Chapter 13 - Stuffy Air
"As you can see, he was untouched by
blade or club," began Traa'llor as the inspectors ushered into the room. And indeed, there were no signs of physical
wounds upon the exposed flesh. Other than a yellow tint to his flesh, nothing seemed
immediately out of the ordinary.
Each inspector took their time looking at the body, checking his hands, and
looking for any cause of the man's death.
Shadow sniffed, "He smells strrrange. Like ale, but sour."
"And there," Cydric pointed at his lips, "a powder."
"On his fingers too." Vorn said with a bit of quiver to his voice. Sweat began
to drip from his brow despite the cool of the room. Perhaps it was just his
nerves. Dealing with the dead was never pleasant, but this was different. He
averted his gaze from the dead man hoping that removing the site of the man
would settle him, but the feeling did not ease. Instead, the sensation
strengthened and Vorn seemed to recall emotions from his childhood, the kind he
felt when being scolded by his father. 'Don't look away when I speak to you,' he
recalled, and unconsciously brought his gaze back to the face of pale Sloran.
Kanth, having no room, had not gotten so close to Sloran, but she saw the same
anguish on Vorn's face as she did on Shadow's, though the black Phylinx did not seem
to notice. Cydric, his face unflinching, seemed oblivious to the mood that had
grown on the room.
Cydric opened the dead man's mouth,
looking and smelling for any signs of poison. Then he inspected
under the man's fingernails looking for anything out of the ordinary. Cydric
knew that a man of this class and notoriety wouldn't be caught dead with things like grease, dirt, or filth under his nails. Sure, when it
all came down to it, Sloran was just a messenger boy, but a high class one
working for a rich and powerful lord none the less.
Tithion mumbled incoherently to
himself, though the others did not pay any attention.
Cydric pulled out his dagger and opened the man's mouth. Making sure he was
concealing his activities as much as possible, he took his dagger and lightly
scraped the surface of Sloran's tongue and cheeks. Then he inspected his dagger
by sniffing it and looking hard at it, searching for any signs of poison. He
then lifted the man's hands and scraped under his nails searching for anything
Noting the powder on Sloran's lips, Cydric did a few
minor tests to see if he could determine what it was: First he looked at it on
his gloved fingers, rolling it between thumb and fore-finger. He
lightly smelled it, being careful not to inhale too deeply. Then last he put a
small amount on the end of his tongue for a taste test.
Kanth shuddered at Cydric's actions. 'Did he just place something from the mouth
of a corpse into his own mouth?'
Knowing that he was probably being watched at this point
Cydric looked at
the others in the room and said, "I know a good deal about poisons. I'm just
trying to determine what kind of poison this is... If it's a poison at all."
"Ummm, yes Cydrric," Kanth began. "We don't doubt that you do. As well, I know a thing or-r-r
two about them and some types, especially powderrrs, can be deadly with the
smallest porrtion placed within an arrea wherre it can rreach the bloodstrream
quickly. So what have you learrned? Arre you feeling a bit ill or-r-r no?"
Shadow stuck his own tongue out of his mouth in disgust. "Kanth is r-right.
You should be mor-r-re carrful."
"I'm feeling alright at the moment. I didn't ingest it, just a slight
taste. What I discovered is..." he paused for the moment as the flavor settled.
"It is sweet, like cane sugar."
Traa'llor interjected, "Yes, he had a package of snack cakes with him.
We discussed that fact with the owners of the Sleeping Sea. He shared
the cakes with them also, though they live."
"No," Cydric continued to ponder, "metallic, and bitter. The sweet
taste overpowers the other flavors."
Shadow shrugged as he recomposed himself and continued his thought
aloud, "We know he was obviously poisoned. Most likely something
that was fed to him on a plate, a finger-r-r food. He would
unwittingly pluck up a piece and plop it into his mouth, thus
accounting for-r-r the poison dust on his fingerrs and lips."
Kanth cursed herself for not finding or purchasing some herbs used to expunge or,
at least, slow the effects of certain poisons. If this were a particularly
potent type, it would be a shame to loose a companion after only knowing him for
such a short while. 'Medical care. That's what I need to learn of. Blood-letting
and administering antidotes and such,' she thought to herself again.
"So evidently, he had parrtaken of these 'sweets' after-r-r he had
been dosed with something not so 'sweet,'" Kanth reasoned aloud. "And
motive being this arrtifact that is missing... What is this
arrtifact Traa'llor-r-r? Tithion? If we arre expected to come to
some sorrt of conclusion herre, we need definite answerrs."
The noble looked as if he was awoken
from a dream. "It was an ancient container. Roughly
a forearm's length tall and half as thick. I had not seen it directly though
Sloran's letters described it well. No one but one interested in antiquities
would lust for such a find," Tithion remarked, a bit shocked that the Phylinx
may have heard his mumblings.
"Thank you much for-r-r the
descrription. This may help. So, what you'rre saying is that it was similar-r-r
to a map or-r-r scrroll case?" Kanth's question rolled off of her tongue quickly
as though she had not pondered the answer at all.
Shadow, the black Phylinx walked around the table, looking still upon the deceased,
checking the bottoms of his feet, the easily bruised areas of the
arms and neck, and finding nothing. He asked Cydric, "But what good
is knowing what kind of poison it is to us? In a city of this size,
it cannot be too difficult to find the apprroprriate underrworrld
merrchant and get some tasteless, odorrless poison to coat food
with. The poisoner-r-r might have had a job prreparring the food,
with as much dust as is evident. It would not be easy to poison to
this extent in public view."
He stooped over to smell deeply at the man's neck, and arms,
anywhere he suspected a woman's scent might be left who could have
been groping over the man. It might prove useful later.
"Murder," said Tithion, in almost a whisper. "He was murdered," the noble's eyes
stared blankly at Sloran's still form. "Someone stole the artifact before I
passed. I regret..." the noble pressed against the wall, "that I never told her
how I felt."
Vorn tore his eyes away from the body, and looked at Tithion. "Yes, it does
appear that he was murdered, Lord Tithion." Leaning closer, and hearing
Tithion's whisper, Vorn asked, "Lord Tithion, I believe some things need to be
cleared up. What exactly is this artifact that Sloran was carrying? And who is
this "her"? Things need to be made clear for us to carry on a definite
investigation." Vorn's head swooned and he put his hand against the wall to
steady himself. He shot a glance at each person in the room, but they did not
seem to notice his weakness. He did not like the sensation. 'I am a warrior. Why
do I feel weak at the sight of this man?'
Shadow was glad Vorn noticed the slip in pronouns. Who was
this *her*... and why suddenly did the noble feel so lost about it?
Tithion slid slightly against the
wall. Traa'llor stood stiffly and did not make an effort to catch his father.
But the elderly man caught his balance on his elbows. "I feel lost," he said
quietly, and it seemed no one heard. "Can't find my way, father."
Staring at the grey haired noble,
Vorn could see his lips move, but the words were too soft to catch.
Then Tithion blinked and stared blankly at
Vorn, "what? I was... What happened just now? I feel ill." His face was deathly
white and his legs looked as if they would fail him.
Thoughts torn from her by the noble's strange behavior, Kanth presumed sorcery
or other unnatural force was at work. It seemed to
her that Tithion was just as befuddled as the party at what he had just spoken.
"Sir-r-r, arre you going to be alrright? Vorrn, grrab a shoulder-r-r, help me
get him out of herre." At that, Kanth gripped the man's right arm as Vorn
moved to follow Kanth's advice.
"Unhand me!" the noble howled, "How dare you lay hands on me. I
should have you brought up on charges for such abuse." The elder's color
vividly changed from pale white to a furious red.
As Kanth stepped away from the noble her eyes perceived a shimmer,
like waves of heat off cobbled roads, that leapt from the noble's face then was
lost. She felt suddenly weak and disoriented. It was
as if she was fighting off an unwelcome suitor standing at her
doorway. Instinctively she resisted unconscious of her voice
Dazed and dizzy, Kanth caught her balance. Traa'llor leaned in and
whispered to Tithion, "We should leave now. For their sake."
"I want you all to leave now," commanded the noble shrugging off the
last frail grip of his would-be aids. "We have
disturbed the dead long enough. If you have the evidence you need,
let us be gone."
Tithion and Traa'llor stepped from the room into the square antechamber and began whispering to
each other. Kanth and Shadow,
their ears more sensitive then the humans, could hear enough of what
"We interrupted the ritual," Tithion hissed.
"Do you think it will work?"
"I don't know. I felt Sloran force his will on me in there. The
longer we wait, the harder it will be for the priestess to commune
with him. We must get these inspectors away from here. I will leave
that to you."
"What should I do?"
"Offer them cheese cake. Anything, just let the priestesses work in
peace. I must know who took the artifact."
The inspectors then heard the clanking of the lever as the noble
prepared to leave.
Kanth scratched her chin inquisitively, obviously pondering great
things or confusing situations. The hidden conversation she had
heard between the noble and his servant not far from her eager mind,
she called out loud enough for Tithion and Traa'llor to hear, "I think I'll rremain herre with the body for-r-r a little
while yet. I have some morre tests I need to purrrr-forrm." Her
obvious stressing of the syllable of the last word meant to inform
those, mainly Shadow, who would understand her intentions.
Shadow looked into Kanth’s eyes, empathically knowing she heard what he did.
Humans often forgot how sensitive the Phylinx’ were. He nodded to her wish to
stay with the body. Looking to Vorn and Cydric, he said “Therre is no r-real
scent to this man except that of stale ale. And if the white substance is but
sugar-r-r… then clearrly he was poisoned thrrough his drrink.” He stepped over
to the other inspectors and said quietly so that outsiders of their group could
not overhear, “Tithion plans on a séance of sorts. I believe what we hearrd the
nobel mutter-r-r was the verry thoughts of the deceased. It seems that Tithion
is more interrested in r-retrrieving his prrecious arrtifact than justice for
his fallen serrvant.”
Their host had put on a grand act for them, and the Phylinx almost
fell for it. He spoke aloud again, this time responding to Kanth, “Indeed. It
might not have been poison at all that killed this man, Slorran. He could have
been bewitched… ensorrcelled to death. We must obserrve for-r-r signs of the bad
ju-ju.” As he said that, he looked towards the noble and beast-servant, judging their reaction accordingly.
Vorn, whispering back to the group, "Sorcery? Even the very word
still makes my heart pound. So, do any of you have any idea of what
to do? Should we pretend to leave, come back, and hear the séance?
Or do we directly confront them now? Or should we interview the
Cydric answered in hush tones, "I think we should come back under the
cover of darkness. I'm at my best then, and I know our Phylinx friends can
easily see then as well. I say we come back at night, and sneak back down.
There's something foul in the air, and it's not just this poor dead bastard.
Besides, Tithion may be a lord, but even a lord isn't above the law."
As well as her companions, Kanth attempted to whisper, which came
out more like a hiss, "I only rrecommended staying to see the
rreaction of these people to our-r-r not leaving as they would like
us to. I'm sure Shadow hearrd as well, but they want us out... and
Cydric stepped forward to address Lord Tithion, "My Lord, we know how
well you respect the law and her officers, so we're glad for your
understanding and cooperation in this matter. I know an expert on poisons
and other such foul things. If you could send a messenger to get Eric
Corbin, I'd be in your debt. He's my ah, mentor and friend. He runs a small mystics shop down on Elderberry
road. He should easily be able to detect what
this powder is. I thank you again my lord."
Tithion and Traa'llor looked at the dark haired inspector with
uncertainty. "You mean the blood-hunter? If you think his farcical
magics can aid you then by all means, send for him." It had been a
while since anyone had referred to the old mercenary as a blood-hunter. It was true that in Eric's early years he hunted down killers
and rapists for bounty, but that had been nearly a generation ago.
"Fine with me," Vorn whispered back at Kanth's suggestion. "Let's stay here and piss them off
as long as we can. Then we'll agree to leave and come back under
cover of darkness." Turning to Lord Tithion and speaking loudly,
Vorn said, "Excuse me, Lord Tithion, but our investigation of the
body of Sloran is not yet complete. We must confiscate all
possessions, in order to fully tell if anything on him may have lead
to his death, or had a clue that the murderer left behind. And I
mean everything. Also, we must examine his body. So, if you'll
excuse me, please leave us to our work." Talking to rest of the
group, Vorn said, "If any of you are squeamish about dead bodies,
then you can leave. I, however, have seen enough in my career not to
be bothered. Let's get to work, people. Strip him down, look for
secret compartments, check his pockets, check the body, etc." Vorn
started unbinding Sloran's death-wrap as he spoke.
Kanth, in agreement with Vorn's suggestions, began to help with the
loosening of the garments. "This is all fine and well with me, but I
rrefuse a bodily orriface search. I'll leave that one up to you."
"Well I for one have seen my fill of this man and I don't plan on
getting intimate with any corpse," said Kalis with a look of
disgust. "I think I'll get some fresh air. All these perfumed torches
are making me stuffy."
Tithion stopped on the bottom stair and glared into the room and Vorn
in particular. "Have you no respect for the dead? All his belongings
are in the main house. Do you think he was wandering around the
streets dressed in this death wrap?" The noble paused and
sighed. "You no doubt have your reasons for your request, but if we
do not prepare the body soon we will need more perfumes and he will be
unfit for viewing. Please hurry with your analysis but do not disrobe
him. It will undoubtedly be your last act as inspectors if you defy
Traa'llor put his hand on Tithion's shoulder. "I will ensure they do
not disgrace him sir."
Kanth turned to the man and his mongrel companion and gave them a quizzical look while removing her hand from the bed
clothing upon the corpse.
"I assurre you sir-r-r, therre be no rreason to become angrry.
You've rrequested our-r-r aid, and in doing so must comply with our-r-r needs as long as they rremain within the boundrries of the law
"This rrequest, or-r-r should I say demand or-r-r thrreat, I will
uphold. I carre not to strrip a dead man of the last rremaining
honor-r-r he possesses. But, this does lead me to believe that
therre may be some hidden rreason as to why we should not look upon
his naked flesh.
"Is he mangled beneath that cloth? Brruises or puncture wounds we
arre not to know about? We have but seen his face and hands. In a
prroper-r-r investigation one would need to view the body in its
entirrety, but I will do as you wish.
"Maybe, it's the queeziness in your-r-r bowels that won't perrmit us
to do our-r-r job. If this is the case, I assurre you that the body
will rremain undefiled while we continue our-r-r duties herre, if
you werre to decide to leave us to earrn our-r-r wages. Whatever-r-r
be the case herre, we will not defy your-r-r request."
Kanth began to wonder if there was a way for her, or Shadow
preferably with his keen ability to disappear into dark crevasses, to
remain behind while the remainder of this ritual went on. They needed
to know why these people were attempting to contact the soul of this
Once they found out why they were doing this and what they were
seeking, they would have a better knowledge as to what they may be
facing. If they could ask a dead man where an artifact is, couldn't they
simply ask him who killed him or by what means did he die?
Shadow grimaced at Kanth's last suggestions and was wondering just
how far they could push their game before being escorted off the
property. He smirked a moment with another provoking
thought and blurted it out as if he had not even heard the previous discussion. "Yes, yes... and we will need a tub of water-r-r. We must
soak the body and r-remove whatever mystical components linger on his
skin. The water-r-r can be analyzed by our experrts. We will find
out what sort of heinous black magic was involved in Slorran's
"Absolutely not!" Roared Traa'llor. "And you, unhand those bandages.
You heard my lord's command." Traa'llor stood in the doorway and it
seemed he had grown, or perhaps it was his quiet demeanor that masked
his true size. Kalis, retreated back in to the room from the
mixed breed's aggression. He clearly did not want any part of this
"You will not undress him. You will not wash him. He was poisoned,
just as was reported to your post. And I will not have you soil my
brother's body." The large man-beast huffed with a look of pure rage,
but in his eyes tears began to form.
"Shhhh, calm yourrself my larrge frriend. We will do nothing to the
body of your'brrother-r-r' that your-r-r master-r-r has commanded us
not to," Kanth said stepping in front of the beast and holding up
two pleading hands. 'We've pissed them off enough,' she thought to
"Please listen," she continued, eyes locked with the large
humanoid, "You know as well as I that poison may not be the only
answer-r-r to his demise. Sorrcerry may have been administerred and
poison a coverr-up used to mask this. I underrstand your-r-r
concerrn and grrief at the loss of your-r-r fallen frriend and
brrother-r-r. We will desist."
Tithion stepped from the staircase and eased Traa'llor from the
doorway. "Do you presume to question the word of a noble?" Tithion
began with a deep growl on his voice. "Do not berate me with your
talk of morality and process. I know what evil lies in the ranks of
the Inspector's guild. What is your purpose here, hmm? To torment me,
to spy on our house? Or something else? This is my home, my land, and
I have dominion here. Even Chancellor Malechai has no authority here.
It is your place to find the one responsible for my son's death. Or
perhaps you are here to cover the tracks of your fat master?"
"Your inspection of Sloran's body has concluded. Do not make me
remove you by force." With that, the noble spun on his heel, black
robe fluttering as he turned, and stormed up the stairs.
Shadow knew better than to push them any further. He instinctively
took a step back from the cold, lifeless body, and took one more look upon
it. With a deep breath, he committed what he saw to memory. This would be
the last they got to look upon it. Perhaps there was nothing to hide under
the funeral wrap, but he was relatively certain that the bath would have
spoiled whatever attempts at speaking to the dead they had with the man.
Kalis straightened and cleared his throat, "I'll be getting that
fresh air about now, thank you." Then he inched past Traa'llor into the
room with the staircase.
Desperately trying to keep her calm demeanor, not that she was angry
or distressed at the noble's intolerance or sudden flash of
haughtier-than-thou attitude, but rather keeping herself from sudden
and uncontrollable laughter at the audacity of such statements, Kanth simply let
out a 'hrumph.'
She turned to Traa'llor saying,
"Traa'llor-r-r, I have the utmost rrespect for-r-r you and your
master-r-r as individuals with lives and souls who have rrecently
lost a loved-one, but in my land, we have no classes that would
place the averrage perrson in such a position as 'noble' or-r-r 'common.'
"We arre all one people, and with that comes rresposibilities. Some
people may deem themselves morre imporrtant than otherrs by their-r-r duty, such as a physician over-r-r a farrmer or-r-r hunter-r-r,
but without that farrmer-r-r, the physician would starrve and die."
"I know that you underrstand my meaning and wherre I come frrom. You
arre a serrvant to this 'noble,' and as such arre considerred less
than he. But you brreathe the same air-r-r and have a soul no less
imporrtant. Therreforre, you arre his equal.
"Again, we meant no harrm to you or-r-r your-r-r master-r-r. What
parrt our-r-r 'fat master-r-r,' Phineous, has in this I know not,
but I assurre you, we will do our-r-r damndest to find this
murrderrer-r-r and brring him to justice."
"But, if therre is anything we have not been made awarre of, it will
only hinder-r-r our-r-r prrogrress if it rremains unknown. I wish
that this werre an easy task, but it is not. Your-r-r help would be
Traa'llor stood silent.
After listening to Tithion throw his threats around, and seeing the
anger from Traa'llor. Cydric looked around, shrugged, and said, "Might as well
just go, we're called by Lord Tithion to come and investigate this murder, then
at every turn we try to make he blocks any chance of progress we might have.
So I for one care not why this man's dead. This whole investigation seems to
be nothing more than a facade anyway. It seems that all that's important is
some artifact, and not what happened to this man in his final hours. And for
the record, I wouldn't help Phineous if his life depended on it."
At that Cydric headed up the stairs after Kalis, not caring if he
stepped on any toes. The air sure did smell down there, but once again, it
wasn't from the dead man. Cydric thought to himself, 'I bet the reason Sloran
died was suicide. He probably realized that death was better than the insanity
in this house.'
Shadow stepped forward one last time, laying his hand upon the forehead of
Sloran and leaned over to whisper in the man's unhearing ear, "I will find
who is r-responsible for this, and make them pay. If you ar-r-re with us,
we would welcome your-r-r help." The request to a corpse might have seemed
strange to some, but Shadow felt the spirit of the man was close at hand.
After all, it had recently overwhelmed Tithion.
Vorn let Kanth try to calm Traa'llor then whispered to Shadow, "This gets even deeper. His son, eh?. And Traa'llor's
brother? Curiouser and curiouser. You think he's pissed off enough?"
Then Vorn said, quite loudly, "We won't disrobe him, I promise. We'll be done
soon." Vorn continued to press against bandages for any
punctures or cuts or lumps. Then as the thought struck him, he shouted up the stairs, "I'll need to
see his belongings!".
Traa'llor's shoulders slumped and the anger in his face
subsided. "I... I apologize for my outburst. It has been a trying
day and..." He looked about trying to avoid the gaze of the
onlookers. "Please finish what you must, but let us part before long.
The maidens need to finish preparing him." The large beast-man
turned, stood for a moment with his back to the inspectors, then hurriedly crossed the room and entered one of the other four doors on
the left. The clank of the metal handle echoed off the stone eerily.
Kanth watched as the massive humanoid left thinking to
herself, 'This fellow has baggage... And too much of it.'
From above, the shrill voices of the children laughing bounced around
the small catacomb. It felt a bit sacrilegious to hear laughter in a
place as somber as this tomb.
Kanth turned to her fellow-inspectors,
all except for Cydric who was now above ground. "Now that they'rre out of our-r-r fur-r-r, does anyone have any suggestions as to what we should
attempt next? I rrecomend finding this Blood fellow
Cydrric spoke of. Then, of courrse, we need to find this taverrn this dead
man had his last meal at and deterrmine the intentions of those
therre. I have a keen sense of smell for magical things, if I
haven't lost my sense completely in this blasted death-hole. This
place rreeks of foulness.
"Maybe I'll snoop arround a bit at this taverrn or-r-r whatever-r-r.
Who knows, we may rrun acrross exactly what we'rre looking for-r-r."
With a sideways glance at the others, Kanth continued,
"Oh yes, beforre it slips my mind, was therre an insinuation on the
parrt of Tithion concerrning our 'master-r-r' having something to do
with this, or-r-r am I rreading too much into his spouting?"
Without the noble or his mongrel son lingering, the inspectors had more
time to focus on details. Through the bandages and even rolling the
heavy body over to his side reveled nothing unexpected. Having never
performed an investigation of this sort, and not being given any
tutoring on the matter, the four debated the best approaches. Cydric returned
gave some unusual suggestions, places where even a pin prick of
poison might be effective or how some powders could be inhaled or
even absorbed through the skin; all the while feigning a story of
Whatever poison had caused the man's death seemed to have left few
traces. After some time, it became apparent that the killer's
identity would not be gained from the body alone. As it was, the hour
had moved into the afternoon and the weary inspectors had yet to eat
a decent meal. Their minds grew clouded with thoughts of sleep, and
in the case of Kanth, Vorn, and Shadow, their muscles began to ache
from the strain of the night prior.
Traa'llor emerged from his solitude appearing weak and red-eyed. "Please, if you will, let us leave this place. I will order a
noon-day meal for you." Looking again at Sloran's corpse, he turned
back to the inspectors, "And thank you for respecting our wishes."
He crossed the square room and rapped his large hand against the
door on the opposite wall of Sloran's catacomb. "Priestess," he said just loud enough to be heard through the
thick wood. "We will be leaving now."
The door opened and out stepped the three veiled figures from before.
All three were plump and their naked hands bore golden rings and a
blue crystal pendant hung from their necks. Each carried a basket
with small jars, bandages, and herbs, as well as religious tokens.
But what struck the inspectors as odd was the preoccupied look about
them. They did not break rhythm or look about the room and they
hummed a tune under their breath. The melody was common, one often
heard at funerals or at temples, but the words were unusual and
incomprehensible. As the inspectors exited the rectangular sepulcher,
the three ladies circled in and took their places around the body.
Traa'llor then closed the door as quietly as he could and escorted
the inspectors above.
Emerging from the cool dampness of the tomb, the group was awash in
hot wet air. Tithion, Kalis and the children had left moments earlier and were no doubt elsewhere in Tithion's vast homestead.