Ace sneaked past the guard, sidling against a nearby wall. She peeked around the corner and saw two armed guards heading in her direction. The woman glanced upward, noticing an alternative path. She performed a wall jump, entering the vent above her. Ace crawled around for five minutes before locating the main production line.
“Sneaky, sneaky,” the former hero murmured, observing through the thin slits.
Workers in orange mechanic coveralls huddled around ten conveyor belts, each fitted with production line equipment at various spots. Nondescript masks flew out of a plastic tube which was connected to a large machine in the back. The employees then modified each individual mask, taking a total of ten steps in total. Once completed, the final product was deposited into a big cardboard box.
“Hey, is that a mouse down here?” a worked exclaimed, pointing at a darting object.
“Shit, the boss won’t be happy if there’s any contamination. Shut down everything! And find that stupid thing,” another worker directed, shouting out additional orders.
The mouse squeaked multiple times, crawling underneath all the machines. Five workers scrambled around, luring the small animal over, but failed at catching its attention. Ace leaped downward into the production area, surprising all the employees.
“Who’s the foreman here?” Ace questioned with a courteous tone.
All the workers exchanged looks before pressing a button on their uniforms. Ace shrugged, standing still, awaiting a response.
“Why isn’t the alarm ringing?” one worker inquired.
“Oh, your precious panic button isn’t working as expected?” Ace asked, picking up a mask from the assembly line.
“Don’t you dare touch that!” a worker shouted, firing off a shot at the woman.
Ace remained still, amused by the man’s actions. The bullet never entered her vicinity and instead struck a nearby worker in the shoulder. He shot again, flying off trajectory once more. This bullet hit the mask producing machine, making a dent in the exterior.
“Wish it didn’t have to come to this,” Ace lamented, dashing forward.
She swatted away workers with ease, sending them flying into nearby machinery. Only a selected few fought back but were dispatched. The woman finished clearing the area in a minute and finally found the unconscious foreman. She looted a key and ID card from his possession.
“Let’s see what you’re up to,” Ace said, sliding the ID card on a card reader.
The SIU captain knelt, scanning the production line area with his magic detector. The screen displayed trace amounts of magic with no matches to any known users. He then inspected the numerous knocked out workers, finding severe bruising, but no other serious injuries.
“Captain, the analysis team combed this entire place. They found no signs of tampering with the machinery. There is a loose vent cover but nothing significant on it to determine a suspect,” one of his subordinates reported.
“Of course. What about the offices, find anything useful there?” he inquired.
“Whoever broke in took almost everything. They did leave behind some documentation, mostly order receipts and signed contracts. I’ve already made copies and sent them back to the office,” his subordinate answered.
“Good. I’ll keep looking around. Regroup with everyone else and meet me at the entrance in fifteen minutes,” the captain ordered.
His subordinate nodded, heading off to a different room. The captain went through all the empty boxes, discovering nothing of interest. He looked underneath everything, making sure all possibilities were accounted for. The captain eventually located a mousetrap containing a small key. He triggered it, recovering the item.
“An engraving?” the captain observed, seeing faded characters on it.
“Sir, you might want to take a look at this,” another subordinate advised, calling him over.
The captain followed his fellow SIU officer up a set of stairs and eventually into an office. All the cabinet drawers were pulled open, all its content either stolen or taken into evidence. The SIU officer handed his superior a bagged item.
“An invitation? No, there’s more to it than that,” the captain said, finding fancy golden writing and a broken seal.
“Preliminary analysis indicates medium level magic emanating from it. However, these levels have decreased at a constant rate. The analysis team has no idea what’s going on,” the subordinate revealed.
“They might not know what’s going on, but I know someone who does. I’ll have my source look at it,” the captain said.
The SIU captain returned to his vehicle, calling the central Crossroads office. He requested they pass on a message to the Gatekeeper. He recalled the key in the mousetrap and included a description of it as well. After hanging up, he leaned back in his seat, staring at the roof his vehicle. This was getting complicated now, especially if Tess and her people became involved. They usually handled smaller jobs for the Special Investigations Unit, but he suspected this ongoing case would turn interdimensional and concern multiple parties. He sighed and exited his car. Nothing else to do but keep on digging.