My new novelette Jonelle Crosse is being published in book (and ebook) form on Leap Day, February 29, 2024. The heroine is a “cleaner,” or trouble-shooter, for the Office of Thaumaturgical Purity, which means she cleans up magical messes like escaped demons, dangerous artifacts, etc. The story is set in my loosely connected Thousand Kingdoms series.
This story was originally published in the Fantastic Detectives anthology, published by Tannhauser Press.
This is an excerpt from Chapter 2, as Jonelle learns more about her latest case.
Jonelle was startled, though not overly surprised, when she and Tolan, the courier who’d been hired to transport her, appeared in midair well above what had to be Cinder Square. They immediately started falling, which didn’t seem to faze Tolan at all. Clearly, he expected to orient himself for another portation before they fell too far, since she doubted that any courier was likely to have levitation capabilities. Jonelle waved her free hand and arrested their fall, leaving them floating as if they were standing on an invisible platform far above the streets below.
Tolan nonchalantly pointed and said, “Looks like they’ve got that area cordoned off over there.”
About half the square seemed to be blocked off. Jonelle spotted scorch marks on some of the buildings and blast pits in the cobblestone roadway, obvious indications of a magical battle. The center of the square featured a large statue of Grenfell, one of the Ten, by a pool with a fountain at the opposite end from the statue. Beyond the cordon, the square was crowded with gawkers. Wagon traffic was at a standstill.
“Take us down, please.”
And suddenly they were on the ground within the cordon. A short jump like this one wouldn’t have triggered her nausea, but she was starting to like having a pet courier to ferry her around.
At their appearance, a harried-looking senior inspector hurried over. He was broad-shouldered and bulky, with a seamed face, a nose that had been broken a few too many times, and thinning hair that was at least half gray. Jonelle would have bet that most of his bulk was muscle, despite a noticeable potbelly.
The inspector stopped in front of Tolan. “You the replacement cleaner?”
Jonelle marveled at yet another example of the patriarchal bias that pervaded society. Unfathomably, it was easier for the guardsman to believe that a man in a courier uniform could be a demon hunter than the woman standing beside him.
Tolan raised an eyebrow and shot a glance in her direction. “No, she is.” He gestured with his thumb in her direction. “I’m just her helper.”
Well, that was news to Jonelle. Did serving as her transport make Tolan her helper? Granted, he was personable and, if she was honest with herself, almost as good-looking as he thought he was. She decided to let his comment ride for now.
Returning her attention to the senior officer, she learned three things in quick succession. His name was Inspector Khamis Redstone, he was by the gods in charge of this gods-forsaken catastrophe of a crime scene, and he did not like mages, most especially out-of-control mages with no respect for authority and the laws that governed civilization. She’d heard the rant before. He wasn’t saying anything new.
“So, set the stage for me,” Jonelle said, interrupting the inspector. “What happened here?”
Inspector Redstone seemed a bit taken aback by her audacity. As a woman, and a petite one at that, men usually didn’t expect her to be forceful. But she was an investigator, and a combat mage for the Office of Thaumaturgical Purification, so being forceful was a requirement.
The inspector started to say something, then stopped. She could almost see his mental clockworks spinning as he realized that he was most likely talking to a powerful mage and that offending her might be a Bad Thing. Although, she considered herself pretty forgiving as long as folks didn’t interfere overmuch with her clean-up activities.
The inspector grimaced, or maybe that was supposed to be a smile, it was hard to be sure. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Tolan trying keep a straight face as he watched the obvious friction between them.
“Some fool attacked a listed wizard,” Inspector Redstone said finally, wisely opting for cooperation. “Got his ass handed to him, simple as that.” He gestured at a tired-looking man sitting on the wall around the pool, dressed like a prosperous merchant or tradesman. Near him, a gray-skinned, octopus-like demon with far too many tentacles flailed helplessly within its invisible confinement.
“So, it was an ambush, then? The demons were already instantiated when the attack occurred?”
“Yeah. And we got that corroborated by a bunch of witnesses, too.”
Jonelle nodded toward the man sitting by the fountain. “If he’s the defender, where’s the other wizard?”
“Gone. Haven’t found him yet.” The inspector pointed at one of the streets that converged on Cinder Square. “Some witnesses saw him coming from an alley down there prior to the attack. When the battle got too hot for him, he raced back there to get away.”
Jonelle frowned. “That’s how you see it?”
“Yes, of course,” Inspector Redstone replied. “I figure he bit off more than he could chew. The miscreant’s undoubtedly trying to get out of Cascatel right now. But never you fear, we’ll catch him. We’ve circulated a description and we’re watching the city’s exit routes.”
“Well, I hope you’re right,” Jonelle said. Somehow, she didn’t think it was going to be that easy.
“Now, allow me to escort you to the scene where the first cleaner was killed,” the inspector said. “You can pick up the trail there and stop this loose demon before anybody else dies.”
“No,” she responded. “I’ll get to that, but I have a standard procedure to follow, first.”
“Montayne’s dead,” she said pointedly. “So his way didn’t work very well, now did it?” The inspector’s face turned a mottled red, but he didn’t say anything.