BLOOD MASS AT CASTLE GRASH-NATAK
By Johann Mendellin
Midnight struck, and a shadow fell on Xanthera on the eve of hallowed souls. The children cavorted in the streets while the men made merry in the bars and brothels. A scream pierced the merriment, and all faces were drawn to Manor O’Fayr. The guards burst into the home, but found naught but a scene of depravity. Blood painted the walls, and the servants lay dead and brutalized, sliced by villainous blades and more terrifying things. Not present at the scene was the lady of the house, Elia O’Fayr, beauty of Bawerstrom.—–Illyvanisash Eryonigray, elf baker of Xanthera, look fearfully upon the towering form of Frederick Renedan, Chief Investigator of the Xanthera Civil Guards. Fredrick stood at six-half foot, wore a black frock coat and had his ebon hair, which drifted past his shoulders, tied in a lordly knot. His glare, accentuated by his powerful eyebrows and high cheek bones, seemed to strip the mystic deceptions from the elf, making him shudder and whimper.
“Mr. Eryonigray, witnesses have you outside Manor O’Fayr at the stroke the midnight,” declared Fredrick, holding his hands behind his back. The sunlight shining through the window glinted off the symbol of the Light Spirit hung around his neck, and the elf blinked feebly in its light.
“Oh, but I know not of anything,” squealed the elf, cowering into his chair, “I had only been on my way home for my family’s celebration of hallowed souls. I saw nor heard nothing but the scream.” The elf wrung his hands, looking at the door and back to Fredrick. He recoiled from the gaze that so held him.
Fredrick took a notebook from his desk, flipped through it, and showed a page to the elf. It had a written statement from Mdm. Nerisha, devotee to the Light Spirit and frequent contributer to the royal guard. “It says here that Madam Nerisha, a most respectable word, saw you outside the manor with a suspicious look. Once she made eye contact with you, you fled down an alley as if cast there by the Light Spirit. This was after the scream pierced Xanthera.” Fredrick placed the book on the desk in front of the elf, who looked read it at length. Fredrick bent down, bringing his face closer to the elf’s. “What you say now can mean finding one of Xanthera’s most fair. Would you have her blood on your hands were we not to find her in time?”
“Gods, yes! I admit it! I saw the crime,” the elf shouted, grabbing his head and bursting into tears, “I was on my way home, I swear that it’s true! But on my way I was stopped by a terrible orc. He stopped me in the street, and I thought I had been stopped by the Dark Spirit himself. He wore a red cloak that shrouded his face in shadow, but for a broken tusk and those red eyes that glowed from the darkness. He identified as the Caller, and he ordered that I hold watch. He said that if I moved before his call, he would visist such horror upon me and my home a week hence. I sat for him, but the sight of the priestess drove me to such terror that I fled down the alley.”
“Was that all you saw?” questioned Fredrick, allowing his voice to soften to a lighter tone that seemed to extend the hand of sympathy and friendship.
“No! For when I ran down that way, I ran right into the mad orc himself. With him he had a group of demonic servants, flesh made mobile, the walking dead! Upon one’s shoulder was the fainted form of Lady O’Fayr. The Caller looked at me with such hate, I thought I should die of some curse right on the spot. But he said nothing, and disappeared into a portal of smoke and flame.” The elf shook at the memory, quivering on the chair and gasping with a rattled breath.
“How could you be sure it was O’Fayr?” said Fredrick, raising his voice to the point of interrogation, “could a lowly, elfish baker possible have the company of her lady?”
The elf looked up to Fredrick, “who else could it have been, so beautiful even in faint?” he spoke with eyes wide with wonder at the sight of O’Fayr, a pleasure few of Xanthera can boast.
Fredrick closed the book, straighten himself, and nodded at the elf. “Mr. Eryonigray, I thank you for your cooperation. With this we may yet find her ladyship O’Fayr before it’s too late.” He extended his hand as he spoke, “That’s all I need you for. You are free to go.”
Eryonigray bound up and took Fredrick’s comparatively massive hand in both of his, and shook so as to pull the arm out of a weaker man’s socket. “Oh thank you, but please I need your help! Tonight at midnight it will be a week since that dreaded day, and I fear for myself and my family. I beg you give me some guards, if only for the night!”
Fredrick clapped the elf on the shoulder, which almost proved too much for his legs to handle. “Consider it done. We won’t let one of Xanthera’s prime examples of a citizen be harmed. You will have two men outside your home tonight.” The elf’s face broke out into a smile that stretched across his face. Fredrick returned with a somber smile, and followed the elf out of his office.
Fredrick walked down the street from the barracks. Winter winds buffeted him, and he held his hat to his head. He criss-crossed his way across Xanthera, and entered Lucky’s, his favorite tavern for considering cases. It wasn’t the best, neither in venue nor patrons, but it was quite and the rustic, dwarven asthetic helped clear his mind. Lucky the dwarf gave Fredrick a searching look when he entered while cleaning a glass.
“Another case, chief?” quipped the dwarf gruffly. The bar was empty but for some dirty glasses on the tables, and Barry, an old orcish drunk he never seemed to leave. He slept on the counter, giving the two of them privacy.
“Not just any case, Lucky. This might be my toughest yet.” Fredrick plopped down on his usual seat, and set his hat on the counter. “I’m on the O’Fayr case.”
Lucky hocked a gob of spit across the bar. “You’re crazy, kid! The guards been tearing this city up looking for that broad. Hell, they shook me up, and I mean for more than the usual free beer. You aint got a chance.”
“I’ll take the usual, Lucky.” Fredrick rubbed his forehead as Lucky fixed up his usual drink, an ambiguous mixture of alcohol, water, and Lucky’s secret, dwarvish ingredient. Fredrick sipped the concoction, savoring the taste, the one mystery he’s yet to crack. “We just got a lead. An orc in red who calls himself “The Caller.” An elf by the name of Eryonigray spotted him carrying the lady off.”
Fredrick told the story, which Lucky sneered at. “That elf’s a rat. I wouldn’t trust what he says half so far as you could throw him.”
Fredrick furrowed his brow at the outburst. “What do you mean by that Lucky? He’s an ordrinary baker from what I know. Seemed near scared enough to soil himself.”
“I don’t care how he acted around you; you’re not some lie detector you know. I’ve seen him with some suspicious folk before. They say he runs with the Knife-Ears, and you know what kind of shit they get into. I wouldn’t be surprised if he were actually working for this creep, not just playing door man. Who pulls ablooded elf from a crowd and asks him to do something out of the dirt? It smells as bad as an orc in heat.”
This accusation troubled Fredrick. He paid for his drink, and left the tavern. The sun had begun to set, and night had fully fallen when he returned to the barracks. He addressed the guard manning the front desk.
“Corporal!” commanded Fredrick, staring into the man’s eyes with the intensity of a man betrayed, “I want to set up another interrogation with Eryonigray, the elf from before, and I mean now. Give me his address.”
“Well sir it’s on the edge of town, just south of here if you walk ten minutes. Here’s the address.” The corporal handed a paper with the address written on it to Fredrick, who pocketed it. He left the barracks and began down the road in pursuit of the address.
He found the house, and knocked upon the door. The home answered in silence. He banged on it, shouting the elf’s name, his voice booming powerfully down the streets. Still silence. The clock declared midnight, and a scream pierced the night. Fredrick jumped at the peal, but gathered himself, for he was made of tougher stuff, and sprinted in the direction of the sound. Shouts disrupted the peaceful Xantheran night, and Fredrick used his keen hearing to guide his way.
He stumbled into a wider alley, and was met with the smell of death and decay. Corpses littered the alley, including two men-at-arms, and an elf woman and her two children. The bodies lay torn and bloodied, the bodice torn off the lady. Eryonigray, the fidgeting elf from before, stood in the center of the scene drenched in blood.
“Eryonigray! Elf! What happened, what is the meaning of this?” Fredrick rushed forward and grabbed Eryonigray’s shoulder. The elf turned to Fredrick, who jumped from the sight. The elf breathed on Fredrick, and the stench intensified. His eyes rolled back into his head, and his jaw hung slack. He answered with a groan, and pounced on Fredrick, emitting an animal-like howl!
HOW WILL CHIEF INVESTIGATOR FREDRICK GET OUT OF THIS? FIND OUT IN NEXT WEEK’S EXPLOSIVE ISSUE OF BAWERSTROM’S NUMBER ONE JOURNAL “AMAZING ADVENTURES!”