Chapter 1: A Meeting

Noticing the deep well of darkness within the shadow of the spreading maple, she approached, concentrating on holding her flashlight steady so as not to betray her fear. Slowly she raised the flashlight to illuminate the figure leaning against the tree. The man's face was obscured by the top hat that was slung low on his head but as the light hit him, he pushed it up revealing his features, including the strange red diamond tattoo over his left eye and allowing a strand of blond hair to peek through. He smiled at her and swept the hat off with a bow, extending his hand to her. As her eyes fell on the hand she noticed the blood standing out against the white glove, her brain finally accepting the fact he had blood splatters on his clothing and his bare hand. Screaming, she fell back, dropping the flashlight as she ran away, breath becoming more and more laboured until she was finally forced to stop. Chest heaving she waited for the inevitable pursuit.

With a gasp, Mazarine sat up in bed, heart still racing and sweat-soaked from the nightmare-memory. It had been four years since that night. The night she'd lost everything. Now she devoted herself to finding and bringing to justice those who had killed her parents. And the man in the top hat was either one of the killers or knew something of them, so even after all this time she sought him.

Noting the light pouring in through the window and catching sight of the clock beside her bed, Mazarine, or Maz as she was more commonly known, got up. It's ironic, she thought, that I'd have that dream right before meeting the new contact today. He swore he knew the man I described.

Shaking out her chestnut coloured hair, Maz got ready for work, donning a charcoal grey suit, black blouse and braiding her hair back before grabbing her briefcase and heading out. A brisk walk had her entering the Daily Times headquarters in less then a quarter of an hour.

Mazarine fairly flew through proof-reading one article, glancing at the clock every few minutes. She had to be out before four-thirty if she hoped to reach the bar her contact had arranged the meet at in time. In the end Maz finished two articles, sending them back to their authors and was out the door before the minute hand had touched the four.

Briefcase clutched tightly in one hand, Mazarine stepped off the bus and moved hesitantly into the bar that dominated the left side of the road. A beautiful building, tan brick bright and not covered in the grime many other buildings currently sported, large windows clean and clear and the front sidewalk swept clear, the bar put forth a cheerful vibe.

Looking about, Maz caught sight of a figure seated in the appropriate place and walked over slowly, nervous. For all she knew this was the very man she had searched for these past four years. Hearing her footsteps, the figure turned and it was not the man from her memories but a black-haired man who smiled at her as she approached.

"Mazarine?" He asked, moving a finger around the rim of his glass idly.

"It's Maz." She said taking a seat beside him. "Do you really know someone who matches the man I described?"

He hesitated for a moment then nodded. "I'm Erasmus by the way though I prefer Eras. As for the man you described…I need to know why you want to see him before I tell you anything."

Maz lifted her chin defiantly as she explained. "The man I saw may have information as to who committed a murder a few years back if he didn't do it himself. Do you believe the man you know is capable of that?"

Eras winced. "Capable? Yes. At least half the time he is. Did he do it? I have no idea. He's…complicated."

"How so?" Mazarine demanded. She was too close now. After four years she finally had a real lead.

The man sat there for a silent second, staring at her before nodding once, as if to himself. "You'll have to meet him to understand. I thought he'd be here by now but I guess he's being lazy today and since the sun hasn't set he should be at home."

"How do you know that?" Maz asked as she followed Eras's example and stood up as well.

"It's all in the cards." He said rather mysteriously before leading her outside. Moving at a leisurely stroll that made Maz want to scream at him to hurry up, they walked down first one road then another until finally they reached a plain grey apartment building surrounded by lush gardens. Eras walked in and up the stairs, stopping in front of apartment number seven.

"Nyx it's me. Open up." Eras said as he knocked on the door.

No response.

Sighing, Erasmus opened the door and walked right in, startling a gasp of outrage from Mazarine. He ignored her and walked through the rooms cluttered with the most random items and into what was obviously the bedroom, with Maz trailing behind eyes wide open as she took everything in. The bedroom was complete with sleeping body, a man whose face was covered by a black top hat with a strange black spade clipped onto the red band.

"C'mon Nyx it's past five."

"Leave me alone. The sun hasn't set yet." Came the muffled voice from under the hat.

"We have a bet." Eras said in a warning tone.

Nyx muttered something inaudible and lazily pushed the hat off his face. "Carry me." He told Eras.

"I'm not carrying you."

"You still owe me from the last bet." Nyx whined.

Maz stood there staring. He only vaguely resembled the man she'd seen. Why had Erasmus brought her to see this slothful man? Turning her head to ignore their bickering, Mazarine saw a pretty set of playing cards lying on the dresser, stacked rather haphazardly. Acting on impulse, she picked up the deck and began shuffling them.

"Maz put those down right now!" Eras cried, sounding panicked. Or was it strained? She wasn't sure put it might have had something to do with the fact that he was currently holding Nyx in his arms, having caved in and picked him up to carry.

"Don't worry I'll be careful with them." She replied.

"You don't know what they'll…"

Nyx ran over Eras's words. "Pick a card, any card."

"No!" Eras shouted as Mazarine drew the top card.

Before she could move, Nyx had jumped lightly out of Eras's arms, crossed the room and plucked the card right out of her hand. "Jack of hearts, huh?" he said as he took the rest of the cards out of her hand, winking at her as he did so.

All Maz could do was stare as the man she'd first seen seemed to melt and reform. Instead of the dazed blond she'd seen earlier, a man with bright red hair and mischievous blue eyes stood before her. Even his clothing had changed. His top hat was now a grey fedora with a bright blue feather in it and his rumpled clothes were now blue-grey suit and black under-shirt without a tie.

"What just happened?" Mazarine asked, dazed.

Eras ran a hand over his face. "I told you to put them down."

Sweeping his hat off and bowing just as the man in her memories had, Nyx grabbed and kissed her hand. "My name is Nyx. I'm a card-shifter."

"A what?"

"He made it up. He changed appearance and personality when you draw one of the cards from his deck so he calls himself a card shifter." Erasmus replied, after drawing a deep breath and regaining his calm. "Now come on. We've got a bet to finish."

Nyx grinned. "You're going down."

"We'll just see about that." Erasmus replied, following Nyx out of the apartment, leaving the still shocked Maz to shut the door behind them.

"What kind of mage are you? I've never heard of a card-shifter." Mazarine asked, finally rousing herself as they reached the bar.

"I'm me." Nyx replied with a wink.

Maz opened her mouth to ask for more clarity when she saw Erasmus shaking his head. Frowning she followed the two as they took a table at the back and summoned the waitress.

"Not you two again." The waitress cried in mock horror as she approached their table. "And look you brought a new friend. That's nice."

"Do you have two full bottles of that extreme hot sauce?" Nyx asked.

"Oh no. You two aren't going to drink them are you?"

"That's the bet."

Shaking her head the waitress went into the back to get the hot sauce, leaving the trio alone again.

Mazarine seized her chance. "Nyx do you know anything about a murder four years ago?"

"Which one? There's been a lot of murders. I don't remember specifics."

"A woman and then a few weeks later a man. The man died in a park not so far from here. He'd been stabbed and beaten."

"Why do you want to know?"

Taking a steadying breath, Maz replied. "They were my parents."

"Hmmm. I don't know. My memory is like a sieve sometimes." He replied after a minute's contemplation. He grinned at her and winked. "But if I were to remember anything it would be about the man's business. Yep. That's what I'd remember."

"What about the business?" She asked.

"I don't remember anything."

"But you just said…"
"He said if he remembered. I'd just leave it at that." Erasmus told her. "Ah I see Penwyn with our hot sauce. Remember you have to drink it all first."

Nyx flapped his hand at Eras and within moments the two were sucking the hot sauce back, while the waitress watched them, a mug of beer in each hand. And though Maz spent the whole rest of the night with them, watching them attempt to drink one another under the table, Nyx told her nothing more and she was forced to go home almost completely empty-handed and fuzzy-headed because they'd insisted she drink as well. As she flopped down onto her bed, Mazarine promised to find out everything she could about this Nyx character. Especially since he was a mage.