Kandomere looked out the floor to ceiling window of his office at the MTF building as the sun rose over the trees. This view of the courtyard garden was a pleasant perk of his job and part of his morning ritual was to enjoy an espresso while looking out over it. The building itself was human designed, functional, efficient, and blocky, but thankfully they'd engaged an elf to design the landscaping, or perhaps an elf taught human. The MTF had more elves than the rest of the FBI, which was not many at all and almost entirely from his own house, and so some effort had been made at aesthetics. Unhappy elves tended to share their unhappiness with a bit more thought, planning, subtlety and viciousness than humans, so one could call it simple self-preservation on the part of upper management. Regardless, it was beautiful. Tiered pools flowed down to a large central reflecting pool surrounded by tall elegant oaks. Japanese maples and wood ferns served as the understory plants interspersed with short paths and carefully placed curved wooden benches. The view never failed to calm him. The oaks existed before him, and might possibly linger after he was gone—their lifespans were similarly long. A point of stability in the chaos that seemed to ebb and flow through his life.
He was not here for the sunrise view though, or for work. His motivation for being here this early, every work day for the last seven days, was slightly embarrassing to him. Since Leilah's death four months ago, things had been quite calm. There were no difficult cases to work currently, just the usual minor witchery and amulets, a few trinkets here and there. Potentially dangerous certainly, at least to the untrained or unwary, but not on par with the return of the Dark Lord. He had no reason to be here this early, he knew this, and yet here he was, again. It was foolish.
His reason sauntered across the courtyard and took a seat under one of the trees to sip her coffee. She always arrived early, the same time, and after he first spotted her he'd arrived early in hopes of seeing her again every day since. It could be what humans called an “obsession.” He crossed his arms and thinned his lips, amused. His race was prone to develop intense interests the other races found unnerving, even predatory. It puzzled him, this aversion. Who did not pursue what they wanted? Elves were simply more focused, more capable. If his interest continued, he would endure it. Control it. Pursuing her appealed, literally and figuratively, but this was work. Pursuing her through those trees into the wild forest beyond, her scent leading him first, then the sound of her pounding heart until...no. Work was not the place for those games, he would not indulge himself. He would not. But watching seemed harmless, an indulgence that risked nothing. It would not distract from his purpose to watch her and she would likely come to bore him quite soon. Her choice of clothing was certainly doing it's part to lose his interest. She wore the same basic ensemble daily—jeans tucked into practical black leather boots, worn waterproof fitted jacket also in black, and her, of course, black motorcycle helmet tucked under one arm and a black backpack slung over one shoulder. Positively funerary, though it was likely she was one of those humans who prized function over beauty as if it had to be a choice. It was certainly not her sartorial sensibilities that intrigued him so intensely.
She was attractive, possibly beautiful in an exotic way. He assumed her black hair was long as she invariably wore it in a bun. Not a fashionable bun, no, a base of the neck bun like an elderly woman. Charming. At least it was shiny and looked to be clean. No makeup. No jewelry he could see from here. Boring, she was boring to look at. What was his fascination with her? Big dark eyes, black or dark brown, hard to judge from this distance. Pale pale skin, almost translucent, which was odd given her high cheek bones, full lips, and nose suggested an ancestry different from what her skin tone would indicate. Tall-ish, maybe 5' 9” or so with a lean frame that could be athletic or possibly skinny. The clothes were so distasteful it made it difficult to actually discern her actual attractiveness. He he did not favor skinny, not at all, or tall. Or sartorially impaired. Why was he so fascinated by this woman? He pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed in annoyance.
She moved with a lithe grace unusual in humans, and he thought she might be fast for her kind. He would not find out. As she turned her head the pale length of her neck caught the light--her skin actually was quite beautiful and would be so easy to mark. No. While he liked observing humans, and had enjoyed liaisons with a few over the years, he'd never a indulged himself with a co-worker. Especially foolish to pursue amusement with a human co-worker—humans became attached so easily. They mistook interest for love. He had to be far more clear and careful than with an elf. Elves understood. Plus, in each of his prior arrangements with humans he had been certain of the female's interest, stoked it until she virtually reeked of lust, then satisfied her and himself until eventually parting. He was the object of fascination, not the one fascinated. Never. And at work, fuck. It would pass.
He heard the door open behind him. “Boss, we got a bad one.” Kandomere turned toward Montehugh's voice and raised a brow. For Montehugh to consider it bad, it must be horrific.
“Hikers found what looks to be an Inferni bright test site and something else, something that sounds like a kind of incantation circle. A lot of bodies, not just ashes and blast. We laid down the usual BS but we need to get on sight fast—local sheriff is a fucking idiot if ever one walked the earth. Remember that serial killer case a while back? Yeah, that asshole.”
That had been a truly epic clusterfuck, the crime scene a disaster, evidence lost. Not his division, but he'd heard about it. Apparently the voters, predominantly human in that backwoods area, hadn't cared that their sheriff had enabled a serial killer to continue killing by rendering the crime scene virtually useless. Kandomere detested fools.
Kandomere nodded. “Let's go.” He glanced back to the window as the woman stood and began to walk into the building. She never looked up, completely oblivious to his scrutiny. Why the fuck did that bother him? He stepped up next to Montehugh and they walked to the elevator. Montehugh had been on leave for a few days, and he looked pissed to be back early.
“Hosato was fuckin' thrilled when I got the call. His words, 'As the years pass, I hate your job more and more.'” Montehugh sighed. “But he stilled kissed me goodbye.” Shooting a look at Kandomere he said, “How 'd your date go with the new one, Miklain?”
“It was amusing.” Kandomere smiled slightly. She had been satisfying and creative, but he doubted they would continue their liaison long. Unlike Montehugh, he could not find a partner who fully engaged him who was willing to accept the limitations of his job. Perhaps if he found his mate, though that seemed more unlikely with each passing year.
“Montehugh, you should send Hosato flowers, some of those candies he loves.”
“Truffles. Yeah, I know I'm a lucky fucker, no need to rub it in.” Montehugh pulled out his phone, as he got in the car, “Hello. Look under Hildebrandt Montehugh. Yep, this time send whatever orchid I haven't sent before and a bunch of chocolate truffles.”
Kandomere started the engine and suggested, “Have them send Elorean Chocolates, the deluxe truffle box, and a bottle of Ithil Red.”
“Ok, those chocolates, make'em a deluxe truffle box by Elorean Chcolates and..” Montehugh paused.
“Ithil Red. The 2014 vintage is quite good and still reasonable.”
“A bottle of 2014 Ithil Red. Yes, Thank you. The note, just, 'Love, Red.'”
“Hosato should be well pleased.” Kandomere knew how Montehugh's husband loved wine and chocolates, and he had personal experience with the suggestions himself. “As should you, later.”
“Aphrodisiacs? The man wears me out already. I'm a hollow shell of a man.” But he smiled with satisfaction at the thought.
Kandomere nodded. They drove the rest of the way to the site in companionable silence until they pulled into the Angeles National Forest. Beautiful, he thought. Though his house was not descended from wood elves, he felt calmed by the forest. This was the bare edges, where humans would go. Further in was the domain of the wood elves, who had even less tolerance for the Inferni than intrusion from humans. Their memory was long, with some of the longest lifespans of his kin, and they were no friend of the Dark Lord or those who aligned with him. They were supposed to turn over any who wandered into their domains, just as they were supposed to forgo the use of magic. They dependably would turn over hapless hikers, aid the lost or injured, and even surrender those foolishly trespassing their lands in order “to see a real elf.” They were not evil, decidedly not, but certainly more wild. Those they deemed enemies or evil would simply disappear. All the great woods were connected, the MTF suspected, by magic portals allowing travel. The Wood-King's realm was quietly worldwide, but as it was steadfastly opposed to the Inferni and peaceful unless provoked, its sometimes use of magic was ignored. Thus, the wild places of the world were protected from dark magic, and the MTF attended to the cities--a useful, if uneasy, alliance.
“That's a shit-ton of cops,” Montehugh grumbled. “I hope someone's controlling the scene and not letting it get fucked up.”
“I see Patel's car.”
“Oh, yeah, it's fine then.” Montehugh and Kandomere both smiled. Diya Patel was a tiny woman who weighed, maybe, 95 lbs. She was also one of the most viciously efficient medical examiners anywhere, known to hold and nurse a grudge for years until the perfect opportunity for vengeance presented itself. She had gleefully brought down many an incompetent in her time and at 60 was near perfection at both her official craft and her side hobby of crushing fools. They got out and crunched across gravel into the woods following the rest of the crew into the clearing.
“Mother of God.” Montehugh breathed, then stopped, stunned for a second.
There were intestines and viscera strung through a circle of oaks surrounding a clearing of bright green grass. Bodies hung throat cut and castrated or disemboweled from all the major branches, too many to count easily. A two foot stack of naked human children laid end to end comprised the incantation circle. Gods. At the center, a stack of blood soaked stones with burn marks on the top and sides—something had exploded on the other side and the stones had shielded the part of the altar they were facing. It was an altar, that was certain. The area still rung with power, like a discordant bell. It made his teeth ache, this was dark dark evil magic. The place stunk of Inferni.
As they drew closer, he saw the bodies were all eviscerated—the source of the macabre decorations. The deaths had not been easy, runes carved into the bodies showed too much bleeding to be post-mortem. Kandomere felt nauseated and furious, there were likely thirty or more adult bodies and about the same number of kids. How the fuck do that many people, especially that many kids go missing and no one notice? He shook his head. Focus on the job. He circled around to the front. Someone had been chained to the altar, an adult by the size of the burnt in shadow. The stone seemed to be embedded with what looked like the glittering fragments of wand. Had they tried to make a wand? This had been an act of great power but he was not sure of the purpose.
“Kids. Fuck me. Boss, why the fuck torture kids to death?” Montehugh shook his head.
“Power. There is power in life, more power in young life as it is farther from death, power in innocence and pain. This was done for power.” Kandomere replied quietly.
“Power for what?” He replied.
“That, my friend, is a very good question. This would raise a great deal of power, but for what purpose? I do not know.” Kandomere did not enjoy not knowing, not at all. It was his purpose to know, to be one step ahead of the Inferni.
“So, this is something new?” Worriedly, Montehugh scratched the back of his neck, smoothed the front of his perpetually rumpled suit.
“Yes. Or so old as to be forgotten.”
“Fuck. See, I don't like that.” With a sigh, Montehugh stepped away to talk to the team of techs and examiners.
“Kandomere.” Patel's voice called him over to where she stood directing everything.
“There's more bodies in the woods drained of blood. Any idea who did this and what they used all this power for?
“It looks as though the Inferni were trying to create a wand, but the runes are not right. I've never seen runes like these before. I know it is them, but their purpose is not clear.”
Patel looked concerned. Kandomere was known for his encyclopedic knowledge of magic. It was very rare indeed he did not know the purpose of a piece of magic.
“Are they trying to bring back the Dark Lord?”
“Always, Patel, this is their goal. But first they will need wands. I will need to research these marks, but if those are wand fragments...”
“Then it looks the Inferni are trying a new way to create a wand and failing miserably.”
Patel shook her head. “That's good but these new methods..”
Kandomere looked back at the site, then looked intently at Patel, “They are desperate, vulnerable without Leilah and her wand. This is an act of desperation.”
Patel nodded. Neither mentioned the cost of this desperation.
“I'll get you detailed images of the runes, the circle, chemical analysis of the wand fragments..”
“Catch them quick, Kandomere.”
“I will do my best, Diya.”
“We all will.” She sighed and returned to the site.