Chapter 1 - Strange Glyphs

   Nyle couldn’t believe this was happening. Just as he was finally about to take a much-needed vacation after closing an arduous case, work had swooped in on him yet again and flushed his plans down the drain. Though he was less than thrilled about abandoning his holiday, this was the price of being a CGC special agent. 

   The CGC, or The Center for Glyph Control, was a federal special task force charged with investigating crime and terrorism involving the use of a special substance called “dust,” which was ground from naturally occurring power crystals. Power crystals contained elemental and ethereal energies and came in various forms and colors, with each form and color indicating a different energy and power. Once ground into dust, it could be ingested by rare individuals called dustomancers who could then summon this energy using glyphs, special symbols drawn on objects and surfaces, to perform incredible supernatural feats. As a special agent, Nyle dealt only with those who harnessed the power of dust for criminal purposes. 

   Criminal dustomancers were more dangerous than ordinary felons. So, to deal with such threats, all CGC agents were dustomancers themselves and were specially trained to fight dangerous dustomancers. 

   Nyle had been boarding a ship at the port, ready for blue skies and bluer seas, when a dosiac had landed on his shoulder. The messenger bird was no taller than an oil lantern. It had indigo feathers and a white belly, with tail feathers almost as long as its slender body. Nyle had scratched the bird’s neck, receiving an affectionate tweet in return, before pulling out a rolled parchment from the cylindrical case fastened to the harness on its back. 

   Now, seated in the back of a carriage with a sealed envelope on his lap, he opened the letter and read it once more.

 

   Special Agent Morcroft,

 

   Last moon, there was a murder at Pentora Apartments, near Perden Park. This is the fifth killing of its kind. This case, which has so far been exclusively handled by local law enforcement, has officially been transferred to the CGC, and you have been assigned to lead it. You have also been given accommodation at 207 Warthol Apartments, where a supply case has been sent for you. Field Agent Spurtle shall pick you up via carriage and give you the case files and the keys to your accommodation.

 

   Special Agent Woods will be your support. She is stationed at CGC headquarters and will contact you shortly. You are requested to head directly to the crime scene, where you shall meet Detective Knight from the Alendon Central Department of Protection. He has been the lead detective thus far.

 

   Elijah Qrow

   Senior Special Agent

   The Center for Glyph Control

 

   Nyle closed the letter and opened the sealed envelope, pulling out the case files and a pair of keys.

   “We’re almost there,” Agent Spurtle said through the partition as she drove.

   “Thanks,” Nyle replied, pocketing the keys and giving the case files a quick glance before placing them back in the envelope.

   He pulled a wristband from his bag and fastened it to his left wrist. It was a thick strap of glyphed black leather with a silver metal plate on the top. A winged sword over a shield was inscribed on the plate. The letters, “CGC” were engraved across the sword and shield with, “The Center for Glyph Control” etched below the tip of the blade. “Special Agent Nyle Morcroft. No. 10796,” was written beneath the shield and sword.

   Nyle reached into his bag once more and retrieved a cylindrical case of colorful pills. These pills were made of dust and a synthetic substance called, “elicion.” Elicion pills allowed Nyle, and all dustomancers, to harness the powers of the dust. Nyle popped a translucent white pill in his mouth and felt an empty space in his chest, much like a reservoir, fill with power. Then he threw on a black jacket with white glyphs running down the arms and back.

   “We’re here,” Agent Spurtle said from the front, and the carriage came to a halt.

   Nyle opened the carriage door and put on a pair of shades, sheltering his honey eyes from the bright sunlight. He stepped out and ran his hand through his dark umber hair, setting it in place; it had grown out from the buzz he had sported during his training. The cityscape that greeted him was one he wished he was leaving behind right now. Concrete buildings of varying heights surrounded him; some were relatively simple and plain and square while others had gargoyles or other sculptures artistically carved on the exterior. The greenery scattered across the expanse made the area look rather quaint, but it did nothing to ease Nyle’s unwillingness to be there.

   “Don’t worry about your luggage,” Agent Spurtle said, handing Nyle a small glyphed black case. “I will transport it to your accommodation.” 

   “Thanks,” Nyle said as he took the case from her. He remembered his suns as a new field agent when he too had had to fulfill menial tasks for other special agents. Now that he was on the other side of the fence, he appreciated Spurtle’s aid, but he was still glad those suns were behind him.

   Nyle touched the handle of the case, causing the glyphs on its surface to glow. A soft click sounded, and the case opened. A small, black metal stylographic baton, about the size of a spoon, with a translucent crystal on one end lay in a velvet casing. This baton was called a CI, or a Chrysalis Inscriber. Dustomancers used them to draw the glyphs they needed to summon the power of dust. Nyle pulled it out and placed it in the holster in his belt. He handed the case back to Agent Spurtle and turned toward a building with, “Pentora Apartments,” inscribed on the entrance below a sculpted winged creature.

Flashing his CGC wristband at the guard, Nyle made his way inside the apartment complex, where an officer waiting in the hallway guided him down the corridor and into one of the apartments.

   “Morcroft?” A voice spoke from behind him.

   Nyle turned to see a short woman approaching him. Her chestnut hair was tied into a neat bun, and she wore a charcoal gray uniform with an ACDP badge pinned to her left breast pocket. “Doxon?” he asked, recognition sparking. She was an old friend from his suns at the military training unit that recruits affectionately called, “The Cage.” 

   “What are you doing here?” Doxon asked.

   Nyle flashed his wristband at her. “CGC orders.”

   “You’re the special agent assigned to our case?”

   “I am,” Nyle said, smiling at her, the dimple on his left cheek deepening. “I had no idea you were ACDP.” Since he had last seen Doxon, her appearance had changed slightly, but she still oozed the same stern confidence Nyle distinctively remembered. 

   “I’ve been with them for almost half a decade,” Doxon replied, raising her chin. “I haven’t seen you since The Cage.” 

   “It has been a while,” Nyle nodded. “How’s the case?”

   “Right to business. Perfect. Follow me,” Doxon said, replacing her friendly tone with a more serious one as she led Nyle deeper into the apartment.

   They walked across the living room, passing more uniformed ACDP officers, and stepped into the tidy kitchen. White marble counters with espresso cabinets lined the walls, and a single lantern hung from the ceiling. A man stood by the kitchen island in the center of the room speaking with a woman. His perfectly tailored navy suit hung like armor, and the glistening ACDP badge on his belt told Nyle he was the head detective.

   “Detective Silas Knight,” Doxon said, walking up to the man. “This is Special Agent Nyle Morcroft from the CGC.” 

   “You’re finally here,” Silas replied, turning to Nyle and greeting him with a firm handshake that oozed authority. “I see you’ve already met Officer Doxon.” His aquamarine eyes shifted to a man approaching behind Nyle. “Allow me to introduce you to Officer Marceau.” 

   Nyle turned to meet the man. Officer Marceau was a tall man with a buzz cut. He wore an ACDP uniform that hugged his muscular physique, and he towered over everyone else. Although his stature and build looked intimidating, he had a kind face. 

   “These two will show you the crime scene. We do appreciate your help,” Silas finished, earning a friendly nod from Nyle. Then he turned back to the woman, continuing his conversation.

   “Right this way,” Officer Marceau said with a foreign accent, leading Nyle and Doxon down the corridor. 

   When they reached the bathroom, a thick, gut-wrenching odor hit Nyle, making him recoil slightly. He had encountered many murder victims and numerous horrific crime scenes, yet the stench of a corpse was always something that took him a moment to get used to.

   The bathroom was small with checkered white-and-gray tiled walls and a wooden bathtub in the back. A high sink rested by the entrance, and a small toilet sat by the opposite wall. An oil lamp hung from the ceiling, and an open window above the bathtub did nothing to reduce the stench filling the bathroom.

   Doxon pointed at the bathtub. “There’s our victim.”

   Nyle stepped closer to the body of a woman in the tub. Her skin was ashen, and peculiar glyphs were carved all over her body.

   “The victim is Sheila Sanders. Same MO as the other four murders,” Officer Marceau explained. “Her husband found her when he came home.”

   “Where’s the husband?” Nyle asked.

   “He’s been taken to the ACDP headquarters,” Marceau replied. “We have a forensic psychologist speaking with him right now.”

   Nyle nodded and turned back to the corpse. He drew power from the reservoir in his chest and mentally directed it to a glyph on his upper arm. As the glyph activated, it glowed white. Nyle felt the power from the glyph fill him, and his eyes too began to glow white.

   While a dustomancer could harness the power of dust by consuming elicion pills, they needed to channel those powers through glyphs to materialize them in the real world. With a CI, they could draw these glyphs, but drawing took time and wasn’t always convenient. So, they generally carried glyphed items and wore glyphed clothes. The white pill Nyle had consumed earlier contained force dust, a relatively common type of dust that could enhance one’s senses, strength, and speed. It was also a great conductor for other forms of energy, which was why CIs were made with force crystals attached to one end, so dustomancers could channel any energy through the CIs to draw glyphs of any sort. Overall, force dust was incredibly versatile and could be used both in battle and out. Right now, it enhanced Nyle’s vision and helped him read the bathroom for the tiniest clues, making even the smallest detail clear.

   “There are no prints of any kind,” Nyle said, turning to Doxon, surprised.

   “I know,” Doxon replied. “We haven’t found any clues at the other crime scenes either.”

   Nyle turned back to the body, still puzzled, and started sketching the glyphs carved on it in his notepad.

   “The last four bodies had those same glyphs on them,” Doxon said. “We have no idea what they do. They don’t exist in any database. Do you recognize them?”

   “I don’t,” Nyle replied, “but I’ll send them to the CGC and see what comes up. Did the husband say anything?” he asked Officer Marceau.

   “Nothing when we showed up. He was too shocked to respond to even basic questions,” he replied. “If he gives the psychologist anything, we’ll let you know.”

   “I need to speak with your gazers,” Nyle said, leaving the bathroom and scanning the doorway with his enhanced vision.

   “I’ll get them,” Officer Marceau said as he turned and walked away.

   Dustomancers each specialized in different types of dust, and gazers were best at enhancing their senses using force dust. As such, the ACDP maintained a small team of gazers for investigations. 

***

   After speaking with the gazers and scanning the apartment himself, Nyle put his pad in his pocket and deactivated his ocular glyph. Then, he had a quick word with Silas and left.

   Since Agent Spurtle was transporting his things to his accommodation, Nyle had to find another carriage. Thankfully, there was one waiting just across the street. This carriage, much like the one he had used to get to the crime scene, had a broad roof and was made of chespar wood stained dark. The carriage was drawn by a powerful animal called a wicon, a beast that stood as tall as a fully grown man on four muscular, hoofed legs. Its shoulders were broader than its hips, and it had two curved horns on its head, a short muzzle, and short brown hair over its entire body. It was a strong beast traditionally used to draw carriages, plows, and other simple machines.

   “Warthol Apartments,” Nyle said to the driver.

   “You got it,” the driver replied.

   Nyle tossed him a coin and climbed into the carriage. 

***

   After a brief trip that Nyle had spent ruing the loss of his vacation, he entered the one-bedroom apartment the CGC had rented for him. The living room was small with an attached open-concept kitchen to the right. A small couch and chespar wood coffee table was positioned by the back wall, and to the left was the entrance to the bedroom. The walls were bare but for a painting of yellow flowers hanging behind the couch. 

   Nyle tossed his bag on the coffee table and unzipped his leather jacket, sighing wearily. He wasn’t physically tired, but mentally, he really needed that vacation. Pulling out a can from the side pocket of his duffle bag, he walked into the bedroom. A black glyphed case sat on his bed, and his bags were neatly piled by the closet. 

   Nyle activated a frost glyph on the inside of his leather jacket and directed the power to the can in his hand. As the glyph glowed blue, shedding cool rays on Nyle’s shirt, it chilled the contents of the can in a heartbeat. Nyle sipped the drink, feeling the cold liquid run down his throat as he approached the case. Feeling a little more energized now, he opened the black case. It was full of elicion pills and glyphed combat clothes. 

   The CGC always sent these dust-supply cases to active field agents. However, not every agent got the same case. All dustomancers were naturally skilled at harnessing energy from one specific dust called their primal crystal. A dustomancer using the dust from their primal crystal would always be more powerful than another using that same dust if it wasn’t their primal, irrespective of training. So in turn, an agent’s primal crystal determined the supply case they received, sometimes even their department. Nyle, however, did not have a primal crystal. He was skilled enough using all dust types but had never felt a natural connection to any one type. He had risen through ranks in the CGC through sheer hard work and determination and was the only special agent in the organization without a primal crystal.

   Nyle was scanning all the compartments in the case, checking to make sure he had everything, when his gaze fell on one empty compartment, the one compartment that was always empty. This little pocket occupied a bottom corner of the case and would normally be filled with little notes, trinkets, or portraits of an agent’s family; missions were tough, and these simple things really helped agents feel connected to their loved ones. Nyle, however, had never had anything to put into that compartment. In fact, he didn’t even have a family. He was an orphan who had been adopted by the CGC at an early age, so he had close friends and people he trusted with his life, but he didn’t have a family, at least not in the traditional sense. 

   Initially, that empty section had haunted Nyle, making him feel lonely and forgotten. Once, it had even gotten so bad that Nyle had tried to use the CGC’s resources to find his birth parents but had come up empty-handed. There were no records of them whatsoever. It was almost like they had never existed. Nyle had realized then that they obviously didn’t want to be found and had stopped looking. He had accepted his solitude and befriended his loneliness. The empty compartment eventually stopped bothering him and life went on. However, a small part of Nyle buried deep under the walls he’d built over the years secretly wished that some sun, he could put something in that compartment that would remind him of family.

   Slamming the case shut, Nyle put it in the closet and turned to see a dosiac perched on his windowsill. It was the same bird as earlier; she was Nyle’s personal messenger, and he’d affectionately named her Ciel. During his CGC training, Nyle had spent a lot of time with Ciel, and she could now pinpoint his location no matter where he was in the world. Though she visited Nyle often, like all other CGC dosiacs, she lived in a tower at the CGC headquarters. This served a dual purpose: first, the CGC would always be able to communicate with Nyle, and second, if he were ever in danger, his dosiac could help the CGC track and rescue him.

   “Thanks, Ceil.” Nyle reached out a hand for the bird to hop up on, then pulled out the letter from the harness on her back and scratched her neck in appreciation. He then leaned out and let the sapphire bird fly away. The wax seal on the letter informed him it was another message from the CGC. He sat back on his bed, breaking the seal and opening the letter.

 

   Nyle,

 

   I am sorry to hear your vacation was canceled. I know you were really looking forward to it after the last mission.

I have studied the case files and been researching the glyphs found at the crime scenes. Unfortunately, none matches anything in our database.

   However, I have stumbled onto something peculiar. The base structures of the glyphs matched some diagrams from an old research paper. Providing the match is accurate, I believe the glyphs might be temporal.

I know it seems far-fetched. Yet it is the only clue I found. The research papers cite an ancient book called, The Velcamore Diary that was dug up decades ago and is currently in the possession of the Griffin Empire. I tried getting a permit to borrow the book from them, but all my requests were denied. The Griffins keep the book locked away in the restricted section of their library and rarely give access to anyone. They have been elusive with the CGC and the scholarly society for a while now. A court order might take a long time, so I took the matter to Elijah, and he informed me that he would try to get us access to the book.

   I will leave for Alendon Central soon and should arrive there in two suns. My accommodation will be at 301 Arten Suites.

Good luck with the investigation. I will see you soon.

 

   Amaria Woods

   Special Agent

   The Center for Glyph Control


   Nyle dropped the letter, sighed deeply, rested his head against the wall, and closed his eyes. What am I in for this time? he wondered.