We all stopped in front of a house doors, lead by another guard. As the guard went to talk with the other two, I took my chance and turned towards my companions.
“How strong are guards, compared to adventurers?” I asked.
Aldrynte looked at me. “So-so, but far below average. They are mostly meant for the simple citizen,” she responded.
“Then it feels really weird that we are escorted by them for protection reasons, don’t you think? If anything, they’re in our way,” I said.
Alice raised her eyebrows. “You aren’t saying that…”
“Of course not. It’s probably just a formality, and he just showed the way. But it’s kind of ironic, don’t you think? Me, the hero, is being escorted by mere guards,” I chuckled. To be fair, those guards might actually be stronger than me. But for the first time, I felt that if everything went according to my plan, I finally might actually do something in fights. I might actually do some damage.
The guard got back to us. “The others are inside. You may enter,” he said, as the doors were opened by the guards protecting the entrance.
We entered the building, and immediately felt a strong iron smell hitting our noses. But it wasn’t as bad as I had imagined. Now, this is a moment to mention that before coming to this place, I did take secretly some herbs that calms my mind and helps me not to puke if I see something truly disgusting. I do consider myself having a strong stomach for things like those, but I didn’t want to take any chances. Even Aldrynte and Alice didn’t know that I had consumed such herbs. Unless Aldrynte smelled it back in my room.
It was a house that belonged to a noble, placed upper part of the city, which made the whole situation very alarming. The house and all the rooms were full of fancy furniture, paintings and such. We were immediately lead to the dining room.
As we entered the room, we were met by a surprising, yet disgusting view. There were empty chairs around the table, some were lying down. But they were not under the table, except for very few. All those chairs that were pulled out, had a silverware placed in front of them, together with some half-eaten food. But there was one visible victim. At one side of the long table, there was a man lying on top of it, on his stomach. But his arms were stretched forward as much as possible, almost as he was trying to make sure that his arms wouldn’t fall off the table.
“You’re the hero’s party, I assume?” a man stepped forward. I could see Qildor further away, talking to someone.
“Yes. We came as soon as we heard,” I said, looking at the man. “And you’re…?”
“Ah. John. My pleasure. I’m just a guy who shares the information, so everyone would be in sync,” John said.
“So, you’re like the first guy on scene?”
“Something like that.”
“Excellent,” I said, nodding. “So, what’s up?”
“Yeah, right,” John said. He pulled out his notebook, searching for the proper page. “To be fair, we are quite lucky. Usually they all just disappear and we can’t find the family anymore. Sometimes it’s part of the family,” the man says, seemingly finding the notes he was searching for. “There we go,” he said, giving off a slight cough. “We have lost a total of twenty-four families since it began around one month ago. Ten of them are noble. They all have been different parts of the city. But we have found a total of three cases where there’s actually body, while all the other family members have disappeared, and we are thinking that they are all related.
“The first time, the family father was dead on a ladder, while others had disappeared.” He gave me a look. It was a look of don’t ask me why. “The second one, mother of three children, was on top of the fence, surprisingly balanced. One of her daughters survived, while the other two boys have disappeared. The daughter was out playing with her friends when it happened.” He gave me the same look. “And this is our third case.”
“I’m not done,” John said, giving me a stare. “All three have one noticeable similarity. Their lower bodies, legs and sometimes even hands are cut with something that could be a knife. So far we have concluded that all the victims have died from excessive bleeding.”
He closed his notebook, looking at me.
“So, Is this it?” I asked.
“There’s certainly more, but that’s I can share right now. Most of the other information is irrelevant. Well, there’s maybe one more information piece. All three times, including tonight, there has been a sighting of a figure. As we arrived on the scene, there were reportings of a suspicious figure once more. We only assume that’s the one who killed them,” John explained.
“Anyone gave you any descriptions?”
“Not much. Descriptions have been different. Some say that it’s just a shadow, while others describe it as something smile, while others say something large. Sadly three times is not enough to make much out of it. We assume that they purposely tried to hide themselves.”
Alice leaned towards me. “I can try to check out if it’s a shadow magic?”
“You can?” I asked.
She looked away, thinking. “Normally one could not, unless they know what and where to look. Sometimes when you cast shadow magic, it can leave hints of magic behind. Well, it’s really with any magic, but we mostly don’t notice that, unless it’s very visible, like the main spells.”
“Right. Well, I’ll leave it to you, then,” I whispered. I turned to John after she walked away. “Thank you. We’ll have a look around now.”
“Of course, Hero. Go ahead!”
As we had taken a few steps away, I faced Aldrynte. “Anything your nose can tell us?” I whispered.
Aldrynte raised an eyebrow. “I’m not a dog.” I squinted. She sighed. “What I’m ready to do for love,” she murmured.
“This has nothing to do with love,” I hissed, quietly.
She turned around, and I could hear her taking in few long sniffs. “Oh my,” she said, turning to me.
“Yeah?” I got slightly excited. We were detectives here.
She gave me a smile. “I have no idea. I just smell the blood and iron,” she said, pushing her tongue slightly out.
“You can’t take this seriously, can you?” I murmured.
Aldrynte leaned slightly forward. “I’m taking this very seriously. But I think you’re overestimating me. And… I like to tease you.”
I sighed, trying to ignore the last part. “I guess you’re right.” I turned towards the table and began to circle it, examining it. And not just the table, but also the body. Then I walked closer to the body.
“Please don’t touch anything!” John said as I got really close.
I gazed at him. “I’ll be fine.” Then I slightly squinted my eyes, staring legs and arms. It was as John had said; his legs and arms were full of small cuts, almost as made with a sharp knife, or claw. If I hadn’t taken that herb, I could be puking right now, because it looked really disgusting. But as I looked at the upper body and head, it was all fine. “It’s weird,” I murmured.
“Obviously,” Qildor said, approaching me. “I assume that assassin is some kind of beast,” he said, thinking. “Like a human cat,” he also leaned closer, looking at the arms. “But sadly there’s no such species. Or at least none of them would be registered.”
I looked at Qildor for a moment. “Even if it was, why wouldn’t they attack any other part. It's a very inefficient way to kill somebody. Unless…”
“...unless someone did it on purpose, to inflict a lot of pain,” Qildor said, sighing. “That’s what local investigators also think.”
“But there’s something else,” I murmured.
“Let me guess,” Qildor said, straightening his back, and reaching out his fingers to count. “First of all, they all are positioned in a very strange way. Secondly, none of the family members that disappeared have left behind any kind of blood.”
“And thirdly,” I continued as there was a moment of silence. “This guy’s blood isn’t on the floor or chair either. Only on the table. This sounds like a very unlikely scenario,” I said. Qildor examined the table, floor and chair. “You’re right. Interesting. This is something new.”
“There’s also too little blood on the table, taking into account how many cuts he has, and how much blood one can lose,” I continued.
“Which leads to one possiblity,” Aldrynte suddenly said as she had apparently been behind us for a while. “Whoever was doing the killing, also liked to clean up. Perhaps they were cleaning up after this guy, until they were spotted, so he was forced to leave the body behind? It could’ve been multiple people, thus different descriptions.”
I slowly crouched, looking at the floor. “What kind of magic can clean the blood up in a way that it leaves no trace of blood?” I asked.
“Water magic,” Qildor said without a second thought.
I grinned. “This would also explain the wounds. Water magic user doesn’t need to harm fatal spot. They just need to cut. And they can clean blood without leaving a trace.”
John was writing stuff down, pleased to hear our discussion.
“I’ll be damned,” Qildor finally said, looking at me. “We have learned a lot today. You’re as smart as they say,” he said.
“I’m certain that you would’ve figured that much out yourself. It’s just that more heads are better than one,” I said, scratching the back of my neck.
Qildor shook his head. “Maybe. But you should just take the compliment,” he said.
Alice entered back into the building, walking towards me. “Well, it’s not a shadow magic,” she whispered into my ear, as she reached me. “At least there’s not a single trace of it around. Or whoever cast it is damn good.”
Qildor stared at us for a moment, but decided not to ask. Alice, however, now examined the table, feeling slightly sick because of the view. But as she looked at the table, she slightly tilted her head. “Was he hiding?”
We all looked at Alice, confused. “What do you mean?” I asked.
“The way he’s lying on the table looks like he was hiding. Almost like… kids playing floor is lava?” she said, gazing at us. “Also, if you don’t want something below to see you, you make your body as thin as possible. I feel like that’s what he was trying to do.”
Qildor looked at the body, scratching his chin. “That’s also interesting. It would explain water user even more. He could’ve…” - there was a spark in his eyes - “Yes. Of course. It would explain it all. Including the other three incidents. In all those cases, victims stayed away from the floor. Or they escaped, ran away, trying to desperately hide.”
I sighed. “Perhaps a remote controlled magic?” I suggested.
“It is very possible,” Qildor said, nodding. “But this is also very bad… A water elemental assassin sounds something very bad.”
I nodded, and looked at Qildor. “I heard that there was a hint that the assassin could’ve been looking for me?” I asked.
“Yes,” Qildor nodded. “Come, look,” he said. He lead me to a nearby table. On it was a note - message.
I picked up the note, reading it. “I have a general idea who might be behind it,” I whispered.
“You do?” Qildor muttered, surprised.
I sighed, nodding. “Yeah.”
“What does it say?” Alice asked, looking at me.
“The bill must be paid by million cuts. The bill must be paid! You took one thing away that you shouldn’t have. You will regret it!”
Both me and Alice looked at each other. Alice’s eyes were wide open, and she had slight shivers. I took a few steps forward, hugging her. “It’s alright.”
“What’s up?” Aldrynte asked.
“It’s Thomas, probably.”
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- Matthew E. Damson
I'm someone whose pen-name is Matthew E. Damson. Some others know me as Elven. I'm also known as elf, elfie, elves, pointy ears, and some more. To be honest, I have no idea why they call me other names, but they create nicknames, not me.
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