The inspector and I went to the pilot's room. Lambert carefully knocked on the door and then called out to Grogtilda asking her to wake. When she didn’t respond I opened the door and stepped inside.

"She's very tuckered. Recovery from being a victim of a Folding Seed is tough," I commented, as I put my hand on my sleeping human body, feeling a bit bad about the deception. Using my Dexterity threads I made Grogtilda's body move a little, curling deeper in the blanket.

"We'll let her rest, then," Lambert nodded. "I'll take you to the artificer to get you the armacus and to the bank to set up the account."

I nodded and closed the door behind me, feeling at ease. His kindly behavior reminded me of my grandfather. I put my skull-helmet back on as we left the station.

I had a renewed spring in my step as we walked across town. Being able to switch out of the weak, injured human body that had been ravaged by the Twisted Forest was making my chimera-self feel fantastic in comparison. I was practically bouncing through the streets, cheerfully chatting with Lambert.

"So, how did you become an Inspector?" I asked.

"I went to the Agross Arcanarium for a general degree in thaumaturgy and finished with a Diploma in Scrutimancy. I graduated in thirty three as an Ordinator," he said. "Then I did my internship in Illatius under Inspector Jant and got assigned to a station in Lomb."

"What was it like in Illatius?" I asked, fascinated with the distant city of cathedral-palaces.

"Illatius is a bustling metropolis while Lomb is a sleepy country town. But I did enjoy my years there and learned a lot."

"Do you think I could be an inspector someday?" I mulled.

Lambert chuckled.

"We'll see how well you do on your first case." He smiled.

"Is scrutimancy some sort of investigation-type magic?" I asked curiously.

"Yes. It's the study of magic related to examination of evidence and deduction. It's a set of magical skills and knowledge of tools dedicated to solving crimes and uncovering secrets."

"That sounds amazing! I would love to specialize in secret-finding," I said, my eyes shining at the prospect of being the ultimate urbexer akin to Lara Croft. I could find all of the secret entrances to the most hidden places with such a skill!

"I'm sure you will, if that's what you set your mind to," he said kindly. "You will need lot of points in Wisdom and Intelligence. I can give you advice and an artifact or two that will help you train your Identification and Deduction skills."

"You're being awfully nice to me, inspector," I commented slyly. "Is that because of who I am or are you trying to make up for the fact that you assumed things based on m... Yulia's appearance?"

"Don't remind me," Lambert sighed. "I did assume the worst. The poor girl looked like a Topaz Addict one foot in the grave or worse... When I looked at her, all of my skills firmly insisted that she shouldn't be alive or walking around. Topaz Addicts at the end of their life don't make for good witnesses. They ramble far too much about imaginary nonsense, as they are unable to differentiate between drug-addled dreams and reality. I do feel rather ashamed for being so wrong about her, especially after meeting you in person."

"Right," I nodded. "She went through quite the ordeal."

Lucky for me, chimera didn't sweat. Lambert was spot-on on the whole undead biz. I had no idea what Eunice did to bring Grogtilda's body back to life, but if my Stillwalker training was anything to go by - Eunice mostly relied on Still Forest death-magic.

"You said - or worse? What's worse than a dying Topaz Addict?" I asked, having digested the inspector's words fully.

"A ghoul," Lambert said. "An abomination brought to life by dark magic, an animated corpse puppeteered by a necromancer."

"Those are a thing?" I gulped.

"Yes," the inspector nodded. "The Basquenate is at war with them."

"The Empire's at war?" I blinked. "...with necromancers?"

"They call themselves the Almn-Inians," Lambert said, his expression growing serious. "The so-called, All-mighty necromages. Occasionally, they make incursions into Andross when Novazem passes close by for them to cross over."

"Novazem?" I asked in confusion.

"Andross and Novazem are two worlds that orbit Inaria," Lambert explained. "Have you seen it in the sky? A frozen world covered in rings? The Chasm clouds generally obscure it from what I know…"

"Ohhh!" I squealed excitedly. Another moon? Inaria had two moons! Wow!

"So that's why you wanted to send... Yulia away," I said.

"Yes," Lambert nodded. "I did not wish to bring a potential ghoul into the station."

"How often do these... incursions happen?" I inquired.

"It varies," Lambert said. "The closer Novazem is, the more gates each side can open and the more ships and men can be sent through."

"Hrmmm," I frowned. "Is Illatius... safe?"

"Novazem is far, so they shouldn't be able to cross over," Lambert nodded. "There hasn't been a large incursion in a few generations. Another alignment isn't due for decades and our Empire has been on the winning offensive due to a variety of reasons such as the position of our capital."

"The Dungeon?" I mulled, momentarily glancing at the mind-boggling curvature of the dungeon in the distance. White, fluffy, glowing clouds curled above the drop, circling around the rim of the green pastures.

"Yes," Lambert nodded. "The Dungeon radiates far too much magic out of itself, so their world-crossing gates can't open anywhere near here. Unless my analysis of the situation is completely wrong... our Empire will definitely prevail during the next alignment. Our brave forces will stamp the last of the Almn-Inians out of their mountain-citadels and end their incursions, don't you worry."

"R-right," I shuddered, not looking forward to the prospect of a worlds-war looming in my future.

It suddenly made sense to me why the depictomancy poster was trying to recruit me so hard into becoming a pilot. The Basquenate needed pilots for their future invasion of Novazem!

My stomach made a loud growling noise, interrupting my thought-train about moon wars.

"Anyways," Lambert glanced at me, shaking himself out of his grim reverie. "I've already fed Yulia, but what about you?"

"I could use a snack," I mumbled, feeling bad about mooching off the inspector.

"Just a snack?" Lambert raised an eyebrow, looking at me.

"Fine, I'm starving," I confessed. "I bow to your incredible deduction powers."

Lambert laughed.

"You can handle the… um… local food?" He asked curiously.

"I can handle anything. I'm an omnivore!" I stated, curling my sharp, clawed-gloves. "Rawr!"

"Alright then, little predator," he smiled, looking around. "How about a creperie?"

"Eh?" I blinked.

Lambert directed me to face the edge of the chasm. A whimsical, elaborately-carved, wooden building stood there.

[LOMB CREPERIE & PATISSERIE], a sign declared in a playful, hand-written, large font below a drawing of a fat adventurer drooling over a mountain of crepes.

"Yes, take me to this paradise please," I started to drool just like the adventurer in the painting.

We entered the shop and were enveloped in the smell of fresh crepes. My stomach growled hungrily again as we sat down at one of the tables facing the view of the Chasm. A waitress dressed in a maid-style outfit with a large flower hat came over and handed us the wood-tablet menus with drawings of crepes all over them. I scanned it eagerly, my mouth watering.

"I recommend the strawberry cheesecake crepe," Lambert pointed to the top of the menu.

"That sounds good," I said. "I'll have that."

The waitress nodded and left to place our order. I looked around the café, taking in the homey atmosphere. The wooden patio was small and cozy, with a few other people enjoying their crepes at other tables.

"This place is really cute," I commented.

"Yes, it's one of my favorite places in Lomb," Lambert said. "The owner, Mrs. Pompermint, is a bit of an eccentric, but she makes the best crepes in town."

"I can't wait to try them," I said eagerly.

"I'm sure you will enjoy them," Lambert smiled.

The waitress came back a few minutes later with our crepes. My eyes widened as I took in the sight of the massive, fluffy crepe piled high with fresh strawberries and creamy cheesecake filling.

"Wow," I breathed. Four years had been far too long a time and crepes were one of my favorites back on Earth.

"Um," the inspector glanced at my mask.

I undid the belts and pulled the lower part of the skull up, revealing only my mouth and then smiled at Lambert.

"Right.... dig in then," he said.

I didn't need to be told twice. I eagerly took a bite of the crepe and moaned in delight. The crepe was light and fluffy, with the perfect amount of sweetness from the strawberries and cheesecake.

"This is freaking amazing," I said, my voice muffled by the crepe.

Lambert chuckled.

I nodded eagerly, my mouth too full to speak. I devoured the crepe in record time and then sat back with a satisfied sigh.

"That was really good," I said.

My sharp, chimera senses detected the presence of meat at a table across ours.

"Is that…?" I sniffed the air. "Crepes stuffed with… bacon?"

"Yes," Lambert nodded. "The chef also does a very good bacon and egg crepe. Are you still hungry?"

"Mhmmm," I confessed.

"I'll order you one," Lambert said, getting the waitress's attention.

A few minutes later, my second crepe arrived. This one was filled with bacon, eggs, and cheese. I ate it slower than my first, enjoying the wonderful flavors and spices setting my chimera tongue alight with delectation. This was SO much better than eating Chasm monsters, giant bugs and berries.

"This is even better than the first one," I said, melting into my seat.

"I told you Mrs. Pompermint was the best," Lambert said. "She's a very talented cuisinimancer."

I nodded, my mouth too full to speak. I finished the second crepe and then sat back with a satisfied sigh.

"I think I'm going to have to come back here every day, while I'm in Lomb," I said.

"I'm sure Mrs. Pompermint would love a new regular," Lambert said, chuckling.

The inspector paid the bill and then we left the creperie. My stomach was pleasantly full and my mood skyrocketed even higher, likely due to the sugar-high content of my meal.

"What's next on the agenda, inspector?" I asked.

"The artificer," Lambert said.

"Sounds good to me," I yawned, feeling more relaxed than I had ever been in years. Eunice was far away and nobody was bossing me around or trying to eat me. Life in Lomb wasn't a constant struggle for survival.

We arrived at the artificer's shop and Lambert went in to speak to the dark-haired, tall man manning the counter. The owner wore a fancy suit with gold pins and enormous goggles, looking like a true personification of steampunk. I looked around at the different contraptions and gadgets on display. As a mechanic I was fascinated by all of the whimsical, enchanted doohickeys that filled the shop's wooden shelves to bursting. I had no idea what any of them were or did, but they looked incredibly interesting.

In a minute, Lambert joined me along with the shop's owner.

"My, my, a new face in our sleepy, little hamlet!" The artificer declared jovially, his voice deep and theatrical like that of a Circus announcer. He circled, me and the steampunk-contraption goggles made from numerous moving parts clicked at me as the lenses shifted. "A level five adventurer! How wonderful!"

"Indeed, Antoine," Lambert said. "We'll need an armacus for this fine lady and her… friend."

"Ooh!" The man exclaimed in excitement. "Always a pleasure to help someone out with their first focus tool. I am Antoine Delamond Kovalzek."

I found myself shaking Antoine's hand before I could even formulate a reply.

"Very unique armor," the artificer smiled, the lenses atop his eyes shifting far too rapidly for me to track. "Great for night-diving, am I right? A touch of anti-phantom wards too? How lovely!"

"I um..." I started to speak but the artificer's attention had already shifted to Lambert.

"You do know that I can't sell an armacus to a client without evaluating them first, inspector," Antoine clicked his numerous lenses at my boss.

"You can't make an exception for your old friend?" Lambert asked.

"Afraid not, my dear friend," the artificer shrugged. "Not unless you tell me exactly what... she is."

The artificer's left hand covered in a fingerless leather glove dramatically pointed right at my head.

The door-lock of the shop clicked shut on its own, the shop interior dimming rapidly as metal shutters flipped sideways on every window, blocking out the light of day.

Each of the numerous lenses above the artificer's eyes glowed with a different color as he stared intently at me.

I gulped.


A note from Vitaly S Alexius

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About the author

Vitaly S Alexius

  • Canada
  • Archbishop of Captania and sovereign territories

Bio: I was born in the year 1984, in the 4th most polluted city of Soviet Union.
On April 11/1997 fate has given me an unexpected twist and by means of aerial transportation I was dislocated 5555 miles across the Atlantic Ocean to Ontario, Canada, wherein I currently preside in an 1890 cathedral and partake in writing and drawing things.

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