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March 31st, Friday, 2017, 9.40PM

2150 Hanamaru St, Riverfront district, Emerald City, Oregon, USA


Stumbling into the gentle, even glow of Emerald City's streetlights, the prey stopped to catch their breath. The unseasonally warm air, a sign of the impending catastrophe, burned in their frail lungs. The cotton suit was splashed with mud and the leather office shoes were soaked through from running through puddles. The hair that had been curled that afternoon, silky black, reminding the hunter of a smiling, care-worn face above a cradle, hung in tangles.


They weren't moving, just slumped, huddled against a staff of the elegant spire of light. The hunter did not dare enter the cursed, white pool. In the southern Emerald their night-time lights caught the Sun's fury and made the streets a Hell of silent fire.


But the hunter had other means, greater than any other beast's claws, venom or sinew.


With easy grace a human-llike shape swept from the low roof to the alley below.


"Come out of the light. Come to me."


All it had to do was not turn around-


It did. Its eyes met those of the vampire.


They were dead before the fangs sank into their neck.


April 1st, Saturday, that afternoon


Hakim Naifeh could count on a few small blessings in life. Foremost was the nigh-inevitability of having Saturdays off at Westrock. The office was at a convenient location(though really, given the needs of young people in tech, most offices were someplace convenient) with easy access to food and places to relax, but it wasn't the same as taking your own pace where you wanted to be.


Today that place was the Library. Since last winter super-activity had exploded, the Emerald City Originals were rapidly becoming a point of tremendous city pride and Sha'ir had been coming into more and more situations needing creative mystic solutions. Which meant time spent poring over the electic collection in his private extradimensional space.


But today, from the moment he had stepped into the close, musty air and glanced around the bookshelves twisting and reaching in every direction, something had been off.


The first sign was the arch. It had never been there before, a pile of loose leaves arranged haphazardly into a square archway, leading into other, unfamiliar ranks of shelves and cramped desks. These books were arranged, organized with a meticulous hand. They were also mostly in languages that Hakim had never even seen, let alone knew. Harsh runes, cuneiform-like symbols, flowing script that looked like ocean waves.


The second were the voices. Coming from down the narrow hallway, arguing over something. A crisp English alto was holding firm, but a bass from the Deep South was tenacious. The books and carpet muffled all sound, but it seemed like just moving a little further would reveal these intruders...

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The last few weeks had been hectic. There had been some unexpected issues with WestRock’s current project, and they proved to be a lot harder to deal with than usual. Nothing suspicious in any way, just a huge chunk of code that didn’t work as it should, and that in turn created a cascade of issues. The entire team worked, and worked, and worked. And finally, it looked like things were at the point where the issue had been dealt with.


There hadn’t been as much celebration in the office in quite a while. Including a nice party on Friday evening. No incidents there either, that was good. The next morning wasn’t all that fun, but one of the benefits of being the, as far as he was aware, best magician in the Emerald Cities were spells that cured a hangover. And then he arrived at the Library...


This had to be some kind of magical april’s fool joke. What was even happening? Sure, the library itself didn’t make much sense, but whatever that arch was? And then, the voices. The arch was unsettling. The voices were an issue. One way bigger than some messed up code. They couldn’t mean anything good. Not in a place like this, sealed off from the rest of the world.


Immediately, Hakim pulled up his scarf, donning the robes of Sha’ir the Spellsmith. And only moments later, he disappeared from sight. Perhaps he could spy on whoever these people … were they even people? were. Once he’d faded into the background fully, he took a few careful steps forward, just far enough to hear the conversation for now.

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The voices resolved all too slowly, but the argument did become crystal clear:


Leather creaked on high boots and a long coat swished as someone paced back and forth, words flowing without pause for breathing "...Neither do I need your 'remahnder' that this city is sorely lacking in mystical defenders, Jamal. We need real help, not some novice finding his slippered feet!"

Another, more silky rustle was followed by the scratches of a pen on paper "So why not take the poor fella in? Learn more, faster, no need for the old-fashioned stalking treatment you have Weaver on?"

"The Sphinx has already said she can't spare more resources to a city of such low priority. We get tied up holding this boy's hand, we cannot be where we ought."

"Needn't be all of us. I might have some time to kill."

"With Bookbinder still out there?"

"I'll let that slide once, Liza. Anyway, it's a small job, he can handle it fine. These Blood Brothers aren't no challenge 'cept to the poor folks they hunt."


The pacing stopped. There was a long silence.


The cool English woman's voice broke it: "It is rare for eavesdroppers to hear any good of themselves. Surely, for that novelty alone, you will introduce yourself, Sha'ir?" 

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Oh ****


Hakim really wasn’t sure what to do right then. They were talking about somebody, about him most likely? But what was this about? Who were these people? And why were they here? How were they here? Actually, that part was easy, it probably had to do with the huge, what he assumed portal, in the middle of the Library. Still, there were a lot of unanswered questions here. Ones that he was eager to figure out.


It was time to relax. Clearly, these people somehow were mages too. And, judging from what they were saying, not directly hostile. Unless that was a diversion? Either way, what did he know? They’d gotten here the same time a huge magical …gateway? showed up. They currently were walking around, taking about … him almost certainly. There were two of them. And so far, they’d not spott-




So much for that. So much for actual invisibility. He sighed under his breath, then took a step forward, but not before conjuring up a translucent orange shield in front of his body. There was a difference between mistrust and being prepared. And then, trying to catch sight of the two of them, he spoke, doing his best to sound sincere.


“Hospitality is a big part of my upbringing, but don’t usually the guests introduce themselves first?”



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"Of course, my deepest apologies. I am Tower, this is my associate Talespinner." Around the bend Hakim found himself all but face to face with two people in long coats. One was a woman so obviously a vampire the predominant black and red of her clothing seemed downright cartoonish, her long hair and skin pale as milk and hard eyes and thin lips red as blood.


The other was a Pakistani-looking gentleman in a copper-coloured three-piece suit with accessories in violet. His beard and gentle widow's peak gave him a fatherly look, and his easy-going lounge against a bookshelf, thumbing through a tome, set him instantly at odds with his ramrod-straight and grim-faced comrade.


"We are agents of the Order of Light, Sha'ir. A special collections branch for their library, you might say." the obviously-a-vampire said by way of explanation "We find and confiscate magial artifacts before they fall into the wrong hands, which regrettably puts us in frequent conflict with the many mystics and monsters of this world."


Talespinner closed the book he'd been reading with a soft whump and gave a kindly smile to Hakim "We understand you've been perusing the texts stored here, Mister Spellsmith, 'thout so much as a 'by your leave'. Ordinarily that's a serious offense, but we ain't sticklers for rules out here in the sticks, eh?" He chuckled at his own joke.


"Regardless," Tower soldiered on, producing sme newspapers and flipping to relevant articles "we would like to request your help. As you may have heard, there have been several strange murders in the last few months, all victims found in secluded, shadowed places and drained of blood. The work of vampires. A clan of considerable power, to act so boldly." She looked him in the eyes, obviously displeased with what she saw "As this city's chief mystic, this is your problem and must be dealt with speedily and decisively. The Redletters(us) will assist you, but only this once and at cost: we will monitor the use of our Library by you." 


She raised a forestalling, slender hand as black as night "You have free access to the area we installed in Emerald City, and the other branches across the Earth. But we will be watching." Tower folded her arms.


"Do we have a deal?"


Behind her, Talespinner silently made the "call me" gesture to Sha'ir, having grown visibly uncomfortable with Tower's words as she'd gone on.

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…Well, damn.


So there was more to the Library than this. Sometimes, Hakim had assumed a smuch, but he’d never bothered figuring out. He felt it was safer. And judging by this very situation, he wasn’t entirely wrong. What now? A few words had just turned a lot of what he knew (or thought he did) upside down. Still. The Spellsmith was stoic. He could not look weak, for the safety of the persona he’d created.


He lowered his shield, but didn’t dispel it just yet. At the same time, he approached the two. So, what now? He’d heard a few rumours of a few murders happening in the area, but he’d never actually read the news themselves, so all he’d known it had simply been some murders. Those happened, sad as it was.


“I have a multitude of questions. But, I believe those can wait until afterwards. Vampires, you say?”


He extended his hand forwards, not towards either one of the two specifically. With the movement, he also made the robe surrounding the arm flow around a bit more than usual. It added a cinematic touch.


“Yes, we have a deal. What should I expect?”

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Tower took his hand, hers icy cold and hard as steel, as the blood red eyes that met his "Thank you, Mr. Sha'ir. I did hope you would be so cooperative." Stepping back she added wearily "So few small-town mages are. Territoriality is one thing, being a blockhead is quite another. Talespinner?" 


Nodding to his...superior? Talespinner stepped forward and swept the newspaper from the table where it had been set. Holding his hand over it and murmuring something in a language that tickled the back of Hakim's brain, the pages shone and burst into life, a crime scene spilling out in lurid colour along with police officers in the Upper Emerald's green and blue, newshounds and bystanders, all staring and stock-still around a frozen body. Despite the grisly scene, the taller, older man flashed a showman's grin at Sha'ir and snapped his glovéd fingers next to a policewoman's ear.


"Well, officer Neema?"


Softly, almost mechanically, the woman spoke "The Blood Brothers are an elusive street gang, they keep their faces masked and have been known to hide in crowds while stalking their victims. They are most dangerous at night, but can operate during the day as well."


"Lucky bastards," Tower grumbled, leaning against a bookshelf stuffed with editions and translations of Dracula with a look of profound envy. One was missing, a first edition on the top shelf.


"They do not have any mystic training, but they are skilled fighters and ambush predators. Remain vigilant and do not heed their voices or look into their eyes. They can hypnotize and induce illusions via such contact."


"That all, Jas?"


"No. After four days anyone they kill also becomes one of them."


"Thanks, darling, you're an angel." All smiles, Talespinner swept the imagery, the corpse under the sheet, the crowd and yellow tape and alleyway back into the paper, which he shut with an unpaper-like snap.


"We have a few initiates working this city's beat. Good practice." Tower glided closer to Sha'ir, her hands clasped behind her back "Any further questions?" 


Behind her, Talespinner made a sharp 'cut' motion and mouthed "No" several times.

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Hakim followed the presentation with all his attention. This was a trick he hadn’t learned of yet. Nothing that would be impossible, but it certainly was a fancy way of doing it. And judging by the appearance, something that took a fair chunk of knowledge. Perhaps it was something to work on for the next big meet of the EC’s meta-community. It would make for a nice party trick.


Either way, he turned his attention back towards the matter at hand. Sha’ir did not move one bit throughout it all, a trick he’d taught himself early on. It added to the mystique. Once the two … whoever they were exactly, had finished talking, Sha’ir regained movement, nodding a few times. He had some more questions, but he could read a situation. And he didn’t exactly have goodwill to rely on right now.


“I believe that is all for now. I will deal with the matter at hand, judging by all this I assume you’ll know of that once it happens. “

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  • 2 weeks later...



"Set to, sonny, I'm your plus one on this case, remember?" Talespinner clapped Hakim warmly on the shoulder, ushering him gently from the Library crossroads and Tower's ice-hot eyes.


Before they'd reached the Spellsmith's section of the endless maze of tomes, she called after them "Look after him, 'Spinner. Weaver will be observing and reporting how you and Sha'ir handle this."

Talespinner laughed, a rich, throaty sound like an amused bear "Oh, I bet she'll be watching! Can't let a fine old fella like me out of her sights! Don't you sniff at me, Lizzie!" He turned to point an accusing finger down the book-strewn hallway.


A fraction of a second later an arched, contemptuous sniff was hastily stifled with a bout of very unconvincing coughs.


"Every time, like a proper cuckoo clock." Chuckling to himself, Talespinner nodded briefly to Sha'ir "Let me know when and where'd you like to meet to pool what we've learned. I'm going to head down and see what a gentleman I know at Joy's has heard. Here, use this," 


Extending his right hand, palm outward, Talespinner closed his eyes in deep concentration, tracing a circle around his right hand with his left forefinger...then with a snap of his fingers a library card appeared in his left hand, which he tossed to Sha'ir with a grin "Honorary, it works like a smartphone but only links to one of ours." On cue another card seemed to appear in his other hand with a twitch of his fingers.


He nodded to the wall "Will you do the honors, Spellsmith? Your section."

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“Very well. I will see what I can find, and contact you once I have gathered a sufficient amount of information. “


Sha’ir held up the card between two of his fingers, as it slowly disappeared, dissolving into triangles. It looked fancy, but really all that happened was Hakim storing it in one of the robe’s interior pockets with a short-range teleport.


“As for our exit, just step through. It should hopefully take you towards whatever location you desire. In the Emerald Cities only, mind you. It is probably best if you envision it rather specifically, these things can be fickle. … As I doubt I have to tell you. “


The book floating up into position in front of his right hand, Sha’ir extended his left, creating a portal in the middle of the room. It would hopefully do what he intended. But truth be told, one as specific as this was … not the safest option. And once Talespinner had gone through, he’d follow, trying to get to the location of the murder.


As for what he’d do once he was there? He didn’t know just yet.  

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  • 2 weeks later...



At the crime scene


It was like most murder scenes in the Upper Emerald. Mere hours after its discovery everything had been scrubbed and painstakingly cleaned from the site for processing at the SECPD headquarters. City government had never believed in leaving messes lying around, which in this case meant doing what in almost any other city in the Union would have been a shocking breach of procedure. But thanks to the cutting-edge tech the city could afford to commission from its local companies, analyzing crime scenes was better done with sweep-n-scans in the SECPD basement than outdoors relying on fragile chemical matter.


It also cut down on the crowds, potential traffic delays, chances of somebody hearing enough details to do a copycat killing and unfavourable media coverage. 


That and it made for incredible headaches in trying to do any kind of independent investigations.


The street was clean, the sunlamp towered above in all its Modern splendour, the Columbia River rolled gently out to sea just a few meters from the road and rows of sterile warehouses running up and down the street. It was the kind of place that, even in Upper Emerald, looked out of place with any kind of high technology, like the automated railway carrying goods into the warehouses and the solar-powered streetlamps.

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Nothing, then. A bog-standard street corner. No signs of anything having happened. Just one of thousands here in ECS. At that point, Hakim had to stop for just a second. Was this what being a hero was like? Frustration at efficient crime scene clean-up? It truly was a strange business.


And of course, there was no such thing as a complete roadblock. He was Sha’ir. There were many alternatives he could take. All he knew, he could just travel to the past and track the vampire. He’d read something about it once, but he’d decided to not look at manipulating anything related to time for now. Chronomancy was not one of the easy schools by any means.


Necromancy, on the other hand, was. Not “raising skeletons” types of necromancy. There was more to it. There was more to death. The Gravedigger’s Goggles. A spell that tracked the energies released upon death. Not exactly what he needed at this point. That was what the Scene of Staking was good for. A spell that specifically, and only targeted vampires.


Within moments, he’d combined the most important parts of the two, and casted the new spell. Forunately, both were easy spells, they didn’t require any rituals. And from this point onwards, he should’ve been able to see traces of the vampire, left in the surroundings. Hopefully it would be enough to track them down…

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  • 2 weeks later...



The first look was the worst. As usual. The first anything in magic was always too much, too fast, too bright or dark or horrible. The mages had never written that down, any of them, because they had had to learn it for themselves and hadn't ever expected to be dealing with a world so lacking in the mentorships and deep, close bonds between more and less-experienced practitioners. Even a hundred years ago, it would have been unthinkable to be plumbing these depths without a helping hand, someone who knew exactly what you were going through.


Which meant the shocking blare of neon was positively blinding. 


Death was everywhere, in the air, the soil, splattered across the pristine riverside roads. Countless dead, countless dying, smearing the world with gaudy handprints and making a mockery-


A shift of focus and things became much clearer.


There was a red ribbon along the ground. It traced to the mouth of the alley where the body had been found, split into five, and swept into the thrumming, cheerily-decaying Riverfront downtown.


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  • 2 weeks later...



He vaguely knew how this could happen. He’d had it happen before. But never like this. Not with a wave of death, the death of however many, over however long a span of time, washing over him. It was … humbling in a way? And also something he never wanted to experience again. Terrible, creepy, and really not all that fun.


He took a minute to just catch himself again. How long would the spell last? Who knew. Long enough, hopefully. …Five of them. That made things more complicated. So it … almost definitely, was a group. How could he track them ...


No, that would prove too difficult. Tracking five tracks at once, even with what he had access to, would be challenging. And leave him exhausted, which was not how he wanted to confront a vampire. So instead, he followed whichever trails stayed close to each other, until they split.

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  • 2 months later...



The trail at first led through the strict, clear and thoroughly sensible layout of ECO's downtown. Under the dazzling green shadow of the Emerald Tower it weaved into the older, more secluded streets that hadn't yet been reached by Project Emergence, the program intended to unify construction materials and civic infrastructure use. Here the famous Emerald City sheen quickly evaporated, with grimy corner stores and pawn shops serving the low-wage workers crammed into superficially vibrant 'apartment' blocs and shoved into the work nobody better-off wanted to touch. Cut off from the high-traffic river and the traffic of the  I-5 since the 80's corporation and shipping boom, the inner core of Riverside had been known as the 'Dirty Diamond' district for as long as Hakim could remember. It had only light police presence and all the tangled, confusing roads and alleys that the rest of Riverside had long ironed out.


It was here that the trail split, into three. One headed for the dark and depressing grey block of the Public Works building, the rest headed for one of the marginally-cheerier Crystal Palace Apartments. Until one stopped right on top of a manhole cover.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Different paths. Great. It meant that no matter what, Hakim couldn’t cover all of them at once. And it also meant that there were at least three vampires roaming the city. Which was enough to be an issue. He didn’t have any necessary equipment to deal with them, and magic only did so much. One he could hopefully handle, two perhaps, but anything above that was an issue.


He had to play this smart. He could use some Wisps to track down whichever paths he wouldn’t chose to pursue. But he realized it wouldn’t lead him to much. It would only carry the possibility of alerting whoever had created the path. Public works, sewers, or Apartments. What he’d learned from movies was that either, the boss would be at the most fancy place, or the most run down one. He decided to assume the former for now.


He moved forward, walking and hovering. It was not entirely danger-free, so before he’d run into any trouble, he opted for using the NY-Veil. Magical urban camouflage, so to say. He would, quite literally, fade into the background of the city, unable to be seen thanks to the ever-changing urban jungle.

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