After nipping back to the station, Pierce began researching facts about the Cornerstone:
The Cornerstone was designed by the Wizard Scientist, Sunshine, and made so that only he could use it.
Sunshine was a great believer in peace and equality, but when people failed to put their differences aside, he reasoned ‘Why not take difference out of the equation?’
He presented his invention to the High Wizard, explaining it had the power to make everyone the same. The High Wizard was disgusted, describing the stone as ‘the bleach of the gene pool’ and he banned it from use forever.
For years, many people tried to steal the stone, more so than most, the Shape Shifters. They had wanted the stone for financial reasons, it was priceless, and they were greedy.
Pierce grimaced as he read this, clenching the page as if it were personally insulting his family.
Sunshine was last seen with the stone trying to defend it. He attempted to use it, but something unthinkable happened.
It was revealed that Sunshine had made the stone far more powerful than he had realised, and he failed to control it. Whatever spell Sunshine attempted, the stone destroyed him.
He vanished on the spot, and was never seen again.
Months later, it was agreed that the stone be placed in a history museum in respect of Sunshine's work.
Pierce leaned back in his chair, and breathed out.
So you could only use the stone if you were a wizard!
That was good news for Bill Bayleaf, and Pierce patted himself on the back.
But there were pieces missing to this puzzle.
Who was the real thief? How had they left behind no evidence? And what had happened to the wizard Sunshine?
His own invention had destroyed him, but to be fair, it had powers unheard of.
Most people would say 'Poor bloke! He had such a great idea!', but Pierce reckoned he’d been naive.
Had he really believed turning everyone human would end conflict?
Who would change their image to suit other peoples’ ideas of what was acceptable!
And what about identity? Would you recognise yourself in the mirror?
Pierce glanced at the mirror across from him. Being a vampire, he had no reflection looking back. Hmm ...
Maybe Sunshine had a point after all. Would he, Pierce, accept the offer of becoming human?
To his surprise, he found he had neither a 'Yes' nor 'No' answer.
The cell door opened, and golden sunshine flooded in.
Bill shielded his eyes as Detective Pierce Coldshore stood, framed, in the doorway.
“Hi Bill, I'm here to let you out,” Pierce said, kindly.
“What?” Bill said, groggily.
“There was no evidence. It’s plain that you’re innocent. You’re free to leave,”
Bill cricked his back and groaned.
The Detective frowned, slightly, “Are you alright?”
Bill levered himself up from the bed and nodded, but he didn't look alright.
He looked exhausted, and there were shadows under his eyes.
Slightly more concerning, Pierce noticed, he'd been shedding in the night, for brown hairs patterned his white mattress.
Pierce reckoned it must be stress.
He led Bill outside the station and onto the edge of the station’s car park, but before Bill could wander off, Pierce caught him by the shoulder.
Bill jumped and stared at him.
“Whoa, relax Bill,” Pierce said, putting both hands on his shoulders now, “I believe you,”
“I know you couldn't have stolen the Cornerstone,”
“Really?" Bill asked, warily.
“Absolutely. I've been learning about it and, quite frankly, it's ... impossible!”
“So’s this city,” Bill said, unhappily, as a gang of kids across the road began pointing at him and sniggering.
“Oi!” Pierce snarled at them, “Back off! Don’t make me report you!”
The kids threw Pierce insolent looks and slunk away.
Pierce looked back at Bill whose eyes were downcast.
“What’s up? They’re just kids, Bill, they’re all bark, no bite,”
“I’ve been more than barked at, lately,” Bill replied, opening his sore palms, “and I’d rather keep my soft centre than develop a thick skin,”
Pierce half-smiled, approvingly. He hadn’t heard of that approach to rising above the bullies.
“How long have you lived here?” the vampire asked the troll.
“Three months, now. You?”
“Years, and things haven’t changed a jot – well ... I got older,”
Bill looked at a sign behind Pierce that read ‘Use Protect-o-Ray’ so your kids feel safe at night.’
“I'm so tired of politics,” he sighed, rubbing his eyes again.
“No you're not, you're just tired. Exhausted even. Oh my god, is that normal?”
“What?” Bill asked, looking at himself where Bill was pointing.
Pierce had brushed one of Bill’s arms with his hand, and earned himself a rather brown hand. Bill was shedding hairs.
“No, it’s not,” Bill answered, concerned now, “I shouldn’t shed until the spring. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s stress brought on by all this Cornerstone business. It’s doing my head in,”
He rubbed his forehead, frowning.
“You got a head-ache too?” Pierce asked, “Exhaustion, I hope – Here, allow me,”
He flagged Bill down a taxi for, and they shook hands.
“You take care,” Pierce said, solemnly.
“You too,” Bill echoed and got in the car.
Pierce glanced at the taxi driver who touched his cap to him.
Pierce smiled and nodded back. Finally! Someone with manners.
As the car drove off, the Detective returned to the station.
Over the next hour, Pierce had a long and circular conversation with his colleagues.
“Only a wizard can use the stone, therefore only a wizard could have stolen it,” a witch said, for what felt like the hundredth time.
“And what evidence do we have for that?” someone argued, “The word of a troll who -”
“Person!” Pierce exploded, making everyone jump, “He's a person! Can we please, please keep race out of the equation?”
“Alright, Detective,” an elf said, soothingly, “I'm on his side with that one,” she told them all, “We’re not getting anywhere. Anyhow, there's no proof the stone’s useless to anyone but wizards,”
“What do you mean?” Pierce asked her.
“I mean does it take magic to use it? We can't know that until it's used, and Sunshine never got to use it for what it was made for,”
“Thank you ... Esme,” Pierce said, reading her badge.
“You’re welcome,” she answered, smiling.
She must be a trainee. He hadn't seen her before.
“So tell us, Detective,” Esme went on, “where do we go from here? Who's the most likely person in the city to want something priceless? Think!”
It was all they had to go on. They had no more suspects, no evidence, and no more witnesses.
Pierce thought carefully, but there was only one answer to that question.
“I'm going to go double agent again,” he said, getting up abruptly.
“Hey! Hold your horses, Pierce! Where do you plan to start?” Esme asked.
“The Cornerstone’s priceless. Presuming money’s the motivation, I’m starting with Fae’s greediest resident,”
They all gave him nervous looks.
“The Smouldering Mountain?” a red-haired elf said, “You be careful, Pierce, don't go biting off more than you can chew,”
Pierce grinned back at him, “With these teeth? I wouldn't dream of it!”
The Smouldering Mountain, or Smoulder, was a dragon. He was beautiful as he was powerful, and cunning, for he was a criminal mastermind.
It was Smoulder’s genius that made him so hard to catch, and so wealthy.
A billionaire, in fact.
Pierce often feared that Smoulder knew he was the police, and was merely toying with him.
Lucky vampires didn’t sweat.
Tonight, Pierce bravely approached the dragon’s home.
It was a manor with a blood-red roof, towering doors, and intricate designs round the tall windows. Either side of the gate stood two dragon statues made of green Jasmine. Their eyes were made of rubies, and appeared to watch your every move.
The vampire was let in by two hulking ogres wearing tailor-made black suits.
They led him in through the gigantic, mahogany front doors, and down a long hall.
Pierce grimaced slightly at the walls.
They were bristling with taxidermy. Pierce hated taxidermy.
The hall had a red velvet carpet that ran the entire length of the polished floor.
When they reached the far door, one of the ogres raised a rocky hand.
“Wait here,” he rumbled.
Pierce did. Although his nerves were jangling, he looked cool as a cucumber on holiday. A gift to all vampires.
He sauntered, gently, back and forth.
The ogre reappeared and scowled at him.
“Mr. Mountain will see you now,” he growled.
“Why, thank you,” Pierce twinkled, and glided past.
The door closed behind Pierce and he spotted Smoulder at once.
You couldn’t miss him really. He was emerald green with claws that would make an eagle faint, and scales that no knife would penetrate.
Smoulder was seated at the head of a long, wooden dining table. It had enough meat on it to feed a small village.
Pierce spread his arms wide, “Smoulder,” he purred, charmingly, “a privilege, as always,”
He strode towards him.
“Pierce Coldshore, my old friend,” Smoulder replied as they clasped hands, or rather, Pierce put his hand inside Smoulder’s huge paw.
“Whyever did you lose touch?” Smoulder asked, “All that business with the Cornerstone and all,”
For a split second, Pierce thought the game was up, then Smoulder let him go and he realised this was light conversation.
All the same, if anyone who knew anything, even before the Press, it was Smoulder.
“Don't tell me,” Pierce chuckled, lightly punching the dragon’s shoulder, “You've got it?”
“Ah!” the dragon waved his paw, modestly, “As much as I love my gold, Pierce, there are ... other things ...” His voice trailed away, then he came back, “Where are my manners? Please, sit down and join me,”
Pierce bravely at the chair nearest the dragon as the emerald beast devoured a hunk of meat.
While Smoulder chewed, Pierce helped himself to a bowl of blood.
“What do you mean by ‘other things’, if you don’t mind me asking?” Pierce asked.
Smoulder picked something up from the chair on his other side and placed it in front of Pierce.
To his surprise, it was a copy of the history book about the Cornerstone.
The dragon opened it up and thumbed through to the correct page.
“Read this passage here,” he instructed.
“Many people tried to steal the stone,” Pierce read, “more so than most, the Shape Shifters. They had wanted the stone for financial reasons, it was priceless-“
“and they were greedy,” Smoulder read with him, grimacing at the book.
Pierce waited for an explanation.
“There’s an insult for everyone,” Smoulder muttered, “and us more than most, Pierce. That is why you’re my friend. We monsters must keep together, or we have no one. I haven’t forgotten your history, and neither you of mine,”
“Of course not,” Pierce said, seriously, “except, I don’t see what we have to do with Shape Shifters,” he said, waving at the open book.
“That,” the dragon said, slowly, his eyes moving to Pierce’s bowl, “is because you don’t know the half of it,”
The hairs on the back of Pierce’s neck were prickling. Smoulder didn’t usually talk like this.
There was something funny going on here.
His eye fell on the bowl before him. What was it doing here?
Smoulder didn’t drink blood ... but vampires did.
Smoulder had known he was coming!
The dragon saw he had figured it out, and he lunged forward, jaws gaping, and broke Pierce's neck.