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Chapter 8 - Morning Comes Too Soon

 

As instructed, the night watch sent an errand boy in to wake the inspectors and dark Phylinx shortly before the cart left for the main barracks. The ride back took far longer than anticipated as the mules did not appreciate the added load of the three passengers.
 
By the time the group got to the barracks, a small crowd had assembled at the foot of the ramp to Phineous' office. Cydric was standing there listening to the morning orders with a scowl on his face.
 
Phineous issued an order to two young inspectors, instructing them to identify the body of a Gnoll found near the canal district, not far from the Crafter's Market. It seemed that none of the locals admitted to knowing what befell the man-beast, but his throat was slashed and the murder weapon left at the scene.
 
Noting the arrival of the tired group, Phineous instructed Vorn, Kanth, and Cydric to see him in his office following the remaining orders. The fact that Shadow had joined the group on the supply cart caught his interest.

"I suppose you arre to rremain where you arre," Kanth said softly into Shadow's ear, purring with the end of her sentence.

Shadow smiled and nodded, leaning back to place his hands interlaced behind his head and take it easy for the time being. He was in no hurry to get anywhere, and still had to see about becoming an inspector. Whatever Kanth, Vorn, and Cydric had to take care of would probably keep the head inspector Phineous busy. There was time to find some food, perhaps.

The Phylinx stood when he realized he was too hungry to sleep anymore, and started following his sense of smell. Someone was cooking something rather tasty. It smelled of fish and bread and that would hit the spot just right.


Meandering over to the long-house where the cooks had stashed the morning grub, Shadow found a plate and helped himself to some of the breakfast offered by the barracks mess. He ignored the looks from various guards about the room and found a nice, empty table to eat in peace.

 

 

 

Cydric quietly walked with his group to Phineous' office. A slight smirk played across his features as he looked at the outside of the building. The thought of sneaking in and learning information was tempting, but unfortunately the reality of getting caught was too unnerving. Someday, even long after this job with Phineous had ended, he would break in even if it was to just unsettle Phineous; just keep him on his toes.


As they entered the office, Cydric nodded to Thomas. He liked Thomas, he was a descent enough fellow. Too bad he was working for such a corrupt boss. As they filed in, Cydric leaned against the wall next to the door. He didn't want to sit for two reasons. One, for lack of sleep. He might end up snoring in minutes of sitting down listening to the boorish drool coming out of Phineous' mouth. And second, just in case Phineous decided to try something, Cydric would be ready with his hand resting lightly on his sword.
 

Before entering the stone office, Kanth caught Vorn's arm. "I think Shadow and I may be responsible for-r this Gnoll's death. He was one of the ones stalking you and Shadow."
 

"So that's what was taking him so long to get back to me? Well, I wouldn't worry about him. It was self defense after all. I'm interested in who that Gnoll was, and why he followed us." Vorn walked into Phineous' office, and saw that Thomas stood by the door. Vorn gave a slight wave of acknowledgement, and sat down in the same chair in which he'd been interviewed yesterday. He yawned and scrounged around in his knapsack for something to eat. Finally, he came up with some pastries from the night before. About to wolf into them, he remembered his manners and offered a few to Cydric, Thomas, and Kanth. While'st munching into a particularly scrumptious apple strudel, he struck up a conversation with Kanth. "You know, this reminds me of an unpleasant interview yesterday. How did your interview go?"

 

Politely declining the pastry, Kanth sniffed the air spying the knapsack on Vorn's lap. "Oh please, do rremind me of that awkward arrangement. The man's mannerisms are near-r-r to that of a badger-r-r: borring and grruff."

Motioning to the knapsack on his knee, Kanth asked, "Do you have anymore of that smelly cheese?" The foul-smelling stuff surely wasn't pleasing to the nostrils, but it must be quite tasty with a smell like that."

Noticing the look of disgust on Vorn's face, she quickly replied, "It's for-r-r just in case we have to follow each other-r-r buy scent again..." Blushing, she was thankful that her fur hid her blush entirely. "I wish I had some fish or rrabbit," she mumbled.

"I believe I took some smoked fish, from last night. Let me see." Vorn rummaged around the knapsack. "Ahah!" Vorn said successfully, lifting a package bound in leaves. "Here you go. I don't know what you wanted with that smelly cheese, but I'm sure I have some more in here." Vorn handed over the fish. Finishing the strudel, Vorn brushed the crumbs off of his hands and wiped his mouth with his sleeve, quickly, wondering what's taking Phineous so long.

"Thank-you my frriend," Kanth replied slowly munching on the fish given to her. Although she preferred it raw, this was a treat in and of itself. Once the fish was consumed, she began to bathe herself meticulously. Upon noticing the eyes on her, her tongue quickly darted back into her mouth, her arms fell into her lap, and she gave Vorn a sly smile. "Sorrry, forrce of habit. It is a good habit though I might add."

 

A few moments later, Phineous burst through the doorway with a huff. Clearly the slope of the hill was more than his lungs could manage.

 

"I hope you all are comfortable," began Phineous as he pulled his oversized chair from behind his cluttered desk. His none-too-pleasant smirk was more of a scowl then a warming greeting. This morning found the finely sanded desktop littered with parchment rolls and stacks of log books. A large wooden chest sat to the right of the desk; one that had not been their the previous day.

"Cydric," Phineous growled, glaring at the dark haired young man, then he sighed and sat heavily. It was as if the thought had escaped him for the moment, or perhaps he thought better than to speak of the matter plainly.

 

Rotating and worming his fat into the groove his hind quarters had worn in the cushion, Phineous flipped open a bound stack of papers. "There has been a death at the estate of one Lord Tithion. I want you all to interview the witnesses and pay special attention to the grounds. Mark every turn, every entrance, and every hiding place. I suspect the murderer is among his household and even nobility are not incapable of killing. He may be hiding the killer in his own home so pay close attention to rooms he forbids entrance." At that Phineous handed Cydric a leather bound scroll. "Last eve has seen many deaths in our fair city. Three in one night is far from casual luck." Phineous held the scroll until he finished his last words as he stared at Cydric. "I hope no one here had anything to do with any of them?" He plopped back down into the seat, sending air whistling from the cushions. "That scroll is a map to Tithion's home not far from here. The man that was killed was poisoned and delivered by mule-cart late in the night. The names of the three deliverers are included with the map." Leaning forward in his seat and casting each tired inspector a sharp glance. "Those are your orders, now who wants to tell me about last night? None of you were in your quarters, yet somehow this morning you miraculously arrive here in time for your debriefing. Well, spill yer story."

 

Cydric looked around the group and decided to quickly speak up. "We all had a quiet night of walking around the city. I was helping to familiarize these fine men on our fair city.

 

Kanth interrupted with a clearing of her purring throat to correct Cydric's slight mistake of words and allowed him to resume without saying anything else.
 

"I mean after all, you can't have inspectors who know nothing of the city in which they are sworn to protect, now can you? Anyway, we were out late, not realizing the time. Once we noticed the hour, it was agreed that we should head back to the barracks and get as much sleep as possible." Tucking the scroll under his arm, Cydric headed for the door. "Thank you for the advice, we shall search high and low for the murderer. Inspectors, I shall meet with you outside. Good day Chief Inspector." At that Cydric bowed to Phineous and hastily dashed out the office.
 

"Indeed this is a strrange turrn of events," Kanth began, but quickly changed her mind as to what she was going to say, realizing the retribution she and Vorn would suffer if they were caught in a lie.

Again, she began, her back arched, her voice steady, "I assurre you, none of us werre involved in any killings. But beforre we met with Cydrric for our little tour-r-r arround the city, Vorrn, I, and our-r-r companion werre involved in the apprrehension of a few of the Followerrs of the Old Empirre who werre enticed into trrying to attack the thrree of us. I hearrd something about the feasting on our-r-r flesh. Quite disturrbing it was. You may ask Theldin, captain of the guarrd, if you wish to question them or-r-r anything."

With that, Kanth paused a moment to hear Vorn's reaction before following Cydric out the door. Rationalizing that last nights brawl had been seen, she figured this was the best way to approach the situation without a bold-faced lie. Trouble is the last thing they needed after last night. In fact, her arm still ached, and she was sure that if her fur was shaven, it would be multiple colors ranging from black to purple to blue.

"I don't believe I ever heard anything about a curfew, Phineous. Ask Theldin if you want to know anything. Things got a little rough last night when Kanth, Shadow and I encountered a few of those thugs. Hmm... I also seem to remember the contract I signed yesterday. I believe a little compensation is needed for bringing in two followers of the Old Empire, Phineous. Before I leave, what's the reward for catching this murderer?" Vorn said to Phineous.

 

"The reward?" Phineous fumed. "You'll get your contract rates for the murderer, and as far as the two you captured," he paused to admire a fat sparkling ring, "you'll need to wait and see what the magistrates conclude." Vorn was about to protest and Phineous cut him off. "I never sent you on that trek, did I? Therefore your contract does not apply. Keep to the script. I tell you your business and I'll have no heroics any more! If there's a reward on their heads, you'll get your part. Now be gone. And send in that black cat-man."

 

 

 

While waiting for his fellow inspectors to shuffle out of Phineous' office, Cydric leaned against the building and lit his pipe then proceeded to unroll the map to get a better look at it. The sheet of parchment crinkled as it unfurled and seemed to struggle against being opened and slipped back to its comfortable rolled position. After reopening the scroll, Cydric noted the landmarks and found a drop of wax marked the relative destination of Lord Tithion's villa. It was not far from this barracks and was just east of the great tower inside the noble's quarter. This was an area Cydric was fairly familiar with. His clients were often of high birth and low conscience after all.
 

Kanth stepped out of the office and noticed Cydric taking a break and decided to do the same. She walked over to him and tried to spy a look at the map while shuffling through her pouch for some herbs. She found the small leather-bound wrap and untied it.

The fragrant aroma of fresh herbs waft into each of her nostrils with the faint morning breeze. She took a couple of the flowering buds and popped them into her mouth, chewing and savoring the taste and feeling.

A pleasant warmth spread all over her, beginning at the very tips of her whiskers and bleeding into her every muscle and pore. Her sore arm instantly relaxed. "My own herbs do me better than anything a human physician could give."

As Cydric was studying the map when the smell of Kanth's chew distracted him. He noticed Kanth peering over his shoulder, trying to see the map. Cydric turned a bit so Kanth could get a better view. "I apologize for the 'fine men' comment, it escaped my mind that we had a lady amongst us. Also, may I ask what that aroma is about you? The scent is unfamiliar, but seems to have a calming effect on me."
 

"Oh, not at all. As I'm surre you know, men arre simply harrd-headed sometimes." Kanth reached into her pack again and withdrew a nice-sized flowering bud and handed it over to Cydric. "Trry it in your-r-r pipe. Some of my people smoke it, but it makes me cough, so I simply eat it. It's called 'nip'. It's a common herrb related in many ways to cannabis. To most of my kind, it acts as a stimulant. To me it is rrelaxing, as it is to most humans."

 

Cydric dumped out the contents in his pipe bowl and took the bud from Kanth. After packing the bowl with the dried petals and taking a few test puffs, with his gloved hand he lit the hot ember from his old smoke. "Thank you," he said as extending his arm in a thanks to Kanth.
 

Kanth took the man's arm wrist in hand and gave a shake common amongst her own people. Not only was it a gesture of friendship, but also of distrust as they could feel each others forearms for hidden daggers beneath cloak sleeves.

Although this was not her intent, she was a bit shocked to find that he did have something hidden there. Then, blushing, she remembered that she did as well and was sure that he felt it.

Smiling, she took in his gaze, "Tough line of worrk," she spoke as she gave him a fanged grin. "We need all we can to rrelax," she said nodding towards his pipe as he puffed.

"I'm sorry, but I don't have anything to offer you in exchange of this fine smoke. What did you say this was?"

 

Kanth replied, "Phylinx-nip. You might know it as catnip though."

 

"It is its quite nice, smooth, and flavorful. Not like the shit you'll find around here, most of that stuff is down right disgusting. If business is good, I usually import my smoke from the lands of Siverandora. Now that is some damn fine smoke. Thank you, maybe one day you can teach me how to grow this, or where I can obtain this myself."

 

Vorn, joined Kanth and Cydric in the morning sun. The odd smell of pipe-weed struck his senses and he noticed Cydric had been smoking. In the lands of Nilam, smoking was a thing done by scholars and rich men and the opium trade was rife with hoodlums and crooks. Vorn's family had forbidden smoking of any herb. As it was, he tried to ignore the smell. He was a long way from his father's estate.

 

The group huddled over the map and Vorn exclaimed, "Aye ya! Even a town like T'Aarn is so confusing to navigate. Have any of you ever investigated a murder before? I have killed, but finding killers is whole different thing."
 

Cydric took the pipe from his mouth and held the bowl in his hand feeling the warmth. He turned to Vorn with a slight smile and said, "I too have killed before but as well as you have not investigated a murder. To be honest, finding the killer shouldn't be all that difficult. We just simply need to put ourselves in the killers shoes and retrace his steps. That's my thought on the matter at least."

 

 


Shadow had seen the three inspectors leave the Chief's office and it was not long after that Thomas summoned him up the ramp. Phineous began the meeting with an upbeat and cordial tone then moved on to business. He was rambling about the inspector's positions he had to fill and how much it would pay, not including some "fringe" benefits. But of course, before actually producing the contract, Phineous asked about the prior evening's escapades. After all, it was unusual to see a civilian being toted along with inspectors on a military supply cart.
 

Knowing Phineous to be a keen observer, it was difficult to tell if anything was amiss. Phineous always seemed to radiate an air of dread, though if it was unnatural, was impossible to tell. Aside from the normal discomfort felt in his presence, nothing out of the ordinary could be seen.

 

Shadow told the hefty inspector nearly everything that happened from the threats of the thug and how the Gnoll and Goblin had followed him and Vorn, to the final battle and meeting up with Captain Theldin's men.
 

"I know, the intensity I prresented when I smote the Gnoll prrobably was not warrrranted, but it was intuition that guided my actions. They had deadly weapons, trrailing an investigator-r-r in the fog… I was unarrmed, and knew they wer-r-re up to no good. I doubted they would give me quarter-r-r if they won. I had to take one out of the equation to be able to focus on the other-r-r without worrrry. If my actions wer-r-re inapprroprriate and due punishment, I beg forrgiveness and merrcy while you deterrmine a suitable punishment."

Phineous stretched and leaned forward, "I'm glad for your honesty. At least that frees up two of my inspectors for more important tasks. Well, now that we know the who and why of the Gnoll's demise, that is. I am also glad to see that you are not fickle of getting your claws dirty. That is not common among your kind."

"This group of new inspectors troubles me. I don't think they have the stuff to do what is necessary. I'll hire you straight away. But I have a proposition. If you bring me information that these folks leave out, I'll make it worth your while. You'll move up in the ranks quickly as a result."

 

Chapter 9

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