Tuesday Fiction: Fear Of Retribution pt1

ppoodleIt’s been awhile since we’ve shared fanfiction here in the Lost Hemisphere, but one of our esteemed circle of Losties has presented a tale I’ve quite enjoyed, and thusly will be presented for your edification as a serial over the next while. Ben (PrimalPoodle) normally does all sorts of artsy painty things, but it turns out he fancies himself something of a wordsmith as well, and we’re delighted to be able to give him a venue through which to share his prose. Enjoy part one of Fear Of Retribution, our new biweekly serial.

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An Estate near Corvis, Northern Cygnar

There should have been more blood.

It wasn’t Captain Elizabeth Lawley’s first murder scene.  Not even her first multiple murder.  She’d only been with the Reconnaissance Service for three years, but it was a profession that prepared you for the worst.  She’d been ready for gore.  Seven bodies was a new record for her, which should have meant record amounts of sanguine stain, but there was nothing.  No spray, no spatter.  Antique furniture, priceless books, strange magical artifacts filled every room in the estate, and none of them had been touched.  Nothing had been damaged but the corpses themselves.

Liz stood in the foyer, hands on her hips, glaring at a dead man.  Rochester had been a master Arcanist, a powerful and influential man within the Fraternal Order of Wizardry.  The other six corpses had been his former apprentices, all of whom had become mighty mages in their own right.  Men and women like that should not have died quietly.  And yet here sat Rochester in a large armchair, a book open in his lap, at first glance appearing completely relaxed and comfortable.  The second glance revealed the expression of shock and confusion on his wizened features, and the small dark spot on the left side of his chest surrounding a tiny grey-fletched crossbow bolt.  Neither chair nor book showed even a speck of crimson.

The other bodies were all the same.  One of the others also rested in an armchair, two lay in their beds.  One slumped over a desk, one sagged against a bookshelf.  All seven bore only the one, tiny wound.  Seven of the most powerful murder victims Liz had ever seen, and all had died seemingly without a struggle.  Whoever the killer had been, they were an incredible shot, and had given absolutely no warning.  Liz wasn’t sure which scared her more.

“It’s just like you asked, Cap’n.  Nobody touched ‘em.”  Liz started, turning her glare on the man standing behind her.  He shifted awkwardly, staring at his feet, wringing his cap with its Constable’s badge between his large hands.  The man would likely have been imposing under other circumstances, but seven dead wizards had him decidedly out of his depth.  Liz forced her brow to smooth.  Smiling was out of the question, but the poor man didn’t deserve her anger.

“I see that, Constable.  You and your deputies have done a more than competent job, thank Morrow.”  It was a blessing.  In her experience, competent local police were as rare as snowfall in the Protectorate.  She turned back towards the body, leaning closer to it.  Her nose wrinkled instantly.  Undisturbed the body might have been, but he’d died nearly three days ago.  The corpse stank.

“Strange, innit, Cap’n?”

“Strange indeed, Constable.  Disturbing, even.”  Liz spoke softly, absently.  Her attention was on the body, not her companion.

“Well, o’course it’s disturbing.  There’s seven folks dead ‘ere, murdered.”  The Constable was indignant.

Liz gritted her teeth.  “Of course, Constable.  I am referring to the method of their deaths.  The bolts are so small.  They must have come from a one-handed crossbow, and to be lethal would have to have hit the heart directly.  One perfectly executed shot, repeated seven times across seven bodies.”  She straightened, fighting the urge to cough the smell out of her nostrils.  “Seven assassins made it into this house, each with the skill to put down a powerful mage with a single perfect shot, and then all disappeared again.”  She shook her head.  “These poor people.  They’d planned out such a nice little reunion, and then this happens.”  She turned away from the body finally, to find the constable looking at her, his face screwed up in confusion.

“Seven assassins, Cap’n?  Why seven?”

Liz’s face twisted to match his.  “Well, none of them raised any kind of alarm, so they must have died simultaneously.  Seven bodies, seven shooters.”

“That’s not what Cook said.”

Liz strangled an impatient sigh.  “I know, the cook only saw one person fleeing the scene, but don’t you think if they were stealthy enough to sneak in without being seen, the others could have snuck out without being seen?  Isn’t that more believable than that one person could carry out a perfect execution on seven wizards without any of them even managing to make a sound?”

The constable pointed one side of the foyer, where a door stood open.  It was directly opposite the main stairs leading to the upper level.  “Cook says she saw it all from that storeroom right over there.  Scrawny wench came down the stairs, shot Master Rochester and walked right on out the front door.  Didn’t seem to care much about stealth at that point.”

Liz blinked.  Indeed, it was unlikely for one of the assassins to come from that direction to attack Rochester unless they had just come from the upstairs rooms where the other bodies lay.  But one person, doing all this?  It couldn’t be possible.  “Wait.”  Liz quickly crossed the distance to the Constable, staring straight up into his plain, nervous face.  “You said wench.  It was a woman?  Did the cook say anything else?”

“Oh aye, Cap’n, she wrote it all down for me.”  The Constable nervously took a step back, patting his pockets and finally producing a folded piece of paper.

Liz closed her eyes and let out a long breath.  “She wrote out a statement for you, Constable?”

“Yessir, ma’am, Cap’n.”  He handed the paper to her.  She snatched it.

“You could have led with that.”  She spun on her heel and stalked away, unfolding the paper.  Thank Morrow for semi-competent police, she amended her earlier thought.

The assassin had been tall, wearing a hooded cloak and wielding a one-handed crossbow just as Liz had predicted.  As the murderer had slipped out the front door, her hood had fallen back and the cook had gotten a look at her face.  Careless.  The assassin’s desire for stealth had apparently died along with the seven wizards.  She’d been not just a woman, but an Iosan, her head shaved bald and a small dark tattoo visible beneath one eye.  The cook had scurried to the foyer windows and watched her cross the grounds and disappear into the forest, alone.  No other assassin had appeared after that point.  As soon as she could bring herself to, the cook had ventured upstairs and discovered the other bodies.  She’d gone for the Constable immediately after that.

There certainly could have been other assassins.  A terrified servant’s testimony guaranteed nothing.  But the description of the woman had Liz’s eyes stretched wide, her mouth taught.  Alarm bells were ringing loud in the back of her memory.  The pit of her stomach felt terribly cold.

The assassin was an Iosan elf, with a cultish appearance.  She wore a hooded cloak and wielded a hand crossbow with terrifying accuracy.

“Mage Hunter.”  Liz only mouthed the words, careful not to let the Constable hear her.  The chill in her stomach had slid up along her spine.  Her heart began to pound.  The corner of her mouth started to twitch.

“Constable.”  She spun to face him, her voice stern and cold.  She could not, would not, start grinning like a madwoman in front of him.  “Would you be so kind as to arrange for proper burials for all of these men, as Morrow requires?  Also please contact their next of kin.”

He nodded cautiously.  “And the investigation, ma’am?”

Liz cleared her throat to stifle a wild giggle.  “Mine, Constable.  From this point on, this investigation is mine and mine alone.  For your own sake, and that of your men and all of your families, I suggest you leave it at that.  This goes far beyond a local affair.”

“If you say so, Cap’n.”  Still frowning, he stuffed his mostly-crushed cap onto his head and tipped it towards her.  “Pleasure working with you.”  He shuffled off towards the door.  Liz was already heading up the darkened staircase.  She needed to see the other bodies again.

There were no lamps lit, and no windows in the hallway, but Liz didn’t mind the dark.  Sight, she thought, and felt a tingle rush through her.  A pale blue flash lit the corridor for a moment as glowing runes raced past Liz’s eyes.  The darkness returned, but now she could see perfectly well.  Her vision fortified by arcane means, she set off down the hall.

Alone in the dark, she let the giddiness overtake her.  In all honesty, there was the tiniest touch of hysteria in it.  But still, Captain-Magus Elizabeth Lawley of the Cygnaran Reconnaissance Service had been waiting a very long time for a case like this one.