In the end, it didn't matter. Augustus was already resolved to depose his brother and had no intention of making the same mistake his brother had. Augustus felt grief but would not act emotionally, overstepping so far that its counter production, simply to achieve revenge. His arms shivered, and he felt the pressure from his bladder. "I need to urinate."

"Those are the battle-shakes. It's the sensation you get when you go to battle, it heightens your senses and makes you stronger than you are normally. It's the reason you make sure to relieve yourself right before a fight." Heratio patted his master on the back.

After relieving himself Augustus washed his hands of the blood. "His last words were Giovannus. Clean your hands quickly so I can investigate what I can before the other magistrate arrives." Heratio did so, and they navigated through the halls to the reception room.

He caught himself in the mirror before he entered to adjust his clothing, improve his posture, and remove any traces of emotion from his face. Once he was ready, Heratio opened the door for him and Augustus walked in the room at a glacial pace, rather than the hurry he had been in earlier.

The room was filled with a myriad of servants. The prim and proper grooming servants, the house directors, the kitchen staff, the maids, and finally the gardeners covered in dirt all stood and intermingled until they saw Augustus enter. The murmur of the crowd immediately halted, leaving an eerie silence except for Augustus and Heratio's footsteps as the crowd gave a bow.

"You may all stand at ease. I'm sure you all know who I am, but I will introduce myself anyway as it is customary. I am Augustus DeCastellian, a lower-magistrate of Venocia. Before I begin the official investigation, is there anyone here who can write quickly?"

One of the well-dressed servants and Gomez raised their hands. Augustus beckoned to the man who wasn't Gomez forward to stand next to him and he complied.

"What is your name?" asked Augustus.

"I am Ezra, an accountant for Lady Julianna, " he responded.

"Grab a quill, some paper, and have a seat. You will write down the questions I ask and the responses I receive. It is alright to simplify statements, but try your best to be accurate." The crowd parted to allow Augustus and Ezra to sit at the table and another servant brought the quill and a stack of papers. "Good, now we can begin. Let's ask the most obvious question first. Did anyone see the actual attack?"

The response was only silence.

"I guess not. Did anyone see someone fleeing the place of the crime? Perhaps sometime after the shriek."

A lady raised her hand. Augustus pointed to her and she stepped forward out of the crowd. "Have a seat. What is your name?"

"I am Lillian, I work in the garden." She was middle-aged, tanned with dark hair, and her clothes were stained with dirt.

"Say what it is you think is relevant. After you are done, I will ask some questions."

"I was in the garden, the back part of the garden. Normally I'm in charge of the part around the well and around the pathway that leads to the pond, but today I was in the back. It was because Hilda asked for help. She always asks for help. Every day, can you help with this? Can you help with that? I have my own work to do, that's what I tell her sometimes, but today I had some time, so I helped her because that's what I do, I work hard and I help others. Sometimes when my work is done, my back aches from how hard I work."

Augustus looked over at Ezra furiously writing what she said and let out a sigh.

"If only Hilda worked as hard as I do, I wouldn't have to always help her."

"Excuse me, Master Augustus." A different middle-aged woman came forward. "I'm the Hilda she is talking about. I just want to speak on my own behalf and counter this slander."

Lillian flared her eyebrows, rolled her eyes, and let out an exasperated sigh as Hilda sat down beside her.

"The back area of the garden is much larger than the other areas," said Hilda. "Lil' is responsible for those two areas, yes, but they are small areas. It's part of Lil's duties to help out in the back."

"I'm gonna stop you both," said Augustus with his forehead being cradle by the palm of his hand. "I don't care about who's lazy, or who works hard, or who has what job. I just want to know about the person you saw."

Lillian smiled brightly nodding her head. "Thank you, Master Augustus. We do not need to hear from Hilda, I'm the one who saw it. As I was getting to, before being interrupted, I saw a man running through the garden shortly after the scream. He ran through one of the flower beds. Terrible, some people. No consideration for the flowers--"

"And what did he look like? Had you seen him before?"

"I hadn't seen him before. And I know all the servants here. I've been with your mother for years---"

"What did he look like?"

"He was a slender man, dressed in brown. He had a handsome face. He looked the way I imagine Faust to look, from the tales of Windsor & Faust. That's a book I read. It's about---"

"What was his hair colour? How tall was he? Was he holding a weapon? How old? Any distinguishing marks?"

"He had dirty blond hair, and if I had to guess his age, I'd say around thirty. But I'm not that good at guessing ages. Medium height for a man. I didn't notice a weapon or any distinguishing marks. I only saw him for a moment. I tend to just concentrate on my work and--"

"Did anyone else see someone matching that description roaming around the manse? Lillian, Hilda, would you mind clearing from the table as I continue this investigation." Augustus waved his hand dismissively and the two ladies got up and disappeared into the crowd of servants.

"I saw the man," said a man in a more elegant uniform. He stepped forward without needing to be prompted and sat down. "I am Tannius. I am one of the house directors, lately, my work has been to plan the dinner party to welcome your wife that will take place tomorrow.”

“When did you see him?”

“I can’t be sure it was him, but this morning I went to a normally unused room to prepare for the dinner and saw him. He was a bit surprised to see me, but he just smiled and introduced himself, said his name was Canto. Said he was here with Julianna’s permission, an extra hand to help with the dinner.”

“Why did you not report a stranger in your master’s house? Why didn’t you ask more questions?”

“It is normal for new faces to appear before an event. Normal for the lady to hire extra help for the day before and day of a big dinner. He seemed confident in his words, so I did not think of it further. I have enough to do other than be a house guard and interrogating everyone I come across.”

“Which room did you see him in? How would he have known it was normally unused?”

“It’s a side room. There’s nothing in it really, sometimes it’s used for storage of things that wouldn’t be worth stealing. I was gonna have the servants use it to clean off the plates between courses. The room was already set up with barrels full of water, and a couple of empty barrels. The left-overs on the plates will be put into the empty barrels then the plates will be rinsed then stacked on carts to be taken for proper cleaning.”

“Was he doing anything in that room when you entered?”

“No, he was just sitting on the ground. I figured that he had just found a quiet place to avoid his work. It’s not uncommon to by chance wander into someone in a quiet place, resting their legs for a moment. Even servants of the house, even when they still have important work to do,” Tannius said and Augustus heard the slight chuckle from the crowd. “After he introduced himself, he left, which again wasn’t uncommon. I just assumed he had to get back to his work, whatever it was.”

“Did you notice anything about him that would help identify Canto? I know if he is the culprit he most likely lied about his name, but I’ll call him that for now anyway.”

“He had a giant mole on his neck.” Tannius pointed to a place on the left side of his own neck and made a face of disgust. “It had hairs growing out of it.”

Ezra stopped writing and looked to Augustus in confusion.

“Just write that he pointed to his neck, you don’t need to be too specific,” instructed Augustus. Ezra nodded and continued to write.

Augustus turned back to Tannius and asked, “Is there anything else you think is important to mention?”

“No, it was a brief encounter.”

“Then you may vacate the seat.” Tannius got up and went back into the crowd.

“I would now ask that Gomez come forward,” said Augustus. Gomez emerged from the crowd, his clothing still covered in blood, his face still dishevelled with a distant stare. “Have a seat.”

“Yes, Master Augustus.” Gomez sat down.

“You were the first one to arrive after the shriek right?” asked Augustus.

“I believe so.” Gomez nodded.

“I need you to repeat what you told me, so that it may be written down and witnessed by everyone here.”

“When I arrived, whoever the attacker was had left. Castor was holding his throat, trying to stop the blood from coming out, his wife was dead on the floor. Blood was everywhere. I grabbed a bedsheet and used it to apply pressure to Castor’s wound.”

“Did you notice anything peculiar? Any footprints in the blood?”

“No. But I will admit my focus was quite narrow. It’s hard to notice everything in a moment like that.”

“Did it seem like Castor tried to say anything?”

“At times it seemed like he wanted to say something, but all that came out of his mouth were guttural sounds that carried no meaning.”

The doors to the reception room swung open and in walked a group of three men. At the center was a man dressed in the magistrate’s robes, with the markings of a praeto-magistrate. Another was large, carrying a weapon and armour, and the last was skinny and had a bag strung across his torso from which he got his quill and papers. Augustus got up from his seat and gave a bow to the outranking magistrate. “Welcome, I am Augustus DeCastellian, a lower-magistrate.”

“I know who you are. You may stand. I am Fastellias DeMarco. What is going on here?” The annoyance was clear on Fastellias’ face.

“I took the initiative to begin the investigation. Don’t worry, we have taken the proper records,” said Augustus. He went over to Ezra and took the written documents and personally handed them over to the new investigator. “I wanted to get records of their memories, while they were still fresh in the mind.”

“Very well,” said Fastellias. He snatched the documents aggressively and started to peruse their contents. “Where is this Castor? I should see his injuries myself.”

“There is something I must admit for that subject,” said Augustus. He paused to make sure Fastellias was paying close attention. He lowered the documents in his hands, and made eye contact with Augustus, ready to receive the information. “He has taken a journey to the kingdom of Manas.”

“He’s dead?”

“When we arrived, he was in the spiralling and unable to speak because of his injuries. The people here will attest to that. There was no hope of getting a testimony directly from him. The spiralling is torture. You gasp for air but drown in the open-air nonetheless. I made the decision to put him out of his misery, with my own hand.”

“Could he have nodded? Could he have verified this person someone saw was the attacker?” asked Fastellias, but he didn’t wait for a response. He moved past Augustus and sat in a chair. “Why was no one waiting for us at the front door? Did no one consider that we would be on our way, and someone should be ready to let us in?”

“My apologies,” said Augustus, coming around to be back in Fastellias’ view and bowing regretfully. “I’m afraid it slipped my mind. I instructed everyone to gather here for the investigation without thinking about that. I will make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

“We had to roam around the manse until we found an open door. Then we needed to find this room without anyone guiding us. It was very inconvenient.” Fastellias sighed and rolled his eyes. “You are relieved of any responsibility for this investigation. You may leave, although I might visit you later to answer some questions. Once the investigation is complete, I will make sure you are informed of the result.”

Augustus rose from his bow and left with Heratio following. They went directly to the main entrance and started down the road to their home.

“Do you have enough to use against your brother?” Heratio asked.

“I must take some time to think,” responded Augustus. “Meanwhile, we will try to find that man with the hairy mole.”


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