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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 unusual.

 

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 yelling, "no!"

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 was said.

"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 priestess?"

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 fast."

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 my will."

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 and morrales."

"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 lost one.

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 demise."

"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 feud.

"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 herself.

"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 most apprreciated."

 

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 briefly and 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 second-hand knowledge.

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.

 

Chapter 14
 

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