On the Eve of my Graduation's Anniversary,I see that as we all continue down the road of time our world is beginning to disintegrate. Like an artifact retrieved from a far off land, I am beginning to see that I do not belong. This new world… this new Antiford…
Today the local constable requested my services. I grabbed my bowler and some tools and headed out. It was another murder… clear cut. I pushed for the evidence crew to do their bloody jobs but, of course, they claimed there was no need. This body, no… this helpless man, would join countless others in one of the many mass graves beginning to surround the city. How many others see it? How many others care?
It was clear he had been murdered… or mugged. Died so another could live. His money stripped, his water taken. Nobody needs more bread… no… water. One cup of water was worth the lives of two men. Can you believe it? Outlaws, outcasts; bounties could be collected on anyone for a single glass full. What was common to fall from the sky is now a death sentence. Imagine what someone would do for a canteen? Murdering one for a canteen? It’s a win-win. One man dies so a family could live… or one man dies today to keep another alive for three more days.
These crimes are becoming more common, more rampant. The police… pfft… police. We have nobody policing anymore. We have the uniforms and the boys playing coppers! Then we have the soldiers… and then you have outlaws and pirates! There is no rule anymore… only suffering.
Who can help these farmers? These families? I once thought I could aid by insuring the dead had a voice. Now… Now I am unsure if the living can even speak.
I’m wondering if maybe a change of scenery would do me good. Antiford is only one nation… but escaping from this place is not as easy as grabbing a bag and walking. So… the question becomes… how can I leave? How will I escape…
Why should the dead have a voice if the living chose to cover their ears…
The Golden StarI was almost ready to consider a plan to hijack a water cart and barter my way onto an airship when I received a telegram from Barnaby Stempleton. That deputy detective had heard from the man that they were stumped on a new case. It had happened only hours before and it threatened to drag into the night. Before the coroner stopped by to clean up thee evidence, Barnaby said I better get down there, fast. What was it to me? Maybe a paycheck? Maybe one last case?
No, it was a free meal at a tavern early in the morning. SO I grabbed my hat and ID; Kent Nicholas. Once again, I was off into the day.
I found myself through Argenstrath's public transportation networks. After spending a few drops on on a pastry (just like a real copper), I found myself out back of a local nightclub in an alley filled with coppers. I was brought to where the body was lying on the ground, a coroner analyzing the body on the ground. Barnaby was quick to welcome me and show me to the man.
Detective Grimwall seemed unhappy with my being there. Not surprising, Grimwall is considered the top Detective in Argenstrath, specializing in the dead, however. This was one creepy cat. Because of this specialty he hung out in the many morgues of Argenstrath. He could almost be considered more of a mortician then a Detective.
"So, you think you can find something we missed?" he smeared my way.
"I was just invited to look," I said, turning my attention to the body.
A middle aged man lay dead. The coroner had moved his body so he lay on the ground, arms crossed on his chest. His waistcoat had been torn, buttons missing. His frilled white shirt had a spot of blood surrounding a small stab wound. His head was beaten in, and his short black hair was pressed against his head. He was missing a single shoe, which I could spot from my standing position. His purse had been retrieved from his pocket, and laid beside him.
"So... what do we have?" I asked.
"Robert Linagem," stated Barnaby, "The ol' chap was a banker on the stocks branch. Wheat, I believe. Looking at his affects, he appeared to be on business."
"Stabbed... in this alley," Grimwall was clearly annoyed and wanted to be done with it, "Some local... life noticed the body. He was dead and cold at the time. We arrived and surveyed the area. He was stabbed with this."
Grimwall handed me a strange dagger. I had never seen such stone craft. A Bone studded handle with one of the sharpest black-stoned blades I have ever seen. The strange markings on it seemed to point to a dialect I did not recognize, but I assumed the base language was that of Vibranni. A very discernable Golden Star had been etched into the bottom of the hilt. This caught my eye, as Vibranni did not draw stars as humans did, nor take as big of notice as other species.
I noticed the knife looked pretty clean, so I went to look down the body. As I kneeled over the body, I was surprised that it didn't look like much had been done besides moving it.
"Where was the body originally found?" I asked.
"Over there," said Grimwall, "By the dumpster. Anyway, you see that the knife is obviously Demon. Check his purse."
I opened the purse and flipped through the small bag of contents. Identification, papers, some nick nacks. So much stuff to have in your purse. However, besides his bank card and pre-made out empty checks, no actual money could be found.
"Mugged, not a cent on him. And no sign of a canteen, flask, or anything. Water, water, water," said Grimwall.
"These are tough times," Barnaby said, "At least we've secured our jobs for the time being. Imagine if there was no need for keepers of the peace? Why, it might as well be me running around with a knife, yeah?"
"If he was mugged... then why not take his checks? Or Bank card?" I asked, "He's got to have enough dough in there to make anyone murder him. That could mean the difference between life and death for a family."
"Maybe he just didn't think about it," said Barnaby.
"More likely? Maybe he wasn't a he... but a damn Demon!" Grimwall spat the accusation, "We have the knife! What more do you want?"
"Got your mind made up before all the evidence is retrieved, copper?" asked I, maybe a little too cocky for my own good.
Grimwall obviously took offense, and I knew I had said enough to set him off, but he kept his cool.
"Isn't that term slightly old-fashioned in the now-a-days recession?" he asked.
"You prefer I use 'Tin Men'? Besides, Detective, you're old enough to have made Copper back when they could afford proper badges. You telling me you aren't wearing the same badge now."
"Enough out of you, mate," said the coroner, "I got work to do. If you have a point about evidence, say it now."
I shot him a glare before taking a breath, "So, he was stabbed with this knife, right? Real nice knife... not a drop of blood on it."
"It was wiped by the murder chap," smiled Barnaby.
"Demons aren't that smart... I don't think," stumbled Grimwall.
I had to admit... I think he was right. Those giants were not the best source of masterminding intelligence. However, I mean... they could... but, I still didn't believe they did this.
"And where's all the blood?" I asked.
Nobody responded, but it was clear to see. If someone gets stabbed, dead immediately or not, there's alot of blood that attempts to exit the body. The wound and his white shirt seemed almost... clean. Well, for a stab wound. That shirt would've been soaked. And looking around the alleyway, I could spot no blood pools or splatters.
"What would you surmise, Detective," I said, knowing if I didn't give him the chance to be the smart one I would likely lose a meal, "I know you didn't miss it."
"Lack of blood would only mean... he didn't bleed." said the Detective, realization spreading on his face, "So... this bastard was stabbed after death."
"Which means stabbing was not what killed him," I smiled, turning to the coroner, "Anything else on his body?"
"Nothing to indicate death," he said, bending down to re-examine the body.
"So... most likely? Poison. So... would muggers use poison? No. This is not a mugging... he was dumped here. And why stab a body you poisoned?" I paused to allow poor Barnaby to catch up, "With this knife so clean... I think with a little work we can end up saying it doesn't fit the wound. Meaning it was planted to throw us off. Know, the killer planned this and, odds are, is no Demon. This is as human as it gets."
"Brilliant," said Barnaby, his smile annoying Grimwall, "Now... who did it? Can you tell? By his shoe, perhaps? Maybe something on his collar?"
I'll tell you what... never have I ever wanted to slap someone so hard...
"Interesting tale, Nicholas," said Grimwall, "Be sure we will keep it under advisement. But I see no purpose in delving deeper into this case. It's a mugging gone wrong because of a damn Demon. Simple, evidence loves it."
"I mean... we don't have enough evidence to really drag this out," said Grimwall, "We'll probably have three more just like this waiting for us tomorrow morning."
"You have... plenty of evidence," I said, getting slightly angry, "You're just going to... throw this away? I handed you a calculated murder charge!"
"You gave us a story based on conjecture," said Grimwall, "We are the professionals and are more then capable of dealing with this and deciding what is evidence and what is coincidence!"
"You just told me you gave up!"
"It's not giving up if you cannot succeed. What do you want me to do?"
"Gents, please. Compose yourselves," Barnaby said.
"Well, who would have thought," I said, standing and crossing my arms, "It appears even the wall is made of Tin."
"You are dismissed, Kent!"
I felt heavy, and empty. But as I found myself glaring at Detective Grimwall and being gawked at by his entire staff, I realized I really hadn't figured this would end any different. I should have seen the pattern. The past few weeks... the evidence always seemed so... easy to read. I realized I was partly to blame just as much as any of these other Tin Men.
Barnaby walked me off the scene. He offered condolences and tried to reassure me the only reason I was thrown out was due to challenging Grimwall and that the evidence would be looked over and proper investigations started. But I knew better. I knew that that man... that victim...
I don't even remember his name... Can you believe that? It comes and goes... But I remember that dagger... and I remember that Golden Star.I should have seen it for the beacon that it was, and not another puzzled memory. But I ran home, not interested in eating. And I wasted another three cups to get ahold of some grog. Hoping the haze would allow me to forget.
Curse of the DesertI found myself another week older, and I had doubled my tobacco intake as my pipe saw more use then it ever had. I had spent the weekend packing. A good portion of my possessions were on their way to a border port called Porista. There I had worked my way out of the country, and I needed it.
My relationship with the Detectives had really gone downhill. I was disgusted. The number of mugging killings as well as robberies gone wrong had gotten completely out of hand, and the ones that stood out as irregular I was taken away from as soon as I showed interest. I had begun to blatantly object to the new attitude taken towards these events, and I could see the writing on the wall when it came to the corruption taking place. I even began to wonder if a few in the force were actually straight shooters.
And now, whether or not my conjectures are true, they were gunning for me.
I was almost done with this town when a knock aroused my attention. Heading to my front door, I slipped my short-barreled flintlock into my pocket and cocked back the hammer. I unlocked the large padlock and then turned the bulkhead lock. The door opened inward, and I peered out onto my stoop. A short man with a tight waistcoat and thick spectacles stood there. He gazed up at me and and seemed to glare.
"Kent Nicholas?" he asked sternly.
"Aye," I replied, unsure of what to expect.
"I expected more," said the tiny man, standing a little straighter, "I'm from Gearford. We heard you are really good at picking out the odd. The local detectives have been unhelpful, so we would like your expertise before you head off."
"How did you know I was jumping tracks?" I asked.
"Uhm... Detective. Duh."
Although I felt like punting the small man right there, I retreated into my room, leaving the door open for him.
"I'm not interested," was all I said.
"We can pay handsomely,"
"As I am paying to leave," I stated firmly.
"A creature is lose in Gearford, sir!" said the Man, "He killed two people last night, the brute."
"Sounds like you need a hunter..."
"The woman is no where to be seen, and nobody knows who she is," continued the little man quickly, "No sign of her ever being there besides eye witness accounts. However, the man... he is dead. We know that. We don't know how they are connected, but the man is well known in Gearford and his wife is in an uproar. If we don't catch the brute that killed this man and the unknown female then we could have outright panic on our hands."
"What's your name?" I said.
"Detective Herman Jershire, At your service," said the little man.
"Jershire, I'm sure it is way above your grade, but Let me tell you something about Gearford," I crossed my arms and leaned against the sofa, "The police force is getting soft. Nobody understands what it means to be a cop anymore. You'll see, this whole investigation is just to put coin in the pockets of your bosses. Make Antiford look good. If it begins looking like they won't get that stardom they will silence any panic quicker then fire!"
"Look, Mister... Nicholas. Please... What do we have to do to get you to at least look at the crime scene?"
Now, I didn't want anything to do with this guy, but obviously he was desperate. I don't remember the last time I was begged to check out a crime scene. My pride and my curiosity got the better of me, and I agreed to go along for a hefty price. In fact, looking back I'm surprised he paid such a price just for a mer opinion... I wonder if I could have held out for more...
So, Detective Jershire gave me only a moment or two to get anything I might need and head out the door. Some tools, some bullets for my flintlock, and my bowler hat. Heading out my front door, I double locked it and followed Jershire to the Train Station. We took a late-night Rail from Argenstrath to Gearford. I have to admit, I had never been on a rail car that moved so fast. I wondered if it had anything to do with Detective Jershire.
Upon reaching Gearford, a deer and buggy awaited to take us to the scene of the crime. The City of Gearford was still quite alive for this late at night. I can't remember any City that was like this in my youth. Gearford and Argenstrath had developed into cities where there was always something happening. Lights floating through the skies indicated that airships were still very much active.
As the buggy rounded the last corner I could see that many Police Officers still were in the area. Signs had blocked off most of the roads and Officers in much better Uniforms then Argenstrath's were standing guard. Two of the men pulled back the barricade, allowing our buggy to pass. It was at this time I looked up and noticed the large steam-powered walkers.
Giant metal monsters with three huge legs of steel and iron. Two head-lamps were attached to the hull, and a small machine gun was mounted to the underside of the cockpit. The cockpit was a basket three people stood/sat inside. A Pilot controlled the walker itself, a gunman was sitting just above him with control of the machine gun. The third man seemed to be an officer, searching the area with a third floodlight and barking orders to police officers below. The third floodlight was on a track around the entire side of the "basket" so that the third man could move it wherever he needed the extra light.
"That's new," I murmured.
"Mechanized Armored Units," said Jershire, "From the bloody Military. Hand-me-downs. Apparently the chief thinks this beast is a threat... and he will take no chance against it."
"So you need a military war machine?"
"I think it is to keep away gazing eyes, intimidate the masses," Jershire told me as our buggy came to a stop, "Better to stamp out resistance before it takes form, to avoid stamping out lives later."
I saw the size of those metal feet. Stamping was one thing that mechanical beast would be good at. Jershire went on to talk about how the machine gun was going to get replaced by "crowd control" designs or something, but all I could see were police with guns and road blocks. I saw a force.
Following Jershire, I left the buggy and approached a back alleyway. No officers were at the crime scene, we being the late arrivals showing up just before evidence removal and cleanup. Jershire walked me through the scene.
A dead man lay at the side, cuts and gouges made on his neck, face, and what looked like stab wounds in his body. Blood soaked the area. We wore a more business like suit. Looking around the scene, an obvious struggle had occurred. However, it was the mess next to a dumpster that caught Kent's eye. A massive amount of blood as well as pieces of flesh. A pile of the flesh was behind the dumpster, but pieces of it seemed to be spread around the back alley. A curled up, bloodied set of women's clothes were tossed into the dumpster, which the police had removed and spread out on the ground.
"So... what do you think?" said Jershire, "Mister Alfred Cockhish; Business man and husband. His associate... nobody knows. But the dear woman is strewn about the alleyway."
"I've never seen anything like this," I had not lied.
Never had I ever seen a crime seen like that... then or since. The brutality of it all... and yet... the amount left behind was.... unsettling.
"There should be more," I said.
"Clues? We know. That's why we were thinking some beast... or the Chief was thinking that," said Jershire, "Some sort of... Cave Bear... or a Chanka."
"A Damn Chanka? Really?"
"I don't know! Could be a damn Skuttlekovy for all I know," said Jershire, "But I don't think this was done by a beast!"
"Well... not an animal anyway," I said, "Where's the bones? Where's the rest of the body? What did the beast do? Carry it away? This was no Chanka..."
"Just what I was thinking," smiled Jershire, "And why would a beast rip her from her clothes and dump them in a dumpster? No... my money is on some sort of Brute. Killed the two of them, stripped the woman naked as a baby and carried her off..."
"Sick place," said I, looking into the dumpster and gazing through the gore, "Where is her purse?"
"Excuse me?" said Jershire, looking around, "No purse was found..."
"A woman out with a man and no hand bag?" I questioned, "Taken with the murderer I suppose."
"Just what I would figure," stated Jershire.
I walked to the body of Mr. Cockhish. Kneeling down beside him, I patted through his clothing and produced all of his personal affects. I retrieved his wallet, and opening it rifled through its treasures.
"Hmm... Took her body, and her purse... forget to mug the gentlemen."
"What?" Jershire seemed stun by this fact.
I tossed him the wallet, "He's loaded. That's no chump change... he is one rich bastard. Why go through the effort of it all... why MURDER the woman... take her purse... but not stop for more treasure?"
"It... wasn't about the money," said Jershire, his eyes widening, "Mister Nicholas, this isn't about the man. This is about the mystery girl!"
"Nobody knows her, and nobody remembers seeing her," said Kent, smiling, "I bet if you look hard enough, she'll turn up and you'll find she was up to her neck in trouble."
"Alright, Jershire." came a gruff voice.
I looked over my tiny chaperone to the group of gentlemen entering the alleyway. The mayor of Gearford was standing behind them, but that shady bastard was trying to disguise himself and hide from all view. The chief of Gearford Police Force, Constable Norton himself, stood with shoulders squared, and his personal Deputies surrounding him.
"We in trouble, Sheriff?" I spat at him, knowing full well what was coming.
"You aren't, Kent," said the Constable, "I know full well who you are. I knew what you would bring. However, this is a few tiers below Jershire's normal actions."
"A second, unaltered look was helpful, Constable Norton," said Jershire, resuming his perfect act of grace and emotionless, "I am certain with my original theory that this was no animal, but some sort of sentient."
"Good, makes it easier to hunt and what-what," said the Constable, "But as far as anything official is concerned, this was a damn animal! You understand? Look at this mess."
"Butt Sir? Butt Sir? My face look like an ass to you? Is this a sphynxer between mine lips? NO!"
Sphynxer? Sphynxer? I will admit, I almost lost the whole evening right there. Took all I could to hold back the torrent of laughter that seized my body with such force. However, the Constable was far from comedic.
"You listen here, we cannot have the public thinking such an atrocity could be performed by any human being. Not here... NOT GEARFORD!" yelled the Constable as he marched closer to us and farther away from prying ears, "An animal. A Bear, a beast, a God-damned Armadillo. I could care LESS! It was a beast. If we must accept something non-animal did this you say it was Demon or those Yeti mutts... but don't you even MURMUR the possibility that this thing might've been some sort of psycho freak. Alright?"
"Of course," said I, nodding to drive it home, "So... what is your plan against this... beast?"
"A grand show of force through the city," said the Chief, "We will hunt this beast down, and if we cannot find it, we will let our citizens know that their watchful force is ready and able to protect them!"
"And if he isn't found?" I asked.
"Something MUST go down for this... TONIGHT," yelled the Mayor, who was still trying to hide, "We will find... something. I don't care if we must massacre a bear from the damn circus! Something will go down!"
"Oh?" said I, un amazed.
This fact, however, did shake Jershire and several of the deputies. They looked a mixture of horror as well as confusion.
"This city must stand tall... everyone looks upon US to be a shining example," he said again, this time giving up on staying hidden, "We failed to keep the news of this crime secret... so we must use it to make an example of our prowess."
"By faking a crime and letting a murderer escape?" I asked, "Who are you to make such a claim?"
The Chief stood more firm and took a single step toward me, "He is an advisor to the Deputy Council, sir, and his advice is considered VERY helpful in the course of action that should be taken. YOU, however... are not even a resident of Gearford."
I could feel the winds changing and could read the writing on the wall, even if it was written in blood. I put up my hands and suppressed my smile, "I am nothing. In fact... I'm pretty sure I am on my way out."
"Well, it was good to meet your acquaintance, sir," said the Constable, his shoulders seeming to relax slightly, "I hope your ride home is restful and swift."
I tipped my bowler and walked passed them. I was unsure at the time, but Jershire was right on my heels. The old deer and buggy had been taken away, but the Constable was serious about swiftly getting us home. One of the newest models of motorized carriages were waiting for us when we reached the barricade. A driver opened the door and gestured for myself to get in non-too nicely.
Once I sat in the carriage, Jershire jumped in and immediately broke into apologies. We were halfway to the Train Station before the conversation changed.
"I cannot allow them to cover up this mess... and there is no beast out there but a beast they created for themselves!" said Jershire, returning to his emotionless stature, "I vow... I will find this killer. I will immediately start looking into cases of massacre such as this. This brute must be stopped. That woman MUST be avenged."
"Sounds good, look this was really interesting," I said, checking my pocket watch, "Thanks for your payment, as well. That will go a long way."
"You're really leaving?" asked Jershire, "Look, I could really use a partner on this. We could really do-"
"Don't," I interrupted him, raising my hand to cut him off, "Tonight has reinforced everything. I have to go... I have to leave."
"Where will you go?"
"I... don't know." I didn't. How could I? I got some more cash, I had bags packed... I had no idea where I was going. Antiford was no longer a home to me no more then... No more then the sea.
"North... or South?" he asked.
I thought a moment. Well... it felt like a second. Truth is we probably didn't talk the entire way back. I do remember getting out of the Carriage and walking onto the tracks. Jershire paid for my ticket home, and handed it to me.
"East" I told him, finally. More to make me understand then anything else.
"Because everyone knows South and North. it's easy... however... what lies to the East?"
I left him with that question. However, odds are that question lingered longer in my life then his. I found myself once more on a train heading to my old home and my new life.
Madness. Complete and Utter Madness.I opened my eyes tiredly after I slammed on the floor. I have to admit, I was very upset at being awoken so harshly. I stood up and looked around thee train car room. I had been given a private room on this car, and I was alone. My luggage was secure tightly in the upper compartments. I looked around and only my briefcase, bowler, and blazer lay on the floor, having fallen off the bench in my room.
I heard yelling and shouting from outside my window. I ran to the window and opened it. Antiford soldiers had surrounded the Train out of Argenstrath. Flashlights and torches were used to light out the small section of desert. The Soldiers one by one began to board the train. A squad outside the train aimed their rifles at my window, and an officer pointed at me.
"Get back inside the cart, sir," said the officer, "Wait to be searched! Close that window!"
I ducked back inside and slammed my window shut it. I could hear a squad of soldiers heading through my car, going into the other rooms. Screams and shouts filling it. In another car I could hear a gunshot, which was accompanied by a woman's wails.
They arrived at my car, the window of the door shining with the light. They knocked rather roughly on the door. Without waiting for a response, my door was slid aside, and two soldiers knelt and aimed rifles into my room. A Single soldier walked into my room, ordering my hands up and asking me to face thee window with my hands above my head. I complied, still waking up from the rough awakening. After showing my papers and being searched, he turned his attention to my luggage.
"Where are you moving to?" asked the soldier, "Alot of luggage and fancy papers for a vacation."
"I am moving," I answered, "Leaving the country."
"Why are you leaving the country?" asked the Soldier, "That's really suspicious."
"No it is not," I answered, "I have been saving up for a while. I am sick of sand and crime."
"Leaving in a hurry," said the Soldier, "Shame... you'll have to cancel your trip."
"I do not understand," I asked, "All my paperwork is in order."
"Haven't you heard?" asked the Soldier, standing up straight, "We're under some changes, sir. A Technocrat was assassinated. An entire security force dead. A loss of a ship. Where have you been?"
I was speechless. A Technocrat was murdered? Well, I guess that wasn't too bad. Technocrats were everywhere. But there were only a few people whose soul description was being a Technocrat. That meant a member of the High Council had been assassinated. Who would do such a thing?
After I had been searched and cleared, I inquired about the event. Apparently it would be the first of many attacks and attempts. A group had "left a message" with the body, or something.
It was after these I was informed I really would not be leaving the country. While the Council was deciding on what to do, travel would be highly restricted... and transference in and out of the country would be suspended for a few days. This news upset me greatly. It appeared I would be heading back to Argenstrath tonight.
Before letting us on our way, I spotted some not-so lucky men and women who were tied up. One or two bodies were being thrown onto a cart. From my window I could tell one was a human male, however three of them were most definitely Vibranni bodies. On second look, I could see some of those arrested were Yeti and Vibranni in race. The train gave out a whistle, and began the slow, backwards journey to Argenstrath's Porista. My eyes furrowed and I walked around my room, reorganizing my luggage and my bags.
I was trapped in this mad country. And now... the madness was spreading. I had to find an alternate route out of this country, because it looks like thee legal means would not be an option for some time.