started to get back to his feet and head for the door. "I'm going to see if Bombay's has any fresh tea in. You want anything?"

Chapter 4: Study

"I get that Winter's wanting to use me as a blood hound, or maybe an ace in the hole, or... something." Marrik said as he poured Cass tea, "The thing is it doesn't make much sense for her to more or less blatantly tell me to use Sparks to crib off of a book I don't have much time to actually read."

As Cass reached for another fried dumpling from the bag that sat between her and Marrik. "I still think it was stupid to out yourself."

"And have them get hung up on a witness that wouldn't cooperate on a basic question, them flip this place apart, and then haul me in while some death fetishizing wannabe gets to run around free and clear?" His unamused look capped off his explanation.

"Fine," Cass grumbled, "But least-bad does not make it a good option."

"True. True." Marrik popped a dumpling in his mouth and paused mid-chew for a moment. Then after finishing, "these are actually really good."


'You managed to close one of those inkwells. Few people have done so and lived, fewer still that are half-trained wet behind the ears and not even in their thirties. We have much to discuss.'


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