Year 3630, The Sixth Age, the twentieth day of Winter
Vhindr sat quietly at a table at the Bearded Clam, a well known tavern in Pentra’s east docks. As usual there was a decent sized crowd in the main room, many among them off duty guards, the usual old patrons, and sailors who had just made port that afternoon. The crowd was loud and obnoxious, drowning out the sound of the lute in the corner and the bard singing, and seeming ready to start a brawl.
Placing down his glass after taking a sip Vhindr turned the page of his book, completely ignoring the mounting tension within the pub. He had only started this book about the process of how the Sect of Artāre created Helwyr recently, but already he was more than half way through. Of course the literature did not cover the full details of the process and only explained what the temple wanted people to know about, but Vhindr understood enough to read between the lines. He was a swift reader and had developed a skill to skim through the text and still collect all the important and crucial details, although usually he enjoyed taking his time when reading. The reason he had progressed through this particular tome so quickly was because he was waiting for someone, and that someone was running quite late.
Vhindr sighed as he finished a page and glanced up to the entrance of the tavern.
“Finally,” Vhindr muttered as he noticed a guardsman walk into the room.
With a quick scan of the room the guard spotted Vhindr and hastily moved through the crowd.
“So nice of you to join me, Tolfren,” Vhindr remarked dryly as he placed his book down on the table.
“Yeah, yeah. I know I’m late,” the burly guard dismissed Vhindr’s sarcasm, “Some of us have real jobs.”
Vhindr smirked as the man sat down.
“What were you doing in this real job of yours that made you so tardy?” Vhindr inquired with bemusement.
“I finished on time, but I was down in the west docks,” Tolfren shrugged, “But I can’t just come here after, you know. I have to sign out back at the barracks, and then make me way here. But before I headed here I saw Marquin just about to head out on shift.”
“And you stopped to chat,” Vhindr nodded with a slight sigh.
“Not just chat,” the guardsman was quick to reply, “He’s one of the ones who knew a bit more about what Arell was working on before she disappeared. So I was talking about that. Then the next thing I know Captain Von Beird shows up and demands I fill him in on what I have been telling you.”
“You told him?”
“‘Course I did,” replied Tolfren, “He’s my Captain. If I want to keep me job of course I got to tell him.”
“It does not matter,” Vhindr shrugged, “Did you learn anything new from Marquin?”
“Maybe,” Tolfren nodded, “But you see that long walk has made me a bit parched, and quite a bit hungry. If you follow me?”
Vhindr smiled and nodded before he called over a barmaid and ordered some food and drink. Tolfren laughed aloud and rubbed his meaty hands together.
“I thank you m’Lord,” smiled the guard, “I knew there was a reason I was helping you out.”
“I still hope there is a reason for me to continue to ask for your help,” Vhindr remarked as he took a sip of his drink.
“Don’t you worry,” Tolfren was quick to say, “What Marquin told me might be a lead for you.”
Just then the food and drinks arrived and Tolfren eagerly began eating.
“Go on, please,” Vhindr remarked and Tolfren struggled to swallow a mouthful.
“Right, sorry,” the guard coughed, “Now Marquin was saying that even though Arell was keeping most of her findings close to the chest, so to speak, he did remember noticing that on one of her pages of writing she had underlined Chilldeep Prison. For what reason though, he couldn’t say.”
“Chilldeep?” Vhindr raised an eyebrow curiously.
“Aye,” nodded Tolfren, “It’s the other great prison apart from the Gaia Mountains Penitentiary. It’s out on one of the islands in the Gornl Sea. You can sometimes see it from the docks.”
“I am well aware of that,” Vhindr replied dryly and the man shrugged as he went back to eating.
“As to why she was interested in it, Marquin had no clue,” Tolfren continued, “He thought that maybe she was thinking some psycho had escaped from the place. Mind you I doubt that very much. If a prisoner even makes it over the wall it’s a long way to the sea below, and the odds of missing the rocks are very slim. Not to mention being able to swim to the shore without the strong undercurrents pulling you down, or some beast eating you for dinner. In my view it would never happen, but who can say.”
Vhindr nodded absently, having only slightly heard what Tolfren was saying for he was distracted by a scene happening near the bar of the tavern.
A young man, barely in his mid-twenties was talking to the bar keep as a pair of thugs felt the need to impose themselves. One of the large men grabbed the youngsters furry belt which suddenly uncoiled from around his waist.
“A tail,” Vhindr gasped quietly.
The young man responded to the thug’s advances viciously, grabbing the larger man’s wrist and hand and snapping his thumb. The large man screamed aloud and would have fallen to his knees if a lightning fast side kicked from the youngster launched him backwards.
The whole room seemed to pause as the young man turned to the other thug. Vhindr guessed that such a move would break the tension in the tavern a result in an all-out brawl, and indeed the thug’s friend seemed keen for such a fight.
“Do you really want some of what I am right now?” the young dark haired man with a tail proclaimed loudly.
Spreading his muscled arms out wide he turned about the room and everyone gasped loudly as wisps of Fog began to seep out of the youngster’s white fabric gauntlets and curl around his arms. The closest people fell over themselves in shock as they scrambled to get away and the youngster smiled widely at the crowd. The tendrils of Fog continued to swarm about his arms and through his black hair. The youngsters blue eyes seemed to sparkle with the Fog as well.
“As I thought,” the young man nodded and the Fog disappeared, “Go back to your meals folks.”
With that the boy with a tail relaxed and moved back over to the bar to continue his conversation with the bartender. Gradually the crowd recovered from their stunned silence and they slowly went back to what they were doing, while others left the tavern as quickly as they could.
“What just happened?” Tolfren asked aloud and looked to Vhindr.
Shaking his head Vhindr realised that his mouth was still hanging open and quickly regained his composure, but he continued to look over to the bar where the young man was sitting down for a drink.
“That kid’s got a tail,” the guardsman exclaimed, “I don’t believe it, maybe old Mōrden’s story held some truth to it.”
“Who? What story?” Vhindr asked curiously.
“Taggar Mōrden,” Tolfren explained, “Old guardsman, he’s retired now, but when I was still a rookie he told me and some others a story. Apparently one night the old codger and his partner had been patrolling the west docks when he saw the body of a woman on the beach. Immediately he rushed over to see if she was still alive and to his horror he saw that she was heavily pregnant. Mōrden checked the girls pulse to find nothing. But when he put his ear to her belly he heard the thump of a weak heartbeat. Quick as he could Mōrden cut her open and pulled the live babe from the womb. To his shock the kid had a damn tail.”
“What?” Vhindr asked in surprise.
“I know right,” Tolfren laughed, “Me and the others didn’t believe a word of it. But seeing the youngster over there, his tail. Makes me wonder.”
Vhindr looked down to the table top and blinked repeatedly as he tried to come to grips with the guard’s story.
“Some coincidence, ay?” Tolfren shook his head as he wiped his hands on the Stars of Pentra on his jerkin.
“I don’t believe in coincidence,” Vhindr remarked softly as he looked back to the young man at the bar.
* * * *
“So, do you know of a Taggar Mōrton?” Legin asked as he turned back to the barman.
The man’s response to the question was a look of utter fear, his mouth hanging agape and his eyes wide.
“We don’t want no trouble in ‘ere,” the man managed to stammer.
“That’s good, neither do I,” Legin replied with a disarming smile, “I just don’t appreciate people grabbing my tail.”
“Are you some kind of demon spawn of the Abyss?” the barman asked in fear.
Legin sighed heavily, “Do I look like a demon?”
“Ye did just before,” the man was quick to reply.
“I’m a Magi is all,” Legin dismissed the issue, “I can still use magicks. You can’t tell me you’ve never seen a Magi do something like that before.”
The man seemed to relax a bit at that and by now the rest of the tavern had gone back to their own business.
“I hope ye won’t be doing any more of that though,” the barman shook his head and took a deep breath.
“Depends, do you know Taggar Mōrton?” Legin asked slyly.
“Aye, I know him,” nodded the barman, his eyes still wide.
“Is he here tonight?” Legin asked quickly and glanced around the tavern.
“Nope,” the man shook his head, “I banned him a couple nights ago, couldn’t pay his tab.”
“And do you know where I might find him?” Legin asked with a sigh.
“Try the west end of the docks,” the barman shrugged, “I hear he lives that way.”
Legin scratched his chin and nodded.
“Thanks, can I get a drink of water,” Legin leaned on the waxed bar top and the barman handed him a cup before moving away.
“Where has Pip got to?” mumbled Legin as he had a mouthful of his drink, “I was total awesome just then, he should have seen it.”
“That was quite the show, may I buy you a drink?” someone asked cheerfully.
Legin turned slowly to face the man who just came alongside him at the bar.
“Vythe,” Legin exclaimed and his eyes went wide as he looked upon the speaker.
His smile vanished in a flash though, “Wait, you’re not Vythe. By The Five you like him though.”
The dark haired man wearing a gold and black vest raised an eye brow curiously.
“Vythe is my younger brother,” the man smiled and nodded, “My name is Vhindr Varrintine. How is it you know Vythe?”
“Well, of course he is your brother, you guys looks almost exactly the same,” Legin laughed slightly, “We were at the Gaia Prison together. He was like a brother to me also. Have you seen him recently? How is he?”
“Not recently,” Vhindr shook his head and absently played with one of many pendants around his neck and dangling at the middle of his chest out of his open vest and shirt. “But last I did see him, he was well, if not a bit stressed.”
“I suppose that is good,” Legin nodded and had another mouthful of water.
“What brings you to Pentra?” Vhindr asked curiously, “Are you here by yourself?”
“I was born here,” Legin replied, “After the Gaia Prison’s walls vanished after that wave of Fog me and my friend Pip decided to come back.”
“Is your friend around?” asked Vhindr as he glanced about the room, “Introduce us.”
“No, he had to do some things, said he would meet me here soon,” Legin shrugged before turning a curious eye to Vhindr, “But what is the famous Vhindr Varrintine doing in Pentra? Some exciting murder mystery maybe?”
“You have heard of me?” Vhindr asked with surprise.
“I read one of your books actually,” Legin grinned, “It was a while ago now, though. Interesting stuff. Didn’t understand it.”
Vhindr laughed in surprise.
“Here’s Pip now,” Legin exclaimed and pointed to the door way, “Good timing.”
“Who, sorry?” Vhindr inquired as he looked where Legin pointed.
“The man with brown hair, about my height,” Legin replied, “He is walking right towards us. Hey Pip, you want a drink?”
“No, I’m good,” Pip shook his head as he stopped before Legin and Vhindr, “Who’s the Vythe lookalike?”
“His brother Vhindr,” Legin explained.
Pip eyed Vhindr suspiciously and nodded slightly.
“Don’t be so friendly guys,” Legin laughed as he noticed Vhindr also did not greet Pip, “Anyway, guess what Pip?”
“I’ve got a lead on Mōrton,” Legin smiled.
“Finally,” Pip sighed, “Where to?”
“You’re not going to like it,” Legin said honestly.
“I’m not surprised,” quipped Pip.
“We are going to the west end of the docks,” Legin stated and Pip’s mouth fell open.
“That’s Lyrndl’s area,” Pip exclaimed, “You know what happened last time.”
“We’ll be fine this time,” Legin reassured his friend.
“Lyrndl’s wants you dead,” Pip reminded Legin.
“Lyrndl won’t be a problem,” Legin dismissed the issue.
“I could help with Lyrndl, if you like?” Vhindr added and both Legin and Pip turned to the man.
“Why?” Pip was quick to ask suspiciously.
“Got business with Lyrndl, have you?” Legin asked slyly, “A murder mystery perhaps?”
Vhindr smiled slightly, “Perhaps.”
“This is going to be so fun, Pip,” Legin exclaimed, “Solving a mystery with the famous Vhindr Varrintine.”
Pip did not look as excited, “I don’t trust him,” Pip whispered to Legin.
“Don’t trust him?” Legin laughed, “He’s Vythe’s brother, of course we can trust him.”
“I do not have to join you if you do not wish,” Vhindr remarked and took a sip of his drink.
“No, of course you can join us,” Legin was quick to say, “Pip is just suspicious of everyone new. Growing up on the streets does that to you, I know.”
Pip mumbled something under his breath as he crossed his arms in front of his chest.
“Come on, let’s go now, all three of us,” Legin declared and put his cup on the bar top before grabbing both Vhindr and Pip around the shoulders and walking out of the tavern.
Outside a chill wind greeted them as it blew in from the south carrying with it a light mist. The hour was fairly late and the crystal rune street lamps glowed a dim orange, reflecting off the mist and scarcely illuminating the roads. Rivers of Fog throughout the mist lit up the darker corners of the city, bringing a malicious feel to the air and causing most folks to disappear indoors.
“What’s with this cold weather?” Legin remarked as he walked between Vhindr and Pip, “I never remember it being this cold hey Pip?”
Pip shivered and shook his head.
“The wave of Fog that rushed across the realms has temporaily disrupted the natural weather changes,” Vhindr remarked casually as he looked to the Fog within the mist. “I presume the weather will return to normal in time.”
“Well look who is a Magi, Scholar and crime solver,” Pip remarked quietly so that only Legin could hear.
“Are you a Magi, Vhindr?” asked Legin curiously.
“Not really,” Vhindr shrugged, “I did graduate from the Magi Guild in Port Na’brath, but immediately after I followed different pursuits.”
“Like solving crime?” Legin asked with a smile.
“Like solving crime,” Vhindr laughed slightly.
“What are you working on now?” Legin inquired, looking to Vhindr.
“The abduction of a friend,” replied Vhindr as he adjusted the many bracelets and bands around his left wrist.
“Why do I get the feeling you’re not saying everything?” Pip remarked suspiciously.
“Come on Pip,” Legin sighed, “Don’t be like that. If Vhindr doesn’t want to tell us everything, that’s his business.”
Vhindr did not comment and Legin skipped ahead of the group to swing around a street light and back to the cobblestone road. The mist off the Gornl Sea thickened as they continued along and the Fog within the cloud grew brighter. In this part of the city the houses crowded in around them and their three story height seemed to lean over the streets and dozens of narrow allies shot out from the main path.
“Tell me Legin,” Vhindr said breaking the silence, “Do have many run-ins, like the one with that thug back at the tavern, with people noticing your tail and picking a fight?”
“Sometimes,” Legin replied, “I usually keep my tail around my waist like a belt, like it is now, and most don’t even notice. Those who do and want to fight about it, I sort them out pretty quick.”
Legin shot a sly grin to Vhindr and pumped his fist.
Vhindr returned the smile before turning his sight back to the dark streets.
“Do you know where in the west docks we are going, bro?” Pip asked curiously as he glanced around.
Legin stopped walking and tapped his chin thoughtfully.
“Not really,” he admitted with a sheepish grin, “The barman just said Mōrten lived around here. He wasn’t very specific and I forgot to ask.”
Legin laughed awkwardly and scratched the back of his head.
Pip groaned loudly, “Why am I not surprised.”
“It’s all good,” Legin replied happily, “We’ll just go to the taverns about the place and ask.”
“Or, I could tell you,” Vhindr added with a smile.
“How do you know where he is?” Legin asked curiously.
“An old colleague of Mōrten’s told me,” shrugged Vhindr as he took the lead.
“You didn’t say that you were going to see the guard as well,” Legin remarked as he moved alongside the taller man.
“No, I did not,” Vhindr smiled back mysteriously.
“You’re right he is Vythe’s brother,” Pip remarked dryly, “Both of them don’t like saying everything.”
Legin snickered at that.
“And you never really asked me either, remember?” Vhindr added.
“I’ll ask now then,” Legin said quickly, “Are you heading to talk to Mōrten as well?”
“To ask about an old case of his,” Vhindr replied coyly.
“There has to be more to it than that,” groaned Legin and Vhindr laughed.
“No doubt there is,” Vythe’s brother nodded, “And I shall be sure to say once I know what it is.”
“You’re strange,” Pip remarked.
“You’re right, Pip, he is a bit strange,” agreed Legin and Vhindr smiled, but did not reply.
Cupping his hands behind his head Legin continued to follow Vhindr through the misty and dimly lit streets. Absently Legin began to whistle a tune, the high pitched tune echoing off the cloaked stone buildings and eerily running through the houses. Slowly his whistle died down and was replaced with an ominous silence, the only sounds to be heard were the soft footsteps of Legin and his two companions.
“Here it is,” Vhindr remarked as he came to a stop in front of a three story building and headed up the staircase to the top floor.
“Hey, Vhindr,” Legin said as they stopped on the small landing, “Can I talk to him first?”
Vhindr turned a curious eye to Legin and nodded before he knocked loudly on the door.
Many minutes passed and no word came from inside so Vhindr knocked loudly again. This time the sound of moving feet could be heard coming to the door. The clicks of half a dozen locks sounded before an elderly man opened the door a crack.
“What do you want?” the man demanded.
“Taggar Mōrten?” Vhindr inquired politely.
“So you know me,” the man replied gruffly, “But I don’t know yous, so shove off.”
“Perhaps you remember my tail,” Legin added and turned so the old man could clearly see his fury brown tail protruding through the top of his pants.
The old man’s eyes widened suddenly as the realisation came to him.
“Can we come in?” Legin asked when Mōrten did not say anything.
“Course,” the old guard breathed and opened the door for the trio to walk in.
Legin was quick to jump over the threshold and move to the two chairs that sat in front of a dying fire. Aside from the glow of the small flame no other lights were on in the two room apartment.
His eyes still wide Mōrten followed Legin and took up the other seat, completely disregarding Vhindr and Pip as they mulled around the messy room.
“Never thought I’d see you again,” the old guard shook his balding head, “Why last time I did see you, you were naught but a babe and I was handing you over to the ladies at the Jaded Mermaid.”
“Yeah, thanks for saving me and all that,” Legin smiled genuinely.
“So what brings you here? Why now?” asked Mōrten curiously.
“I just came back to Pentra recently,” Legin shrugged, “And I came back to know more about what happened to my mother.”
The old guard nodded as Legin spoke and rubbed his bearded chin.
“Don’t know if I know much about that,” the man admitted, “But I’ll try and answer your questions.”
“Who was my mother?” Legin was quick to ask and sat forward in his chair.
Mōrten sighed, “That’s still a mystery I’m afraid. We never discovered who she was or where she was from. Only that she washed ashore dead with you still in her womb.”
“So she wasn’t from Pentra?” Legin asked curiously.
“Nope,” the old man shook his head.
“What of my father?”
“No clue, sorry lad,” Mōrten sighed. “I wish I could tell you more, I really do. But that’s it.”
Legin’s shoulders slumped and he collapsed back in the seat feeling utterly defeated.
“What state was the woman’s body in?” Vhindr spoke up as he moved behind Legin’s seat to face Mōrten directly.
“What? Who are you?” the old man asked back.
“Someone asking you a question,” Vhindr was quick to reply, “Think back, guardsman Mōrten. What do you recall about the woman’s body? Was she young?”
“Yeah she was quiet young,” the man nodded slowly as he gave Vhindr a curious expression.
“Do you remember if she had bruising and abrasions to her wrists?”
The retired guard blinked and looked back to the fire as he tried to remember, “Can’t say, maybe,” the man shook his head.
“Her clothes were fairly poorly, were they not?” Vhindr asked seriously.
“Yeah they were,” the old man nodded, “That I remember. Very worn they were.”
“But she was healthy, regardless, was she not?” Vhindr stated more than asked.
“Yeah she was,” Mōrten’s eyes lit up as he seemed to remember. “I recall that clearly.”
“I thought as much,” Vhindr nodded and sighed.
“What are you on about, Vhindr?” Legin asked seriously.
“Tell me Mōrten,” Vhindr ignored Legin, “Were there any other young woman who washed ashore during your time as a guard?”
“Don’t think so,” the old man mumbled, “No wait, there was one. No, two of them.”
“Either in the early stages of pregnancy, or recently given birth?” Vhindr seemed to state again and Mōrten nodded.
“What you know about it?” the guard asked seriously, “Who are you?”
“My name is Vhindr Varrintine, but that is not important,” Vhindr was quick to say, “Were there any before Legin’s mother? Think, this is very important.”
“I’ve heard of you Mister Varrintine,” the old guard nodded, “And I don’t need to think that hard, ‘cause there weren’t any before young Legin’s poor mother.”
“I presume all records were stored at the mortuary?” asked Vhindr and Mōrten nodded.
“Of course they were documented and stored,” replied the old guard, “Should still be in those catacombs somewhere.”
“I thank you,” Vhindr smiled triumphantly. “You have been a great aid to my case.”
With that Vhindr strode from behind Legin’s seat for the door.
“Vhindr, wait,” Legin exclaimed as he jumped to his feet, “I’m coming too. Thanks mister Mōrten. Maybe I’ll drop by again.”
“You’re always welcome lad,” the old guard called after him as Legin hurried to catch up to Vhindr, with Pip close at his heels.
Outside Vhindr was already back down the stairs, so without a thought Legin hopped upon the railing and slid down the smooth surface to catch up with him. With Pip close behind him Legin caught up with Vhindr and fixed the man with a stern look.
“You have questions, I see,” Vhindr remarked as they walked swiftly along, “Very well, ask away.”
“What’s what happened to my natural mother got to do with your case?” Legin was quick to ask. “I thought it was about your friend’s abduction, how can they be related?”
“Because my friend and I were investigating the death of a young woman who had washed ashore on Pentra’s beach,” Vhindr replied seriously, “The poor young woman, who we learnt was called Fay Mareen and who was from Ulteross, was sadly long dead. But it was clear that she had given birth not long before that death.”
“That’s terrible,” Legin remarked quietly.
“But Ulteross is miles away,” Pip remarked curiously.
“Yeah, how’d she end up drowned in Pentra?” Legin asked as he nodded to his friend.
“That is exactly what I wondered,” Vhindr replied, “And why my friend and I travelled to Ulteross. But we found no clues and the lead went cold. I was called away home when I learnt of Vythe’s return to The Port and my friend returned here to Pentra. I returned here recently myself to only discover that she had been abducted and that it is connected to Fay Mareen’s murder.”
“What has that got to do with my natural mother?” Legin asked thoughtfully.
Vhindr turned a curious eye towards Legin before he subtly shook his head.
“Well obviously, your natural mother was the first of the bodies to wash ashore here,” Vhindr explained, “And since her there have been many more.”
“Right,” Legin nodded as he understood, “So, why are we going to the mortuary?”
“To read the reports of the examinations of the bodies,” Vhindr stated as if it were obvious, “That way I will learn if those women had similar injuries to Fay Mareen’s wounds, and will confirm my thoughts.”
“I think I follow you,” Legin smiled, “But wouldn’t it be easier to follow the leads your friend was chasing when she disappeared.”
“I have done,” Vhindr replied, “But they have not been that informative. The most curious piece of evidence I did discover was that my friend, Arell, was interested in Chilldeep Prison.”
“Well that makes sense,” Legin nodded and both Pip and Vhindr regarded him curiously.
“Really?” Pip scoffed and shook his head.
“I’m not stupid Pip,” Legin snapped back, “It’s pretty easy to join the dots between people washing ashore in Pentra and the prison out in the Gornl Sea. You can see the island where it’s situated from the docks, you know.”
“Yeah, I know,” Pip replied simply, “But it’s a prison, they don’t just let people out.”
“Well, have you got any bright ideas?” Legin was quick to ask.
“Ask Vhindr, he’s the genius,” Pip replied indignantly and Legin snickered.
“Of course Vhindr would see my cleverness,” Legin said confidently, “You were going to head over to Chilldeep Prison once you were done with the morgue, right Vhindr?”
“I was considering it,” Vhindr remarked simply, “But let us learn what we may at the mortuary first.”