Mage Mouse

By McCamy Taylor


The editors are pleased to present this narrative, penned by the renowned criminologist, Inspector Silverdeen of the Avalon City Police. Silverdeen is better known as the White Wolf, an epithet that is used by friends and foes alike. Though his pedigree is one hundred percent elf, he has a knack for sniffing out the truth that would make a bloodhound green with envy. He also possesses a keen mind and a pair of fists that could level an ox. Out of respect for the latter, the editors have refrained from making corrections to the text.

Part 1.

My first case? Though I did not realize it at the time, my first case started three years before I became Chief Inspector of the Avalon City Police. The story I am about to tell began on my last night as as a junior faculty member at Avalon College of Law. Never heard of it? I am not surprised. It is small college, devoted to the study of the Three Laws---the Law of Nature, the Law of Man and the Law of Magic. The university is located on the Isle of Avalon, which can currently be found in the middle of the Thames River. Since the island a bit smaller than a flea, shrouded in fog and protected by thirteen wards, mortals unschooled in magic seldom see it.

I was born on the Isle of Avalon, but many of our students came from other parts of Britain. For those who were far from home, the College had dormitories. My teaching position required that I live within one of these residences. I was part faculty adviser, part surrogate big brother and part prison warden for some of the wealthiest, rudest and most powerful young student mages and legal scholars in all of England. Though I enjoyed teaching, I detested my other duties, and so I had tendered my resignation.

My last month on the job had been unusually peaceful, and I went to bed expecting an uninterrupted night's sleep. My hopes were dashed, when the house mother woke me at three in the morning.

"There's been a disturbance," she informed me apologetically. "Six freshmen arrested for rioting in a tavern. Five of them ours. Here, you had better take this." She handed me a purse heavy with silver coin. "I hear the tavern was leveled. The court will set a high bond."

"Peersworthy?" I asked as I fumbled with my shoes. The arrogant young elf-mage in training had been the bane of my existence since his matriculation nine months ago. Truth be told, he was the main reason I had decided to resign my junior faculty position and accept a fellowship in Advanced Truthsaying at la Belle Universite in Paris.

"Who else? You'll want this." She handed me an umbrella.

I cocked an ear. "I don't hear any rain."

"You will."

I knew better than to doubt her. Mother Merksy came from a long line of weather-witches.


The weather held until I was two blocks from the Avalon City Jail. Then, the skies let loose a flood that quickly turned the streets to rivers, soaking me to the knees and turning my already black mood a couple of shades darker.

The night clerk greeted me cheerfully. "It's been a while, Silverdeen."

"Not long enough," I growled. I closed my umbrella with a snap and tossed it into the bin beside the door.

The police station was grimier than usual. Even gaslight could not disguise the cracked ceiling, muddy floor and graffiti covered walls. A prostitute and her panderer were arguing loudly in the corner, something about a missing earring---I tuned them out and fixed my attention on the stack of documents which the police clerk thrust into my hands.

"Drunk and disorderly. Destruction of property. Using magic within city limit without a permit."

"Has the night judge set bail?".

"Two hundred each."

I grimaced. Would there be enough money in the leather purse or would I have to wade back to the college for more? Fortunately, Mother Merksy had provided me with ample funds, enough for the students' bonds with two hundred left over.

I paid the fees and signed the necessary papers.

"I hear you've resigned from the College," the night clerk remarked. "When are you leaving?"

"My boat sails tomorrow," I growled, in no mood for pleasantries.

He cocked an eyebrow. "So this is a farewell party? How thoughtful of your young 'gentleman'."

I bared my teeth. "Isn't it?"

"I trust you'll repay them for their kindness. Seriously, Silverdeen, you should consider coming to work here. We could use an inspector with a head on his shoulders."

"And spend every waking hour of every day dealing with the likes of Peersworthy? No, thank you."

"It's different here. Except for the occasional college brat, the criminals we see aren't nobles. When their heads need a good knocking, we give it to 'em."

"I'll consider it," I promised to get him off the subject.

An extremely tall, extremely ugly young wraith dressed in police olive green escorted me downstairs to the holding cells, where five of the College's finest were singing a drunken song in praise of dwarf women of loose morals. Their black silk robes, finally coiffed hair and expensive leather shoes contrasted starkly with the tattered homespun of the jail's more ordinary inhabitants. The latter watched the quintet with expressions ranging from bored to annoyed to predatory.

"Peersworthy!" I barked.

Silence fell over the jail cell. At six and a half feet tall, eighteen stone with the shoulders of a wrestler, a roar like a bull and fangs like a wolf, I have no difficulty making myself noticed when the need arises.

The blue haired freshman stepped forward, head bowed. Pretending to be contrite, the lying little bastard.

"You talk a lot about being best in your class," I said loudly enough for all to hear. "But you'll never be more than a spoiled dilettante, if you continue to waste your time and talent on liquor, women and brawling."

The tips of Peersworthy's pointed ears flushed scarlet, and his gray eyes blazed. I had touched a tender nerve. Would he lash out at me with magic? I hoped so. It would give me an excuse to beat him into a bloody pulp.

Peersworthy saw the promise of violence in my eyes, and his own expression grew wary. After a quick glance around the cell, he wrinkled his aristocratic nose and sniffed "This place stinks. Let's get out of here."

A drunken ogre in the far corner snarled. As the insult was repeated around the jail cell, several other prisoners objected, some with muttered words, one with a boot which Peersworthy deflected using magic.

Sensing that a riot was imminent, I snapped "The only thing that stinks around here is your arrogance. I've met graveyard golems with better manners. Move it, you scum!" I propelled Peersworthy forward with a well placed kick to the seat of his pants.

This elicited cheers from the other prisoners.

"You tell 'em, guvner!"

"Kick 'em one fur me!"

As the last of my five charges filed from the jail cell, I noticed a black robed figure leaning against the far wall. He was shorter than the other students, slender, with lank hair and wide dark eyes set in a thin, brown face. A mortal and a poor one at that. His robe was made of cheap silk, wrinkled and thin from too many washings, puckered in a half dozen places from inexpert darning.

"What about him?" I asked Silverdeen. "What's he in for?"

"Rioting, the same as us," was his surly reply.

"Has anyone been summoned to pay his bail?"

"How should I know? He's no friend of mine. Just a scholarship student ." This last was accompanied by a sneer that set my teeth on edge,

"Just a scholarship student," I echoed mockingly. "In other words, he is here, because he has true talent. Unlike some who were admitted to Avalon because of their family connections."

I had gone too far this time. Or perhaps, it was the first time I had gone far enough. Peersworthy lashed out at me with a Fire Whip, a predictable first attack, which I deflected easily using Breath of Frost. Before he could launch a second offensive, I drew upon the power of the solid stone beneath my feet to form a Mountain Hammer---a weapon made from air which becomes as heavy as lead when it strikes its target. The blue haired student mage went down like a dandelion in a gale.

"Brightstar! Hightower!" I barked. "Carry him back to the dormitory. Have Mother Merksy look at him."

"Yes, Silverdeen."

Despite Peersworthy's weight, they fled as if the hounds of hell were nipping at their heels. An appropriate metaphor. One of my nicknames is the Silver Wolf, in part because of my snow white hair and unusually long canines. I have been told that when my temper is up, I make a terrifying sight.

Much as I wanted to get back to bed, there was one last task for me to attend to. I signaled to the scholarship student. "You there. What do they call you?"

He blinked. "Me, sir?"

"Yes, you." I struggled to conceal my impatience. "What's your name?"

"Mouse. They call me Mouse."

"You're name is Mouse?"

"No, sir. That's what they call me. My name is Mussrey. Fenwick Mussrey."

An unforgettable name. "I've heard of you. You're top of the freshman class, aren't you?"

The young mortal blushed and ducked his head.

So this was Peersworthy's rival. How it must gall the noble born elf to come in second to a nobody like this. I found myself liking the young mortal mage. I dropped a hand on his shoulder and adopted my "big brother" persona. "You shouldn't associate with people like Peersworthy. He'll bring you nothing but trouble. Is there someone you can call to post your bond?" He shook his head miserably. "I don't know what I'm going to do. We have finals today. If I miss them, I'll fail the semester and lose my scholarship."

My hand went to my pocket. There was enough money in the purse to pay one more bond. Had Mother Merksy anticipated this? I signaled the guard who was standing outside the cell. "I'll be posting bail for this one, too."


A distant clocked tolled six just as I arrived back at my quarters. My ship was scheduled to depart at eight, and I still had not finished packing! I hurried to my room where I threw the rest of my belongings into a trunk. After giving Mother Merksy an abbreviated account of the night's events, I raced to the dock, reaching the boat with just minutes to spare.

Once we cast off from shore, the spell singer, a young mermaid with sea green hair and finely scaled skin went to work. Our fog shrouded vessel rapidly expanded from the size of a flea's whisker to a full sized barge, which merged with the regular Thames traffic.

The air reeked of coal, sulfur and rotten garbage. Most of the passengers went below, to escape the foul odor, but I stayed at the bow. I found myself looking forward to a year's stay in France, where the elves had followed the example of the mortals, doing away with noble titles. There would be no more Peersworthys in my life.

"You look chipper," the captain remarked. He was an old, mortal seafarer, who had been rescued from drowning by the mermaids of the Thames. To show his thanks, he had taken over the task of piloting the barge which connected the mortal and magical realms. He was rumored to be six hundred years old, which is nothing for an elf but several lifetimes for a human. Mortals can live for a very long time in the Summer Lands.

"Very chipper," I replied. The wind blew my white hair behind me like a sail. I set my sights on the future, blessedly unaware of how my last night at Avalon would later come back to haunt me.

Part 2. Three years later:

There was sharp rap on the door. I looked up from my cluttered desk. The paperwork had been left by my predecessor, a political appointee who spent more time in brothels than he did at the police station. As Avalon City's new Chief Inspector, it was my task to clean up the mess. I was tempted to burn it all and start fresh, however, there were a few important documents concealed among the garbage.

"Come in!" I barked.

Though I had been on the job less than forty-eight hours, the younger members of the force were already scared shitless of me---a state of affairs which bothered me not a bit---so a seasoned old veteran named Windowlass had assigned himself to be my personal assistant. He was a mongrel elf with more than a touch of goblin blood, as evidenced by his long, hooked nose, bright red eyes and jutting chin. We got along quite well.

""Ere's the prisoner your High and Mightiness requested."

"Stick it up your ass," I replied amiably.

"My pleasure, once you're finished with it." Despite his rough appearance, Windowlass had a soft streak a league wide. He showed it in the gentle way he ushered forward the prisoner.

So it was the same young man. When I read the name, Fenwick Mussrey, I had assumed that there must be two of them on Avalon Island, but the nervous mortal who shuffled into the room had the wide, dark eyes, thin face and lank hair which I remembered. He also had a large, livid bruise on his left cheekbone.

"How did you get that?"

Mouse---I could not help but think of him by his nickname. It was so appropriate---looked away. "I tripped and fell," he mumbled.

I did not need an advanced degree in Truthsaying to know that he was lying. I caught Windowlass's eye. "See to it," I said.

The goblin elf nodded. I knew that he would locate the jailer who had taken advantage of his position to bully the prisoner and give him a taste of his own medicine.

Mouse noticed our exchange of looks. "Please, it's nothing. Don't bother yourself on my account."

"It's not an your account," Windowlass said gruffly. "It's the law. If the law keepers don't uphold it, who will?" He left.

Mouse took the chair which I offered. I pulled up a low stool and sat down beside him. "I've read your file. A great injustice was dealt to you."

He blinked, clearly surprised at my show of sympathy. "I...they....."

"You were framed, were you not? Someone paid the tavern owner to claim that you started the brawl. Your case was heard by a judge who just happened to be a distant cousin of Peersworthy. The others got fines. You were sent to the city jail for thirty days." Sent to the general lock up, even though it was policy to confine young, weak appearing inmates in private cells for their own safety---and that of the other prisoners. On his first night in jail, Mage Mouse was assaulted by a seasoned old inmate, an ogre. Predictably, the young mage defended himself the only way he could, with magic, and the ogre was reduced to a pile of ashes. No one missed the old devil, who had been a thorn in the side of jailers and inmates alike, and his death was ruled justifiable homicide. However, there was another, more unfortunate consequence of that night. Mussrey, horrified at the results of his own sorcery, had lost the ability to use his magic powers.

Mussrey finished his sentence in the solitary confinement where he should have been put in the first place. His magic powers gone and his scholarship forfeited, he could not return to school at Avalon College of Law. However, someone on the board of administrators had heard about his plight and about the rumors that Peersworthy had arranged for his rivals' fall. Therefore, Mouse was offered a position as librarian as compensation for his loss.

For three years, he tended the books in Avalon College's massive library. In all that time, he showed no sign of regaining even a drop of his magic ability. The healers worked on him, attempting to fan any spark which remained, but their labors were in vain. Mussrey had become an ordinary mortal, brighter than most, but without the flare for magic which had made him the star of his freshman class.

And then, on graduation day---a day in which Mussrey should have received the College's highest honor---his power came back with a vengeance, leaving Peersworthy dead, and Mouse a prisoner once again.

"Tell me what happened," I urged him, as gently as I could. There are times when my I regret my ferocious appearance. The short stool on which I was seated helped a bit, since it lowered my head to Mussrey's height, but there was no disguising the fact that I was two times his size. My hands were easily twice as big as his. Both of his shoes could have fit within one of my boots with room to spare.

Stuttering, he got the story out in bits and pieces, which I will string together for the sake of brevity. On graduation day, Peersworthy had visited the library, ostensibly to do some research on a particular type of djinn. Mussrey had located the requested volumes and had just placed them on the table beside the elf mage, when---in Mussrey's own words---"a pillar of fire bristling blades of flame sprang up before him. Slowly, it began to turn. Peersworthy tried to master it. He recited the correct spells perfectly. But his magic failed. He was killed. It was----awful. "

I had read the crime scene report. "Awful" was an understatement. Peersworthy's flesh was flayed from his bones a bit at a time, each fresh wound cauterized with fire so that he remained alive and conscious until the demon beast reached his vital organs. A grisly death, but not an unusual one for students who tried to control demons which were too strong for them. The death would have been labeled "accidental" except for the fact that librarian Mussrey, who was standing just a few feet away, was unscathed. This had lead to rumors that the student mage had only pretended to lose his powers, so that he could extract his revenge upon his nemesis. At the insistence of Peersworthy's very large, very powerful family, Mussrey was jailed again, this time on a charge of first degree murder. If convicted, he would face the ultimate penalty--expulsion from Avalon Island where he was born. For a mortal, this amounted to a death sentence.

My job was to prove that Mussrey still had the magic power necessary to control a demon beast and force it to murder another. It was a task I did not relish.

"There are some tests I need to perform," I said apologetically.

He bit his lower lip and gripped the arms of his chair.

"Not those tests, " I added quickly. He had already endured several days of ordeal in which he had shown no sign of using magical power to protect himself. "Do you know how Truthsaying works? I link my thoughts with yours. If you are innocent, I will know it. If you are guilty, I will know that, too. The results are reliable 99.5% of the time. I tell you that, because if I perform the test and it shows that you deliberately murdered Peersworthy, you will be considered guilty and sent to your death. Do you understand? You have the right to refuse the test. If you refuse, your refusal can not be used as evidence against you. The evidence is slim. In situations like yours, the court will tend to show bias towards the accused, particularly if the police report confirms the defendant's story. Do you understand? "

He nodded. "You're saying if I'm guilty, I should refuse, and it won't hurt my chances of an acquittal, because you'll back me up. Thanks, but there's no reason for you to lie. I'm innocent. I didn't kill him. The demon did. I don't know why Peersworthy couldn't master the beast. He was an excellent mage. I don't know why it didn't attack me. But I know that I did nothing wrong. Test me."

The Truthsaying procedure is relatively straight forward. The investigator---in this case, me---looks into the eyes of the accused. After several minutes, I establish a connection which allows me to experience the subject's emotions . Sometimes I can even pick up a few thoughts or stray memories. There are only two situations in which a trained Truthsayer such as myself will fail to establish a link. One is if the subject is in a vegetative coma, a state in which the heart continues to beat but the mind and soul have fled. The other occurs when a mage of power greater than mine resists the intrusion.

I tried for over an hour. By the time I gave up, sweat was pouring down my brow, and my head was throbbing. "Enough," I said. I stood up and moved towards the window where I stood with my back against the light so that he could not read my face. "You may go."

Mouse hesitated. "You think I'm guilty."

I knew he was guilty. Only a mage of great power could have thwarted me so completely. "The test results were equivocal."

"Don't lie," he continued stubbornly. " You couldn't make a link. That means you think I still have my powers. But I don't."

"You may go!"

Amazingly, he stood his ground. "I never wanted Peersworthy dead. I'm mortal, remember? I know what it means to lose a mother to death. I wouldn't wish any elven mother to lose her son, no matter how much he hurt me."

He sounded so sincere that I would have believed him, if not for what I had just experienced. "The test results were inconclusive," I repeated. "I will tell the court that there is insufficient evidence to convict you."

"Because you think Peersworthy had it coming?" Mouse shook his head stubbornly. "I don't want people to look at me and think 'He got away with murder.' If I win my freedom that way, I might as well throw myself into the Thames and drown." He clenched his fists. "I've lost my power. Do you have any idea how that feels? To be able to hear the music of the stars and then lose it like that?" He snapped his fingers. "And now I'm going to lose my honor, too. When that's gone, what will I have left? You're a Truthsayer. Uncover the truth. Prove me innocent."

For all his physical frailty, Mouse was a bit terrifying. "I'll do my best," I lied. Before he could say more, I called for Windowlass.

The goblin elf's left hand was noticeable swollen, a sign that he had attended to the task I had set him. Had I been wrong to have the jailer who had struck Mouse punished? I felt as if the ground beneath my feet had turned to liquid, and I was being tossed upon the waves---a most uncomfortable situation for one whose calling is righting wrongs and upholding the law.


Mouse had set me an impossible task. Knowing, as I did, that he was in possession of his magic powers and therefore a liar as well as a murderer, how could I convince myself that he was innocent?

The Gods know, I wanted him to be innocent. I wanted Peersworthy's death to be divine retribution for his crimes.

"He didn't do it," was Windowlass's verdict.

How I wished for the goblin elf's innocent certainty. Damn my Truthsayer training! My instincts told me that Mouse would not hurt a fly, but my intellect told me otherwise.

"He didn't do it," my assistant said again. "And if you think he did, then you're a bigger ass than him. He tried to forgive a guilty man. You're trying to condemn an innocent one."

"Watch it!"

Windowlass rolled his beady red eyes. "Or you'll what? You're so proud of that great intellect of yours. Use it. Go visit Mussrey's room at the College. Examine his things, then try to tell me he's guilty."

"What are you getting at? I don't have time for these games. If you know something that will prove Mussrey's innocence, then tell me."

"You won't learn if you don't figure it out for yourself."

"Learn? Learn? I've spent ten years learning my craft, and you dare try to tell me how to do my job!"

Windowlass sneered. "You're not bad, for a newbie," he admitted grudgingly. "But you've still got a lot to learn. Go look at the Mouse's quarters."


Cursing Windowlass under my breath, I did as he had suggested. The truth was that I wanted to prove Mussrey innocent as much as he wanted to be proved innocent.

The position of librarian at Avalon College included room and boarding. The living quarters on the fourth floor of the library building were not bad, probably much more elegant than the boarding house where the student mage had resided before he was convicted of disturbing the peace and destruction of private property. There was a combination sitting room and kitchen, with a fireplace fitted with a grill so that the resident could prepare a meal for himself if he did not want to walk half way across campus to dine with the faculty. This was connected to a bath with a flush toilet and porcelain tub. This room lead to the bed chamber, a small, cozy little room with its own fireplace, a wall of books and a window which afforded a nice view of the College herb garden.

I was relieved to find that Mussrey had not spent the last three years living in a squalid cellar. A murderer he might be, but he had an excuse for what he had done. Peersworthy had it coming.

I recalled the young mortal's words. "I don't want people to look at me and think ' He got away with murder. if I win my freedom that way, I might as well throw myself into the Thames and drown."

Damn the boy! Here I was, ready to lie to save him, and he was not satisfied. No. I had to prove the impossible. I slammed my fist down hard on the bedside table, making the lantern jump. A small metal box fell to the floor, where it opened, spilling steel, flint and char cloth.

As I stooped to pick up the tools for starting fire, I recalled Windowlass's words.

For a moment, my mind was as clear and tranquil as the sea in the eye of hurricane, then the truth hit me, knocking me back like gale force wind. Creating fire was the simplest magic art, something most mages learned before they turned five. Had Mussrey realized that he still possessed magic powers, he would not have bothered using tinder and flint within the privacy of his own room, not when a snap of the fingers could produce the desired flame much more quickly and safely.

Windowlass was right. Mussrey was innocent. Now all I had to do was prove it to the judges.


For the demonstration I had prepared, I required the services of a nightwright. These are a species of wraith which absorb all visible light within a three to six foot radius. No one knows how they do it. They are born with the ability. Since no light escapes from the space around them, they are invisible to creatures which rely upon their eyes to see---creatures like humans and elves. The nightwrights are blind, and they posses a bat like ability to emit a sound which can not be heard by human or elven ears. This sound allows them to "see" the world around them.

Since they prefer to sleep during the day and travel at night, most people are not aware of their existence. However, Avalon College had a resident nightwright, employed in the magical arts laboratory to create conditions of utter darkness for spells which required it. No mage in the history of the college had ever been able to reproduce the nightwright's ability. More importantly, none had been able to cancel it completely using magic. For this reason, the nightwright often helped administer the admissions test given to student mage applicants. If a candidate could decrease the area of darkness encircling a nightwright by as much as a few inches, this was considered to be a sign of great talent. Mage student Mussrey's records indicated that he was able to achieve five inches of illumination.

The demonstration was to be held in the dungeon below the city jail. There was grumbling from the judges, who did not like being reminded of the darker side of Avalon City justice, however, the test required near complete darkness. By half past midnight, all the necessary players were gathered. The nightwright was hidden in the shadows. I ordered Windowlass to bring the prisoner.

Poor Mouse looked terrified, his face drained of all color, his eyes dark and wide. No doubt, he thought he was being taken for another session of interrogation. My presence seemed to reassure him. He glanced from my face to the faces of the jurists then back to me, an unspoken question in his eyes.

Patience, I told him silently. "Take this candle. Walk to that corner of the room and back." I indicated the shadowy area where the nightwright was hiding.

Mouse looked confused, but he did as directed. The flickering light of the candle illuminated his pale face and wide eyes, making him appear more like a small rodent than usual. The light did not quite reach the ground, so he took each step hesitantly, cautious of any trap which might await him. As he neared the corner, he stopped short.

"There's someone here," he said.

"Keep going," I ordered.

He took a step forward, then another. Lifting the candle a little higher, he illuminated something which no human or elf had ever seen before, the face of a nightwright. It was much like the face of a bat, almost flat, with no nose to speak of and enormous ears. In place of eyes, it had shallow indentations covered by thin membranes which allowed it to detect scent. Using its sound "sight" and its acute sense of smell, it detected Mouse's presence, but as instructed, it kept perfectly still.

"What are you?" Mouse asked.

"Don't you recognize me, Mage Mussrey?" The wraith's voice was high pitched and reedy. "I helped you often enough in the lab."

"Shadeheart? But I can see you! How?"

"What's all this?" one of the judges demanded. "What is this strange looking creature, and what does he have to do with the defendant's innocence or guilt?"

The "strange looking creature" grimaced. "Surely, you recognize me, Mage Proofeady. I saved you from drowning in one of your own experiments a couple of hundred years ago, when you were a student at the college." The wraith bowed. "Allow me to introduce myself. I am Shadeheart, resident nightwright of Avalon College of Law."

"Amazing!" someone exclaimed.

"But how does this prove Musty's innocence?" demanded another. "Only a mage of great power could cast a light spell capable of illuminating a nightwright. If Musty can do something like this, then he could have murdered that other student."

"Mussrey," I corrected. "His name's Mussrey. And you're wrong. No mage, no matter how great his power, could do what Mussrey has done. This is no ordinary feat of magic . This is the negation of magic. " Then, because the city judges are chosen for their political connection rather than their intelligence, I was forced to explain in detail how after his unfortunate experience in the city jail, the student mage had unconsciously acquired a new gift--the ability to neutralize his own magic ability. "This effectively removed his own power, eliminating the risk that he would kill again. An unintended side effect was that whenever another mage practiced his art within Mussrey's immediate vicinity, his magic would also be neutralized. This is what happened to Peersworthy. Students are supposed to limit their experiments to the college laboratory, where safety precautions are in effect, but Peersworthy never followed the rules. When he needed to do some research on the djinn he was studying, he took the demon with him to the library. When Mussrey brought him the books he had requested, Peersworthy's magical control over the djinn was broken, and the demon turned on him."

"Why was the librarian spared?" asked one of the judges.

"Because djinns are magical creatures. Had it strayed too close to Mussrey, it would have been destroyed. Picture what must have happened. Peersworthy had released the djinn from its vessel and was performing some test on it. Mussrey appeared. The magical spell controlling the djinn was negated. Mussrey would have responded by jumping backwards in an attempt to put some distance between himself and the demon. That gave the beast time to manifest. Unfortunately for Peersworthy, Mussrey did not run away. Instead, he tried to help. His presence neutralized the other mage's magic, however the djinn, which was just a little bit father away was able to attack."

"So you're saying that the defendant----"

"Is guilty only of attempting to aid a friend. " I deemed it prudent not to bring up the troubled history of the two students. "Peersworthy's death was an accident which no one could have anticipated, because no one realized the true nature of Mussrey's affliction. If anyone should be blamed, it's the healers who failed to detect the condition. Every time they attempted to augment his diminished power, they made the real problem worse, by increasing the strength of the mage-bane spell which he has cast upon himself."

I had to explain it all three times more, before the dimmest of the judges acknowledged that I was correct. They recessed to discuss their verdict---a formality. Windowlass complimented me in his own surly way. "You're not half as dense as I first took you to be."

"You knew about the flint and steel."

"The what?"

"The flint and steel in Mussrey's room. No mage uses flint to start a fire. It's too clumsy."

"Don't know what you're talking about."

"Then why did you tell me to examine his quarters?" I demanded.

He shrugged. "I knew the young fellow was innocent, and I knew you knew it. If you put your head to the problem, I was pretty sure you would think of some way to prove it, you being college educated and all."

I did not know whether to hug Windowlass or strangle him. Before I could reply to this backhanded compliment, someone tugged at my sleeve. It was Mouse. "Thank you," he said, so softly that I had to lean down to hear.

"No need to thank me. Just doing my job. Windowlass!"

"Yes, your High Holiness?"

"Go get the paperwork for Mussrey's release ready for my signature."

For once, my second in command did not argue with me. I told myself it was out of respect for my abilities.

"What are you going to do now?" I asked Mouse, once the judges returned their ruling and his release from custody became official.

He considered my question. "I don't know," he answered finally. "The college won't want me as long as I'm mage-bane. I'd be too dangerous. I suppose I could see the healers again. Maybe they can fix me, now that they know what the problems is. But even if I get my magic back, there will be some who blame me for Peersworthy's death."

"You could work for me. "

He blinked. "For you?"

"The police could use someone like you. Mages commit crimes, too, you know, and they are dangerous when cornered. Plus, they contaminate the evidence and play tricks upon the minds of witnesses. The job would pay well. And there's a half dozen empty rooms in the commissioner's house. The place was built for a man with a family, not a bachelor like me. You can pick whichever room you like."

His expression brightened. "I could stay with you? I'd like that. I feel safe when you're around."

Windowlass thought it an excellent idea. "You need someone to look after you at home, the way I look after you at work."

I should have ignored him . "What do you mean 'look after' me? I'm more than capable of taking care of myself."

"'More than capable'" he agreed, smiling slyly. "That's why you need someone like me around, to cut you down to size when you start getting delusions of grandeur."

"Assuming that's true, I don't see how Mouse fits the bill. He's nothing like you."

"Shows what you know. Mouse and I've got one very important thing in common. Neither of us is afraid of you."

I don't know why I put up with Windowlass. Maybe, it is because on rare occasions, he is right.

The End

Copyright © 2002 by McCamy Taylor

Bio:McCamy is a long time contributor to Aphelion as well as Assistant Short Story Editor. You can find out all about her and herwork by following the link below to her new and improved (Post) Millennium Fiction website.

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