Day One: Bury Your Doubts
“Fold down your hands
Give me a sign
Put down your lies.
Lay down next to me
Don’t listen when I scream
Bury your doubts and fall asleep.”
Stick around long enough with this line of work, and you see enough drek. Sort of things I’ve seen, sometimes, it’s hard to fall asleep at night. That’s when all of it comes back to you, when your head’s too busy to do the decent thing and just let you kip.
Can’t win ‘em all, and the ones you lose… Well, they’re the ones that stick with you.
Someone whacked Leas Fel. That was one thing. And now someone’d gone and whacked Bartholomew, and done it to make a spectacle. Like I said to Kast, it’s pretty simple. Isn’t common in somewhere like Fallion’s Tears we have to deal with a murder. Mostly, it’s cheating, or theft, or an argument over missing ducks. Two murders, barely a week between them, and something starts to stink worse than Bartholomew’s hides.
Bloody as it was, I’d seen far worse.
First months on the job in Tremredare were rough. A stabbing where the vic was barely alive when we got there, still trying to hold loops of gut in. Died of course. The stench told us he was as good as dead. A tavern brawl turned ugly and you ain’t seen ugly until you see what’s in people’s heads. Poor bastard never woke up. I like to think that was for the better, sometimes.
No, I wasn’t especially disturbed by the murders themselves, but what they meant. Hell of a way for Bartholomew to go, though. Best as I could tell, as I wasn’t a doctor, looked to me from the blood as though Kast was right. Bart had died right there. In fact, from the amount of the blood, he’d lost most of it when they rammed that spike right through his chest, meaning he’d been aware and fighting them when he died.
As I said, hell of a way to go.
There aren’t many good ways to go, really. If I had my way, I’d pass quietly from this world in a comfortable bed, in my sleep. If you’d asked me a couple of months ago, I’d have put the odds of that as being pretty damned good. Somewhere like Fallion’s Tears is a far cry from the docks of Tremredare at night, where anyone’s as likely to whack you as the next.
Now though? With the murders going on, I was starting to get worried all over again.
Of course, maybe they weren’t connected. And maybe I was Lord Heron, Steward of Tremredare, in disguise. My gut told me that wasn’t likely at all. For one, the MO was the same. Chest wounds, and losing a drektonne of blood at the scene. For another, two murders barely a week apart in a sleepy little village like Fallion’s Tears? I just needed to tug at enough threads until I figured out how they were all connected.
Or things could get ugly, real fast.
Wyl took charge.
It was what he always did, stepping up to the plate, because it was clear as day that if he didn’t, things would spiral further. He didn’t like the way people were whispering about koloss and murders—of course, it didn’t make them wrong, especially where the murders were concerned. But back in Tremredare, last thing you wanted was gawkers on your scene. Even crowding around it. The ragtag group of volunteers that passed for a watch in Fallion’s Tears though, wouldn’t have known any of that. Keeping the gawkers from tramping all over his crime scene was pretty much the most he’d expected out of them.
Their crime scene, he supposed. Kast was staring at the spike, and he looked like he’d rather be working ten rioting cases back in the city than at this particular scene right now. Wyl didn’t blame him, but all the same he filed a mental note to talk to Kast afterwards.
He hadn’t cause to be unsure of Kast in years, but… he supposed you never really did know. Not now that someone was going around killing people in Fallion’s Tears with spikes. Plenty of people whacked in Tremredare, and until their dying breaths, they’d have sworn they trusted their business partner or their family members, or whoever their Nigel was. Honestly, sometimes, Wyl was sick of how predictable it was, the same bloody script playing out again and again. So no: a definite yes on talking to Kast, and just feeling him out.
Part of the reason he’d had Kast called down to the crime scene, really. He valued Kast’s eye on the problem, figured Kast knew a bunch more about spikes than he did, and more than anything else, Wyl wanted a clear, sharp glance at Kast’s reaction.
What he saw wasn’t especially helpful. Kast looked as though someone’d gone up to him and punched him repeatedly in the gut, which was a hard reaction to fake. So that was a point in his favour. He hadn’t expected the spike. Wyl hadn’t either, to tell the truth. Leas Fel’s death had looked like a stabbing. Straightforward, if you discounted the fact that killings weren’t thick on the ground, somewhere like Fallion’s Tears. Sure, they’d had their share of gambler’s disputes, and there wasn’t anything quite like boxings for showing up the darkness that lurked in everyone, but even then, Leas Fel’s death had sent shockwaves through the village.
But Kast hadn’t had much of a reaction until the spike. He’d been surly, closed-off, which Wyl figured could’ve just been the pain, but it was setting off red flags in his head anyway. So yeah, they needed to talk. He caught Kast’s eye, and Kast grimaced. Later, then.
The other problem at hand, and the really pressing one was keeping the villagers from panicking. These many gawkers at the scene set Wyl on edge. Sure, they were docile now, but who was to say they’d stay that way? Sometimes, scenes turned ugly, and crowds were always a devil to manage, especially if this one got itself all worked up chewing over the way Bart’d died, and especially all that mention of koloss. Everyone was already on edge from the Leas Fel stabbing, too. Last thing they needed was more public order drek, right on top of the murders.
He didn’t really have authority here, he figured his best hope of getting everyone to disperse was if Mayor Wilson showed up, but she’d left shortly after Wyl worked the scene. Something about a dispute between a storyteller and some other guy. Wyl hoped it was that important, and said so, because they needed her there to keep everyone calm. She’d asked him what he needed. So he’d told her the truth: he needed Kast at the scene, yesterday. Wyl wouldn’t have minded going to get Kast himself, but someone had to hold down the fort at the scene, and none of the Watch volunteers were going to be able to handle that, so hell, Wyl it was.
Of course, Kast wasn’t the guy you wanted if you wanted to actually give the gawkers some kind of direction, or get them to disperse, so that was bloody well going to be Wyl, all over again. As far as Wyl was concerned, this entire day was shaping up to be a real pain in the arse: just one bloody thing after another, really.
Tremredare had been that way. You had maybe ninety irons on the fire at once, if you were lucky, and Lord Ruler help you if you dropped any one of them.
“All right,” he called out, loudly over the murmuring of the crowd. “Fun’s over—I know you love your free shows, but poor Bart’s dead, and it won’t do anyone a lick of good if half Fallion’s Tears is staring at his body. You wanna think about what his family’s going to feel about this?” Bart had a boy, far as Wyl could remember. Foreigner kid by the name of Pie Roayong. Took him in, near seven years ago. Lord Ruler, this was going to be hard on the kid.
That, at least, had shamed some of them into moving off. Rest of them, he had a word with one of the volunteers—man by the name of Erik, solid as they came. Wyl knew the type: back in Tremredare, they were the ones you asked to do the difficult work, like interviewing the family of the vic when the corpse was still warm, and asking the questions that had to be asked. Running crowd control. UC work, too. The good liars weren’t always the reliable ones.
Erik had a farm on the outskirts of the village. Wife in the ground nearly a decade ago, as Wyl recalled. They’d moved from the Northern Dominance before Wyl had even come to Fallion’s Tears. But if you needed something done properly, Erik was your man. Right now, he needed someone to talk the rest of the gawkers into leaving.
“I can do that,” Erik said, nodding, when Wyl explained. “I’ll get some of the others, and we’ll clear the last of them out. You think the Mayor’s going to talk about it?”
“The koloss,” Erik grimaced as he glanced at the bloodstained walls of the shed. “I’ll get someone to clean this mess up, once you’re done here.”
“Probably has to,” Wyl said, though privately he doubted all the whispers of koloss. There were wild bands of koloss in the Remote Dominance. Was one of the Watch, prone to jawing while on duty, and he’d always talk your ear off about the tales of his uncle’s adventures, back in Tremredare, but Wyl’d never placed much stock in them. Koloss this side of Tremredare? Without the Lord Ruler’s say-so? Doubtful, though Wyl figured he’d talk to a few of his sources, see what they made of it. “Be good if you could do it, yeah.”
A most bloody business, murder was.
He strode over to where Kast was staring at the blood on the shed walls. Probably trying to commit them to memory. “Your play,” Kast said, without meeting Wyl’s gaze. Work with someone long enough, and you developed a kind of short-hand, a way to read each other without needing so many words. They were both getting into the flow of things, ticking the boxes, doing what needed to be done this stage of the investigation. Right now though, he wasn’t getting much off Kast. Wyl figured they’d have to talk about that later.
“Split,” Wyl said. “Mayor or Bart?” The cheating case could wait, as far as Wyl was concerned. He’d put in some time later. Another murder put a whole different complexion on things. Way he saw it, they could keep on filling in that timeline of Leas Fel’s movements and connections, and compare that to Bart’s, or they could talk to Wilson. Wyl wasn’t sold on the Mayor, but someone had to take charge, what with the murders and mentions of koloss. And he remembered that the Mayor and Leas Fel—they’d been friends once, hadn’t they? Always another connection to nail down, if they could.
“Bart,” Kast said, almost at once. He smiled half-heartedly, as though more from habit than because he felt it. “Leave you to make nice with the politician.”
“Sure, leave me to do the dirty work,” Wyl scoffed. He glanced over at the bloodied spike that Kast had retrieved, gleaming ominously in the morning light. Curious choice of weapon, Wyl thought. Normally, if you wanted to whack someone, you got a knife. Or if you were angry enough, you got whatever was ready to hand. Spike though? That was something different. Far as Wyl was concerned, that meant planning. He didn’t like that one bit at all.
“Hell of a way to go,” Kast said, quietly, echoing the direction of Wyl’s unspoken thoughts.
“Yeah,” Wyl said, and left to go see the Mayor about two dead men and a bunch of koloss.
The Mayor’s house wasn’t all that different from the others in Fallion’s Tears. Sure, it was in a nicer part of the village, but It wasn’t especially big or grand, the way the nobles and merchants in Tremredare sought continuously to outdo each other, building grand mansions while the skaa outside laboured and starved. Never was a shortage of those willing to build their palaces on an edifice of human misery. Still, hard to build big in a small place like Fallion’s Tears, Wyl figured.
He knocked on the door and waited.
A lot of investigative work went this way. You showed up and asked questions, and listened. And maybe if you were sharp, if you asked the right questions, if you noticed the way people’s bodies talked and betrayed them, you’d get some answers. And if you were very lucky, you got the answers you needed to crack the case wide open.
Wyl wasn’t feeling lucky, but it had to be done.
Just as he figured he needed to knock again, the door swung open.
“Sharpe,” Mayor Wilson said. “Figured you’d be by.”
“Didn’t imagine there’d be reason for doubt,” Wyl said. Stealthily, he wedged his foot in the crack of light between the doorframe and the open door. Didn’t think the Mayor would shut him out like that, but well, force of habit and all that. “Was always going to be me or Kast.”
“Kast?” Wilson scoffed. “Distrusts everyone. He’d probably prefer to jog three laps around the village than come talking to me.”
“Yeah, well, trust’s a rare commodity in our line of work,” said Wyl, even if the mental image was an amusing one, and even if Kast did have a tendency towards extreme paranoia. “Came by to ask you some questions, really.”
He didn’t really have any authority here. It wasn’t like they respected the badge either, in Tremredare, but there was a Heron in the Watch, and Herons had a way of getting things done. Must be nice, being related to the ruling Steward of the city. Here, they had to find more creative ways of getting people to talk. Wyl wasn’t sure if he’d have taken the Leas Fel or Bart cases on his own—he wasn’t Watch anymore. Hadn’t been in years.
But two people getting whacked just like that. It left a bad taste in his mouth. Law had to mean something, or it was pointless, all of it. Even somewhere like Fallion’s Tears, in the arse-end of nowhere. He didn’t like the idea that the world was coming apart at the seams, just enough that you could whack two people in Fallion’s Tears and no one would give a rat’s arse about that. Someone had to give a damn, and it looked like damn-giving was Wyl’s job, if no one else’s.
And the Mayor was paying. In theory, anyway. So that was the way it was going to be.
“Of course,” Wilson sighed. “Well, then. I suppose you’d better come in.”
She let him in, showed him to her study. He kept his eyes open, of course. A good investigator was observant, and after all these years, Wyl’d liked to think he knew enough of the fundamentals of his craft. He’d been to the Mayor’s house a few times, but as always, nothing jumped out at him—a few nice drawings on the wall, couple of fancy cups and plates on display in a cabinet, knick-knacks on a few shelves, but everything else was kept away neatly.
Her study was crammed with books and charts. Wyl craned his neck, trying to make sense of the crabbed handwriting and the links. “Genealogy is fascinating,” Wilson said. “Though I’d consider myself a dabbler, more than anything. Have a seat. Can I offer you anything to drink?”
He was tempted, but he shook his head. “Just some answers,” Wyl said. He let his gaze drift across papers and charts. He thought he saw a flash of what might have been some numbers, maybe something financial, but Wilson was already tucking that sheaf of papers away into a drawer.
She shrugged. “Suit yourself,” she said. “Well, how can I help you, then?”
“Lots of people out there running scared,” Wyl said. “Leas Fel, and now Bart. And all the talk about koloss. You going to talk to them?”
Wilson frowned. “I’ve sent Rowan out early to go have a look,” she admitted. Rowan was a hunter and tracker—Wyl figured if anyone could figure if there were koloss in the area, it’d be Rowan. “Don’t spread this about, understand, Sharpe?”
“Good,” Wilson breathed. “Rowan found tracks, some distance away. He says he isn’t sure if they’re human, but they’re larger than human tracks have a right to be.”
Wyl leaned forward in his seat. “Hell,” he said, at last. That didn’t leave very many palatable options behind. “But if they’re koloss, what are they doing, lurking and waiting?” Everything Wyl knew suggested that koloss were wild, difficult to control. Why would they be sitting anywhere near Fallion’s Tears as though they were Watch on a stake-out?
Hell, the idea there were koloss somewhere out there sat poorly with him. He felt as though he was walking through the docks district on night patrol again, the way any shadow or noise could be someone looking for trouble or ready to tangle with the Watch.
No one with any desire to keep on living tangled lightly with koloss, or at all.
“If I knew, Sharpe, I wouldn’t be sitting on this,” Wilson snapped, impatiently. Was she on edge because of the murders and the koloss? Wyl wondered. Or was there something else lying beneath that impatience?
“Yes, I’m going to talk to them. Call a village meeting later this evening, probably. More than anything, we need everyone to keep calm rather than panicking, and that means not worrying about koloss that might or might not be out there. And we need the militia to be ready. Just in case.”
Seemed to him to be contradictory, but Wyl wasn’t going to point that out. That was the Mayor’s job, not his, even if any thinking person would see the Mayor was insisting there wasn’t koloss out there, and also that the militia had to stand ready.
Politicians. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, Wyl just wanted to get his job done.
“Right,” he said. “I guess you have things well under hand. What about Leas Fel? Heard you were both close.”
This time, he got a reaction there. Wilson looked surprised, but also for an instant, Wyl thought he saw something that set off alarm bells in his head. Furtive, he thought. Wilson looked furtive. She blinked. Once, twice. Liar’s sign, said the former Watch in him. “He came by a few times,” Wilson said, at last. “There’ve been Fels in the area at least for the last two centuries or so, and he wanted to see if I could trace a branch of cousins.”
“We had our jokes,” Wilson added. “I guess he enjoyed the company. Gave him something to take his mind off his time in the army.”
He’d worked that much out. Leas Fel had been a former veteran in the local garrison, and had retired to the village he’d left. Far as Wyl figured, he’d either seen too much or too little. You didn’t retire without any visible scars unless you were pretty good with a sword. But that just added another wonderful layer of complications to everything.
“You got any reason why someone might want to whack him?”
Wilson raised an eyebrow. “You’ll probably be in a better position to figure that out,” she told him. “I’m as much at a loss as you are. Losing Fel like this, and now Bart…” she pressed her lips together in a tight line. “I don’t want the killer on the loose in my village, Sharpe.”
He got the point.
“I’m doing what I can,” Wyl said. It was the only promise he could safely make. Sometimes, your best just wasn’t good enough. And yet something deep in him rebelled at the thought. It was the same part of Wyl that cried out when they were told to drop a case because some noble got their trousers in a twist, call it integrity, or just a fundamental belief that the law applied equally to everyone or it wasn’t good for anything at all. Lady shouldn’t get away with whacking someone, just because he was skaa and she had the bluest blood this side of the Channerel.
But that was how it always went, wasn’t it? Same old script, same old play, written in power and privilege, and always, always blood, since the Lord Ruler had vanquished the Deepness built the Final Empire on the ruins of the old world. Or so the Steel Ministry told them all. Wyl wasn’t sure. He wasn’t much of a believing man, had never been.
They hadn’t liked that, not in Tremredare, the ancestral seat of House Heron. They hadn’t liked that at all.
“I’ll see myself out, then. Thank you for your time.”
“Watch yourself, Sharpe,” Wilson said. He tried to decide if it was a threat or warning. “The last thing I need is for you to end up dead, too.”
“Thing is,” said Wyl, “A lot of people’ve been telling me that. Still haven’t been whacked, though. I guess that must count for something.” Probably made him the luckiest bastard the Watch had seen, really. Though he guessed surviving this long, being this hard to kill was some kind of skill in itself.
The Day has begun and will end at 2300hrs SGT (GMT+8) on 1st March, 2021. PMs are open. Please remember to include the GM but not the IM in them.