The tension around Veritas Plaza was palpable. People craned their necks and murmured excitedly. Vannases Trex made her way through the crowd, a dottari sergeant ahead shoving aside any citizen who didn’t clear the way quick enough. Vannases found her breath coming a little short, and realised with a start the anxiety from the morning news had at some stage grown into excitement. She kept a cool demeanour in front of her guards, however, always professional.
“Duxotas!” her lieutenant, Saulus, greeted her with a chest salute as she cleared the crowd. The man was tall and handsome, dark of hair and eye, with a typical Taldan nose. Vannases vaguely noted his black chainmail armour was scuffed in places – she firmly believed a disciplined guard force started with well-maintained equipment, and noted to berate the man later.
“Where’s the body?” she asked him, but the answer was not required.
Behind Saulus, Nox’s face leered down from atop a spear. Her own glaive, actually, Vannases noted. She stared up at the face for a few long moments. She had not spared any love for Nox. The bodyguard’s willingness to carry out any task for the Lord-Mayor no matter how demeaning always reminded Vannases of the obedience displayed by a mongrel thrown some scraps, and warranted nothing but disgust from the duxotas. Plus, she was ugly, a trait Vannases particularly abhorred.
“Move the citizens back,” Vannases suddenly ordered, and the dottari moved in unison, pushing the onlookers back several feet. “And somebody take her down.” The duxotas passed her black helm to her sergeant. “I assume her body is nearby?” The sergeant nodded and gestured down the alley, where several tieflings worked hard at scrubbing congealed blood from the cobblestones.
Beyond them, a cadre of Hellknights watched on, unreadable behind their full-faced helms. Vannases gave them a slight nod then turned to Acrinius, the priest of Asmodeus assigned to her staff. She recoiled slightly as the scarlet-robed man was almost brushed up against her. Acrinius had the irritating habit of following and standing too close behind her, which Vannases had not been averse to pointing out to him. The shaven-head man took half a step back, an apologetic smile on his face. Like a lizard, Vannases thought, not for the first time.
“Prepare a speak with dead spell,” she ordered.
“My apologies, duxotas, but that won’t be possible,” Acrinius replied, shuffling forward. Vannases strode toward Nox – or her head – disguising her reaction to stepping away from the man. Not a lizard, a python. Trying to hypnotise with his ingratiating smile and unblinking eyes. “Remind me to ask Grivvener for another cleric,” she said quietly to Saulus.
Acrinius followed behind her, explaining his refusal. “You see, duxotas, Nox’s soul has already passed on to Hell. Such were the terms of her pact. As such, she is beyond my mortal powers.”
Useless, Vannases cursed silently. At a flash of orange silk she turned to notice Zella had arrived at the plaza at some stage. “Hail Zella,” she greeted, ignoring Acrinius.
The young Varisian wizard returned the greeting as she absently flicked a harrow card around her fingers. The card was one of her own designs, infernal in theme – Zella had put a modern spin on the traditional Varisian artwork. But Vannases believed she placed too much faith in the power of the harrow deck.
The duxotas had faith in more material evidence. “What do we know, Saulus?” she asked.
The lieutenant approached and reported the results of the investigation so far. “Two witnesses have provided descriptions of the assassins.”
“Two?” Vanasses turned, dark eyes burning. “The attack occurred in broad daylight!” Cowardly peasants, she thought. Rebels and traitors within their midst and they are too scared to come forth. Either that or they are hiding the criminals. “Descriptions!” she barked.
Saulus reeled off the information. “Six attackers, all masked. One in some sort of bee or butterfly design. The others simple scarves. One called upon Cayden Cailean–”
“Heresey!” Acrinius cried.
“–and another had arcane powers. This man defies description, the witnesses say a portly man whose face changed as he fled. A swordsman, another attacked with small throwing stars. And finally a flying Halfling.”
Vanasses raised an eyebrow.
Saulus cleared his throat. “He allegedly dived from the sky to strike the killing blow, screaming ‘For Titus!’”
“Titus… Ring any bells?”
As if on cue the bells of the Temple of Asmodeus pealed out across the city. Acrinius bowed his head as he mouthed a prayer to Asmodeus.
Vanasses found the murmur of the crowd cloying, and started walking down the street where the attack occurred. “How do those descriptions match with Nox’s report on her attackers in the Fantasmagorium?”
Saulus scratched his chin. “Yes, there was a hallfing. And an overweight wizard, could be the facechanger. Two Chelaxian swordsmen, and a blue tiefling.”
Vanasses glanced at the tieflings busy scrubbing the cobblestones clean and tried not to let her lip curl in disgust. They can’t be trusted, any of them. One moment loyal citizens looking for praise the next turning on you, like stray dogs.
“Zella, how do these descriptions match those you saw rescuing the Poison Pen?”
“The same. A halfling, a portly wizard, two swordsmen, a face changer – though it was not the wizard.”
Vanasses resisted the urge to smile. Up until now her days in Kintargo has been spent breaking up merchant pickets and arresting youthful malcontents. Now she had a real target. Assassins, rebels, heretics… She thought of the three dottari killed along with Nox. Murderers.
“Saulus, start disseminating those descriptions. I’ll need to brief the Lord-Mayor.”
“You’ll need this,” Zella said, flicking her card to Vanasses.
The duxotas snatched it from the air. “What is this?”
Zella brought her silken scarf up over her head to shade herself from the sun. “There was no bee or butterfly.”
Vanasses turned the card over. On the face was a yellow and black design of a beautiful, scantily clad woman, enticing if not for the swarm of angry wasps around her.