Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Their Fated Travels... (Chapter Two)

The three accused are brought out of the inn and to the murder scene. The rest of the group finally appear and the party is complete.

Their Fated Travels…

By Robert James Freemantle

Chapter Two

The Scene of Murder (Seen and Unseen)

Malvanius led them outside - Maestro, Tordrad and Rissandrea. They were expecting to see a coach there ready to take them away to the city jail, but no such thing happened. They were led across the mismatching cobbled street with a squad of witch hunters in tow, to an alleyway two roads away from the inn.

Upon reaching the murder scene, Tordrad’s jaw firmed up and his eyes took on a look of wild shock and anger.

Rissandrea looked at the two mutilated bodies and assorted macabre paraphernalia about them, with a look of sympathy draining the last of her high spirits away. Even though they were dead, she guessed what they must have suffered, what they still were suffering! - judging by the symbols present!

Maestro dropped the last of his apple and the piece already in his mouth stuck out where he couldn’t bring himself to chew any longer.

The witch hunter captain had been studying their faces for a sign of anything that could incriminate them, any sign that this scene was not a new image to them. He found nothing suspicious but remained silent anyway.

Malvanius started, “Two bodies, these men knew each other. They were in the inn with you all last night. This one with his insides spread across the wall in a pattern, he was seen mistreating you last night, Miss Vhor.”

Rissandrea nodded sadly.

“The other, a sailor was present and also had a discussion with you, Miss Vhor. That makes you a dangerous woman to be having words with.”

The woman held her tongue in place, as she did not like the feel of the words that were trying to come out at that moment. They were not befitting of a lady and especially not of one who sought to become a Shallyan Priestess.

The witch hunter asked, “When they left, you were angry at them weren’t you?”

Rissandrea nodded, “Of course I was! They are…were both beyond belief. I would remind you that those of my order maintain an oath to aid the sick and dying not add to them.”

Malvanius laughed coldly and for longer than seemed appropriate, “Corruption is everywhere, you’re too young and naive to realise this and that makes you a danger in itself.”

The weight of the arrests he’d made in the past were there in the back of his tone. People in the highest seats of superiority had come under his watchful eye and been judged as criminals. He wore his cynicism on his sleeve for all to see, but only if you were perceptive enough to realise it. Rissandrea was.

Maestro remained silent. Tordrad was less upset by the gore, for he had seen it all before on the battlefields of Kislev. He was more shaken up by the chaos imagery drawn across the walls in the blood and entrails of these two men. They were severely mutilated. Someone who was truly evil had to be responsible for this, he was sure.

Just at that moment, a small man around five feet three inches tall joined them in the alleyway. The witch hunters were about to pounce on him but Malvanius waved him to come closer.

The man had an awkward build – thin, too thin even for his height and somewhat stooped in his resting stance. This didn’t show in his walk however. He moved along on a walking staff, the like of which would be carried by men when they went into the hill pathways or simply if they were becoming less steady on their feet. He did certainly seem to rest his weight into the staff as if he needed it.

The new man looked at the bodies and nodded his head. Malvanius asked, “Refreshed from last night I assume?”

“Perfectly, thank you” came the man’s reply. His voice sounded educated. Those who were gathered outside could see that they were in the company of an academic.

Earlier that night, shortly after Malvanius had found the bodies; he had looked up and to the left where his eye had caught the bright lantern light shining through the window of the house at the end of the alley. Its light naturally illuminated part of the outside surroundings including a portion of the alleyway.

A decisive smile had crept across his face as he made his way towards the house. He’d given a secret hand sign to another witch hunter standing nearby. This second man had sprung away immediately down the side alley of the house.

Three sharp knocks were answered by am irritated voice calling “Wait a minute!”

Soon the door was answered by a short man. His curled black hair could not be seen under his surgeon’s hat. His face was rough, as if suited to a less refined class, yet he dwelled in an expensive house. Mental notes were being made.

Malvanius stared at the man standing at the door and enquired, “Do you know what has happened out here tonight?” his eyes darting just past the man and into his hallway beyond to look for anything of interest on display.

“No, I’ve been too busy working on this cadaver” came the reply from the man. Malvanius almost fell over backwards. How blatant a confession! But then he realised the man had been gesturing to the inside of his house. “Come, you can see if you wish.” He’d added.

He led a silently shocked Malvanius through into the front room containing the bright lantern that had caught his attention so readily before. He could tell that the room and indeed the house belonged to a physician, but based on the furniture and art pieces, one of considerable years beyond this man’s - who he estimated to be around 27 years old.

The man gestured to a work slab that had a corpse upon it. It had been cut open and its insides were being removed and stored in large brine filled medical jars.

Everything had been done professionally, methodically, medically Malvanius noticed. The proper tools that one would use he observed, were upon a nearby metal tray atop a small trolley.

The man seemed to read the witch hunter’s mind and stated, “This is one Mrs Jareyn. She died of an overdose, so they say. My teacher has assigned me the task of finding the truth in the matter, as part of my medical study.”

Malvanius’s quick eyes surveyed the paper lying on the desk, with its official death certificate wax seal upon it and quickly got back to summing up the character of the man standing before him.

“I see,” Malvanius said, “so you have been in all evening?”

“I have been working here all through the night, yes” came the man’s reply. “Becoming a doctor is no easy feat and working with the dead is of course part of that training. How can I assist you though? Can I get you any refreshments?”

The witch hunter captain scratched his chin and blinked his eyes. He was still tired from sleep deprivation tonight. The last few nights had been bad as well. “I carry my own canteen thank you.”

“As you wish” answered the man.

“But you can answer some questions for me.” said Malvanius.

The man calmly nodded at this.

Malvanius continued, “The murder scene is close to this house. Did you see anyone move in or out of that opposite alleyway tonight?”

The man replied, “I saw or heard no one I’m afraid. My work kept me busy here. What a shame that someone had lost their life so close to me. I might have been able to help him? Her?”

Malvanius knew his trap hadn’t been set off so he loosed the truth from its restraints he’d kept it in, “Actually there were two bodies, both men. Some suspicious marks are upon them.”

The young apprentice doctor started, “Sorry, where are my manners, I am Dieter De’ath. This is my tutor’s house but I stay over to complete my training on his assigned nights.”

Malvanius asked, “Why only nights?”

The man replied, “I work nights because I am an insomniac who also suffers from onieromancy. Morr would have words with me... I dread what I might see when I close my eyes, I do not want to see the future anymore.”

Malvanius considered the man’s name – De’ath. It wasn’t too uncommon but it was always interesting to encounter. Families would often put an apostrophe somewhere in the name to lessen its morbid meaning. Truth be told though, the word was truly death, regardless of how many apostrophes were used.

Malvanius asked, “Where is the master of the house then?”

The man answered, “I haven’t seen him all night. He has been out, perhaps on calls. I’m not worried, it’s perfectly normal for him.”

Malvanius growled at the man. If anyone else were present they would think he looked like a child against the witch hunter’s huge frame and terrible size, “There are no secrets from a witch hunter!”

The man politely bowed his head in understanding, obviously taking no discomfort in the witch hunter’s presence. Malvanius was not used to this. Normally he might be suspicious, but this time he simply wasn’t getting that bad feeling in his gut that he would normally get about someone when questioning them. He quietly liked this man, his confidence and professionalism, his strength under the pressure of his company made him stand out. Perhaps this was a man who could end up working on his team once fully qualified, thought Malvanius. Suddenly he heard himself and took a step back internally, unsure of what had just happened to him then. Every time he tried to connect the possibility of the murders outside to this man, it just seemed to make less and less sense, as if he encountered a mental block that forced his normally sharp mind to find it hard to concentrate.

“One of my men will remain here if that is okay? We will wait for the good doctor to return. Meanwhile, I want you to get some rest at the very least and join us outside just after dawn. Don’t try and run, we have this house monitored completely.”

“Of course” was the man’s reply.

The man then saw Malvanius to the door. The witch hunter’s sharp eagle like eyes came upon the coat and hat stand. None of the garments upon it were wet. The man’s shoes were not wet either. He checked the floor. The door had no mat with which to wipe one’s feet upon but the carpet was not previously wet or dirty except for his own recognizably large footprints upon it. “That will be all for now, I shall expect you later today.”

With that he was gone. Once the door was closed, the witch hunter who had previously disappeared around the back had reappeared and shook his head at his leader.

Malvanius wondered why he was really inviting the man to the scene of the crime later on. Perhaps to test him to see if he would make good student material, perhaps to attempt to trick him once the others were present to throw him off. He still wanted to speak to the man’s master, the doctor of the house. That remained a concern.

The doctor did not return to his house that night and still no sign had been seen of him by morning. This had already been reported back to Malvanius and he was just glad to see Dieter appear. At least part of the proceedings of investigation could continue for now. He didn’t feel hopeful about getting much from the other three he had gathered here.

Dieter asked “May I?” and Malvanius nodded affirmatively. The man then proceeded to investigate the bodies.

Dieter began to deliver an assessment, “These men were bound to the spot but not by force. There is no bruising anywhere. Perhaps they were afraid of something? Lack of defensive wounds suggest their minds were clouded beyond the possibility of defence. The killer was six to seven foot in height and this could not have been done by somebody working alone. The slashes to the torso and neck here and here indicate the attackers were full of rage.”

As the man’s words echoed through Maestro’s head, a strange vision began to take over his thoughts. As the student doctor recreated the scene, the wizard too was able to see it vividly. There were the two men frozen to the spot, afraid of a looming darkness casting across them. The doctor continued, “Death was probably instant, by knife wound to their necks, as you can see, the heads were left in place upon the bodies but one was almost severed as you can see. You can’t do that sort of damage in any right state of mind.”

Again, Maestro was beginning to witness these things in his head - a blade lashed out and slit the jugular of one terrified man. His death gurgles did nothing to shift the second man from his fearful cowering position. Unknown to him, the wizard had now stepped out of the interrogation line Malvanius had set in place for them. He was wandering about as if in a dream. His eyes stared off into nothingness. His heart rate had increased considerably. The doctor continued, “The angle of the attacks indicate a right handed person, from this right to left swiping damage.” The man aided the group’s understanding of further by gesturing with his own left hand making a right to left slash of the air.

The man’s voice became a blur of sound and was gone as far as Maestro was aware. At that moment he was seeing everything as it had happened through the killer’s eyes! He could see the men being ripped apart and their organs and insides being positioned across the wall in a purposeful intricate manner, as if some symbolic relevance was to be gained from its gory attention to detail. Somehow the body parts were sticking to the brickwork, he did not know how. Maestro was frightened and panicked but still he could not break free from the vision. He saw the killer’s gloved hands drawing a symbol on the wall high above the alleyway. Somehow through the killer’s eyes he could tell he was elevated high off the ground. The symbol, it was familiar yet strange to him. What was it? He thought. Then realisation dawned on him. It was the mark of Chaos drawn in black chalk, the eight pointed star that had been seen on many a chaos warrior’s heraldry but not often seen in the capital city of the Empire itself, surely? Maestro wondered, as the rest of the symbol began to make sense. The mark of Slaanesh was carved into it aggressively over the top, in red gore encrusted blood.

Rissandrea called out “Maestro” as the wizard collapsed to his knees and coughed, spittle and bile making its way to the ground from his trembling lips. Meanwhile in his vision he saw the picture go black and saw those two men receiving weapons from a secretive meeting of men dressed in black, hosted in what looked like a cellar that too was painted black.

Suddenly Maestro’s mind was his own again and he shivered in trauma at the visions he had just witnessed.

Malvanius asked, “What is going on with you? Answer before I put you to the sword.” Malvanius meant his threat too. His sword was drawn and pointed at Maestro. He had seen the wizard’s eyes change and wasn’t taking any chances.

Maestro weakly pointed upwards with one shaking finger, up at the top of the alley wall, without even looking in person, his eyes averted downward. Everyone else looked upwards and there they saw the convoluted chaotic symbols, drawn across each other. Malvanius’s face took on a look of sudden supernatural zeal, “It is a message, from the pleasure god!” The last two words were uttered with great disgust, spittle had come out and remained on his lips as he furiously continued, “across the symbol of those men who are undecided…a power play by the servants of chaos.”

Maestro pulled himself to his feet, a little worse for wear.

Malvanius pointed the sword at the wizard’s throat, “Speak, how did you know that symbol was there?”

Tordrad reached down for his scimitar and was calmed by a look from Rissandrea. Tordrad’s hand still remained ready but he did not draw the weapon.

Maestro felt as if this ordeal had strained him, more than he could handle for this sort of interrogation, but he knew that his life would be on the line so continued, “I saw it, through the killer’s eyes.”

“A confession at last, you are the killer!” said Malvanius.

Maestro quickly defended himself, “Of course I’m not! The ebb and flow of powers that be”, he forced some more breaths in and out and continued, “born unto the Witchling Star granted me mage sight enough to see it happen.”

Malvanius knew that this was a common occurrence in wizards, but normally those of higher power, for visions as precise and severe as these. He disliked wizards, but he knew that he had to understand them to understand the path to chaos. All magic was at its core chaotic after all. The colleges of magic had their own police, the magistrates who would attend to rogue members of their order, so punishment of this one would be tricky politics…he decided he wasn’t going to tell the wizard that though.

Malvanius sneered, a sneer so fierce that it made his facial scarring itch, “You are a wizard studying to learn the lore of heavens. I saw it on your licence. You will have to improve wizard, because looking into the future is what is called for in the Celestial Colleges, not into the past!”

With that he seemed happy with his spiteful outburst. Still his sword remained at the wizard’s throat. “I don’t like you” he added.

“I’m…I’m sorry” answered Maestro, genuinely.

“There’s no need for that, witch hunter” chimed in Rissandrea, “He has just been under a mental ordeal, I would rather you...”

Malvanius’s sword at her throat cut her words off mid speech. “I don’t like you either, girl. I don’t like any of you.”

Malvanius turned to Dieter who was now standing watching the spectacle. He put a sword towards his throat too and continued, “Alright, this is how it is going to be. You say you are innocent. I have seen some suspicious things already. I will consider that a murderer might yet be amongst you. You want to prove you are innocent. You are a clever lot, all of you.” Malvanius was obviously taking Dieter into account too as he had stood back to address them all as a group now and continued, “So you will work together and find the culprit of this murder. You will do it before the sun sets again or I swear I’ll have the lot of you in my jail and find out things that your unborn grandchildren will be guilty of in years to come!”

Malvanius had decided that he was being fair, not taking them away here and now. He wanted the situation resolved, but he also sensed something interesting about this group. He knew the wizard’s surname from somewhere too. He’d have to look into that later. “Oh and don’t get any ideas about fleeing from the city, I will have eyes upon you at all times. The callous hand of justice will follow you into the daemonic planes if they must!”

Maestro shook his head worriedly. He hadn’t even made it out of the city yet and all of this had happened. “I knew I should have left the city last night instead.” He observed.

Before Malvanius could reply, a small higher pitched voice intervened from behind him, answering “Yes you should, why didn’t you just leave, Maestro?”

The wizard looked around behind him and couldn’t see anyone there. An invisible person perhaps! He wondered. A ghost! An invisible ghost? Before his train of thought was stopped again.

“No, down here you dimwit.”

Maestro looked down and saw a halfling standing in front of him. He was roughly half of Maestro’s height, wore the blue and white robes of the Celestial College, with no shoes upon his large hairy feet as were the norm for his kind and a face that hinted at terrible disappointment at Maestro.

Malvanius was handed a piece of official looking paper by one of his witch hunter fellows and read it. Great, he thought, more politics getting involved with a perfectly good investigation.

The witch hunter took his leave from the group.

The halfling herded the four of them along out of the area with arms out wide waving for them to carry on forwards.

With a small nagging voice he stated, “It’s no good standing around here, you’ve your heads to save before the night is out.” giving a deep stressful sigh. He expected to find they’d all be put to death come morning – all except him of course.