By John Page
The Basilica of St. George the Hammer was the largest church in the city of Mulun. It was set on the Glimmor Hill. It was built in the Grim Nova Nouch style. The twenty story structure was covered in skulls, showing scenes of conflict: Heaven and Hell. Everything was done in a twisted manner alien to the churchs in Gonor or Pinso. St. George was built about two thousand years ago but looked as sturdy as ever. This church was unshakable but the people outside it were not.
I walk up to the nervous crowd. It is 9:37 in the morning. What is normally a fairly empty time is now busy. I feel exhausted as I have been looking for hours into this case. I look closely to see if I can learn anything from them. I only gather speculation.
They are chatting with each other or posting on social media. They had all heard about the theft of the painting.
The crowd parts way as they see me and my fellow inspector walk to the church. Some try to ask us a question. I try to answer what we know about the case.
One woman is especially insistent. I can tell she is from a local news agency so I tell her, “The Church is still in the initial stages of investigation. All we know is someone has stolen the painting of the ‘Kneeling Saint’ from one of the reliquaries some time last night. We think that someone had stolen the painting in order to ransom it.”
She looks unsure and says, “Has the church received a demand?”
I tell her no. She wants to ask more but my new partner, Cerio Depaget, say in his thick TerraUr accent, “If anyone has any information, please let us know. Send your information to our office in Gonor. We need your help.”
The woman seems satisfied with that. I realize that I didn’t get her name but before I can ask she is gone.
With that taken care of we are able to reach the church. At the Doors of the Last Judgement we meet the Deaconess. She is a rail-thin woman who looks to be in her early sixties. She greets us and says, “High Inspector Redmount and Inspector Depaget thank you very much for coming. We are deeply concerned about the painting. It was an original of Uriel. That painting is over twenty three centuries old. I fear that even it being outside of its case is damaging a masterpiece. Whoever stole it is a master. They didn’t break the lock of the case or use a key. They simply opened it somehow. We tried looking at the security cameras but a cat has gotten up in the arch and was playing with the cameras.”
She says with a hint of embarrassment. (I think to myself why can’t any of my cases have a useful security camera. This is getting silly now). We follow her to one of the deacons who is standing by the empty case. It was built into a tabernacle. It would hang above the Body of Our Lord. I can picture the world famous artwork. It is of a warrior of the first crusade kneeling in a stream while the Son of the Father blesses him. The art work is hauntingly lifelike and takes a viewer back to the first century in the suffering Etuscun empire. I would have continued reliving my memories but the deacon is talking.
He is a young man, barely out of his teens. He looks very nervous but explains the security system of the art work. He goes on to say, “We have dozens of world famous pieces in this church but the ‘Kneeling Saint’ is our most valuable. The only thing I can think of is that someone who works here did the crime but who would do it?” He says with a squeak.
I thank him for the information and start looking around the tabernacle.
The tabernacle is massive, easily the size of two ogres standing upon each other’s shoulders. I look up at the case. It seems solid and locked. I reach out with my mage sense and am surprised as someone has left a massage on the glass. It says, “I got the painting now. You don’t. Haha.”
Inspector Depaget notices the writing as well and says, “So, whoever did this did this ‘cause it struck them as funny. I have trouble picturing the holy men and women playing a joke like this. I know a little about mage writing and this person is self taught in magic. See how the curve of the letters is like a pencil and not a rune. No mage would write line that. Also, feel the energy it is forced onto the glass. A mage would infuse the energy into the glass.
“Also, we can tell more about the writer. The writing is feminine. No, it is written by someone who is left handed. She is writing with a slight slant that is reminiscent of Prospero writing. She is also short as the writing is more forceful in lower half of the letters. She was standing on her toes to write it based on the marks on the self below the case. That’s all I can tell for now.” He says with a hollow voice.
I am impressed but that. I still double check everything myself but it looks right. I tell him , “Ok so we narrowed down the search to every untutored mage who is a short woman who originally spoke Prospero but also knows Atig. I’m assuming we should include athletic enough to climb that thing and somehow open the lock. That should narrow it down a lot.”
I ask for the security tapes as I got a sense the thief must have scoped out the painting. I have Depaget look at the last week of tapes. He looks for anyone who matches our basic description. He looks confused at first till I pull him aside.
“Why am I doing that?” the man asked.
I tell him that I know he is an Elixaria and I know he can do it faster than another other. I tell him this in archaic Ur to keep privacy. His golden eyes widen in terror but I say,”I am only bringing this up as your kind can multitask like no other. We knew you were Elixaria during your first purity test. Your multiple souls shine bright but don’t worry. The Church does not think you are possessed. We know you are not human. Fear not only a few who need to know know. I need your powers of analytics.”
Depaget opens and closes his mouth a few times but then nods. He looks both hurt and relived. I tell him that I value him and to trust me. I then make the Symbol of the Dove to show the seriousness of my word. He nods and ask what I will do.
“I will go and investigate the people who work here and the crowd outside.”
I ask the two deacons to with me. They know not to ask what we were talking about as they know we use old languages to communicate.
I talk to a mix of holy men, tourists and neighbors of the church. I talk to dozens of people and wade through hours of information. I shudder to think that all people I have to interview.
The last one I talk to is the reporter from this morning. I find out her name is Alnniea. She seems to want to ask how the case is going. I can’t seem to get anything from her. I finally get mad and tell her, “What in the Father Above’s Name do you want? I asked you about the case but you keep tying to interrogate me.”
Alnniea looks pissed but simply says, “I want to get the scoop on this story before anyone else. Seems I just bugged you. I’ll leave now.”
I notice something about her voice so I ask her where she was from originally. She says with a shrug, “I am from Zovon in Prospero.”
I have a suspicion but I know I can’t prove it yet. I look at her closely. She is a small woman with black hair and green eyes. I notice that she has a distinctive scar on her hand. I ask her to stay in the area and I’ll get back to her. She thanks me and leaves. I call one of my detectives to keep an eye on her.
I go to find Depaget. He also looks exhausted and I see what looks like a ghost next to him. When he sees me he jumps up and the ghost vanishes. I don’t ask him about the ghost as I know that is something that is natural to Elixaria.
I ask him if he noticed anything. He told me that looking over a week’s worth of footage he found twenty woman that matched our basic theory. Of those twenty, only one went to the Shrine multiple times and had been seemingly trying to measure the painting. I ask him if he could identify her and he said. “I can. It is the reporter who talked to us this morning.”
I tell him my own conclusions. I alert my agent to try to stall Alnniea ’till we can get to her. We move quickly but our agent is unable to find her.
I send an alert to all agents to keep a look out for her. Depaget and I search St. George’s grounds.
After searching for an hour I get a phone call. I pick up the phone and hear Alnniea’s voice. She says in a panic, “Help me! I am sorry I stole the painting. I need your help. I have been stuck in a car and some creep has me and my painting! Save me!”
I pause only for a second. I tell Depaget to set up a trace and I tell her to stay on the line. After her initial panic she is more calm.
We race to our car and start driving. Depaget is holding a tracer device. We race through the streets and bridges of the city. This city is hard to drive through as there are fourteen rivers going through this city and thus there is not a lot of ways to get around.
After driving for an hour we finally see our quarry. It is a white van. I turn on my speaker and say, “You in the white van, pull over.” The van tries to race ahead but as it does the back door flies open and Alnniea flies out. We almost hit hurt but Depaget uses a spell of teleportation to move her into the car with us.
She is disoriented but quickly understands what happened.
From the van a large masked man appears. He points a gun at us and starts firing. Alnniea and I duck and Depaget turns the wheel.
I aim a spell of paralysis at the van. The man in the door is nocked down and the van spins out of control. Depaget throws a shield spell to control the van.
The van is slowed down and ends up by one of Mulun’s many bridges.
Depaget stays in the car with Alnniea while I go to the van. I draw my gun in case the stun spell has prematurely ended.
I look inside. No one is in the van. I search for anything that can help me. This van is completely empty. Even the shell casings from the gun I saw are missing. I look around the vehicle, I am confused as the van feels cold. It should be warmer. It’s like the cab was not used. I reach out with my mage sense but only feel the spells we used.
I go back to my car and talk to the other two. They are confused as I am and we debate what was going on.
As we talk I recall that we still have a suspect from our main case. I ask her why she was in the van, how did she know my number and did she steal the painting?
Alnniea replies, “Guess I can’t really pretend to be innocent. I took the painting as I was approached by a man who wanted me to take it to show the weaknesses in the security. He told me that if I don’t do the job then someone else could do it. I don’t want someone else to mess up that beautiful artwork so I had to do it myself. I went into the church over a week to see the patterns. I noticed that the lock was fairly weak and a simple push spell would open it. I took the painting and brought it to the man. He seemed a little to eager for the painting so I got worried. I ran away from him and was trying to see if the cops could help me. I was hoping you could solve the case quickly. I was concerned that the man and his associates would find the painting before you did so I had to go home to get it. I was heading back home when three men grabbed me and threw me in the back of the van. I panicked and called you. I took your number from your phone when you weren’t looking. You know the rest.”
I look at her. I seem to drawn to her dark eyes. She seems honest now. I want to trust her but my training kicks in. I have a sense I can trust her but I need to ask her two more questions. “Who was the man and where is the painting?”
Alnniea says , “I don’t know the man’s real name but he wanted to called Arulius and he said he was part of a group called the Zon collective. I found those names kind of silly but didn’t think too much of that. The man was a tall man who sounded like he was Bret. He tried to cover his face with a mask but had bright blue eyes and a scar on his face. He had a deep voice with slight lisp. I think he had blond hair and had a big nose. Talked kind of funny like he was tying to act in a drama about the bleeding years.
“The painting is with me.”
We are a little surprised but she reaches into her pocket and pulls out a small box. She opens the box and the painting jumps out of the box and becomes its full size. Ah, she has a diminishing cube.
I look to Depaget and he tells me in old Ur, “I have been examining her since we rescued her. She is telling the truth. She has none of the signs of a lair and I have heard about a similar sounding man and organization before. The story seems odd but I guess then it’s true.”
I nod and tell Alnniea that we will look into the Zon collective but we still need to bring the painting back. She agrees and we head back to the Basilica. I call ahead so the whole staff is there. I return the painting to them and explain what happened. They look worried but determined to protect their art.
I ask them what they want to do with Alnniea and they say forgive her.
With that I go back to her and make her an offer, “Clearly you are a resourceful person and I want to ask you a question. Can the Order of St. Andrew use you as an agent in future cases.”
Alnniea says with only a slight hesitation, “Of course I do.”
With that out of the way I have Depaget and I look for clues to Arulius. We spend the next three days hunting for him. I am about to give up when I get a clue. The ambassador from Otahoc is worried as a man named Arulius is sending death threats to him. He needs our help.
The chase is on.