A knock at the door distracted them, and then Jenkins put his head in. "I just got a call from Captain Johnston. There's an emergency, and we need to put pedal to the medal."
"Understood," Mathew frowned, pulling his card out of his pocket. "Lily, please, call me."
She took the card, shaking, and nodded. "I will," she promised.
Mathew stood, nodding to her. "Goodbye, Lily. Be in good health until we meet again." His blessings didn't hold the power they used to, but that wasn't the point, really. The point was to bless her because it was the right thing to do, not because it would actually help her. Trying to help her was the first step to convincing her she deserved help.
"So, what's up?" he asked as he followed Jenkins back to the car.
"Magical emergency at Johnston Middle School," Jenkins grunted. "A new emergent lost control and hurt a few people. Nothing serious, but they want you to contain the situation."
"By which you mean take charge of the emergent," Mathew nodded. "Figures. What kind of 'lost control' are we looking at?"
"Mild burns and lacerations on a few kids, some kind of playground accident," Jenkins shrugged. "Magic is dangerous."
Mathew nodded, frowning. "Why?"
"Excuse me?" Jenkins complained as they got in the car. "I would think that it's obvious why magic is dangerous."
"Why did he burn the kids?" Mathew sighed. "An emergent doesn't just randomly decide to burn someone when he doesn't even know he has his powers. There is a reason why he started using his powers."
"Oh," Jenkins frowned. "No one said anything."
"Well, how far is it?" Mathew asked.
"Not far, just a few minutes drive," Jenkins told him as he pulled out.
"Alright," Mathew nodded, then pulled a chain out of one of his coat's many pockets. Fingering slowly along the chain, he frowned as he tested each individual link. "The timing really could be better here," he complained. "I should be more careful doing this."
"Doing what?" Jenkins asked, glancing over at the chain.
"I gave Lily a protective pendant," Mathew smiled. "What I didn't mention, because she didn't ask, is that the protections include an alarm that will signal me, personally, if she's attacked or otherwise in need. Unfortunately, I need to identify which of the unused links she's become attuned to so I can recognize the alarm when it comes in. It's highly active right now, but that's the only indicator. Once I give the kid a similar pendant I won't be able to figure out which of them attuned to which link. That is not a desirable situation- Ah!" Mathew smiled as he felt one of the links buzz under his questing fingers. Lifting it up, he observed the feather-fine tracings of runes, his eyes quickly tracking across the fine filigree of metal to find the markings that identified the link specifically. Pulling out a notebook and a pen from two of his own pockets, he made several quick marks in the notebook before putting everything away.
"We're here," Jenkins grunted. "You want to take lead?"
"I am the DPCR liaison for the area," Mathew smiled. "That's my job."
"Any orders?" Jenkins asked as he opened his door.
"Not for now," Mathew shrugged. The office stood out, and Mathew started walking. "Just back me up."
At the door, they were met by the principal, or at least Mathew assumed that was her job. "Scandalous, just scandalous," she shook her head. "If you can't control his kind, they should be-"
Mathew could have picked the child out of a crowd with his eyes closed. The poor boy practically radiated his misery as he sat alone in a corner, shunned. The sheer strength of his power scared Mathew. Not only was the boy incredibly strong, stronger than Mathew had been at the height of his power, but he was turning that power inward. So convinced that he was evil, that what he'd done was unjustifiable, that he was preparing to call the fire down upon his own flesh. Mathew knelt down to bring his head level with the boy, and smiled gently. "My name is Mathew," he introduced himself. "What's yours?"
The boy looked up, tears still dripping down his face. "Alex."
"Hey Alex," Mathew said softly. "Things aren't going so well, huh?"
Alex sniffed, and wiped a few tears away. "I hurt someone."
"I heard," Mathew nodded. "I need you to do something for me, okay?" Alex nodded, and Mathew took hold of the kid's hand and held it out. "I want you to imagine a flame, a small one, in the palm of your hand. It doesn't burn you, it's simply there, the heat caressing you harmlessly." Mathew made his voice regular, even, almost hypnotic as he guided the energies the boy was stirring.
"See the flame. Feel the flame. It's there. It's real. See it. Feel it. See it, feel it. See it, feel it," Mathew repeated himself over and over, as the boy stared intently into his palm. Mathew slowly gathered energy in the spot, feeding it into a small, barely sensed ball of flame. Suddenly, as if emboldened by his own success, Alex began feeding the ball himself. Rapidly it turned into a perfect, orange sphere of liquid fire, heat radiating away from it with a strangely harmless force. Constrained by the boy's will, it was hot but not burning. "Good job," Mathew smiled. "Now, I want you to take your fear, and feed it into the flame. Let the flame purify that fear, your pain, and turn it into strength."
Trickles of blue and green began to shoot through the sphere, and then it turned an ugly, dingy blue. "Good job. Now, let the energy dissipate on it's own. Hold the flame in your hand, but let it's power leech away through the heat." The temperature in the room slowly rose as the ball dissipated. "Good job," he reassured the boy. "Now, you and I are going to go outside and have a talk in a few minutes. For now, I want you to repeat what you just did, only I want you to remember what happened earlier. Where you scared, frightened, angry, surprised? Feed that emotion into the flames. Let them purify your soul."
"Alright," Alex smiled softly, looking up into Mathew's eyes. "Thanks, mister."
"You're welcome," Mathew smiled back as he stood. The boy's head dropped again as he stared into his cupped palm, calling another ball of fire together. Mathew waited for a few moments until the trance was complete. "Now," he said in a grim voice, "I have some adults to chew out." He turned to face the principal. "Are you an idiot? Did you not bother to read any of the mailers sent to educational institutions?"
"Excuse me?" she demanded.
"You are the principal, correct?" Mathew double-checked his assumption.
"Yes, and that boy is a menace-" she began to rant.
"Enough!" Mathew augmented his bellow with a trace of magic, amplifying both noise and the psychological effect. "Did you, or did you not, receive an informational packet in the mail detailing, amongst other things, both the steps to detect emerging magi and dealing with explosive emergence?"
"I may have received a few things in the mail," she answered disdainfully, "but they're hardly important. It's your job-"
"Fool," Mathew didn't need magic to augment his voice, not when razor-sharp derision cut to the bone without it. "Incompetent fool."
"How dare you?" the principal screeched. "I'll have your badge!"
"You will not," Mathew drew himself up to his full height. "You almost got this entire school leveled, destroyed in a burst of spellfire strong enough to scour every building from it's foundations. Instead of reassuring this boy, comforting him, or at the very least helping him regain control of himself while you waited for competent aid, you berated him! You yelled, and screamed, and drove home the point that he was 'evil', that he was 'dirty', and that he deserved every punishment coming his way."
"He does!" she screeched. "Him and all you devil-spawn!"
"Enough", Mathew augmented his voice, deepening the bellow into a deep basso and strengthening it until the room shook with it's force. "You either failed to read the informational mailers or you ignored their contents. Either way, under the Paranormal Regulation Act I am empowered to order your arrest for gross negligence. Officer, if you would be so kind?"
"You sure you want to do this?" Jenkins asked, raising an eyebrow. "Nothing really-"
"Officer Jenkins," Mathew made his voice cold, "I have ordered this women placed under arrest."
Jenkins lips compressed to a tight line. "If that's the way you want to play it," his nostrils flared with anger. "Ma'am, I am placing you under arrest. You have the right to remain silent, anything you say-"
Mathew turned around to face Alex, tuning out the rest of the Miranda warning. The flame in the boy's hand was burning a deep, sullen red with flickers of green showing through. Mathew nodded, and with a tendril of thought broke the trance the boy had fallen into. "Release the energy, slowly. Carefully."
Alex nodded, and the fire sputtered for a few moments before fading away. Mathew frowned in surprise as he realized the heat hadn't risen. "What did you do with the energy you gathered?"
The boy shrugged. "Mom always said I should put stuff back where I got it."
Mathew smiled. "Well, I'm surprised you thought of it, but it is the 'right' way to do something like that. You did good."
"Thanks," the kid smiled a little. "But I still hurt Billy earlier."
"What happened?" Mathew asked.
Alex's head dropped. "We were playing ball at lunch," he whispered.
"Hey, look at me," Mathew pulled his chin up. "We're going to deal with this. Don't go all turtle on me and pull in on yourself. You didn't mean to hurt anyone, and we're going to fix it."
Alex nodded. "Alright. We were playing basketball. Billy -- he's a big kid -- came in and stole the ball from us. I got so angry about it."
"What happened then?" Mathew prompted when Alex faltered.
"I got angry, told him to give the ball back. He refused," Alex shook his head. "I started shouting at him, and something... broke. Something inside me. All of a sudden everything was red, and I just wanted the ball back and somehow the red and the ball merged..." he shook his head. "Next thing I knew the ball exploded. I remember throwing my hands up, protecting everyone except Billy."
"Protecting them how?" Mathew asked. "Think carefully, don't actually do it, just think about how you did it."
"I lifted my hands-" Alex shook his head. "Well, I did, but there was something else. The hands just helped with it. They made it easier," Alex shook his head.
"They gave you a focus," Mathew suggested. "It wasn't the act of raising your hands that was important, it was just that you associated that with what you were trying to do, you forced the desired result into the act."
"Yeah," Alex nodded. "It was blue, not red. A wall, curving around all of us except Billy. I had to put it in front of him, between me and the ball."
"You shielded 'all of us'?" Mathew asked, eyes narrowing. The report had mentioned multiple injuries.
"Yeah," Alex nodded. "It was easy, just a flip of my wrist-" A curving blue rampart flickered in front of Alex as he demonstrated "Woah!"
"It's alright," Mathew grounded the energies for him. "We'll work on your control later."
"It was just like that, only stronger. Lots stronger," Alex stared at his hands. "Am I going to do that all the time?"
Mathew laughed. "Probably not," he shrugged. "If the association grows to strong-" Mathew sighed. "I'm getting too technical. If you constantly use the shield every time you make that motion, you will start to do it out of habit. That's something that training should help you control, but sometimes the association grows strong enough that it's easier just to train yourself not to make the motion when you don't want to cast the spell."
"So... yes and no?" Alex smiled.
"About right," Mathew smiled, nodding. "Now, other than Billy, was anyone else hurt?"
"No," Alex shook his head firmly. "I protected them!"
"Good for you," Mathew mock-punched him on the shoulder. "Now, I need you to concentrate on what it feels like when you start moving energies around. Find the sensation, and then disassociate yourself from it. Feel the gap between you and that sensation as if it were real. Know what your power feels like, and then don't feel that way."
"Okay," Alex frowned. "I'll try."
"That's all I'm asking for," Mathew nodded. "It's a mental trick to keep yourself from doing something by accident. You'll need to practice it until you do it automatically whenever you aren't trying to cast a spell, at least for now."
Mathew forced himself to his feet. Jenkins had already left the room, so Mathew wandered over to the desk labeled 'Secretary'. "Hello ma'am," he nodded his head.
"Magi," she nodded politely. "With Principal Claybourne out, I suppose I can provide you some assistance."
"You mean you couldn't if she where here?" Mathew quipped.
"Her orders regarding you were quite specific, I was to make sure you talked to her and only her," the secretary's eyes flicked to the doorway. "With her gone, I suspect she'd want you to talk to the Head of the District. She wasn't clear about that. Perhaps I should direct you to the vice principal, instead. Certainly not to any of the teachers, unfortunately, you mustn't disturb their classrooms."
"What exactly are you saying?" Mathew asked.
"I'm not saying anything," she smiled. "I didn't say anything then, and I'm not saying anything now. I'm not allowed. And there isn't a truthspell in the world that could prove otherwise, even if they used them -- which they don't."
"For someone who isn't saying anything, you've managed to be very helpful," Mathew nodded. "Could you tell me where I might find Billy, the boy who was injured?"
"All of those who were injured are back in their classrooms and are not to be disturbed," the secretary informed him. "Except for Billy Meyers, of course, who is waiting for an ambulance. His injuries are too severe to allow you to disturb him, so please do not try and enter the nurses office."
"And which room is the nurses office?" Mathew asked.
"I'm sure the vice principal would be glad to direct you if you asked her," the secretary told him. "Her office is down that wing, third door on the left, just past the nurse's office."
"Thank you," Mathew nodded. "For everything you didn't say."
"Your welcome," she smiled. "I certainly hope you successfully deal with all aspects of this situation." She hesitated. "Is it true that you can tell if an injury was magical in nature?"
"Why do you ask?" Mathew frowned.
She shrugged. "There was something of an argument about it a while back. I thought you could, the principal and vice principal didn't. Some of the teachers weighed in as well, but they were more focused on ethics than abilities."
"Ah," Mathew nodded as the phone began to ring. "Well, thank you."
"Have a very nice day," she inclined her head before picking up the phone. "Johnston Middle School, front office, Alice Smith speaking, how may I help you?"
Mathews walked around the desk and counted doors. Counselor's office first, and then the nurses. The vice principal's office was right past the nurses office. Smiling, he opened the door to the nurses office.
"The ambulance will be here shortly, Billy," an elderly woman reassured the injured boy. Mathew probably wouldn't have called for an ambulance to treat him, but he couldn't blame the instinct.
"Excuse me," Mathew broke in. "May I examine the child's injuries? I'm here to deal with the situation."
"Oh good, a police detective," the woman, presumably the nurse, sighed. "Please, do. I've done what I can, but he needs better supplies than I have."
"I can tell," Mathew sighed. "Jenkins!" he bellowed. He didn't really expect a response. "If you head outside, there's a four door Saturn parked in front of the entrance, my partner is probably there. Ask him to get you the medical kit, would you?"
"I'll be right back," the nurse smiled before trotting out the door.
"Don't hurt me," the boy cringed away from Mathew as he approached.
"Why would I hurt you?" Mathew asked.
"Oh," Billy relaxed. "You mean I look hurt enough to deal with the witch?"
Mathew's jaw tightened. So, that was the game. "You know you aren't supposed to lie to the cops, right?"
"Yeah," Billy nodded. "But the principal said-"
"Tell me what happened," Mathew cut him off, slipping his phone out. Urgent: delay the nurse, he texted Jenkins. "The truth."
"I was on the playground, playing around," Billy flinched as Mathew picked one of his hands and started examining.
"Don't worry, I'm not here to get you in trouble for bullying," Mathew reassured him.
Billy looked away. "I took the ball from Alex. I wasn't going to keep it, I just wanted to play with them, and they wouldn't let me."
"Don't bother with excuses boy," Mathew growled. "What happened?"
"The ball went boom," Billy hissed as Mathew turned his hand over. "That hurts."
"I can tell," Mathew nodded. "You weren't hurt that badly, were you?"
Billy shook his head. "My hands got burned, and I got some cuts on my face, I'd say that's pretty bad!"
"But not this bad," Mathew's gesture took in the boy's entire state.
"They said they had to do it," Billy whispered. "We have to punish Alex for being a bad boy, and this is the only way to do it."
"Listen to me," Mathew shook his head, "if the only way to do something is to lie to the authorities, do you really think it's the right thing to do? Are you supposed to lie to cops? To judges, once this goes to court?"
Billy frowned. "I don' wanna get in trouble."
"And you won't Billy," the nurse hustled back in, Jenkins hot on her heels. 'Sorry,' he mouthed when Mathews looked back. "Just tell the nice officers the truth, just like we discussed."
"Yes, the truth," Jenkins nodded. "Tell Detective Jenkins the truth. The whole truth, and nothing but the truth."
Billy swallowed. "Please," he begged, glancing at the nurse.
"I swear to you, the truth won't harm you," Mathew smiled. "I'll protect you."
"Protect him?" the nurse asked, suddenly nervous. "Why would he need protecting?"
"She did it," Billy whispered.
"What's that," Jenkins asked, "speak up."
"She did it!" Billy pointed at the nurse. "She said we had to punish the witch, make sure he got what he des-"
"Shut up!" the nurse screeched, reaching out to attack the boy. That was all the evidence Mathew needed, and all the cause required to take decisive action. Grabbing hold of her arm, he twisted around and redirected her forward momentum sideways, right into the counter. As he completed the move he added an upward force on the arm, forcing her to bend over the counter, screeching in agony as her arm felt like it was being ripped out of it's socket.
"Officer Jenkins, perhaps you would care to do the honors?" Mathew asked.
"I am placing you under arrest for assault of a minor," Jenkins sighed. "You have the right to remain silent," he began to recite the Miranda warning.
Mathew sighed. "I'm sorry you got hurt, Billy." He shook his head. "The people who told you they had to do this, they let their hatred run away from them. Remember that, when you start hating them. They let their anger, their belief that another was wrong, consume their minds until there wasn't another thought in them other than they were right and he was wrong."
"It doesn't matter why they did it," Billy sniffed. "It hurts!"
"But not as bad as it did a minute ago," Mathew smiled. "Right?"
Billy opened his mouth to protest, then closed it. "Not really."
"Magic injured you a little, and now magic is helping you with the pain," Mathew suggested. "Who is it that caused the most pain?"
Billy glanced over to where Jenkins was man-handling the nurse out, much to the surprise of the now present vice-principal. "They did," Billy whispered.
"And I am going to deal with that too," Mathew smiled. "As soon as I've made sure you're going to be alright."
Slipping his cellphone out again, he called 911. "Hello, I'm Magi Trent, with DCPR. I need to check if an ambulance has in fact been dispatched to Johnston Middle School..."