Magic still exists. It always has. Just because you never see it doesn't mean it's not there.

Overview

Hidden away in dark alleys and performed by those with the proper training, magic still thrives. Being forced into the shadows over the years has created some issues, with some wanting to bring it further out into the light and use it for their own purposes.

The Syndicate is an organization dedicated to keeping that from happening. They have eyes and ears all over the city, watching and making sure no one steps out of line. For those who do, the punishment will be swift and not necessarily painless.

The stories in Syndicate offer a glimpse into this strange underworld behind the veil where things are not always what they seem and you may find out that you belong there after all.

Excerpt

Chief


Funeral arrangements.

Gabe barely listened past those words. His eyes immediately fell on a small wooden frame containing a petite blond woman, frozen timeless behind glass. She still smiled the way she had a year ago, her eyes carefully ignoring the coffee stain on the glass.

Cheryl.

Two days ago he received the call telling him he’d never see her smile again. Cheryl was gone - hit by a truck - and they just needed him to identify the body. Seeing her lying there cold and motionless made it no easier. He had seen her that morning. She was just going out for groceries and spending the day working on the nursery, despite how he insisted that she rest. And now she was gone.

They’d just celebrated his promotion a month ago. He was Chief of the Freelance Department now, meaning stable hours and a steady paycheck. As far as Cheryl knew, he was a freelance detective before and she had never questioned it further.

He was going to come clean about it and tell her the truth eventually. After the baby. There was a chance his daughter might be like him and if she was, there would be no more hiding it.

But they were both gone now.

He hadn’t left the office since he’d gotten that call. He couldn’t. The place smelled like her - reminiscent of the perfume she loved so much. There were pictures of her on the walls. There might still be pieces of the nursery scattered in the hall. Worse, she might have finished the nursery and he’d have to walk into it, knowing that it would never be used.

“Gabe? Gabe, you still there?”

Gabe blinked. Right. The phone.

“Still here, Norm,” he said, realizing just how tired he sounded.

“You okay?” the kid on the other end asked. Norm, Cheryl’s little brother. He was barely in his twenties and not all together yet, but he’d stepped up and taken over the funeral arrangements in Gabe’s place.

“I’m fine,” Gabe insisted.

“So are you okay with doing an open casket service before the cremation?” Norm asked gently. “It’s in three days.”

Gabe said nothing. He couldn’t even think about looking at her again, still, battered and lifeless.

After a few seconds of the prolonged silence, Norm continued. “Look, I’ll take care of it. Call if you need anything.”

“Yeah.”

Gabe put the phone back down on the receiver.

His eyes lingered on Cheryl’s photo for a little longer, drinking in every detail. The way her forehead crinkled when she smiled. That one stray bit of hair that always seemed to fall into her eyes. How she held her hands, like she was fighting the urge to wipe something off his face. He reached over and placed the frame face down on his desk. She was gone and there were still too many things he wanted to do. With her watching, he’d never be able to concentrate.

His job was both more and less complicated than detective work. He worked for an organization lovingly called the Syndicate. Its sole purpose was to use any means necessary to keep the existence of magic from becoming widespread knowledge beyond those who were actually able to use it. As the Chief of the Freelancers Department, his job was to select the right freelancer for the right job from the stack that no one would take willingly.

The trouble with that was all the files came through the Freelancers Department first. And the stack of files on his desk was piled high.

He pulled the first one off the pile.

There was the possibility of Nostra, the man who most of the more exotic drugs in the city came through, employing two young children as enforcers. Until anyone did anything to expose what they were, it wasn’t his jurisdiction. They were already keeping an eye on Nostra. This was just another thing to watch for.

There was a new shipment of Xombie. So long as it didn’t get out into the public, it wasn’t Gabe’s problem.

The Cult of the Ordu Finnire was planning something. Of course they were. In three days there would be a blue moon. But there was a team dedicated to deal with the cults already.

Simya Academy. He didn’t even open the file and he could feel Cheryl’s eyes on him. As soon as they found out they were going to have a daughter, Cheryl had begun looking at schools. She grew up in a small town near Simya Academy and seen the girls come into town now and again to work. She wanted to send their daughter there.

Gabe put the file aside. He could come back to it later.

The sky had opened just outside of the city and dropped out a creature. There was a photo of the part-plant, part-mechanical monstrosity that appeared to not even have a face. This wasn’t even his department. The Others dealt with this sort of thing.

The next one had him raise an eyebrow. The Phoenix Brand had appeared in the city and already transferred hands. A man named Henry McKellar had it until his house had burnt down and the freelancer lost track of it. That or, more likely, the freelancer had gotten bored and moved on to something else.

Gabe flipped past the report to find out just what this Phoenix Brand was. The picture showed a medic alert bracelet with a few red lines scratched into it which might have once been a bird. The wearer was granted the powers of a phoenix, with fire running through their veins and it could raise them again from even death. All it needed was a spark.

Wait.

The Brand was somewhere in the city. It could bring her back.

If this worked, Gabe vowed he would tell her everything. He’d probably get fired and he would have to go to another sector, but that would be worth it. There would be no way to explain Cheryl coming back, anyway. But somehow, if this worked, he would make it alright.

He went to the top left drawer of his desk. He brushed aside the small plastic packets, dried herbs that had fallen out of their paper bags and loose cigarette wrappers to grab a metal cigarette case and lighter.

Turning back to the report, he made a few notes about the man, his name and history, before looking through the places he frequented. They were all  familiar, though he was drawn to one.

“Donahue’s.”

His eyes drifted back down to the drawer as he adjusted his coat. He went back into it and carefully selected one of the packets of pills, pocketing them before leaving.

As soon as he opened the door to his office, the sound of hissing made him slam it shut. He waited a moment before opening it again, the smell of burnt mahogany lingering in the air. He cast a sharp glare to the left. A large woman who had been partially turned  into a dragon was already walking away. Her lumbering form knocked a much smaller man over and her tail thrashed behind her. He knew he should probably find out what happened there, but he didn’t care enough to press the matter.

His watch showed it was getting late. He turned left down the halls, not paying any attention to the ambient sounds of arguing amidst the office or the random shows of magic, sometimes accompanied by a small explosion, fire or destruction.

He swung open the metal door at the end of the hall and walked through it into the cool air of the streets, his head down. He turned into the alley and headed right for Donahue’s. This time of night, a man with his house burnt down would probably be heading for a drink.

Donahue’s was nestled deep within the back streets, looking distinctly out of place with everything else. The small wooden tavern was surrounded by harsh concrete buildings and dark, dirty brick that seemed to be trying to melt into the shadows. The tavern seemed to almost glow, warm and strangely inviting, drawing people into it from all over the city.

Gabe entered, looking around as he approached the bar. It wasn’t crowded yet, but it would be soon enough. Familiar faces from the office whose names he didn’t know were starting to slowly trickle in. He went up to the end of the bar, taking a seat and discreetly taking a look around. Henry would be alone, wherever he was, but there was a much easier way to figure out which one he was.

“One on the house,” a gruff voice said, bringing Gabe’s attention back to the bar. Behind it, the large bearded man looked sympathetic.

“Thanks,” Gabe said, taking the drink in hand.

“Figured you’d be in sooner than this,” he said. “I’m sorry to hear about Cheryl.”

Gabe grunted in response and took a drink. “Not here about that, Dusty,” he informed the barkeeper. “I’m looking for someone.”

“Already?” Dusty asked, a faint smirk on his lips and an eyebrow raised.

Gabe glared at him to shut him up, but that only seemed to amuse him more. “I need information,” he said, his eyes turning back to the rest of the tavern. “Henry McKeller.”

Dusty nodded and his eyes went a little further down the bar. Sitting alone and staring into a foaming mug was a man with an arm bandaged up and burns still healing on his face. “He’s been a bit jumpy. Comes in every night like he’s looking for someone, but doesn’t know what he wants to do once he finds him. His place burnt down and he’s been homeless for a week looking for a new one. He even tried to hide out here overnight once. Dug him out of the washrooms and sent him on his way. What he do?”

“Nothing yet,” Gabe told him, his eyes carefully on the other man. He glanced around in a pattern, once every three seconds. First left, then back to his drink. Right and back to his drink. He took a drink every five checks, and Gabe nodded. “He knows something, though.”

“Then you’re in luck,” Dusty said, leaning in. “He’s going for one more after this one. Go over, give him a misery loves company angle and you’re golden. You might want to work quick though. Az is looking a little restless tonight.”

Gabe’s eyes trailed off his target a moment to the woman in the corner. Tall, dark and eyes made of blood and fire, the woman was a fallen angel that thirsted for a fight and revelled in destruction. She was practically a fixture at Donahue’s and it operated very much on her schedule. Tonight, she looked ready to jump out of her seat.

Gabe finished his drink and got up, walking around the tables to approach the bar a second time. He waited until Henry looked over his left before approaching, taking a seat one down from where he sat. Dusty gave him another drink and stepped away to let him work.

Henry looked back over his right, surprised that there was someone there. Gabe nodded, raising his drink in a miniature toast and looking appropriately depressed. Henry nodded and raised his, though as Gabe drank, Henry realized his glass was empty.

He raised a hand, mouth opened and ready to call for another drink when one came sliding down the counter. The glass stopped just past Gabe, who grabbed it by the rim, a small pellet dropping out of his sleeve as he passed it the rest of the way down the bar. Henry looked grateful, not noticing as he took a deep drink.

“What you got?” Henry asked, his eyes in his drink, then flicking back to scan the bar.

“Wife died,” he said, not really sure why he still sounded quite that depressed about it. She wouldn’t be dead for much longer. “Car crash.”

Henry grunted in sympathy. “Kids?”

“Not yet,” he said. He hadn’t thought of that. Would the baby return with the Brand too? He would be glad to have Cheryl back, at least, but he hadn’t thought of the baby. There was a chance, though it was unlikely. He knew little about raising the dead and less about raising the pregnant dead. He probably shouldn’t get his hopes up.

Gabe was getting distracted. He needed to get Henry to start talking. “What happened to you?”

Henry sighed and took another drink before answering. “House burnt down,” he said, taking a drink. “With me in it. At least you’ve got a place to go back to.”

Gabe forced his eyes down, nodding and saying nothing while a bout of rage welled up in his chest. A place to go back to. An empty place filled with memories and nothing more. He grasped his glass more firmly, knuckles starting to lose their colour, but managed to keep himself together.

Cautiously, he glanced up to the pair of eyes he could feel burning into him. Az in her corner was watching him, her eyes blood red and she was smiling. He took a deep breath through his nose and tried to calm himself, though his jaw did not unclench. He tried to stay focused on Henry who he realized was still talking.

“Now don’t get me wrong,” he was saying, swaying a little in his seat. “I don’t want her. No way. She’s a bitch! Hope that surgery kills her. But who was she to say I’m an asshole? You know, you’re a lucky bastard. No bitch whining at you all day anymore. Mine’s still doing that after everything. Well she would if she could find me. Bet she sent that guy to burn down my place to get back at me. Just ’cause I wouldn’t pay for her shit.”

Gabe glanced at Henry’s drink, finding it only half gone, but no trace of the pellet in his glass. Good. Gabe wasn’t sure how much longer he’d be able to keep from punching this guy, especially with Az’s eye still on him.

“Should probably head out,” Gabe suggested, carefully keeping his voice level. “The fight’s gonna break out soon.”

“Fight?” Henry asked, looking back drunkenly. “You sure?”

Gabe stood up, stamping his foot as he did so, and put on his coat.

A few tables behind them, a man’s chair tipped, sending him into the table and sending the table into the woman he’d been sitting with. The woman’s voice tore through the room, the word incomprehensible as a jolt of lightning sprung out of her hand at the man. He dodged, the lightning instead hitting the small group behind him and chaos erupted.

“You’re good,” Henry said, attempting to get to his feet. He was unsteady and started to sag a little too far to the left, Gabe coming to his side and keeping him upright.

“Let me give you a hand,” Gabe offered. Henry nodded dully, Gabe noting with satisfaction the slight green glaze over his eyes as he did so. They stumbled out, Gabe steering them carefully around the fights breaking out and into the cool night air. Henry had, at some point, started babbling about his ex again and Gabe steered them around the corner of Donahue’s into a small alley. He brought Henry to the back of it, leaning him against the wall where he drooped to the ground and continued his babbling.

Gabe turned back to check the mouth of the alley and got himself a cigarette out of his coat. He pulled the lighter out of his pocket as well and clicked it, not even a spark appearing for his efforts. There was no fire left. Just as well, Gabe thought with a bit of a shrug as he stuffed it back into his pocket. He brought his hand back up and snapped his fingers, a small fire appearing at his fingertips for him to light his cigarette with before turning back to Henry.

“Seriously, you’re probably better off with her dead,” Henry was saying. “Nothing good out of them. Nothing.”

Gabe’s eyes narrowed on the man and he grabbed him, slamming  him hard against the brick wall. He exhaled the smoke in his face, the smoke continuing to linger over his mouth and nose. Henry inhaled some of it and his breath caught in his throat, the smoke refusing to move past his mouth. His eyes widened as he realized what was happening.

“I-I didn’t mean it,” he said very quickly, words starting to fall out of his mouth in rapid succession. “I’m just messing with you! I-”

Gabe shut him up with a punch to the stomach, knocking the wind out of him. Henry crumpled to the ground, the smoke around his face following him down and, though he gasped and tried to draw air back into his lungs, not enough could make it through the smoke.

“Let’s get you a little more sober,” Gabe said, stepping back and leaving him writhing on the ground, gasping for air.

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