Volume 12, Interlude E: Overlapping Investigations

Za’ard Eastern District, Block A

“You sure no one followed you?” a well-dressed man questioned, tapping the stacks of cardboard boxes with his utility knife.

“What do you take me for? This isn’t my first time transporting the goods, you know? Don’t worry about it!” the delivery man opened up a box, giving the customer a preview of the items inside.

“Hey! You don’t open anything until I say so! I’m not paying for that box!” the customer shouted, holding his blade up to the delivery man’s neck.

“Okay, okay, sheesh! Calm down, my man. Open it up yourself then. I’ll stand still right here. Not moving anywhere, nice and easy, okay?” the delivery man raised his hands in the air.

The well-dressed man cut open the tape, flashing a special light onto the box’s content. After confirming everything was in order, he contacted someone through his watch. Two minutes later, a group of men in business suits entered the transaction area. They all carried concealed firearms and blades. Their boss directed them to take away the boxes, transporting them into a nearby supply truck. The delivery man remained still, not daring to move until he was allowed to.

“Here’s your payment. Pick it up yourself!” the well-dressed man tossed a loose pile of bills onto the floor with contempt.

The delivery man bent downwards, his hand reaching out toward one of the bills. The well-dressed man stomped on it five times. In an instant, the delivery man appeared behind his client, aiming a gun at him. All of the lackeys paused, reaching for their weapons.

“No one move! Under the authority of the-,” the delivery man ordered as a barrage of bullets flew towards him.

“You fools. How dare-,” the well-dressed man shouted as multiple bullets struck in him in the chest and stomach.

The delivery man tossed his negotiating piece away. He snapped his fingers, setting all the incoming projectiles ablaze, before redirecting them back at the lackeys. Multiple explosions occurred, sending people flying everywhere. He kicked the corpse of the well-dressed man to the side before hoisting up one of the fallen lackeys.

“You tell me everything I want to know or you will die today. Just like that fine gentlemen down there on the ground you so valiantly all shot up!” the delivery man pressed his glowing palm into his victim’s forehead.

“I ain’t no snitch. I shot up my own boss so I ain’t afraid to die,” the lackey snarled, biting his own tongue, staring straight into his captor’s eyes.

The delivery man released him, knocking him unconscious with a blast of magic. There weren’t any cooperative individuals. He wondered what kind of demented backgrounds they all endured to become such worthless people. Finding no one helpful, he exited the transaction area, running into two men pointing their guns at him.

“Crossroads Special Investigation Unit! Identify yourself,” one of the men ordered.

The delivery man remained silent, charging up a magical blast in the palm of his hand. He fired it off five seconds later, striking one of the men’s chest. The SIU officer collapsed to the ground, groaning in pain, but remained in stable condition. His partner hurled a grenade into the air. The magic user destroyed It but realized his mistake too late. A sealing field was now in place, preventing any magic use for at least two minutes.

“I repeat, identify yourself!” the SIU officer repeated, inching closer to the magic user.

The delivery man attempted a punch but the SIU officer weaved away. The SIU officer removed small pins from a bag attached to his belt, jamming them into his opponent’s back. All of them pierced through his clothing, further restricting magic flow. The SIU office puled on a pair of white gloves before tackling his foe to the floor. He rained down punches on the delivery man’s face, striking him for twenty seconds. At the end of his assault, the SIU officer’s companion recovered, rushing over to assist him.

“Okay, I get it! I’m an investigator from the * Mage Association. Here’s my credentials,” the delivery man shouted, conceding defeat.

One of the SIU officers cuffed him while the other inspected his badge and identification. After one minute, he confirmed to his partner everything checked out.

“Inspector Knight, what brings you to Za’ard?” both SIU officers displayed their own badges.

“Officers Red and Moss, I would ask the same of you too. I heard the Special Investigations Unit is busy investigating elsewhere,” Inspector Knight retorted.

“Maybe the same thing you’re after. We asked first,” Officer Moss said, still not removing the handcuffs yet.

“You’re at the bottom of the ladder. No reason to tell you anything,” Inspector Knight refused.

Officer Red pressed a button on his microphone. Inspector Knight’s facial expression changed upon hearing the voice coming out of it.

“Inspector Knight, this is Captain Maka of the Special Investigations Unit. I’ve been in contact with your superior. More importantly, I’ve been talking to the Knight’s Guild. They’re very interested in hearing about why a supposed joint operation suddenly only involves one side,” Captain Maka reported, sounds of rapid typing accompanying his voice.

As much as he would love to antagonize the Knight’s Guild, this was not one of those times. The * native explained he was following a lead about illegal transportation of magical cannon components. An initial investigation revealed Za’ard as the final destination. Not wanting to waste time, Inspector Knight was dispatched under the guise as a delivery driver to gather evidence.  

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“Which parts are we exactly talking about?” Officer Moss finally freed the man from his handcuffs.

“Would you even know what they are if I told you?” Inspector Knight rubbed his wrists, staring at the SIU officer with skepticism.

“I might be an officer now but I studied in * before joining. Try me,” Officer Moss revealed.

“Really? I’ve been your partner for half a year and didn’t even know,” Officer Red said.

Inspector Knight pulled out a folded piece of paper and handed it to Officer Moss. The SIU officer read the factory order invoice, furrowing his brows as he reached the end. Just from this, he knew of the potential devastation.

“These boxes, do they have all the parts?” Officer Moss asked his partner to bring over one of them.

“Of course not. There’s no way we would put anything that dangerous inside. I was hoping to figure out whose giving out orders but that’s not happening,” Inspector Knight answered.

“How bad can it really get?” Officer Red opened up a box, showing the contents to his companion.

“Another Crossroads. It’ll definitely be worse than what happened in Za’ard already. The parts listed there, it’s a more sophisticated model, capable of greater destruction. I thought * banned all production after what happened here,” Officer Moss explained, glancing over at the magic user.

“These were grandfathered in because of pressure from the Knight’s Guild. Development was already in the final stages. Greedy scum wanted better weapons. Well, this is the direct result of their dumb decisions,” Inspector Knight disclosed, messaging his boss about the operation.

The three men spent the ten minutes swapping information. Officer Moss and Red were sent to Za’ard after the SIU received a tip from Fei about an underground deal. Someone from the main teleportation grid stole valuable wiring and chips from the facility. Their plan was to sell the stolen items to the highest bidder. The former princess learned representatives from Za’ard, Zhangjie, and * were all potential buyers. Since the thief wasn’t a Za’ard national, the SIU was assigned the case instead of the local dimension authorities.

“We know for sure a magical cannon is in development. They’re also very selective about the internal parts. But, there’s still one thing they’re missing,” Inspector Knight concluded, speaking into a portable voice recorder.

“An operator,” Officer Moss said, tearing out a page of his notepad.

“Wait, I thought anyone could use it?” Officer Red scratched his head in confusion.

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“If it has an internal magical tank, then yes. But this cannon isn’t one of those. If I’m right, it’s meant for a user to directly channel magic into it. Most likely while hooked up or near a strong ley line,” Inspector Knight predicted, staring up into the sky.

A loud whirring interrupted their conversation. It was a rare sight for an aircraft to fly in Za’ard. The skies were reserved for official government use and those with enough influence. A helicopter descended, and five armored men leaped out, pointing machine guns at the three men. Officer Moss and Red nodded at Inspector Knight. The magic user set all of their firearms ablaze. Officer Moss hurled a grenade, smoke pouring out from it. For thirty seconds, the men from the helicopter were blinded. When it finally cleared, only one of the men remained standing. The rest of his team was face down on the ground unconscious.

“Special Investigations Unit! Who are you?” Officer Red pointed his gun at the newcomer, as a magical circle developed.

Instead of providing a response, the new arrival held his palm out, shooting a burst of flames at Officer Red. The SIU officer dropped to the ground immediately, rolling around to extinguish his burning sleeves. Inspector Knight countered with a steam of water, but somehow the flame magic consumed his. Officer Moss plunged a stake into the ground, initiating another anti-magic field. He swept the opponent’s leg before sticking a beeping device onto their shirt. Three seconds later, a shrill ringing occurred. Everyone covered their ears, the noise too piercing. Officer Moss saw shards of plastic fall to the ground and knew his plan was successful.

“Now!” Officer Moss glanced over at Inspector Knight.

The magic user finally finished casting his sealing circle, trapping their foe. He lifted Officer Red up from the ground before confronting the trapped man.

“Your magic, it’s not natural. Where are you from?” Inspector Knight ran a scan on the man but found no matching results.

“I’m so sorry about my men’s behavior! Hey, apologize already!” a woman leaped down from a nearby building and then slapped the man.

“But-,” the man started before the woman slapped him again.

“Listen, you’re at fault, just apologize already!” the woman broke through Inspector Knight’s magical circle and pushed her subordinate out of it.

The three men were at a loss of words, all for different reasons. The * native was shocked she dispersed his magic without any issues. Officer Red was taken aback by the woman’s violent actions. Officer Moss was still on guard, not sure if she was a threat or not.

“Oh, where are my manners? I’m Lieutenant Cation, currently helping out the Za’ard Task Force! I heard from Commander Ion the Special Investigations Unit was in the area. I actually was on the way to help you guys out!” she introduced herself, showing them identification.

“Dude, she’s part of the Za’ard government military,” Officer Red whispered, noticing the special dimension seal on her ID badge.

“I’m Officer Moss and this is my partner, Officer Red. Over there is Inspector Knight, a * agent investigating the smuggling of magical cannon parts,” Officer Moss revealed.

“Magical cannon parts, huh? We have a lot discuss, gentlemen,” Lieutenant Cation responded, a look of exhilaration appearing on her face.

Mirror-Crossroads Boundary

A woman, a lapel bearing the number “25”, picked a dandelion from the field. She blew into it, sending white fluffs flying into the air, soon transforming into magical particles. They all coalesced together, forming a shimmering window with an old man’s face appearing in it. He wore an eyepatch with a stylized “P” and clasped both hands over a cane which contained a blue jewel on top.

“25, what is the status of my project?” his voice deep and foreboding.

“It is as planned. I am concerned about SIU interference. They are closing in on the Mirror connection,” she reported, brushing off grass from her hair.

“Worry not. They are mere bugs in a world of giants. Besides, that is not our concern. Another group is responsible for impeding any minute progress they may make,” the veteran responded, tapping his cane against the floor.

 The woman glanced back over her shoulder, hearing the approaching footsteps of another person. She made a symbol with her fingers and the transmission ended. A large pile of wilted dandelions appeared beneath her feet.

“Oh, don’t let little ole me interrupt your super secret conversation,” the orange-haired masked woman remarked, squishing the dandelions underneath her high heels.

“Why the mask? We’re all allies here,” 25 questioned, reaching for her blade.

“Oh poor little naive 25, you’re so out of the loop! What if someone’s watching? I can’t have anyone looking at my beautiful face!” the masked woman exclaimed, spraying a fragrant perfume into the air with a little twirl.

 25 glared at the masked woman, holding her breath as the perfume dispersed throughout the area. One minute later, traces of tracking magic became visible. The masked woman held her hand up, gesturing towards it.

“See? Aren’t you glad I came in when I did?” the masked woman walked closer to 25.

“What do you want?” 25 hid her weapon underneath her right sleeve.

“Just casual business talk. No reason to hide that little weapon of yours. I promise, I’m not here to try anything,” the masked woman assured her.

 25 held her blade outward, still suspicious. She sighed, sitting down cross-legged on the field, listening to the masked woman ramble on about frivolous things. This was not what she envisioned at all when assigned to this job. Monitoring the masked woman was just a pain. However, she would continue to do so without complaint even if she didn’t understand why the masked woman was allowed such freedom.

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