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(1-Huntsville) As a promising intern for the detective agency, Mystery Case Files, rooky gumshoe Darnell Barrett was assigned to the sleepy town of Huntsville, Texas, where he led the investigations of a rash of minor offenses that nonetheless had been baffling the local police. Most were unrelated individuals acting on various impulses and vices, but he did eventually uncover a crime ring known only as S.T.A.I.N. By the time he found and busted the organization’s crime boss, the agency rewarded his efforts with the position of “master detective”.

(2-Prime Suspects) Having shown impressive drive, creativity, and cunning in Huntsville, Master Detective Agent Barrett’s assistance was requested by the FBI agent in charge of recovering the stolen Queen’s Hope, a fabulous 800 carat blue diamond on loan from Britain's royal family for Capital City's "Sparkle Daze" annual mineral convention. A list of possible suspects had already been determined. It was up to the Master Detective to determine the whereabouts of each suspect and, from the possibly guilty ones, ferret out the actual culprit, arrest him or her, and recover the diamond. Upon successful completion, the FBI supervisor he worked with bestowed the title of honorary Federal Agent in gratitude for his work, plus he was told that the Queen of England was impressed enough to request his assistance with "a most mysterious and puzzling matter…"

(3-Ravenhearst) Sometime later, Darnell received a package with a very old diary missing all but its first page and a letter from the queen herself (“yes, seriously”) asking the Master Detective to take over investigation of an old mystery that had so far baffled her other agents. So Darnell traveled to Northern England, just outside of the quiet seaside town of Blackpool to a sprawling, dilapidated – and if he were honest, really creepy – estate known as Ravenhearst Manor. Darnell combed the cluttered, decaying manor, puzzling out complex locks on some of the doors and ignoring the whistling wind that sometimes sounded like someone whispering to him in the distance. Throughout the manor, he slowly dug up page after moldering page of the diary and began to piece together a terrible story.

Over a hundred years ago, a young American woman, Emma Ravenhearst, had caught the eye of a local man by the name of Charles Dalimar but, for reasons, turned down his marriage proposal, only for him to build a beautiful manor that he named in her honor. When she got word from her family that her father was gravely ill, she made plans to depart England to see him before he passed. But she never made it. On the eve of her departure, by the end of a farewell dinner with her friend and one-time suitor, Emma felt faint and ill, and Charles graciously let her stay in his home until she recovered. But mysteriously and despite the best efforts of the local doctors, her condition only worsened with time. Meanwhile, Charles grew more and more secretive, and Emma discovered dark and enigmatic books on magic and the occult as he worked obsessively in his workshop. Emma began to suffer nightmares, including one where she was wearing a wedding gown and surrounded by terrible, mysterious energies. Eventually, Charles hired a maid to take care of the further-ailing Emma. Rose Sommerset was a bright light in Emma's ever-dimming world. Rose made a few shocking discoveries of her own in the house, though - mainly a wedding gown in an upstairs wardrobe that perfectly matched the one in Emma's dream and a fully-furnished nursery complete with a crib containing all the letters from Emma's family that she hadn't been receiving. It was also Rose who discovered the truth of Emma's failing health - Charles had been slowly poisoning her! Add that to the fact that he’d taken to shuffling erratically and mumbling to himself incomprehensibly, his madness having completely consumed him. They had to escape!

The last diary page that Darnell found ran his blood cold in his veins. The page was as ancient as the rest, the careful lettering in Emma's now-familiar handwriting . . . but it was dated in the present, the very day that Darnell stood there staring at the page in his hands. Emma addressed him directly, stating that she'd been watching him move about the house, and he was her only hope. Her soul had been trapped here all this time, and she begged Darnell to free her, which he did by finally locating a coffin behind a poorly-bricked-up wall in the cellar. Opening it revealed the skeletal corpse of Emma Ravenhearst, wearing the tattered remains of the wedding dress Charles had clothed her in after murdering her. Doing so also freed her spirit.

The investigation left Darnell shaken, but he was also glad, having helped that poor, tormented young woman find peace at last. And he was able to report back to Her Majesty the successful resolution of the case. His work in doing so was exemplary enough that the queen awarded him an honorary position in the Royal Secret Service, with all the powers and privileges the position entailed.

(4-Madame Fate) About a year later, the Master Detective was called back to England, hired by the owner of a traveling carnival. The fortune teller introduced herself as Madame Fate. As Darnell would quickly learn, the woman was the real deal, able to divine hidden secrets and even glimpse clients' futures. What was troubling her so badly, however, was her own future. She'd foreseen her own murder, at midnight of the day that Darnell finally arrived, so he didn't have much time. She suspected one of her carnival workers, all of whom, it seemed, had some beef or other with her. But as time and Darnell's investigation wore on, one by one, he kept finding the carnies dead - first in Fate's crystal ball, and then in person - dying from various mishaps, freak accidents, and even possible suicides, until finally, by midnight, Darnell and Fate were the only ones left. She looked into her crystal ball once more and gasped, both horrified and angry. The one responsible for Fate's death was . . . Darnell!

An ancient, terrible, tormented darkness had followed the Master Detective to Fate's Carnival, wanting Darnell to share in its suffering. Keeping her promise to reveal Darnell's own fate if he helped her find her killer, she and Darnell gazed deeply into the ball once more. Magnifying glasses, a diary, and a raven appeared to him, followed by what might have been a manor of some kind just beginning to resolve from the mists. But before he could get a clear look at the vision, Madame Fate's concentration broke with a horrific, dying scream. Darnell looked up to Fate slumped over her table with a foul shadow filling the space behind her chair. The dark specter accused Darnell in a raspy, male voice. "By what right do you invade my home and take that which is MINE?" The creature warned that Darnell might have taken his first love, but he would never, EVER have his true love, his rose.

Shocked, Darnell found a payphone and called a number he'd been given once, reaching the queen directly. Yes, SERIOUSLY, she asserted when, in his shock, he questioned it before he could catch himself. And she was relieved to hear from him, having been desperately trying to reach him. Her sources had reported that something most dreadful was afoot at Ravenhearst Manor. It seemed that, when Darnell freed Emma's spirit, he may also have released her vengeful killer! All Darnell could say was "I know." The queen ordered him to return there at once and look into things, but he didn't even really get a chance to respond before the shadow was approaching him, rapidly overtaking the phone booth. With a cry, he only barely managed to escape to safety, losing the creature in his flight.

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Special Agent Darnell Barrett, Master Detective

August 2017

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