Early in the morning, a man in his late 30’s, with short and slick black hair, blue eyes and a piercing gaze, made his way towards a large residence within the town of Acorn. This man’s name was Alistair Richmond and he had been assigned to investigate the mimic attacks that were currently plaguing the town. His job, ultimately, was to track the mimic down and kill it.
By Alistair’s side, he was accompanied by his younger assistant, a short ginger haired man by the name of Vincent who was struggling to keep up with Alistair’s quick pace.
Just after the sun had risen, the two of them had been roused from a state of drowsiness and had to hurriedly dress themselves. They had been informed that the mimic had struck again and that this time it wasn’t just some commoner who had been killed.
The sound of footsteps on stone could be heard as Alistair and Vincent hurried through the wide, stone-paved streets in the affluent part of town. Rounding a corner, the two of them saw numerous town and personal guards standing outside and around their destination, a large residence belonging to the powerful cultivator and merchant by the name of William Sinclair.
This recent attack boasted a fair amount of urgency for Alistair, because, it was this very person, William Sinclair, that was the victim of the attack. Being a very wealthy man and also a cultivator in the realm of qi condensation, the higher ups in the local government had attached a fair amount of importance to it. Of course, they were attaching a fair amount of importance to all of the mimic attacks, but, some people are considered as more important and deserving of attention. After all, the local government was able to turn a profit from his business and because he was a powerful cultivator, he would play a vital role in the town’s defenced should it ever be attacked, by either qi beasts or people.
Furthermore, disregarding the fact that William Sinclair’s family held enormous wealth and did big business in the town, the man’s wife was also a cultivator in the realm of qi condensation. They all wanted answers and they all wanted the mimic to be caught and killed.
It wouldn’t do to dawdle when such a family and such a woman were left in an upset state. There might not be much trouble from the economic side of things, after all, it’s not like the family would hurt their own interests by stopping their business, however, who knows what an upset woman in the realm of qi condensation would do. If she acted out, it could cause massive damage.
Alistair and Vincent approached and then entered the Sinclair estate, passing by the guards who recognised the two from their previous investigations.
Just after steeping into the front courtyard of the Sinclair estate, an older man, looking to be in his late 40’s or early 50’s greeted them. He was the head steward of the estate and had been waiting for the two of them ever since he had first sent word to the governor’s office.
“Are you the investigators?” he asked.
“Yes. I’m Alistair Richmond and this is my assistant Vincent. We’re here to investigate the attack” said Alistair matter of factly, getting straight to the point.
“Yes, I’ve been waiting for you. Please, come in” said the steward, directing them to follow him.
“Lead the way to his body first. I’d like to see the scene before I start questioning people” instructed Alistair.
“Yes, of course. Will do” responded the steward as they entered the lavish building in front of them.
“Can you tell me what happened last night?” Alistair asked the steward, as they started ascending a flight of stairs.
“Of course” replied the steward.
“The master, Sir William Sinclair, was out late last night. When he finally returned, he wasn’t alone. He was accompanied by a very pretty young woman. I don’t know who she was but she had an air of purity and naivetés about her, something which suited the master’s tastes” said the steward as they reached the top of the stairs and started walking along a marble corridor.
“*Sigh* Truth be told, the master bringing back women wasn’t an uncommon occurrence, much to the chagrin of his wife. He never did it while she was around and he ordered everyone not to talk about it, but, it wasn’t exactly something he could keep secret. Anyway, as soon as he entered the residence, he went straight to his room with the young woman. I don’t think I need to tell you what they were going to do” he said as they stopped before two white double doors at the end of the corridor, which were being guarded by two men.
“Ah, this” said the steward while pointing at the double doors, “is the master’s room”.
“Hmm, I think I’ve got a good grasp on the situation. It seems that the young woman was really the mimic and when they went to do the deed, Mr Sinclair did not get happy ending he was looking for” said Alistair.
“Yes, you would think that, only-” said the steward as he pushed open one of the doors.
“The woman was killed too” he finished as the scene of two shrivelled blue bodies entered the view of Alistair and Vincent.
“Oh” Alistair exclaimed at this unexpected development, “never mind”.
Alistair and Vincent followed the steward into the room and took a proper look at the place. The room was very large, as expected for the master of the house, and although for the most part it was relatively open, along the walls there were a number of items which showed William Sinclair’s opulence.
There were gold rimmed drawers, shining gemstones of different colours and even a crystal chandelier hanging from the ceiling. Even though William Sinclair seemed to be restrained in his decorating; only keeping such things to the side of the room and not overdoing it, the room still clearly portrayed the man’s wealth. Vincent couldn’t help but look at the place in envy, wondering if he would ever live like this.
[Hah, I wish I could sleep in a room like this] thought Vincent.
After taking in the full view of the room, Alistair and Vincent turned their attention towards the two dead bodies.
The two bodies were left as they had been found, lying naked on a bearskin rug near a fireplace that had the ashes of burnt wood in it, the man’s clothes strewn nearby. It seemed as though Mr Sinclair and his partner had chosen to forgo the large, decadent, double bed and instead complete their evening on the floor.
[Hmm, quite the romantic was he. Sex on the rug beside a burning fire. At least it seems he knew how to please a woman] thought Alistair.
“So, do you know what really happened?” Alistair asked the steward.
“No, I’m afraid not. To tell you the truth, there are very few guards that patrol within the estate and those that do, stay away from the master’s room. He doesn’t like to be disturbed you see. That’s actually why it took us so long to discover what had happened. Anyway, no heard anything and no one saw anything” said the steward.
“I see” said Alistair as he inspected the bodies.
“It seems after he did the deed with his lady friend, the two of them fell asleep where they were. I’m guessing she was either a prostitute from some upscale place or the daughter of some wealthy family. It won’t be too hard to find out. Vincent, make sure to make a note of that. We’ll have to go around asking later to find out who she was”
“Hmm, anyway, the mimic must have infiltrated the estate; I guessing disguised as a guard going about his duties, and couldn’t resist the pull of a qi condensation warrior. Since the two were asleep and defenceless, it would have been easy for it to silently kill them both, and because no comes near this area, it wasn’t discovered when it attacked, nor when it left”
“Well, perhaps someone saw something that might be useful” he mused.
Alistair then turned his head away from the bodies and faced the steward again.
“Continue with the story, tell me about when they were found” he instructed.
“Yes, well, in the early hours of the morning, before first light, the madam finally returned. She had been hunting in the forest for several days and we didn’t know when she would be back. It’s why the master took this time to find himself a new partner. Anyway, since the madam is a qi condensation realm cultivator, she just flew over the city wall and returned directly to the residence. By chance, I happened to be awake at the time and gently let her know that her husband had company, however, when she heard that, she became quite angry. You see, despite his transgressions, the madam quite loves her husband. It’s why she gets so angry whenever he is with another woman. Anyway, she stormed off to their room, her aura fully released. I was already getting a headache over the mess I would inevitably have to clean up after the sun rose, only, when she burst into their room, she found both her husband and Mr Sinclair’s lady friend, lying here, dead” said the steward before letting out a sigh.
[Everything around here is going to change now. I just hope it isn’t the eldest son that takes over the family business] thought the steward, thinking about his future at the Sinclair estate.
“I see. Not much to go on” mused Alistair.
“Take me to see Mrs Sinclair; I’ll need to ask her some questions. Since she was first on the scene, she might know something that could help, even if she doesn’t realise this herself”
“Yes, very well. Only, please be gentle and consider her situation. She’s rather upset right now, as you can imagine, and doesn’t need someone being overbearing and stressing her further by incessantly asking her questions” said the steward.
“Of course” agreed Alistair.
“It’s important to get as much information as I can from her but I’ve dealt with grief before. I know the proper way to approach this”
“Vincent, stay here while I go talk to Mrs Sinclair. You’ve never questioned a grieving woman before; I don’t want you screwing things up” instructed Alistair.
“Then what should I do?” asked Vincent.
“I don’t know, inspect the place… look for clues. Your job”
“Yes, I read you loud and clear” said Vincent.
“Ok, lead the way” said Alistair to the steward before the two of them left the room and closed the door behind them.
Left behind in the room, Vincent couldn’t help but look around in admiration and envy.
“At least he lived a rich life” said Vincent, thinking about William Sinclair’s personal wealth, as well as his nightly escapades.
Vincent moved closer to one of the bodies and knelt down beside it, getting a close up view of it. The body he was kneeling over was that of the unidentified woman, though that was difficult to tell.
When a mimic injected their toxins into a person and sucked all the qi out of the body, the body turned blue and became shrivelled up. The former person then became unrecognisable. It was to the point that even gender couldn’t be told. The only reason they could tell which body belonged to William Sinclair and which one belonged to the unidentified woman, was that the woman was a head shorter than him.
The nature of the deaths in mimic attacks made it hard to figure out who had actually been killed. When someone was killed in their own home or the person wore easily distinguishable clothing, it wasn’t such a problem. However, when someone was killed outside or had nothing on them that set them apart, it was incredibly difficult to know who was killed. For the most part, they had to rely on missing persons reports to try and figure out who it could be and height was actually one of the primary factors used to try and identify the victim in one of these cases. After all, women tended to be shorter than men and it’s easy to judge if it’s a child that has been killed.
Vincent looked down at the face of the shrivelled corpse below him. He felt disgust at what this person had been turned into.
“They say you were very pretty but look at you now. Picked out by one of the wealthiest men in town but now just a corpse” said Vincent, thinking about the twists and turns of fate, before letting out a sigh.
[Hmm?] Vincent thought while frowning.
[Neither of you are wearing clothes. That’s understandable considering what you were doing, but, why can I only see Mr Sinclair’s clothes lying at the side?] Vincent thought in confusion.
[Wait!] he thought, his eyes widening from a sudden realisation.
Vincent jerked back slightly, as he had his epiphany, and was about to shout out, however, just at that moment, the eyes of the corpse in front of him opened. They stared directly at him, seeming to pierce into his very soul.
A cold sweat instantly formed on Vincent’s face and back. He was terrified by what had appeared in front of him.
All of this happened in an instant as Vincent began to open his mouth to shout for help. Unfortunately for him, this shout never came to fruition. Just before he could let his voice out, the mimic below him shot its arm up and penetrated its wrist spike through his throat.
Vincent tried to yell but the wrist spike had blocked his airway. All that came out was a quiet gurgle from the blood that had started to fill his mouth and throat.
The mimic quickly flipped them over so it was on top and Vincent was below. Vincent tried to push it off of him but he could already feel his strength leaving him. The mimic had already injected its toxins and they had started to break down the qi in his body, making it ready and ripe for absorption.
Vincent could feel his cultivation level dropping as the area around his wound started to turn blue and his vitality seemed to leave him. He desperately tried to make some noise but the mimic had pinned him where he was and he could only weakly flail his legs.
While struggling, Vincent finally managed to raise his leg and drop it, causing a loud thud. The guards were just outside the room. He couldn’t help but think ‘if only I could get their attention. If I do, I’ll be saved’.
Hearing the noise from inside the room, the two guards looked at each other and then looked at the two closed double doors. After a moment of contemplation, one of the guards spoke up.
“What was that...? Is everything fine in there? You better not break anything”
“Don’t worry. Everything’s fine” replied the mimic in Vincent’s voice, causing Vincent to feel utter despair.
This feeling didn’t last long however, as soon, Vincent stopped struggling altogether and became motionless. His entire body had turned blue now, skin and muscles. It had also started to shrivel and resemble the body that had just been there.
Finishing its kill, the mimic quickly undressed Vincent and wore the clothes itself, and not a moment too soon as just after it had completed this task, Alistair came back into the room.
“Boss” said the mimic as it turned to look at Alistair.
“So, did you get anything from Mrs Sinclair?” it asked.
“No, I could barely get a coherent sentence out of her. I’ll have to question her again later” said Alistair, frowning.
“What about you? Is there anything that stands out?” asked Alistair.
“No, nothing at all”
“I see… a pity. But you’re still young Vincent. Inexperienced. To the untrained eye many seemingly unimportant details might be the most important of all. I’ll give the room another sweep”
“Yes, of course. Should I get started on finding out who the woman was?” said the mimic.
“Very well. In case she really is from a prominent or powerful family we ought to find out sooner rather than later” said Alistair as he began a closer inspection of the room without paying much attention to Vincent, acknowledging his request with a wave of his hand.
After these words from Alistair, it left the room, giving a perfunctory nod towards the two guards stationed outside as it passed by them.
The guards, curious about both the death of Mr Sinclair and whatever the noise from earlier was, looked inside the room, however, they saw the exact same scene as they had before, Mr Sinclair and his lady friend lying dead on the bearskin rug. Not seeing anything out of place, the two guards each gave a shrug and turned their attention back towards the corridor as they saw the assistant investigator walk off.
The mimic proceeded to calmly make it way outside of the residence. All anyone saw was a completely unhurried assistant investigator leaving the premises. As far as everybody was concerned, he was just conducting his business as he should be. They didn’t know exactly what his job entailed but assumed he was going off to make a report or investigate some new lead. They didn’t find anything about him or his actions suspicious. Why would they?
The mimic continued to walk forward, away from the affluent part of town, and soon happened upon a busy street. After making its way through the crowd, it ducked into a secluded back alley where no one else was present.
Had anyone been watching both ends of the alley, they would have been mightily surprised. This is because, although a short, ginger haired man entered into one side of the alley, a person with a completely different appearance exited from the other side. The only thing left out of place was a bundle of clothes that had been dumped in the middle of the alley.
About 10 minutes later, Alistair could be seen bolting out of the Sinclair estate and frantically looking up and down the street. Unfortunately, what he was looking for was already long gone.
“GODDAMMIT!” he shouted suddenly, much to the surprise of all the nearby guards, both those that worked for the town and the personal guards of the Sinclair family. The town guards especially, were shocked given that Alistair had never been seen to lose his cool before. Not even in front of any of the horrifying things he had seen in his career.
In another part of town, Tom, Adam and the others were standing around a couple of horses and a wagon, just outside of their hotel. They were even joined by a friend of Adam’s, called Marcus, a member of a prominent family in Hill City.
Marcus, at 25 years old, was a year older than Tom and Adam. He had light brown hair, light brown eyes and a clean shaven face. He was also a cultivator at the 4th level of qi expansion and had been trained to fight by his father, an elder of his clan and a qi condensation realm cultivator who worked for the governor’s office in Hill City.
Adam had seen him in town a couple of days ago and got him to change his lodgings to where he, Tom and the others were staying. It turned out he had come to town to do some hunting and training in the Tainted Forest. Since they were friends, Adam invited him to come along with them when he finally went to do the same with Tom.
Right now, Tom, Adam and the others were planning on setting off to go into the Tainted Forest on a qi beast hunt. The only problem was, they were missing one of their members. The previous night, Tom had gone down to the hotel’s communal area to let the guys know of the plan to set off the next day, but, Ray wasn’t there. They had all just assumed he was out somewhere, drinking, however, when they woke up in the morning, they still couldn’t find him. It seemed that he hadn’t returned to the hotel that night.
“You don’t think the mimic got him or something?” asked Lance tentatively.
“I’m sure it’s not that. He probably just fell asleep drunk somewhere” said Harrison.
At this moment, Pike caught sight of Ray in the corner of his eye, walking over to them.
“Oi, where the hell’ve you been? We were looking for you last night but we couldn’t find you. What the hell were you doing?” he said in his loud voice, with his arms crossed.
“Ah, sorry. I got lucky last night” replied Ray with a sly grin.
Hearing this, Pike’s previous displeased face was replaced by surprise. His mouth was left open in an O shape.
“Hahaha, you dog” he laughed boisterously.
“Who was the broad?”
“Someone who bit off more than they could chew” replied Ray smugly.
“Leave ‘em squealing did you?” asked Pike.
“C’mon Pike, that’s a bit too vulgar” chastised Harrison, though secretly he too was interested in what Ray had to say.
“You could say I… took their breath away” said Ray.
“Hahaha, that’s my man” said Pike, giving Ray a bump on the shoulder.
Bartholomew, who was friends with Ray, also went forward and gave him a pat on the shoulder.
“Lance, it looks like you’ve finally got some competition in the ladies department” said Pike.
“Please, it’s not a competition” replied Lance.
[More like a one sided domination] thought Lance and not wrongly either since he had proven to be very popular with the serving women of the Cardinal clan and several the eating establishments he frequented.
“Ok, ok, that’s enough of that. We’ve waited long enough, it’s about time we crack on” said Harrison.
“What are we doing?” asked Ray.
“We’re finally going back in the forest” replied Tom, answering Ray’s question.
“Oh, ok” said Ray.
“Are you guys ready?” asked Adam from the side.
“Yeah, just about” replied Avery.
“Alright. Let’s mount up then” said Adam as he got on his horse.
The rest followed and mounted up themselves. They then started to leave the bounds of the hotel and make their way over to the western gate.
Unbeknownst to them, a woman, who was covertly watching them from a café down the street, had a smile on her face.
“Finally, took you long enough” she muttered, before quickly paying and hurrying to make her report.