“Ah, Ms. Vincent. Somehow, I knew it would be you that came after me.”
A man stood opposite Ashwyn with his back to her. Ashwyn frowned as she lowered her center of gravity. She was pretty sure that she hadn’t made any noise while entering the chamber, but nonetheless he knew she was there.
It was not long after Ashwyn had officially begun her career as a private investigator. She specialized in finding lost or abducted children, but occasionally a different kind of case came her way - like, for example, tracking down a gemstone for the Perth Museum of Rocks.
The gemstone in question sat on a pedestal in front of the man, who Ashwyn, through countless hours of investigation, had found to be Mandragore Vensidia. Mandragore was one of two founders of the Museum of Rocks, but was fired soon after once his partner, Atren Loghia, found him stealing from the safe.
“Why’d you do it, Mandragore?” Ashwyn asked, brushing the hair out of her eyes. It was getting long, but she liked it too much to cut it.
Mandragore still refused to face her, keeping his gaze fixed on the gem. It was a rusty orange, and it seemed to be emitting a quiet hum. “Loghia didn’t know the true value of what he had on his hands,” he said. “This is no ordinary garnet. It’s the fabled Garnet of Transcendence!” He glanced back over his shoulder and smiled. “And I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how powerful it is.”
“Forget the garnet, Mandragore–”
“The Garnet, Ms. Vincent. The Garnet.”
“Fine, sorry. Forget the Garnet. There’s no way out of here that doesn’t involve getting through me.”
For the first time since she entered the chamber in the sunken catacombs, Mandragore turned to face her. “That does appear to be the case, Ms. Vincent. Therefore, I surrender.” His smile had not grown any smaller. “You may apprehend me at your leisure– oh! And, of course, you may recover the Garnet. Do be careful, though,” he continued, gesturing to the thick leather gloves he wore, “as the Garnet should only be held by those with sufficient magical power to control it.” The two of them watched each other for a moment before Mandragore added, “Would you care to borrow my gloves?”
“Tch. I know the stories.” Ashwyn pushed past him and approached the pedestal. “And I know that my magical ability is more than sufficient. I’ll be fine.” She reached her hand out and laid it atop the Garnet.
The pain was as excruciating as it was sudden. Amber fire enveloped Ashwyn completely as the power of the Garnet lifted her bodily off the ground. She could only barely hear Mandragore’s triumphant laughter over the sound of her own screaming.
Two weeks later, after Mandragore had been tracked down (again) and the Garnet safely returned to the museum, Ashwyn returned to her office - the spare room in her sister Lila’s house.
“Oh, I’ve been meaning to ask, Ash,” Lila said, leaning on the door frame. “I thought you were growing your hair out. What made you cut it so short?”
Ashwyn paused, in the middle of filing some papers. She wasn’t sure how best to answer the question, since telling her sister that most of it burnt off when she touched the Garnet would require explaining that the Garnet rejected her, and she wasn’t ready to have another discussion about pride, falls, and the former goeth-ing before the latter. “It was, uh… just an accident. When I ran into Mandragore that time he got away. Magic. You know how it is.”
“Mm… hm.” Lila watched Ashwyn for a moment longer, then evidently decided not to push the issue further. “Well, if you want your cut to look decent, let me know and I can clean it up for you.”