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Chapter 17 - No one Beyond Suspicion


Donnel, the bar man guided the strange group through the pub's main room and out onto the patio. The breeze outside was a welcome distraction and seemed to make everyone relax a bit.

Kanth glanced over to the Kanis who had joined them and nodded, her head half-cocked, a sly grin on her face. It amused her as she noted the distance he placed between himself and she. With a slight nudge against Shadow's arm she pointed her chin at the Kanis and smirked even wider. It was obvious that he didn't commune with many people regularly, especially not those of the Phylinx race.

Playfully Kanth strode over to Sergie and simply stood ever closer, her tail occasionally flipping about his ankles. Cydric had begun talking to the barman about the whole situation, and all the while the Phylinx antagonized the fairly nervous Kanis, Kanth listened intently. Her feline senses were queuing in on any sign of fear or malice the dog-man could be emitting. Though standing stiffly and not looking in any particular direction, she soon bored of this game. "Interresting situation we find ourrselves in herre," she muttered to herself so the Kanis could hear. "Dead man turrns up in an alley, he's the 'adopted' son of a prrominant noble, obviously poisoned, and everryone acts as though they arre as surrprrised as the next. Someone's a faux."

Donnel took a deep breath and cut to the chase as soon as Cydric was done with the introductions. "Well then, what questions ya got of me? I'm sure you know more 'bout what's going on than I do. People round here call me Donnel and that lad's Maro," he motioned to the man that accompanied the inspectors. There was at least fifteen years difference between the bar man and friend of Sloran, though Maro was still quite a bit older than Vorn or Cydric appeared.

Cydric, with one hand resting comfortably on his short sword the other his pipe, looked at both men and replied, "Myranda, we heard you say that due to Sloran's death she stayed home today. What was the relationship between the two? Good friends, lovers, family? We 're looking for information that Lord Tithion either wouldn't know, or wouldn't tell us. The sort of things that only close friends would know, and not a parent. Also we've deduced that he was probably at this pub last night, and we'd appreciate if we could talk to you and any of your patrons that were here last night. Maybe you might have caught a glimpse of Sloran's killer, but hadn't realized it at the time." At that Cydric took a long pull from his pipe and looked at his fellow inspectors, making sure they felt the same.

"Lovers?" Donnel scoffed, "No, but he was quite fond of her."

But by the look on Maro's face, that was not entirely true. "That was the news I had to give her." Maro interjected. He fished around in his pocket and withdrew a golden ring, "he told me to keep this safe until he returned. He was going to ask to wed. I know it might break her heart further, but she must know."

With a look of disbelief, Donnel added almost defensively, "well, the lad looked fine enough when he showed his face. Even shared some cakes and joked with Myranda before I let her off. By the time he left though, he looked pale as a ghost. I thought the boy simply had too much to drink. That is, until they found him slumped by his cart just over there." Donnel pointed a fat finger to the corner of the street not fifty paces off. "I sent Clara off to fetch Tithion's men but a militiaman offered his services and carted Sloran and Myranda off. Myranda stayed with him till this morn'n. Like I said, the boy drank a bunch so I thought nothing of it till Myranda told me." He shook his head sadly. "Poor lass."

The Phylinx woman scratched her whiskers for a moment, then asked, "This militia-man who carrted Slorran and Myrranda off, who was he. And she stayed with him till this morrning? This is news we werre unawarre of. How do folks 'rround these parrts expect us to solve crrimes when we'rre never-r-r told whole trruths? If I didn't need a steady income, I'd be chasing another-r-r way of life..."

"The militia man? I don't recall a name, but he had two youths with him." When Donnel was prodded for names he recognized Van and Herrold. Apparently Kalis had to call them to action quite a bit during the whole affair.

Cydric looked back at the barkeep and the other man, "Well this is a bit interesting, why do you think Lord Tithion and all in his house hold neglected to tell us that Myranda stayed until the morn? Could it be she was of ill repute or of a lower class and Tithion forbid Sloran from seeing her, hmmm? Cydric asked, then let out a great billow of smoke and stared hard at both men. He was starting to realize that besides information on Myranda's whereabouts, these two were useless.

It looked like Donnel was about to add his T'arg to the conversation again, but Maro cut him off. "Sloran's father didn't approve of Myranda. She wasn't the spiritual type. And... being a bar maid..." Maro waited to see what Donnel's response would be. And sure enough, the older man's face began to grow red with anger. Maro waited for just a moment longer and as Donnel was about to blurt something out, he finished up with, "Well, Tithion didn't think they were compatible."

Maro turned away from the bar man so that his smirk would not be visible. The noble's son took pleasure in his status and relished the feeling of power; even just the power to get under someone's skin. His family name tended to protect him from the laws and wrath of common men, and for that at least, he thanked his father.

Under his breath he whispered to the inspectors, "You know the reputations of wenches." He winked. Behind him, Donnel crossed his arms over his chest and scowled.

Shadow considered all that was spoken and muttered, “Either-r-r Myrranda was the poisoner-r-r, or ther-r-re was another-r-r medium. Purrrhaps his drrink was poisoned. Cydrric tasted the very powder-r-r from Slorran’s corpse, and was none the worrse for wear-r-r. And still, we cannot r-rule out a mor-r-re mystical means of murder-r-r.” He threw up a paw indifferently and stated, “Doesn’t matter-r-r one way or another-r-r. We will have to question her-r-r accorrdingly. Would you like us to give her-r-r the r-ring when we do?”


"No, I should do it," Maro said with a bit of a sadness.

Kanth let out a muted 'hrumph.' "Cakes and joked with Myrranda, you say," she began. "We will need to speak with her-r-r immediately. Maybe I was corrrect in my assumption back at Tithion's concerrning our warriness of this lass. I don't trrust women in the least."

"Now hold your tongue!" Growled the bar man, "Myranda was as fond of Sloran as he was of her. She is a good hearted lass and so far as I know has never had ill will for anyone."

Maro nodded in agreement.

"Aye?" Kanth said questioningly, her disapproval obvious in her tone "Frrankly, I don't carre if Myrranda is the High-Prriestess of Deptjas or Yrys themselves, she's a suspect just as anyone else who has had contact with Slorran this past eve. And your-r-r tone with an Inspector-r-r is intolerrable," she slammed a fist into her open palm to annunciate her last word. "You will rretrract your-r-r hostility and tone immediately or-r-r face the consequences therreof."

She obviously meant business. This may have been Kanth's third day as an Inspector, but she most assuredly was not going to be 'growled' at by some meager barkeep. Her authority might be questioned as far as the morals of her employer, but she would demand the respect that her position entailed. And that much had become apparent to those around who did not quite know this female Phylinx as well as Shadow or Vorn would.

Cydric's eyes went wide at Kanth's sudden outburst of anger. He knew how hard it was for the other races to gain respect in these parts, and knew that Kanth had justification for her anger. Cydric slowly puffed on his pipe as he watched the two men stammer and sputter in true amazement. Apparently they two were stunned by the Phylinx's anger. Cydric wasn't sure, but with Kanth standing so close to Sergei he could have sworn he saw the Kanis jump a few feet in the air.

The bearded Donnel seemed to fumble for a response and finally sighed. This time his tone was a bit more polite, "I suppose I'm a conspirator too in yer books. Its just that I don't take kindly to strangers accusing my niece of such a devilish thing. If you need to speak with her I gave Maro the directions." He scratched his chin through his three-day-old beard and asked, "If that's all the service I can be, I have work to do."

Shadow looked back to the barkeep and asked, “Who was serrving the couple that night? Who brrought them their-r-r drrinks? And did you happen to notice Slorran carrrrying any package?”

Maro shrugged. "I wasn't there."

Donnel, still brooding over the earlier statements replied, "What package? He carried a strange tin, if that's what you mean? Something like this big, but like a tube." With his hands he marked out an imaginary shape roughly the length of his forearm and half as wide. "It was quite old looking, all covered in rust pocks. Only reason I noticed was because I saw the symbol of a wheel on it. I've seen that before, but I don't remember where."

"And who serrrved them?" Shadow pressed.

"Myranda served his drinks. I don't let my employees drink before their shift is over, but Sloran shared a sip or two with her. T'was a slow night so Myranda was able to linger with him a bit through the night. Oh, and he had his cakes with him. Something he picked up along the way, he said."

When asked if Sloran left with the "tin", Donnel nodded. "Even as ill as he seemed, he did not let that out of his sight. Even banged it against my door on the way out."

"Was it with him when he was found?" continued Shadow.

"I - I don't recall. His wagon was picked up by his lord's men not long after they took him to Tithion's manor. Mind you, we didn't think about his possessions at the time. He had left a while before we found him. To be sure, if someone wanted his belongings, they would have had ample opportunity. He wasn't in the best of shape any how."

Cydric looked at Donnel and asked, "Would you mind showing us at which table
Sloran sat at last night?"


Donnel pointed a fat finger at a table near the center front of the bar where the four merchants that Vorn spoke with had been seated. It was empty for the moment and in need of clearing. "I can show you the door, what good it will do. There are many marks. The only marks I remember are the ones I made by throwing some rascle out."

Cydric replied, "there might be a clue or two we might possibly pick up. I know that due to the heavy traffic of patrons since then it'd be a slim chance, but it could be useful. Also where was it exactly that he banged the tin? In the door jam?"


Donnel nodded.


"If Sloran was poisoned either through the wine or cakes, I wouldn't worry too much about Myranda sipping the wine... if she in fact only had a few sips, but did she eat any of the cakes that he had?"


"Yes, he shared them with several people."

Shadow nodded as he followed the discussion. He added one more question, shifting his weight from his left foot to his right, “Do you r-recall seeing any suspicious looking characterrs within the taverrn while Slorran and Myrranda were there? Someone who wasn’t a norrmal taverrn fly?”

"No. We get the usual travelers and friends of travelers. Certainly nothing as odd as your group, inspector."

Kanth, still a bit steamed from the barkeep's previous comment looked up from her thoughts. "Again with the veiled insults... I can only take so much of this beforre I get verry agrravated. Odd you say now," she said closing the gap between herself and the bold human, her face mere inches from his, the odor of cream thick on her
breath. "Why, because we'rre not all human? Yes, we arre a mixed band; a forreign human, a rrougish human frrom these parts, two Phlynx', and accompanied by a Kanis. Is this as rrarre as seeing a goblin and a knoll stalking the rroads at night for prrey to waylay? I think not."


Kanth continued, squinting her eyes to stress her foul mood. "Again, no morre warrnings. Watch your-r-r tone with us sir-r-r. We've been dealing with pompous noble sloths," she says casting a flaming glance at the younger man standing beside the barkeep. "And, quite frrankly, I'm only speaking for-r-r myself, I'm fed up with
this arrrogance! Odd," she adds glancing back to her party. "The stones on this one must be hanging to the grround."

Vorn, who had been quiet until now lead the Phylinx away, putting himself between her and the fuming bar owner. "Kanth, calm down! Save your anger for ones who truly mean to spite you. Getting angered about insults out of pure ignorance is just bigotry, and we should simply try to correct that. However, if he continues... I'd say the charges of assaults upon both Shadow and Cydric would land the bartender in jail for quite a while... of course, you and I would vouch that it happened of course." Vorn winked.


Turning his head to the bartender, "Now come on, you. If you agree to not say any more comments about how diverse our group is, I'll agree not to lock you up." With
the bartender bewildered, Vorn continued, "Now, now let's all go inspect the table and the door."




While the inspectors swarmed over the table and the doorway, Sergie took a moment to eye the vial Cydric had given him. The few flakes of off-white powder certainly would not be enough for an adequate test. It would be difficult and draining, but he was sure he could make some more. That, after all, was what made him so valuable to Eric. Eric himself only knew a few of the arts of the magi, but Sergie was far more skilled. It was hard to find texts these days due to the religious fervor against sorcery, but Eric was resourceful despite his "honor".

The study of Metamorphosis included many aspects that often eluded the common student. Amplifying, molding, and shaping were all common themes, but too often a student forgot the most obvious of tricks; duplicating.

With something so simple as a powder, it would be easy. Though Sergie did not relish the thought of the exhaustion it would cause. It seemed to be a universal law of magic. Channeling powers to shape the material world required significant strain that left the sorcerer's body wracked with pain and drained of life force. Even priests seemed to suffer the same fate. Somehow the miracles of their gods was similar to the magic of sorcery. But to speak those thoughts aloud was heresy.




Sitting, stooped over his table, Phineous eyed the rats in the cage. They squirmed and crawled on each other seemingly blind to their predicament. The box was inescapable. And so too would be their fate if Phineous' hunch was right.

"They've been out in the sun as I asked?" Phineous spoke to the rat catcher through the wires of the cage. The rat catcher nodded. "Good. Thomas, pay him from my coffers." The fat man dared not lift the cage for fear the rats might bite. And they could do more than just rend flesh.

Phineous knew too well what starving rodents were capable of. Back when youth and starvation were near to him, the long summer drought drove the forest rats into town. Those that were too weak or suffered from dead nerves woke to the rats feasting on their flesh, biting down to bone. And those that survived the feasting died not long
after of fever and festering wounds.

It was during that time that Phineous grew to despise them, detest them; fear them. The old man that had been his neighbor was reduced to a writhing mass of fur and teeth and the sight of it would stay with the master inspector to his final days.

"Thomas, move these vermin to that spot," he pointed to the corner of his office. As Thomas gripped the cage with the finger tips of his gloved hand, Phineous could feel his chest constricting as he watched. The rats did not seem to notice that one of their kind was already dead.

Once in place, Phineous lifted a small goblet filled with a clear liquid. "If I am right, they will begin dyeing shortly after they drink it." He poured the water into the cage with a certain satisfaction. The thirsty rodents lapped eagerly at the water that
pooled in the dirt. "Even diluted, the poison should be lethal," he mumbled.

Within moments, the rats slowed their pace and before an hour had passed, all six were dead. "Well Thomas, I think we know how the sergeant died."


Chapter 18


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