“If I’d known you’d be caught so easily, I’d have tried this method centuries ago,” Balthazar remarked casually, closing his eyes as he leaned his head back against the bars.
“As if that would have done you any good,” Horvath replied dryly.
Balthazar’s lips curved into a grin. “Seems to have worked this time.”
“Only because you currently have possession of my cane,” Horvath snapped, the stress of the last twenty-four hours showing. “When I’m released, that clerk is going to pay dearly for this.”
“Keep talking like that and they’ll keep you longer just on principle.”
Horvath snorted. “Don’t expect me to forget what your little apprentice did last night any time soon, either.”
Balthazar sighed. “It’s over, Horvath. Morgana’s gone.”
“You think that’s the end of it?” Horvath sneered. “It was never about Morgana, old boy. But you? I’m not done with you yet!”
Balthazar sighed, finally looking over at his one-time friend. “It was Veronica’s choice, not mine. I was not aware of your feelings for her until after she had accepted my offer of courtship-- neither you nor Veronica saw fit to mention any of this to me,” he said, shaking his head. “Perhaps, if you had, this might have turned out differently.” He leaned his head back against the bars, closing his eyes.
Horvath watched him, painfully aware of the fact that he couldn’t actually do anything to him here. “What would you have done, if Veronica had picked someone else over you? Would you have just stepped back and let her go?” he murmured softly. Balthazar didn’t respond, but Horvath knew his answer. His eyes narrowed. “Of course you would. You’re the great Balthazar Blake. Righteous, self-sacrificing bastard that you are.” As if he needed another reason to hate the man.
From his corner, Balthazar sighed. Today started out with such promise, too, he mused, letting his thoughts wander back to that morning.
Balthazar couldn’t help the smile that graced his features as he heard Dave invite Becky to breakfast in France. Part of him was truly happy that the relationship, despite its rocky start, seemed to be working out for Dave. The other part knew the boy would never make it to France on a metal bird and was looking forward to the inevitable story of that misadventure later. As the giant eagle leapt back into the air, the old sorcerer saw a very familiar hat hanging on part of the broken fence that surrounded the park. Veronica helped him walk out to the street, but Horvath was nowhere to be found.
Balthazar picked up the hat, quickly replaying the fight in his mind. Horvath’s cane had flown out of his hand and landed somewhere in the park. Given Horvath’s weakened state after Dave’s attack, not to mention the battle between Dave and Morgana, it was unlikely Horvath had dared to attempt retrieving it.
Balthazar concentrated, moving his hand slightly to summon the ring to him as he had done shortly after escaping the urn and finding Dave again. Although it was a simple spell, something felt off. He waited a few seconds, but the cane did not come hurdling at him through the air. Cautiously, he raised his hand, watching the ring as he cast the spell again. His blood ran cold as his ring remained dark.
“Veronica,” he said, wrenching his gaze from the ring to his beloved’s face. “Horvath had Dave’s dragon ring on his cane. It was thrown somewhere in the park. I need you to find it,” he explained.
Veronica nodded, helping him over to a bench to rest before searching for the cane.
Balthazar stared at his ring, trying again and again to access his magic and continually being denied. It was like he wasn’t even wearing a ring at all. Eventually, his burning chest got his attention and he unbuttoned his vest and shirt. The skin above his heart was bright red, clearly visible even in the poor lighting in the park. He recognized the burns as those caused by plasma bolts and could count at least five different marks, all over-lapping. The harsh words of warning he had given Dave after the mop fiasco came back to him. “Being electrocuted is exactly how a sorcerer loses his powers.”
Balthazar felt numb. He knew the dangers of being electrocuted. He also knew that a plasma bolt wasn’t strong enough to do it on it’s own. He stared unseeingly at Horvath’s hat in his hands, thinking back to when he had woken up after Morgana’s defeat. Dave was sitting over him, dejected and looking like he was almost desperately trying not to cry. Veronica wasn’t even attempting to do so, the tracks of tears already staining her cheeks. He hadn’t had time to consider it before, but now... It would seem that he had died. Or, at the very least, his heart had stopped beating. And, Dave had resuscitated him. Using plasma bolts as a makeshift defibrillator. He closed his eyes, thinking back. He had taken one hit from Horvath, his power exponentially increased by three extra talismans. He had been hit with two plasma bolts by Morgana herself, followed by at least five more in relatively quick succession from Dave. Was that enough to strip him of his power? It certainly seemed that way.
Veronica returned to his side, cane in hand. The two rings and necklace still rested just below the handle. He forcefully tore himself from his thoughts, meeting her with a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. “I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to ask you to fix the fountain and the gate. I’m too exhausted to do it just now,” he said. He desperately hoped that it was just exhaustion.
She nodded again, hurrying off to do as he requested. Balthazar levered himself up off the bench, staggering as his entire body protested the movement and began limping towards his car. Veronica soon joined him, taking his arm and helping him along. The car had been left running. Balthazar didn’t know whether to praise Dave (as he couldn’t start the car in his present magic-less state) or to curse the boy for his inattention (this was New York, after all).
He climbed into the driver’s seat, staring at the bowler’s hat still held in his hand for a few seconds before setting it on the center consol. Veronica mirrored his movements, climbing in the passenger’s side wearily. It had been a tiring night all around. Putting the car in gear, Balthazar headed back to the hotel room he’d rented after escaping the urn, not having had time to look into more permanent housing while focusing on training Dave. Although it was still dark out (at least as dark as it ever got in New York), Balthazar knew it had to be in the early hours of the morning by the time he pulled into the parking lot. Veronica was staring at everything around her in fascination, the wonders of this time keeping her weariness at bay, although she curbed most of her questions due to his obvious fatigue.
The desk clerk didn’t even glance up as they entered the lobby and Balthazar suddenly found himself wishing he’d splurged a little more on his temporary lodgings. While he’d stayed in much worse places over the long years it’d taken to complete his quest, he didn’t particularly want Veronica’s first day out of the Grimhold spent in a room with paint peeling off the walls and a leaking faucet in the bathroom.
Too worn out to go and search for a hotel with a better reputation, Balthazar wearily mounted the stairs to the second floor, fumbling for his keys (while breathing a sigh of relief that he’d actually brought them) and unlocking the door. He gave Veronica a quick tour of the apartment, giving a brief overview of some of the various technological advancements (such as running water and how the toilet was meant to be used).
“Sorry about the general state of the place,” he apologized, easing himself down on the loveseat. “Last night wasn’t exactly planned, as you may have guessed.”
Veronica sat down beside him, leaning her head on his shoulder. “It is fine, Balthazar,” she assured him. “Morgana has been destroyed and I am with you once more. Whether it be in the grandest castle ever built or the deepest pit of the dungeon, it does not matter. With you here beside me, I am content.”
Balthazar smiled, putting his arm around her and pulling her close as he kissed her head, breathing in the scent of her hair. “I missed you so much,” he whispered.
Veronica leaned into the embrace, twining her fingers with his other hand. “I know. I did as well.”
They sat there is silence for several moments, just basking in the other’s presence. Balthazar shifted slightly, one of the broken springs in the back of the couch poking him. “You can sleep on the bed,” he offered, painfully aware of the archaic etiquette and customs that Veronica was used to. “I’ll take the couch. I know that we shouldn’t be sleeping in the same room, but given the circumstances...”
Veronica laughed. “Given the circumstances, I think it is perfectly acceptable for us to bend the rules,” she said.
Balthazar smiled, leaning his head back against the cushions. “The bed is more comfortable,” he murmured, closing his eyes.
“Then I shall move to it,” she replied quietly, scooting down so she could lay her head on his chest, “when it is greater comfort I seek.”
Balthazar chuckled softly, absently running his fingers through her hair as he drifted off to sleep.
A pounding on the door abruptly woke Balthazar. Feeling as though he’d just closed his eyes, he bit back a curse as he pushed himself off the couch. Veronica blinked at him sleepily, her gaze going to the door as whoever was outside knocked again. Acerbic words ready on the tip of his tongue, Balthazar yanked the door open. The biting comments were quickly swallowed as the pair of men in suits flashed their badges.
“I’m Detective Jones, this is Detective McNeil,” the one standing closer to the doorway introduced them. “Are you Balthazar Blake?”
Balthazar’s mind immediately went through the list of incidents he’d been involved in since escaping the urn. First, there was the incident in China Town-- everyone was more focused on the dragon than anything else and he hadn’t mentioned his name to anyone there. He mentally crossed it off the list. Next was the car chase with Horvath-- unlikely they’d be able to trace it back to him as the car had changed a couple times throughout the chase and he’d reclaimed it afterwards, changing it back to its original form. That one was scratched off, too. Next, he and Dave had broken into Horvath’s current Morganian underling’s penthouse. In retrospect, Balthazar realized he had neglected to take any precautions against the surveillance cameras in the main lobby and elevator. Although he had shorted out all the high-end electrical equipment in the penthouse to keep any magic from being caught on tape, at the time he’d been more focused on getting the Grimhold back than entering quietly. Last, there was the incident in Battery Park last night. Veronica had fixed the damaged property, but the statue of the bull was still missing when they had left, carried off to who-knows-where by the eagle. He didn’t think they could trace that one back to him, so it was likely they were here to charge him with breaking and entering. He did find it strange that the young Morganian would actually try pressing charges, especially when nothing of his was taken.
All of that ran through Balthazar’s mind in a matter of seconds and he inclined his head slightly. “Yes, that’s me. What can I do for you?” he asked, keeping his voice neutral.
“We’d like you to come down to the station with us, there’s some questions we need to ask you about Drake Stone,” Detective Jones said, watching Balthazar carefully for his reaction.
The name didn’t ring a bell. “Who?” Balthazar asked, realizing he’d never learned the name of Horvath’s current minion.
“Drake Stone, he’s a famous magician,” Detective McNeil offered.
A famous magician? I guess I shouldn’t be surprised a Morganian would use the sacred art as a means to get rich, Balthazar thought, managing to keep the scowl off his face and putting on a pensive expression instead. “Does he have blonde hair that stands up? Likes heeled boots, paints his nails and wears a half glove-thing on one hand?” he asked.
“Yes, that’s him.”
“Well, we’ve never been formally introduced...”
“Balthazar?” Veronica asked, coming up behind him. She briefly studied the two men at the door over his shoulder before turning her questioning gaze back to him.
“Veronica.” He turned to her, switching to Old Welsh. “I have to go with these men right now, but don’t worry, I’ll be fine. I should be back later,” he said. His gaze slid briefly to the detectives before he continued. “If I can’t make it back today, I’ll call.”
Veronica looked confused. “If you cannot make it back, how would you be close enough to call?” she asked, following his example and speaking in the archaic language.
Balthazar blinked before realizing his mistake. He quickly gave her a brief explanation of the telephone. “So, basically, if it makes noise, hold the receiver up to your ear and you’ll be able to hear me,” he finished.
“Why must you leave?”
“There’s been a misunderstanding,” Balthazar hedged. “I have to go with them to get it cleared up.”
“And a little magic cannot solve the problem?”
Balthazar would have laughed had the casual remark not hit quite so close to home. A little magic would solve the problem and any other time he wouldn’t have hesitated to do so. However, his ring was still cold upon his finger and Veronica’s heavy-handed approach to problems lacked the finesse necessary for most mind-altering magic. She could wipe a man’s mind clean, leaving little more than a wild beast in his place. But, she had never practiced altering one memory while leaving the others intact and the results could be disastrous if one did not know exactly what they were doing. The detectives had done nothing to deserve that cruel fate. “They’re not evil Morganians, beloved. Just ordinary people with ordinary jobs,” he explained.
“They are taking you away from me not even a full day after we have finally been reunited. That makes them dangerously close to evil as far as I’m concerned,” she stated, the corner of her lips turned up ever so slightly.
They had been apart for so long that Balthazar honestly couldn’t tell if she were joking or not.
“Mr. Blake,” Detective Jones prompted, looking a little impatient.
“Wait here for me. I promise I will see you later,” Balthazar said, gently cupping Veronica’s cheek. She closed her eyes, leaning into the caress until he pulled away. He turned back to the detectives, switching back to English. “After you.”
Veronica watched as Balthazar was escorted down the hall and out of sight. Turning back into the apartment, she closed the door and leaned against it, wrapping her arms around herself. Even though she knew Balthazar wouldn’t break his promise, she couldn’t help feeling utterly alone in this strange, new world.
A short time later, Balthazar found himself sitting in an uncomfortable chair in an interrogation room, staring at the one-way mirror. His hair was a wild and unkempt mess, not having been brushed since the previous morning, and his face was still sporting several days’ growth, as he hadn’t had time to shave before being brought down to the station. His haggard appearance in addition to his usual dress shirt and vest, leather trench coat, fingerless gloves and admittedly gaudy rings certainly made him the very picture of a stereotypical vagrant. All he was missing, really, was the smell.
Some time later, Detectives Jones and McNeil entered the room, the former leaning against the wall while the latter took the seat opposite Balthazar. McNeil placed a tan folder on the table, resting his clasped hands on top of it.
“I assume you know why you’re here, Mr. Blake?” McNeil asked, leaning forward slightly.
“I might have some idea,” Balthazar answered.
“Then, would you mind telling me what you were doing between the hours of 9:00 and 11:00 pm last night?” McNeil asked.
“Not at all.”
There was a pregnant pause. “So, what were you doing during the hours of 9:00 and 11:00 pm last night, Mr. Blake?”
Balthazar shrugged. “I haven’t any idea.”
The two detectives exchanged a look. “Are you claiming you don’t remember the events of last night?” McNeil asked.
“No, my memory’s just fine.” Balthazar leaned back in his chair, wincing slightly when he moved his stiff muscles. “It’s been quite a long while since I had any reason to keep track of the time. So, I don’t.” He arched an eyebrow at the younger detective sitting across from him. “I would imagine you would know the times better than I. The footage from security cameras are time-stamped, aren’t they?”
Jones rolled his eyes, muttering something derogatory under his breath. McNeil managed to keep his reaction much more subdued, merely shaking his head. “Why don’t you just walk me through what you did last night,” he suggested.
Knowing that antagonizing the police force without his magic would do more harm than good, he decided to relay a rather diluted version of events. “Since I’m assuming you’re wondering at my presence in, hm, Mr. Stone, was it? Mr. Stone’s apartment, I’ll start there.” He folded his arms across his chest, his gaze wandering to the ceiling. “I arrived at the apartment building after dark. Went inside, got in the elevator--”
“How did you get into the elevator? I understand a special keycard is required to access Mr. Drake’s floor,” McNeil interrupted.
Balthazar raised an eyebrow at the interruption. “I asked nicely,” he stated blandly.
Jones snorted. McNeil matched Balthazar’s raised eyebrow. “You asked nicely? And it, what, just opened for you?”
“Uh-huh.” McNeil shared a brief look with Jones before nodding to Balthazar. “Please, continue.”
“I took the elevator to Mr. Stone’s apartment. The door was open, so I let myself in.” He shrugged. “What I was looking for had already been moved somewhere else, so I left.”
“What were you looking for?”
“Something precious to me that had been taken the day before. It’s...something of an heirloom, you might say.”
“Why did you think Mr. Stone might have it in his possession?”
“I didn’t think that Mr. Stone would have it, exactly. More like an...associate of Mr. Stone, who was staying with him at the time,” Balthazar said.
“I assume this heirloom is of great value.”
“Only to certain people.”
“But, it was gone by the time you got there.”
“Is that why you destroyed the statue Stone had of himself?” Jones asked, studying the sorcerer intently.
Balthazar almost rolled his eyes. “I’m not so crass as to take out my frustration on meaningless targets.”
“What about the girl who stole it? Was she a worthy target, then?” Jones pressed, moving forward to lean on the table, allowing him to loom over Balthazar.
Balthazar’s eyes narrowed. “What girl?” he asked, unconsciously lowering his voice. The only girl he had seen was Becky and there was no reason why they should think he had hurt her.
“Why don’t you tell us?” Jones said as McNeil pulled a few pictures from the folder, setting them in front of Balthazar.
A young teenage girl had been unceremoniously stuffed in a closet, her style of clothing something that might be worn by the Amish in this day and age. Balthazar recognized Abigail Williams immediately, but managed to keep his face blank as he studied the picture. Unhealthy pallor aside, there didn’t seem to be a mark on her body, although the pose made it a bit difficult to tell that for sure. To the untrained eye, she could have merely been sleeping. However, Balthazar knew that death by magic didn’t always leave a mark. “I never saw her last night. Who is she?” he asked, knowing they didn’t have the answer. After all, she’d been locked away in the Grimhold for the past three hundred years.
“An associate of Mr. Stone’s, I presume,” McNeil said.
“And, possibly this ‘thief’ you mentioned?” Jones added.
“No, he’s a good deal older than that.”
“Really? And what might this ‘mystery man’ look like?”
“A bit shorter than I am, more of a heavy-set build, usually wears a bowlers hat and a fur-lined coat, carries a cane with him everywhere but never uses it to help him walk. Dark hair, dark eyes, circle beard.” Balthazar shrugged, pretending to not notice the look both detectives shot the mirror. Apparently, Horvath had been caught on the security videos as well.
“Do you have a name?” McNeil asked.
“Maxim Horvath, although he also uses various aliases from time to time.”
“Do you know what those might be?”
“I never saw the need to find out.”
“What about this partner of yours, hm?” Jones asked, taking the folder and pulling out a picture from the security tapes of Balthazar and Dave entering the elevator. “Who’s this kid with you?”
“And, does this friend often come with you when you break into people’s apartments?” Jones asked, heavy sarcasm coloring his voice.
“There was no ‘breaking’ involved. The door was open and we entered,” Balthazar stated. ‘Open’ in this case meaning quietly taken off its hinges by magic and moved to the side. “Horvath was expecting us.” That wasn’t even a lie. Horvath had quite successfully lured them into his trap, allowing him to make off with not only the Grimhold, but Dave’s ring as well.
“First, you claim to not know who Drake Stone is, now you’re saying that this ‘associate’ of his was meeting with you, in Mr. Stone’s own apartment?” Jones asked a little skeptically. “To discuss the theft of your property, no less?”
“If you don’t like the answers, maybe you should stop asking the questions,” Balthazar said lazily.
“Why didn’t you come to the police about this?” McNeil interrupted.
“It was a minor civil dispute,” Balthazar shrugged. “I thought a couple of mature adults could work this out on their own, without the headache and lawsuits that would inevitably come from involving the police.”
“But, that didn’t turn out to be the case,” McNeil prompted.
“Actually, the issue was successfully worked out late last night. Just not in the apartment.”
“What role did your young friend play in all of this?” McNeil asked, pointing to the picture of Dave entering the elevator.
“He didn’t have a role. He was merely there at my request, nothing more.”
“I don’t suppose you’d give us your friend’s name?”
“I don’t suppose I would.”
“You know it’s just a matter of time before we find him,” Jones cut in.
Balthazar raised one sardonic eyebrow. “I doubt that. The last I heard, he was flying to France.” The sorcerer was very careful not to smile, knowing that they would waste a lot of time scouring the airports looking for Dave. Unfortunately for them, giant steel eagles that had been animated by magic weren’t required to register with the FAA.
“You really should cooperate while you still have the chance. ME put her time of death as somewhere between 9:00 and 11:00 pm last night. Security tapes show you and your boy entering the apartment at exactly 10:13, meaning you either killed her, or walked in on whoever did, which makes you an accessory to murder,” Jones said, pointing to Abigail. “Also, it seems she was killed in the same manner as Mr. Stone,” he continued, pulling out a few more pictures and lining them up on the table in front of Balthazar.
The Morganian had been dumped on the floor of what appeared to be the master bedroom. What caught Balthazar’s attention, however, was the burn on the right side of his neck, just below the ear. “They’re both dead, then?” he asked, trying to see the mark without looking too interested in the picture. “What was the cause of death?”
“We won’t get the full autopsy report for another day or so,” McNeil explained. “But they are both missing a lot of blood and the only mark on either of their bodies is this burn.” He laid out two more pictures, each one a close-up of the peculiar burn on Drake’s and Abigail’s necks.
“The ME thinks someone may have drugged the victims, drained the blood through the carotid artery then used the burn to cover it up,” Jones said, leaning back as he folded his arms. “What do you think?”
Balthazar recognized the mark, a small hexagon with a smaller straight line extending outward from each point. But, from the angle the picture was taken, it looked like something else he hadn’t noticed before. “Is that supposed to be a sun?” he asked.
“You tell me,” Jones replied. “Both victims were killed by the same method, hours apart. Stone was already dead by the time you got there, which means you either snuck in somehow and killed him earlier, or you’re working with whoever did.”
Balthazar was starting to get fed up. He thought he’d controlled his temper rather well, all things considered, but enough was enough. He recognized the symptoms of the parasite spell, knew those burns were caused by the faceted jewel atop Horvath’s cane and recalled the three extra talismans adorning said cane when they had fought last night. One was Dave’s dragon ring; the pendant he should have recognized as belonging to Abigail Williams and the third was obviously Drake Stone’s ring. Horvath had killed the second two and now Balthazar was being blamed for it. As much as that rankled, this wasn’t the first time Horvath had managed to drag Balthazar into one of his messes. “As I said, I know nothing about their deaths,” he stated slowly, his voice taking on a bit of an edge as he clearly enunciated each word. “I can’t help you.”
“You have to understand, it looks a bit suspicious from our side,” McNeil said, his tone placating. “Why don’t you walk us through what happened again, starting from when you arrived at the hotel?”
“No, we’re done here,” Balthazar said, shaking his head. “I’m familiar with my rights. Either arrest me or let me go.” He settled back in his chair, arms crossed over his chest and closed his eyes.
Jones and McNeil exchanged a look before leaving the room. Balthazar remained where he was, his calm mask hiding the flurry of thoughts running through his mind. In retrospect, he really should have seen this coming. He saw the three additional talismans adorning Horvath’s cane and vaguely noted the absence of Horvath’s current lackey. Past experience showed that Horvath never kept any of his ‘assistants’ long, and they generally ended up dead one way or another. Balthazar would have almost believed Horvath set him up on purpose had the trap not been one easily solved with a bit of magic.
Ten to fifteen minutes later, the detectives returned. Balthazar was not surprised in the slightest when Jones informed him he was under arrest.
The booking process was not a short one. Despite the apparent ease of each individual step, it took several hours for Balthazar to be fingerprinted, photographed, searched and stripped of all personal belongings (giving up his sorcerer’s ring bothered him more than he cared to admit, despite the fact that he couldn’t actually use the magic), before he was finally given access to a phone. It didn’t take him long to look up the hotel’s number and even less time for Veronica to answer.
“Balthazar?” she asked, her voice faint but sounding very worried.
“Turn the receiver around, you’ll be able to hear better,” he instructed, slipping into Old Welsh just in case.
There was the sound of movement on the other end of the line. “Balthazar? Are you there?” Veronica asked, her voice sounding a little more frantic now that he could hear her clearly.
“Yes, I’m here. And don’t worry, I’m fine,” he stressed, trying to ally some of her fears.
He could practically feel her tense up at the unspoken ‘but’ that was coming. “What is it? What is wrong?” she asked.
“Well, things are a bit more complicated than I had anticipated,” he explained. “It’ll all be worked out, but I’ll have to stay here for a couple days until then.” He paused, giving her the chance to respond. When she didn’t he pressed on. “I hate to ask this of you, but I need you to go to Dave’s lab.”
“All right,” she answered, sounding more than a little nervous.
“First let me give you the address. You’ll want to write this down.”
“Where do you keep your ink pot and quill? I have not seen one anywhere in here.”
Balthazar smiled, shaking his head. “Times have changed. There should be a skinny white ‘stick’ with black writing on it next to the phone. That’s called a pen. The ink is stored inside it and is dispensed when the tip is moved across paper. There should be some paper that you can write on underneath it,” he explained.
“All right. What do you wish me to write?”
“The address is 225 Washington Place.”
“225 washing-ton place,” she repeated back to him, stumbling over the unfamiliar word. “I’m afraid I do not know how to operate your carriage. Shall I walk? And, how am I to find this place? Is there someone who can direct me there?”
Balthazar gave her a brief run-down of how the taxi system worked, instructing her to have the clerk at the front desk call her a cab and to use the money in the nightstand to pay for it. “Take Horvath’s cane with you; I don’t want to leave that lying around. I don’t know if Dave’s back yet. I don’t have a way to contact him. He should return to the lab sometime, so wait for him there. Explain what’s happened, but let him know that I’ve got things under control. Oh, and tell him he should probably lay low for a while; they’re looking for him, too.”
The door opened behind Balthazar and an officer stuck his head in. “Time’s up.”
“I have to go now. I probably won’t be able to call again, but I’ll see you in a few days,” Balthazar said. “I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
Balthazar started to pull the phone away from his ear, before realizing he had neglected to mention something very important. “Wait, Veronica, there’s one more thing. If you have to use your magic, make sure no one sees you.”
“Why?” Understandably, she sounded confused.
“Magic hasn’t officially been around for a few centuries, now. Various religions denounced it and fanatics led extensive witch-hunts in countries all over the world. It...was bad. Believe me when I say, we don’t want that to happen again.”
“Now, Mr. Blake.”
“All right. If I need to use magic, I shall keep it subtle,” she acquiesced.
“You as well.”
Under the officer’s irritated gaze, Balthazar almost reverently replaced the phone on it’s hook, the metal handcuffs clinking softly as he moved his wrists. Obediently, he stood and followed the officer back to his cell.
It was late by the time Dave finally made it back to the lab. His impromptu date with Becky had ended in disaster, although she had assured him that she wouldn’t hold it against him. Dave almost groaned when he tried the door and found it to be unlocked. The only time that happened was when Balthazar was already there, waiting for him. He was sure the old sorcerer would somehow know about the almost-skirmish between the Coast Guard and the eagle, just like every other time Dave made a mistake. He’d listen with that smug look on his face, his eyes positively dancing as Dave was forced to relive the embarrassment of a bad choice. And, of course, he’d never let Dave live it down, either. Taking a deep breath to steel himself against the ordeal ahead, he opened the door and stepped inside.
The soft sound of footsteps could be heard from below, his master undoubtedly pacing restlessly as he waited for his errant apprentice. After a thousand years apart, you’d think he’d be more interested in hanging out with Veronica than tormenting me, Dave lamented, heading down the metal staircase. “Look, Balthazar, I’m sorry-- I know you said before the eagle was too high profile, but that was downtown and I thought the ocean would be fine, and--” He finally looked up, expecting to meet his master’s laughing blue eyes, mocking him silently. He was not prepared to come face to face with Veronica’s somber chocolate gaze. “...and, you’re not Balthazar,” he finished lamely.
“You are Dave,” she stated, studying him. “We were never properly introduced last night.”
“Yeeeah, I guess I, uh, took off kinda suddenly,” he said, rubbing the back of his neck. “Sorry about that.”
She shook her head slightly, waving off his apology.
“So, uh,” Dave’s gaze wandered about the room, noting the suspicious absence of his master. “I...thought you’d be with Balthazar, you know, after the whole ‘freed from long imprisonment’ thing,” he said, gesturing with his hands as he was want to do when nervous. “Where is he, anyway?”
Veronica shook her head. “I do not know.”
That made Dave pause. “Wait, what do you mean, you don’t know? I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t have just up and left in the middle of the night. I mean, did he say were he was going? Out to get something eat, maybe, or to go track down Horvath or, or something?” he asked.
Veronica resumed her pacing, twisting the ring around her finger as she walked. “Two men came earlier today and took him away. Later, he called on the ‘phone’ and instructed me to come here and find you.” She stopped suddenly, turning to Dave imploringly. “What is going on? Balthazar assured me that he was all right, but is it normal for people to come and take others captive for days at a time?” She started pacing again, her agitation showing in the quick steps and sharp turns as she moved from one side of the lab to the other and back again. “Where I’m from, detaining people in such a manner for days meant that they would be held in the lord’s dungeons and tortured until they confessed to whatever sin they had been accused of. Is that what’s happening now?”
“Veronica--” Dave started.
“He cautioned me against openly using magic,” she continued, gesturing with her hands as if to punctuate the words. “Mentioned witch-hunts that had taken place all over the world. He was careful not to give any specifics, but from the sound of his voice, I know it had to be terrible! What if he was caught?”
“Veronica,” Dave tried again.
She didn’t seem to hear him, the words pouring out of her as she began to give way to panic. “He did not say why he was taken. Surely, he was simply trying to keep me from worrying, or to keep me safe. Was that it? If they had known about my powers, would they have apprehended me as well?” She shuddered, wrapping her arms around herself. “I can’t help but think of what horrors they may be inflicting upon him right now, while I stand here, helpless--”
Dave quickly closed the distance between them, gripping her shoulders tightly. “Veronica!” he said a bit louder than necessary, giving her a little shake to snap her out of it. She jerked in surprise, looking up to meet his eyes. Dave lowered his voice, keeping his tone even and his words measured. “You need to calm down. If Balthazar said he’s fine, then I’m sure he is. There haven’t been any witch-hunts here in a couple hundred years. Balthazar knows how to take care of himself,” he said, trying to calm her down. He really didn’t want to deal with a hysterical sorceress.
Veronica stopped, closing her eyes and taking a deep breath. Once she had regained a bit of her composure, she shook her head, smiling a bit ruefully. “I must apologize to you, Dave. I have had nothing but my own thoughts for company all day. My nerves seem to be a bit delicate at the moment.”
“I guess that’s understandable,” Dave said. He quickly released her arms and stepped back, seeming a bit embarrassed at the intrusion of her personal space. “So, Balthazar was taken by two men. Could you tell me what they were wearing?”
Veronica shook her head again. “They were dressed in strange garb, but much of this place is strange to me.” She closed her eyes, pulling up a mental picture in her mind. “They wore dark-colored coats and matching trousers. Under their coats, was a white tunic secured by a strip of black cloth tied around their necks.” She paused, turning to Dave. “Is that a sign of ownership these days?”
“Uh, no,” he said, not quite sure what to make of her description. “It’s illegal to own another human being.”
“Oh, good. Such a horrible practice, really,” she said, wrinkling her nose in disgust.
“Did they say anything? Where they were taking him, or why, perhaps?” Dave prompted.
“They mentioned something about a station. And questions he needed to answer about a...dragon stone, I think, but it seemed they were referring to a person.” She shook her head helplessly. “I could not make much sense of it, there is just so much about this place that I do not know.”
“Well, the only ‘dragon stone’ I can think of would be my ring, and I doubt Balthazar would have gone quietly if that was the case. But, taking him down to the station...” He turned the idea over in his mind, all the pieces seeming to fit. “Did they identify themselves? You know, like, officer, or detective?” he asked.
Veronica considered for a moment. “Yes,” she said, slowly. “Yes, I do believe I heard the word ‘detective’ this morning.”
“Great! Okay, so we know he was taken by the police,” Dave said. “Now, the question is, why would the police be interested in Balthazar?”
“What is ‘the police’?” Veronica asked.
“Uh, local law enforcement. You know, they make sure everyone obeys the laws and punish those who don’t.”
“Like the knights?”
“Uh, yeah. Kinda...I guess,” Dave answered, a bit distractedly. “Only, without all the torture and stuff. Cruel and unusual punishments are against the law these days.”
“That is some comfort, at least. But, what reason would Balthazar have to break the law?” she asked.
“Funny you should ask...” Dave muttered, going over the series of crazy events that his life had turned into.
Veronica looked at him a bit strangely. “Balthazar did mention that they were looking for you as well, Dave. He said you should ‘lay low’ for a while.”
That narrowed the list a bit and it wasn’t long before he reached the same conclusion as his master. “I, uh, think that he’s probably being charged with breaking and entering. We, uh, tracked the Grimhold to this guy’s apartment last night and, uh, kind of broke in trying to get it back.”
“Can’t Balthazar simply explain that--” Veronica stopped abruptly as the dilemma became clear. “No. Magic is not supposed to exist any longer. There is no way for him to explain his actions.” She took a deep breath, lowering her eyes to the floor. “What is the punishment for stealing in this time? Is there a possibility he can be released with only a fine and a few days in the stocks? Or, will they cut off his hands?” she asked, only a slight tremor in her voice.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa! Stocks? Cutting off his hands? No, no, he--he might get a fine, maybe, or--or community service or jail time, I don’t actually know, but they’re not going to cut off his hands!” Dave’s history classes in school had covered some of the more extreme punishments used in medieval times, but hearing Veronica ask about them as if it was a foregone conclusion suddenly made it seem that much more real, somehow. She came from a time when this was commonplace and not just another horror story told by the teacher.
Veronica visibly relaxed at Dave’s immediate and adamant denial. “So, the local lord is against such punishments, then? Or, is it by Royal Decree?”
“It’s, um, oh man.” Dave ran his hand through his hair. He didn’t even know how to begin explaining the concept of a democracy to the newly-freed sorceress. “Listen, it’s complicated,” he said instead, deciding to leave that mess for Balthazar. “If he was arrested, then he’ll have an arraignment hearing soon and we can post bail...somehow.” Dave realized he didn’t even know if the man actually had any money. He had been, after all, sealed inside an urn for the last ten years. “I need to talk to Balthazar,” he muttered, taking up pacing in Veronica’s stead.
“How?” she asked, following him with her eyes. “Balthazar said he would be unable to ‘call’ again and you cannot go to him, as they are looking for you as well. And, I do not know nearly enough about this time to even hope to blend in.”
“I know, I know, just...gimme a sec, alright?” The college student racked his brain, trying to come up with some sort of plan. He stopped when his eyes fell on his Encantus lying on the table, a grin forming on his face. “Hey, Veronica? How are you at illusions?”
Balthazar sat on the floor, leaning back against the bars of the holding cell. The three benches in the cell were already occupied by the numerous other men he was currently sharing his quarters with and he didn’t mind sleeping on the floor too much. He had slept in much worse places.
The sorcerer opened one lazy eye as the door to the cell across the hall clanged loudly open and a bored officer ordered a new prisoner in. Both eyes opened in mild surprise and he sat up a little straighter as a familiar form grudgingly entered the other cell. Balthazar almost laughed at the irony as the officer returned to his other duties. “I was wondering if you’d be able to escape, given the circumstances,” he drawled, a small smirk sliding across his lips as the newcomer whirled, startled. “But, I have to admit, I didn’t think they’d find you this quickly, Horvath.”
“Balthazar!” Horvath exclaimed, his eyes widened in surprise. “What on earth are you doing here?”
“Just admiring the decor,” Balthazar replied nonchalant, relaxing against the bars. “Such a simplistic design-- I was considering re-modeling the guest room this way.”
Horvath rolled his eyes, having recovered from the brief shock. “I never thought you’d lower yourself to being...confined in a place such as this. Unless...” He let the sentence trail off, his eyes darting down to Balthazar’s right hand as possibilities ran through his mind. “You lost your ring,” he stated, gleeful realization gracing his features.
Balthazar snorted derisively. “Yes, confiscation of all personal belongings is the price of admittance here. You may recall experiencing that on your way in.”
Horvath waved his hand, dismissively. “It’s easy enough to get around that,” he said, eyes gleaming. “An illusion, persuasive suggestion, invisibility spell-- there are no lengths to which a sorcerer won’t go in order to prevent losing his ring,” he stated, his grin reflecting pure malice. “The only way you would have lost yours is if you were unable to use magic to hide it.”
Although Balthazar did his best to stifle his reaction, he felt his eye twitch.
“Ha, ha! Oh, this is rich! You, of all people, stripped of your magic!” Horvath practically crowed. “I don’t suppose you’d tell me if it is only temporary or actually permanent, would you old boy?”
Balthazar shrugged, feigning disinterest. “I don’t know,” he answered, his voice neutral. “If I had to guess, I’d say it was just brought on by exhaustion.”
Horvath smiled wider at his ex-friend’s carefully portrayed attitude of indifference. Balthazar obviously knew more than he was telling, and it wasn’t good. While Horvath hadn’t stayed around for the battle between Morgana and the Prime Merlinian, he had gone back later and pieced together the outcome. Most sorcerer’s avoided spells and whatnot requiring a large amount of electricity because a mistake could cost them their magic. Dave, however, was young and inexperienced. Horvath had seen the thick power cables running all across the park and laughed at the thought of Balthazar accidently touching one during the chaos of the battle. What would the young Prime Merlinian do when he discovered that he had inadvertently stripped Balthazar of his magic? Horvath couldn’t wait to find out.
“That still doesn’t really explain why you’re here, though,” Horvath mused, letting his plans for revenge simmer in the back of his mind for now. “Unless you are here merely to torment me. Gloating never really was your style; but then, the centuries have changed us both very much.”
“Believe it or not, I do have better things to do with my time than exchange barbs with you. But, as with most difficult situations I’ve found myself in over the years, the root of this problem can be traced back to you.”
“Oh?” Horvath raised an eyebrow. “Do tell how this little mishap is my fault.”
“You never did learn to clean-up your messes,” Balthazar stated, wincing slightly as he folded his arms across his chest. “And I always seem to get caught up in them somehow. If you weren’t in here with me, I’d almost think you did it on purpose.” He shifted slightly, getting more comfortable. “At least this time I’m not likely to end up running through the streets with an angry mob carrying torches and pitchforks chasing me.”
Horvath smiled fondly at the memory. “Ah, yes. You were posing as an old woman, if memory serves. What was it they were calling you? Soucriant?”
“Soucouyant. And the legend spawned from that debacle was still being circulated around Haiti last time I was there.”
“I was so close to getting the Grimhold from you then,” Horvath reminisced, bitterly. “The final outcome would have been much different if I had. But, I was overconfident, I suppose. If only that idiot, Jaston, had done his job properly, then I could have finished you off back then.”
“Or ended up sealed in the second layer.”
Horvath scoffed, turning away from the sorcerer to survey the cell. It wasn’t any less crowded than Balthazar’s, the only remaining places to sit being on the floor. Lip curling in disgust, he mirrored Balthazar’s position against the bars, although he opted to stand. “Always so confident that you’ll come out on top,” he sneered. “Can’t admit that you might have made a mistake that night, can you? Just one more sacrifice for the ‘greater good.’ Is that what you tell yourself, to ease your guilty conscience?”
Balthazar sighed. It was promising to be a long night.
To Be Continued