The Ballroom Murder

© 1998 by Lord Malachite

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Author's Note:

This fanfiction is set in the Silver Millennium, approximately 11 years before Beryl's assault on the Moon. The future Kings of the Negaverse, being nearly immortal, are full-grown, while the Senshi are still children.

The Ballroom Murder

© 1998 by Lord Malachite

"Ahhhhhhh..." I sighed and lay back in bed. Things had never been going so smoothly. Since my first day at court six years ago, I had been almost constantly at work on one problem or another, but for the past month, things had been quiet. The alliance with the Inner Planets was holding, there hadn't been any rebellions or terrorist actions, and not one foreign dignitary had been murdered on Earth's soil. I finally had a chance to relax, and I had just met the most wonderful girl. Guy. Whatever. It wasn't really important. What was important was that Zoisite was the most beautiful person I had ever seen, and, despite my usually cold exterior, I thought I might be falling in love. Zoisite was in Intelligence, and as the previous Head of the Terran Intelligence Beareau had been, -ahem-, 'removed' by a terrorist bomb last month, she (he?) was up for promotion; promotion to the head of the TIB, as well as appointment to the Five Guardsmen. I was planning on seeing Zoisite at the party tonight. It was to celebrate the centennial of the alliance between the Earth and the Moon, and everyone would be there. Having all the important people on the planet in one place was just asking for trouble from some radical faction or another, but I forced myself to keep optimistic. As a Master Mage and head of Terran Security for King Endymion the Second, I had come to expect trouble everywhere I went; but I would not ruin this evening by acting morose. But I was getting ahead of myself. Right now it was early morning, I had just woken up, and there were things to be done.

I got out of bed and headed through my spartan room to the shower. As one of Endymion's four Chiefs of Staff, I was entitled to more comfort, but I refused to get soft and used to the pleasures of Palace life. My job was hard enough as it is. After showering, I stood in front of the full-length mirror and brushed out my flowing, silvery hair. It had turned that color and length due to a botched spell early in my apprenticeship, and although it was odd for a military man to keep his hair so long, I thought it made me look imposing. Kind of like a lion, chiseled out of ice. I donned my uniform, dark grey with the light blue lining that signified a high-ranking officer. Attached at the shoulders by two large gemstones was a flowing cape, white on the outside and purple on the inside. Not usually part of the military uniform, the cape was the last remnant of my Mage's cowl. Combined with my hair, I thought I looked quite handsome, not to mention powerful. I ran a bit of mana, the essence of magical power, through my body, giving my eyes a cold blue glow. *Damn, I'm good,* I thought. I held myself straight and marched out of the room to the practice field.

The practice field was the small section of Palace grounds that was set aside for the honing of combat skills, everything from knife-throwing to broadsword combat to magical assault. My magic was in good shape, as was my strength, speed, and endurance. But my swordsmanship could use some work. I had gotten to the point when Nephrite, the Palace Astrologer, could beat me while half-drunk. Admittedly, I still found the concept of a 'Combat Astrologer' to be something of a contradiction in terms, but Nephrite was very good with the broadsword, and VERY skilled at divinations. While his talent didn't reach into the future so much as the Mars Princess', he had an uncanny ability to know where you were going strike just a second before you did. I conjured up a broadsword and set in on the first target.

About an hour later, I had finished reducing all 50 of the practice targets to scrap. As I turned away, the splinters snapped back together into targets, magically readied for the next person.

I headed for the active training arena; the place where one can go up against other trainees of your own level or higher. There were no trainees of my level, at least none that would challenge me, so I would be forced to conjure my own. As an added bonus, the mana required to conjure the kind of opponent I had in mind would leave me at a calculated disadvantage. I got a room, and went in.

The combat arena was a medium-sized pit, with stone walls and a sandy dirt floor. I walked to the far side of the room, faced the door, and concentrated. This would prove difficult. Although I could conjure roses or other such small objects without a second thought, conjuring anything larger than a human required a substantial effort. And I needed something a bit larger than a human. "ErrrggghhhhhhaaaAAAHHH!!!" I yelled as I poured the energies I had gathered into my spell. A large, humanoid figure started to form in front of me. A Rock Golem. Not the brightest creature in the Universe, but certainly very strong. As the golem solidified, I lost my balance and caught myself. I was nearly emptied of mana. There would be little spell casting for this fight. The golem, it's feeble mind shaped by my desire for an opponent, charged.

I brought my sword up hastily, deflecting it's first, powerful blow. The force of the impact was enough to send me staggering backwards. The golem charged again. This time, I was prepared. Instead of parrying again, I dodged around the golem and took the offensive. As it charged past me, I whirled around and plunged my sword into its back, sending my cape whirling around me. The sword barely hurt the thing, but there was a deep cut in it's back. Enraged, the golem turned around and aimed a shot at my head. If it weren't for the cape, I probably would have had my head split asunder, but as it was, the cape tripped me up and I fell to the ground. The golem missed by a good 3 feet. I rolled out of the way of it's next attack, and stood up, ready to finish the fight. The golem was remarkably quick for it's size. It brought a fist up in an improvised uppercut, catching me in the chest. I was thrown against the far wall by the force of the blow. It hurt like hell. I felt a couple ribs crack. As the golem got up to charge me again, I healed the injury. *Damn. There goes half my mana reserve.* I dodged the creature's charge in the same fashion as before, but this time I aimed for the head. I gasped as my sword split in two on the rocky hide of the golem. Maybe I had outdone myself. I conjured a new, enhanced sword as the golem turned, exhausting all but the last dregs of my mana in the process. I managed to bring the sword around just as the golem turned, impaling it. I threw my remaining mana into a strength spell, enough to bring the golem up, and throw it into the wall, shattering it.

I made a mental note to train in this manner more often. But for now, I would eat breakfast, rest, and regain my mana.

After a long shower and an even longer nap back at my room, I headed towards the Court. Not court; but Court, where Endymion's nobles and rich subjects went to rub elbows. I found it a little disgusting, but if I didn't show up people would think something was going on. What that mysterious 'something' that everyone was constantly under suspicion of was I had no idea, only that I wanted to avoid it. It might tarnish the King's reputation to have one of his Lords absent from simple social functions. And who knows: Zoisite might be there.

Entering the court, my eyes met the same scene they met every day. Maybe 400 people, all dressed in the most expensive finery to be found in the Solar System, walking, talking, and trying to curry favor with the King, all taking place in an overdecorated white marble room roughly the size of a football field. The King himself, a good-looking, charismatic, dark-haired man, was sitting at a table at the head of the room, talking with the Queen. Two of my three associates; Nephrite and Jadeite; were flanking the royal pair. The third was, as I explained earlier, recently demised.

Nephrite was the third of the Terran Guardsman: the five people entrusted with protecting the King and his Kingdom. All five were Magi of some reputation, and must also hold the head office of some branch of Terran government. Nephrite was the Head Astrologer for the Kingdom, a highly respected position. His predictions, unlike those of carnival psychics, tended to come true, with an accuracy of 87% reaching into the future, and 100% reaching into the past. He was incredibly useful at diplomatic conferences, and, as I mentioned before, his talent gave him an advantage in combat.

Jadeite was the Fourth Guardsman, and the Head Diplomat. He had an uncanny sense of how people would react to things: not individually so much as in a group. He advised the King on matters involving the citizens of the Kingdom, and was usually able to point out the effects a bill or declaration would have on the people. In war, he was capable of rallying the troops to a fever pitch with a few well-placed words.

The King's 9-year-old son, Endymion the Third; better known as Darien; was looking bored. He had black hair like his father, and looked slightly more handsome. He was slim, athletic, and already chased after by the girls of the palace. I thought he would make a good warrior some day. He was sitting in the spot recently left empty by Zincite, the former Head of the TIB, the spot I hoped would soon be filled by Zoisite. As I approached my place, I told Darien that he could go off and play.

"Yay," he yelled, as he jumped off the raised platform and ran enthusiastically off with a few other noble children.

I sat down at my place next to the King, who stopped talking with his wife and turned to me.

"Oh, hello, Malachite! You're a bit late."

"I'm sorry, my Liege," I replied, "but my morning exercises took a bit more out of me than I had anticipated." I grimaced at the thought of my ribs.

"Oh, don't look so glum, Malachite. The Centennial celebration is tonight!"

"That's exactly what I'm worried about."

"Oh, pah. It'll be fun."

"I only have your safety in mind, my Liege." *Honestly. If some vengeful demon from an alternate dimension appeared and started to destroy the planets, I'm sure the royalty would throw a ball and hope that it all just goes away. They have absolutely no concern for safety.*

Endymion interrupted my thoughts. "Oh, come on. Nothing's going to happen. Now just sit back and look charismatic." He sat back and looked charismatic. Several women fainted from love. I sat back and glowered. Several men fainted from fright.

Finally, the Centennial Ball had arrived. I had tripled the guard, and was trying to look for potential radicals at the same time I was trying to look for Zoisite. As fate would have it, I failed at both. Zoisite came up behind me, something that should have been impossible given the wards that constantly surrounded me. You don't get to be in Intel for nothing.

"Well, if it isn't Mr. Malachite!" I whipped around to come face-to-face with a vision in flowing red hair and green eyes. Zoisite was wearing a tuxedo much like mine, but with green highlights instead of my light blue. OK, Zoisite was definitely male. Unless she was a cross-dresser. I assumed for the moment she was male. He. Whatever.

"May I have this dance," I asked.

"Certainly," replied Zoisite. As we danced, I started trying to simultaneously look for potential radicals and look deeply into Zoisite's emerald eyes.

There's something difficult about trying to dance and patrol at the same time, and I remembered too late that it's just plain impossible. A shriek cut out across the dance floor, stopping the musicians and revelers dead in their tracks. I abandoned Zoisite, who gave a slight protest, and tried to cut towards the source of the sound, but the crowd got in my way. I growled and cast a small psych spell. People suddenly seemed obliged to get out of my way. As I moved towards the source of the noise, I felt a twisting in the mana lines. It wasn't major, just a subtle distortion, but I immediately recognized it for what it was: an anti-magic field. A pervasive one, at that. Before I even got to the corpse I knew would be there, I knew also that a magical divination of the killer's identity would be impossible. Even Nephrite wouldn't be able to get past this one. The only thing that remained to be determined was the victim.

I had never seen him before, and for a near-immortal that's saying something. He was short, rotund, skewered by a long knife, and flat on his back in a puddle of blood. The dead man must have gotten a good look at his assailant, but from the responses of the crowd, no one else had. That was convenient. Too convenient. In a room of 2000 people from 10 planets, not one had chanced to notice the violent murder of one of their number. As an added bonus, the first 17 people I questioned had no idea who he was. The 18th was the payoff. She was Princess Lita from Jupiter, she was 5 years old, and she described the dead man, one Mr. Zuss, as 'Grumpy'. I finally convinced her to take me to her uncle, the King of Jupiter's brother and a very influential man. While my men finished shooing the remainder of the guests away, he and I stood in a corner and talked. Lita's Uncle, prince Anstid, was tall, with the brown hair of Jovian nobility. I started the conversation off.

"So, who was this Zuss person?"

"Don't you know? He's the Ambassador of Jupiter!"

"Sorry. I don't visit the Embassies much, so I haven't seen him."

"I doubt it would help if you did. He's not very likable; hardly ever left his one room in the embassy."

"Hmm. So, who do you think would have a motive to kill him?"

"The real question is; who wouldn't? He's universally disliked; he's scammed, cheated, offended, bullied, or harassed just about everyone on Jupiter at least once. Although I think it might be those qualities which made him such an effective politician, they didn't help him make friends. Come to think of it, he especially disliked the Court Mage; Titan was his name. They were bitter rivals, always at each other's throats."

Wonderful. Not only was he killed by a skilled Mage or someone who knows a skilled Mage, but it seems that he had so many enemies, it would take weeks to sort through them all. Although the Jovian Court Mage was my primary suspect at this stage, it couldn't hurt to give the body one last inspection.

I walked back towards the body, and was immediately struck by a note, pinned to the chest of the victim with the knife. Why I had failed to notice this earlier escaped me; put it up to shock, or the lingering effects of Zoisite's eyes... I shook my head to clear it.

"Gerald! Come get a look at this!" Gerald came running up. He was the Captain of the Guard, and a big, beefy man. He had black hair and a mustache, and was built like a Neptunian Ox, but no less intelligent for it.

"Yes, Lord Malachite," he asked as he came up to me. I pointed down at the note, whose back was rapidly being soaked by the blood.

"I want this scene recorded in every detail before I remove that note."

Gerald replied quickly: "The describers have already been through. They'll remember every detail." Gerald always thought ahead. I liked him.

"All right." I pulled the knife from the corpse's chest with a sickening sucking sound, and picked up the note. It was written on flimsy paper, and read thus:

"With this man's death we assert our beliefs that the alliance with the Earth is wrong. May all pay heed to our warning." It was signed: The Disciples of Jupiter.

I set down the note.

"Great. Just what we need. Another radical group. Heard of them?"

"A little, Lord. They have at least one base of operations on each world. Despite the name, their leader, by the name of Antares, lives here, on Earth. His base of operations is in Indonesia."

I nodded. That cleared things up a bit. The note made everything fall into place in one nice, easy step. Now the problem was proving it to my King. In the morning, I would read up on the group, and try to get an audience with this Antares person. In the morning.

I walked out of the ballroom and onto the Palace lawn. Despite my men's best attempts to usher everyone out, Zoisite was waiting for me just outside. He looked so beautiful in the moonlight...

"Hi, there. Nice night." Damn! I felt like such a fool. The instant I got within 3 feet of this guy, my natural cool just evaporated. I tried to regain my usual icy demeanor, but without much luck. Zoisite was doing much the same thing.

"Yeah," he agreed. We stood there for several uncomfortable minutes. "Not exactly a glamorous evening, huh?"

"Not at all what I'd expected," said I. We stood there for another few minutes. He looked up just as I looked down.

"Hey, you want to..."

"Y'Know, we could..." Simultaneous this time. We stood there, gazing into each other's eyes. I kissed him. His lips tasted like wine.

I woke up in unfamiliar surroundings. Zoisite's chambers. Definitely male. Zoisite was asleep on the bed beside me, his long fiery hair tousled from last night. I tried to get up without disturbing him, but he was a light sleeper.

"Hmm? Malachite?"

"Shhhh." I put a finger on his lips. "Don't spoil it." I got up slowly. This was the first time I had done something like this; rushing in where brave men fear to tread. No wonder I felt like a fool. But I also felt something else... something altogether new. It was love, I decided. Lust and desire I was familiar with, and Zoisite and I had satisfied those last night. The new feeling was a stronger version of the impulse I had felt this morning. I wanted to be with Zoisite, and I didn't care much how we spent the time. As a result, I stayed for another hour, before risking a teleport home.

I arrived, disoriented, in my room, or the remains thereof. Some things were still burning when I got there, so I figured that I couldn't have missed the bomb by more than ten minutes. If I hadn't dallied with Zoisite, I would have blown to smithereens in my post-exercise shower. I hated this new stuff; 'black powder.' It was more trouble than it was worth. It was ideal for killing people, as it destroyed all evidence in the process; and no one had yet found a constructive use for it. As far as I was concerned, it was a weapon fit only for terrorists. And terrorists it was, and terribly well-organized terrorists at that. They obviously knew that I was investigating this matter personally, as well as knowing my morning routine. How else could they have timed the bomb so precisely? It was lucky that I had dressed before returning here, because there was something of a crowd of curious onlookers peering in through my doorframe; the door itself having departed with the bomb. As well as the gawkers, there was a team of Palace Guards combing the rubble for my corpse. Gerald was among them, lifting the blackened remains of my bed.

"Sorry to disappoint you, my friend, but you won't find me under there."

"Malachite! Gods, you scared me! I thought you were... well... you know."


"As you can see, we're combing the wreckage for any clues as to who did this, but we've had no luck so far."

"It seems painfully obvious to me. The Disciples of Jupiter. This was an organized attack, not some mad bombing. Luckily, I missed it completely."

"Good thing you skipped your morning shower and stayed out so much later than usual. Speaking of which, my Lord, you ought to get new quarters immediately. You don't exactly smell very... How shall I put this??

I gave him one of my infamous glowers, at which he started back, uncharacteristically nervous. Then I laughed good-naturedly: "It's all right. I perfectly agree. I'll set myself up again, and then I'll see to meeting Antares."

Getting new quarters was little trouble, given that I only used 2 rooms of my demised 5 room suite. As I said before: I don't take advantage of many of the perks of my position; unlike Nephrite, who had developed an extensive wine cellar. But for me, a simple two-room guest house would do. By the time I was done moving my few charred belongings into the new room, it was noon. Not exactly the way to seize the day. At least now I had an excuse to skip my visit to the Court. I decided to use the extra time to make my appointment with Antares. I readied myself, and teleported to the Indonesian governmental center.

Indonesia is an enormous place, but under One Earth rule by the King, it took no more than a few minutes to find the regional headquarters for the Disciples of Jupiter in the main listing. I teleported just outside the entrance. The Disciples' building was a tall green tower, topped with a golden roof and lightning rod. The doors were pink. Despite it's colorful paint job, the building still managed to loom in a somewhat sinister fashion. I rang the door chimes. Almost two minutes passed, and I was readying myself to burst in and present my self-issued warrant (one of the perks I did take advantage of), when a charming receptionist, totally incongruous with the atmosphere of the place, answered the door and led me inside.

The interior decor was much like the exterior: green, gold, and pink; the colors of Jupiter, but darker and strangely twisted, so that along with the brightness was an underlying sense of foreboding. There was a set of large, ornate double doors set into the wall opposite the door to the outside.

The secretary set me down in an oaken chair with green upholstery, and went through a small door behind her desk, presumably to inform Antares of my arrival. I took the opportunity to check behind her desk. There was a small magical 'spy lens' for seeing who was at the door, a notebook of appointments, and a locked desk drawer. There was no need for me to employ magic to unlock the drawer; I was proficient in these things on my own. After jiggling the lock open, I skimmed over the contents: A comb, a cosmetics kit, some breath mints, a few personal papers, quill pen, ink, stationery, etcetera. Antares obviously did not trust his secretary with matters of any importance... Wait! There! On the appointments schedule was an ink blot. The secretary had obviously made an attempt to use both sides of the paper, but the ink ran through. I turned the paper over. The name 'Titan' had been violently crossed out. He had an appointment about a week ago. Now why would...?

I was interrupted by the sound of footsteps coming from the door. I replaced the paper and drawer, and just as I made it back to my seat, the secretary moved back in through the door. "Antares will see you now." She beckoned me through the double doors, which shut behind me with a clang.

I was in a small room whose size was in contrast to the unnecessarily large doors into it. As I stepped inside, I heard a complex series of ropes and pulleys begin to operate, and felt the room begin to move upward on a well-oiled track. Some kind of dumbwaiter for people. It seemed frivolous, but I realized that if the ropes were cut, the tower could be isolated from the rest of the world at a moment's notice. Well, the rest of the world, excepting those who could teleport: Antares was taking a big risk allowing me to be brought here. Once I had been inside his office, I could come here any time I wished with a thought. This suggested that Antares either had nothing to hide, a very good Mage, or the impression that I wouldn't be able to leave. This was not the most comforting thought at the moment. Finally, the 'elevator' contraption stopped at the top floor of the tower. Two more ornate double doors swung open, and I found myself in Antares' office.

Antares, it turned out, had exactly the opposite taste as me. While I like things spartan and neutral (my only exception is my cape), Antares' tastes seemed to run more towards the extravagant. The room was carpeted in lush green, and there were useless statements of wealth scattered all around. Everything metal was gold, or a reasonable substitute. Certainly, the life-size statue of Antares in the corner was gold. All the furniture was made of the finest Jovian oak, imported at high expense from the upper reaches of Jupiter's atmosphere. Everything that wasn't green, brown, or gold was pink. That wasn't much, but enough to give the same impression of a Jovian flag gone bad. It was all very sickening to my eyes. Give me simple grey any day.

Antares himself sat in a high-backed green chair with brass wheels behind a large, no, enormous Jovian oak desk. Despite his excessive taste in decoration, his body showed anything but a life of excess. He was lean, tough, and muscular. His eyes were a startling jade green, and he looked as if he were ready to face the apocalypse within the year. He was leaning back, facing the doors through which I had come. Upon my entrance, he leaned forward, to rest his chin on his hands, his hands on his elbows, and his elbows on the table. He cut to the chase. "Why have you come here and what do you want?"

I followed his lead. No skirting the issue here. "You had someone killed. Why?"

"Ha!" he replied. "I've had many people killed, for a variety of reasons."

"The night before last. The Jovian Ambassador."

He acted surprised. "Zuss? I didn't kill him, or have him killed!"

"I'm disinclined to believe you on nothing more than your word."

"I'm being sincere. You can cast a truth-spell."

I did and he was.. But I did a little more subtle spell-weaving. In his mind, there was an undercurrent of dismay at the news of Zuss' death. Financial dismay. He probably had Zuss bought, for what purpose I could only guess. But that raised another interesting question: Why would he have his own man killed? Dishonesty or incompetence, perhaps, but the feeling of loss was stronger than that. Zuss was a good puppy. I suddenly felt like gagging. Corruption always sickens me.

I thought that I had everything I needed, and Antares' expression said the same, but withq a little more force. I took the hint and walked back to the 'elevator'.

Once inside the small room, I thought over what I knew. I knew Zuss was dead. I knew he was found with a note, implicating the Disciples of Jupiter. I knew that Antares hadn't ordered the killing. I knew it could have been a rebellious group of Disciples, but given Antares' personality, I thought it unlikely. I knew that there was some mysterious connection between the Disciples and Titan, the Jovian Court Mage. I knew that Titan was widely known to dislike, no, hate the deceased. I knew it was time to check out Titan.

Titan, being the Jovian Court Mage, lived and worked in the Jovian capital on Ganymede. Teleporting there would be too difficult and draining to be worth it, so I decided to use more mundane methods of transportation. The Void Carriages, as they were called, ran across the great Void that separated the planets by utilizing large, communal warp holes. Created by the greatest engineers and Magi, the Carriages looked less like carriages and more like very odd metal birds. They just took off from one area on one planet, passed through an invisible portal, and landed not three minutes later on another world. They were, needless to say, incredibly expensive.

I boarded the Carriage without waiting, paying, or buying a ticket. Another useful perk. Unfortunately, I couldn't make the Carriage take off any faster. I waited for a good half-hour for the Carriage to finish boarding, and then we finally took off.

Carriage flight is not at all like hovering. When you hover, you feel supported, but you don't feel anything under your feet. It's just like standing on air. In the Carriage, however, I was painfully aware of every dip and turn. It was like constantly falling. Some of my fellow passengers obviously did this more often than I did, because they looked almost comfortable. I felt seasick.

After an interminable three minutes, the Carriage finally landed on Ganymede. I never thought I would be so happy to stand on the ground again.

I immediately set off for the Jovian Palace. If the Jovian day was organized anything like ours, Titan should still be at court. If I could surprise him at work, maybe I could scare a confession out of him. I arrived at the Palace, and the guards at the main gate immediately moved out of my way. This was only my third trip to Jupiter, and these particular Palace guards immediately moved out of my way. The 5 Terran Guardsmen (Myself, Nephrite, Jadeite, and, hopefully, Zoisite) and the Planetary Senshi were known around the system, and had many privileges of access.

The Jovian Palace was decorated exactly like the Disciples of Jupiter's tower, with one major difference: the palace was decidedly light and cheery. Once inside the lavish building, I asked the first person I met about Titan. He, and the next three people I asked, all agreed that he had gone back home immediately after Court ended fifteen minutes ago. Wonderful. I was going to have to see him on his turf. For a Mage, that could mean the difference between life and death. After making a few more esquires, I headed off to Titan's house.

Titan, unlike myself, kept his own house away from the Palace. I had gotten the location from one of the people I had questioned. I knocked on the door of the medium-sized house, and waited. I didn't wait long. Shortly, Titan came to the door himself. His body didn't exactly fit his name. He was old, gaunt, and bald, with a long white beard. He was practically the stereotype of a Mage. He sounded a bit exasperated.

"Yes, what do you want?"

I introduced myself, and told him about the murder of Zuss. He brightened immediately.

"Zuss? The goat is dead? I never thought I'd live to see the day! Well, don't just stand there, come in! Come in!" I came in. Titan shut the door behind me.

I was immediately struck by the interior of the building. It was practically all library. There was a small Western-Style table with a pot of tea on it, for studying and eating, a cot for sleeping, and a small door that I assumed led to a kitchen and bathroom. Titan must have been a strong Mage indeed, if he studied as much as these books suggested he did. He offered me a chair and a cup of tea. I accepted both. Titan sat down across from me.

I took a sip of the tea. It was over sweetened, and tasted a bit like bad almonds. Titan started off the conversation, but only after I had drunk some tea. "So, Zuss is dead? Can't say I'm sorry. You have caught the murderer, I hope?"

"No such luck, I'm afraid."

"Too bad. I abhor violence."

"Yes. I hear that you and Zuss weren't the best of friends?"

"You could say that. He was so pigheaded... so stubborn! Always acting the goat, always insisting that everyone see things his way... Now wait! You don't seriously think I did it, do you?"

"The thought had crossed my mind..."

"Please. I could never do something like that."

I decided to cast a simple truth-spell. Titan was being honest. I would have done a more in-depth probe, but he would have picked that kind of thing up.

"Yes," I replied, "I can see that you wouldn't have done such a thing. Thanks for putting up with me."

"It was nothing. Nothing at all."

I stood up, and immediately felt woozy. No, more than woozy. I felt ill. Very ill. The world started swimming around me, and I felt my energy draining fast. I had just enough energy left for a long-range teleport. Very long range. I vanished from Titan's house and reappeared on Earth, just outside of my old room. The place still had a few lingering investigators hanging around, and one of them noticed me just as everything went black.

* * *

Consciousness returned slowly. My hearing first. In snippets.

"Just found him here..."


"I'll take a look..."

Then my vision. Gerald knelt over me. Apparently no one had inspected my body too closely, because he felt comparatively safe in bending over and quietly slitting my throat. Unconsciousness returned. This time it was red.

* * *

I came to again, this time very quickly. I sat straight upright in a cold sweat. *I'm in bed. It must have been a dream.* I looked to my right. I recognized Zoisite's room. I looked to my left. I recognized Zoisite. He was breathing heavily, as from an enormous magical exertion. I remembered the dream. I touched my throat. I felt a scar. *It wasn't a dream. Zoisite healed me.*

"Zoisite," I managed to get out.

"I couldn't let you die," he replied. "I love you." He moved closer. There were tears in his eyes.

"Oh, God." I pulled away from Zoisite. Everything clicked. The unnoticed note, the enchantment on Zuss' body, Titan's inability to kill...

"Where's Gerald?"

"They promoted him to fill your place. You've been dead for six days." Zoisite must have put a lot of effort into stealing my body from the morgue. Never mind.

"Is Court in session?"

"No, it just ended. Malachite..."

"I'll be back, Zoisite. I've got some things to do." My eyes glowed, fueled by my rage, not my mana. I conjured my uniform and teleported.

I caught up with Gerald in the halls leading from the Court. I came up behind him and spun him around.

"GERALD!!" I roared. My eyes glowed bright ice blue.

"AAH! Y-You're dead! I killed you!!" I grabbed him by the throat and slammed him into the wall, cracking the marble.

"TRAITOR!! Titan couldn't bring himself to kill Zuss himself, so he paid you to do it for him! You planted that note to trick me! And then, when his poison failed, Titan had you kill me!! Didn't he?!? DIDN'T HE!!!"

Gerald managed to choke out a strangled "Yes."

I threw him twelve feet into the wall at the end of the hallway, cracking the marble and splattering it with his blood. I stalked up to him. "Forgive me..." he gasped.

"We don't tolerate traitors," I intoned emotionlessly. I crushed his skull with one hand, and wiped the blood off my gloves. I felt numb.

Later, after my rage had cooled, I visited Antares again. Once inside his office, I opened the topic bluntly.

"You knew Titan had Zuss killed."

"Yes," he replied.

"But you couldn't do anything about it. You weren't about to trifle with a Mage of that power, were you, no matter how much he pissed you off."

"Exactly. Zuss was one of our best men. He required periodic influxes of money, but his information was invaluable." I suddenly felt hostile.

"I despise you, Antares. I would kill you in an instant if I had a reason. It's scum like you that spread corruption and deceit across the system. If ever our paths cross again, I will be sure to bring you to justice. My justice."

Antares just smiled, turned away, and waved me out.

The next day, I reported Titan to the Jovian Government. With the help of a few other powerful Magi, Titan was quickly arrested, tried, and sentenced to death for solicitation to murder for hire.

* * *

I plopped down next to Zoisite on our bed. As he moved closer to me, I thought over the past four days. Four men had died, including myself. I had been poisoned, stabbed, resurrected, and had killed my friend. I looked back towards Zoisite. These four days hadn't been a total waste, after all.

What followed, is for the Hentai writers.

- End -

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