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"Well," Alec observed, "I can definitely tell you one thing about the victim."

"And that is?"

Alec straightened, rising slowly to his feet. He did so extremely carefully, with the slow and deliberate manner of a man aware that the surrounding floor and furniture were liberally coated in substances typically found within the human body.

"He's definitely dead," Alec said, thoughtfully.

Leon did not look amused. Not in the slightest. "I think," the policeman said, glaring at his costumed colleague, "I somehow knew that without your expert opinion."

"Oh," Alec mused, "did you? Yeah, I guess you would be professionally qualified to identify dead people. But you know, I've always figured eyeballing a dead guy really should be more of an art than a science."

"Look, Kazam," Leon said, suppressing the urge to sigh, "if you're not going to be helpful, I can go to MAGI and find a mystic who will. Preferably one who doesn’t think he’s a comedian."

"Wait, wait,” Alec interjected, holding his gloved hands up in a placating manner, ‘I'm not trying to be funny. Well, not more than I usually am, anyway. I meant he’s dead. As opposed to, I don’t know, undead. Hell, I can tell you for sure that’s an actual genuine one-hundred-percent dead guy, not a really good homunculus or something.”

“That’s surprisingly insightful,” Leon admitted, grudgingly. “Fine, sorry. I guess you are taking this seriously.”

The two men spent a long moment in silence, staring at the scene. The room would have been a reasonably pleasant living space, if it wasn’t for the bloody corpse on the sofa. The fact that the apartment’s former resident had suffered copious stab wounds and severe mutilation put a significant dampener on things.

“Wait til you get my bill. I charge extra for seriousness. Or I would, if I actually charged anything,” Alec said, finally.

“You’re a kind and generous soul,” the policeman retorted.

“I try,” Alec shot back, “I try. It’s part of my eternal pledge of service to the community.”

As he spoke, the magician made a few more motions with his fingers, tracing imaginary lines through the air. Combined with the borrowed sunglasses perched on his face, the groping gestures made him look like a politically incorrect caricature of a visually impaired person. Or failing that, a drunken tourist after too many cocktails. The fact he was wearing a small domino mask beneath the sunglasses didn’t help the image.

Then Alec stopped, frozen in mid-gesture.

Leon frowned too, because he’d been around costumed heroes enough to know that sort of thing was rarely a good sign. Cop instincts meant his hand twitched fractionally towards his holstered sidearm, before he forced himself to be calm. “Problem?”

“Maybe,” Alec said, slowly, a frown on his face, “maybe not. Might have to revise that dead verdict. I mean, our victim isn’t moving right now, but the murder weapon was zombies.”

“Zombies,” Leon repeated, in a low tone.

“Right, zombies,” Alec said, “well, I mean, strictly speaking the murder weapon per-se was the dagger over there. And there. And there.”

The magician pointed at the ritual blades littering the apartment, most still stained with blood.

“Probably the ones Pandora’s Box had on clearance back in August,” Alec continued, “I didn’t go down myself, but the tammyarcanus.org forums have review threads for athames, and...”

This time, Leon did actually give a sigh. He knew it wasn’t very professional of him, not the sort of thing a fine upstanding police officer should do. But he couldn’t help it. He could feel his blood pressure climbing in a way that would disappoint his girlfriend. And she was already on his case to cut down on the burgers and eat more fish. “Kazam?”

The magician paused. “Yeah?”

“Focus,” Leon hissed, “please?”

“Right, sorry,” Alec said, though he didn’t sound all that apologetic, “just trying to give some context. You have to realise, you’re not usually supposed to stab people with these things. They’re ceremonial. Consecrated tools, not weapons. Unless you’re really really angry, anyway. But yeah, zombies. Here, see...”

With a swift gesture, Alec lifted the sunglasses from his eyes, spun the frames around, and then placed them on Leon before the detective even registered the mystic hero had invaded his personal space.

Leon scowled, and yanked the glasses off. “Kazam, what the hell?”

“Huh...I could have sworn you had the codec for aura viewing,” the magician muttered, “uh, well, nevermind. Not important. I’ll probably have to stream it to a monitor or something for evidence later, anyway. Though an active scry would probably be better, I guess. Just take my word for it. There were dead people in here. Besides our victim, I mean.”

“So you’re saying,” Leon asked, as he pocketed the sunglasses. They were his to begin with, but considering what he’d just seen, he no longer felt comfortable wearing them. The costumed mage had done...something...to the lenses. “The killers were zombies?”

“No. More like murder weapon part deux was zombies,” Alec explained, folding the glasses and slipping them into a coat pocket,  “I’m pretty sure someone was controlling the undead that broke in here. Remotely. Though, you know, with necromancers? A lot of them are kind of zombies themselves. Kind of comes with the territory. That territory being a grave, mostly.”

“Fine, whatever,” Leon pressed, “but they’re gone? If we send the forensics guys in here, they’re not going to be jumped by zombies hiding in the central heating or garbage chute?”

“Pretty sure they’re long gone, yeah. I can try to track them, but...yeah. Anyway, a zombie wouldn’t fit in the radiator pipes. Or even the trash thing. Unless this is a very strange building, or they’re very small zombies,” Alec said, “but downsizing isn’t that bad yet, even in this economy.”

“Okay. And our victim isn’t going to suddenly get up and lurch at us?”

“I...can’t say for certain,” Alec said, after a second, “but, uh, probably not? You said this was the third one, right? Third one this week? The other victims didn’t go zombie, did they?”

Leon scratched his head. “The guys at the morgue haven’t called to complain.”

“Not yet, anyway,” Alec pointed out.

Leon stared. “Are you trying to tempt Murphy, Kazam?”

“I wear a costume and do magic,” Alec replied, “I tempt Murphy just by breathing.”

“So did that guy,” Leon said, “and look where it got him.”

“Yeah,” Alec said, quietly. He glanced round the living room. Beneath the blood and other fluids, most of the space in the apartment was occupied by professional paraphernalia. There was even a box large enough to fit a person sitting in one corner, the sort with hinged doors and slots to insert swords.

Near the broken television, which had likely been knocked over in the violence, a big framed picture hung on the wall. It was a theatrical poster of the hand-painted style, depicting a man just barely recognisable as the apartment’s owner. The resemblance wasn’t that close, partially because the man was obviously a lot younger in the promotional image, but mostly because the face on the poster hadn’t been savaged repeatedly with a knife. The man in the picture wore a top hat and tuxedo with tails, a traditional stage magician’s costume.

“I’m trying not to think about that,” Alec admitted.

* * *

A/N: Alec Kazam is my main from Champions Online, currently on Virtue as a Time Manip Corruptor. Leon McNichols is Spud's character, the PPD officer originally of Bubblegum Crisis extraction. This was planned for Halloween, but it's increasingly clear I won't have it done for full posting by then, so I'll be releasing brief chunks before and after the 31st.
-- Acyl

dark seraph

Very nice Acyl... and Alec gives me a slight drezden vibe.... if Harry had more of his fathers flare Tongue

dark seraph Wrote:Very nice Acyl... and Alec gives me a slight drezden vibe.... if Harry had more of his fathers flare Tongue
That's pretty much the intent - though most urban fantasy writing has a pretty high snark and banter quotient. Goes with the territory.
-- Acyl
"Lucy, I'm home," Alec announced, as he came through the door. Even as he said it, he knew the effect was somewhat ruined by the fact he had absolutely no ability to mimic a Latin accent. Between that and the fact he was so tired,  he didn't have high hopes for the joke.

"Who's Lucy? Are you calling me Lucy now?"

And, Alec reflected, the fun was even more ruined when the intended audience clearly had no familiarity with the source material he was referencing.

"It's what this guy in an old sitcom says to his wife when he gets home," Alec explained half-heartedly, as he closed and locked the front door behind him. "Because she's Lucy. It's one of those things."

Alec didn't bother with the light switch, as he started to remove the outer layers of his costume. The floating ball of energy in the hallway gave him enough illumination to see by.

"Waitaminute...I don't remember a proposal. You didn't even get me a ring. I feel cheated here!"

Alec stopped midway through hanging up his cloak in the hall closet. He turned round, arching an eyebrow. "I'm not even sure you're female."

The sphere of light bobbed up and down in feigned indignation. "Come on, do I look male to you?"

"You look like a ball of incorporeal spiritual stuff," Alec said, didactically, "besides, why would you need a ring? You don't even have hands."

"Principle of the thing? Besides," the presumably-female wisp added, "I could always sell it for money!"

"You know my card numbers," Alec said. "Hell, you probably know more of the bank passwords than I do. Lord knows I can never remember that Internet one. I'm not keeping you in poverty here."

"It's not the same," she complained, with the air of someone making the same case for the umpthteenth time, "that's still your money,  not mine."

"Bell...we've gone over this. You could always get a job," Alec offered. With the cloak off, the mage then proceeded to unbutton and remove his tuxedo jacket, working the waiting coathanger's frame into the jacket's shoulders. As he hung the jacket up, he also pulled off his mask and slipped it into one of the coat’s outside pockets.

"I have a job, it's called being your evil minion," Bell the wisp retorted,  "you just don't pay me anything because you're cheap!"

"Oh come on," Alec defended himself,"I let you buy anything you want. Even all those Japanese DVDs. I swear, whoever processes our Amazon orders probably has a very strange idea of what goes on in this house. If I get arrested someday, I hope you realise it's because you just had to..."

"I just like to see stories where a strong non-humanoid lead character has meaningful relationships," Bell sniffed, “a young and impressionable wisp like me needs role models.”

"Meaningful relationships don't end in tentacle...oh forget it. Look," Alec said, trying to change the subject, "sorry I'm late. Had to finish gathering samples from the scene before letting the regular lab guys at it."

"You could at least have called ahead," Bell complained.

"I did, your mobile must be off or something," Alec parried, while struggling with his bow-tie, "and you know the landline doesn't work ever since I used the wires to ward the house against...well, doesn't work right, anyway. I guess being able to dial 1880 kind of counts."

"Sorry," Bell said, the wisp's inner light pulsing in mild embarrassment, "I probably left it silent after updating the OS this morning. Um. I thought the house phone wasn't working at all, though? What's an 1880 number?"

"No, 1880," Alec corrected, "like, three years after Alexander Graham Bell started his phone company?"

"Oh, I thought you promised Mender Silos not to do stuff like that anymore."

"It was an accident," Alec grumbled, "and you don't have to tell him. The scary time cop doesn’t need to know, okay? I'll get it fixed, alright? I'm just kinda busy right now."

"You're always busy," Bell noted, bobbing and weaving beside Alec as he made his way down the corridor, "I think after you use that excuse fifty-six times a month it sort of quits being effective."

"It just means I'm still busy," Alec said, "like this stage magician killer thing. Which is time sensitive, Bell. Do you know what time sensitive means?"

“It means something you’re not capable of doing,” Bell quipped, as she followed Alec up the stairs, staying roughly at shoulder height, “if you’re using our phone line to call people in the 19th century.”

“That’s,” Alec said, raising a finger, “not what I meant and you knew it. You have learned well, my disciple. You have taken your teachings and turned them against your master. But you are not a Jedi yet.”

“Shouldn’t that be Sith?”

“Well, yeah, I guess,” Alec said, as he reached the bathroom, finally flipping on a light switch, followed by the one for the heater. “But I prefer exact quotes where possible, even when taking them completely out of context. It’s good practice, you know.”

“Practice for what?” Bell asked, as the magician began undoing his shirt.

“I’m a costumed hero type,” Alec answered, smoothly, “witty quips and comebacks are part of the job. Come on, you know this. If I could figure out some way to stick a tiny little cape on you, you’d totally be my sidekick. You could be Wisp Girl. Or maybe Idiot Ball.”

“Pass, thanks,” Bell said, dryly, “strictly support staff here! You don’t pay me enough to put my insubstantial spherical non-body in danger.”

“Yeah, on that note,” Alec said, as he turned the tap on and began to wash his hands and face, “did you look through the files Leon sent over? Tonight’s victim was the third dead stage magician in a week. Unless we have some kind of really aggressive theatre critic on our hands, that kind of thing seems mildly worrying. At least to me.”

If Bell had a face, or indeed any distinguishable features, she would have grimaced. “Uh, yeah.”

“One time could have been, you know, just one of those things. But three dead guys who wore cheap tuxedos and cut ladies in half for a living? That’s pretty freaky. Besides, Halloween’s coming up, and Leon’s worried this has something to do with that,” Alec elaborated. “Maybe he’s right. I don’t know. Not enough data. We’ll have to do some scrying prep tonight, need to have some show and tell for our friends in law enforcement tomorrow.”

“I’ve already set it the table downstairs,” Bell reassured him, weaving up and down in a way that approximated a nod. “Oh, and there’s some casserole in the fridge if you’re hungry. I wasn’t sure if you were getting dinner, so I kinda nuked something.”

“Thanks, I haven’t eaten since breakfast, actually,” Alec said, sounding grateful. Until he stopped, his smile fading. “Wait, casserole? Chicken and mushroom casserole?”

“Yes,” Bell confirmed, a dangerous edge creeping into her tone, “and what’s wrong with my casserole?”

“You used the dried shitake from the kitchen cabinet,” Alec questioned, sounding suspicious, “right? Definitely the shitake, right? From the regular old mundane Chinese grocery? Not the other stuff that you’re not supposed to get into?”

“Come on, gimme some credit here,” Bell said, patiently, “I don’t get some kinda perverse enjoyment from seeing you under the influence of mind-altering substances. Especially since I’m the one who has to clean up after!”

“You did it once,” Alec pointed out.

“Just the one time! And it’s not my fault you totally suck at labeling your psychoactive stuff,” Bell grumbled, “I mean, I didn’t even know you could do that vision trance thing where your brain visits Atlantis or whatever. It’s not like you briefed me that well when you hired me.”

“Well, you can compile a standard operating procedures manual for the next time I get a minion,” Alec suggested, drying his hands on a towel.

“You plan on doing that sometime soon? You’re not replacing me, are you? Because we totally agreed on three to four weeks notice, and...”

“Hey, chill. I was thinking about an intern or something. Someone for you to boss around, you know? Relax,” Alec said.

“Oh, right. Okay then,” Bell gave a small muffled sound as she flickered, the light emanating from her spherical form rising in intensity, “gotcha. I knew that.”

“Good,” Alec said, staring at the wisp.

“I totally knew that,” Bell insisted.

“I’m not questioning you,” Alec said, “I’m just trying to subtly hint you should get out of the bathroom so I can take a shower.”

“I could just turn around,” Bell suggested.

Alec covered his face with a hand as he tried to figure out how to respond to that.

Bell looked innocent, or at least as innocent as an expressionless sphere could be. “What?”

“You’re a floating ball of energy stuff,” Alec said, slowly, “so you don’t have eyes. I’m pretty sure you perceive the world omni-directionally or whatever it is you’re doing. That’s...not the point. And...you know that, don’t you. That was a good one. That was a very good one.”

“Thanks,” Bell laughed, “I’ve been saving it for a while.”

“Applause,” Alec said, dryly, “now get out, before I figure out a way to raise a localised barrier against annoying wisps using toilet paper and toothpaste.”

* * *

A/N: Yes, I named and characterised my Blue Wisp Pet. Don't look at me like that. This is perfectly normal.
-- Acyl
Hey Acyl, glad to see you're still writing.
Am a enjoying this a great deal.
* * *

"You're late," Leon said, not looking up from his phone.

"But I brought delicious baked goods," Alec stated confidently, brandishing a large paper sack, certain in the knowledge that the offering would appease the great and terrible police deities lying in wait within the meeting room.

"Did you get one of those cranberry cream cheese things?"

"I got two," the magician revealed, triumphantly. "And organic fairtrade coffee buns for your bleeding heart liberal partner."

"You can have them," Leon said, "he isn't..."

"Yeah," Alec interrupted, "I see he's mysteriously mutated into a woman since I last saw him. The excess estrogen is throwing off my brilliant menu calculations. You gotta do something about that, Leon. You can't keep changing the sex of people around you, it's just inconsiderate."

"He's on vacation," Leon said, rolling his eyes. Putting down his phone, he finally deigned to look at Alec, giving the mage a glare. Then he waved in the direction of the redhead seated at the end of the table, who was busy trying not to laugh. "This is Denise Fitzgerald from the crime lab. She's the one who's been poking at the evidence. Fitzgerald, this is Alec Kazam, registered wizard and costumed smartass. He's the magical help the FBSA sent us."

"Hi," Denise spoke up, making a cursory attempt to be polite. Her badly suppressed sounds of amusement instead came out as a kind of strangled cough. "Though I kind of guessed who you were from the cape and mask."

"I try to make fashion statements. Mind you, I'm not sure what those statements are, but I try. Nice to meet you," Alec said, as he set the brown bag on the table and found a chair for himself. "I'm always glad to meet new people I can traumatise. But...vacation? Now? I thought this was a busy period for you police types. You know, with all the..."

Leon glowered. Obviously the subject was a sore point for him.

"It is, yes. But Leon and his buddy are a special case," Denise explained, filling in the awkward silence. "After Halloween last year, new policy direction from upstairs is...they should be as far outside the city limits as possible when it rolls round to October 31st. So extra vacation time."

Ailes blinked. "What happened last year?"

"You don't want to know," Leon said firmly, opening the bag of baked goods and reaching inside.

"Oh, come on," Alec protested, "you can't bring up something like that and just leave it there."

"Watch me," Leon stated flatly. Turning his baleful gaze from Alec, he gave his crime lab colleague a look that promised dire retribution if she let any more details slip. The aura of menace was unfortunately diminished due to the fact he was holding a cranberry and cheese roll, but he valiantly fought to maintain the strength of his glower despite this handicap.

"Okay, fine, fine. That explains Hutch being gone," Alec said, "but what's Starsky still doing in town?"

"He's going to a costume party," Denise quipped.

"I promised my girlfriend I'd be at her sister's party," Leon clarified, stressing the identity of the individuals involved. "A smart man doesn't argue about social engagements."

"Not if he wants the other sort of permanent engagement later down the line, anyway," Alec said, sympathetically.

"Going too far, Kazam," Leon warned.

"Hey, just calling it like I see it," Alec responded, undeterred by the threat, "I mean, this one's lasted longer than all your previous relationships combined. Though I guess that's because you were actually friends before."

"They were friends when she was still a he," Denise remarked, "that's a bit different."

"This is Paragon City," Alec said dismissively, "random gender swaps from mad science or magic accidents happen all the time. Especially around Leon. Most people see Facebook friends changing their status for stuff like single-attached-married, for Leon it's male-female-other..."

"This conversation is rapidly approaching the point where I snap and kill you all," Leon growled, brandishing his half-eaten roll as if it were a weapon.

"Relax," Alec said,"I'm paying you a compliment here. You've got to be real serious and committed to your relationship if you're willing to risk nebulous unspecified Halloween-related doom by staying in town when everyone wants you to flee."

"There's a pool on whether disaster will happen because Leon's defied the Chief's edict and refused voluntary exile," Denise revealed, while claiming one of the orphaned coffee buns for herself.

Alec perked up a little at this. "Can I join? Put a little something on the disaster side?"

"No," Leon said quickly.

"Sure," Denise answered, almost at once.

"I don't think you get a say in this," Alec commented to Leon, as he reached for his wallet. "If you ran a betting pool on yourself, that would be a hideously unethical conflict of interest."

Leon ate his roll in resignation while money exchanged hands between the mage and the criminalist. Then he spoke up. "Can we talk about the case now? I was somehow under the impression we were here to work."

"I don't know where you get these strange ideas," Alec remarked, with a perfectly straight face.

"He drinks a lot," Denise confided, "we think he might have a problem."

"Ha ha," Leon said, pronouncing the syllables rather than actually laughing. "l am overwhelmed by your scathing wit. But I still want to talk about dead people. Fitzgerald, you wanna start, tell Kazam what we have?"

Resting her bun on a napkin, Denise opened the thick folder on the table in front of her, and started thumbing through the contents. "The guy we got yesterday has been tentatively identified as Abraham Kowalski, 47. Stage magician, like the others. Divorced, lived alone. He's got a daughter in state, though. PCU Salamanca campus. She's coming to town this afternoon for the usual."

"I'd like to talk with her, if that's possible. Sit in on the interview or whatever, ask a few questions," Alec said.

"Sure, stick around," Leon said. "We can set up more interviews if you need to talk to the families of the other victims, roommates, so on. I sent you the transcripts, but I'm sure there's special mystic things you need to know."

"Mostly I'm curious if the victims were just performers, or whether they were genuine magic practitioners," Alec explained."I got the sense Kolwalski might have been, but I'm not hundred percent on that."

"We can confirm that for Kolwalski at least," Denise said, turning a page in her folder. "He registered with the FBSA in 2007."

"Applied for a hero license," Leon added. "Was turned down on grounds of inadequate power."

Alec nodded. "Do you have his test scores?"

"They were in his file," Denise said, detaching a sheet from her documents and handing it to the magician.

Alec accepted the paper, looked it over quickly, and made a small thoughtful sound. "Huh. Pretty standard for a low level mage, either minimal gifting or an amateur. Though...there's a couple spikes here, could be he was just real specialised. You said his daughter is a student at Paragon City U, the Salamanca campus. Is she actually doing a magic related major, or..?"

Denise frowned. "I don't know. Leon? You called the college admin, right?"

''She's going for a Bachelor's in Thaumaturgy," Leon confirmed, as he finished his cranberry and cheese roll. He immediately went searching for the second promised treat, digging through the paper bag.

"Definitely need to talk to her then," Alec said.

"The other thing is," Denise continued, "you're the one who identified the killers as zombies, right?"

"That would be me," Alec answered. "I see dead people. Well, most folks can see dead people, since the majority of corpses aren't exactly invisible. But you know what I mean."

"Not really," Denise told him, "because we're not seeing these dead people. Zombie attacks leave behind all kinds of traces. We're talking about walking corpses in states of decay, stuff tends to drop off them. But there don't seem to be any, not at last night's scene, not at the others."

"I can't really comment about the first couple murders," Alec said, "I haven't checked out those scenes in person. But I bet you can't find any traces of the assailants at all. Or very little. Barely any fingerprints, hair, flakes of skin, anything. Whether undead or otherwise. I bet that's been puzzling you about all the crime scenes. Probably one reason Leon's on this case, and why he called me in. We're the weird squad."

"That's true," Denise admitted.

"Okay. Here's what you're missing. See, if you're a smart necromancer, you don't want your minions decomposing and falling apart. That's just inefficient and messy. So ideally you use a fresh corpse to start with, not one that already has bits missing," Alec explained. "Think about it. lf you had a choice, wouldn't you go with minions that have, you know, actual structural integrity? And muscles that actually function, et cetera. Follow?"

"I'm not sure I like getting into the head of someone who makes zombies," Leon said, "but I'm with you, so far."

"Right, so from an efficiency point of view, really the best kind of zombie is a dead body that's essentially been brought back to life, biological processes and all," Alec continued, "and at the other end of the scale, the worst kind is the shambling animated corpse that's just driven purely by magic. Still decomposing, the body doesn't really work...there's no muscular contractions moving the limbs, there's no functional inner ear providing balance when it walks. Magic is doing everything. But this is a spectrum, right? Two extremes."

"Right," Denise said slowly. She didn't sound very convinced, but seemed at least willing to let the magician finish his impromptu necromancy lecture. It also gave her an excuse to resume nibbling at her poor neglected coffee bun.

"What we have here is something in between. The bodies of these particular zombies are in some kind of magical stasis. Stops decomposition. Some organs and stuff possibly still work, to a degree. It's not perfect, though, since it's just real good preservation, not true reanimation."

Denise nodded, the light beginning to dawn. "Complete stasis means no metabolic processes either? No respiratory exchange," she asked, "no excretion of waste products?"

"Exactly," Alec said, "the body isn't really functioning, it still needs magic to bridge the gap. But a powerful enough stasis spell means the body isn't interacting with the environment at all, effectively. The magic makes sure anything defined as part of the body stays attached to the whole..."

"So that means nothing at the crime scene for the forensics guys and girls to find," Leon finished.

"Or vastly reduced traces, anyway," Alec said.

"But you're sure it was zombies," Leon pressed. "Can you prove that in court?"

"Well," Alec said, "I can prove it. I don't know if it'd be admissible, but I can prove it. Can I use the screen over there?"

"Sure," Leon replied, rising from the table. "I'll get the projector running."

Alec gestured for him to sit. "No need," the magician said. As he spoke, Alec started pulling out items from the inside of his jacket, starting with an antique watch and followed by a large manila envelope.

Leon eased himself back into his chair, a vague feeling of doom creeping across his spine. "You’re not going to do anything permanent to the room, are you? I still can't wear the shades you hexed yesterday. The world goes all..."

"Don't worry," Alec reassured him. "No lasting damage. And the sunglasses thing isn't permanent either, should wear off in another day or two. Though I can set it up for longer, and teach you how to interpret the output...no? Okay, fine, don't look at me like that."

Unable to restrain her curiosity, Denise asked, "What did he do to your sunglasses?"

Instead of answering, Leon pulled said pair from his own pocket, and passed them over. Denise slipped them on.

"Oh wow," she said, "pretty."

Leon stared at her. "Pretty?"

"Yes," she replied, waving her hands in front of her face. "This is awesome!"

Leon sighed. He could sense the vague beginnings of a headache gathering inside his skull, the invading forces of migraine massing at the borders of the kingdom of sanity.

"Glad you like it," Alec said to Denise. "Though you might want to put those away before I start the show. I’m not sure what you’d end up seeing."

“Right, gotcha,” Denise murmured, as she reluctantly took the sunglasses off.

Once the bewitched sunglasses were safely away from her face, Alec slid a sheet of paper out from the manila envelope. It was immediately recognizable as a printout of one of the photos taken at the previous night's crime scene.

But Alec's printout had been... embellished. The photo was no longer a clinical visual record of the scene, but quite a different beast, one that would be more at home in a modern art exhibition.

Denise gaped. "Did you smear blood on that?"

"Blood from the victim, threads from the carpet and sofa, couple of other things I picked up," Alec confirmed. He held up the sheet between his gloved thumb and forefinger, as his other hand worked the dial of the old pocketwatch. "Mix it all together in a stirring bowl, add a dash of flour and an egg to thicken before baking...wait, no, that's a different recipe. Sorry. This one just goes like..."

The watch clicked.

A flickering image sprang to life on the meeting room's screen, swirls of light resolving themselves into a moving image of the apartment's interior. On the screen, a balding man sat on his couch, a beer in hand, watching something on the television that was just outside the mystical camera's field of vision. It was the same angle as the crime scene photograph on Alec's printout.

The sofa's occupant took a long swig of beer, reaching past the waistband of his boxers to scratch an itch in regions unsuitable for exposure in polite company.

"I feel like a voyeur already," Leon commented, wincing. But his eyes remained fixed on the screen. Leon could guess what was about to happen.

There wasn't any fanfare. No flash of light, no smoke, no special effect. The three attackers just appeared with absolutely zero warning, materializing around their victim, already lunging in attack. No sound accompanied the flickering images, so when the late Abraham Kolwalski screamed, his face was a silent rictus of terror.

Then the blades came down.

Long after Kolwalski had ceased struggling, his killers stood, as one, moving in perfect synchronity. They dropped the knives...and vanished.

"That explains the lack of any signs of forced entry," Denise remarked.

Leon grimaced. "I don't even want to consider the implications of phasing or teleporting zombies."

Alec adjusted his old pocketwatch again, and the picture faded from the screen.

"Yeah," the magician said, "that surprised me to. It's quite clear we're dealing with some kind of controlling agency here, a mastermind, if you will. The method of entry and exit, how they used knives to kill instead of just clawing or biting...that says a lot."

"You sure they were zombies, Kazam? Those three looked reasonably healthy to me," Leon asked.

"Oh, trust me. Those were dead people, but the processed funeral home kind of dead people," Alec said. "I've matched a couple of those faces to recent obituaries in the Paragon Times. Not sure on the last one. Maybe no obit, maybe in a different paper, or the newspaper photo was a real old one or something. But two out of three ain't bad."

Denise looked thoughtfully at Alec. "How certain are you about those matches?"

Alec shrugged. "Quite? Magical version of an image search, really. But, here, I zapped the relevant obituaries, you tell me."

The mage produced two photocopies from a coat pocket. The copies were full A4 size, without any creases or folds, despite the fact the pocket Alec was pulling them from seemed too small to hold them. This fact did not pass unnoticed by Leon and Denise, but they consciously declined to comment.

Leon picked them up, squinting at the pictures. "Think you're right," he said. "These do look like the male and one of the two female...zombies. I I wonder what cemetary they were buried at."

"I figured you could get your guys to check on that," Alec suggested, "or any reports of other freshly buried people going missing. Maybe even bodies being stolen out of an undertaker's establishment."

"lf they were buried," Denise said, "it can't be too hard to find out. Most families around here opt for cremation these days, precisely because they don't want their loved ones coming back and eating their brains."

"I think we can work on the assumption our real killer is a necromancer of some kind," Alec added, "and the zombies are just pawns. I doubt there's any connection between our victims and who the zombies were in life, but it can't hurt to check."

"lf there is," Leon said, ''it'd make establishing motive for these murders easier. But I'd be shocked if it were that easy."

Denise frowned. "If we're talking motive and things like that...will this whole magic video show be valid evidence in court?"

"Honestly? I'm not sure," Alec admitted. "I'm a wizard, not a lawyer. Although religious groups tend to group us together as dark soulless creatures of the devil, there's actually quite a big difference."

"Postcognitive testimony's been accepted in Paragon courts before," Denise mused, “but that was psychic, not magic.”

"And Sister Psyche vouched for that one, a recognised authority in psychic talents,” Leon said.

"If we need to use Alec's show as evidence," Denise asked, "can we get someone of that stature to back him up as reliable?"

Leon snorted. "This is Alec Kazam we’re talking about. What do you think?"

"Numina owes me a favor," Alec said.

Leon gave the magician a look of disbelief. "Why does the Freedom Phalanx's mystic owe you a favour? You, of all people?"

"Nothing much, really," Alec said, "I just figured out a way to extend the time she can go corporeal. You know, as opposed to the whole ghostly astral projection thing Numina normally manifests as. You've met my assistant, right? Bell? She's a wisp, so I've been studying that stuff for a while."

"That makes sense," Denise remarked.

Alec smirked at Leon. "Occasionally I do manage to be helpful, you know."

"Fine," Leon spat, "you’re an exemplar of virtue and loving kindness, and I’ve terribly misjudged you. Happy now?"

"Well, yeah," Alec mused. "Of course, Numina did say something about having a hot date, so that’s why I..."

Leon sighed. "Figures."

"Hey," Denise said, "if his helping a premier heroine get some nookie ends up helping us nail this case, I'm not complaining."

Alec winced. "Could you not use the word 'nail' in the same sentence as 'nookie'? Especially since this case has dead people in it. That's kind of gross."

"Only you would think that," Leon grumbled, "but...now you've got me thinking it too. Thanks, Kazam."

"All part of the service, all part of the service," Alec said. "Though I probably shouldn’t have used the word ‘service’ either, I suppose."

"Just stop," Leon begged. "Please."

"I thought it was funny," Denise remarked.

"Nobody asked you," Leon growled.

"Don’t mind him," Alec said to Denise. "He’s just being a petty tyrant. Your opinions are important to me. See, I value your feedback, unlike some people I could name."

"Kazam," Leon rumbled, dangerously, "I think there’s something you should realise."

Alec tilted his head to one side. "Yeah?"

Leon smiled. "If you don’t shut up, another magician is going to end up as a murder victim. Very very soon."

Alec winced. "Gotcha."

* * *

A/N: For those of you keeping score at home, Leon's partner is, of course, Daley Wong. And Leon, as of MatrixDragon's own fictional efforts, is dating Knight of the Peace...who was a guy before he ran afoul of Yarnball (tm) and ended up as a catgirl. I figure that kind of stuff must be water cooler humour for the PPD.

Rev: I write for a living, effectively. I always have. It's just that I write BORING things for a living. Occasionally I am struck with the desire to use my powers for good rather than evil.
-- Acyl

dark seraph

I have one question.

What Happend last halloween? or is that going to be a noodle incident? Tongue
Also love the jokes about Leon Tongue

Well, you see, it all began when [REDACTED] said to [REDACTED] that Leon was going to [REDACTED].

Of course, THAT wouldn't fly, so [REDACTED] went down to [REDACTED] and [REDACTED] some [REDACTED] up.  Nene, being Nene, escalated things from there.

This did not end well, as you can imagine.

From there, the situation only got worse, and to this day, [REDACTED] refuses to let Leon wear so much as a domino mask.  The shades are the absolute limit.

True story, I was there, man.  *shudders*

--"Listening to your kid is the audio equivalent of a Salvador Dali painting, Spud." --OpMegs
I didn't know Leon could play the violin like that. *shudders*

Very cool story though, Acyl. The teasing is kinda heavy, but that's Alec's schtick I guess. o.o

The Master said: "It is all in vain! I have never yet seen a man who can perceive his own faults and bring the charge home against himself."

>Analects: Book V, Chaper XXVI
"I know you Village People types must get so very confused," the young woman said, "but this is a police station. You want the cop outfit with the tight shorts, not the gay stripper tuxedo."

Alec blinked, once. The domino mask on his face largely hid his eyes from view, leaving them as featureless slits of white with no pupils or irises. But even that wasn't enough to keep the surprise from showing on his face. Being a resilient and adaptable soul, though, Alec quickly recovered.

"Damn," he swore. Alec clenched his gloved fists, shaking them in mock anger. "This is a gay tuxedo? The guy at the store assured me it was totally heterosexual! That's the last time I trust a salesman who calls me darling. But...you know, this explains so much. So, so much."


"Yeah," Alec griped, an exaggerated amount of frustration colouring his tone. "I was wondering why pubescent boys in top hats and fishnets kept wanting to be my sidekick. I thought it was a plot by my arch-nemesis to get me arrested. Except I don't have an arch-nemesis. I thought it might be a normal nemesis for a while, but far as I know, Nemesis Plots don't involve getting heroes busted on vice charges."

The young woman sitting on the other side of the table gave Alec an incredulous look, like she couldn't quite process the words that were coming out of his mouth. She was stunned.

Alec had seen it before. It was a common reaction from novice verbal artists that were too confident in their ability to defeat all challengers on the field of banter. Clearly she had never faced someone able to effortlessly deflect her techniques. Unfortunately for her, Alec was a grand master in the art of pun-fu.

The daughter of the late Abraham Kolwalski didn't look much like her father. The senior Kolwalski had been a stout and thoroughly overweight specimen. In contrast, Deborah Kolwalski was almost too thin. She had the unfortunate kind of slender build that completely failed to achieve supermodel territory. Instead, she looked more like a malnourished scarecrow. The goth outfit she wore only accentuated the effect. Her face was pale from the caked-on makeup, and her eyes were sunken in pits of heavy eyeshadow.

"If I were Nemesis," Deborah finally managed to choke out, marshaling her wits and attempting a riposte, "that's what I'd do. You super-powered freaks are all deviant perverts. Everyone knows what goes on in Pocket D."

"Personally," Alec said, "I like to think I'm more a dick. That is, a dick in and of itself, rather than someone ruled by it. Same goes for Nemesis, really. I don't think the man has a sex drive. lf he did, we'd know by now. I mean, he makes anatonomically correct robots. And yet he just does Nemesis Plots. I haven't heard of a Nemesis Trap, at least not yet."

Deborah tried to respond, but only managed to produce an incoherent stutter. She stared at Alec with wide eyes, her mouth open. "I...you...what?

"It's okay," Alec said, sympathetically. "I'll give you some time to reboot. I know the launcher takes a while to check all files after a nasty crash to desktop like that. But if I need to wait for you to log in again, I might go AFK for a bit, take a bio, get a drink, you know how it is."

Deborah slumped forward, resting her elbows on the tabletop and her head in her hands."I have... no idea what that means. I'm not sure you're even speaking English."

"Sorry," Alec said, "I've been on the Freedom Phalanx MMO an awful lot these past few weeks. They just launched the free-to-play Virtue edition, you see. Admittedly, that probably means more to me than it does to you. I get the sense you don't care for costumed heroes very much."

"No," Deborah spat, raising her head just enough to glare accusingly at Alec through the gaps in her fingers, "I just don't care for you."

''Maybe," Alec said thoughtfully, "maybe not. Yes, I admit I've been messing with you...but you started it. You went at me the moment I walked into the room. So I'm guessing your problem isn't with me, it's with what I'm dressed as."

"Oh no, you caught me," Deborah cried theatrically, "I'm secretly a racist bigot who hates all people of magician descent. I also tell tasteless mime jokes and refuse to share public transport with jugglers."

"I don't believe that," Alec countered. "Well, okay, I'm willing to give you the benefit of the doubt on the mime part. But not the rest. I'm thinking you really didn't like your dad much. And by extension, you aren't keen on his entire profession. Am I getting warm?"

"Go to hell," Deborah snapped.

Alec inclined his head. "I'II take that as a 'yes, extremely warm', thanks.''

Deborah gave an incoherent hiss, her face still cradled in her hands. Her shoulders shook slightly.

Alec sat in silence, watching her.

Eventually, Deborah lifted her head. "What," she demanded, "you find this funny?"

"Not really, no," Alec said quietly.

"Then leave me alone."

"Sorry," Alec said, "I can't do that. But I admit, we got off on the wrong foot. Hell, we got off on the wrong four legs and a tail. So let's try this again."

With that, Alec stood, unclasping his cloak. He dropped it on the vacated chair, followed by his coat and bow-tie.

"If you're trying to bribe me with a striptease, you're doing a poor job of it," Deborah noted, weakly. "We already went past the gay tuxedo joke."

"Funny," Alec retorted, "but no. I’m not getting paid enough for that."

Gripping his shirt with both hands, Alec yanked it out until it was completely untucked, then rolled up his sleeves. Finally, he pulled his mask off, and made a token attempt to flatten the gel-hardened spikes in his hair.

"Like I said, let's try this again," Alec began. "l’m Alexander Kaynard. I go by Alec Kazam, yeah, but that's just the inevitable nickname. Nice to meet you, Ms. Kolwalski. Though I think we've already met."

Deborah gaped. "You're Prof Thurston's TA!"

"Past tense...but I was, yeah," Alec confirmed, "though Intro to Sociology of Magic is one of those big first year courses, so I wasn't quite sure. It’s been a while. You weren't in my tutorials, but..."

"I had Thurston for that," Deborah said blankly, the stunned expression still on her face.

"Huh," Alec remarked, "lucky. He only does the one Tuesday morning class."

"I'm sorry," Deborah apologised, shock visible even through her thick makeup, "I didn't realise you were...I didn't recognize..."

"That's kind of the idea," Alec pointed out. "I think I charmed the mask for that. Or something, I forget. Not your fault. Besides, would it have made a difference?"

"Yes," Deborah responded, acidly, "I would have thought of you as an actual human being."

"Right. Whatever," Alec said, scratching the back of his head. "Point is, I really do need to ask you some questions. It’d be nice if we could do that without escalating to thermonuclear war. Okay?"

Deborah composed herself, setting her jaw and pressing her lips together. "Okay. I'll be good."

“It’s not nice to promise what you can’t deliver," Alec quipped.

Deborah rolled her eyes. "Then I’ll be marginally less evil."

"Great," Alec said, "although..."

"Oh God," Deborah exclaimed, pleading for a supreme deity to give her strength. "What now?"

"Don’t worry. It’s just, you know," Alec said, "this isn't an interrogation, and you've not a prisoner. Have you had lunch yet?"


"Great. Do you want lunch?"

"Not...really. I just came from identifying my father's body, in case you forgot."

"Honestly, yes. I did forget. But you didn't like him anyway. Come on, I'm buying."

* * *
-- Acyl