Family and Nation
How would you investigate a murder when the likely motive for it is a taboo, the first suspect pointed by evidences is the young King who saved your Estate City from fall into barbarism, and the most powerful people on the land want to use your investigation to advance their political agendas?
That was the question facing former detective Ceres when that raining day was born. Vital Ceres was an involuntary immigrant from planet Earth, he made 32 years in the Earthling year of 1962, that same year the Vortex caught him in the street to deposit his startled persona in another Universe.
One year before King Cerbion took the throne. 12 years old, most people believed he was destined to be a puppet for his uncles, but the young king murdered his closest relatives and then used Ceres to clean the corrupt Noble Caste as far as possible.
This night Ceres regret his King's protection for the first time.
Magic, non-human people, castes, slavery. Different Languages, foods, swords instead of revolvers...
Swords everywhere! They are mandatory for adult free men. But they still need cops! Vital being a very effective investigator was made a minor Nobleman, to serve Cerbion as chief of Palatial Guard.
The scene inside that house on an elevation close to the sea was nothing that Vital had not seemed before.
The violence here wasn't worse than the one he used to see on Earth. Ceres could hear what the newspaper headlines would say if that was his old city in good old Earth. “Satanic cults”, “psychopaths” all crap that sells. Bullshit! If that was Earth murder would be mafia: professional job to send a message.
Not a bad neighbourhood per se, but near to the ocean. Raids are commonplace; slave-hunters enter furtively on Estate Cities to capture free women. If caught they are killed, escaping they became rightful owners of their preys. Ergo: not High Caste woman visits city borders at night.
Half-naked, sit next to the corpse with a sword at his feet, covered in blood, was King Cerbion.
Motive existed: Lady Yklamik, the victim, was older daughter of the head of Black Spike family. A noble lineage with a plausible claim for the throne. Besides, hers was a very peculiar Nobility.
Millennia before Insular City had just lost their Magical University, and lacked the resources to build another. A demon centauroid appeared with the extra magic they needed, and in exchange for Black Centaur Mage University , the city gave his people status of nobility.
However, humans are the dominant specie on Sharitarn and they don't like other talking species much. Dislike non-humanoids particularly. When the Centaur Archmage died, the centaur population became less welcomed. Centaur families died in random acts of violence or framed by crimes they may not have committed. Others moved away, either to farms on the island to live as Peasant Castes or to Continent. Five centaur noble families stayed.
To keep their power and status the noble centaurs have an annual ritual that transform them up to the next year, so the centaurs how live inside the city look like humans. Even the body on the floor had two legs, would stay that way until the next festival
Noble centaurs are no secret, but mention the subject inside urban limits is taboo.
Yklamik had lost a lover to Cerbion's campaign of politic moralization. Now she was going to marry the King’s worse adversary. Black Spike resources, the support of all centaur families. Enough reason for murder.
Suicide was excluded, magic or no magic suicides do not decapitate themselves; and suicides already dead don't soak their bodies with anti-magical elixirs to make resurrection and magical investigation impossible. They don't mutilate their heads after cut them of either, or write arcane symbols on the walls using the blood from it.
King’s sword was the murder weapon.
The young king could have done all that was done to the body. However, someone used a magic instrument to cut the head in very specific ways, for obscure necromantic reasons. Mundane scalpels made with the technology available on Sharitarn don't allow those clean cuts in flesh and bone. In Cerbion’s hand a magical blade was just a blade, no magic.
Convince a proper Soothsayer mage to give a look would be a nightmare: no one can demand help from a mage. They either offer it or not, and mage voluntary was unlikely because the victim was not just a centaur Noble. She was direct descendant of the very Demoniac Centaur who created the Mage University of Lutianen.
Involvement of a mage in this investigation would give ammunition for the centaur families and other non-human citizens.
Cerbion's most controversial policy was to grant full citizenship rights to all involuntary immigrants allowed on the island as free men. Mages liked that, since makes easier to find students for Black Centaur: potential for magic is rare, but all talking species produce some individuals with it, regardless the universe they came from.
Traditional citizens of Lutianen disliked the idea of allow outsiders a chance to become a mage. Even non-humans believed that those with less than three generations of citizenship should enter non-essential Low Castes.
No one on Lutianen Island cared about find out how the real assassin was, except for Ceres and perhaps Lord Kgylak Black Spike: victim's father.
The old centaur would not accuse his King of murder openly. Kill Ceres to offend Cerbion, maybe.
The sky outside changed, white the North East Wind starting his attack from the Sea.
A hurricane formed in the blink of the eye, Ceres touched the magically reinforce glass, considering the possibility of abandon Insular City for a lawless life on wild lands. "Maybe the more intelligent centaurs on Lutianen where the ones who left. Not those who fought to keep noble status" he thought.
Lord Kgylak didn’t came, but someone else.
_Your benefactor do loves you.
Glass is rare on Sharitarn since they have no factories here. Everything must be handmade, piece-by-piece. Given technological limitations the only way to produce glass strong enough to be used in external windows is to use ‘Xar’ ; but magic is more expensive than glass.
Outside temperature was dropping fast. Any human or centaur on the streets without magic protection would be dead. The temperature had not changed inside the room, and the external sounds had not raised to the point where they could difficult social conversation.
The woman was right. The office located on a portion of the most valued window on the island reminded everyone that Ceres had the full weight of the throne behind him.
_Your presence honours me, my Queen! May I ask how is your free companion dealing with the situation?
_ No. Because you saw Cerbion after the woman's death, and I haven't. I am not here to talk about his feelings but to demand as your Queen: protect Cerbion, at any cost!
_I don't have the liberty to discuss open investigations
The Queen of Lutianen raised up from the large chair she had occupied. Aquiela walked to the middle of the room, then turned to touch the books covering the shelves that surrounded one of the columns. The Queen made a circle around this cylinder, pretending to look for a particular book, but with a distracted enough look on her face to make a point. Those where books about her city juridical system: pretty, but useless.
_You brought this rule from your home world, 'detective' Vital. It has no meaning here.
_It served you city well, my Lady.
_Because you never applied it to anything serious.
_ Do you believe Cerbion is guilty, my Lady?
Queen Aquiela touched the scar on the left side of her face. The small woman had that rugged crack since she was 5, a straight line between the chin and the right eye caused by magic. It always itch when she is angry.
_My free companion don't make mistakes, usually. However, despite his privileged mind, he remains little more than a hot-blooded boy. Maybe he felt in love and decided to kill his beloved to prevent her union whit his worse enemy?
_ I am sure my men are telling that version of the facts to their noble families right now.
The Queen accommodated herself on a comfortable cushion, and gave her formal permission to the chief of the Guard do the same.
_Regardless, you don't think that is what happened. Why?
_ It was not a crime of passion.
A slavegirl entered to ask if they wanted something. One of the Queen’s slaves not a Royal Guard’s girl. The barely naked girl was a sign that someone outside the office was getting nervous.
_I wasn't born Noble Caste, you know.
Aquiela was born from a slavegirl. No one knows which one and that information would be meaningless. In the eyes of Sharitarnes what matters is that her father recognized her. He was born Noble Caste. Could be on the throne if wasn't for the magic potential that opened for him the doors of Black Centaur and Mage Caste.
_ In reality I am here not as your Queen, not as a concerned free companion, but as messenger of my uncle. He is the one making questions. Obviously, he can't make them in person at present.
_ Archmage Faengor? But as one of the two archmages of Lutianen, and the only Soothsayer in that category, he has better means of find the true than anyone else.
_ Despite that, my uncle’s magic cannot see that.[p _Your uncle said anything else?
The small woman's moved to the dagger accommodated above her waist, blade up, on the side of her body. He was testing the woman's patience by asking questions instead of answer them. Aquiela was an alchemist, she had the power of use magical weapons in their full potential, instead of just as mundane objects. That was a knife with spells, made for a Queen.
The Estate City of Shirshan was among the few forces capable to build this level of anti-magic.
Well, one man on Lutianen was even more capable to do that. Archmage Bindhai, who is a vampire (a secret know for very few). Motive is obscure but his plans have no necessary dead line.
_The Archmage do told me another thing. He told me the murder's name.
_My understanding was that he had being unable to determine who the murder is
_ He has determined who the murder is almost immediately, actually.
The murder was captured as soon as the tempest allowed the Palatial Guard to leave the Castle.
A Low Caste alchemist, Fisherman Caste paying Merchant Caste to keep his permission for a shop.
Proves made clear that this man was the criminal. The magical instrument used to make the mutilations on Lady Yklamik's head was found at his home: suspiciously clean of all physical and magical traces of use. Documents found inside a Shirshan war ship proved that he had been spying Lutianen for decades.
Criminal captured, punished with dead by torture after a long and scrupulous judgement. After make that happen the Earthling abandoned his citizenship for a lawless life on Kailau Mountains. Didn't even waited to see the monster he had discovered by so miraculous methods of investigation rightfully punished.
Ceres never explained this decision, or looked back.