by Martin T. Ingham

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Episode 1:
The Stagecoach Heist

The dust of the hills rolled up in great plumes behind the stagecoach, as it thundered down the well-traveled road. The blued steel plates glistened in the late-afternoon sun, an armored behemoth among parched sagebrush. It was the pride of the fleet, owned and operated by Ferguson and Finney Limited. The mining consortium had a dozen coaches that made trips between Sacramento and Selwood, but this one was special, for transporting the most valuable cargoes.

The beasts hauling the coach were not horses, but sand mares. The cold-blooded reptilians looked more akin to dragons than equines, with scales and thorny protrusions covering them from head to tail. Six of the bulky creatures were attached to the yokes, and even with the heavy load they could outrun the fastest racehorse. The wild version native to the southern Rockies and Sierra Nevadas could turn you into a tasty snack with ease, though the domesticated variety were gentle enough, and could gallop in a smooth fashion.

Atop the armored coach sat a round cylinder of menacing armaments; the famed Gatling gun, the greatest machine gun of the day. With a few turns of the crank, it could fend off a pack of angry Indians, or slaughter the most ruthless elven bandits. Additional backup lurked inside the coach, as a pair of well-armed men waited with rifles and pistols, prepared to defend the cargo with their lives.

None could stand against the combined strength of these defenses which sought to safeguard this special transport, or so the stockholders hoped.

The man smiled. He's seen it all before. Similar weapons had done no good last week for a band of disagreeable elves. The pointies really thought that a few hunks of metal and a few guns could stand up to his might, but he'd shown them. The rowdy claim-jumpers who'd wanted to hoard a mother load of antimony had tasted his wrath, and not one had lived to tell of it.

That had merely been a warm up. Today, the warlock in black would prove his true mettle.

Rubbing at his chin, the warlock felt the start of stubble growing there, and his thoughts momentarily shifted to his personal hygiene. He was never one for beards, and he'd be damned if he'd grow one like the old stuffed shirts at the academy. How careless he was being, forgetting to shave over the excitement of a heist. That could not be tolerated.

With a thought and a rolling of his eyes, the man activated the magic at his command, and a ripple of red rolled down his face, removing the tiny stubble growing on his cheeks and chin. The end result was a perfect shave, smoother than the best barber could provide. He stroked himself appreciatively, and decided he was ready.

Stretching out his arm, the man formulated a magic spell in his head, and directed it toward the charging sand mares. A scarcely visible streak of light flashed through the air and shot into each of the animals, disrupting their central nervous systems. Paralyzed, they stopped dead in their tracks, and began to tumble from their remaining inertia.

Under ordinary circumstances, a stagecoach would flip over, or even end-for-end after such an abrupt stop, but the added weight of the armor plates prevented the thing from toppling. Its back wheels lurched up in the air a couple of feet, then came back down with a great crash, bringing everything to a halt.

With the coach motionless, it would be such a simple task for any parlor magician to teleport the wealth inside, or so the man in black believed until he tried. Clearly, the brains behind this armored wagon's design had anticipated the possibility of mystic assault, and laced the exterior with a neutralizing ward. Your typical warlock or elvish bandit would find it impossible to extract anything from within the vehicle, though there was nothing typical about this darkly clothed gentleman. If he wished, he could defeat the magic wards, and take what he desired with a thought, though encountering resistance made him bold, and eager to face his foes in person.

"Time to say hello," he mused to himself, pulling a revolver out from under his coat. He clambered down the hill, stirring up a visible cloud of dust in the process. As he reached the road in front of the crippled coach, his eyes quickly locked onto the Gatling gun being trained upon him. Slowing down, he smiled in amusement at the shiny new weapon that sought to stand in his way.

The first shots resounded, sending .45 caliber bullets flying out past the speed of sound, seeking to shred the man's flesh, but they never got the chance. As the lead projectiles neared, the man froze each of them in place with a single wave of his hand. More and more piled into the air, but none could penetrate the thickness of the air molecules in front of this mystic bandit.

In the mounting seconds of gunfire, the man's attention drifted for a nanosecond to the fabric of reality around him. He perceived the bullets beyond their outward appearance, saw the subatomic bonds holding the atoms together, and marveled at the simplicity of it all. But it wasn't a single atom that held his attention, but millions of millions, all at once, reflected within his mind's eye. So much data that so few men could comprehend, yet he could see it all!

In the blink of an eye, his attention returned to the matter at hand, and the gray patch of bullets floating in front of him. The rattle of the Gatling gun had stopped, but three hundred bullets remained in close proximity to one another, hovering in mid-air, waiting for orders. Utilizing the stored inertia within the projectiles, the man redirected them, sending the barrage back at their source. The hunks of lead pelted the sides of the stagecoach. Their soft material did little to harm the hefty steel plates, but made a raucous noise, enough to frighten those who lurked inside the vehicle.

The man in black stretched his consciousness to see those who stood against him. He sensed their fear, and savored it, much as a wine taster samples a fine vintage. So raw and pure, yet simple in texture. How he longed for that sort of emotion, a basic feeling undiluted by extraneous knowledge beyond human existence. The sort of feeling he'd once shared not so long ago.

"They don't know how lucky they are," he thought, stepping up to the armored coach. "Ignorance is such bliss."

The metal was smooth as he slid a hand against a side plate. Closing his eyes, he sensed all the days and weeks that had transpired to craft this metal into its current form. He saw the miners extracting the raw ore, watched blacksmiths melt it in the crucible and shape it into sheets. He saw the machinists mill the sheets to the proper dimensions and rivet them into place. So much information from a simple touch. Sometimes, his power amazed even him.

Knowing the object so intimately had its advantages, for as he peered into its essence, he was able to manipulate the subatomic structure and reshape it at will. Setting his fingers at the edge of one plate, the metal gave way, allowing him a firm grip. With a yank of his arms, the inch of solid steel peeled and crumpled like a piece of thin foil, exposing the wooden framework of the coach and the men lurking inside.

There were two of them, and the warlock already knew all about them from his previous telepathic scans. Sampson Blascoe and Blaine McGruber, a couple of rough and tough Indian fighters who'd done a lot of slaughtering for the Union Army over the last decade. Now they were eking out a living in this cushy assignment, working security for Ferguson and Finney. They were about to meet their doom.

Blascoe was front and center, ready to do his job to the bitter end. He'd faced his fair share of native Shamans and Medicine Men and figured that experience could save his sorry backside today. Squeezing the trigger on his revolver and fanning the hammer with the heel of his hand, he sent six slugs in quick succession into his adversary's chest, confident that they'd do the job. The projectiles were no ordinary bullets. They'd been treated with a fine coating of Basilisk blood, giving them a strong resistance to mystic energy other than their own.

The bullets stung like fire as they punched through the warlock's flesh. The typical forcefield he'd summoned did nothing to halt their progress. He hadn't anticipated this turn of events, and marveled at the unexpected turnaround. It had been so long since anything had surprised him, it made for a neat change of pace.

Healing injuries was elementary, and for a fleeting moment the warlock felt certain it would be easy, but the same energy that had negated his protective magic was still at work, only on a far more invasive level. He felt the flesh around the holes hardening, as the trace of Basilisk blood worked its sinister task. If left unchecked, his body would be solid stone in a matter of minutes.

"Heh, gotcha!" Blascoe shouted in joy.

The warlock grimaced as the wounds continued to sting with icy pain, and he fought for the proper counteragent to repel the petrification. His mastery of magic was virtually unmatched. How could he be felled by this simpleton and a few drops of a lizard's blood?

Then, the answer came.

Peering into the subatomic yet again, the warlock saw the energies at work, saw them as colorful waves ripping and tearing at molecules within his body. He saw his own mystical energies intermingled there, unable to defeat the petrifying spell of the Basilisk. Drawn into this unique trance, the solution was delivered to him; a way to reshape his own spell and cancel the magic attacking his cells.

With the blink of an eye, the pain went away. The transmutation ceased, allowing the warlock to heal his injuries with ease. As the holes in his stomach disappeared, the smile on Blascoe's face vanished with them.

"Tough break, Sammy," the warlock said, regaining his own smirk. Ah, what a satisfying turnaround!

Blascoe was fighting to eject the spent cases from his revolver as quickly as possible. One by one, the ejector rod pushed the empty brass from the cylinder, but it was futile. His time had run out.

The warlock still had a revolver in his left hand. He'd been gripping it this whole time, waiting for the chance to use it. The simple mechanical device with its neatly polished parts and ornately-carved ivory grips was a marvel of modern machinery, and with this fine weapon the warlock put down his foe in a most material manner. Three shots were placed in slow succession, enough to grant him added satisfaction from the kill. Blascoe crumpled to the ground in a lifeless heap, leaving only one man standing between this warlock and the gold.

Blaine McGruber saw the futility in resistance, and threw up his hands. In response, the warlock put a bullet in his gut, unwilling to accept the man's obvious surrender.

Stepping into the armored coach, the warlock kept his pistol aimed at Blaine, who struggled against the pain. "Take it," the wounded guard said, staggering away from the locked safe.

"Oh, I intend to," the warlock said, sticking his pistol in McGruber's face, eager to finish the job. "I'm still going to kill you."

"But... why?" McGruber asked in agony, staring down the barrel pointed at his forehead.

"Because I can," the warlock said, cocking the hammer, "and because I must."

The shot rang out, sending McGruber to his maker, and leaving the warlock with his spoils.

The safe wasn't that large, a cubical block about two feet square, though there was only so much a team of beasts could haul. The warlock wasted no time dismantling the locks, and took special care to detect any mysticism afoot. As expected, there was a ward cast on the safe, which would have paralyzed any common lock-picker, but not a true master of magic. The ward was dispelled and the door creaked open to reveal the contents within.

Several dozen bags of gold dust sat inside the safe, close to a thousand pounds of precious metal. The small fortune was a pleasing sight, though it was only one of the warlock's objectives. Removing the bags with haste, he made his way to the bottom of the safe, which appeared to be nothing out of the ordinary at first glance. However, upon close inspection, faint lines could be seen in the metal plate near the back: a hidden compartment!

With careful attention, the warlock formulated the proper spell to pry up the plate without disturbing the contents underneath it. There, as the metal gave way, he saw what he was looking for, a slender pewter box scarcely smaller than the hole it was sitting in. He levitated it out of its hiding place and into his waiting hands, grinning profusely.

The contents of this little box could be the key to all his hopes and dreams. How funny, he wasn't even sure what it was. He'd killed these men and robbed this stage coach, all for something he'd never seen. How he longed to inspect the merchandise, but he'd been instructed to keep the box shut, and deliver the contents undisturbed. Yet, considering the effort he'd expended and all the blood on his hands, he had to find out what this box held. What could be so powerful that it would warrant such wanton destruction in its retrieval?

His curiosity was too much to bear, and he found himself reaching a finger into the slender groove, eager to peek inside.

* * *

The last clump of dirt fell from Ron Grimes' shovel, as he laid his brother to rest. This was the least he could do for his kin, even though the smell had been unbearable. The body had been left in a dark cave for the better part of three months before Ron had found it. Only the arid environment had preserved it enough for identification.

"I got 'em, Darrell," Ron said to his brother's spirit. "I shot your killer fair and square." He tossed his shovel aside and placed the wide-brimmed cowboy hat over his heart. Closing his eyes, he said a little prayer in his head, wishing he could remember a divine scripture. He'd never been heavy on religion, despite his parents' insistence. Too old world, he'd always said.

The sun was hot in the Nevada desert, so Ron didn't leave his hat off for long. His thinning hair did little to protect his scalp from the elements. The signs of age were catching up with him, and he had little to show for the passing years. He'd found no fortune, owned little more than the clothes on his back, and what family he had left was sitting in the ground under his feet.

This was a sad state for a dwarf approaching middle-age.

Leaving his brother's grave, Ron climbed atop his horse and moved on, across the arid wastes. There was really no reason for him to hang around. This worthless hunk of land that had been his brother's claim didn't hold his interest. If there was gold here, he didn't see it, and mining had never been his forte.

He was twenty miles from Selwood, that populated crossroads in the center of this arid expanse. His horse was pointed in that direction, but did he really want to go back? His business there was done; his brother's murder avenged. The only reason he'd want to stick around would be to please the local sheriff, who sought to keep Ron as an indentured deputy.

A little voice in the back of Ron's mind told him to get out, make for the county line, and never look back. Hell, forget the county, get out of the entire state! There was nothing he wanted in Nevada, and there were plenty of other places out west where a dwarf could make his mark, and get a little peace. Maybe find a spread in Oregon or Idaho, where the hunting was good and there was plenty of water. Wherever he ended up, it would be better than here.

His mind was made. Spurring his horse with his heels and snapping the reins, Ron was off, heading northwest. It would be a long ride, but there were other towns and watering holes in his path... or, at least, there would have been if he'd been kept on course.

Suddenly, a flash of darkness appeared over Ron's eyes, and in the blink of an eye he found himself falling. The horse was gone from beneath him, along with the dusty hills. Wooden floorboards were coming up fast, and he tucked himself into a ball and rolled as he landed to avoid serious injury. After coming to a stop and jumping to his feet, he looked around the familiar room, and realized exactly what had happened.

"Blast you, Doliber!" Ron shouted as he turned toward the desk where the local sheriff was sitting.

"Sorry for the abrupt teleport, but I couldn't have you running off on me," Sheriff Doliber replied, picking a cigar out of the box on his desk. With a snap of his fingers, a mystic spark ignited the tip, and the embers glowed as he inhaled.

"You've been spying on me," Ron said with certainty. He'd feared as much, knowing the sheriff's mystic talents.

Doliber tapped the side of his right temple. "Empathic link, remember? I can sense what you're feeling, and your flight instincts blared out loud and clear a few minutes ago. You were trying to split."

"Damn it, Doliber, I told you I don't want anything more to do with you. Our business is finished."

"We're finished when I say we are," Doliber replied, tapping his cigar against his ornate, brass ashtray. There wasn't much ash in the receptacle, showing he had recently cleaned it.

"Why won't you just let me go?" Ron asked, feeling as caged as any prisoner.

"Because I need you," Doliber admitted. "You've seen the kind of characters who operate around here. I can't deal with them alone."

"I'm sure you can manage, considering all that warlock training of yours."

"Even I have my limits. Reliable help's hard to come by, and you're one of the sharpest gunslingers I've ever seen. Wouldn't you like to put those talents to good use?"

"No," Ron said defiantly.

Doliber sighed. "Why are you so resistant? You're not a wicked man, and you certainly aren't a coward. What's got you running scared?"

"That's my business," Ron said, knowing the sheriff was looking to guilt him. It wasn't going to work. He'd done his duty, and done enough killing for one lifetime. He wasn't about to get drafted again.

"All right, look, things are pretty calm right now, so why don't you take a load off, settle in for a few days. Think things over, and if you really can't bring yourself to do the right thing, I'll let you go."

"Waiting around a few days isn't going to change my mind," Ron replied. He'd already spent a week in the hills, thinking about the sheriff's offer, and he'd made his decision.

"Even so, it won't hurt you to get some rest before you trudge off to wherever it is you're going. The Bormans have a boarding house on the edge of town. I'll pay for your room."

"I don't need your charity," Ron grumbled.

"Consider it a signing bonus if you accept the job, or severance pay if you don't. Either way, the room is paid for."

"Thanks," Ron said, turning to leave. He'd been in Nevada almost a month already, so what was another few days? A free room was nothing to balk at, in any case. As he reached the door, another concern crossed his mind. "Say, what about my horse?"

"He's right outside," Doliber assured him. "I'll book him a stall at Kinney's livery stable while you check out the boarding house."

"You do that," Ron said, heading out the door.

Outside, the midday sun was beating down on the dusty streets of Selwood. The town was pretty busy, serving as a central hub of travel in southern Nevada. Prospectors, gamblers, gunfighters, and freeholders could all be found browsing the shops and drinking at the saloon. The town itself didn't have that many full-time residents, but the countryside poured in for the amenities.

Ron found the Bormans' boarding house easily enough, and checked in. The elderly lady tending the place gave him a quick tour of his room, a ten by twelve box with a bed and a weathered washtub that a full-sized human would be cramped in. Though, a dwarf could find the half-barrel basin relaxing, assuming the thing didn't give him a splinter. He had two weeks of dust and sweat stuck to his skin, so a bath was most desired, and his first order of business.

It would take at least an hour for Mrs. Borman to heat enough water for the tub, but Ron was used to roughing it, so he took it cold. Using a complimentary bar of soap, he scrubbed himself down until the water was black. He regretted that he only had the one set of clothes, as he put the filthy garments on his clean skin. Perhaps that could be remedied.

The sheriff's offer was starting to interest him, even if he didn't want to admit it. He could certainly use the money, no doubt about it, though the thought of fighting for a living no longer appealed to him. He had enough blood on his hands already. Many jobs in his youth had been violent, whether it was fighting Rebs in the Civil War, or wild Indians in the Dakotas, or drunken cattle rustlers in Oklahoma; he'd seen more than his fair share of combat. He was tired of killing for a living.

But he was so good at it.

With the clothes on his back, he cycled the cylinder of his Remington revolver. The old cap-and-ball design was pretty antiquated in this era of cartridges, but it had seen him through many scrapes. It wasn't so much the tool, as the craftsman wielding it that mattered.

Strapping the six-shooter to his hip, Ron's hand brushed against his right pocket, and felt the hunk of metal protruding from within. He reached in and dug out the silver badge Doliber had pinned on him a while back, the shiny star of authority. The allure of power was not lost on him, though the duty and responsibility was a heavy counterweight.

Part of him wanted to fling the badge out a window, but the little voice in the back of his mind forced him to pocket the thing again.

"A few days, he says," Ron mumbled to himself. "Great."

Walking down Main Street, Ron decided to check on his horse. He knew where the livery stable was, so he took a quick detour and made sure the sheriff had stuck to his word. Sure enough, Ron found his trusted companion wedged in a stall, waiting patiently to revisit the trail. It set his mind at ease, as he continued his journey to the Lucca Saloon.

Reaching the town's primary drinking establishment, Ron pushed open the swinging doors and walked over to the counter, then heaved himself up onto a waiting stool. His approach had been observed by the prim and proper elf waiting by the taps. Ron remembered the bartender from his last visit to Selwood, and knew he was stirring up trouble by coming here.

"Well, if it isn't the Leprechaun again," Solen remarked arrogantly, brushing a hand over his neatly-combed blond hair.

"I ain't no Irishman, you pointy-eared dandy," Ron grumbled. "Now, gimme a whiskey."

"I'm sorry, but we don't serve your kind in here," Solen replied with a smile.

"My kind?" Ron smiled back and dug the deputy badge out of his pocket. "What, you mean law men?" The badge rattled on the hardwood counter in front of Solen.

Solen sighed and rolled his eyes.

"Whiskey!" Ron growled.

"Are you on duty?" Solen asked.

"Does that matter?"

"I couldn't in good conscience serve you while you're on-duty."

"Fine, then I'm off duty," Ron answered, putting the badge away.

"Well, then I'm afraid we don't serve your kind in here," Solen replied.

The intentional slight burned on Ron's nerves, as his emotional state was already pretty raw from recent events. Grabbing the cocky elf by his broad lapels, he growled back, "Look here, pointy, I'm not playing your twisted little games. I ain't had a drink in six months, and I'm sure as hell gonna get that whiskey, one way or another. Now, you can either get paid for it, or I'll confiscate it in the name of the law. It's your choice."

"Who do you think you are?" Solen asked with a shrill voice. "This is America. I have rights!"

Ron grunted in amusement, and released his grip on the elf's jacket. "Yeah, even a pointy-eared bugger like you has 'em, and so do I. Now, sell me a damn drink."

Solen brushed his jacket, as if shaking off dirt. "Well, since you asked so nicely..." He turned and grabbed a brown bottle from the rack behind him, and proceeded to fill a shot glass with the tan liquid. "Two bits."

Ron dug into his pocket and found a few pieces of silver. Besides the silver dollar, he had a couple of twenty-cent pieces. He'd won the odd things at a Faro table in Kansas City a few months back, and for a while there he'd suspected a fraud. Who'd ever heard of a twenty cent piece? It had only been since hitting Nevada that he'd seen the things in regular use, though even here they weren't that popular.

The silver coins jingled against the hardwood counter. "How about two shots for forty?" Ron asked.

Solen grabbed the coins and smirked. "Don't press your luck, midge." He promptly produced three nickels in change, which Ron glared at before pocketing.

With the money paid, Ron finally got around to downing the shot. The rot-gut burned down his throat. It wasn't the nicest feeling, but after a few seconds, the warm buzz enveloped him, taking the edge off recent aches of his body and soul. One was enough, so he didn't regret the failed haggling. Still, he'd have felt bad if he hadn't at least tried to chisel the annoying bartender.

As the warmth of the drink took hold of him, he noticed a conspicuous figure clomping into the saloon.

Ron turned around slowly, and looked to see a woman stomping towards him. What he saw surprised him in many ways. The heavy leather attire looked wholly unsuited to a lady, though it couldn't hide her ample bosom, or the soft elegance of her face. Yes, there was something very alluring about this lady, even if she were a lousy elf.

"Are you Boron Grimes," the lady asked, staying a few steps away from the dwarf. She was shooting daggers with her eyes as he remained silent. "Well?"

There was no telling what this woman wanted, though Ron felt comfortable enough to finally answer. "I am, and you would be?"

"My name is Joella Lafayette-Talus. You shot my husband."

A surge of adrenaline pulsed through Ron's head, disrupting the pleasant buzz. His hand instinctually reached for the revolver tucked under his long jacket.

"Don't even try it," Joella snapped, pointing her own weapon in his face. She could have fired and ended his short existence then and there. The fact that she kept her finger off the trigger said that wasn't her immediate intent.

"Excuse me," Solen interrupted. "Do you two mind..."

"Stay out of this, barkeeper," Joella ordered with a shout. "You know Elvish Clan Law. Would you deny the rights of a widow?"

Solen rolled his eyes and stepped away from the counter, leaving Ron to face the angry woman on his own.

"What do you want with me?" Ron asked, staring down the barrel of her sleek Smith & Wesson.

"You killed my husband. What do you think I want?" Joella asked incredulously.

"Then shoot, and get it over with," Ron challenged, feeling his number was up. There was nothing he could do if she was intent on firing, so he turned back to his empty shot glass, showing it more interest than the pistol aimed at his head.

Joella narrowed her eyes in irritation. "Oh, I can't believe I'm doing this," she complained, grabbing at a small pouch tied to her belt. It took her a minute to get the knot untied with a single hand, but once the satin bag was released she dug two fingers inside and tossed a pinch of red dust in Ron's face.

The substance tingled like the whiskey, but it was far more powerful than simple drink. As Ron tried to speak, he found his throat paralyzed, and noticed the rest of his body going numb. What was this mad woman doing to him?

"You're going to pay, Grimes," Joella said as his eyes went dark and his limp body slid off the bar stool. "Just not how you might expect."

* * *

The call came in shortly after Ron Grimes left the sheriff's office; a mystic message from a summoning orb that Doliber had given to most every businessman in the county. If something came up, he could be contacted in a moment's notice, and respond instantly via a magic teleport. Having a warlock for a sheriff certainly had its advantages.

There was something different about this summons. The call wasn't from any of the populated towns, as usual, but from thirty miles northwest of Selwood, a patch of parched dust near the county line. That spelled trouble, for sure, so Doliber wasted no time with his reply. With a ceremonial flick of his wrist, he activated a mental command which sent him instantly to the source of the signal. A mild tingling sensation lingered as his body adjusted to its new surroundings.

Hills of dirt and rock, with a bit of scrub brush mixed in for character, greeted Doliber as the midday sun beat down overhead. Someone had called him to this?

"Hey, Jimmy," a voice grabbed Doliber's attention. He turned around to see a tall man in a beige trench coat smiling back. "Good of you to show up."

"Marshall Rodgers," Doliber greeted the man with suspicion. He'd met this federal law man on a few occasions, always in an official capacity. There was no love between the two of them, and their working relationship was tenuous, at best. The Marshall wouldn't have contacted the sheriff unless it was important.

The larger question remained. How had he summoned Doliber in the first place?

"Here, I think this is one of yours," Rodgers said, tossing a round, glass ball at Doliber.

"Where'd you get this?" Doliber asked, staring at the mystic orb. It was about the size of a billiard ball.

"On the other side of this ridge," Rodgers said, leading the way. The two men climbed the slight slope and peered over the other side at the mutilated stagecoach and the dead men within.

The familiar scent of death greeted Doliber as he stood before the wreckage. The foul odor of blood and entrails told that the kills were relatively fresh, no more than a few hours old. An ordinary man couldn't cross much territory in that time, but from the wrinkled steel plates and the dead mares without a scratch on them, it was obviously no ordinary man who'd done this.

"You can see why I called you," Marshall Rodgers said, rubbing his hands together nervously. "Looks like something in your league."

"Indeed," Doliber said, squeezing his eyes shut. The gesture was not a sign of irritation, but part of a trigger that activated a unique spell. As he opened his eyelids, a flash of blue light flickered over his vision and left his eyeballs aglow. The result gave him the ability to perceive the lingering traces of mystic energy lurking on the crime scene. Magnificent splotches of color coated all places that magic had touched, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt what Doliber had feared since first seeing the mangled coach.

This was not the work of a desert troll, or some elvish bandit. These were clearly human magic traces, which could mean only one thing. A fellow warlock was to blame; someone with real training, not just a parlor magician. Likely, a member of the Guild itself!

"So, whatcha got?" Rodgers asked, stroking his neatly trimmed mustache.

"A headache," Doliber replied.

End of Episode 1

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