By John Page
The deceased was found at 6:45 in the morning. The victim, male and about middle aged, was dressed in a suit. He was found in front of the Shrine of Knowledge, an ancient Etuscun monument. His throat had been slashed, opened by a blade of some kind.

He was lying in the front garden of the shrine. The danbushes were in full bloom which helped hide the body. Behind him were the Yellow River and the district of Belliron. The Shrine was semi-isolated from the main roads. This was said to remind visitors of an earlier era.

A security guard was patrolling the grounds of the Shrine of Knowledge when he came across the body. At first he tried to see if the victim was alive. He didn’t notice the slash mark at first as he was more thrown by the victim’s species. The victim was a member of the Staki species. One does not normally see the bug-like Staki even in Pinso, the largest city in the world.

Staki are about eight feet tall on average. They have six limbs, four slimmer ones that are like arms while the two lower ones that are like legs. Their skin is a tough grey carapace. The face is like a praying mantis but the eyes are human-like. The victim was fairly typical looking for his kind though slightly darker, heavier and taller than average.

The guard determined the victim was beyond any help and so went to find his watch commander. They checked the victim for any form of ID but there wasn’t any. All they had was a body of a well-dressed Staki laying in front of an ancient monument. They knew they needed help.

I was called in at 7:00. I arrived at 7:37. I would have gotten there faster but traffic was horrible along the Imperial Corridor. I got out of my car and found members of the imperial police, the Pinso city town watch and members of my own unit. I am part of the order of St. Andrew, an arm of the Etuscun church that investigates crimes of a nature that regular police cannot.

Sergeant Vasca is surprised to see an Andrewist at the crime scene. He asks me, “Why is the Church sending its police?”

I tell him, “We are here as this has the potential to be an international incident. This man is clearly someone from another country and lots of people will want to know who killed a tourist.”

Vasca is surprised and asked me, “High Inspector Redmount I have a question. How do you know his is a tourist?”

“It’s simple. He is dressed up for a party but his clothes are not pressed fully. They are still new, so he had bought them recently. They are of a Merica manufacture. They have been packed in a suitcase. There is also a stain on them; like he was trying to eat on the run. That means he has traveled some distance and was hoping to attend some kind of formal event but was running late due to unfamiliarity with the city. He is wearing a watch of high quality that is also old. That means that he has had it for a long time. The watch is of a brand that is from the city of Yovik in Merkia. His glasses and suit are also items from the same city. Look at the labels. He clearly has a deep tan. That’s the kind of tan you have after a lifetime in the sun. Pinso is not the most sunny area, especially in winter. Most Staki are from the more equatorial regions of the world, especially Merkia. I say he is from the Yovik area of Merkia,” I say while pointing out each part of my theory.

Vasca looks at me like I’m full of it but doesn’t say anything. The blond man simply writes down what I say and points to one of the crime scene photographers to record all I had mentioned.

I keep looking at the body. Staki were known as fierce warriors during the wars before mankind existed. This man did not look the part. Even in death his face looked gentle. He seemed soft and quiet. Why would someone want to kill him?

I find the guard. He is an Etuscun who is from the city. He relates the information of the case and adds at the end, “Sir I am at a loss. Why was a Staki in the city? I thought they never left their homeland. Did someone kill him due to some hatred of non-humans? Also, why leave him in such a public place? The Shrine of Knowledge is not the spot to kill someone.”

I ask him to look over the surveillance tapes and to let me know what he finds.

I decide to go and send some of the city watch to ask around to see if anyone knew what happened. Most people we ask do not have any information though there are different people who had reported that they saw the victim talking to a homeless man sometime in the early afternoon. I have the imperial police go toward the King River district to check the local shelters. I send a member of the Pinso police to the see if they can work the party angle.

I have a medical monk check the body more carefully. After a few minutes of mumbled spells and careful searching he tells me that, “Whoever killed this man really hated him as they hacked at him with more force than was required to kill him. They seemed to be enjoying the murder. Notice how there are dozens of small cuts along the neck and chest. We can infer that someone shorter than him did but that would be the population of the whole country. The killer used their left hand so that would narrow it down.” I ask if there is anything else he has to tell me and he says, “Not right now but I’ll let you know if I find anything.”

As I examine the crime scene I notice something odd in the grass. There is a small coin on the ground. The coin is a small metal disk with some kind of monster on one side and a sword on the other. The design seems familiar to me but I can’t place it beyond a rough guess of it being from the pre-migration times. It has the symbol of an ancient fallen city. I stare at the coin trying to figure out which city it was from. I give up for now but I’ll look it up later. A coin this old might be something vital to this case.

I have my force talk to every hotel within a ten mile radius trying to find anyone who knows anything. After several fruitless hours we finally get a beak. Someone knows the victim.

I go to the hotel and see a female Staki wearing a plain dress with some stains on it. She is weeping until she sees me. She walks up to me and says, “What happened to my dear Albert? He was supposed to be at an academic conference and the police are telling me he is dead. What happened!?” She tries to suppress more crying.

I at first try to be soothing but quickly realize that is a mistake. Instead I ask her to state her name and to provide more details on why she and Albert where in the city. She says that her name is, “Susan Eva Brightwater and her husband is Alfred Francis Brightwater. We are from Yovik Merkia. We are both professors at the Yonin State University. I am a professor of politics and he is (was) a professor of pre-Glomist cultures. We had come to Pinso so he could attend a conference on the rise of Shadow Singers. The conference had been going on for two days now. Albert was so excited. We have never been in this hemisphere before and he wanted to see more of Pinso or as he called it “The greatest city since fallen Salbibur.” She pauses to explain to be that Salbibur was the capital city of the Glomist Empire over ten thousand years ago. I don’t tell her that everyone in Pinso knows that.

“He had left to look at some artifact. He had arranged to meet with someone who was willing to sell the artifact to the Yonin University. He told me he would try to find some interesting artifacts and be home before 11:00. When he didn’t come back I was worried so I tried calling him on his phone. Around 1:00 in the morning I called the police. They told me that they would get back to me.” She finished with a sob. I told her thank you for letting me know and I am taking care of the case.

I double check everything she told me and it all checks out. The only thing is Alfred’s phone was missing.

After talking with his wife I go to the conference. The other academics are shocked at his death. One of them pulls me aside. He is an Etuscun like me. He is a short man and very thin. He is dressed in an ill-fitting suit. The man tells me that his name is Professor William Devin, a professor of ancient Basin cultures.

He says to me, “It is terrible to hear about Professor Brightwater’s death. I am shocked. He was such a quiet man… uh, Staki… Regardless, he will be missed. Do you know who killed him, Mr. Stephen?”

I tell him that I don’t know yet but I am trying to figure it out.

He looks a little nervous and says, “I was wondering if he had anything unusual on his person.”

I ask him what does he mean by that. He says after some hesitation, “Well, Professor Brightwater had told me that he had found someone who was willing to sell a very rare artifact from the ruins of Salibud.”
I ask him why is that connected to the case. Professor Devin replies, “Well, the artifact is a coin of the reign of the Dark Emperor. Since a lot of that period is unknown to us any artifact from then is very valuable. The coin is also said to have great magical power.”

I ask him what else he can tell me about it. He says “From what I have read the coin has the power to channel magical energies. Some say that the mages of Salibud used it to build energy shields around the city.” He goes on to describe the coin in great detail and it matches the coin I found.

“Has this been proven?” I ask him.

“Well, no. That was just what is in the old scrolls,” he says slightly embarrassed.

I have a sense he is lying to me so I press further. I know a little about late Glomist magic and that doesn’t go with what I know. I also have a strong sense to not let him know I have the coin. I ask about why Professor Brightwater would be interested in it.

Devin looks nervous but finally tells me that the coin that it is in fact important for a religious ritual. It seems the ritual was a dark one. Brightwater had been looking into the different aspects of the ritual and the coin was one of them.
I tell him thank you and leave. I don’t trust him so I send a tail on him. He seemed too interested in the ritual the coin was used in. My agent Peter should do the trick.

As I keep investigating the case I find out that the only two other people where in the park that night. One has been identified as a local homeless man. I go to the shelter if Saint Ruth to see if he is there.

I walk up to the nun but before I say anything she says to me, “Brother, are you here because of Michael? We haven’t seen him all day and I am getting worried.”

I pause for a second and consider this new fact. I reply to her, “No, Sister of Faith, I have not. Why are you worried about him?”

She says, “Well, Michael likes to walk around the city at night. He has some problems with daylight. We ask him to be careful as a city as large as Pinso can have many dangers at night. I mean, of course, the city, imperial and church police do a good job…”
I tell her I understand and I am not offended. People always seem worried about the Etuscun Inquisition even though they know we deal with crime and aren’t thought police. I guess it’s the fact that we have had several bloody arrests against demon cultists. They were trying to murder children and we had to protect the innocent. Why doesn’t anyone remember that? Instead, the people recall the pictures of large men covered in blood leaving a temple with a score of frightened children.

I shake my head to clear it of thoughts of the past. I ask the nun where she last saw Michael and she mentioned seeing him crossing the Concord Bridge. I thank her and leave. I send an agent to look around. I tell her to be careful as I don’t know if we are looking a victim or a murder.

After I talk with the agents I get a call from sergeant Capil. He tells me that the medical monks were unable to find anything else about the victim. I tell him thank you.

I head back to my car and I think over the case. I am still confused as to the motive. Did someone at the conference kill Brightwater? Was it his wife? Was it a random robbery or something else? I pull out the coin. It seems this is what got Albert killed. I reach out with my senses to probe the coin for magic. The aura is very faint so I reach deeper.

Suddenly I’m carried away to a different place. I can’t move and my body is covered in something skeletal. I am sitting on a throne and I am pointing at someone. They walk up trembling and they give me a sword of pure shadow, a coin that flows with pure energy and a cloak of a great force. I take these gifts and then a beam of power leaps from my hands and the person dissolves. I hear myself laugh.

My vision is restored and I hurl the coin away from me. The force within it is evil and I feel sick. I drive back to my barracks. I need to check myself for any kind of curse or taint. As I drive I wonder if anyone knew what the origin of this coin was.

Once I get there I am thoroughly checked in physical, mental and spiritual means. I am fine but the others in my order agree that the coin is something that needs to be locked away. After that matter is taken care of I ask my fellow cops for updates. The agent looking for Michael reports that she thinks he feel off the bridge and is looking for him and the other agent doesn’t report. I try three times then I trigger the search beacon on his radio. The signal doesn’t show up anywhere and I am getting worried about Peter.

I alert all units to looking for him. We search for hours and I eventually find his radio in an abandoned house.

I am at a loss to where Peter went ’till I notice I mark on the floor. I feel it and a latch. Opening it I see a long dark passage. I call everyone to follow me and I head out.

The tunnel is dark and empty. The structure is brick and looks to be 700 years old, perhaps middle Usher dynasty. I try to recall anything useful from that time period. The only thing I can think of is that’s when a lot of the city was rebuilt by the city council to cover up cultist activity. That is not a good sign.

I reach out with my senses and notice that further down the hall I hear chanting. I stop and try to hear the words. I can’t tell what it is but I am worried. I pull out my pistol and mutter a spell of protection. I creep ahead and try to get a better view of whatever is going on. I reach the end of the hallway and walk past the Nooch style artwork.

Within I see a green fire in the middle of a dark vaulted room. Around the fire are figured jumping around. I scan them closely and I notice that all are hooded but are the height of a typical person of the city. One of them is in the front and is reading out loud from a book. I scan the room and freeze as I see the other two artifacts from my vision. Something very bad is happening.

I send a signal to the others where I am and get an alert they are five minutes away. That’s too long.

I need to stop this. I creep forward and look for anything weaknesses. I reach out and see what is best described as a supernova of magic. I pull back to around being blinded but I somehow alert the hooded figures. Five of them rush to me and hurl spells at me. I dodge most of them but one hits me in the chest. My armor absorbs it and I fire at them with my gun. I fire ten times and the five are down. The remaining ten are trying to finish the ritual but I rush at them and fire at them. I hit six of them and the spell starts to collapse.

The lead figure turns to me and says “Stop it’s too late. You’ll kill us all in the backlash.” I am startled to hear Professor Devin’s voice but instead hurl a disabling spell and knock all four out.

As they fall the three artifacts fall to the ground and I rush to catch them. As I am running the spell’s energy starts to strike me and I feel weak. I stop to channel the energy and force it away. The effort nearly crippled me until I chant an ancient spell and end the ritual.

I fall to my knees and hurl. The others reach the room after I finish being sick. They arrest everyone and revive the five I shoot.

We question them and learn about who they are. Devin is the only who talks. He says, “We are part of a cult dedicated to restoring the supremacy of the Gonor people. We are trying to overthrow this weak government and make the empire pure.”
I am used to such rhetoric I want to know if Brightwater’s death and the disappearance of Michael and agent Peter. Devin tries to ignore me so I have to cast a spell of pain to get him to talk. Eventually he grunts in pain and says, “I admit it. I killed Albert as I hate him. He is not human and is better at research. He had the nerve to study the Glomist empire, that was an empire of men for men. He doesn’t deserve his reputation and he was getting close to uncovering our plan. The damn coin would have protected us. We had to kill that homeless man and that cop as their deaths helped fuel the spell. I hate all of you and I’ll tell you what …” Devin stops talking

“Aaww!”

He and the other cultist start screaming. As they scream they start to fall apart. We back up in disgust as clearly whatever spell they had failed to cast was eating them.

We can do nothing to help them and have to watch them die. We cast spells of protection and purity. Once we are sure we are safe we clean up the shrine.

I have to go tell the families of the three men what happened to them. Mrs. Brightwater is anger at why her husband was killed. Peter’s family weeps. The people at Michael’s shelter tell me how much they miss him and will pray for him. I don’t know who the cultists were and Devin did not seem to have a family.

The case is over at 22:36. I head home and pray for everyone.

What will tomorrow bring?

One thought on “Murder along the river

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