Alden sent streams of soul force in all directions, probing the stone steps outside the castle for any sign of either the thief or the urn. Glowing spheres of light brightened the area, but revealed nothing. You’d have thought someone rushing out would have left some sign, a drop of blood, a torn piece of cloth, something.

So far his efforts had been in vain. Beside him Imogen scanned the heavy doors, seemingly with equal results. They’d checked every inch of the castle before moving outside. If they had to search the whole city this way it would take the entire Crimson Legion a year. Somehow Alden doubted they had a year.

“Why is it we can’t remember what the spy looked like?” Alden asked.

Imogen cut off her flow of soul force. She turned to face him, her beautiful face twisted in a fierce scowl. “The healer said it’s because of the poison. It knocked us out and erased our short term memory. A useful tool for a spy.”

“Yeah, but a pain for us. There has to be a way to speed this up.”

“If we had some idea where to look. But since we don’t we’ll have to look everywhere.”

Something clanked and the doors opened. The archmage stepped out, her expression hard and grim. “Anything?”

Alden shook his head. “We’ve checked the whole castle inside and out. Whoever it is must be out in the city.”

“I agree,” Imogen said.

“Well that makes three of us. Before we start a random hunt through the city I have a list of names and addresses for you.” She handed Alden a rolled-up scroll. “Three servants and a guard remain unaccounted for. No one seems certain if they showed up at the castle today or if they left early. Whatever happened they’re our best leads. Maybe we’ll get lucky and they’ll be hiding at home.”

Alden pursed his lips. “If they’re hiding the urn at home I’ll dance naked around the city.”

“We have nothing else to go on. If you have a better suggestion I’m listening.” The archmage stared so hard at him Alden flinched.

“No, ma’am. We’ll get right on this.”

“Good. Start with the brother and sister.” The archmage slammed the door leaving them alone again.

“Did you really try and joke with her under these circumstances?” Imogen asked.

“I’ll grant you my timing could have been better.” He unrolled the scroll. It seemed the Linn family lived in a flat above a dry goods store. That was probably handy. “Do you know where Hammer Street is?”

“The trade district.”

“That’s thirty square blocks. I was hoping for something a little more precise.”

“Let’s just fly there and ask the first person we see.” Imogen leapt into the air.

Alden followed, shaking his head. He hated asking for directions.

They landed at the edge of the trade district. Through the whole flight Alden didn’t think he’d seen more than a handful of undamaged buildings. Everywhere he looked people were picking through rubble, whether searching for people or things he couldn’t say.

Imogen marched over to a stout, gray-haired woman in a smock and apron sweeping glass out of the street. Whatever else you might say about their crimson tunics, they drew people’s attention the moment they saw them.

“Where’s Hammer Street?” Imogen asked.

The woman looked up and squinted at them. She pointed toward the city wall. “Three blocks that way, two right, next left. Look for the sign, you can’t miss it.”

Imogen stalked off without another word. Alden waved at the woman. “Thanks.”

It was such a short distance they didn’t bother flying. At the appointed corner they found a four-foot-tall wooden sign carved to look like a hammer. Alden grinned. Talk about obvious.

“What was the name of the store?” Imogen asked.

Alden dug the scroll out of his tunic and conjured a small light. “Smitty’s Dry Goods. I doubt they’re open.”

Imogen looked at him with her hard, blue eyes. “They’ll open for us.”

Alden followed her down the street, his gaze darting from side to side. The area consisted mostly of businesses, which explained the lack of people. The shopkeepers and workers were probably home picking up. Once the sun rose he figured the place would be packed with people trying to figure out how much the quake had cost them.

Imogen stopped, hands on her hips, staring at a half-collapsed two-story building. A broken sign lay on the ground near the door. It said “Smitty’s Dry Goods.” Three-quarters of the roof slumped down into the second floor. Alden had serious doubts anyone was hiding up there.

They flew up and looked down into the ruined apartment. Alden sensed a faint soul force. Imogen looked at him and he nodded. They landed on a heap of mangled rafters and shingles. The soul force emanated from the undamaged portion of the second floor. Unfortunately half the collapsed roof lay between them and whoever was on the other side.

“Hey! Are you okay?” Alden shouted.

Imogen smacked his shoulder. “What are you doing? It could be the spy.”

“The spy was in the castle when the tremors started. If that’s who it is how did they get over there?”

“Hello?” A faint, feminine voice came from beyond the rubble.

“I don’t know, but you still shouldn’t have shouted.”

“Fine. Let’s argue some more after we dig her out.”

The two sorcerers made short work of the pile of rubble. Hiding under a table on the opposite side was a terrified young woman who stared at Alden and Imogen like they were angels descended from heaven.

“Thank you. I was afraid I’d never get out of there.”

“All part of our job, miss,” Alden said.

“Who are you?” Imogen asked.

“I’m Holly Linn. I’d offer you a cup of tea, but…” She looked around at the ruins of her apartment and shrugged.

“Why weren’t you at your job today?” Imogen asked.

“I’ve been sick and Jonny insisted I stay home and rest today. He said they could get along without me for a day. Am I in trouble?”

“Not at all, miss.” Alden smiled and patted her hand. “We’re just checking on any absent servants to make sure they weren’t hurt in the quake. You don’t know where your brother is by any chance?”

She shook her head. “He went to the castle this morning the same as he does every day. I assumed he was there. Is he okay?”

“We’re not certain. As you can imagine things are a little crazy right now. We’ll find him, never fear.” Behind him Imogen snorted.

Holly hugged Alden. “Thank you so much, sir. I don’t know what I’d do if something happened to Jonny.”

Alden wiggled free of the girl and asked, “Do you have somewhere you can go? It isn’t safe for you to remain here.”

She shook her head. “This place was all we had. Mom and Dad died four years ago and now it’s just Jonny and me.”

“Would you like to go to the castle? We can find a place for you to rest away from everyone so you won’t make them sick.”

“Yes, sir, I’d like that. I’m afraid I’ll fall through the floor if I stay here.”

Alden looked around and was forced to agree with her. He conjured a wagon about Holly and the three of them took off. They hadn’t flown far when Holly let out a little squeak. She stared out over the devastated city, her hand at her mouth.

“Holly, did your brother have any friends that might know where we can find him?” Alden asked.

“Jonny had a few friends in the guards, but he spent most of his time with Carmen. He thought he was being sneaky, but I saw them together all the time. Usually kissing.” Holly’s face turned bright red when she said that last bit.

“Would that be Carmen Warren?” Alden asked.

Holly nodded. “Do you know her? She’s very pretty. Sometimes she even talks to the queen.”

“How do you know that?” Imogen asked, a little sharper than necessary.

“I heard her tell Jonny. I think Carmen liked to brag. Not that she’s a bad person. Getting to talk to the queen is a real honor after all.”

“It certainly is.” Alden caught Imogen’s eye and they shared a nod.

They landed in the castle courtyard and Alden got Holly settled in before joining the archmage in the throne room.
“Is the girl being honest with you?” she asked.

“I’m confident she is,” Alden said.

“Agreed,” Imogen said. “She’s a bubble-brained kid, but she’s no spy.”

“Good. We’ve also eliminated Merik Arcorn from the list while you were gone.”

“How’d you manage that?” Alden asked.

“A search party found him crushed under a pile of logs he was cutting into firewood.”

Alden winced. “That certainly crosses him off our list. Carmen Warren and Jonathan Linn on the other hand I have a bad feeling about.”


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About the author

James E Wisher

Bio: I've been writing since my senior year of high school and Indy publishing my work for the past almost five years. I currently have 26 publishing novels. You can find them all on my website.

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