”Cassie, the Directors and I have spoken and we are concerned by your continued inability to perform competently in the field. ” Anna Saraferas came around her desk to lean back, crossing her arms looking every bit a model for conservative womens clothing as opposed to the less glamorous position she maintained. Her Greek roots were allowing the woman to age gracefully. The long dark hair pulled back into a sleek chignon held no traces of gray


and her olive skin remained smooth and unwrinkled, the cut of the charcoal suit she wore accentuated her still enviable figure with the heels pushing her close to a goddess-like six feet.

Anna was a powerful woman and she carried the burden of her office well. For the last four years she had been the Supervisor in Charge of Investigators working for the organization solely responsible for keeping practitioners of magick free from mass persecution and policing their society to prevent the use of dark magick. In other words, she was responsible for the whole of the witches police force if one were to translate it into laymans terms.

Tutela ab Veritas was the name the original three Directors came up with for the organization after the Crusades. It was during the first wave of holy wars, later to be dubbed The Crusades, in which practitioners were abused mightily. The losses they suffered finally pushed the society to hide the practice of everyday magick from the whole of the non- magickal world after that.

Veritas, as it was commonly known, sent out triads of Investigators whenever and wherever they received reports or saw mention in the media of ”unexplainable occurrences ” worldwide. Occurrences that might threaten to expose their world, opening them up once again to the fearful wrath of non-magickal folk known in magickal circles as ”regulars. ”

In the face of Annas doubt of her abilities Cassie sat silently, staring at the plaques and awards from Annas days as an Agent. Numerous, they lined the far wall behind the desk and gave Cassie something to pretend to study while keeping the mask of cool indifference firmly in place. There was nothing for her to say.

They both knew the only reason shed been passed out of the Academy after three years of failed academics was because the professors didn want to admit what she already knew,


that the only known mixed blood witch to get this far in a century was a dud. Theyd essentially given up on her in the classroom, thrown her out into the field and left her under the tutelage of two understandably reticent partners to either sink or swim. And now, six months later, Cassie had shown no improvement after more than twenty cases. Not only was she dead weight, she had nearly gotten herself and her partner Quan killed when shed failed in the simple task of getting out of the way while her partners apprehended a dark practitioner just last week. Honestly, she had been expecting this meeting with Anna long before this most recent mishap.

Watching Annas unlined face twist in consternation, Cassie felt compelled to answer. Though she was at a loss for what to say, muttering an inadequate, ”Im sorry. ”

Annas lips pressed tightly together, she had been expecting more. ”The Directors were under the impression that we should be seeing something from you by now. ” She shook her head, the light above shining brightly on the glossy black tresses. Anna was not one to willingly put her Agents in danger by pairing them with a ”maybe. ” The elegant supervisor had not hidden her concerns for the safety of Cassies partners from the day of the initial assignment. Only the absolute power of the Directors and their search for greater, and more powerful witches had gotten Cassie this far. ”They have left it up to my discretion to determine whether there will continue to be a place for you with Veritas. ”

Cassie felt her stomach tighten and frowned to keep from breaking the stoic facade. She did not want to have to tell her father shed failed, not like this. Her getting off the reservation was important to him, it had been important to her mother. Hed gone against his mothers and the tribes wishes at great personal cost for this. ”Yes Maam. ”

Gliding back to her tall black leather chair behind the sleek custom desk rumored to have set her back her entire first


paycheck, Anna folded her hands in her lap and sat back. The queen surveying one of her drones and none too happy with what she was seeing. ”I am sorry Cassie. ” The wide mouth split into a cool smile. ”As you know, witches with your unique blend of gifts can be a challenge to bring along. ”

Cassie nodded because she was supposed to.

”The Directors and I feel six months has been ample time to prove yourself capable as an Investigator. But from what Ive seen, unless you can bring something more to the table, Im afraid we are going to have to face the fact that field work is not a good fit for you. ” Annas firm countenance softened as did her tone. ”Consider yourself on probation, your next assignment will be your last chance. ”

”Of course. ” Swallowing hard, Cassie put her hands down on the arms of the chair and heaved her body up. No words were available for disagreeing with her bosss honest dressing down although that didn mean she had to let her disappointment show. ”I appreciate the opportunity youve given me here and Im sorry if Ive been a burden for Quan and Julia. ” Her two partners were some of the best in the field. Surely their careers would survive the hiccup of being tangled up with hers for this brief snippet.

”Im sure you haven been a burden Cassie. Julia and Quan have never said a bad word about you. ”

There was no way that was true.

”I hope this next mission will be a success for you. ” Anna gave her a tight smile and turned to face her computer, signaling the end of their chat.

”Thank you Maam. ” Cassie bobbed her head, feeling her newly shortened black ponytail bounce gaily with the gesture. Automatically she ran a hand across her brow to


push back the bangs that used to sweep across her forehead though currently rested above her black brows after a minor accident involving a spell gone awry. Her new layers required significant numbers of bobby pins to craft the ponytail she always wore, and her bangs were yet to learn that they needed to do something other than hang straight down or part in the middle of her forehead.

”Oh, Cassie. ” Anna looked up, a pen poised over the thick stack of parchment papers the Directors insisted upon using, saying they gave the company credibility. Like there was another organization out there managing witch affairs that they needed to compete with. ”Keep your phone on, your team moves when we get confirmation on final details. ”

With one more cursory head bob and nearly inaudible ”maam. ” Cassie ducked out of the office, closing the frosted glass door behind her. The commercial gray carpet muffled her steps as she made her way to the silver doored elevator for what was likely the last time. With the last assignment on deck, the clock was ticking on Cassies short and disastrous career with Veritas.

The lack of use of wood anywhere except for in the individual offices was intentional. A large number of the witches in Veritas employ were elemental, drawing power from nature. In an effort to keep the building neutral territory, all the materials used were synthetic with the exception of the Supervisors offices. Even the materials that looked like metal were actually specially reinforced polymers and space age materials no known witch could draw power from, thereby giving her or him an unfair advantage.

Only inside the privacy of their offices were the Supervisors, with the long hours and energy sucking work they often had to conduct, allowed to bolster their reserves with whatever power supplies they needed to manage their performance. Fortunately, Anna was an Earth witch and the basswood her


desk had been carved from provided that pick me up for her. Cassie had heard of a supervisor who had been Hindu and worshipped Kali, the most fierce form of the Goddess. She allegedly kept an aquarium full of rats for the occasional ”pick me up ” sacrifice whether she had someone in her office or not.

Not shy of blood, Cassie did have the strong respect for life her Grandmother and Mother had instilled from birth. It had been the only commonality of the teachings from both branches of her family tree and the one that had ingrained itself the deepest. Life was to be protected and held dear above all else. It was also the main reason Grandmother had broken with her son and Cassie when he had announced Cassies acceptance to the Academy. Grandmother did not believe that a career with Veritas would allow her granddaughter to keep her soul clean and her path to the ancestors clear.

”Without the ability to speak to our ancestors, we soon lose our way Little Sparrow. ” Grandmother always used her tribal name. ”You cannot follow your own path if someone else is choosing it for you. ”

Dreading having to face her Grandmother more even than her father when she returned home with her career gone flat, Cassie cast off the image of their faces in favor of mentally working through what she had left in her bank account while she exited through the high, glass domed atrium.

In minutes she was sitting behind the wheel of her sunfaded yellow beetle feeling four decades older than her twenty-four years. Sighing, she turned the key and waited. It took its usual mixture of repeat efforts with the key, gas pedal and prayer before the small engine shuddered to life.

Her concern for finances had nothing to do with the state of her transportation. Most of the money she earned went home to help her family with the house that always seemed


to be leaking from somewhere or was settling and cracking in new and unusual ways. In a perfect world shed be able to buy them a new house altogether, but this world was far from perfect and all she could manage was to keep propping up the old one on her Junior Investigator salary. It would have been her promotion to fully licensed Field Investigator that would have brought with it the money to finally lift her family out of the poverty her father wore as a sign of personal disgrace and the one hed sworn to her mother on her deathbed not to let their only child fall into. It had been that promise that had shored up her fathers will when hed held his ground against his raging mother, confirming that Cassie would not be assuming the role of Shaman as did the women of their bloodline, but would follow a different path with those from her mothers world.

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