A bit late, but finally got around to publishing this new episode :-)
‘I have been told that the two investigators are at the military post near the city gates,’ informed Xander as he perused a fruit-laden market stall outside the tavern he was staying in. ‘I suggest we make our way there now.’
Justine retied her mass of blue hair into a ponytail as she watched people going in, out and past the tavern. A horrid silence had befallen her after the silver haired Evenian divulged the gruesome details about the Dark Blade assassins and what they were about. She had been shocked into silence by stories of these agents performing despicable tasks such as the killing of children, raping of girls barely of the legal age, and the slaughter of entire families. What made these tales worse was the fact that half of them were performed just for fun. The nauseated feeling she felt set in was still hanging in the pits of her soul.
As they both hurried down the cobbled paths toward the front of the city, Xander eyed his companion’s discomfort. ‘I’m… sorry; sorry you had to hear such stories, but you must know what we are up against if you are to decide whether or not to help me.’
Justine gritted her teeth as she hesitated to look him in the face. ‘I… I just… I can’t imagine the mentality of such acts – it’s sick!’ She kept her attentions on the road in front of her, a troubled sense of determination bleeding out into the street from her presence.
Xander lowered his head and bit his lower lip hard. ‘Nothing about their mentality is understandable; I, of all people, know this.’
Tenrian removed his green hood as he entered the office of Captain Relphea, the officer in charge of the city’s guard posts. Fiona followed closely behind her comrade, her face stern and tight-lipped.
Relphea looked up from her desk and the paperwork she was scribbling on. Her long black hair cascaded around her neck like a curtain that revealed nothing of what it hid. She wore a captain’s insignia on the chest of her dark grey and gold uniform, a position that was hard to obtain unless someone was willing enough to work for it. Relphea had been nicknamed ‘The Unwavering’ due to her seemingly unshakeable resolve in getting things done.
Fiona addressed the captain, cautiously avoiding the piercing stare of her strong blue eyes – something she always did as she felt a certain degree of discomfort around her superior. ‘Captain…’
‘Fiona, Tenrian; what news from the latest attack?’ The captain’s voice was solid and unnaturally calm; a tone that could break stone without any resistance.
Tenrian folded his arms and weighted himself on his left. ‘We came across something, at long last, that could give us a clue as to who’s instigating these raids.’
Relphea put her quill down and leaned back in her chair, an expectant look on her face.
The hunter reached down to his thick leather belt and detached a small pouch, opening and placing it on the desk in front of the captain. ‘We found this residue around a wound on one of the corpses at Pisca – I believe it to be a rare and exotic poison.’
Relphea arched forward to inspect the sample of the poisonous leftovers, but quickly recoiled from the pungent smell that wafted up her nose. She covered her face; her eyes closed and near watering point. ‘And the barbarians have used this? Unusual…’
‘I do not believe the barbarians used this,’ Tenrian explained. ‘I suspect that someone other than a barbarian was involved here, and I think the same person has had a direct involvement in the other raids.’
The captain eyed him with an indistinguishable scepticism. ‘Who exactly?’
Fiona ended her silence. ‘Ma’am, I’m afraid we don’t know that vital piece of information, but the evidence before us at the scene led us to conclude that someone could very well be motivating these tribes to attack the villages under our jurisdiction.’ She fell mute again as she caught Relphea’s stare.
After a few moments contemplation the captain stood up from her seat, signalling Tenrian to cover up the foul smelling poison residue, which he did so swiftly. ‘I will have you leave the evidence with our alchemists on your way out. Until we have an answer I am afraid you two will be twiddling your thumbs, so use this time to relax and have a break.’
They were dismissed with the wave of a gloved hand.
‘You’re looking rather nervous,’ remarked Xander as he leaned against one of the sandstone pillars outside the guard post.
Justine scraped her nails against one another idly, her eyes fixed on the entrance as they waited for the two investigators to emerge. ‘I hope you’ve been told correctly, Mister.’ She could feel the presence of her Evenian counterpart all around her as if he was the very air that she was breathing.
‘Relax,’ he cooed. ‘I’ll do the talking.’ He flicked his silvery mass of hair out of his eyes before tapping Justine on her shoulder. ‘What made you decide to come with me anyway? Was it idle curiosity? Or is there something else?’
Her breath wavered as the question sank into her mind like water into a sponge. ‘I…’
Xander unfolded his arms and turned, still looking at the back of her head. ‘You…?’
Justine huffed to herself and hung her head. ‘I suppose idle curiosity is a part of it…’
Her eyes closed. ‘But… I dunno. There’s something about this situation I really don’t like. Maybe I’m looking for some kind of truth.’
‘What is it about the situation you don’t like?’ He moved so he was in front of her. ‘Tell me – you can trust me.’
She lifted her head cautiously and looked at Xander’s face before her mouth opened to say what was on her mind. It was then that her eyes darted to one side as she observed two figures, which were not dressed like the other soldiers, exit the guard post. One was a blonde haired woman with an exquisite set of light flexi-armour and a dark blue and silver cape; the other was a man judging by the build, with a dark green hood and tight-fitting green tunic that had two thick, brown leather straps crossing diagonally over the chest, a single silver chest plate, dark brown trousers and boots. Justine assumed it was the two Xander was after.
‘I believe they are the two we’re after,’ said Xander as he turned his head and watched them trudge off into town. ‘We’ll have to tail them.’
‘Why not just go up to them? It’d be much easier, not to mention quicker,’ suggested Justine.
Xander shook his head as they made their way after the two investigators at a safe distance. ‘Doing that in front of everyone would cause unnecessary attention to be had. It’d be better to approach them in a more deserted place.’
Justine raised an eyebrow. ‘Oh yes, because that wouldn’t put them on edge.’
‘Just… trust me, OK?’
They followed the two figures down a variety of crowded streets and wide roads. It seemed as if they were toying with them, or maybe just sightseeing aimlessly.
It got to a point where Justine became uneasy. ‘I suspect they know we’re following them.’
‘You reckon?’ Xander pulled his hood up and kept a sharp eye out.
‘Well they’ve been wandering around the city now for the best part of half an hour and they aren’t really stopping to look at anything or talk to anyone.’ Justine was beginning to let her nerves overtake her, her heart beating furiously like a caged angry cat.
They saw their targets take a sharp turn into a side street and they pursued as quickly as possible… only to find an empty passageway.
Xander clenched his fists together as he looked behind them, up into the air, and then began to check the dark shadows in front of them.
Justine, on the other hand, had begun to let her nerves get the better of her. ‘I can’t see them anywhere,’ she exclaimed in a soft panic.
‘How did they elude us so quickly?’
It was then that Justine breathed in sharply, her eyes turning towards Xander. ‘They’re still here…’
A sudden scuffling of feet, unsheathing of metal, and grunts of painful confrontation ensued until Justine was pressed up against the wall with a gloved hand over her mouth and a knife against her throat. Xander had been kidney punched by a metallic fist before he felt the tip of a longsword pressed against his chest.
‘You’ve been following us for over half an hour,’ Fiona growled firmly, her voice never once losing any control in its command. ‘What are you after?’
Xander had his hands nursing his side as he looked up at the ferociously resilient warrior woman. He slowly removed his hood and gazed into her eyes. ‘We’re here about your investigation.’
Tenrian glared at Xander from within the refuge of his green hood as he held the shivering, blue haired girl firmly. ‘What do you know of our investigation?’
With a tearful quiver, Justine spoke. ‘He… knows who’s behind it all.’