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A note from UnstoppableJuggernaut

Hello everybody and thank you for your support! I managed to pull myself away from Smash Bros—I am THIS close to unlocking Ganondorf—to post this, lol.

Alrighty, let's get into it!


Alex took a deep breath. “What does how fast I got here have to do with you investigating a demon summoner?” he asked the officer. “Are you accusing me of something?”

“Oh, no, no, of course we’re not making accusations, it just seems curious that you got here so quickly, and according to the landing records at the port, well before you were to start school.”

“Oh, there’s nothing curious about it. I uh, I just left right away,” Alex said, looking calm even though he’d been caught off-guard by the question. He kept his mind focused, trying to respond quickly and easily.

“It was a damned lucky thing,” he said. “As soon as I got my notice of acceptance, I left as fast as I could since there was so much going on at home.”

There was probably a record of when acceptances were sent out, but no record—at least here, in Generasi—of when he’d received his letter. He could have left Thameland any time so, it seemed like Ferrero was making assumptions about when he’d left. Assumptions weren’t facts.

“Mmm, luck,” Officer Ferrero said.

Scrrrtch. Scrrrtch.

Alex startled.

In the room’s unnatural silence, Ferrero’s pen—recording his answer…or maybe something else—was unnervingly loud.

He tried to stay calm, hoping that they hadn’t been in contact with Thameland. They couldn’t know about the list of people leaving Alric that the guards, Peter and Paul, had made. Besides, they wouldn’t have had enough time to send for information and get it back from Thameland since he’d been in here. If they had, he’d probably be arrested and in a cell by now.

“You do have some luck, Mr. Roth. I’m not sure whether you’d call it good or bad…but you got some luck.”

“Two mana vampires hunting you in under a year.” Officer Gustavo leaned forward. “The monster attack on Patrizia DePaolo’s manor. That’s a lot of action for a first year student, even at Generasi.”

“But hey, maybe it’s good luck.” Officer Ferrero shrugged. “After all, you’re still alive. Alive and now on a major research team funded by the city and the university.”

“A research team that had access to knowledge of the chancellor’s movements,” Gustavo supplied.

“Did you have any contacts in Generasi before you arrived here, Mr. Roth, one who might have teleported you and...your family to the Rhinean empire to board The Red Siren?”

Alex’s eyes darted back and forth.

The Mark was flooding him with images of himself when he’d been surprised…and a little scared. But not too scared. It showed him images of himself talking to other people: images of himself looking them in the eye, not turning away, not going silent to look like he was gathering his thoughts for a lie.

He used all of it...

For once he thanked Uldar that The Mark seemed immune to magical detection by anyone except Uldar’s priests: it had even escaped Professor Jules’ and Baelin’s notice, and thankfully, now Gustavo’s and Ferrero’s.

“Why are you bringing my family into this...are you accusing us of something?” Alex asked, trying to not sound like a naive, nervous near-nineteen year old as much as he could.

“Not yet,” Gustavo said, his voice like iron. “But the day is still young, Mr Roth.”

“Gustavo!” Ferrero glanced at his partner as though reprimanding him. He looked back at Alex, smiling warmly. “Look, sorry about that, Mr. Roth. No one’s accusing you of anything. We’re just trying to get all the facts straight here. If we’re going to find whoever’s doing this, we need to eliminate everyone as a suspect. Make sense?”

Something about the way he said it…in this strangely silent, featureless white room with the nasty Gustavo as the only other person to talk to in here, made it easy to feel gratitude toward Officer Ferrero.

…which might have been the point, Alex thought.

“I will say,” Ferrero said. “Your luck must be good. According to information received from Shale’s workshop, Minervus Spurius—your late coworker—once accused you of incompetence at your job. A few days later, the poor young man was killed by a mana vampire. And then you later avenged him—maybe by accident, maybe not. Coincidences? Luck?”

“Taking care of loose ends?” Gustavo muttered.

These two were getting on his nerves, especially with that comment about his family, but he had to remain calm.

Ferroro tapped his pen on his sheet of parchment. “Tell me, do you think you have a Guardian Engeli, Alex?”

“Do you mean do I think that some generous spirit from one of the heavens is looking after me and guiding me into profitable and virtuous ventures?” Alex asked, sounding slow-witted on purpose.

‘In case you don’t know, which you probably do, my parents died in a fire, right? So no. No, I don’t think I have a guardian engeli,’ Alex wanted to say.

“I don’t think so,” was what he actually said. “Unless you mean do I think someone’s helping me out? Well, I am pretty close with Professor Jules and Chancellor Baelin.”

That’s right.

Name drop someone important.

Scrrrtch. Srrcth.

More pen scratching.

“So no one would ever, say, protect you, or try to make sure that problems went away for you?” Gustavo said.

“And hey, if they did it wouldn’t be your fault.” Ferrero shrugged. “If they engaged in other, say, less legal activities.”

“Unless you knew about them,” Gustavo grunted. “And didn’t say you did.”

Alex took a breath, making sure to keep it as natural as possible using guidance from The Mark.

“Not been meeting anyone secretly?” Gustavo suggested.

Alex thought about Kybas, but kept his face neutral. “Well, I’ve met my girlfriend a couple of times.”

Gustavo didn’t smile.

Ferrero laughed, but the laughter didn’t reach his eyes. “I understand you have an interest in summoning? Do you have a…tutor, or someone who you’ve been working with?”

Alex couldn’t help but wince. “You…you know what spells I’m learning?”

“We’ve had some conversations,” Ferrero said casually. “Heard things here and there. But, of course lots of people learn summoning. I did a bit of dabbling in it myself, in my youth. Heh, tried to summon up a lust demon, if you know what I mean. Haha, I spent too much time reading those books they keep in the back of the bookshops: in the rooms curtained with those beads!”

Again, the room filled with Ferrero’s laughter.

Again, his cheer didn’t reach his eyes.

Alex was starting to get the feeling that Ferrero was the one he needed to be way more cautious of. Gustavo was trying to scare him, keep him unbalanced: it was a common tactic in combat, according to Chancellor Baelin.

But Ferrero was acting like he was his friend.

And what did someone do with friends?

They talked.

They let their guard down.

They got careless.

Ferrero was definitely the more dangerous one. In some ways, he reminded Alex of Derek: very adept at feigning friendliness to get what he wanted. He’d need to be very careful about what he did and didn’t say to this one.

But how did he know about the spells he was learning? Had they been following him after the first attack? Talking to his teachers or-

No.

Amir.

Amir had seen him just after he’d summoned the Elemental Beetles…that’s when he’d told Alex that what he’d summoned was probably a Sea Devil. If the investigators had already talked to him—and they could have—then Amir could have easily told them everything he knew about Alex.

Would he be trying to throw suspicion on him?

Or was he simply answering questions about members of the expedition team that he’d been asked questions about? One way to tell is if Ferrero asked him any questions about the others. If he didn’t…then either Alex was being given different questions, or Amir had talked about him.

…or maybe it wasn’t Amir.

Isolde knew that he was practicing summoning too, but she said she didn’t even want to talk to the investigators. Would she have mentioned something?

He shook his head.

Suspicion.

That could make any team fall apart.

Lagor—his supervisor at Shale’s—had brought Minervus up short for making accusations against a team member with nothing but assumptions, and no proof. Without teamwork, trust and camaraderie, a team would fall apart.

‘I trust Isolde,’ he thought.

“I uh…room with beads?” Alex asked. “I don’t get the reference.”

“Really, a young man like you?” Ferrero’s eyebrows rose. “Kids, these days…speaking of kids these days. Do you know anyone else on your team who’s involved in the summoning arts?”

There, a question about others on the team, but not anyone specific. “Well, no more than normal for students at a wizard school,” Alex said. The question had been just a general one.

“Where were you on the following dates?” Gustavo suddenly asked, naming the dates of the attacks. Alex was able to give his whereabouts on all three days. The Watcher had taken a statement from him at the first attack—so there’d be a record—and with the last two, a nice thing about Claygon was that he stood out: witnesses in the stadium and docks might not have noticed Alex, but they definitely would’ve noticed a huge, four-armed clay golem.

Srrrcth. Srrrrcth.

Ferrero nodded. “And you wouldn’t mind if we confirmed that, would you?”

“Go ahead,” Alex said.

There. Hopefully, that’d decrease any notion that he could be the demon summoner.

The questions continued, seemingly at random. There wasn’t a specific pattern to them, but they did seem designed to throw him off. They’d ask about certain events, then leave those only to return to them later, except the questions would be rephrased.

They’d ask him what happened before certain events, then make him retell the events backwards. Alex wasn’t quite sure what the point was…then again, maybe he understood.

If he were making things up, it’d be harder to keep his story straight, especially if they asked him about details in different ways. Luckily, his answers were mostly true.

The only thing he needed to lie about was when, and how, he got to Generasi from Thameland, and he used The Mark to keep those details straight, focusing on the skill of ‘deception’.

Eventually, Ferrero and Gustavo looked at each other.

“Well, I’m out of questions, what about you?” Ferrero said to his partner.

“Well, unless he wants to tell us who his accomplice is, then I am too.” The bigger man finally laughed, rising from his chair. “Stay in touch, Mr. Roth.”

Alex eyed Officer Gustavo for a bit to see if the man was being serious.

“Yeah, sure,” he said, not meaning a word of it.

When Ferrero opened the door, an assault of sound—after the unnatural silence of the interrogation room—hit him.

As Alex stood, he dearly hoped he’d have no reason to ever come back here again.


“Alex!” a familiar voice called to him.

“What? What are you all doing here?”

On a bench just outside the investigation office and wizard jail’s outer walls, Alex saw his whole family: Selina, Theresa, Brutus and Mr. and Mrs. Lu, quickly get up and hurry toward him.

He blinked in the evening light: realizing he’d been down in the basement of the building for most of the day.

“Are you alright?” Mrs. Lu asked, reaching up to grab Alex’s face and turn his head this way and that. “They didn’t hurt you, did they? They didn’t use magic to go into your mind or anything like that?”

“Mrs. Lu, that’s illegal here,” Alex grunted, as she squeezed his cheeks. “They didn’t go into my mind or try to steal my soul or anything like that.”

She gasped. “So that’s true? Magic can steal your soul?”

“No, I mean yes, I mean…probably?” he muttered before his better sense told him to stop talking about soul-stealing. “Anyway, they didn’t do anything bad to me. They just asked me a bunch of questions.”

“Hmph, and why would they do that?” she snorted. “You’re a good boy, you haven’t done anything wrong.”

“Are you in trouble?” Selina asked Alex.

“No, no I’m fine-”

He felt a hand on his back and startled, then turned to see Theresa. There was an…unfamiliar expression on her face. Discomfort?

“Alright, alright, why don’t we get away from here before Sir Claygon does something,” Mr. Lu said.

“Wait, does something?” Alex turned toward his golem.

Claygon was staring at the walls of the complex. He hadn’t moved from the spot where Alex had left him—he hadn't moved at all—he just kept staring. He wasn’t even looking at Alex now that he was out.

Why was he focused on the building like that? Alex swallowed.

He really did not need his golem acting suspiciously in front of the authorities. “Yeah, let’s go,” Alex said, reaching out to Claygon.

They headed into the city, planning to take a sky-gondola. The mood was low. It was clear that Theresa was upset, Mr. Lu was looking down at his feet in thought.

Selina and Brutus were…

Well, they were fine.

And that was kind of strange too.

His sister was pointing out all kinds of neat buildings to Mrs. Lu. She didn’t even seem…remotely concerned about the authorities, or the demon summoner, or anything. Alex frowned.

She had always been a brave girl, but this was something else.

And Mrs. Lu…she kept looking at Theresa and Alex.

Finally, she sighed and stopped walking.

The group paused on a bridge that arched over one of the canals that eventually met the sea. Fresh water rushed below, reflecting the last rays of the setting sun. A barge passed below the bridge, pulled by a large, equine creature with finned forelegs and hind quarters that ended in a massive fish tail: a hippocampus.

“What’s wrong?” Mr. Lu asked her.

His wife hesitated.

“Alright…” she said. “I’m going to tell you both something, and I’m sure neither of you want to hear this, but I think we should leave this place. All of us. As soon as we can book passage on a ship, we should go to the Rhinean Empire.”

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A note from UnstoppableJuggernaut

So fun fact, for the interrogation room I kinda crossed some aspects of something called 'White Torture'—a form of sensory deprivation—and the Orfield Laboratories' 'Quietest Room in the World' which is in Minneapolis in the USA.

Apparently people get really uncomfortable in there after a while: it's so quiet you can actually hear the blood in your own blood vessels. 

Soooo yeeeeah!

Always the cheeriest research for Mark of the Fool, lol.

Alright, cya tomorrow!


Big thanks to all my readers—I appreciate each and every one of you—and a very special thanks to my patrons on my Patreon. There's up to 20 advanced chapters ahead on patreon as thanks for support!

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UnstoppableJuggernaut

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