The Sudden Adieu – Part 1
He had to die. There was no other option. I would not put up with this any longer. It was life or death and I would be damned if I was going to let him get the better of me.
I moved around my thin, pinewood desk and stooped into position. Grabbing an old case file, I launched into action when the miniature devil of a fly came into view. I narrowly missed it but did hit another stack of papers on top of my cabinet, sending reports scattering around the room like snowfall. I grew fed up and pulled my wand from its holster and held it out aggressively, realizing I had nothing I could cast that would have any effect on this miniature nuisance. I made tiny sparks come out of the tip with a flick of my wrist, which pathetically did nothing. I held my office door open and tried to maneuver the fly away and out into the street with the threat of illusory sparks.
The fly did not leave but the open door did let a beautiful woman enter my building. It was now apparent to her that I was in my office and out of my mind. Everything about her was just slightly above average. Taller than most, pretty but not gorgeous. Green scales that reflected in the dim lamp light of my office. She was an attractive draconian woman, or half-lizard as they were called behind their backs. She wore a dark green dress and black cloak, finely made. She also had four piercings in her right ear with stones in them that could be sold for a small fortress, complete with guards and a moat.
“Uh, hello? I am sorry if I am interrupting-” She said in a sweet, soft tone, until I stopped her.
I held my hand up. “Shhh.”
She looked terrified and rightly so. But there was no time for pleasantries, I had more important things on my mind. My eyes went wide when I saw the target of my madness land just inches from my client’s shoulder, resting on the door frame. This was my last chance. I swung with the might of the gods themselves, causing this poor woman to scream as my foe was slain. I was satisfied.
“Alright, now that that is over. What can I do for you?” I nodded to the small stool in front of my desk.
She slowly took a seat, glancing around my cluttered office, plain furnishings, and scattered papers. This was a common reaction to my place of business.
“Well, I was sent by-”
“Yeah, I know. Someone sent you to me because you need something done and you aren’t sure if I can do it but blah, blah, blah. So, someone steal some jewelry? Family heirloom? What’s the job?”
She shifted in her chair a couple times. “I, uh, well. My boyfriend has gone missing,” she said and looked at the floor.
I had intimidated the poor girl. Maybe I should learn to lighten up. I lit up a cigarette and leaned back in my chair. “Alright. What’s his name? And your’s for that matter.”
She looked up at me and let out a nervous chuckle. “Oh, ha ha, um, my name is Kethend Van Luden, and, uh, my-my boyfriend’s name is Asher Casksmith.”
I blew out some smoke, trying to make an educated guess about the story I was about to hear. My guess was a cheating boyfriend.
“And you are Rex Cabernet, right?”
“That is what they call me. So, what happened exactly?”
She took a deep breath and continued, “Well, I met him at a bar one night. He was very nice and a little shy. But, uh, he is a very good boyfriend. He treats me well, took me out, and uh, he- it was, is a good relationship.”
“How long had you two been dating?”
“About two months I think? I mean, we were like, I don’t know. Not really official in-”
I interrupted, “How long ago did he disappear?”
Kethend was caught off guard by the interruption, “Oh, two days, I saw him two days ago, sir.”
“You saw him day before yesterday, is that correct? So he has been missing for one day?”
“We were supposed to meet for lunch.” Kethend pleaded, lower jaw quivering. “He has never missed a date. We haven’t even spent more than a day or two apart since we met.”
“What does he do for work?”
“He is a city guard. He works around the docks and up to Trodnig Avenue.”
“Trodnig? That is a rough area. He must have been low on the chain of command. And I am guessing you are related to the Van Luden diamond mines. Trust fund I presume?”
She did not look me in the eye. “That is correct, sir.”
“Call me Rex.” I forced a reassuring smile to make her more comfortable. “Now, I have to ask you some personal questions? Is that alright with you?”
“Uh, sure,” Kethend said shifting her weight for the fifteenth time since she sat down.
“Was he acting strange in the last couple of days before he disappeared?”
“Yeah, I guess,” she said quietly.
I was shocked by the direct answer. I couldn’t remember the last time that someone answered that question truthfully. I grabbed my pen and paper. “How so?”
“I don’t know, he always seemed to be in a hurry. I didn’t see him much.” She looked distraught at the question. There was more to this story.
“What does he look like?”
“He is so handsome. I mean not in a traditional sense. He is a little small but muscular, which is fine for me. Some girls don’t like that but I am more about personality myse-”
I put my hand up to stop her. “Just a general description is fine.”
“Oh, uh sorry. Um, a little on the short side. Black hair, blue eyes, and a square jaw.”
“Yeah, human man.”
“Was he in trouble?”
She looked down and kept her eyes fixed on the floor. “I am really not sure.”
“How much money did you give him?”
“I, wha-” Kethend paused and looked incredulously at Rex. “How did you know I gave him money?” she said, looking at me in disbelief.
She looked down again, as if physically avoiding the question. “I-I am not exactly sure. I mean, all together. Not much, maybe like … a thousand gold?”
I choked on the cold coffee I was sipping. “thousand?”
“But, look, I know what you are thinking. He would not run away with the money. He is a good man. We were thinking about going away together. Getting married. I even gave him the silver vine ring that my father gave me!”
I couldn’t stifle my laughter, “Oh, he definitely ran away.”
“He wouldn’t do that!” She pleaded loudly.
I got up out of my chair and leaned against the front of my desk. She was holding back tears. “Look, I know that this is hard to hear. Let me paint a picture for you. You have a poor city guard. We both know that they do not make much money. He meets a beautiful young woman with money to spare. He gets a taste of the good life, lets himself live a little. I am guessing that you paid for all of the dates you had with him. He realizes that he is getting in deep. You start talking about marriage, running away together. He knows that he would struggle to support you and provide for you the lifestyle that you have grown accustomed to. He knows you would be cut off from your family’s wealth if you ran away together. He got cold feet. Save yourself some money and find someone more … in you class.” I reached out and pat her on the shoulder.
She got up angrily and shoved a coin purse at me. “He is not like that! You don’t know him. He wouldn’t do that! Look, I am prepared to pay you no matter what you find. I just need to know what happened to my-,” Kethend began to cry.
I took the coin purse and poured the contents onto my desk. There was at least 100 platinum pieces and many loose gold pieces strewn about. More coins than I had seen in a very long time. Currently I had 10 gold, my father’s endless flask, and a dwindling pouch of tobacco. I gathered up almost all of the coins back into her purse and left six platinum pieces and five gold pieces on the table.
“I charge 20 gold per day plus expenses. I can’t imagine this investigation will take more than three days. Six platinum will cover the days and five gold should be enough for the rest. I will find him for you.”
I needed to find this guy quick. My six new platinum pieces were constantly talking to me, asking me to be taken to the dice tables. It was getting hard to turn them down.
I asked Kethend who could have seen Asher in the last day or who could know where he had gone. She mentioned one of his coworkers Ulric. He was a half-orc guard that had gone on a double date with her and Asher a couple weeks ago. She did not know any of his other friends.
It was a loud afternoon in Cardy Vale and annoyingly bright outside, possibly because of my hangover, fixed easily enough with a quick slug from my flask. I said hello to Sam, who made the best flatbread within walking distance from my office. The streets were packed with all types of people, most of which had come to town for the annual Summer Festival Races. They had descended onto the city like a disease, making the streets congested and hard to navigate, pissing me right off. I almost knocked over an elderly elf woman, three gnome children, and an orc, who wanted to tear my head off for the insult, just trying to make my way down to the docks.
The smell of salt water and fish preceded the packed docks of Cardy Vale. Sailing ships, fishing boats, and sea vessels of every size, shape, and color filled the marina. I walked the cobblestone streets filled with carts and horses for an hour before I found a guard matching Kethend’s description of Ulric. He was surprisingly small for a half-orc, only a little bit bigger than myself. I knew it was him by Kethend’s description of a bald head and unmistakable emerald eyes.
“Hey friend, minute of your time?” I said, sounding as friendly as I could muster.
“Move along. We are busy,” he said without looking at me.
I already had a gold piece in my hand, knowing full well how these conversations tended to go. I held it up to him, “Just a minute or two and I will be on my way.”
He stared deeply into my eyes, sizing me up. I didn’t know if I should reach for my dagger or if he was going to ask me out on a date. Pulling the gold piece out of my hand he said, “Jord, go on without me. We will meet back here in a bit.” His partner left without a word.
“Alright, what do you want?”
“I understand you worked with a guard named Asher. Do you have any information on where he might be?”
His face did not change. “No clue.”
“When was the last time you saw him?”
“I don’t know, a couple days ago? I was supposed to work with him yesterday but he never showed up.”
“Really? Was that something that happened often?”
“No,” he said with no inflection or gaze in my direction.His abrupt answers meant he was hiding something. I figured I would take a different approach.
“How about a drink?”
“Excuse me?” Ulric pretended to be offended.
“Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone.” I took a stuff slug from my flask and put it in his hand. He waited only a couple seconds before helping himself. It was a good start.
He handed the flask back, saying, “Walk with me a second.” He led me to a cart selling grilled Sassfet meat, wrapped in a puff pastry and covered in a spicy red sauce. He ordered one and turned back to me.
“What’s this all about?”
“I was hired by Asher’s girlfriend to find him. Her name is Kethend. I am told that you two have met.”
He paused and pretended to look off into the distance. “We only met once. I went with Asher on a double date with his girlfriend and my boyfriend. It was his idea. I can’t believe I am being dragged into this because of some boring dinner date.”
“Dragged into what, exactly?” I asked, happy that my gold piece was getting me somewhere.
He took his street food and carefully unwrapped it. “Asher is a good guy. He just has some vices, like we all do.”
Ulric looked genuinely shocked. “How did you-?”
“Process of elimination. Kethend was feeding him money and from what I know about him he doesn’t seem like the type to spend it on women, booze, or drugs. Also, he went missing when the big races started. Not too hard to figure out really.”
Ulric took a big bite and mulled over my words as he chewed. “Yeah, he had borrowed money from me a couple times. He said he always knew a winner when he saw it. Anyway, that is what I figure happened to him. He either won big or lost big and left either way.”
“He gambled a lot then?”
“I mean, not all the time. He did like the track six races. Faster and more exciting. Plus, he could go down there on his lunch break and be back in time for duty.” Ulric took another bite of his lunch.
“So you went with him then?”
Some of the sauce squirted out and landed on Ulric’s lapel. “Damn it. Uh, no. Not me. I don’t waste my money on that shit.”
He tried to wipe away the sauce but it smeared farther into his uniform. He tossed the rest of his food down an alleyway, upset. I began to reach for my wand to help clean him up but before I could he produced a wand of his own. With a flick of his wrist and a quick chant under his breath the sauce pulled from the fabric and evaporated, leaving no trace of the gaff. A simple spell, one even an amatuer such as myself could even cast but the way he did it was very smooth and effortless.
“I think our time is up here. I have to return to duty. If I was you I would check out the races. That would be my guess.”
I shook his hand and later, my head. There was one person I knew down at the races that could help me out but she was the last person I wanted involved in my business. I had to find Reverence.
I found her just as the sun was getting low in the sky. The races were finishing up for the day and people were settling their bets before they went home. She was right outside of the cashier’s windows, working her nun routine, standing there in her non-denominational nun’s outfit, asking for tithings from the winners and losers alike. I knew for a fact that she had at least 6 different holy symbols under that outfit of hers. She had the unique ability to accurately guess which god a mark prayed to before they even opened their mouth. She was dangerous, cold, and sadly one of my closest friends.
I approached her once she had finished pulling six silver pieces from a rich halfling with no common sense. Her eyes narrowed as I approached.
“So, it’s Maya today, is it?”
She smiled. “Rex. You wouldn’t be here to cause trouble for me, would you?”
“Nah, not today. Just looking for a drink and some company. Could you spare some time?”
She looked around the emptying plaza and shrugged. “Yeah, I guess I am just about done here. Meet you at The Salty Seahorse?”
“I hate that place.”
“I know. That is why I chose it.”
It reeked of carnations and pretentious snobs. An older human man with a long gray ponytail softly played ambient tunes while the patrons in their fancy outfits held “intelligent” conversations with one another and thought they were better than everyone for the effort. Their outfits cost more than my office, apartment, and possessions combined.
I went to the bartender, an elf woman with a disgustingly bright yellow sequin dress that hurt my eyes, and practically had to twist her arm to get a simple whiskey on the rocks. The drink alone cost me 5 gold pieces. I sat alone in a corner booth and got strange looks as I smoked my hand-rolled cigarettes, apparently a crime in this type of bar.
She showed up an hour later, just past sundown. She was now wearing a tight black dress with a red rose in her hair. She chose to look elvish, with long black hair and skin so pale and fine it made you wonder if she had ever been exposed to the sun. I was pretty sure this persona of hers she called “Vix’,” but I couldn’t remember exactly. She ordered some kind of pink concoction in a fancy glass with a star fruit on the rim and sat down across from me.
“Vix right? Is that what you call this one?” To be honest, I had no idea which persona was actually her, or if I had ever seen what she really looked like.
She smiled deeply, and possibly even sincerely. “That is right darling. Aw, you remembered.” The smile faded quickly. “So, what can I do for you Rex?”
The game was on. “Well, I am looking for someone.”
“Aren’t we all,” she said as she eyed the room predatorily.
“I am getting paid to look for this particular someone. Name is Asher Casksmith. Have you heard of him?”
She immediately shot a surprised look in my direction and then tried to hide it. I hated to admit it but I loved this. It was like a chess match where you just knew you were most likely going to lose but the challenge was worth it. So far I felt like I was winning.
“So, you have heard of him. What do you know?”
“Is that the person you are looking for?”
“Don’t change the subject. Why do you know about him? Have you seen him at the track?”
“This must be the person that you have been hired to find. Yeah, I have seen him at the track.”
“When did you last see him?” I looked deeply into her eyes but got nothing in return. Without realizing it, I had just raised the difficulty in this conversation.
“Well,” she finished her drink in two big gulps. She was one of the few people I know that could easily drink me under the table. I saw what she was getting at. I signalled the bartender to bring us two new drinks. I tossed her a platinum piece and a gold as a tip, which surprised Vix. She took a sip and gave me a slight nod.
“I saw him earlier today, actually. At the track.”
“And that’s it. I saw him.”
“Why were you looking for him?”
“Ohhhh, that information is going to have to cost you.”
“I already bought you one of those stupid pink drinks you are so fond of.”
“Please, that was just foreplay.” She smiled in a way that she knew would upset me. It worked.
I decided to up the stakes. I put two of the platinum pieces on the table. “What will this get me?” She reached for them but I put them back in my pocket before she could even react. That got to her.
“So, this must be a decent case, huh? And you need little ol’ me to solve it for you.”
I laughed. “Nah, just thought I could give a little bit to charity.”
“Aren’t you a saint?” Vix said with a sneer. “Alright, I will play along. Let me see one of those coins.”
“What will that get me?”
She took a long breath and let it out slowly. “I can tell you what you want, but you have to promise me that you will not ruin my fun.”
That comment chilled me. My mind started racing, what did that mean? So she was interested in Asher because he would be “fun.” She saw him at the race track. He seemed like a nice, normal man, so I don’t think she wanted to corrupt him. At least not lead him into a hotel room, tie him up and rob him blind. The Vix experience as she called it. So what was it? Then it hit me.
“Oh, how much did he win? It must have been a lot.”
She looked like she wanted to hit me. “Fuck. I knew I shouldn’t have said anything.”
This was one of the rare times that I had the upper hand on her. I pulled out the two platinum pieces once more. “Now that that is out of the way, I will make a deal with you. I just need to find this man. What happens to his winnings is none of my business. I just need him alive and returned to his … rightful owner.” I slid the platinum across the table. “How much are we talking about?”
She was still upset by me besting her but she was coming to terms with it. She looked at the coins and took her time thinking about what she was going to say. I could tell that she decided to play along. “about 250 thousand gold, probably a little more.” My heart stopped for a second. “It was one of the biggest wins this season. Word got around quickly.”
“What were the odds?”
My question took her by surprise. “Hmmm, pretty sure … I think it was 20 to 1. Probably more.”
“So that means he must have wagered around 10 thousand, right?”
She took a sip of her drink and thought. “Yeah, sounds about right.”
“That is a very large bet, even for a man with a rich girlfriend. I wonder where he got that kind of scratch.”
Vix’s eyes went wide. “Oh, I see where you are going. Yeah. That is true.”
“Must have been a loan. Who could stake a little guard that much change?”
Vix thought again and finished her drink. She ordered another drink, paying with the platinum I gave her. “Of course, you didn’t hear this from me, naturally. But, If I had to guess … yeah. Big Brylk. He would be the only one stupid enough to give such a large loan to a gambler.”
“Where could I find him?”
Finding one of Big Brylk’s henchman was easy enough. I waited outside one of their known clubs and asked for a light from a solitary dwarf smoking a cigarette. I slipped my arm under his, twisted and pulled. He was on the ground in a flash, cigarette bouncing into a puddle. I held him there and flicked my wrist, which activated the runes on my wrist and pulled my crossbow from whatever dimension it was held in. I pressed it against his throat and a minute later I knew the location of the cabin that they would have held him in. A quick kick to the back of the head and he was out for the night.
I paid my carriage driver two gold pieces for driving me across town in the middle of the night. I arrived at the bottom of a long dirt road that led up a hill and up into the darkness. The cold bit hard and I pulled my cloak tightly around me. The moon shone through the marine layer that had started to move in and made for a very dark ascent up the dirt path. It was unsettlingly quiet, with no trees or brush of any kind to obscure my approach. I had to give it to Brylk’s gang, it was impossible to approach their cabin and not be seen.
I had my crossbow ready since arriving at the bottom of the hill and was surprised that I had not needed it so far. The area around the cabin was completely deserted. I put my ear against the door, hearing nothing. The windows were all firmly locked in place. A couple times I thought I heard footsteps behind me but saw nothing when I checked. Must have been my nerves getting the better of me. Nothing about this situation seemed right.
A quick knock on the window and a rapping on the door proved that the cabin was either abandoned or someone inside was showing an incredible amount of restraint. There was nothing else I could think to do but open the door. To my surprise it was unlocked. I carefully entered. The cabin was mostly barren; there was a table in the corner, some crates off to the side with provisions, a poorly made cot, and a lifeless body in the center of the room.
I illuminated the tip of my wand and slowly approached the body. It was a human male with black hair. I looked at his face and saw a sharp jaw and blue eyes with a brown-black band of discoloration around them. I touched his wrist and felt that his arm had stiffened like a wooden board. The final nail in the coffin was the silver vine ring on his finger. It was Asher and he had been dead for at least a day; two at most.
I was trying to calm my racing thoughts about what I had just found when a strange sound completely caught me unawares. It sounded like the crack of a large whip, followed by the crackling of fire. I turned quickly and found that the front of the cabin had shifted under the force of a fire spell. The cabin had been lit on fire and was on the verge of collapse. I was trapped inside a burning, collapsing coffin with the corpse of Asher.
I am super excited about this series. I will have part 2 up next Monday. Stay tuned.