Detective Stories

sleuthing in the sixtyfirst century

Copyright 2005, Bent Dalager.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

If you decide to use the material herein in your campaign, please drop me a line and let me know. I would be delighted if you wrote a short resume of how you used it and what happened, but failing that, just a line telling me you used it would be most appreciated.

To become a successful sleuth in a magical setting, any young hopeful must be proficient in a number of disciplines ranging from mundane people skills to the mastery of esoteric magical teachings. While the tools of such fictional luminaries as Sherlock Holmes (with his unparallelled observation and deduction skills coupled with a fantastic knowledge base) and those of more mundane police departments (which focus on a manpower-intensive and methodical approach coupled with whatever technological aids they can get their hands on) remain as important as ever, magic does more than its fair share in complicating the profession. While evocation and scrying work to ease the work load on the well-educated detective, deception and counter magic can serve to foil such attempts or even cause them to backfire on the uncritical spell caster.

The following text describes some encounters and lessons faced by the apprentice Seer and enthusiastic investigator-to-be Jonas under the tutelage of his mentor and uncle, the highly regarded private investigator Par'gan. While these events take place in Sel-Kai (see ICE's Eidolon and Sel-Kai City supplement), they can easily be supplanted to any other urban milieu and the lessons learned are universal.

I base my assumptions upon those noted in ICE's Mentalism Companion with regard to evocation, scrying and counter-measures (both mundane and magical). If you are not familiar with that work, some of the following may not make a lot of sense. In particular, the term "evocation" means to look into the past and the term "scrying" to look into the present. For other terms and theories I refer you to the Mentalism Companion, which is a very interesting read and an excellent buy if the topic at hand interests you.

Now you see it -- or did you?

Jonas rushed into the study. "Uncle, uncle! I've got it now - I can do it every time!" - unbridled pride and joy shone from his eyes. Par'gan looked up from his journal writing and smiled back. "Good, " he replied. "Have you found any uses for it yet?" he continued slyly. The tone was lost on Jonas as he continued at a break-neck pace. "Uses? USES?" he laughed, "what can you NOT use this for? I mean, I mean, I know I'm not very good yet and that I can only look a couple of minutes back and that I can't keep it up for very long, but I'll get better, like you, and I see EVERYTHING, I mean, absolutely everything, what is happening, what people are doing, what they are saying, all of it, and they have no idea that I'm there - well not really there you know but kind of there anyway and " Jonas paused to draw breath. Smiling at the youth's exuberance, Par'gan raised his hand to halt the tide.

After a short pause to give Jonas the chance to gather his senses, Par'gan continued: "So, I take it you are confident in your abilities to evoke the immediate past then?". His sly smile still lost on the youth, Jonas blurted out an affirmation. "Mmm - let's put it to the test shall we?" Par'gan asked rhetorically, "I propose the following test. You leave the room and come back in here in one minute. In the mean time, I shall have manipulated an item here in the study. When you come back in, I will want you to evoke the identity of this item. Now, off you go!"

Accustomed to his uncle's penchant for practical tests, Jonas obediently left the room, eager to show his mentor his mastery of the newly acquired spell. He had been working hard on it the entire last week, between the myriad trivial chores he had been assigned. It had been a welcome change from the dreary detect curse spell he had had to study previously. Sure, curse detection was probably useful enough when you needed it, but how often was that? He had tried to detect curses on everything and everyone from the messenger boys to the kitchen sink and there was nothing anywhere. Which might be good news, but not very exciting for an enthusiastic youth like himself. Evocation of the past, however, was something else entirely. In spite of his uncle's long lecture on the ethics of evocation, he had tried it on Millie nextdoors around when he knew she was having a bath and the result was ... most exhilarating. He felt a sting of guilt about it but still - he'd do it again. He supposed. He didn't understand why his uncle pestered him so about observation skills, interrogation techniques, the minds of criminals and all that other mundane stuff - one little vision behind spell and any crime would be blown wide open. Suddenly, his reverie was interrupted by the commanding voice of Par'gan. "I'm ready for you now."

Full of confidence, Jonas entered the study. His uncle was still sitting behind the desk. "Right, Jonas, " his uncle smiled, "we'll start simple. Just tell me which item I recently manipulated. It's less than a minute ago so you shouldn't find it much of a problem.". Concentrating, Jonas gathered the magical power within him to cast the vision behind spell. He did a quick calculation as the preparation neared its end. Within one minute, and the spell took him another half minute. He only needed to know which item, not what exactly Par'gan had done with it or where he'd taken it from. He could only evoke about half a minute's worth of activity and the spell wasn't too accurate so he would have to take a one minute margin of error into account. He decided it was better to start the vision a little early than a little late and landed on a vision of one and a half minutes ago. He would probably have time for one or two more castings anyway if he missed the period of interest. He cast the spell.

The study blurred momentarily as the vision from the past superimposed itself upon the present and then took complete command of the scene. He could see himself leave the room and close the door. The vision was a tad early. With some luck, he'd still catch the activity on this casting. He observed his uncle as he returned to his journal and took a few more notes - or finished some notes, it was difficult to say. Jonas had chosen a viewpoint for the vision from which he couldn't tell what, exactly, his uncle was writing. But he soon finished and Jonas breathed a sigh of relief. There should still be enough time left in the spell to get a glimpse of the item. He could see Par'gan walk over to a cupboard and open it. He removed a book from the open cupboard and held it. The study blurred briefly again as the spell ended and the present came into view.

"The book, " Jonas said, smiling at his uncle, "it was the book over in that cupboard over there!". He felt a strange superiority at knowing he was now able to spy on his mentor in this manner. It was a rush of power he often felt when he knew he had mastered something that he knew made him, not better, but somehow still superior to those around him. He wasn't stupid though and a slight doubt starting developing inside him when he finally recognized the sly smile on his uncle's lips. "A book? You are quite sure?" Par'gan asked. "Would you stake your career on this? Would you let this knowledge determine the fate of a suspect?". The doubt grew stronger. "Well, " he started, "I ...". Why was he hesitating? He knew it was a book, he had seen it with his own eyes. And if he couldn't trust his own eyes, what could he trust? Yet, that humoured look in his uncle's eyes ... "Yes, a book, I am quite sure."

"Well, let's look, shall we?" Par'gan suggested as he walked over to the cupboard. He was particularly fond of rhetorical questions. As he opened it, Jonas regained the proud smile. There was the book, no question about it. "Yeah, a book, I knew it, " he said, joining his uncle at the cupboard. "Yes, a 'book', " his uncle said with suspicious emphasis on the word "book". Jonas' suspicion arose again. Walking towards his desk, Par'gan asked - or, rather, ordered, in his own way - "Do you mind reading me the first passage of that 'book', nephew?". Jonas knew he was in trouble now. Par'gan never called him "nephew" except when he'd fouled something up. His hand trembled slightly as he reached for the book. It was cold, and hard. And heavy. He thought he saw his fingers sink a little into the fabric of the book itself as he picked it up. It didn't feel like a book at all, it felt more like ... a slab of stone or something. He tried to open it, but there were no pages. He could see the sheets, but he could not feel them. Then it dawned upon him. "It's an illusion, " he said, looking up from the item, "it's not a book at all!".

Par'gan gave him a short, sardonic applause. "An excellent deduction, chief investigator! Surely you have a bright future in this field!" He concentrated briefly to dispell the light glamour he had put on the slab of stone. Jason watched shamefully as the book blinked out of existence and he was left with a rather unremarkable slab of granite in his hand. Certain that the lesson had had its effect on his sometimes haughty pupil, Par'gan smiled amiably at his apprentice. "So, what is the lesson of the day?" he asked probingly. "Well, " Jason began, "don't believe everything you see I suppose, and keep in mind that magic can really mess with your evocations?". "Well, you're getting there ..." Par'gan said, clearly not entirely satisfied with the response. Still somewhat confounded by his failure, Jason was visibly struggling to draw more useful conclusions from the recent events.

Realizing that his student was at a loss to draw satisfactory conclusions and already being annoyingly late with his journaling, Par'gan decided to spell it out for him. "Well, you see, Jonas, it's not just magic. Anything that obscures, camouflages or otherwise misrepresents the scene that you are evoking will contribute to compromising the information that you can gain from it. A murderer may be disguised as someone else; an item can be covered by a cloth in order to conceal its true nature; numerous spells exist that can simply misrepresent a scene, such as I did now, and many exist that are explicitly created in order to cloud or even twist the information that you can gain by evocation. You would be a fool to rely entirely upon evocation - or any magic - in getting to the core of a mystery. Any suspicion you have must be backed up by multiple sources before you can adopt it as a fact, and never should all of those sources be magical in nature. Magic is simply too unreliable, too easily corrupted by those that are opposed to your investigation. All magic can help you with is to uncover clues, put you on the correct path perhaps. But never trust your life, your career or the fates of others solely on the results of evocation. Nor scrying for that matter - scrying is vulnerable in much the same ways that evocation is."

"Yes, I see, " Jonas nodded, "that's why you always say that there's no substitute for good old legwork?" Par'gan smiled and nodded back at him. "There may be hope for you yet, apprentice. But the lesson is not over yet." Jonas looked expectantly back at his mentor.

"You see, " Par'gan explained, "you could have seen through the glamour had you only been observant enough. Did you notice anything as you held the 'book' yourself just now?" He tilted his head questioningly. Jonas concentrated. He had learned enough of his mentor's body language to know what that meant. He was supposed to get this one right. "Well ..." he began, thinking back at his confusion at picking the book - stone slab - up. "It felt all wrong, but the past vision spell doesn't allow me to feel it so that can't possibly help me ..." he looked probingly at his mentor. He also knew enough about him to know what that stone face meant. No help, figure it out yourself. "Ok, so I only get sound and vision through the spell. If I had captured your putting the book down in my vision, I might have recognized the sound as that of stone against wood rather than the expected book against wood. So I suppose if I were to do the job properly, I should have made sure to repeat the spell until I had the whole sequence of events. Make sure I get all the clues.". A new probing look at Par'gan revealed the beginnings of a smile, but the stone face was still firmly in place. Good, but not good enough ... "And I did notice that the glamour wasn't perfect ... that is, the glamour must have extended a bit beyond the actual stone slab. When I held it, it was as if my fingers sunk a bit into the binding. I suppose if I had been really really observant, I might have noticed. If I had, it really would have been a dead give-away wouldn't it?" Now he got the result he wanted. "Yes, quite, " Par'gan confirmed, "that it would have been. Never, ever, understimate the utility of superior observation skills. If there is one single skill to be emphasized over all others in our line of business, that is exactly it. Accurate observation. And always, always, be critical of what you see. Your senses may not always report reality, they only report what APPEARS TO BE reality. The only thing that can rectify this is your own mind, your own critical thinking."

"Well, I suppose this concludes the lesson of the day, " Par'gan continued. "Here, take this." He handed Jonas what appeared to be a spoon. "But mind it, it's sharp." Jonas examined the spoon carefully. "This is no spoon, " he said, "it's a knife." "Just that, " his mentor replied, "a knife it is. Now what I want you to do his hold that knife in various ways and evoke your own past to study your handling of it. Use this to train your ability to spot the illusory nature of the spoon within the vision. The glamour will hold for several days still. Now leave me. I have work to do."

As Jonas was closing the door behind him, he heard his mentor: "Oh, and Jonas?"

"Yes, uncle?"

"Please stop spying on the neighbours, will you?"

"Yes, uncle." Jonas felt blood rush to his face as he closed the door.

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