The Murderer Of Crows.
A work in progress. In the Kingdom of Ith, the war has been over a while, and in the hopes of holding peace and keeping power the old magics are slowly being made illegal. When an assassination attempt is made on a visiting foreign dignitary. That peace is threatened. The dignitary in question requests a certain investigator be put on the case. One Bandit Cain, former spy, Investigator, and current prisoner of the Ith dungeon.
Teamed with Vrash, a young gifted Investigator dedicated to the protection of Ith. The two must discover the true motives behind the assassination attempt. Whilst Vrash tries to control Cain. And he successfully makes that as difficult as possible. All set in an uptight Elven kingdom, reaching for modernity, a world without magic, and to deny its own seedy underbelly.
Ok, but seriously, this is an attempt at detective noir story in a fantasy setting. Fourth draft, and the crime competition seemed a perfect excuse to upload it. I would love some feedback.
“Nevertheless I'm glad you came. We have many things to discuss. I'm not sure how long you might want to wait. Past the festivities? We have some amount of ceremony to get through.” A slight yet empathic voice. Strongly noted. Bounding in gentle caress of the corridor. Quiet steps accompanying each syllable. Lymen, Vice Councillor of the trade council. Kingdom of Ith. A confident fellow, tall and wide shouldered. But pointing that out amongst present company pointless, they all were. Elves built that way, thin and tall, long flowing hair in refined cascading slips.
Regalia of the most intricate finery washed down all bodies in the procession.
“Lymen, yes. We do have some things to discuss. But I would hate for them to get in front, obstruct any effort you have made for the importance of this meeting.” Fallow, also tall. Displayed with the same hair and strong, long face. Defined cheek bones and pointed noses. Not sharp, but edged. To a standard a chisel couldn't hope to create. The perfection of the mould, the Elven standard.
“The King will be happy with that. He does so enjoy the extravagances.” Lymen nodded. Quite pleased there'd be some pause to it all. A chance to relax. Trade talks not of the most exciting nature. The corridor long, dotted with lights sparsely, the night air outside held onto the heat, even in the robes and flowing vestments. The sweat gathering on forehead and lip. The low lights of the hallway a perfect accompaniment to it all. A slight wind rushing down, enough to provide the slightest relief in each little breath.
The shadows dancing along the walls, following those they belonged to, in between oil lamps showing flickering yellow light. The blue of the moon cast through the long horizontal slats over the open windows.
“Your summers are long here... definitely longer than home.” Fallow rustling in his robes finding the right lay.
“Yes... definitely. You will get used to it hopefully... Reopening the Consulate is the best way to ensure the peace lasts. And as we trade... open more and more arms, hopefully we can see more of each others seasons.” Lymen agreed. Plotting out more.
“Very true my friend. I'm pleased to be here, honoured to be the first resident of the new Petran Consulate in Ith. A great deal of work can be done. I wonder how long it will take to acclimatise.” Fallow shifting under his robes, unsure how long his body would find the heat oppressive.
“I'm sure you will find it as welcoming a home as your own... Tell me Fallow. Before we get to the details. Any plans to bring in some of that famed Petran wheat. I'm not sure there's something more I'm looking forward to. Outside a constant cessation to the bloodshed.” Lymen leaning in a little closer. A tithing hint of taste on his tongue. Lingering sweat and earthy aroma's of breads, grain spirits, baked and brewed from the spongy little seeds.
“Patience. We have stores full, I just have to convince those back home to share. I'm sure if the price is right though, they will gladly sail those boats down.” Fallow grinned. Glistening white teeth amongst his head, clean shaven through lifestyle, not a single hair sprouting from his face in proud nature. But again a pointless thing to make note of, every face there, clear of the cursing appearance of bristling shame.
“That is pleasing to hear.” Lymen cooed.
“Well for that you will have to deal with our trade treasurer. He will be setting prices and negotiating. Far more financially diplomatic than I.” Fallow pointing out the Elve behind him, just as tall. Identically so it appeared as the rest. Sweeping white hair flowing down shoulders, his fine green robes hiding the clutched parchment and scrolls to his chest. The slightest of nods given to the attention he received.
“Ah, that is the man I will have to keep close... very well.” Lymen smiled, the procession carrying on, the stroll through the corridors finding them in the heights of the keep. A stone monument to the success of the empire. Ith, the centre piece of the King's lands. A ruling soft skinned hand over the plains and oceans surrounded.
Fine stone and marble flowing over all surface, polished to shine, a topping piece of masonry that stood as a beacon. Statues lining each corridor, finely appointed leafed in gold to have every detail launch themselves into eye sockets. Try and ignore the glorious riches and prestige of the kingdom of Ith. Impossible.
“How are you finding the Consulate grounds... We made sure they were up to standards, yes?” Lymen inquired after a short break in conversation. The two at the head of the procession leading the talk, whilst all others listened. In quiet respect of the hierarchy.
“They are most lavish, very reminiscent of home, outside the heat of course. We are very pleased. I only hope the Ith delegation in Petra are receiving the same treatment. Your horticulture is of a fine standard. The Slif still flowering... there are some advantages to the heat I must admit.” Fallow replied. Eyes forward. The Slif still sponged into his nostrils, a sweet citrus scent from the flowers carried with him all day. A delight from home thought to have been left behind.
“A surprise yes, we found a store of seeds at the old Consulate. It would appear the old trade delegate shared the same interests as you. I'm glad we could achieve whatever it took to give you a familiar feeling to home.” Lymen gladly agreed. Filling in the details.
Footsteps. Quiet padded trains of feet slipping across the marble, rolling on down the corridor. In the low light and shadows finding the heat did not leave. Not until far later.
“Oran... do you still have our, yes, pass it over.” Fallow requested stepping to his side. Allowing his underling forward, to where he'd been. The rustling amongst the robes and finery invited some consternation and grumbling from Fallow, the item he wanted should definitely have been handed over by now.
Long and thin... sharp, that went without saying. Crafted to the finest of details. Not just shaft, but head as well. Cold steel, forged, fired, beaten and moulded into its requisite shape. With a snap, the rubberised thwack of the horse tendon string being released. A silver flash streaking through yellow and blue light, shining momentarily with different flashes on its journey. Coming to a halt with a thick crack, ribs impacted, split apart in furious violence. A steel bolt, headed by a sharpened daggerous triangle, jutting solid and immovable from Oran's chest. Green robes blushed with blood, thick, flowing liquid in quick pulses soaking into the material.
Lymen's eyes beating forward, following the path of the projectile. Standing deep in the shadows of the corridor, armed with the crossbow, a figure in the distance. Turning on feet quickly, without reloading taking off down the hallway into the depths, flashing in between the black and yellow of the lantern lights.
“Guards.” Lymen commanded. The sprinting officers in his wake already ahead of the order. Sword in hand, giving chase in the deftest of fashion. To his side Fallow's own cadre of protectors swamping their objective, pushing past any obstruction. Swords drawn in quick fashion. Shields raised in protection.
Lymen's doing the same, the remaining guards colliding, slinging into order. Holding steady as they stared down the opposing set. A bustling few moments as blades threatened to touch. The clang and scrape of steel begged to call out. Steel thirsty for what it wanted. So close when a voice raised over the top.
“Hold... Hold...” The bustling group surround Lymen settling as much as the rabble across from them allowed. Lymen pushing forward, edging his way to the front of the pack, but still a handy shield lodged in front of his body.
Down corridor and stair chased the guards, the figure ahead fast and free of armour, held only in black wrappings. A mask curled over head and neck keeping everything in confined rapture. Getting to a set of long stairs. Taking it in two great strides. Tumbling almost at the bottom, but in steady motion corrected itself before carrying on. Winding down another as the guards pursued. Across courtyard, and around the fountain in the evening light. More emerging guards as the alarm went up, causing a swift change of direction from the assailant. Leaping up a low wall, taking the few steps onto the balcony nearby.
Charging through a door at the head of the room, meeting the incoming guards belting down the corridor. A blade pulled from under the silken robes, fending off one strike with a swift slash, carving the blade back, slicing straight through the hide armour wrapping around the guards torso. A groaning whelp letting the guard collapse to the ground. The figure in black dodging another strike before tearing off along the wall. An exit. A hole, the same shadows it had sprung from called desperately. Running wildly along corridor cutting swathes through guards when forced.
Leaping from the top railing of a staircase, there it found more trouble. Ith's elite. Red armour, a deep crimson, painted steel and mithril sword displayed, the wrong exit, the wrong place to land. With a short blade or not. Surrounded by skilled and fearsome force. Turning on itself to try and find a gap in the line. A perfect mixture of long spear and sword guarding the way out.
Calm, the figure in black, righted itself from the lowered position, shifting from the balls of feet to heels, standing flat, and straight. A relaxed motion coursing over body, reaching into the folds of its robes. Plucking from the depths the item, squeezing it tight with fist, pushing it close to chest.
At first the crackle, and hiss. The wisp of smoke curling out from around the fingers wrapped in black material. Then a gush, thick and voluminous choking grey and black vapour, before with another few cracks, a bright spark. Yellow, bursting flame. From intense red to white, rushing, enveloping the figure in black within seconds, catching robe and surrounding rug alight in quick succession. Tearing flames raising high.
As quickly as they'd engulfed and taken the figure in black, they were gone. Sizzling down into the black mark on the carpet. A burnt offering left, only the elite guard there to witness.
“Hold... Fallow... Fallow, please. Listen, this is not time to be rash... we can. We will get to the bottom of this. I trust you. I need you to trust me now. Ith has no part in this killing.” Lymen promised, his face partially obstructed by the shield between him and his target.
Fallow's phalanx of guards keeping him surrounded firmly. Stuck dead centre of a Kingdom that suddenly felt hostile.
“It would seem to be downplaying the situation to refer to this as a simple killing Lymen. With no dramatics this is an attempted assassination!” Fallow commanded, some amount of spit and bile forcing its way in.
“What would we have to gain from this. It may be an attempt. But not from us. Please, be calm. We will keep you safe, we will find out who is responsible. We've come too far to let this ruin our work... haven't we?” Lymen shifting the shield from his face. Stepping from within the gathered wall of flesh.
“I offer you my hand. Please Fallow, trust me.” By his hand the held sword of Fallow's personal guard. A stiff moment waiting. Before finally came the fine mitt, emerging from within. A shake of firm grip as both wondered on the outcome.
“Stand down.” Fallow commanding his guard to down weapons. Lymen doing the same with a wave of his hand.
“Thank you. We will investigate I promise, we have the finest Investigators in the land on off...” Lymen about to reach his point, when he were restrained by Fallow's.
“We will provide our own investigator... as well. I trust this is acceptable.”
“Of course, one of your guards is trained in...” Lymen again getting half way before he were sliced off.
“No... My choice in Investigator is already here. My trust would be questioned deeply, if you refused to allow his help.” Fallow promised, a twisting doubt in his voice curling around.
“I'm sure we can accept whomever you choose my friend. Please who is it?” Lymen appealing for the answer swiftly.
“Bandit Cain.” Fallow announced leaning into the words. Those few short syllables stabbing Lymen straight in the chest.
As lofty and refined as the heights of the castle were, down below, beneath the fine sculpted statues and works of art, the columns lining corridors and neatly stabbing into roofs. The depths were quite the opposite. The image of the pristine and supple luxury they draped themselves in, only for those worth it, that deserved effort.
In the dungeons, the space only those also deserving got to see. An entirely different decor. Lymen's robes, bright colour and refined leaf, nearly glowing in the surrounds. The ducked heads from the guards paying the very certain amount of respect demanded as he marched forward. By his side, one stride behind the following figure. Wrenched from desk and work to the depths. Not an odd journey for an Investigator. Just usually not to retrieve a prisoner. All journeys before to deposit.
“Vice Councillor, I assure you I'm well equipped to deal with this investigation on my own.” She announced from that step behind, a purposeful halt to assure she weren't at the same pace with Lymen.
“I have no doubt of that Investigator Vrash... but you... I, all of us are a victim of politics for the moment. Fallow demands he has his own investigator on the task. So to keep him happy... we must allow it. There's too much at stake to let this turn sour now.” Lymen grumbled. His lofted tone showing all the signs of his frustration.
“We are in the dungeon though Vice Councillor...” Vrash pointed out. The wet walls and dotted torches a sure sign of that. A few whelping cries blistering out in the distance, ensuring none forgot.
“Very astute Vrash... you're eyes are working... and your nose.” Lymen pulling the handkerchief from his robes, wiping the scented cloth straight under his nose. The slight respite enough for a few minutes longer. “Ghastly... how these guards are used to it I don't know.”
“I know I pointed out the obvious Vice Councillor... But this Investigator the Trade Ambassador wants. He's a criminal... Why would he be...” Vrash inquired. Stopping in her tracks as Lymen turned to face.
“Be careful who you question Vrash... some things are above your station. If that's who Fallow wants... then that's who Fallow will get, no matter his history.” Lymen asserted. As quick as he'd turned, he were back marching along, flowing past the doors of the cells. A prison full to burst even in this lofty manor of class and culture. The bars flashing shadows onto the walls. Only torchlight illuminating anything this deep underground.
“Who is this Cain. If I can ask Vice Councillor? If I'm forced to work with him” Placing the query for her own benefit.
“Ugh... I don't envy you Vrash... Bandit Cain is a dog. An Investigator before he were a prisoner. Member of the Imperial Army. There was an... incident. He were arrested, sentence to life... he's an insult to life, let alone Elven kind... So you would be wary, keep one eye on him. He has the potential to ruin this, trust me Vrash.” Lymen commanded. Not through friendly inquiry, but a demand.
“I shall be careful Vice Councillor. He is... quite deep down.” Vrash commented throwing a glance to the walls, even she, an Investigator of some stature and renown hadn't been this far down in the dungeon. Unsure if she even knew this far down existed.
“Cain is... Hmm, We moved him, as we excavated more. We moved him to the deepest cell.” Lymen marching ahead. Vrash that pace behind. Her clothes a far sight different from the flowing ceremonial robes. Nothing so airy and pompous, just raw utilitarian garb. A leather breast plate and cuffs strapped around her wrists. Short blade clung to her side. Hair flowing in waves, nothing about to restrain that. The Divine rulings still to be adhered to.
Rounding a corner, ahead the thick jail door, another level. Another barrier between escape and the prisoners locked behind it. The armoured Jailer standing as he saw Vice Councillor Lymen edge around the corner. The slight fix to his uniform made in hurried anticipation.
“Open the door.” Lymen commanded. The order followed post haste. Heavy ratcheting sounds mechanically snapping inside the door as the key twisted and turned. The lump of stone edging around on the wheels it were caste on. Slamming against the wall behind it with a thick glorious thud. The sound of safety, imprisonment. At the end of the hallway, one more door. One more window leading into the last cell. A line long and straight edging towards it. Lymen wandering on, behind him Vrash followed, eyeing over the darkened windows. Returned gazes staring back, flashes of eyes sparkling in the low light from the torches. The barest of faces illuminated as she tried to pay little attention to them. No one here would recognise her. None of her prisoners quite deserved to be buried this deep.
Lymen stopped. A few paces away from that final door. Head bowed a moment as if in quiet preparation for the upcoming. A prayer, a holy rite to those listening to guide his patience. Longer than even he thought it might take, before any words were said.
“Cain... are you awake... alive?” Speaking into the carved window. A porthole small and narrow, one beam of light streaking through the opening, lighting up a basking patch on the floor, the bars daring to cross out their own slice of illumination.
“I thought I smelled Regency... Smells like cunt.” The hollow basking voice creeping through the hole. The limp scowl edging across Lymen's face all his reaction. The guard stepping forward ready to be furious. But Lymen himself edged out a hand holding the guard with the lightest of motions. The insult weren't worth the wait of seeing it punished.
“You do remember we know each other.” Lymen recalled. Unfondly.
“Delegate Lymen.” Announced, shifting slightly. Closer, up off the floor. The flash of pale colour showing some level of attentiveness in the prisoner.
“Vice Councillor Lymen now.” He replied, proudly. Completely aware of the disinterest that'd be met with.
“My... you have been greasing poles. Congratulations. I might say you've taken a wrong turn though. You ended up this far down... with a guest too... does she know where she is?” Cain edging a step closer. From the outside of the cell, emerged the flash. A shoulder. Clothed in the rags of the prison uniform. Held in its stasis, watching the goings on.
“I've put more than a few in here.” Vrash proudly.
“They changed the uniforms...” Cain observed, the edge of his mouth hitting the light for the slight moment, a face bristling with stubble, flashing the briefest of moments. Vrash turning her head. Caught off guard by the sight of the wash of grey prickling beard.
“So what do you want? Lymen... Do I get a reason why my sleep was interrupted.” Cain inquired. Walking his cell, the steps, patting back and forth, a dank little hole in the wall, the flashes of uniform and skin showing up in the porthole of light. Punctuating his movement back and forth, crossing from wall to wall.
“In case you hadn't heard. We are close to trading with Petra again. A great advantage for both our kingdoms.” Lymen told.
“I'd heard... even these walls aren't that thick.” Cain still set to wander. Not holding to give his attention.
“I can remember when being at war with them was the best thing for the kingdom.” Cain cut in. A very certain point.
“Times change Cain... We have a delegation here from Petra, reopening an embassy... but someone attempted to assassinate Fallow the trade ambassador today.” Lymen undaunted by the interruption.
“I thought you said times change Lymen.” Cain poked. Lymen left silent a good few moments.
“They do. Just slowly. But that event brings us here, to the present. To you... by my disgust, my great disgust.” Lymen groaned. Greatly incensed to even be in the same room as Bandit Cain.
“I think my alibi is fairly airtight for the assassination attempt Lymen. I can assure you I haven't been many places outside this cell for quite a while.” Cain's smile in the dark quite apparent.
“Of course... Despite my reservations. Ambassador Fallow wanted his own choice of Investigator outside mine. Outside Vrash.” Lymen explained. The steps in the cell halting, in front on the window, the same flash of shoulder and skin illuminated by the light.
“I would think an Investigator of your reputation could already work out why we are here then.” Lymen groaned. Disappointed with every word he said. A compliment to the dog, as he'd described him before.
“My... you must be desperate to actually allow that.” Cain gloated, hollow voice drifting out, coating his conversational fellows in all the enjoyment he could muster.
“My feelings are secondary to the needs of the Kingdom. This is only being done to keep Ambassador Fallow happy.” Lymen assured, going to no lengths to hide his bile.
“Imagine his feelings, when you tell him I said, he can go fuck a horse.” Cain replied. The flash of his clothes slinking back from the window, out of the beam of light, back into the depths of the cell.
“You'd risk sending us back to war, for what, some petty difference?” Lymen taking a step forward unsure he was being played or not.
“Yes...” Cain gleefully announced.
“At what benefit to you is that war?”
“At what detriment is it? Lymen... I'm safer than all of you in this hole when the blood starts flowing... I might even say the smell might be quite a thing. Given how much of you I despise.” Cain chuckled. The cell appeared empty, the brief flash gone, just the illuminated dot on the floor, a wet shine as the water flowed through the rocks.
“At what cost would you change your mind?” Lymen's shoulder sinking as the words crept out.
“I smell desperation on the cunt... Hmm, that is a delicious scent. I think you'd know without asking, what the cost would be.” Cain quite confident of the fact his request was known. What else would it be to a prisoner serving life.
“I'm within my means to cut your sentence.” Lymen casting his eyes to the side, glaring at the stone of the prison walls, a solid carved cavern. Structurally sound and impenetrable from either side.
“Wipe it.” Cain issuing his order. Said without doubt he could get it met with the right twist of the knife.
“I cannot in my right mind...” Lymen got so far before he were sliced off.
“Wipe, it.” Cain enforced. Lymen left silent. Staring at the door, the window carved in, showing only the dark inside of the cave. “You need me... well someone does... What's one little flick of the quill compared to all the lives you might spare.”
“Oh, hide your nobility Bandit. You just want out... Fine then, you cost me a part of my soul... but fine. I will grant you your pardon...” Lymen stated, deeply sour.
“Good.” Cain sparkled.
“On one proviso. On your guarantee of success. On your honour, if you have any left.” Lymen ordered. Stepping to the window. Peering through.
“I don't... so what do I have to lose.” Cain stepping into the light, his face lit up, the bearded scruffy mess. Held solidly in the light for all to scowl at. One side flashing in the blaze of light, the other hidden away.
“We have an accord then... This is Investigator Vrash, you will be working with her. She will be keeping an eye on you. So I advise you to be careful. Respectful of the traditions.” Lymen enforced.
“Open the door.” Cain simply advised. Holding patient.
“Do not dare step over any boundaries.” Lymen ordered, the hints of desperation visible in his voice.
“Open the door.”
“And don't dare fail” Lymen hissed.
“Open the fucking door” One last time.
Lymen's shoulders sinking. Throwing a hand forward, motioning the guard behind him. Around he came, stepping to the barrier, sliding the key straight into the lock. With a twist, the latch ratcheted open, the guard stepping back, pulling the door with him. A heavy motion. Stone on stone as the wheels rattled along the ground roughly. Rumbling to a halt with the same heavy impact. Revealing in the light of the torch, the thin looking figure standing ready. Holding a moment at the threshold, freedom a step too far for the slightest of seconds.
Over the barrier, his head cracking to the side, neck creaking with an inglorious stretch. Arms forward under their own power. From the threshold, that step further, getting to the guard that opened the door. Held on the wall, glaring unendingly forward.
With a ruffle, a shuffling dance of his shoulders. Cain shook himself free from the cobwebs. Then just as calmly loaded his elbow into the head of the guard, following it with a fist. Over and over.
Vrash, reaching for her short blade. Again held back by that soft motioned hand of Lymen, the slightest of barriers, but enough.
The guard down on the ground as Cain laid ferocious boots into his ribs and head. Stopping to stretch again, his hair hanging in gnatted long dregs, covering face and feature alike. Vrash yet to see the visage of her partner.
Cain bending down after his blistering attack, quick and furious. Grabbing at the guard’s long, dirtied hair.
“Find some else's door to piss under.” Heaping the advice out with one final spit in the guard's face. Letting his head drop to the stone floor with an ungainly plonk.
“Where are my things?” Striding past both Lymen and Vrash with a purpose. Doors just that now, not barriers of stone and iron, he'd little chance to get through without some sort of momentous turn in fortune.
Vrash edging behind Lymen as he'd turned. Preparing to exit the dungeon as Cain looked to be doing far quicker. Forgetting his station, and the trappings of ceremony to push ahead of a member of the Regency.
“He forgets his place.” Vrash snidely quipped curling a lip at the exiting Investigator, already a few doors ahead.
“He never knew it to begin with.” Lymen stepping on. The smell edging up his nose further, soon it may sit there long after he'd left. An invader amongst nostril and sense he didn't deserve.
“Can he be trusted then Vice Councillor?” Vrash inquired, her step behind carefully orchestrated. Showing she knew protocol, well aware of the respect the Regency deserved.
“Unlikely... But you must do your best Vrash... Keep him check, his failure may rub off on you otherwise.” Lymen advised. Helpful as that seemed he were worried about himself, Cain's failure would be Vrash's, which in turn would be his. As the one choosing her. A chain reaching back to him, painting all with the same thick brush.
“I will not fail Vice Councillor, your confidence is well placed.” Vrash assured. Her confidence bolstered endlessly by his trust. Self assured in her skills.
Ahead of them both, Cain stood at the solid doors impatiently waiting to be set free. The dark his home for an endless set of years. At the moment of his release it were taking longer than it had to. The sun a stranger he wished to kiss. To get from under the cowl of this darkened foe, feel his skin prickled by heat and warmth. He'd let himself burn. Char if he had to. He just wanted some heat, wanted to feel dry and clean, after those years jammed in a hole as dank and moist as the inside of a wound.
“I would trust you not to Vrash. Failure would be bad for all of us.” Lymen groaned as he and Vrash caught up the ants looking Cain waiting by the door. As it were opened the guards all looking nervously on. Staring at the prisoner being removed. The usual manner in which an inmate escaped, were wrapped in linen. Dragged to a pyre to have their remains disposed of cleanly. For one to walk free an odd occurrence. An insult to decency. For one from that deep in the dungeon to walk free, a crime in itself. Someone must've done something vastly wrong. So they stared. Beat eye and brow into the moving disaster passing. Hand clutched to sword just in case that chance arose to slide it in between rib and flesh.
The doors passed. The procession lead by the exact opposite that ceremony and decency dictated. But it appeared Cain didn't care. And Lymen were in no mood to try and enforce it. Cain bustling from the outer doors of the dungeon, stepping into the warm night air of the Ith evening. Holding as he breathed in deeply the fresh air.
“I would've guessed it were morning.” He mumbled, unheard by anyone yet. Wandering to the grass close by, bare feet enveloped by the lush blades, nestling between his toes in exploratory pricks. Stretching again now he were outside. He'd the room in his cell, but only barely. Out here though, he stretched, in the warm air growing a few inches. Arms aching and bending in ways they hadn't for a long time. Shaking free of the shackles holding him in confined torture.
“Where are my things?” Cain demanded turning on his feet. Facing Lymen and Vrash.
“I shall leave you now Vrash... I have things to attend to. Keep him in check. And keep me updated. And be wise... don't trust him long enough to even blink.” Lymen giving Vrash one last glance before turning. Glaring with all his lofty might at Cain, striding way in one swift and prideful motion. Taking back to the night air and his business.
“Don't forget our deal Lymen... I'm the wrong person to lie to.” Cain watching him go, a thick heavy brow set to glower. A true testament to the Elven species that their greatest weapon were a stiff look, before all their finest blades.
“You should be careful of who you talk to prisoner. That's a Vice Councillor, your place is well below that.” Vrash reminded.
“Hmm, it does have a voice... what was your name again... Vrash... Have you been an Investigator long child?” Stepping to the young sprite. In close, jamming his bearded head into her face. The immediate reaction to step away, Vrash not wanting to be so intimately close.
“Not as long as you've been in that cell.” Vrash replied.
“Hmm, so not green then. But from an oak to a sapling, take some advice. He's concerned about his reputation, not yours. Fail this, and we might be able to share that cell.” Cain gesturing behind her, assuring that the reality of it.
“Now, my things... Where are they?” Cain shifting his eyes. Quite intent it seemed on getting them back, his possessions the one thing left of a life before hand.
“Follow me.” Vrash offered. Stepping away. Cain holding that second before following. Vrash wandering with her hands clutched behind her back, a stiff posture keeping her rigid and tall. Cain on the other hand a more liquid form of movement. A motion and swagger, as arms clenched up tightly on his swings. Following behind in brisk pace.
“Tell me... details... what do you know so far?” Cain those few paces behind. Now he were out, he might as well solve this case. Given his years away maybe a little rust lurked. So some extra seconds might make all the difference.
“Lymen and Fallow were taking a walk with their delegation parties. A break before the celebrations started.” Vrash began. Cain's eyes set to roll at the pomp he imagined taking place in that little ceremony.
“An assassin appeared some distance into the stroll, East Wing of the castle, high up. I assume you remember where that is?” Vrash queried with a stab at Cain's memory.
“Yes. Quite well.” Taking it in his stride. Nothing so rough he couldn't laugh off. “And missed, failed. I assume, a dead man can't request who investigates his death, unless he has some amount of foresight”
“One of Fallow's delegate were struck. Oran. Killed, crossbow bolt in his heart.” Vrash informed.
“His heart?” The detail sticking out, much like the bolt in question.
“Yes... that is what I said.” Giving the slight glance over her shoulder. Noticing the slight tick in Cain's face. His mind settling on that detail apparently.
“And what happens to the assassin?” Cain wondered.
“Attempted assassin.” Vrash cut in.
“Attempted?” Cain questioned.
“He missed.” Reminding of the details.
“Missed... did he miss this Oran... hmm?” Cain inquired. Vrash silent in her motion.
“Investigator Vrash. Did he miss Oran?” Cain again asked.
“No, he didn't.” Vrash spitefully ticked over.
“Hit him in the heart. That's a very accurate shot, from how far away?” Cain daggering into a point.
“The corridors length.” Vrash beginning to see the thought he aimed at.
“I think Fallow's ego might have assumed he were the target for that arrow. But if that were the case, then he'd have been hit. Wouldn't he? If the assassin could nail a spike into someone's heart from that far. I dare say whomever the assassin was, got exactly who they wanted.” Cain assured.
“You'd be sure of that?” Vrash inquired, as they got to the door, stopping him hastily before they entered.
“Certain, no... but sure... yes. Go on, the assassin. What happens to them?” Inviting the words continue. Vrash holding her tongue. A few more grains slipping through the hourglass before she began.
“He fled. Quickly, were cornered by the Imperial Guard. Before he retrieved something from inside his robes. Clutched it to his chest, immolated.” Vrash explained.
“Dedicated.” Cain's response, eyes lingering over the square they'd covered, lush greenery and vines stretching across the walls in glorious verdant fury.
“You sound impressed.” Vrash skewered.
“Getting someone to kill themselves isn't hard. The King does it all the time.” Cain informed Vrash, stepping around her, into the door behind. The young lady left to scowl by herself briefly. Before slinging in. Cain already leaning on the bench at the head of the room, the sleepy looking attendant unaware anyone joined him. A slumbering few seconds spent on the bench before Vrash slammed a fist on the surface.
Startled awake by the noise the attendant awoke to Cain's face level with his, a dead set of eyes peering across. Straggly strands of hair curling out of skin, telling all he needed to know. The quick flash of disgust given without haste.
“What do you want...” The attendant questioned before he'd even noticed Vrash. Her calming hand ushering him back down, well aware of the presence of Cain beside her.
“We're here to collect some possessions.” Vrash advised.
“Mine... go and get them.” Cain using hand to point into the depths of the building.
“I don't take orders from you prisoner.” The attendant replied.
“The title is Investigator... Get me my things, before I send you to the pyre stack.” Leaning in, grabbing the attendant by the shirt, lifting him forward roughly.
“Please.” Vrash added, taking her short blade from its sheath, resting it on the bare skin of Cain's forearm. Urging him back.
“Ugh... prisoner number?” The attendant requested. Yanking himself free.
“One...” Cain started, then stopped. Where the attendant at least expected a string, all he got were that singular digit. Definitely making it easier to find. His grimace replaced with some amount of surprise, backing away from the desk, disappearing into the shadowy depths of the warehouse.
“You're still a prisoner Cain. Not an Investigator. Do not forget that.” Vrash reminded him, warning against getting above his station.
“My title is whatever I require it to be. But if you want to be a servant, that's fine.” Cain laughed stepping from the desk. Arms folded. The heavy steps of the attendant drifting back along the line of shelves, a crate in hand. Dropping it unceremoniously on the bench staring straight at its owner.
“Your things.” His delivered message. Cain grabbing them quickly, exiting just as. Vrash in toe.
“Now what.” Stepping beside him, in time with each step.
“Now I get clean.” Plainly stated, heading his way straight to the barracks where he remembered it.
Vrash, sure that wouldn't be accepted. A prisoner stepping foot in the Barracks, the head precinct of the Investigators. That wouldn't sit well with any of them, even if the prisoner used to be one of them. Once you crossed that threshold of the dungeon all title and stature were shot.
“They won't let you in there.” Vrash advised catching up.
“Hmm, you may be right... Water then...” Cain agreed, to Vrash's surprise. Sure he might just refuse and continue on, force his way into the barracks with rollicking glee.
“The stables.” Vrash half joking.
“Yes, they'll do.” Cain nodded, cutting across the grass before she expected his change of direction. Hasty steps leading him along path, the crate of his possessions held in high regard. Rounding the corner to the stables, at night all the beasts put to rest safely. The wading pool open and inviting, in the heat of the night. The box in his arms dumped on the stone work beside the water. Without any pause, the sound of ripping, tearing material greeted the night. Cain in one motion, with both hands splitting his prison uniform down the middle, a naked body left in the middle.
As Vrash rounded the corner, she caught sight of the skin, pitted scarring dots lining in chaotic pattern down his back. Arrow marks, and cuts. The naked Elve disappearing into the water with a few steps, vanishing under. Tepid from the sun soaking into the surrounding stones all day. The wash of dirt and grime flowing out from the lingering mass of flesh, holding itself under the water. A murky cloud of grey and brown, dissipating in the cleansing waters of the pool.
Cain finding his hands underwater, rubbing them across his face, the grime seeping away like his skin was attached to it. Into hair and crevasse holding his breath. To remain there, under the wet made sense. Stay there forever submerged in the glorious warmth of the water. Finally surfacing, inhaling, the heat beaming off the water filling his lungs thick with luxurious vapour, a clearer chest and mind he hadn't had in years. Floating, hovering in the pool a little longer, in the freedom of the weightless body.
Vrash watching him all the while, like a hawk, standing on the corner, switching eyes between Cain and his possessions, a curious tick in her mind to go check what they were. Sneak a finger though the folds of material.
But she held, stayed on the corner patient, soon that would be revealed, assuming with what he'd done to his prison outfit, the rags stranded on the edge of the water, something in the box would be worn.
Cain floating, making sure the water had time to soak him free. Years of caked grime, skin and shit ensconced across his body. Trapping him inside. But free now, so very free. Dipping his head once more. Cain swam back to the edge of the pool. Stepping up the ramp in motion, letting the water cascade down. First hair then back over naked body and legs.
Vrash on the corner casting her eyes to the side, pretending not to look, but still curious about each and every scar dotting along that wiry frame. The evidence of a long time soldiering. Gash from sword and arrow, even what looked like burn marks from magic.
Cain out of the water, free and naked, not concerned for his privacy, as the water drained from his body. The surface drying quickly in the warm night air. The cover from the crate removed. Tossed along the stone floor. The first thing pulled free the pants wrapped inside. Shaken free from dust, then slipped on. Fastened around the waist. Clasped on tight with the armoured guards slipped over his thighs. Strapped tightly. Vrash watching with some interest. Cain were right, the uniform had changed. Material and styling. The serpents elaborately carved into hers, absent from Cain's. His looking far more bare and functional from first glance.
The simple linen shirt next. Wrapped into itself at either side, clasped at the back. A chest piece lowered over the top. Leather strings holding in place the light form fitting armour, bends and rivets having it manoeuvre in easily. Boots, and arm guard slipped on, fastened down handily, tightly in place with a pride and purpose of movement. Stretching as he looked to do all those years ago, making sure they sat right when he moved.
The contraption wrapped around his wrist, the right, carefully strapped and worked into place. A crossbow, small, but handy, concealed no doubt if he wore anything over the top. But here in the open, proudly displayed and ready to slot a steel bolt into whatever moved wrong.
A short blade too, the same as Vrash's, strapped to his side. Ready to be withdrawn and slung in fury. A few practice snatches taken before it were ripped free twirled and spun in practice. Careful quick motions, before back in one swift motion. For all the years behind bars, he looked to have lost little of his skill.
Vrash hiding no surprise at that.
Cain pulling one last item from the box. In the distance it may have been hard to see, but darkness, distance not that much trouble for Elven eyes, the slim steel ring clasped tightly in hand. Cain splitting it into the middle, two ends that once met torn from the other. With his spare hand yanking his hair back, the wet gathering stream of follicles corralled into one thick strand, jamming them into the gap in the ring. Pulling everything clear from his face. Vrash for the first time getting a clear look at the visage she'd been lumped with.
Bristling, disgustingly with hair. But there at next sight, unsure quite what she were more taken aback by, the shock of the beard, rough and ready and what that meant about Bandit Cain. Or the long horizontal scar stretching along his cheek, up past his hair line, a lot of that obliterated, stripped clean covered in scar tissue. Back past where the top half of his ear should've been. But now only the bottom half, the refined point of pride and perfection, cleanly lopped off on one side of his head. A disgusting violent little nub left to sit and mock.
And he were. Bandit Cain, proudly displaying that to the world. Wrenching his hair back to make sure everyone saw it. Vrash staring longer than she would've liked. For her own stomach, and the fact Cain noticed her.
“What, does it disturb, disgust you to look at?” His lingering question, making sure the final few strands rested neatly in the steel ring, snapping it shut.
“It's an insult. You know the Rites. You choose to ignore them.” She countered, shifting eyes from the stones to Cain's face.
“I fought Orcs. Dwarves, humans... Even Elves... Why would I want anyone to forget that.” Cain questioned. Not giving away if that was a matter of pride on his own behalf, or to jam shame into those that might choose to forget the sacrifice many made. His skin a map, mighty and proud of the trails and tracks the Elven armies wandered and fought for. And now, because of Divine Rites, were being forgotten. Thrown to the side because of squeamish unease with the ghastly sights those battles left behind.
“They gave you a chance to get rid of them, to regain your honour.” Vrash assured him, she were sure of it. No reason not to offer the healing magics to put form back right, replace cartilage and flesh, give back point to ear and clean silk to skin.
“This is my honour child, the marks on my body tell me who I am. Where I've been. Who I killed... who nearly killed me. I'm not going to forget any of them... does it really disgust you that much... it really makes you that squeamish to be confronted by a little mangled flesh?” Cain stepping forward. Gradually easing his way to her side. Edging from periphery to straight in her view, filling the frame of her eyes proudly.
“It insults the Rites.” Vrash certain of that.
“Yes, yes it does, gladly. But what about you... what about this green leaf. What does it feel when it sees burnt skin and missing parts?” Cain putting his face straight to hers, angling the disfigured nub of his ear and its long scar into her view.
“Ever seen the wound from a vorpal blade... it burns, as it cuts, lit on fire even. That was painful. I can assure you of that, my face, on fire. I had to bury it in the dirt to get it out, when I pulled my head from the wet sand on Lahern beach. I still had to fight my way to freedom. Cutting, hacking, you get tired quickly. They don't tell you that, the adrenaline, the energy flows in such a way that you work yourself into a tiring gnashing mess within minutes. Then it might as well just be luck that sees you to the end.” Cain's voice a low calm gravel. Not soothing, but teasing, poking, searching for a reaction.
“Madly swung swords at whatever target you don't recognise the colour off. Dodging those hits you can, till there's one you can't, or the rest flee... look at it... take it in, you might never get the chance to see it again.” Cain teased. Forcing it closer.
“I still think I can smell it sometimes. Fire was so hot I had to pick glass from my face after it cooled, slagged on ceramic skin. Melted to mine. And the physicians and druids looked at me with disgust. Held the line with my regiment for days without rest. And I was the disgusting creature.” Cain so close now, his words soaked Vrash's shirt, the smell of his skin she could nearly pick up too. Just from his words, the lavishing smell of wet sand, flesh, sizzling skin carried from history into her nostrils.
“You're an Investigator, look at it, it's a valuable thing to learn, the progress of a scar and wound...” Cain announced. That point hard to ignore. Vrash holding her eyes to the side till then, slowly turning her face to take in full view of the burnt and damaged side of his face. Starting near his eye. Streaking across temple, slicing off the top of his ear, ruining every follicle along the way. The long streak carrying on off the back of his head.
“Tell me about it... tell me how it was done.” Cain ordered. Not giving her any respite, assaulting her eyes, and now ears with his questioning, ordering her to prove herself before they got to work.
“Glancing blow, the edge of the blade. You got lucky, dodged.” Vrash safely assumed.
“Close... the blade didn't actually hit me. Got close, may as well of. But if it had that scar might be so deep the top of my skull were cleaved off... If you're done staring, may we get to the scene already.” Cain inquired, as if he weren't the one holding up the procession.
“Please.” Vrash offering the way forward. Cain with rolling flow, limbered up, stretching in his clothes, the years away constricting them down. A few more days motion should see them back to their casual comfort and form.
The two set to walk, finding path through the castle ground, the various guards and passer bys all with comments and gasps at the state of Cain's face. The Divine Rites of the Elvish kind demanding perfection of form. No scar, no binding of hair, the most rigid of social rules. Not even bothered to be put into law because who would want to break those exacting commands. Proudly though, Cain marched, displaying his damage to the world, hair pulled back, great clumps missing, despite the existence of the right magic to fix such a harrowing display of imperfection.
“That's the old uniform?” Vrash looking at the somewhat tattered pieces of armour holding firmly on Cain's body, a curious set of equipment.
“Mostly... some out of regulation changes.” Casually flashing his wrist and the crossbow attached to it. The short blade, the weapon chosen for the Investigator. A simple blade, a short sword with a hilt, a bulbous ball at the end of the handle, for when lethality weren't quite required.
“And they let you carry that?” Vrash queried.
“No, they didn't...” Cain answered. His armour awash with dust and grime, given only the quickest of wipes before slinging it on. Where hers shined as required to the glinting perfection it remained all day. The ceremonial serpents wrapped around in winding patterns, carefully polished so scales resembled those of the Holy. In the glinting light, Vrash noticing the absence from Cain's, of any kind of emblem or insignia.
“They didn't carry the Serpent back then?” Her question.
“We had to worry about function before fashion... Fresh from the war... many many spies... and a lot more blood.” Cain assured. He cared not for the presence of the Serpent on his clothes.
“You should replace it... people will ask questions... might not show you respect.” Vrash informed him, not that she felt he deserved any.
“The Serpent isn't the part of the uniform that gets respect.” Running a welcome hand over the short blade strapped to his side. Deftly slipping it free from the sheath. The glint of the blade in the low light shining brightly.
Edging through the castle to the scene, bustling with guards, keeping the way clear and safe, preserving the evidence for the Investigators. Clearing out once Vrash arrived, stepping back cautiously, edging around the sight of Cain. Staring intensely at the very embodiment of refusal to follow the Divine Rites.
“Here is where Oran were killed.” Vrash down on her haunches, getting a closer look at the blood displayed on the floor, a soupy drying mess in the nights heat, congealing, soon to be cleaned away by some unlucky peasant class.
“And the shot were from... down there... the alcove at the end of the hallway?” Cain assumed, looking down the corridor.
“Yes... How did you know?” Vrash curious.
“No light, the statue is decent cover... and if I'm right there's access up from the court below on the vines.” Cain replied.
“Correct.” Vrash nodded. Something she'd thought herself at first glance and with witness accounts.
“Go and stand down there.” Cain ordered. Taking his place over the blood stain, where the body fell.
“Go.” Delivering the order again as Vrash hadn't yet moved. The youngster not taking well to being talked down to. She lifted herself back to her feet, stepping briskly down the hall to the statue and alcove at the end. General Gundrake of the Cavalry. His weighty memorial piece sitting stiffly in the hallway, providing a good hiding place.
“In.” Cain motioning Vrash into cover. As she slid in disappearing from sight mostly, the glint from her armour the only thing making her stand out.
“The distance is difficult, but not for an assassin. Especially one that chooses that mode of execution.” Cain spoke aloud, inviting some conversation instead of just orders slung.
“You still think he were aiming at Oran and not Ambassador Fallow?” Vrash inquired.
“Yes... missing isn't impossible. Even the best do it. But tell me how much of the corridor can you see from there...” Cain inquired.
“All of it” Vrash replied.
“All of it. But he waits till Fallow steps to the side... when he was head of the pack the hole time they wandered this path. Then hits Oran dead centre of the heart.” Explaining his reasoning.
“Oran is a delegate in a trade delegation. Why kill him? There is no point he can easily be replaced.” Vrash going down a well worn track.
“Don't assume motive. We're here to find out what happened. Not what they think could've.” Cain admonished the youngster. Shifting on his feet in the middle of the hallway. Going back and forth as he thought on something.
“Here... come here. Stand there.” Cain ordered shifting positions, changing his and hers. Standing in behind the statue. Lifting his arm up over the back of the horse, the statue at some scale of the original General and his steed.
“The assassin stepped out... correct?”
“Correct.” Vrash replied.
“Why?” Cain's question to the empty corridor.
“To take the shot.” Vrash answered.
“He didn't need to. I have perfect sight of the entire corridor from here, I have cover. In his black robes he'd stealth too, and an easy exit straight from the window behind me.” Looking behind him, the opening in the building fresh to the night sky. Creeping up over the edge of the railing, the clasping grip of the vines likely used to climb up from below. Cain clamping onto the rim above the window, pulling himself up. Standing on the railing outside in the night, the drop deadly, to those with a loose hand. Fingers clamped on the building, lifting his body cleanly from the railing dangling over the drop a good few moments, as he spotted out what he wanted.
“Nothing...” His comment, lowering back down, dropping into the window. Vrash standing by the statue.
“He came from below, crept in, in black, had the perfect safe hiding spot and exit. Didn't need to shift from cover. But did anyway, then chose to exit, this way?” Cain motioning to the doorway instead of the window.
“Correct.” Vrash nodded.
“If he were aiming at Fallow. He could've slotted a bolt into the target without ever moving, as soon as he came in sight. Then taken back to his entrance with ease... Why come out of cover, why show yourself at all?” Cain poking around in the details, edging towards Vrash with each little question. Slashing at her assumptions.
“He ran this way. I'll show you were they cornered him.” Her reply to all that, just moving on, not giving him any satisfaction of knowing she'd changed her mind quite yet.
Through the corridors, around disturbed furniture and decorations they weaved, stopping at the sight the first Guard had been slain in his unlucky pursuit.
“Curved blade... slashed, not stabbed. The Guard were easily dispatched. This wa...” Vrash offered. Cain moving off without her, following the unclear trail under his own guidance. Getting to the stairs he flowed down them far slower that the assailant, but with as much chaotic grace. Edging into sight of the scorch mark and the waiting Imperial Guard. Holding on point as a witness.
Cain staring at him. The Guard staring back through slotted visor. Both could tell they were apart of the others vision. Vrash coming behind, pushing her way past as Cain slowed on his descent, the vibrant colours of the room, held in minimal display because of the dark.
Swamping the room though, a thick scent, burning fibres of silk and flesh. Bone scattered and ashed in seconds from the heat of the flame, seared into the rug. The sight of the explosion.
“Guard Vicalli here witnessed the assassin and his... exit.” Vrash gestured, showing the two together. Vicalli in his stature bristling in his armour, the vibrant red holding the light.
“Really... is that true, did you see a man in black turn red?” Cain stepping from the stairs. Showing all the respect he got in return.
“I won't talk to someone so repugnant Investigator.” Vicalli's words to Vrash.
“Ha!” Cain's ecstatic little chuckle, glad he could still be of some annoyance and shame to the Imperial Guard. More than a few run ins, in his time in the army with that class. High and lofty, sure of their own smell, if only for the fact they were chosen to Guard the King and Regency.
“Please, Guardsmen, indulge me at least...” Vrash invited, unsure if Vicalli's displeasure of Cain might result in him being completely silent.
“He ran here... we surrounded him, he pulled something from his robes, clutched it to his chest.” Vicalli keeping his eyes focused on Vrash, ignoring the presence of the prancing Investigator before him.
“A bag... a pouch of some sort?” Cain inquired.
“What were he holding?” The question going unanswered until Vrash repeated it.
“I didn't see, none of us saw what he held. It were only a moment till he were on fire, and then... gone.” Vicalli assured. Pointing to the scorch mark on the rug. A wallowing scent phasing from it.
“Magic obviously.” Vicalli casting eyes towards Cain, as if he'd something to do with that. One with that face would no doubt be involved.
“Very astute.” Cain cooed. Vicalli staring at him, as if about to grab at the lance he held.
“Please, Vicalli, you may leave now, unless there's anything else you think sticks out.” Vrash invited. A hand showing him the exit. The Guard taking his time to quickly think, consider if he wanted to leave one with such a disfigurement, to insult the sanctity of the castle in his watch.
“No... not that I can remember.” Vicalli hummed, showing himself away without so much as a goodbye. Casting eyes thrown from inside his stifled helmet, a piercing shade as all were. Wandering into the outers of the castle.
“Magic... illegal magic, pyromancy.” Vrash stated. Holding form as she watched Cain stroll around the burn mark on the floor. Before she knew it his body dropping, getting close to the ground, holding just from the surface of the rug. The smell thick in his nostrils leaking from the smouldering carpet, its dyes and stains held strong but not overpowering. The smoke and scent from the spell, a confined amount of chaos in a special little package, ready made and clutched tight to activate.
“Are you sure?” Cain inquired.
“What does your question refer to. Am I sure Pyromancy is illegal?” Vrash wondering exactly what point of argument she'd have to make now.
“I'm sure it is. Can't have the masses burning things can we... but you're sure this is pyromancy?” Cain asked. Vrash staring wholly at him, eyes skewered. Squinting as she thought he were making fun of her.
“He lit on fire, burnt to a crisp in seconds.” Vrash replied.
“True... but not all fire is started by a flame... is it... How much do they teach you of Magics at the Academy these days.” Cain wondered. To him it was quite clear, just from the smell, even before getting close. Vibrant, tinny, alive, tangy on his tongue it was that thick.
“They teach us well, don't dare insult the Academy.” Vrash questioning what was coming next before it even had, her heckles raised in defence.
“I know most magics are illegal, but you must have some knowledge... come, closer, the rug is dead, it can't hurt you, get down close. Tell me what you smell.” Cain invited. When Vrash didn't move, he grabbed at her arm pulling her over. Encouraging her to the ground.
“I smell smoke... carpet...” Vrash after a short whiff.
“Take this seriously... smell again. Under the smoke, and ash, charred fabric. Deeply, take it in. What do you smell?”
Vrash holding her patience, letting go of the pride a few short moments, following the direction she didn't want to. Opening airways deep, getting the scent down to the very pores of her lungs.
“Iron... Ozone” As she came back up.
“Very good.” Cain doing his best to have that sound as insulting as he meant it. She could use her senses when prompted enough. Driven into the ground by hand, ordered to sniff at the burnt patch of carpet a little closer.
“What's your point Cain?” Vrash still not seeing it, back to her feet, the lick of scent still heavy in her nostrils, sticky in its tang.
“That fire is... Ugh, is there any point explaining it.” Cain wallowed graciously, playing up his enjoyment of the scene, just to annoy her greatly.
“Inform me then of the thoughts... please.” Holding just her patience.
“The fire was a symptom of the heat, not the point of the spell. You smelled iron correct, ozone?” Cain began his explanation, glorying in it.
“I did.” Vrash nodding with some sense of frustration.
“Pyromancy smells of ash. Brimstone... there's a floral scent too, sour, hard to pin down. But that scent is unmistakable.” Cain pointed out. Waiting for her to clue in.
“This smells of lightning. Of storm craft. Arcane bolt or electricity. Hot. Enough to disintegrate a body quickly. Looks like pyromancy. But I'm guessing that where the point.” Cain leaning in again, close to her face, a curiously raised eyebrow. Wanting some input from the accompanying Investigator.
“You're sure?” Vrash asked. If he'd pointed it out, it must mean something.
“Yes... The assassin had a curved blade correct... wore black robes. Covered his face?” Cain spewing details to his partner, just for her to answer.
“Correct.” Vrash's sighing answer, at the parading lout before her.
“The hallmarks of a Sal Djinn... Cut throats, hired killers. Skilled in the arts of Pyromancy. Associated with certain Ith Regents... In the past of course, I'm sure any such connections are long dead...” Cain pointed out. Vrash eyeing from under her refined brow, a warning against any scurrilous accusations.
“But leaving a mark of the storm crafter's... does that seem odd to you.” Cain continued on.
“And one of these killers couldn't have used a different spell?” Vrash questioned.
“They don't teach you much any more do they, or have they locked away more of the official library from public eye... scared of the tricks they might learn” Cain prodded. Vrash ready to get angry at that, defend her knowledge and teachings, but for the fact that seemed true. Great swathes, entire shelves of the grand archives, sifted and removed, locked away from fear of the skills and history some might come across.
“The Sal Djinn believe fire is a divine gift, theirs to keep and protect. For one to use a spell of any other magic would be a sin of quite the highest magnitude. Do you understand?” Cain explained. Vrash quiet, nodding. His reasoning did seem to hold some rational, even if not much sense.
“Why though... why kill Oran, why make it look like an accident, collateral, and why try to have it look as if these Sal Djinn had done the deed?” Vrash questioned, seeing as Cain were so confident about all this. Then let him solve it here and now, stick that neck out and take a guess.
“That's what we're going to find out.” Cain not taking the bait, gladly handing back the teasing words with ease.
“What now?” Vrash impatient in tone and stance. Sure if she suggested where the next move should be, it would just get shot down too.
“I'm hungry...” Cain announced. Wandering away before Vrash even knew what he'd said.
“It's not here any more?” Cain staring at the building, slinging his hands to his hips, the entire neighbourhood looked to have changed. Down out of the castle the streets of the kingdom stretching along in cobbled straight lines. The heat of the night sticking over the stones.
“What isn't?” Vrash standing by his side. He were quite adamant this were the location, speeding out of the castle grounds with some haste to find the building, a long memory dragging them through the streets.
“Tell me, have you heard of a place called the Viper's Hand?” Cain asked, deeply interested.
“Slightly... that's in the new quarter... West...” Vrash replied, some rumblings of that place in her mind, far out in the newer end of town. The expansion quarter, filled with all kinds of undesirable places and people.
Cain looked disturbed, annoyed greatly by the detail, eyeing down the long thoroughfare in the direction he wanted. Then back over his shoulder at the old building he knew. Its progress a personal insult to him. Striding to the door, a tavern by any description. Only when he reached it did Vrash speak.
“If it's not that place you're after, why are we going in?” Her question slung to his back. And ignored. The solid gent striding through the opening. Vrash following on behind. As her directions precluded. Keep an eye on him. And this tavern were slightly more upscale than when he'd last wandered these streets.
The Sylvan Pride. Frequented by the diplomats and bureaucrats of the kingdom. Near Regency, close, with all the contacts but a slight discount on the respect demanded. Not the place Vrash would go. Especially not with someone like Cain. Pushing through the door it were already clear why. The place near silent. Cain marching at a considered pace to a table dead centre of the room, taking his seat proudly. Laying arms down with a roll of his shoulders. Picking up the silverware ready. A few ponderous glances taken over the knife and fork before he placed them back down.
Vrash striding through briskly, stopping beside the table, keeping her voice low.
“What are we doing, I told you the Viper's Hand is across the city.” Her whisper angry and nervous. These not the type of people to take kindly to those they didn't appreciate. A refined dignity to this place Cain now admired. Far beyond his interest. Patterned walls and murals splayed across. The scent of wine and spirit filling the air over what were once mead and blood stained stone floors.
“Please Investigator, take a seat. Eat with me.” Cain invited. Vrash troubled a moment before she accepted. Sure of one thing.
“They will not serve you... Besides... I'm not sure you would enjoy what they serve here anyway” Vrash commented taking a long glance at the beard of greying bristle Cain sported proudly. His devious smile flashing, taking a long handy stroke of the beard strapped around his face. The only one in the room. That one of the most sacred Rites.
Stepping over, slightly incensed, the waiter. Stiffly dressed. Trussed in a uniform only the other customers demanded.
“You didn't bring a menu?” Cain looking up from his seat, smiling. Staring a good few moments letting him see he had all his attention.
“You will have to leave.” The waiter advised his hand slung to the door, for many reasons it seemed. Cain, still smiling, looking towards Vrash. Unworried by any orders he might receive.
Behind them the muttering from the other tables, held quiet, but loud enough the tone and message came across. Floating on etherous strands into ear.
“Disgusting... vermin, a dog with the gall to smile like that.” The lofting words, held on class and refined overtones.
Cain even with his back turned, gladly taking it in. He'd been called worse before, would be called worse later. But at the moment, that the only thing he was being called, so it was easy to take insult.
Cain with one hand ran his finger to the edge of the table. Lifting it from the floor in one solid gradual motion. The glasses, and cutlery rattling, smashing across the floor as the table reached its tipping point and collided too. Rolling casually away. The waiter stepping back. Cain sitting in the chair, one leg casually lifted sitting on the other.
“Leave?” His one word question. Hands raised to his face, fingers interlocked. Clenching together tightly the knuckles cracking loudly. A pop satisfying and present throughout the entire room.
“Huh.” Getting from the chair. The waiter taking another step back as Cain's hand came to rest on the handle of the short blade on his side. Stepping around the Investigator in a few panicked motions as Cain moved away. Wandering towards the door.
Vrash glad of this exit as quiet as it were. Edging towards the door herself, the white robes not letting her be invisible. Cain in his wander cutting a line straight for the door. As the crow flew. Even if this not the place a bird might take flight. In between Cain and the exit a table, seated at which all those disgusted others, commenting just loud enough to be heard. A party of six sat on either side, three in each line, eyes forward to each other, now that Cain walked straight towards them. His path straight. So straight it took him up onto the table. Feet plodding along the wood in heavy steps. Straight across plate and bowl, where they didn't break, they split, sending coursing spurts of liquid and sauce, leafy greens onto lap and clothes alike.
Each step taking him along the table, the eyes kept down, held on the food and the feet stepping through it. One trying to lift his meal out of the way. Cain's foot finding its way back, in the Elves field of view the pointed toe of leather edging into sight. Resting on top of the meal, pushing it to the table where the foot twisted back and forth across the food. Moving on till Cain got to the last seat at the table, the one he knew had been talking the most. The quietest now.
Sitting. Easing down on the table, his rear finding especially the dish of food, the wet squelch of the soup paid no mind over the inconvenience this gave its eater. Cain's dangling legs hanging down beside the man he was in front of. Framing him, making it hard to move.
“Did you have a problem?” Cain's question posed so casually as he leant in. Waiting, ever so patiently for reply. He seemed a statue, and willing to remain one till he got that answer. A few moments longer till he tired though, things to be done, the night not so long he could sit around here forever. Placing a foot on the Elve's chest gently pushing him in his chair backwards, the screeching slide of the wooden legs echoing loudly. Bounding around the room. Cain standing from his wet seat, undeterred by the stain across his backside, the dribbling few strands leaking to the floor. His path continued out the door as if nothing happened. Vrash sliding quickly after, keeping silent in her fury.
“I'd warn against you doing anything like that again.” Vrash threatened once outside. Completely unaware of just how hollow that was.
“I'm not here on your behest. Or anyone you report to... So I wouldn't waste your breath.” Cain advised.
“What was the point of that?” Vrash swallowing her pride.
“Why does there have to be a point?” Cain stepping from the footpath down to the street.
“Harassing Bureaucrats will not turn out well for you.” Vrash advised.
“Ah... won't turn out well for us.” Cain corrected gleefully. Marching to his horse. Vrash following closely behind.
“Now we find the Viper's Hand?” Her question thrown to Cain.
“Yes... Now we do.”
The city changed, the archway at the exit of the quarter like a keyhole through a door, the slight view hid most of the surrounds. A city within another. Stocked to the gills with all kinds, immigrants from other lands, some community of Orc's at home deep within the Western Quarter. A newer part of the Kingdom. Not that one might know from its appearance. Sprouting from an enclave, then folded in, as an excuse to push all those unwanted inside the other quarters, into this one partitioned slice. Civility and class a long way away. More through choice than anything. Grime didn't mean dirt to some. A genuine unique quality to most of the citizens of the Western Quarter.
“What are we doing here Cain... This place is far away from the Castle. I would be surprised if they had even heard what happened.” Vrash inquired. Some trek on horse back through the city streets. Quiet at night. The glowing lamps only keeping the spots around them illuminated. The sun begging to achieve something in hours. But for now its remains stuck to the walls and bricks of the streets.
“I wouldn't be so sure of that Investigator, the person we're going to see probably knows the undergarments the Queen is wearing.” Cain replied.
“Do not be so distasteful” Vrash hissed.
“Hmm, you think she isn't wearing any?” Cain jabbed, a flash of his eyes thrown towards his partner. Her glare just as intense. Increasing even with one settled thrust forward. Cain smiling even deeper.
“We go here, because the low, always know what those above them don't want them to. That can be assured.” Cain informed. Gracing her with a little wisdom.
“How would they know?” Vrash wondered. Showing her insult.
“A bowl with a hole, leaks. A bowl with many, pours. The castle has never been as secure as those that wish to protect its secrets claim it is. So we go to someone that knows the inners a little better.” Cain explained.
“Illegally.” Vrash gasped in exasperation.
“Of course illegally... Do you want to find out what's happening or not?” Cain making it sound like that were the only course of action.
“And who will we be talking to?” Vrash asked.
“I'm not sure I should tell you Investigator. Your reaction suggests you mightn't approve of these people.” Cain teased.
“I am not going to take part in anything unethical.” Vrash assured.
“Well, you can guard the horses then... someone should probably make sure they don't get stolen.” Cain metered out, thrusting forward on the reins a little, the horse skipping forward at a higher pace. Vrash delivering her grunting disapproval to the back of his head. Cain too far away to get any of it. Her only option to give the nag a jab in the ribs catching up to the rider in front.
“You've been to the Viper's Hand before, spent some time in this place.” Easing once she were beside him.
“Yes... but back there... back then. It might be a far different place now.” Cain sighed. “One's contacts do tend to dry up when you don't keep picking at them.”
His time away might mean the Viper's Hand held nothing for him. Maybe its time as a pit of secrets and foul goings on, came to a close, the hive shifting taverns to another location and name. That the very source of the name. The Viper's Hand. It didn't exist, the hand of a snake? No such thing, so how did this tavern.
But there it were, holding all kinds of people that shouldn't be, and all kind of secrets that should never exist.
“Who is this contact? Tell me?” Vrash inquired, leaning forward on her mount. Obviously they were from two different schools of thought on investigation. Her approach just to look at facts, evidence, then work her deductions. Here though Cain were working in a far different way. Teasing leads from people he were sure knew more than they should. Not even witnesses.
“Hmm, I'm wondering if there is any point to telling you... there actually might be, give me some idea of the goings on whilst I was.. away.” Cain considered as the two rode. Vrash taking all the offence she could to that, the continued assertions she either knew very little, or were useless anyway.
“You could have told me by now.” Vrash certain all his insulting little side tracks were edging upon her last nerve.
“The Stone Head.” Cain glancing to the side.
On this street as quiet as it was, little attention paid to the wandering two. Even with one's face being so imperfect. More attention thrown to Vrash and her white robes, the distinguishing uniform of the Investigators. Looks far from elegant or welcoming, but her stride taking it all in, gladly stepping around each glare thrown her way.
“Never heard of them?” Vrash replied.
“Hmm.. that could mean one of many things.” Cain mumbling, unsurprised by the answer.
“What?” Vrash regretting asking as soon as she did. Fully aware some level of insult to her and her education was coming.
“That they either don't exist any more. Or they've hidden themselves so well you don't know they do... or that your just dense enough to have not come across them.” Cain, much to Vrash's chagrin.
“How often do you get out of the Castle?” As innocently as he had any other question in the past few minutes.
“I'm an Investigator... that is my assigned precinct. I have no reason to leave.” Vrash answered stiffly.
“I can assure you that isn't true. For many reasons. Professional, and other.” Cain sighed, unsure if he felt sorry for her. That seemed a stifling life, wandering the halls and corridors of that sheltered little word. Dealing with Regency and Bureaucrat alike, enough to rip Cain's teeth out. But she seemed undeterred. Maybe because Vrash knew little better.
“Step from those polished stones, you might get some contacts of worth... or any at all.” Cain pulling his horse to a halt. Speaking of contacts, whispering of them at least. At the front of the Viper's Hand they stopped. To none of Cain's surprise the building looked exactly the same, even though it couldn't have been. The snake displayed on the sign, baring its teeth in painted wares, the hand mentioned nowhere to be seen. Absent in all record from wood hanging above the door. The lantern illuminating the entrance and little else, the windows blacked out, boarded shut in most cases. The few horses hitched to the posts out front, still not stolen. But the night young, plenty of time for them to wander away with a different owner.
“Are you coming in, or is this too out of your depth?” Cain dismounting quickly, wrapping the reins around the post eagerly.
“I'm meant to keep an eye on you.” Vrash assured. Still not getting from her horse. Cain eyeing to the side, at the windows blocked out.
“You best get off then.” Cain nodded, stepping to the door. Not waiting for her to follow. Vrash taking a few seconds more, eyeing up and down the street. On the corner of the building leaning heavily, the sunken looking figure watching her carefully. An eye on the white robes. The figure unmoved by any of Vrash's motions, attaching the horse to the hitching post securely. The beast well trained though. That a point of pride for those inside the Castle, a horse impossible to steal if it only moved for one person.
As she got to the door slipping in just as Cain had, that dark flash of the figure fell away, collapsing back into the shadows of the alley by the Viper's Hand. Vanishing with ease into the depths of the Western Quarter's back alleys. Vrash not showing her notice, just continued on, the short journey across the threshold.
Through the door greeted by Cain's back, leaning on the wall just inside the darkened room, out of sight from the other patrons.
“He's gone?” Cain inquired, whispering over his shoulder. “The man on the corner... he left as you came in?”
“Yes... you knew him?” Vrash questioned.
“Not quite... keep a hand on that blade... you might need it, wearing that shade of white around here.” Cain calmly stated, before she'd any chance to question that advice, leaving her behind, stepping into the tavern. He'd entered two today, in much the same way. The same strut and swagger to all his movement. But here he seemed apart of the walls. Fading into the background, unnoticed by people, he walked straight in front of. Slinking till he stopped, leaning on a pillar deep into the back of the room. As Vrash wandered out, the opposite seemed to happen, all the eyes in the room, even those facing the other way locking on. Following the slow blur of white as it marched. Stopping as she reached Cain. Looking straight towards him to suggest they were together.
Completely able to return the favour of his, only a short time before. Cain glancing down. Unmoved by the apparent interruption to his silence. Every eye staring, flickering from forward to away in stark little motions. A far sight more carefully than those from the other tavern.
These denizens of the shadows knew how to observe. How to talk about someone right in front of them, without ever giving away they were. Insulting words and looks thrown with the viciousness of blades. But hidden all the while. Where those Bureaucrats just talked, loudly big noting themselves whilst tearing down their target. Unaware he'd no respect from the structures they held to.
“What are you waiting for, where are these contacts of yours?” Vrash inquired. Holding tight whilst she knew everyone stared. Unworried as long as she still had that blade attached to her side.
“Patience, I'm not even sure that...” As far as Cain got before the hand clamped onto his shoulder. The deftest of glances finding the gnarled lumpy mitt lopped across his shoulder. Long thick leathery fingers grabbing tightly. For someone so big he were quite stealthy. A warm gush of breath rushing from between the pointed staining teeth. Cracked and browning.
“Someone wants to see you.” Exuding with a breathy concoction of stale mead and meat.
“Still a dogs body Graffer.” Cain commented, the thick hand on his shoulder tightening with the insult. Leaving the smirk to linger on Cain's face.
“Upstairs.” Graffer advised any more remarks be kept to ones self with that turn of phrase. The Orc pulling Cain away from the pillar he rested upon. Pushing him to the stairs, marching along behind.
Vrash stepping after second later. On his toes, quicker than anyone thought possible, the monolith turned on its feet. Graffer with a hulking knife thrusting the blade out, bringing it to a halt at Vrash's throat. Her motion stopped. But held firm, not shifting from the path. Quite sure it would stop before it were halfway through the stump of her neck.
“Who's this?” Graffer's question.
“Someone Graffer. Do you need to know any more?” Cain on behalf of his guest.
“She stays here.” The Orc confident of that, the blade and his voice edging closer to Vrash.
“He's with me.” Vrash answered for herself... lifting a finger to the blade, pushing it aside, marching through the both of them to the stairs.
Cain and Graffer sharing a moment before the Orc pushed the blade to the Elve, forcing him on. Any more force and it would've punctured anything it touched, skin, armour or stone alike.
The stairs to the edge of the bar, a creaking collection of wooden slats creeping up into shadows and the depths above the tavern. Cain rounding the corner to find Vrash sitting in a chair already, the empty upstairs of the tavern. Waiting at the table patiently whilst the heat settled across everything.
“It's not normally good when your shown into an empty room in this part of town.” Cain commented. Pushed forward again, he took a seat beside Vrash. Gladly resting his arms on the table. His freedom might prove short lived yet if he just found his way into a quiet little kill room out of the way of prying eyes. The grunt from the Orc behind them showing his impatience. Wandering past, tapping on the door at the far end of the room. It couldn't have still been apart of the building they were in. Crossing into the one next door. Inconspicuous from the outside. Not looking anything to do with the grubby goings on of this tavern and its clientele.
A few hollow steps creeping from under the door as they approached. Closer, till they paused. The shadow hanging a brief moment. The turning of the lever bringing the silhouette into vision. Dark, tall, slim, wandering with a confident gate.
“I didn't think I'd see you again Bandit... was starting to even be happy about it.” The voice cooed, soft and voluminous, her very solid tone carrying across the wooden floor with her steps. Edging to the broaching light hanging above. Face hidden mostly in the hood clothed over her hair and head.
“I'm sorry Wench... I was slightly busy in jail.” Cain sighed with a heavy roll of his eyes.
“I heard that, they wouldn't let me come and visit. You would've enjoyed that.” Undaunted by being referred to as a Wench.
“They don't allow visitors that deep... I see they moved you... cast you out into the outer quarters. Where you couldn't cause trouble, or where they couldn't see it.” Cain spoke. The conversation between the two openly hostile. Not hidden under the folds of modesty like one might have thought. Vrash watching the two twitching bodies before her, curl and flicker with each little scowl and spiteful tick.
“You know me Cain. Happy to go with the river. Being this far out does have its advantages.” The voice assured. Hidden under the shadows, its Orc companion, a guard the size of the room plodding about in heavy boots, the floor below creaking with each step. Those below getting great drifts of dust filtering down from the splitting floorboards.
“Yes. I know you. And it'd still twist in your side they shifted you out. Lucky they didn't shift you entirely.” Cain on his seat thrusting his arms in energetic motions. Punctuating all his words with the slight, yet quick movements.
“There's no hand strong enough to move the Stone Head. You know that Cain.” The Wench reminded, forward that last amount, her body free from the shadows, a leg stepping over the simple wooden stool taking her position opposite Cain. The tattoos stretching across her face in changing patterns telling everyone what they needed to know. The hood proudly removed, slung down her back. The various studs and loops banding the various features of her face and ears a sparkling distraction.
Vrash spitting a glance to the side, straight at Cain, his calm outer not exactly filling her with confidence. In one swift motion she prepared to stand, draw that short blade from her side. Cain clamping a hand on her shoulder briskly, with force holding Vrash in her seat. The lightning like movement from the Orc circling around, unseen behind them, but coming. A heavy hand axe ready to drive its dull blade into head at a moments notice.
“Calm... everyone's calm.” Cain advised, especially to the Orc over his shoulder. With a nod from the Wench the monolith backed down. Sliding the tool back in the loop on his belt. Vrash calming as she came back to a halt, legs relaxed, but not so much she weren't ready.
“It's a Witch” Vrash hissed towards both of them.
“She's perceptive... who is she Cain... what's this about, why aren't you moulding over still.” The Wench inquired.
“Goings on inside the Castle.” Cain smiled. Vrash to his side still a mixture of furious and depraved, in the same room as a Witch. She should've been arresting her on sight. But here they were going to sit, talk, then presumably wander free, let her alone whilst she went on her means afterwards.
“Some diplomat almost got plugged by a Sal Djinn? Yes we heard about that.” The Wench nodded her hands crossed neatly on the table, they too etched in the markings, fine concentric circles and geometric shapes of the traditions so disgusting and perverse.
“That's the event in question.” Cain very happy to be free and talking with an old acquaintance because of that.
“You'll have to explain further how that gets you out of the deep holes Cain. That parts escaping me.” The Wench leant forward. Her face almost clanking it were covered so readily in the piercings.
“Fallow... the one that nearly got hit. Wanted my involvement in the investigation.” Cain all to happily answered.
“Why?” The Wench sounding genuinely inquisitive.
“That's the question isn't it?” Cain agreed along.
“Why are we here Cain, this is just wasting time.” Vrash cutting a look between the both of them.
“Does she want to be introduced to me Cain... I assume you're working together on this little project.” The Wench pointing out Vrash with a great deal of disinterest.
“Vrash... Investigator. Assigned to the case by Lymen himself.” Cain showing Vrash toward The Wench with a wave of his hand.
“Oh, you must be good then.” The Wench giving Vrash a hearty wink.
“Ehhh... She doesn't know you.” Cain giving a knowing nod and shake of his head.
“I wouldn't blame that on her Cain, things have changed since you've been gone. The shadows are more than welcoming, cover more than enough of the city for my purposes.” The Wench smiled. In between the teasing and the much warranted hate. The two did have some respect for each other. Causing Vrash all the more to give neither of them any.
“Why are we here. Or is this just some sort of dogs reunion.” Vrash complained again. Lurching back and forth between the two. Cain flashing his eyes over the Investigator by his side. The slightest of warnings about her position before he flickered back to what he were doing.
“She's right Cain, you don't want to be here, and I don't want either of you here. So tell me what this is about.” The Wench beckoning forth the reason for the visit. Not wanting any more traffic through her doors than had to be.
“You up on your politics?” Cain inquired. Adding the curl to it all a second later. “I'm a little behind.”
“I know my people... who are we talking about?” The Wench inquired.
“Why would someone want to kill Fallow?” Vrash asked. Leading off before Cain had any chance to. Still working the angle she thought were more likely.
“Fallow... he's an important man. The Ambassador, you kill him on Ith soil then war comes back. And that's good for many people.” The Wench replied.
“Who...” Vrash leaning forward, straight into the next question.
“The war ministry would get more funding... more importance, they're quite impotent in peace time. It could be the Dwarves... they provide Ith with its steel and minerals... War is a far more productive time for all of them.” The Wench explained, shrugging her shoulders as she did.
“But you've some different questions, don't you Cain... if your friend here will let you ask them?” The Wench nodding at both of them. Cain offering his eyes to Vrash to get permission. A very specific inquiry. Her glare thrown back enough confirmation.
“Who is Oran... he was the one hit, why is he important?” Cain asked. Someone who would know and give a straight answer. Sure at some point he might ask the others in Oran's party. But until then he figured the truth might be best to hear.
“He isn't... he's a Trade Delegate, part of the Petran Regency. Outside the incident, its inflammatory nature and the embarrassment. I'm not sure he is important.” The Wench replied.
“He have any connections to... them?” Cain inquired. A curious little spark in his mind. Lit by the name.
“Despite his name, no... He'd have had a position far above Trade Delegate if he were.” The Wench replied.
“What?” Vrash leaning in. A demanding question of both of them. Something being talked about in silence.
“Maybe you should spend some more time in the dark, you might hear some things you weren't meant to.” The Wench informed Vrash cheerfully.
“Oran... his name in Petran is of the Crow God. Long forgotten and ignored. I thought it might have been because of a tie towards The Order of the Crows... a brotherhood let's call it, within the Petran Regency.” Cain explained.
“I suppose it's likely after a time one might not have heard of them. They do like to keep it quiet. Everyone likes to keep it quiet. Nowadays. But we all have our ways of getting words flowing.” The Wench smiled. Vrash watching her quietly, the smiling Witch gleeful in her presence. At some height of the Stone Head organisation.
“Is there a way to contact the Sal Djinn still?” Cain wondered. Curious of the lay of the land since his last time wandering it.
“They'd an outpost... years ago. Cleaned out when the Western Quarter came up. Now it's just the old ways... I don't have a goat or any Band root handy, so you'll have to wait. If you wanted to question them as well.” The Wench offered.
“Put myself in a room with one... ha. I'll leave that to you. Who still deals with them... has ties, known or not.” Cain questioned.
“The Dwarves cut ties... Orc's, maybe some of them still have words every now and then, but they like to do their own dirty work, you know that.” The Wench nodded, taking special care to drift an eye over her basking servant. A muscular set of arms folded as he walked the room.
“The Drow?” Cain questioned.
“Best bet. No formal treaty... there's always skirmishes on the outer territories... Most Sal Djinn are Drow.” The Wench nodding along with the assumption.
“But you do not think it were the Sal Djinn” Vrash curling out the words from her seat, silent some time. Unsure why they were still here having this circular conversation.
Cain glancing too the side, feeling that a mistake to say out loud, especially in the Wench's company. Her ears pricked and her finger in just about every dish around the city. If she didn't know of the nature of the crime, then Cain would've rather kept it that way.
“Oh... really.” The Wench graciously leaning in, her head planted on the hand propping it up.
“I suppose you would've found out anyway... This wasn't done by the Sal Djinn. That much is obvious.” Cain confident of that. He just wished he didn't have to say it out loud. That detail would've been nice if kept away from The Wench as long as possible.
“What is it. What detail?” The Witch in question demanded. “I'll find out, you know that, how ever I need to.”
The blade from the Orc's knife emerging into frame, the glance to the side from Cain, signalling him back with a casual frown.
“You know how the assassin escaped?” Cain inquired.
“Thoroughly....” The Wench nodded. It was quite, from Castle and life in one swift motion and spell.
“Yes, quite... but not through fire.” Cain explained, a simple few words filling in the details.
“He burnt, turned to ash... there's not much that will get that hot that quickly.” The Wench confident in her knowledge, this one of her area's of expertise. Along side the seedy underside of her empire. The dalliances in the dark arts kept her mind attuned.
“Ozone, steel, tangy scent, strong.” Cain relayed, it still stuck to his tongue and nostrils, a heady reminder. Strongly clinging for a while yet.
“Lightning... Rhana arc... strong magic... definitely enough to turn anyone into ash. Not something a Sal Djinn would use though, absolutely not.” The Wench creeping through her thoughts, plucking easily the spell she figured it were, from the details of the smell. Not much else it could be.
“So, what else.” Cain holding out a hand ordering more details from his counterpart.
“That's old magic, only a few around these parts could do it. And it has to be used quick. There's a stiff time limit on that spell, whether he wanted to go or not, if he'd that bag it was going off. A Rhana Arc is unstable, to consign it to a spell pouch to use later is tough.” The Wench nodded. The shimmer to her face markings catching Vrash's eye. The others in the room seemingly used to the shimmer they let off occasionally.
“Who could do it, anyone you employ?” Cain inquired. Smiling that little amount, he knew any answer he got would be a lie.
“Oh come on Cain. I don't fuck with anything inside the Castle walls unless I need to. I want this peace to be lasting as much as anyone. Business is good, but business can always be better with more customers. And none of mine are dumb enough to cross me. I've made sure of that.” The Wench cooed. Explicitly sure she'd just the right tension on all those collars. The Orc plodding the room, letting out a huffing breath, the slightest of growls along with it.
Vrash staying quiet on the mention of The Wench's business inside the Castle walls, finding it impossible to believe she'd any control, let alone communication inside those sacred walls.
“You know I need names if you want me to leave you alone. Who could put that together, who'd want to enrage the Sal Djinn and risk that ire... and fire.” Cain offering a way to get him and his colleague to leave.
“It's an interesting proposition, help you, clear you from my sight... might almost be worth it. Keeping this thin veneer of peace intact.” The Wench groaned, almost ready to throw two kingdoms back to war as long as it meant Cain was slightly impositioned.
“Came on Witch... Or I might tell the white over here she can come back with a squadron.” Cain hissed. Half threatening, he wanted free of this place quickly too, more than a little history making this a unendingly tenuous place to be.
“Try the market. I assume you still know what that means.” The Wench sneered.
“Helpful advice, anyone I should be looking for... anyone new. And genuinely too, not just someone you want me to harass.” Cain demanded a little more detail. She were shifting about, the Witch, shuffling in her long robe, the long black hair a shade far different from the Elves. Far from the crone, the tails always painted them as, and far more business minded.
“I'm after someone selling bodies too.” Cain added. The confused squint from both The Wench and Vrash shot towards him.
“You know the Castle, I know the details. There's no reason for that to be public, no reason for him to be seen, to get caught. Unless he were meant to... and what assassin is going to take that job?” Cain asked the room, even the Orc strutting about in muscular form. The tense flexes rippling sinewy power out from its core. A huff all it gave. The Orc form of assassination to roll an army through the gates. Kill the target and everyone breathing within miles.
“That's a point. Silius... You'll find him easy. Or he'll find you, once you start dropping his name.” The Wench whispered as if the owner might be listening now.
“Now, you promised you'd leave.” The Wench smiled, that thought edging back across her mind. Being left alone by Bandit Cain a glorious proposition when in his company. The man in question smiling, he much of the same opinion about the Witch across the table. Hastily getting from the seat he stood. Vrash to his side remaining a few moments longer, unmoved by the motion. She'd more questions, more glares and growls to throw.
To a Witch. A Witch in her city, her kingdom, proudly nonetheless with some form of power as well.
“Don't forget her.” The Wench advised motioning to Vrash. Both sharing the glare. Neither backing down from the attack the other might mount. Vrash the first to move though. Getting to her feet. The Orc across the room stepping in as the Investigator repositioned her short blade carefully. The slightest of movements enough to give him a nervous few flashes of action.
Cain away, just about to the top of the stairs when he were stopped. The guiding few words bring his nose back around. The refined rudder guiding him back to The Wench, her words settling heavy on his head.
“You're not forgetting what you owe me are you Cain... we made that deal a long time ago... but a deal is a deal. And I want to collect now.” The Wench smiled, glistening teeth flashing in the pale red light of the lanterns.
“Of course you do... how many was it. Two... if I remember correctly?” Cain inquired. In a huff, hoping she'd forgotten, if just for the inconvenience of the deal. How much it'd take to pay back in just this moment. Luckily for him even without carrying any gold, he'd just what he needed to repay the debt. Unluckily, that cost were slightly vicious.
“Two... I'll let you chose.” The Wench smiled still, holding out the two fingers to confirm just how many.
“Fine... Well, go and get me the plate.” Cain shaking his hand towards the Orc. The monolith not enjoying in the slightest being ordered about. But reaching back anyway, pulling the white hot piece of metal from the fire. The long handle keeping his grubby paws free from the heat.
Cain pulling free his short blade, hands leaning on the table, watching The Wench as she sat ready, taking in the Elve standing before her. No sympathy at all.
“Pay me.” The Wench gleefully grinned.
Cain offering one more glare. Straight into her eyes, she shouldn't be enjoying this, shouldn't have the opportunity, that deal were bunk. But telling a Witch that was impossible, telling a Witch that commanded an organisation like the Stone Head, even more.
So that debt demanded to be paid. And demanded to be pain. Cain lifting the short blade in his right hand, carefully bringing it down across his splayed fingers, two on his left, because who the fuck needed them. Pinky and ring, the short blade levered down straight across the knuckle, skin, and bone sliced through clean. The crunch as the bone broke, a healthy pop and grind. The weight of his body forcing down the blade, making short work of the job.
Screwing his face in pain, a short sharp wince as he felt nerve and tendon snap inside, curling back from the fore of the wound. The elasticised strand covered by skin. The Wench at the table smiling, gladly taking in the sight of her debt being paid.
Cain with one disgusted thrust, flicking the blade in his hand, the two disconnected limbs from his hand tumbling across the table till they stopped handily in front of their new owner.
Vrash in the background, unsure what any of this was. What debt could be worth that, mutilating one's body more. And for what, for flesh, a few knuckles from a hobbled prisoner's hand. It weren't gold, or jewels, even knowledge. Some item of power, just a few joints on this ball of fingers. No use. None that Vrash knew of. But she didn't know many Witches. Didn't know the price at which she were owed.
Cain lifting the short blade jamming it stiffly into the table. Strolling to the Orc, waiting with the plate, the burning hot slice of metal ready. Now apparent to all those clueless what it was for. Cain snatching it straight from the grinning Orc's hands thrusting his own wounded mitt onto the white hot piece, searing the opening of both wounds. The ends of his fingers sizzling. Pouring luscious roasting smells deep into the room.
Vrash left to cover her nose at the fuming scent. A disgusting mix of burning flash and blood, fatty, iron rich blood. It smelled of meat and vile disgust, no such contacts should've crossed an Elve's tongue, nothing of the like, from whatever creature. Obviously just from his appearance it were clear Cain hadn't abide by that. That the source of his beard. The curse of those who indulged in the consumption of flesh. Forever they'd be reminded. Of the accord they'd broken, the command given by the Divine.
But there was Cain cooking his own flesh for the sake of stopping the blood when he could've just bandaged the wound, had those detached fingers grown again.
“Does this put you off youngster.” The Wench grinned, eyeing the Investigator across the room, her eyes thrown to the wall, the smell disgusting and inescapable.
“Yes. What use is this to you. You would force an Elve to defile themselves or some cheap debt.” Vrash hissed. Somewhat protective for the moment of the man she didn't quite care for in the slightest. But there was a scale, a level of care she'd give, and Elve no matter who it were, or what Divine commandments they broke, were always above Witch.
“Oh, that's sweet, Cain, she cares for you... that's exactly why I take it, a debt is based on who owes you... though I'm quite sure I still haven't found the exact thing Cain might care about losing.” The Wench cooed gladly. Some things hard to pin down. And Cain didn't exactly stick to the commandment to remain intact, in his perfect form.
“If you two want to stab each other, that's fine with me. In the mean time. It's good to be able to see you again Wench... the actual experience is, less so. But I'm sure it'll happen again soon.” Cain straightening from his wincing buckle, pulling his two stumped fingers from the heated plate, a few strings of melting skin tearing with it. Cain finding the stringent mug of alcohol on the table near by, the Orc's drink, something far stronger than most could take, but perfect for Cain's needs. With one swift mouthful taken he dunked his stumped fingers into the liquid, stinging, sharp, soaking into the melted flesh and viscera.
The Orc glaring, dark shining eyes flashing a quiet fury. But no more than ever, no more than deserved. Cain letting the mug back to its owner. A mixture of strongly scented and strengthened booze mixed with blood and fleshy concoction. The Orc having no worries about taking a healthy swig. Not the first, or last time an Orc would've tasted Elven flesh.
“Come... we have work to do.” Cain undeterred by the smile on the Orc's face at his taste, no surprise to anyone the creature found it pleasant. The Investigator stepping around the monolith, getting to the stairs, traipsing down them in a quick few steps. Vrash somewhat behind still, standing in the moment of it all, just her The Wench and her Orc servant present in the room.
“Vrash right... Investigator Vrash... Don't be a stranger girl... Come back. We can be friends.” The Wench offered with one hand, the other taking possession of the two fingers left on the surface of the table. Undeterred by the blood leaking out, covering her own thickly. Lifted to her nose to take swift exploration of the scent on offer. Cain's intense aroma locking into her nostrils.
The Investigator turning on her heels, without anything being said, marching from the room. As she edged down the stairs the message curling out and around her ears.
“The Stone Head is immovable, don't forget that.” The Wench called after. The grunting short delivered words from the Orc next, some sort of incomprehensible spit of garbled nature she couldn't pick out. Short blade handle clutched tightly while it remained in its sheath, security as she powered back through the tavern below. Blasting out the door. Cain already sitting high upon his horse. Patiently waiting.
“That was a Witch.” Vrash's first words. Still shocked, disgusted by the presence in her city of such a creature.
“Really focusing on that aspect aren't you... Of the things she is. That's by far the least to worry about.” Cain shaking his head slightly, his hand still paining him greatly, but he were done nursing it. Let his mind wander, that the best way.
“You let her take part of you, for what reason... why give in to that.” Vrash questioned madly, forgetting for a moment what she were looking at, the mess of his head and face.
“I didn't have much of a choice, I owed a debt, and debts get paid. Simple as that... You don't want someone coming collecting... Interest is never fair.” Cain replied.
“And you will not have them healed... you could have new fingers by the end of the week. Why walk around like that, some despicable mangled lump.” Vrash viciously, going to no ends to hide her disgust at the further obliteration of his body.
“I know the Wench, I know her well, if she saw I grew them back. She'd just take them again... Besides. A debt is a debt, the scar reminds me who I owed, and why I should never again. Now, are we done here? Or was there something else you needed.” Cain inquired. Skewering this as if it were her side track. Her waste of time.
Vrash's incensed face glowering as she hoisted her body in one motion onto the horse. Passing that by, the anger starting to dwell at the front of her head, and endless rage she wanted done with.
“Where now?” Vrash stiffly pulling the horse in the direction wanted.
“We go to the market, see what we can stir up... Unless you'd a better idea.” Cain holding a moment, just checking. Vrash gesturing forward, carefully sure to do it with her left hand, teasing she still had all her fingers attached.
The market. Dead centre of the Western Quarter. Just what it sounded like. Through the day at least. At night the market changed tone and nature, stalls and stores replaced with a different breed of retailer. A far more lascivious form of product and service on offer. One Vrash hadn't heard too much about, but one she were about to step into.
“Who is she. That Wench?” Vrash questioned, given a few moments and some distance, she were slightly calmer than in the presence of the Witch.
“The Wench... there's only one. Leader, currently, of the Stone Head.” Cain rather obviously.
“And who are they?” Vrash showing her impatience.
“Criminals, thieves, murderers... people that hire themselves out for all kinds of... thuggery.” Cain spoke with some admiration of that collective.
“And who is she... what is her name, how did she get there?” Vrash inquired. An interest it seemed, that bee in her bonnet stinging still. Would remain so for quite some time.
“The Wench... she might have a name... I haven't heard it yet. I doubt many people that have are still breathing. How she got there... through a trail of blood assumingly. Don't take her appearance as any comment on her ability to be vicious... or to use others to be. She's a Witch... very clever.” Cain explained, in a way, in others he didn't. It would've covered just as much if he shrugged, said he didn't know. There were some details, stories lingering in the ether. But most appeared so full of lies, Vrash wouldn't believe them anyway.
“And how do you know her?” Inflicting herself upon Cain, demanding he tell. If The Wench were the head of a criminal empire, what were an Investigator doing knowing her.
“I know all kinds of people Investigator. Not all the criminals are bad, and not all the good aren't criminals. You'd do well yourself, to find some not in the uniform.” Cain advised.
“Like the Wench?” She skewered back.
“I'm not going to tell you how to die Investigator...” Cain soothed. Slowly the horses clipping long, his distracted eyes wandering over the city, some amount of change since he were last in the open air. All these buildings new. The Western Quarter springing from the need to envelope the influx of people. Industry and agriculture bought with it. Along with other things.
“Tell me Vrash... what's the Castle's thoughts on the new quarter. The western part of town. I wasn't here to see it spring from the ground.” Cain's curious mind leading him to a few thoughts, on quite how the old guard of the Ith Regency, might feel about adding a cities worth of migrants to its mix.
“They bought filth with them... The Orc's, the Dwarves... humans...” Vrash without the commitment of her opinion behind it. That the party line, the opinion of the Regency, someone to blame for all their own failings. That rug having quite some amount swept under it so far.
“It's always nice to have someone to blame...” Cain pleased at the response, just what he figured it'd be, spiteful and headstrong from all those in charge.
“You are inferring that is a lie.” Vrash about to contest.
“It was always here... always.” Cain assured. As he rode standing up in the saddle fixing his clothes, tussling back and forth till they sat right, his head shifting, giving him a flash of the street they'd travelled along. The familiar face he expected, trailing some point in the distance.
Silent, the face from the Viper's Hand, the figure vanishing from the corner as they entered, marching quietly, from shadow to shadow. Briskly as the horses slowly got further and further away. Cain from the corner of his eye, keeping a position on the figure. Stepping into the lantern light every so often, dotting his progress in his perusal of them.
Cain's attention back to the road, the cobblestones laid deep into the ground, fastened down by mud and constant pressure. The buildings to each side weathering down nicely, purposely unassuming in presence. Hiding all kinds of things behind each. How large had the Stone Head become. Cain got the feeling just from the Wench's bustling presence it were likely the entire quarter. No hand can move the Stone Head, appeared the truth.
“Who is following us?” Vrash calmly asked, the question passed between the two. Cain surprised, pleasantly he weren't the only one to notice. She did have some skill after all. Cain keeping his words to himself, a pretentious pride about his own skills, he didn't afford to other people.
“I'm not sure.” Cain offered back.
“He was at the Viper's hand too. Waiting for us?” Vrash suggested. Something Cain hadn't thought of quite yet, that were true. Maybe. Likely he was a look out for the Wench, and now a shadow. But something else might have been the case. If that figure waited for them at the Viper's Hand, and he weren't one of The Wench's dogs. That were a different load of trouble to deal with.
“He works for the Wench?” Vrash wondered. Putting that to Cain for his opinion.
“Maybe... or someone else. The market is close, we'll find out soon enough.” Cain casting away any worry either might have had, instinct would deal with that later. A trailing hand might cause trouble, but later, always later.
“You have not been here before. How do you know where the market is?” Vrash asked. A curious glare delivered with suspicion. Cain in prison. Deep in the dungeon for whatever reason when the Western Quarter were built, and now he guided them through a neighbourhood he'd apparently never seen.
Nodding to his side pointing out the glyph proudly painted across the walls. Displayed with no shame. A signal to all those that cared, showing brightly in the light of the lanterns, dotting the street. Only there in the darkened shades of night.
“Signs, everywhere...” Cain replied, besides that the foot traffic was up. Comings and goings from the night life centred around the market, far more than the dead alleys and lanes of the rest of the quarter. Not densely packed, but enough to say they were coming to a hub. The hive, streams of crawling drones eking out from its centre. All kinds, with all kinds of problems, lists and tasks wandering about. All those with the right amount of knowledge giving skewering looks to the one in white on her horse. A lofty seat they wanted to bring her down from, but didn't dare.
The horses still lugging them to the market. Cain watching his surrounds, high up, a few floors from the ground floor sitting in the window sill, an older Elve. Not focused on the white of Vrash, how it seemed to beam from the dark along the street. But watching Cain, and his uniform. The plainer attire a far less flashy set of robes. A salute given, two fingers held up straight, pinned together, palm out. Index and middle finger straight, given gladly at the sight of the older uniform. Cain returning it without bother.
Cain weren't young, not by any means, the Investigator sitting on the window, legs lopped over the side appeared a far older gent than he though. Done with the rules and duties, now slung out into a quarter he'd no part in. Or maybe he did. Cain not recognising the face from any he'd seen before or after his time in the dungeon. Vrash seeing the motion turning her head to see the recipient. Only catching a flash of the disappearing body in the window.
“A friend?” She inquired, quite sure that was impossible, even by the little time she'd spent with him. Cain couldn't of had friends, even acquaintances. Just enemies that weren't ready to kill him yet.
“No... just a shadow.” Cain already back to his business. Weaving the horse over to the side of the street, finding the hitching post lined with the nags, a spot amongst them hard to find.
“Some advice. Don't ask too many questions.” Cain relayed. Hopping down, his horse sliding into a gap, bustling about with the others in the line, a few drinks of water taken in its break.
“I'll do what I see fit.” Vrash holding nothing back from that.
“Pull your blade now then cause you'll need it. Not everyone will be as patient as The Wench. And it's a very short journey from the market to the slaughterhouse.” Cain assured. Preparing himself. A hand washing over in one safe motion, the crossbow locked to his wrist, the blade given a few quick testing draws before it went back to rest in its sheath
“They would not be so bold as to kill an Investigator.” Vrash enforced.
“Huh... Are you sure you're not a jester?” Stepping away from his horse. Filing along the street into the bustling market. Vrash in her insult following after, watching the surrounds like a hawk, her eyes focusing on the people milling around the entrance, a collection of smoke pouring from each of the mouths, as they talked and jostled for position in the conversation. A loud raucous group enjoying each others presence if not company. Jibes and jabs from good natured to vicious being thrown about with a familiarity to suggest it were a constant thing. None paying attention yet to the two approaching Investigators. Enraptured in their own goings on. That wouldn't last forever.
The sight no doubt of the white robes of an Investigator not a common sight around here. The Western Quarter as a whole left to its own devices largely. Even Vrash in her abundant protection and pride of the Regency knew there'd been a certain amount of giving up, with the way the quarter was run. An outpost, a branch of the Investigators somewhere out here. But they were a small group, hardly ever heard from, if even still active.
Cain marching along, the same way he'd entered the Viper's Hand, a quiet unassuming saunter to his stride. Sure he might pass by with little effort. About past when a hand reached out, clamping into the beam across the space Cain wished to cross.
A very steady set of words languidly coming out of the human's mouth as he continued his conversation, insulting his fellows in the group, before turning his attention finally, to the held up Cain. Vrash edging to a halt by his side now he'd been stopped, his quiet entrance blocked, by someone so casual yet intrusive.
“Who's this?” The question thrown finally. The group as a whole turning on its feet, puffs of smoke from pipe and rolled paper flowing from mouth like breath. They stunk of tobacco and weed, a concoction of leaves dipped in amber sap then smoked because they'd weak wills and were addicted to it.
“Who are you?” Cain inquired, looking to the human in front of him, the group a motley collection of individuals and species. Creatures of all kinds rollicking back and forth, enjoying the level of difficulty they put into the simple act of getting into the market. With a few steps in either direction Cain could've found an easier a path, but now this were a matter of principle, he'd been stopped. Held up by some lout.
“I asked first... ugly.” The human smiled with his hand reaching up, pushing Cain's chin to the side to see the scars trailing from the front to the back of his head. A weak jab if he thought that a point of ingress into Cain's ego. It were for most Elves. Just not this one.
“I must say it does come off as slightly ironic, a human calling an Elve ugly.” Cain looking from Vrash to the rest of the group. The smile on the human's face slinking away, as his fellows in the barricade began to chuckle as well.
“I think you might find it hard to get inside then.” The human reinforced a stiff finger beating into Cain's chest, poking vigorously in violent strokes. Beating its way down to his heart if it could've.
“No, not really.” Cain smiled, just letting that finger prod its way into his chest, undeterred by any of the contact.
“Really, and what makes you think you, and an Investigator might have any chance of getting in here.” The human, reaching forward, his chin curling out, the way they thought intimidating. All humans did that, Cain smiled to himself, thought it made them large. It just made them look stupid. Opened the throat to attack. Perfect really. A victim of their own life span, this one young, twenty years plus a few odd years. He wouldn't even have been born when Cain were first slung into the dungeon. He'd have no idea this were a uniform too, just far older. The piece of kit put together before this specimen's, father's, sire, were still a child.
“It's a metallic taste... do you know that?” Cain leant in. Close, intimately so, to the man in front of him, the human back a step at the intruding Elve in his personal space.
“What are you flapping about?” The human questioned.
“It tastes of iron. It's tough too, the older it is. But cooked right you can make it tender. Of course, there's a certain enjoyment to having it raw. You have to use your teeth, jaws. Arm strength even to pull it free in any consumable chunk.” Cain rattled on, grabbing hold of the human's shirt, his right hand twisting, ripping it forward. In one motion the crossbow attached to his wrist levering out, the bolt ready, pointed into the soft under flesh of the human's neck, the scraggly hair tracing down his face not kept in any order.
“Put me down.” The order given from the human without any authority. His fellows about to wander forward and help out. Imposing steps delivered in quick motion. Vrash taking her own forward, the first draw of her short blade given with a gentle motion. Halting more than a few of them with the simplest of steps.
“And then it gets stuck in your teeth... its a stringy meat... and hairy too... if you don't cook it. You're all so hairy.” Cain informed with his left index finger, running it down the fuzz on the human's face, almost in disgust. Giving no attention or acknowledgement to his own face full of hair.
“Even your women... all just grubby little things, like rats, hairy and useless. Rat taste better I'll say though... You aren't even good for eating.” Cain bringing his friend forward, the struggle kept to a minimum as the sharpened point of the crossbow jabbed readily into the humans neck. His panicked eyes unsure quite what to make of any of this. The talk. The threat, the insult.
“Now step aside.” Cain's direction, delivered simply to the human he clutched tightly. The panicked look in the shimmering eyes. A hand reaching up to grab at Cain's.
“No... don't touch me...” Cain ordered. Still holding tight, the humans hand stopped halfway on its journey. Cain slowly pushing him away, the bolt in the crossbow all the while jabbing sharply into some point of the human's anatomy. A constant reminder that any wrong move would bring the sharp piece of steel straight through his body.
A few seconds longer holding him tight, clutched. At arms length. Finally releasing him back to his group, the silent gathering of bodies held quiet. Cain straightening himself out with a few quick thrusts of his clothes, pushing past roughly.
Vrash, meandering after. Watching them all the way, slipping past the gang. Some informal group of louts that liked to make themselves difficult for those entering. For what reason seemed a mystery. Maybe they worked for someone, or just enjoyed being pieces of shit. Two careful eyes kept on all the bodies. Slinking back carefully. Edging towards the other side of the entrance. Letting her past without as much as a word. That would come later, after they were far enough away for bravery to return.
Vrash edging after Cain, a speed to her step till beside the strolling Investigator. The stalls on each side quietly running, only some closed this late at night. Some just under different ownership. As Vrash and Cain passed, the white of her uniform having all kinds of hands reach for certain items, pulling them from stalls and tables. Hiding them away from the prying eyes of the law. Intense and unsure glances thrown from each seated stall owner, sales spiels halted. Illegal items not for sale when certain people passed. Some whole tables covered hastily in a rug just because there were so many illegal items on display.
Hawkers shiftily wandering behind each piece. Waiting for the time again they could advertise. The customers filing through keeping to themselves.
Cain stopping at a table, mid stride, eyeing down. Quite an array of illegal things left in the open. No care given to either of the uniforms halted in front of the table.
“Where can I find Sillius?” Cain not facing the table, paused in motion, enough of an obstruction to the rest of the market patrons as those at the front gate. Right in the middle of the path while he waited for a quick answer.
“Who?” The reply from the stiff looking creature across the table. Rigid spikes dotting above its eyes.
“Don't play dumb. It doesn't suit you... I need to talk to him.” Cain repeating his wish, using different words.
“Who's playing.” The creature replied. Cain left to shrug.
“Ehhh.” The sigh flowing freely.
“Do you have gold on you Investigator?” Cain inquired, turning to his colleague. The slighter Investigator, looking from under her brow, in as much of a huff as Cain. The slow hand motion from him encouraging out the gold pieces she had in her robes. Cain grabbing a few, throwing them to the stall owner. Snatching up a small pouch in return. Holding it up properly in the light.
“Now Investigator Vrash, you wanted some reassurance of the difference between the spells we're looking at. The Rhana arc, smelled metallic, of ozone... correct?” Cain directing Vrash's attention to the bag he held.
“Yes, that is what it smelt of.” Vrash sighed, annoyed he were still harping on this.
“Observe the difference between that, and pyromancy.” Cain invited giving the bag a squeeze, a bursting flame licking out from the edges of his hands, before he tossed it to the deep dark material bordering the stall to the others. The wash of rough hewn burlap lighting with ease. The creature behind the stall tearing back from his seat, the licking flames careening up the material over his head. Dropping sparks down to the items across the table, in a flurry of heat and flame.
“Smell it, floral, cedary, almost, full of flavour... very strong.” Cain pointed out. Vrash to his side taking a step backwards as a few of the bags lit up. Simple hex pouches, single use spells for those that needed something done hastily. Illegal, thoroughly. So here she wouldn't complain too hard about Cain's impetuous display of arrogance.
He lifted a foot kicking the heavy table over, the collapsing items lifting from the surface, scattering towards the creature as it leapt to safety, a whooshing flame engulfing everything in front of them, a blazing hot trail of smoke screaming into the sky. The surrounding few stalls clearing their stock from danger.
“Smell it?” Cain inquired from under the sound of crackling, popping collections of bags and hexes. Snapping twigs of herb branches, and powders sizzling in concoctions.
“Yes...” Vrash keeping her distance. She did, quite clearly, saw it as well, this fire nowhere near as hot as the previous they looked at. That had scorched a man to a black mark on a rug within seconds. This were a fire, bright, and hot, but not scorching, not so intense she couldn't stand and observe. Smell the leaking vapours pouring from each flame. Of wood and floral scent, sweet in her nostrils, where the other was a deep stringent odour, powerful in its lurking presence.
“Sillius will be at the card tables...” Cain informed himself, stepping away from the fire, the stall owner quickly scrambling to put out the fire before him, a desperate set of hands reaching for whatever he could use.
Continuing on in eagerness, as Vrash followed Cain into the depths of the market. The few patrons still gathered staring at the blaze.
“Why even stop if you knew where he was?” Vrash questioned from behind. Edging closer to Cain with every step.
“No reason.” After a few seconds thought. He just appeared to enjoy being difficult. Ruining someone's day. “Don't worry. He worked for Sillius. Both of them can afford to lose a little stock.”
“You're sure they play cards here?” Vrash inquired. The presence of gambling a mystery to her. And should have to Cain, he were making many an assumption on the nature of the market.
“Of course there will be. Can you hear any dog fights... no... Sillius likes to gamble... if there isn't a game somewhere, he'll have set one up himself.” Cain replied. In only a few more steps he came to a corner, gladly pointing to the wall in front of them, a criss cross of paths at the intersection, the painted symbol on the wall cluing him in.
“See.” His one word, fingering at the glyph.
“What does it mean?” Vrash inquired.
“Gambling...” Cain pointed out, trailing one finger along the first half of the pictograph.
“Run by the Stone Head.” He went on, trailing to the second, that symbol sticking out, on a lot of the walls around the market, the Western Quarter. The kingdom as a whole if you paid enough attention.
“They run everything.” Cain smiled, sure his partner wouldn't be. Behind him the scowled tick given in the quietest of motions. Cain leading off. In the distance the bustling voices and laughter getting louder.
“Does this Sillius work for the Wench too?” Vrash inquired. A ready hand on the short blade if the answer were yes.
“No... Sillius works for himself, and The Wench wouldn't have him.” Cain replied.
“What does he do?” She demanded.
“He's a fence, middle man, you need a thing, he gets it for you... you have a thing, he finds someone that wants it. Sometimes that thing you have, might not be in your possession yet. So he'll pay you to go and get it.” Cain explaining very loosely the type of creature Sillius were, just not physically.
“And what is he, human?” Vrash's outlook on that species not a good one obviously, the short lived little things all kinds of untrustworthy to most Elves.
“He's a Dramen... Don't say anything about his size... he's quite pissy about that. The tiny little fucker.” Cain breaking his own rule as soon as he'd said it. But he seemed intent on doing that anyway. The bustling group ahead of them focused around tables, busily sweating and chatting whilst giving gold to one another, through a series of unwise bets. Smoke sat over the group, a thick haze of tobacco and weed, tasteless people of all kinds deep in drink and stupor. Pissing away the last of the money they'd borrowed from many a lender before hand. The crooked dealers from The Stone Head making sure only the slightest amount of gold were returned. Enough for those losing to return another night, but never enough not to clear a profit.
Cain holding as he wandered. Choosing his path through carefully. Vrash those short steps behind paused as well, her white robes bound to stick out here. Most of the females of any species flittering about seemed servers or tramps, again under the service of the Stone Head to pilfer away some gold for services rendered, in whatever alley or haystack were free.
Cain looking for his target. Eventually spotting out the diminutive figure he wanted. By voice alone, the large puff of smoke, and raucous little belly laugh, chipper and queasy in its nature. The tiny little pot bellied Dramen currently on a streak it seemed. Gladly lauding his luck over the others around the table, the few guards aligned behind him enough to keep him safe.
Sillius the antsy little bugger, thrusting gold coins forward happily in one heaving bet. Chittering to himself with each counted piece of gold. Cain on watch trying to place exactly what game it were. It didn't appear to matter to anyone playing, just that it was illegal and about to win them a packet. That clear enough from the bulging set of eyes on Sillius's face, engorged with green. The gold shining deeply, a glinting sparkle, leaving him all the more entranced. Cain stepping from his holding position, weaving a path through the crowds.
The Wench would have all their gold by the end of the night. Sillius's phalanx of guards of a species far larger than the Dramen, his toad like frame held in safety as he kept a careful grip on the cards lurking in his hand.
Cain wandering to the other side of the table, hovering around the back of the crowd, merging carefully forward till he were stopped in frame. The greedy little nymph going about his cards, till with a unwary look from his business, he noticed the standing Elve observing him. A stare intense and full of purpose. His mouth ready to move, say anything at the recognisable figure's presence, the last time he'd seen that beaten face a long time ago. Not a mug he counted on ever seeing again, but there it were. Smiling with the grin, eyes alight, watching the cards handed back and forth busily.
To his side, flitting in and out through the crowd, getting the attention of all those she bumped into a figure in white, the recognisable robes of the Investigators. Not a common sight around these parts, but everyone knew the sight well enough, to have it stick in their mind. More than a few trailing eyes after her. Considered reaching for those hidden weapons they weren't meant to have in the gambling space. Several different affiliations and colours running deep in the blood. All with the command to keep theirs safe. Did that include shanking an Investigator on sight. None quite dumb enough to do it yet. But there was still plenty of time. And Sillius watched all of them, the lingering few grabs inside coat and robe. All too late as the Investigator carried through the crowd. Edging around past Cain.
Sillius of the mind it was far too much a coincidence for them both to be here separately. Which meant many things. That Cain was out. Not escaped. Amongst the many others.
Bustling through the crowd came another familiar face. Terrified for many a reason, smelling of the smoke from his stall. Exhumed in the smoke of all those spell bags lit up so carelessly. Pushing ahead of the guards surrounding Sillius, about to lean in and whisper when he saw Cain and Vrash across the other side of the table, glowering heartily before he dropped his message in Sillius's ear. Nodding vigorously across the gap.
Cain watching all the while, as Sillius received his message, his eyes blinking shut an extended flash. Minuscule reactions on a minuscule body showing his annoyance. Slight shoulders shrinking. Before those bulbous eyes opened up, staring straight across at their target.
Now he smiled. Now Cain bared teeth proudly, widely, letting the glistening ivories tell of his pride. Sillius grabbing at the remaining pieces of gold in his stash, more than he'd come in with. Enough that quitting now, wasn't too much bother. His guard hovering around him, the tiny little hand scooping out a motion telling Cain to approach already. The Elve successfully ruining his night already, he might as well go further.
Cain drifting through the crowd eagerly. Behind him the stiffly guiding Vrash forcing her way. Ignoring everything as she went, and frustrated to be doing so. Gambling illegal, all these weapons she could feel as well. But the time for clearing this place out would come later.
On her approach the guards lining ready, hands reaching for blade and hammer swiftly.
“Ehhh... calm... enough for now.” The croaky little voice emerging from the hobbled Dramen. Plodding closely to the ground. Dwarfed by everyone around him, but still held in some sort of stature. Each of the guards relaxing, only slightly. Vrash however keeping her palm clutched ready, resting on on the balled top of the short blade.
“I heard you went to the dungeon Cain... a long time ago... that you were never coming out.” Sillius quipped. Enjoying that little poke.
“Well I'm out now. Aren't I.” Cain looking down at himself, as if his appearance in the flesh made that obvious.
“Yes... shame. What did you want Cain, or are you just here to ruin my night, and stock.” Sillius questioned. Casting away the luridly odorous stall runner, his glare still on full display, vanishing back into the shadows of the market, amongst the crowd and gamblers.
“I'm working... need to know a few things.” Cain replied. Sure that would be met with as much derision as could be mustered, by the tiny little creature wandering before him.
“And why would I tell the Investigators anything... Even if I didn't have a reputation to uphold.” Sillius questioned.
“Because you do not want a short trip to the dungeon.” Vrash cut in from the side. Her interruption curled around that very definite descriptor.
“Who's your friend Cain. Quite, feisty for a youngster, isn't she.” Sillius pointed, his knobbly little mitt pushed out on a slender gangly limb. Knots at the joints, into slender sickly looking little limbs, far from it in reality though, bones like steel, and flesh, organs able to take all kinds of damage. Killing a Dramen through violence nearly impossible, despite how small they were.
“Investigator Vrash, assigned to the Regency.” Her reply, cutting off anyone answering for her.
“To the Regency.” Sillius repeated in his humming little croak.
“What are you doing here Vrash... I think I like talking to you more than Cain.” Sillius assured everyone. Cain not hiding his impression that might change post haste. But let the little blighter go, he'd find that on his own.
“We are investigating the attempted assassination of Petran Ambassador Fallow.” Vrash spoke loudly, looking around as she did, wondering just how many ears listened, and if any of those reactions might be worth questioning.
“Oh... that's awful... only attempted... and that brings you to me how?” Sillius grumbled. Vrash holding her tongue on her next few words. None of them would've helped.
“We are here. Because my colleague seems to think you might be of some use.” Vrash pincered at both of them, quite sure Cain was wrong, because anything Sillius could say, if he said anything, would likely be a lie.
“By that tone I'd say you think that's wrong... and let me tell you Investigator Vrash. You're right.” Silius grinned, his mouth wider than most people's heads, the round ball sitting atop his rotund body.
“Oh, come now Sillius, you know how convincing I can be.” Cain assured. Confident to the end. The slight frame beside him, Sillius's staggering body held in its step. Remembering all too well previous instances shared with the Elve.
“Ahhh... don't waste my time you dog... tell me, what's the angle. Why am I spilling anything to you.” The Dramen angry at the memory, and Cain's apparent success in all the previous conversations together.
“Fallow wasn't killed... he wasn't even the target.” Cain began, Vrash staring a few moments, sharing the duty with Sillius.
“But she says... ah, what does it matter, keeping going.” Sillius confused a moment.
“Fallow, wasn't hit, some nobody in the Petran Regency, Oran was... I, think he was the supposed target all along. My partner isn't quite there yet.” Cain confidently proposed to one that didn't care, and another that didn't believe.
“Good for you. How does this involve me?” Sillius cutting to the point.
“The assassin were chased down, he then immolated himself with a spell.” Cain described.
“Sal Djinn, really?” Sillius announced, honing in on the usual suspects from an incident like that.
“That were what they wanted people to think. But the spell were a Rhana Arc. Lightning... not fire. But given the assassin dressed in black, from head to toe, what else where they going to.” Cain plotted out.
“So someone wants to set up the Sal Djinn for some sort of assassination attempt, who cares.” Sillius threw out. Casting away any cares with a motion of his hands.
“Well, the Sal Djinn might. They don't take kindly to pretenders do they. And given the circumstances of the assassination. The rather unprofessional nature of the killer, I'm guessing they used a puppet.” Cain rolling to a halt, the few steps taken by Sillius, halted at the mention of that word.
“You know anyone that sells puppets in Ith, Sillius... anyone at all?” Cain poked, quite sure the identity of one was quite close.
“Keep your voice down...” Sillius hushed him quickly taking a step over. Peering up at the far taller creature before him. Not much in the world would put the worry to Sillius. But the Sal Djinn were obviously enough to raise his adrenaline.
“So you did sell to someone.” Cain lingering forward with a healthy smile.
“I sell to a lot of people. I don't keep track of exactly what everyone wants them for.” Sillius shaking his hand about in the midst of a panic. Deep into thought about maybe the trouble he were in.
“Who did you sell to?” Cain questioned again. Even Vrash came forward to add a little more pressure. She too, interested in exactly what kind of product was being sold.
“Only one outside of the usual.” Sillius assured. His panic real, considered, thinking over the exact amount, and exact customers wandering around with his name on their tongue.
“Sillius, come on now, tell us who... you know that's the safest route.” Said Cain. Holding a few before speaking again, still no answer coming. “They don't just kick, punch, stab Sillius, the Sal Djinn come at you with magic, fire, fury, how much damage can you actually take. Because they'll find the limit. I promise you that. They don't appreciate the name being denigrated”
His counter in the talk thrusting about in his body, arms and legs tussling in the simple clothes wrapped around his body, the cock eyed blink, off kilter, one eye closing before the other even started. Sillius' thoughts all too clear.
“I didn't meet them, no one did.” Sillius assured, far quieter than any of his other words.
“What was that?” Cain inquired. The slight figure in front of him, grabbing a handful of the pants wrapped around Cain's leg, pulling at them with some amount of power.
“You heard me dog, now don't go talking shit about things I didn't do... I still have more hands than you ever will. Don't forget that.” Sillius hissed, eyes flashing a deep red. Changing colours from the hued greens before. Saucer like iris slotting down to pin holes.
“Who then... tell me... quickly.”
“Didn't meet him, it were a letter provided by a courier. Wanted a puppet, didn't say what for, didn't say their name, just wanted it delivered. And you don't turn down business. Not like that.” Sillius confirmed he'd sell his arms for the right price, even with an itchy back, gold the best of relief.
“Business like what?” Vrash stepped in, the mention of a price, no matter what the product, obviously meant some sort of overpayment. Sillius in his boots, thick lush looking things made for a child normally, but one of some financial stature, milled about before angrily pulling his gold pouch from his robes, retrieving the stone inside. Holding it proudly, the glinting light focusing through the prismatic rock. Sparkling proudly.
“May I see?” Cain holding out his hand.
“You have eyes on those dirty mitts of yours...” Sillius slipping the stone back from reach, before anyone snatched at it.
“Oh... fine then, hold it out you greedy little shit.” Cain squinted getting down on knee, head alone taking a closer look at the stone.
“You know where it's from?” His question to the one holding it tightly, a grip far stronger than it looked, more thanks to greed than muscle.
“I don't trust you Cain, no one does. It's that ugly face of yours... No, I don't, who cares though, it's emerald, worth a packet, much more than the effort for one puppet. So what did I care.” Sillius talking softly, slipping away the stone, once everyone were done marvelling at its value.
“Well I hope its worth the trouble you might get. No amount of money will dissuade the Sal Djinn if they're angry with you... now this letter. You still have it?” Cain asked, hand ready for that too.
“I'm not in the practice of keeping things to get me in trouble Cain, not unless they're worth something.” Sillius replied.
“The address then, where you delivered the puppet?” Cain undeterred by the detail.
“Ahhhh.... Lot fifty seven on Mulvana... Northern Quarter. But you didn't hear that from me... you remember that Cain... you too.” Sillius eyeing off Vrash with a set of bulbous eyes, closing the lids till they focused in. Huge slits to something more refined, the hobbling creature pulling himself and his guard away with one swift movement. Edging towards the alleyway he'd vanish down. Vrash and Cain letting him go without any more words, meandering away while his crew of guards held pace around him.
“What is a puppet?” Vrash as the group cleared from eavesdropping distance. A sure guess on her mind, but clarity came with the exact answer.
“Just what it sounds like... a body, normally dead, freshly, though sometimes they use those still alive. Under control for whatever purpose one might want.” Cain not throwing any shade, or shame that he had to explain that to his colleague.
“Normally through a command... give them a mission then out they go... some use a direct line. Exact thought, exact motion, a link between the puppet, and master. That requires someone alive though.” Cain running through his thoughts. The second of those seeming the more apparent route here, given the exact nature of the assassination.
“Quite illegal I'm guessing?” Cain glancing to his side. Vrash not giving any reply. “I'd say it were the second... The exact control to get what you wanted. Dead bodies seem to be a little blunt in approach.”
Staring down his colleague, expecting her to sneer at the information. Her flash back, just a simple deadpan expression.
“Is that not powerful magic?” She questioned. A hold of control over someone's mind and actions seemed a far off thing from her knowledge, it must've required some great amount of power.
“No, not really, just the right ingredients, preparation. Exacting knowledge though... something not a lot of people around Ith could do without practice.” Cain considered aloud. He were about to step away. Wander off on his path back to the horses, assumingly on route to the Northern Quarter. Straight to the address provided. Vrash's sparkling voice holding him that moment.
“It's a Petran emerald.”
“What...” Cain turning a moment after he'd stopped. Taking a step in, fingers from his right hand clutching at the hair lining his face.
“The stone they paid the Dramen with... it's a Petran Emerald.” Vrash assured. Arms crossed in front of her.
“Really... how can you be sure?” Cain inquired.
“Previous investigation... handing back spoils from various war criminals. Got particularly familiar with certain pieces of value. They are mined from the mountain. Rare, but not overly.” Vrash explained.
“Payment from Petra...” Cain mumbled.
“I merely said that was what it was, not where it were from Cain, mind your conclusions.” Vrash directed, edging away from anything her previous statement might have assumed.
“Yes, yes... of course.” Cain mumbled. Not paying much attention.
“Quick...” Cain nodded after a lengthy moment to himself, stepping away briskly, Vrash following along, casting her head about, already seeing the machinations her detail put to work. It wouldn't have been unheard of, for someone outside a Petran Regent to have an emerald. But even she had to admit it were a slight chance. Even then Vrash's misgivings about giving that away, were in full swing. Enrapturing her thoughts that Cain led the investigation where he wanted it to go.
Oran were dead, but Oran wasn't the focus of the investigation even if the victim. Honour demanded that found out, for Fallows sake, and no one else’s. Otherwise both Kingdoms might suffer.
The horse waited, stamping in place as they found restless the company of the other nags. Cain quickly sliding into the saddle, ready to take off towards the Northern Quarter, his eagerness all about being back into the game, rather than the next location. Vrash swiftly behind. Whilst the Western a new suburb, it was a collection of motley looking buildings and characters, dishevelled and left to its own devices. Slowly crumbling back into the dirt it had risen from in lawless squalor.
The North far more lofty. The home of the Regency and Bureaucrats. All those that felt they were above the rabble. A better class of people, or maybe they just hid the dirt better. So well it was under other people's finger nails. The dull browns and dusty shades of the Western Quarter would give way to the central hub, then stretch into the pure white and oppressive cleanliness of the Northern.
Green vines and alabaster columns, where here all unclean walls and tattered awnings. Cain knew what he preferred. Honestly neither, the Southern Quarter a far easier place to survive than both. The Regency would send an Imperial troop to your home if you even talked to the wrong person in the North. And the Wench did all her best work in the shadows of the West.
“He's still there.” Vrash noted. Their shadow from before, from the Viper's Hand and trailing to the market dotted behind. Emerging from an alley with the most careful of footsteps. Lingering longer than most would in the shadows by themselves, especially in this part of town. The lone figure conspicuously looking in all directions but theirs.
“Yes, he is... did you want to do something about him.” Cain fixing the strapping on his saddle a few seconds. The question eased out with a casual tone, but far more sinister intent hiding just beneath the surface.
“Like what?” Vrash getting a little distance from Cain and his casual suggestion that the tail could be dealt with easily. So unassuming in the inquiry she almost thought he might not be suggesting something violent.
“What do you think?”
“Following someone is not a crime, definitely not one worthy of what you are suggesting.” Vrash winced holding him in check.
“In my day we had an Investigator's prerogative.” Cain recalled. That silent train of their tail bound to follow on.
“What does that mean?” Vrash inquired uneasily. They'd powers, ones she'd never used, discretion an important skill to have. But it sounded by what Cain said, any and all rules, only rough guidelines when he roamed the streets.
“I wouldn't worry... that day isn't here any more... obviously.” Cain huffed, taken with his memory of those days. The good old days?
“Come... we've somewhere to be. And I want to test his dedication.” Cain announced yanking on the reins. Off flew the horse. Vrash lurching after. The two beasts carrying them speeding along the street. Far over the limit allowed. But in the night they'd free reign, to plough down the centre, dodging foot traffic and the slower carts with ease. No constabulary out this late to hand down a fine. Not that any would to an Investigator.
The quarters changed with the suddenness of the walls between them, the archway dividing the Western from the central hub, like a portal, from light to dark. None of the care taken to keep the West pristine. Disrepair had its own colour and tone, its own intangible feel. The central hub, nothing more than the connecting centre of the kingdom. Splitting roads and checkpoints through the kingdom.
The two horses slowed before the guard positions, antsy Elves with bow and sword not taking too kind to charging nags through the checkpoints. With looks of disgust and curiosity Cain let through, once Vrash with the slightest of signals forced the point. Edging closer, into the Northern Quarter. White walls and luscious vines sprawling across surface. The columns holding up everything of fine architectural standard. Carved into them intricate pattern and statue. The streets far quieter. Anything going on here kept well indoors. A seedy underbelly, not so dirty. But still present. Filth of a far different kind explored in intricate details through this quarter.
Their tail looked to have dropped away. Some time in the West, the lingering solitary point on foot, falling off the back of the trail, lost in the shadows and speed Cain and Vrash put to hoof. Dotted streets and flourishing signs, directing easily where everyone wanted to go. Whilst in the West all those pieces had been removed. Replaced by the sigils and symbols, codes only the residents knew. Vrash giving her horse a few jockeying motions with the reins, getting it forward. Leading the way whilst in her territory. A far friendlier face in this part of the Kingdom.
Cain letting her take it, meandering behind, scowling as much as everyone did at him, at everything so pristine and well kept.
That the lie of the Elves, the conformity and perfection they held onto, all so false, pretend. So easily seen through. By Cain's idea at least. The busy horses bought to a halt outside an empty looking manor. The slightest dips in its appearance speaking more about its emptiness than anything else. Had it been occupied, there would've been servants whose job were, just to keep it clean and free from any kind of filth or grime. The presence of singular spider webs in the upper balconies a sure sign it was empty.
“Fifty seven Mulvana.” Vrash pointed out. Dismounting her horse. Cain joining her, sidling up beside. The short step up to the manor door. Vrash peering around, leaning in, ready to knock. Before she could make contact in gentle inquiry. Cain's foot had blasted past, levering the partition open, swinging it wide till it collided with the wall.
Vrash peering to the side, the swiftest of glances. Cain stepping past. Over the threshold like it was nothing to trespass into someone's home, someone very clearly of some stature, that might even have been Regency, or connected.
“No one's home.” Cain announced, striding passed, undaunted by whom he might have awoken. Sure this manor were empty. Upon his entrance, more than confirmed, the dust left over furniture. A layer of silt absolutely unacceptable to any Elve, at least in the Northern Quarter. Rich, aspirational to be richer, both in gold and standing. Dust, a filthy home, assuredly one way to put a stop to any further climbing of the social ladder.
“And you knew that?” Vrash sniped, wandering behind him, a heavy step to her boots.
“Absolutely.” Cain replied.
“Look around. See what you can find.” Cain directed. Taking no notice of her leering presence, his own path off into the manor. A building large, expansive. Room upon room never used, but there for its very specific purpose. Vrash standing by herself, stuck in the middle of wanting to do just that, they had this address, should investigate it further. But this someone's home, someone in the Northern Quarter. The wrong door kicked down. Even if the right one, could lead to any number of troubles. Vrash creeping forward. The only other foot steps she heard, Cain plodding along.
Edging around the first corner finding herself in the library, a stretching room of shelves and tomes dusty, and old. Plush pieces of furniture covered in dust, resting in the centre. A fire place at the far end, stretching into the roof. Above the mantle piece the finely painted portrait of what must've been the owner of the house, an ancestor at least. Ceremonial sword clutched tightly, pale white skin washed across. Looking into the distance.
Vrash stepping to the table just in the door, an oil lantern resting ready. Looking at the clean little item. Lifting it carefully. The brushed metal outer in fine condition. Shifting to the silver fixtures around the rest of the room, dusty and worn. Paying notice to the unbroken layer of dust washed across the table.
Taking her flint from pocket she lit the lamp, the tool still half full by its weight. Looking at it again.
“Left behind.” Vrash remarked staring at the item. Simple steel. Not in anyway decorative, just pure function. Where everything else in the room, elaborate and covered in dust. It didn't belong. Vrash stepping towards the door to her side, opening up the artistically patterned piece of wood, heavy and solid it slid, into a study, studio. Dust had a way to settle things, to assure its presence was just as normal as everything else. The same layer to the room, a desk with maps, quills, pieces of ash and chalk. All in the silt. Further around she went. To the next door, raising the lantern carefully by the handle. The shining knob free from anything, the glint in the lantern light telling her of some traffic in and out of the next room recently.
Giving it a twist, it slid open. Vrash letting it go, slowly carrying itself with its weight till she stood in the opening. Eyeing in carefully, a gentle step forward finding the remains of a fire on the hearth. Not smouldering but still holding some heat tight in its depths. A few fingers washing over the top of the ashen remains.
“Two hours.” As she got back to her feet. Inside still warm. The sun hitting the glass all day, refracting in just right, to heat all, to an amount uncomfortable. A seasons worth of heat bounding around the room with the windows closed. In this warmth no one needed a fire. It must've been for something else. With her short blade she poked in the ashes a little more, separating them, the increased air bringing back a little heat and smoke. With a careful few prods. Vrash saw the item left at the back of the hearth, sitting by itself, toppling down from where it'd been tossed. A long few strands of wire twine keeping together the black feathers.
Vrash digging them free from the fire place, an examination done with all her senses. Scouring with curious eyes, running a finger along the singed but still intact fibres of each feather. Her nostrils taking in the rich scent of the smoke soaked items. Staring at it a moment longer considering if it was worth tasting, if anything more could be gleaned from that inquiry with tongue and taste bud.
No not yet, let him come and wrap wet probe around it if he wanted to, all it would taste of ash and smoke. Vrash turning back to the room, away from the fire. Stepping to the table in the centre. Piled high with a few provisions. Free from dust, meant they were recent, as recent as the fire, the plates smeared in the remains of food, scraps of leaves and roots, the few inconspicuous sauces in each of the diverts on each piece of cutlery. Vrash stepping around the furniture. Considering the next few steps to take. At the door joined by Cain. His frame leant against the wall, eyeing the inside.
“Anything?” His one question. Inviting input from Vrash before he went on his own expedition.
“Here... it was in the fire place, someone tried to dispose of it.” Vrash held out the bundle of feathers. Black and thickly bundled. Cain stepping forward giving it the same examination she had moments ago. This time starting with a thick brush along his tongue. An almost loving caress, given to the bundle before he even looked at it properly.
Vrash hiding her disgust barely, eyeing off the other side of the room, he seemed to lavishly display the inside of his head gladly.
“Crow.” Cain announced.
“You can tell that by the taste.” Shaking her head.
“No... the colour tells me that” Cain replied. Vrash shaking her head again.
“The taste tells me they're coated in horse glue and silver... keeps them shining and pristine.” Cain added. Showing some reason to display his long pink tongue to the world. “It's a trinket, a charm... a ward for protection and prosperity from the Order of the Crows.”
“Who are they?” Hearing Cain mention that name before, now it came up again it peaked her curiosity.
“An order...” Cain very simply replied, waiting for her disapproval before he went on. Quite gladly it appeared she gave it. Glowering under finely kept eyebrows.
“A similar clique of Regency ass holes, to the Silent Strand in Ith... Secretive, powerful... as bent as a broken twig.” Cain quite sure he'd get more questions from that.
“There are no secret organisations amongst the Ith Regency.” Vrash vehemently defended her Kingdoms honour as required, as believed.
“That's exactly what someone from the Strand might say.” Poking gladly. He doubted this Elve in particular was apart of anything like that. But was ready to be surprised.
“The Order of the Crows, is an elder relic, a piece of history the Petran are unable, or unwilling to get rid off... This was in the fire?” Cain inquired once he'd done a little more explaining. Holding up the feathers in his good hand.
“Yes... at the back. Someone tried to burn it... is that practice?” Vrash questioned.
“Yes... it is quite, a ceremonial offering, you throw, offer your charm to the gods to give you favour...” Cain recollected, some time since he'd any contact with the traditions of that secretive little club of miscreants. “How old is that fire... it's obviously not for heat.”
Eyeing off the blackened remains in the hearth.
“Two hours...” Vrash surely replied.
“You're sure?” Cain checked.
“Good... that puts it at the time of the murder... yes?” Cain nodded. From just looking, the fire looked like the fire, nothing more to him than ashes and some radiant heat. He'd rely on Vrash's abilities to fill him in.
“It does.” Vrash agreed.
“The perfect thing to ask a favour for.” Cain turning to the table. Vrash stepping away. Over to the hearth again, looking deeper into the stones.
“So they were here... used this room... close to the Castle. The back of the house, no one would notice them inside... obviously some level of stature to...” Cain admired lifting the plate from the table taking a look at the remains on the piece.
“By what logic have you come to that reasoning?” Vrash huffed, peering longer at the fireplace and its blackened back, deep and charcoal, almost abyssal, the piece of stone work used so long.
“If you're an assassin, what do you do. Find a place to hold up... bed down, recoup your energy... prepare yourself, pray to whatever god you might, yes?” Cain went on, staring at the plate closely.
“I suppose you would.” Vrash replied.
“But you'd pack light... be prepared to move, not bring anything with you to slow you down. Give away who you were... yes?” Cain, carelessly lingering where he might.
“Your point please?” Vrash invited, turning from the fire place, giving her attention and snark towards her partner of reluctance.
“You don't bring sauce with you...” Cain turning the plate over, showing it to Vrash. Her expression not quite sure of his point still.
“This is the meal of Regency... Self important, grandiose. No assassin would bring this level of accoutrement to any job. They likely wouldn't even eat. But here, we have finery, Tarragon, Saffron... oil, Lemons... tell me, what does that smell like to you... what does it taste of. I assume you've been to some level of ceremonial meal in the past few months... which kingdom might favour, specialise, even grow those flavours?” Cain holding the plate further out, inviting her to take a smell, even taste of the offering.
“Petra.” Vrash after a few moments, indeed she knew those flavours well, after friendly relations again started. The decree made for all those of importance to familiarise themselves. With all kinds of customs and affectations of the Petran kingdom, to ease further any pressures or ill feelings.
“It does not make sense.” Vrash complained looking upon Cain and his nodding. A head shaking with careful and present enjoyment.
“It doesn't have to yet...” Said Cain.
“A Petran assassination attempt...” Vrash began, caught by Cain's interjecting look.
“Assassination, successfully of a low level trade bureaucrat. By his own kingdom... for what reason?” Vrash propelling further.
“The Order of the Crows might not represent the Petran kingdom, often an arms best interest is not what the body it's attached to wants... Come, up stairs there's more to see.” Cain advised, stepping from the room. Feeding his way around the building. Vrash following behind, tracing her way up, as Cain led. Along the hallway down the finely appointed rug, now left dirty, and grimy by dust. A room at the end inviting them in.
Scrawled across the floor in carefully written liquid, a hue of deep green, thick and lavishly applied to the floor in swathes. The patterned sigil of a spell. Something so intricate it could only be that.
“What is it?” Vrash wary of the magic she knew little of. Two shapes, one larger, one smaller ahead of it, the long strand reaching forward connecting the two.
“Puppeting spell. Unsure which one... but definitely that. Master, servant.” Cain pointed out, first pointing to the large shape, then the smaller. Denoting the positions each would take. The seven sides of each clearly denoted, sharp edges and crooks at each corner keeping them separate.
“Do they still teach you charms?” Cain curious, since he'd been away the Kingdom had changed so much, the use of magic largely illegal, only those few expressly forgiven by the Divine Rites allowed to be practiced, by even fewer practitioners.
“No, we rely on intelli...” Vrash got through before Cain cut her off.
“Ah... enough. Stand back.” Clutching his fingers together. He needed only that much of an answer. A shame. Much to be gathered from the use of magic, not even that which was powerful or dangerous. Just simple tricks. Fingers pressed together in the pattern practiced, his concentration focused. Cain beat out the command, the short sharp twist of words in a language he only knew by sound, not what the actual words meant. But they did the job. A beating pulse of light coursing out in circular motion from his hands, an orb expanding, hitting walls then kept on going. Dissipating quickly, the light flashing, striking the room bright, leaving behind the figures standing in the places punctuated by the spell sigils.
“Stay calm its no danger.” Cain already seeing Vrash's look of disgust. Her eyes quickly turning to the figures standing, representations, figures of light, translucent, going through their motions.
One kneeling in the larger shape, another standing still in the smaller. Many others watching on with some interest. Cain stepping around the room, straight through the figures. Suddenly the one in the smaller shape, standing bolt upright from its slump previous. Only moments later stepping from the room, Cain wandering to the hall watching it go, vanishing out of sight as the charms range ended.
“And there goes our assassin... or, at least his weapon. Because, here... is the real one.” Cain hummed, ducking down to the figure in the large shape. As he spoke the fading light of the figures got fainter with each moment passing, fading with the rest of the charm.
“What is that trick?” Vrash inquired, her disgust not enough to keep her interest away obviously.
“Nermus charm... base level stuff, they taught it to everyone in my day. Before it was decided it were dangerous. Simple tracking... easy enough to learn, should you want to.” Cain lingered in. Sure he could see at least a little want in there. Behind the emerald of her eyes lurked the real green, envy, jealousy of not having the best tools for the job.
“We could track the path he took, from here to the castle.” Vrash suggested.
“It might work, until we got to the street. Probably loose him in traffic... besides we know where he went. The only advantage might be seeing if he met someone... were let in.” Cain getting back to his feet.
“You didn't do this at the castle” Vrash pointed out. There the charm might have been useful as well.
“Do you want me to get an arrow in the chest?” Cain inquired. The lack of answer from his partner, suggesting that might have been a yes from her expression and silence.
“You are a delight Investigator.” Cain admired her spiteful nature a moment. One after his own heart it seemed, even if she were steadfastly adhering to the traditions of the Divine.
“What have we learnt then, that they were here... now what?” Vrash ignoring his gracious appreciation of her viciousness towards him.
“As with most spells, ingredients are important. And here... we have more.” Cain retrieving his short blade scraping at the patterned sigil on the floor, the thick green mess peeling off in a lurid wet viscous paste. Almost to the point of being tacky and dry, but still gooey deep in its inners.
“Blood... tree sap... from a willow... tar... and sand.” Sniffing at the lump of liquid sitting on the blade, holding it close to his nose to take in the scent.
“Those things have to be fresh?” Vrash questioned.
“Fresh sand isn't a thing Investigator...” Cain poked. Holding before he went on again.
“But the willow sap and the blood yes... both need to be pulled from vein fresh... and used within a short amount of time. The energy lies in the life each contains, and that leaves both very quickly once free from their bodies.” Cain needlessly explained. His own voice, the sun to him, no doubt. A fount of knowledge, endlessly proud of that. To the point he'd rub it in gloriously every chance he got.
“How quickly?” Vrash inquired.
“Minutes... half of the hour at most...” Cain postured. Scraping away the left over grit from the blade of his sword, wiping it across his pant leg, dipping the blade back into its sheath. The smear left on his leg none of his concern. Where Vrash's were immaculately clean, oppressively white and finely tailored.
“And where do they come from.” Vrash questioned again, that short a time, meant the sources had to be close by.
“Well, there's a willow tree out the window.” Cain pointed with one hand casually, his missing fingers flickering out in phantasmal presence, an insult to everyone else in the room.
“And the blood?” Vrash inquired.
Cain getting to his feet, pulling open the door to the wardrobe by his side, the body crammed inside neatly, lined up against the wall of the piece of furniture. Jammed in till it couldn't fall free, then left to rot. A thick red wash spilling down its front, a vein in the neck punctured. Left to bleed out in thick pulsing flows.
“Human.” Vrash leaning in, getting a closer look at the body. Unworried by its grotesque injury.
“Probably supplied along with the puppet by our Dramen friend.” Cain considered. Of course Sillius would leave that part out. Humans not exactly of the same standing as Elves by any amount of measuring, but murder was still murder to most Investigators.
Vrash lifting the human's head, his dead body stiffly malleable, held in place by the nature of his time alone. Vrash eyeing the wound, jammed into the soft skin under his throat.
“Round... hollow... ceremonial.” Annoyed she were about to say the next words she planned to. “Petran Slint... hollow knife”
More and more things stacking up that she had to pay attention to. The nature of the assassination, the nature of who looked to have done it, the shadows lurking softly around them.
“Yes... curious isn't it.” Cain agreed. Showing his confusion readily. A head jammed deep in thought with the rest of his body.
“We should return to the castle... Lymen will want to be updated.” Vrash advised, about ready to move to the door.
“I'm sure he does, but we'll hold off on that for now.” Cain correcting her attempts to move.
“We have orders.” Vrash assured.
“You do... I have a job to do... and this should be kept quiet for now. I don't want people talking about what we know. That castle has ears... We will go back there though... I want to talk to people about this Oran sap.” Cain nodded, waiting for his partner's agreement.
“I trust Lymen.” Vrash certain.
“Then you have my sympathies. But trust me green leaf. We keep this hush for now.” Cain said, holding over the room till he got an agreement of some sort. Vrash slowly coming around, it weren't a matter of trusting Cain. But wanting to see this through. And he could make things difficult should he want to.
“Fine... we hold it, for now.” Vrash shifting closer, unworried by the distance when threatening him. A scowling look held long.
“Good... follow me then.” Cain smiled, shifting out the door. Already at the stairs, by the time Vrash had looked to the closet where the body was. Not telling anyone would mean that corpse would stay there. For how long she weren't sure, but it seemed no concern to Cain.
Vrash striding from the room. If it was an Elve she'd feel differently, owe it some honour and the rights of a proper ceremonial burial. But the human could linger in the cupboard till it stunk. Someone would clean it free when they were done. A cart on the outskirts of town or a mass pyre with the rest of the dregs. Edging down the stairs Vrash came to a halt. Cain standing by the door, not open yet, his careful hand ready at the handle. About to pull it down in one swift motion. But there he'd stopped, holding longer than looked necessary.
Vrash stepping towards him, watching carefully the figure in stasis.
“What are we waiting for?” Vrash questioned. Cain seemed so intent on leaving, now he were blocking the way.
“Patience a moment...” Lifting his eye to the glass in the door, the window out, a long street curling along the rounded vision of the glass.
“You think he caught us up... our tail.” Vrash inquired. A step closer, her curiosity leading her to peek through the glass. Edging to the window, the slightest of glances, poking the corner of her eye.
“Maybe... I think we might have stepped into some trouble Investigator... you can use that blade?” Cain stepping back from the wooden partition, his need to look satiated.
“Who are they?” Vrash seeing a few people on the street, but nothing out of the ordinary. Cain still held at the door, the slightest of careful hands running along the crossbow on his wrist.
“Across the road... down by the manor with the blue door. Two of them... three down by the manor with the green door. Then on our side another two... Red cloths. I think our meeting with Sillius got the ire of one of his rivals... friends of friends, and alike, if you understand.” Cain huffed, this more of a distraction than he wanted at the moment.
“They'd attack an Investigator?” Vrash looking a little stifled, hard to believe anyone would dare.
“What position do you think you hold Investigator... of course they would, they'd attack the King if he talked to the wrong person. They'd do it anyway without that...” Cain mumbled quite sure of it.
“Who are they?” Vrash hearing of the possible disrespect of the King, taking that as great insult.
“Who fucking knows, street thugs? Not everyone is someone Investigator... sometimes they're just meat... So, can you use that blade, or do we need to slip out the back...” Cain asked again. As he did though, the handle of the back door were tugged on, a quiet few wrenches given the heaviest of tests.
“I can... we can't talk our way out?” Vrash staring at the back door intently. Passing on an idea.
“They're deaf, I'm mute... get up the stairs.” He expressly ordered, waiting for her to clear out. She did pulling the blade from its sheath. Stepping casually up the stairs. A patient swagger till she reached the top. Cain following once he'd opened the door. Letting it slip slowly ajar, swinging as if someone forced it.
Climbing the stairs himself in careful steps. Slow and monotonous. As out across the road, all those in red cloth, passed signals between themselves.
“Are they coming?” Vrash as Cain reached the top.
“We'll find out, won't we Investigator.” Cain smiled, leaning on the balcony at the top of the stairs. Patient and sure. A few moments passing, before edging into the frame of the door, the staggering feet. Shuffling back and forth, several pairs. Stepping over the threshold into into the dark of the house. Eyes peering into the depths, till they readjusted to the change in light.
“Are you looking for someone in particular?” Cain announcing their presence at the top of the stairs. Vrash back from the edge, perched on the wall, short blade gripped tightly, but in a hand loose, in iron that blade might as well have been, fingers never set to open.
“You, dog... saw you chatting with someone we don't like... and we don't like that.” The needless little chatter from the punk in the lead. Cain turning his head slightly, showing off he was right. Vrash ignoring the ingracious display. A lauding prideful face beaming despite its own appearance.
“And who was that?” Cain asked, just to be sure. It wasn't out of the realms of possibility it was The Wench they'd been seen chatting with.
“That dirty little toad... Any friend of Sillius can go drown... we're here to make sure of that.” The punk beamed, proudly. Vrash leaning over to the railing, the white of her robes glowing from the difference of the drab surrounds. But no interest taken in what they meant, not even the slightest of back steps, at the presence of an Investigator.
“Out of curiosity what did the toad do to you that we deserve this?” Cain interested deeply what one little Dramen could do to annoy someone this much.
“Who cares.” The Punk smiled, taking a step forward. The rest of the crew stepping through the door. A mixture of species. A clueless blend, the cast offs from each strand of society, clumped together and given a purpose amongst a gang.
“Did he fuck your mother?” Cain from his perch proudly skewering the question. The clasping glare slapping onto the Punk's face dealt with quickly, his feet stamping forward, a hasty hand axe pulled from inside a flowing coat.
“Or was it your father.” Cain said as the punk reached the staircase, the jab enough to propel him up in a few steps, the quickening crew of thugs streaming in behind. Eager to get some revenge for the insult they looked at.
Cain stepping back from the balcony, pulling his short blade casually. One swift flick of his wrist saw it topple in place, end over end, till it landed safely back in his hand. As the first punk got to the top of the stairs. Cain dropped his blade. Let his grip loosen. The weight and sharpness carrying it down to slip easily into the floorboards, sticking stiffly from the wood.
Bringing up is hand, the crossbow stretched, ready. With a singular flick. Sure to keep his hand and arm straight, the fletching bow let fly. A compact steel dart, heavy in its design finding target easily inside the punks chest. Centred and deep, only the bristling end of the shaft sticking free, as the bubbling liquid looked to force its way around the obstruction in the hole. Blood wanted to be free, its endless mission to spring from the body.
That a long held belief of the Orc's, let it flow because that's what it wished. Why wouldn't it stay inside otherwise.
The slightest of pauses taken from the procession of thugs behind. Seeing a comrade struck and fall. But adrenaline kept them flowing on. Without fear of death. Cain reaching down, his blade ready at grabbing distance. Plunged lightly into the floor. Slipping it into his hand, before slinging it forward. A dodging weave to his right, finding a blade swishing past head and body, as his own found purchase. A heaving wet flicker as a meaty body were punctured. As quick as it went in, it was out. Ripping back and up, only to create a bigger hole on the way out. Cain gliding backwards on a cloud, as the body tumbled to a halt on the floor.
Vrash making her own retreat, blade held high. A far different stance from Cain. Slung behind her in a loose wrist, ready to chop and slash, a spinning whirlwind of strikes. The blade currently hidden, that first lopping cut a signature of her training. Where Cain had a more brutalist approach, little style or grace just dodge and hack, chop, stab, whatever it took to see the opponent dead before you.
Vrash taking another step backwards, a flurry of feet moving her away as two of the thugs approached. One waiting for the other to attack, so they could launch in next, whilst she were distracted. Neither having the courage to be first.
Exactly the wrong approach. She could skip to either side, put one of the bodies in between her and the third, easily swing off an attack. Which she did. One scant step, a skip to her stride, without even trying. Putting a body in between her and the other, a quick strike reaching out. A flicking wrist giving it an extra vicious tap. Cutting swiftly into skin, lopping at the arm holding the weapon before it could withdraw. A human holding a knife for skinning meat.
Not much of a weapon, but he'd raised it in anger. Trod the wrong path, and here the hand got cut off. Grabbing at the hair of the thug before he could stagger out of the way, putting a swift kick to his torso sending him careening into his accomplice. The distraction enough to spin around, Vrash finding another target easy enough. Slung arms, outstretched, slightly bent at the waist like a bladed top spinning endlessly. One swift jump, launching herself through the air in rotation, bringing the blade down. Catching her second target along the shoulder, a slicing strike flying through flesh and bone. Before she bought the blade back to its first target in one motion. Another slicing hack running across his torso.
Cain slipping an arm in close, blocking the attack on high, driving the blade in, a shot to the gut, the blade short, but still long enough to emerge from the other side. Normally a blade might become stuck. Slide in easily, get wedged in bone, or the suction of a wound might keep it held tight. Some level of research, and brutality going into the advancements of the Elven steel, the short blade no exception. A breeze to pull free.
Nothing stuck to blade, slicing in, slicing out. Another swift boot to get some distance. Even if Cain quickly closed it. He preferred to be close. Had armour, could take a few kicks, punches, stabs before anything got through. Where they were either clad in street clothes or skin, in the melange of arms and legs. More than enough chances to get in enough nicks for the blood to flow.
Vrash coming over the top. Skipping in, one twirl and rotation in the air, sending a kick flying at full stretch. Catching with a stiff heel the back of an attackers head. The flowing flurry of cuts, spinning down and around till she finished on her haunches both arms stretched. Blade gripped in the right. Launching again, giving no time to get any respite.
Not defending any more. But attacking, swinging slashes, backing the pack of thugs away. Without realising they all cowered, already four down. Still outnumbering Vrash and Cain, but that didn't seem to matter. Swift swings and slashes hurled before the first got to the stairs and leaped down.
Cain watching the whirl of blade and white robe carry forward. Lining his aim up on the escaping thug almost to the door. Only a moment later when an arrow slid into his back, high up, puncturing between the shoulders. The body hitting the floor with a thud, skidding to a halt.
Vrash a blur of swinging steel, arms held out, the remaining two thugs breaking for the door, toppling down stairs in ordered chaos. Feet barely contained under them. Striding, running for the door. A thick twang accompanying the release of the bolt. Whooshing splitting air till it split skin. Straight through open shirt and loose fitting cotton, sweat stained and hanging down.
Now pinned to skin in delivered violence, stabbed from afar. A budding bright spurt of blood leaking around the stem of this violent little flower. Another body rolling to a halt along the ground. Almost into the same position as its fellow. The last of the thugs bounding past both bodies out into the street, taking off at full flight along the cobbled stones.
Cain putting hand to the railing, levering himself over the barrier, coming to rest on the wood floor beneath in a heavy thump, the impact causing a few genuine cracks amongst the boards. Strolling out the door at a casual pace. Lifting his arm rolling it along the surface of the street till he had his target in sight. Patient till the pace was just right, the adrenaline and fleeting speed of the running thug petering out.
The quiet slice of the arrow being released, coursing its path. Finding purchase quickly in the body it was destined for, a collapsing thug coming to a halt on the cobbled streets, feet before an escape called, the clean draft of an alley inviting him up it swiftly.
Vrash edging out the door. The street empty this time of night in a good neighbourhood. None would dare be out. It gave the idea of a lascivious nature, a lurking shadow to one's character. No one around to witness Cain taking his time to plod across the street and pull the bolt from the thug's back. A young man, human, nowhere near the end of his natural time. But by the lifestyle chosen, his life might have ended at any stage, deserved or not. Tonight it had, the swift foot on his back all the evidence left. A boot mark signature as the arrow was plucked free, shaken free of any blood before being slid back into the crossbows carousel. Striding across the road up into the house, to retrieve the others. Vrash waiting by the door. The short time it took to replenish his arrows, bought Cain back outside.
“You couldn't let them run away...” Vrash inquired. Curious of the reasoning for chasing each of the fleeing down. She weren't about to cry about any of them being put down. But they were away, leaving on express legs to get away from a far more experienced force.
“Today's stray is tomorrow's pack leader. You take care of them when you can.” Cain quite sure of that. Vrash holding on a thought, considering why she didn't take that advice, retrieve her short blade and murder the stray dog in front of her right now. It might have proven a somewhat safer plan of action.
“They still teach that style of blade work at the academy... interesting.” Cain commented, eyeing off the few splashes of red arcing across Vrash's white robes, soaked in well and truly. Her reaction to stare at him a little more. Holding for the insult to her practice.
“Yes, what of it... only a few have the dedication to follow through to the end.” Vrash showing pride in her achievement.
“I wouldn't have thought you that flamboyant...” Cain hoisting himself up onto the horse. Vrash doing the same. Holding her tongue only moments.
“There is more substance there than you know Cain.” Making sure he kept his mouth shut. She could sow it closed soon, though only a slight chance that would work.
“I'm sure there is... Castle now?” Cain leaned in, in case she'd any ideas where they should've aimed first.
“Yes... but barracks first. I won't have an audience with Regent looking like I've come from the battlefield.” Vrash's eyes lingering moments on the blood washed along her clothes. They wouldn't stand now, not in the presence of the Regency, a dishonour to show them the signs of anything so vile. Cain holding his tongue as her eyes levered over him, the grotty dusty armour, the few long slips of red liquid spilt down them. Of course he smiled, of course they'd enter the Castle and he'd gladly wander the sacred halls without care of whom he insulted. The clothes nothing compared with his face. Its dented meaty scar stretching along.
“You will not change... Fix yourself, clean up, cover you deformity from the eyes that don't deserve it.” Vrash questioned, looking at Cain's glowing eyes.
“Don't deserve it... those are the hands that wrought this... they need to see the blood. Those precious little eyes.” Cain gladly hummed, flicking at the reins, the horse leading away. Edging up the street as Vrash and her horse sauntered after.
Through the house, stretching to the back door, the handle silent through the course of the fight. Again it clicked, a heavy hand forcing it down, the two wire twigs jammed into the lock, twisted and turned till the latch snapped open, the handle pushing down again. A familiar shadow stepping in. Spying around the grand manor, two bodies left at the open front door. Stretching for escape only inches away. The eyes of the shadow watching them all the while as he slipped forward. Peering around up the stairs as he got from under the over hanging piece of architecture. A hand poking through the railing, lifeless, the strand of blood running down along the fingers till it dropped to the ground, creating a pool far below on the floor.
The Shadow edging around the stairs climbing up, coming to a halt in front of the mass of bodies. A collection splayed and sprayed along the floor, washes of red, exuding in different shades, combining into one deep pool. Soaking into carpet and rug with glorious freedom. Seeping its way to wood and stud, through slits of the planks, to stain and soak whatever might take it. A smell rich in iron and tang, to remain long after the bodies were removed and the mess cleaned away.
The Shadow edging forward, finding the specific body. Digging into the pocket of the thug he wanted, the one in charge, the one with the mouth. Those words had proven useless. Falsely tough. Pulling from the pocket an empty hand, where he expected one full. A despondent sigh leaking out as he got back to feet. Wandering back through the house, slinking out the back door.