The tavern ‘The Clam Beard’ was fairly quite this night despite its reputation of boisterous behavior and drunken brawls. No one seemed eager for a fight this evening and all were enjoying company at their own tables or at the bar. Smoke from pipe weed hung heavy in the air and stifled the fresh breeze that drifted in through the open windows from the Gornl Sea. It was hot this night and the lack of blowing wind made it seem warmer than it was, and the burning fire for cooking meat made it worse.
Vhindr Varrintine was sitting as far away from that fire place as possible in a booth beside an open window, but the uncomfortable heat was no less here. A bead of sweat trickled from his hair line, down his forehead making him consider casting a spell upon himself to lessen the heat. But with this kind of weather such a sustained spell would only tire him out and would dissipate leaving him twice as exhausted, so he had resigned himself to cope with the hot temperatures in this tropical region of Essinendeür.
The bead of sweat suddenly dripped from his eyebrow and onto the page he was reading causing Vhindr to growl in annoyance. Quickly he dabbed the droplet up before it could cause the ink of the script to run. Thankfully it did not and Vhindr closed the book with a sigh and placed it on the table as he rubbed his tired eyes.
He was at a dead end, and Vhindr was getting frustrated.
After finding the corpse of the young woman on the beach along with the disfigured body and several other remains he had been making many inquiries around Pentra as to the woman’s identity but he had had no luck. He also had no other leads to follow; there were no belongings on the woman’s person, no markings which could tell him where she was from or what her occupation had been.
With another sigh he poured himself another glass of water and resting back in his seat he gazed out the window at the boardwalks of the docks and across the Gornl Sea. Inüer had set and a heavy mist was beginning to creep into the city. Amid the cloud of mist drifted also the Fog, its colours of green, pink and yellow lighting up the buildings where the street lights did not.
Folk in Pentra were always weary about venturing out at night time, the quite threat of the Fog and its unpredictable nature caused the creation of many tales of people being touched by the Fog and going mad. But Vhindr knew that to be nonsense, the Fog was indeed dangerous, but as a man who studied at the Magi Guild in Port Na’brath he knew well that the chances the Fog would attack someone was extremely remote.
“Vhindr,” someone called and grabbed his attention.
“Sorry I’m late,” Arell said as she sat down opposite Vhindr.
Vhindr shrugged as if it did not matter and poured the Guard Captain a glass of water.
“What is this?” Arell asked curiously as she took the glass and looked closer at the book Vhindr had been reading. “‘Human Anatomy’ by Magi Siggr Stinfry. Why are you reading his work?”
“It does not matter,” Vhindr dismissed the question, “What matters is whether your doctors found anything of interest in their examination of the woman’s corpse. So did they?”
“Nothing we already knew,” Arell shook her head, “They confirmed that she was pregnant, and found that her last meal was likely a basic meal you could buy at any tavern. But apart from that she seemed of good health, apart from the fact she was dead of course.”
Vhindr raised an eyebrow curiously, “She was in good health? No illness or disease?”
Arell shrugged and shook her head.
“Interesting,” Vhindr mumbled and again looked out the window.
“What was the cause of death?” asked Vhindr after a few moments of silence.
“Drowning, like you thought,” Arell replied with a shrug.
“But we did find something else,” Arell quickly added, pulling Vhindr from his thoughts, “Have a look at this.”
Arell handed Vhindr a small bead for him to examine.
“It was lodged in her blouse,” Arell said with some slight excitement in her voice, “I found it as we were stripping her down for the examination and looking for personal items.”
Vhindr nodded absently as he turned the white bead over in the palm of his hand.
“It was probably from a necklace,” Arell continued, “You can see the hole where the chain would have gone. It must have been pulled off in the sea, it is lucky that got lodge it might help us.”
Vhindr sighed irritably and stood up, “Luck indeed.”
“What do you mean? Where are you going?” Arell asked curiously as she jumped to her feet and moved to follow Vhindr from the tavern. “What do you know, tell me?”
“You said it yourself,” Vhindr replied as they walked swiftly along the dark street, “It was luck which caused this single bead to become lodged in her blouse where the sea had torn the rest of her necklace from her. But I do not believe in luck. The bead was placed.”
“Wait, do you think Magi Stinfry placed the bead?” Arell asked and Vhindr nodded. “But why would he do that?”
“It was out of his own curiosity that he was there the day we were called to the crime scene,” Vhindr explained, “And you noticed the book I was reading: ‘Human Anatomy’ written by Magi Stinfry himself. He has an interest in such things and this body provided the perfect opportunity to learn more and perhaps test new ways of examining a corpse. Remember that I said that I did not recognise some of the spells cast upon the woman’s body.”
Arell half nodded as they continued to walk the winding streets of Pentra, leaving behind the poorer section of the city and moving up the incline at the end of the gorge and to the main gates where the path to the Pentrin Arch branched off.
“But why would take the necklace and leave behind the single bead?” Arell asked in confusion.
“Because he guessed that I would not want him involved in the investigation,” Vhindr replied simply, “So he took the necklace when he first looked at the body, knowing that it would be my only solid lead as to finding out who the woman is, and he left behind the single bead. Stinfry knew that I would realise that he took the rest of the necklace and go to him, thus allowing him to barter a way to be involved in this investigation.”
Arell went quiet as she followed Vhindr’s reasoning and tried to make sense of what he was saying. As the many minutes drifted by they eventually reached the main gate and took the path towards the Pentrin Arch. Passing the check point at the gates of the Pentrin Arch they were soon walking the marble road of the rich part of the city. Here the houses and buildings were of white stone and many plants lined the street. Portraits and other artworks hung on the side of some buildings and the bright street lamps made the place glow beautifully.
“I still don’t understand why Magi Stinfry wants to be involved in this investigation,” Arell shook her head, “If he wanted a corpse to test his new spells there are many others in the mortuary.”
A slight smile came to Vhindr’s face, “That is the question. You learn quickly, perhaps you will make a decent guard Captain after all.”
“My grandfather didn’t give me this position just because I asked, you know,” Arell was quick to reply and narrowed her eyes at him.
Vhindr smiled wider as they passed the grand building which housed the High Commission and down a short side street to a tall tower which Vhindr knew was Magi Stinfry’s residence.
“What is it with Magi and towers?” Vhindr asked quietly and shook he head as he and Arell moved up the few steps to the front door.
It took several loud bangs on the door and a few minutes of waiting until the door opened before them.
“Please come in Master Varrintine and Captain Starak,” disembodied voice of Magi Stinfry greeted them.
Inside was dimly lit and the door closed quietly behind as they moved into the wide and empty area where three comfortable chairs sat. The light was dim and a strange sickly odor drifted through the air. In the chair facing the door Magi Stinfry reclined a bemused expression upon his face as he motioned for Vhindr and Arell to sit.
“Please help yourselves,” Stinfry motioned to the small table which sat between the chairs and had a pitcher of water, a couple of cups and a bow of fruit placed upon it.
“To what do I owe the pleasure of this late night visit?” Stinfry asked in amusement as Vhindr rested back in his chair.
“Do you not know?” Vhindr asked back, causing the Magi to smile slightly.
“I know many things,” Stinfry shrugged, “I know all about you Vhindr Varrintine, your family history, and your time at the Magi Guild. I have read those rather brilliant books you have written on investigative magicks, not to mention I know all about your previous well known and lauded criminal investigations. The one in Crydon being your most famous I would say. I also know all about the darker side of your history, more pointedly your brother Vythe’s involvement with the Thieves Guild in Port Na’brath his association with the infamous criminal Vorn and ultimately his convicted murder of Lady Hathnaria which had him imprisoned for life in the Gaia Mountains Penitentiary, where sadly he took his own life. But as to why you are here this evening, I confess I do not know.”
Vhindr narrowed his eyes slightly at the Magi before taking a long a steady breath.
“The necklace,” Vhindr said stiffly, “I came tonight about the necklace you took of the body of the woman.”
“I still do not know what you are talking about,” the Magi replied with a bored expression.
“I am not here to play games Stinfry,” Vhindr said irritably and he placed the white bead upon the table top. “The necklace, if you will.”
Magi Stinfry let out a small laugh and took a broken necklace from out of one of his pockets before placing it next to the bead. It was of a simple design, different coloured beads of white and red were strung on a thin silver chain and framed a delicate pendant of white stone carved in the likeness of a star.
Vhindr was quick to pick up the necklace and inspect the design and craftsmanship.
“I am sure you can see that the pendant is made of scrimshaw, and not stone,” Magi Stinfry remarked rather tiresomely. “A rather crude make if you ask me. So she was likely a village girl in a fishing town along the coast of the Gornl Sea. As to which one of the hundreds of villages, who can say?”
“The town of Ulteross most likely,” Vhindr replied, “Although not technically a fishing village as one might say even though it is situated on the coast of the Gornl Sea. This scrimshaw was made from a Nulyain fish which can only be found in Lake Ire on the Morrow Plains. The Mōrgul cats of those plains do not normally trade with humans, but Ulteross is an exception being really the only town south of Vhasden.”
“How can you know that?” Arell asked with surprise.
“Have a look at a map, it is simple geography,” Vhindr gave the guard Captain a curious look.
“I meant about it being a Nulyain fish,” Arell clarified with obvious annoyance.
“Have a closer look at the star,” Vhindr replied as he passed the necklace to Arell. “Look at how fine and intricate the design is. Most scrimshaw would crumble or break when carving that, there are only a couple which would not. There is fish in The Dale in Gaianaus which would be suitable as well as another fish in the islands of Skelledriss. The only one which is most likely is the Nulyain from Lake Ire. Simply deduction.”
“Simple enough for some,” Magi Stinfry laughed, “Do not feel bad Lady Arell for I could not have worked that out either.”
“It is simply having the knowledge,” Vhindr replied indignantly.
Stinfry’s laughter interrupted him, “Indeed, but who knows or cares which are the best fish for carving scrimshaw.”
“So our victim was from Ulteross,” Arell nodded her head, “Then we must go there to find the killer.”
“Maybe,” Vhindr nodded thoughtfully.
“Yes indeed go there, or do whatever you want, just leave me be now you have what you are after,” Magi Stinfry said dismissively as he got to his feet.
“Not quite,” Vhindr was quick to say, “First you will tell me why you took it from the body.”
Stinfry smiled slightly, “Of course. I shall begin by apologising for doing so, but you see I wanted to test out some new techniques for examining bodies, and the morgue was at the time fairly sparse pickings. I am sure you have read my book on human anatomy; I am quite the authority on the subject in fact. Anyway, I knew you were in town Master Varrintine and that no doubt you would be asked to investigate this particular death. I tried to do my tests as quickly as possible when looking at the poor woman, but I had a feeling that I would not be done in time, so I took the necklace. I left behind the bead as to grab your attention and direct you to me so that I might have another chance to examine the body.”
“But you handed over the necklace with dispute,” Arell said curiously.
“Yes,” the Magi nodded, “As you know Captain some fresh corpses have recently been found so I have satisfied my interests on them and no longer have the need to look at the young woman’s body.”
“As simple as that?” Vhindr asked suspiciously.
“Much in life is simple my friend,” Stinfry shrugged, “Now, I must get back to my work, as do you two. So if you would excuse me, I take it you can see yourselves out. Do not worry about the door, it will lock itself.”
The Magi waved over his shoulder as he swiftly departed the room and headed up the stairs of his tower.
Quietly Vhindr and Arell walked form the tower and back into the streets of the Pentrin Arch.
“To Ulteross then,” Arell remarked as the door to Magi Stinfry’s tower locked itself behind then.
“It seems so,” Vhindr remarked absently.
“What are you thinking?” Arell asked curiously.
“I am not sure,” Vhindr replied as he started down the road, “But if you are coming with me to Ulteross best go and pack your things we leave in the morning.”
“Of course I am coming,” Arell was quick to say, “But how much do I need to pack? I can get what I need when we teleport there.”
“We are not teleporting,” Vhindr was quick to reply, “I will meet you at the gates before Inüer rises.”
Slowly he woke up yawning loudly and moved to stretch his arms above his head, but for some reason his hands did not move. Legin opened his eyes and the recollection of his situation suddenly came back to him. His hands were bound to the arms of the chair by magickal shackles and he remembered clearly the moment the guards had knocked him unconscious.
Legin yawned again and tried to stretch out his legs, but they were similarly bound to the Fog created chair. An uncomfortable chair at that Legin noted as he tried to shift his position to grant some relief for backside which suddenly felt very numb.
“Come on guys,” Legin called out, “If you are going to take me home for the night you could at least give me breakfast in the morning. And do we really need these bindings? Come on I thought we were past all this torture nonsense. If you want to ask me a question just ask it. What would I get out of lying to you lot?”
Predictably there came no reply to his questions and Legin let out a sigh and looked about the room for something interesting to gaze at, but there was nothing. Like the chair he sat on and everything else in this prison it was made from the Fog being caught inside a crystalline structure. Clean, dustless, sterile, and boring. A stark comparison from the compound of the prison.
“I got a question for you guys watching,” Legin called out and turned his head to the wall which he knew was a one-way window, “If Commander Razaless is dead, who is going to be torturing me? Please don’t let it be ‘Ham-fists Troul’ he is useless.”
There was still no reply and Legin sighed again.
With nothing in the room for him to gauge the time of day Legin was not sure how long he sat there in silence, but what he did know was that it was a very long time.
Just as Legin began to think he was about to go crazy the single door to the room swung inwards and a thin man entered. His hair was short and black, his eyes blue, and he wore the dress of a military official which was dark green with the grey wolf of Gaianaus across the breast.
“Who are you?” Legin asked curiously.
“I am Regional Commander Rathgard,” the man replied simply and with a controlled tone. “No doubt you are wondering why you are here.”
“You know what I am wondering,” Legin cut in, “When am I getting my breakfast? I called out several hours ago but still no one has shown up with my meal.”
Rathgard smirked, “Very amusing.”
“Hey, I do have a serious question,” Legin cut in again before the Regional Commander could continue. “Is this the torture room where Razaless was killed?”
Legin could see Rathgard’s eye twitch slightly.
“No it is not,” Rathgard replied with composure, “Now. . .”
“I have another serious question,” Legin interrupted again, “Are you…”
“Enough,” the Regional Commander shouted. “I am the one asking questions here, and you will answer me.”
“Well, that depends on the question,” Legin was quick to say.
“Silence.” Rathgard snapped, his eye twitching again, “Now tell me, what you know of your friend Vythe Varrintine’s escape?”
Legin looked in puzzlement at the Regional Commander, but did not reply.
“Speak you insolent wretch,” Rathard sneered.
“So now you want me to talk?” Legin sighed, “You just told me to be silent.”
“Answer the question,” Rathgard gnashed his teeth angrily.
“Alright, alright. But you need to learn to relax,” Legin replied with a smile, “About Vythe’s escape…”
Legin’s voice trailed away and another thought suddenly came to his head, “Wait, so this whole thing is not about how I orchestrated the new duel ruler ship of the compound and killed Argyle in the process?”
“No,” Rathgard growled, his lip curling into a snarl, “I do not care for petty prison politics. Answer my question now or I will extract it from you.”
“Torture?” Legin asked in surprise, “In that case, what I know about Vythe’s escape is this.”
He paused and hid his smile as Rathgard began to grind his teeth.
“Actually, you know what, I’ll take the torture option,” Legin smiled nicely and Rathgard bared his teeth in frustration. “You are not in a hurry I hope ‘cause last time I lasted quite a while before passing out.”
The Regional Commander let out a great sigh and turned to the door way, “Captain Troul,” Rathgard called out and the guard Captain came into the room, “Cut off this prisoner’s monkey tail.”
Troul smiled wide and summoned a Fog dagger, “It’ll me my pleasure.”
“Seriously?” Legin tried to laugh but he realised Rathgard was not joking, “Wait, I’ll tell you.”
Rathgard did not reply and Troul moved closer with his dagger. A cold sweat creped over Legin body and terror clutched at him.
“Stop, stop I’ll tell you,” Legin said suddenly desperate, “Don’t, stop, wait. Wait!”
“Hold Trul,” Rathgard smiled nastily.
“I honestly don’t know much, he left without me,” Legin replied with a sigh of relief.
“You will look strange without a tail, Legin,” Rathgard remarked coldly.
“Wait, wait,” Legin cried out, “He wrote me a letter, I’m telling you the truth. Check my pockets.”
“You mean this letter?” Rathgard asked as he pulled forth the letter Vythe had sent to Legin.
“You have already read it?” Legin balked in astonishment, “Then what in the Abyss is your problem? You know I don’t know anything about his escape.”
“I had I hoped you could say more,” Rathgard replied in a controlled manner.
“I don’t, now let me go already,” Legin replied angrily.
“But you have wasted my time,” Rathgard said simply, “Continue Troul.”
“No, no please not my tail,” Legin begged as Captain Troul knelt down behind his chair.
“Alright,” Rathgard smiled, “Leave his tail attached Troul. Have as much fun otherwise though.”
With that the Regional Commander left the room and closed the door behind him, leaving Legin alone in the room with Captain Troul.
“You know runt,” Troul said slowly as he moved to stand in front of Legin, “I heard what you said earlier about me.”
Legin smiled meekly and began to reply. But his words came out in a scream as Troul cast a spell of pain towards him.
There was no way of knowing how much time had passed in that room. The only progression of time Legin could discern was with the many spells Troul cast upon him. With every flash of the Captain’s Anther crystal ring more pain wracked Legin’s body. Some of the spells felt like he was being burned from the inside, other seemed as if hundreds of daggers were stabbing at him. Not once did Troul cause him to bleed or bruise, but such pain he felt with each passing spell. Inevitably he could not take any more and Legin fell into unconsciousness.
“Get him out of here,” the voice of Captain Troul was the next thing Legin heard.
Legin kept his eyes closed and hid back his smile as he felt the binding around his wrists and ankles vanish and two people grabbed him under the arms, lifting him up and dragging him from the room.
“Thought he would last longer than that,” one of the guards remarked as Legin was being dragged along.
“But he didn’t and now you are buying me a drink this evening,” the second guard laughed.
That laughter cut short as Legin’s eyes popped open and he jumped to his feet. Springing off his toes Legin lunged into the guard on his left, slamming the man’s head into the wall and knocking him unconscious. The second guard met a similar fate as Legin pushed off the wall and grabbed the man by the throat and tripping up his feet Legin drove the guard backwards into the ground.
Pain and weariness suddenly overcame Legin and he collapsed to the ground, breathing heavily and wincing away the stiffness in his muscles. But voices from down the hallway brought to mind the situation he was in, and also the potential for escape.
A sparkle came to Legin’s eye as he jumped to his feet and began dragging the unconscious bodies of the guards into the closest room, which was thankfully unoccupied. A thought suddenly came to Legin’s mind and with a smile he took the Anther crystal rings of the fingers of both guards. One he slipped down his pants and the other in his pocket.
Cautiously he moved from the room, glancing down the hallways and subtly making his way through the barracks. Not many guards knew who he was to look at, and the only distinguishing feature was his tail, but that was a simple fix and he coiled his tail around his waist like a belt.
“You belong here,” Legin mumbled to himself, “They won’t think twice about you if you look as if you belong here. They get outsiders in here all the time, I’m just one more. And I am walking calmly out the doors to freedom.”
A smile came to Legin’s face and he loosened up his shoulders to seem more relaxed and confident that he knew where he was going. Of course he did not really know which way to go, but passing a window which looked out into the open valley where the prison sat he had a generally idea which paths to turn down.
A knot suddenly twisted in his gut as a pair of guards came around the corner before him. Again he told himself that he belonged in this place and even shot the female guard a slight smile as they passed by not giving him much thought.
“Hey,” the female guard suddenly called out before he could turn the corner. “Stop you.”
“Is there a problem?” Legin asked innocently as he turned about.
“You cannot go that way,” the female guard said simply.
“Really?” Legin asked in confusion, “Isn’t this the way out?”
A smile came to the woman’s face, “Are you lost?”
Legin let out a deep breath and laughed awkwardly, “I am a bit, yes.”
The woman’s male companion sighed irritably, “They should give you mercenaries a map when you come in here. To get out you have to go back that way, take a left and down the stairs. It’s then a right and then another left, are you following me?”
“Left, down, right, left,” Legin replied with a smile, “I follow you.”
“I can show you the way if you want,” the female guard said kindly.
“Do not trouble yourself,” Legin replied quickly, “You have things to do, I can find my way.”
“Yeah, like you are doing a good job at that moment,” the male scoffed and turned to his companion, “Come on, let’s go.”
The other guard agreed and they left Legin in the hallway who breathed a sigh of relief before proceeding to follow the guard’s directions. It was easy enough and quickly he was down the stairs and heading towards the exit, casually passing by more guards and a couple of other outsiders.
As he moved closer to the exit his excitement began to build and he could almost taste the freedom. His heart seemed to skip a beat as he turned a corner and at the area opened up into a wide indoor yard. A couple of carriages sat in the dirt arena to his right and several horses could be seen at the other end of the theatre in the stables. He was almost out, he was almost free.
But a sudden thought tugged at him and made him stop from walking to the stables.
“What about Pip?” Legin asked quietly.
Could he just leave him? Pip would not begrudge him this chance to escape, and would in fact be happy that he made it out. Just like Legin was happy that Vythe made it out. But Pip was not like him and Vythe, his friend would not be able to survive in the prison without his help.
“Pip would want me to escape,” Legin told himself and took a step for the stables.
But something was still holding him back and stopping him from taking his freedom. He could have been out by now, Legin told himself, free and teleporting far away from this place.
“I can’t leave him behind,” Legin said to himself, “But will I get another chance?”
Just then an alarm sounded somewhere within the barracks, likely as a result of one of the unconscious guards waking up. But he could still get out if he went now.
Legin started towards the stables again, passing a couple of guards who were wondering about the alarm that was sounding.
Legin stopped walking, “No, I can’t leave Pip behind.”
With a sigh Legin uncoiled his tail from around his waist and waited patiently for the guards to find him. It did not take long and before he realised someone tackled him to the ground and magickal bindings held his hands together. Roughly he was pulled to his feet and searched for anything he might have stolen. Of course they found the Anther crystal ring in his pocket.
“You little thief,” the guard growled and punched Legin in the gut. “Think you can escape from here do ya? Looks like you ain’t as smart as your pal Vythe.”
The punched him in the stomach again and then a second guard joined in. But Legin was stoic throughout and tensing his stomach muscles lessoned the impact from the blows.
“That’s enough,” Regional Commander Rathgard called out as he made his way through the gathered guardsmen. “A valiant attempt Legin. But all in vain, throw him back in the compound.”
“With pleasure,” one of the guards who had been punching him laughed and roughly shoved Legin back through the corridors of the barracks.
Before long Legin was shoved hard in the back again, causing him to stumble into the prison compound. The bindings around his wrists vanished and the large doors slammed behind him.
With a sigh Legin looked up to the early morning sky and lamented what could have been.
“Home sweet home,” Legin mumbled bitterly and started off into the compound.