An hour later, the city was abuzz with rumour. Despite the carnage in the healing hall, people began flocking. This was telling, in a city that had faced as much as had Vors. It had been different once. Early on in the breach, each scene of chaos and death had brought on onlookers, either to grieve, or simply out of morbid curiousity. Now, while mourners might gather, they usually waited until the blood had been cleaned, and the walls repainted. The dwarf and Diniella were being cared for together in the same room the dwarf had occupied earlier. There had been no real chance to move him.
This time, the mourning element was much muted, and curiousity had taken the lead by far. Unfortunately, the reason for the curiousity being unavailable, and the discomfort at the sight of the atrocity were serving as polarizing elements, drawing upon primal emotions, while not supplying an adequate release.
Rovaris couldn’t have been more pleased. As he looked upon his handiwork, result intended or not, his eyes took in the groups of onlookers, and the many undecided just joining the growing throng. All displayed a somewhat shocked, sickened look at seeing the blood and carnage, grimacing while stepping over the rapidly decaying pieces of the “plant” that had caused it. But once the shock wore off, the questions began…and those that had already decided for themselves what had happened began trying to convert others to their way of thinking.
In the eastern half of the room, several argued that the dwarf had brought the creature in. Rovaris noted with glee that several of these, lacking a name for the diminutive race from the surface, had taken to referring to the dwarf as “it” or “the creature”, or “half-man”. “It” was a construct, meant to lead them down a horror’s gullet. No…the creature was sent to open up entrance points too small for the average human. This one was a little absurd, for while shorter, the dwarf was much thicker of limb than the average human, and while the dwarf would have operated fairly comfortably in some passage-ways where humans would have to stoop, if it came down to wiggling through pipes, for instance, a human would have a decided advantage. However, lacking a visual, most were likely picturing a child-sized version of themselves. The story Rovaris loved most though, was the most creative of the bunch. Apparently the dwarf shat the seeds for this horrific plant, and would again, with each bowel movement until he was killed or driven from the city.
On the other side stood a larger, but less vocal group, fed by the stories of several of the soldiers saved by the dwarf, as well as some of the youngest in the crowd, (likely those who had most recently heard the histories, and knew the tales of the other Namegiving races), claimed that the dwarf had come to lead the fight against the horrors, that he was a hero from the surface. Some claimed he had knowledge that would burn the blight from their Kaer, and would restore the Seal. Others surmised he was there to lead them out of the Kaer, into the world at large.
Rovaris moved through the small but growing crowd, ostensibly keeping order, talking with the various groups, all the while feeding the more virulent rumours on both sides with little tidbits to work into their versions.
“Indeed, the short fellow was found outside the walls. He was saved by Vamir and Volgra, to hear tell. No, I have no idea why it wasn’t shared.”
“Oh no, trust in your council. We have things well in hand. Councilman Vamir could not possibly wish the city ill, could he? I’m sure he took every precaution.”
“No no…Volgra’s misgivings aside, the creature has proven himself a valiant fighter…I hear he was the one who told the soldiers how to defeat it. No…I do not know how he knew. But we must be thankful the loss of life was not greater, no?”
Rovaris smiled in a patronly manner, dismissing accusations against the dwarf, while feeding the conjecture with tidbits to focus their theories. Those who had faith in the dwarf found themselves defending Vamir’s actions, instead of praising the dwarf, and those who blamed the newcomer cited Volgra as another dissenter, one who believed as they did, that the dwarf was a Construct. If the dwarf had driven a wedge between two such fast friends, how could he not be evil?
It did not take long for Vamir to arrive, nor for him to be bombarded with questions. Tight-lipped and harried, for once Vamir was not making a great impression on his constituents. He pushed through the crowd, and did not stop to speak to even those who offered support. Hearing several of the accusatory questions as he passed, he did as Rovaris’ expected and hoped, and confronted the elder statesman.
“Rovaris, you had best have an explanation for this. Why are all these people gathering here? Why are they accusing the dwarf of wrong-doing? What have you been telling them?” growled Vamir.
“I have no idea, Vamir. Most came simply out of curiousity. It seems to have overridden their sense of propriety that a newcomer is among us after so many years. You should have told us, Vamir.”
“And of course you blame him for this! I should have known. Just to undermine me, you blame the dwarf for this bloody mess…
Rovaris let his eyes flash (it needed not be known that it was more mirth than ire) and opened up for a retort, but it proved unnecessary.
“You leave the councilman alone, sonny. He told us the dwarf saved the day, that he was the one who knew how to slay the beast.” Said one of the Gardeners. “Some Folks here just don’t believe it. Think that the dwarf musta brought the beast and slain it to look the hero.”
“Yeah!” said another member of the crowd. “He also said you did the right thing in bringing him here, despite your secrecy. Don’t be blaming him for your secret getting out. This is what comes of hiding things from the people, don’t you know! Show some respect!”
It was all Rovaris could do to keep from grinning in glee at Vamir’s flummoxed face. The latter had been one of those supporting the dwarf.
“I never meant…I had scheduled a meeting for this evening…I did not wish to deceive anyone.” stammered Vamir.
“But you did! And look what happened here, you grand-standing pissant!” shouted one of the crowd on the eastern half. “And look what you brought us, councilor! Just look!” Several roared in agreement, while some in the western half made an attempt to shout them down.
Rovaris decided he’d watched Vamir squirm enough. He cast a simple spell, with a small flick of the wrist and a murmured word. “ENOUGH!” he shouted. His voice boomed, the volume amplified by the spell to reach the farthest corners, and roll back over the crowd like thunder. “What’s done is done. The dwarf is safely in custody, and under observation. No good will come of this gathering, and indeed much harm! The healing halls need to be cleaned, and made serviceable once more as quickly as possible. The origin needs to be found, and all of you milling about are interfering with the investigation! You will see the dwarf in good time! To your homes, all of you!”
Vamir nodded, and looked towards Rovaris with an air of unaccustomed gratitude. “Councilman Rovaris is right! Clear the area, and be careful to disturb as little as possible. Make room for the Cleaners!”
Between the two of them, the crowd thinned rapidly, replaced by the silent, grey-garbed cleaners, who had already been silently moving through the crowd. A pale lot, efficient and oft un-noticed, the Cleaners were often looked on with as much suspicion as the Healers, for similar reasons. The Cleaners appeared wherever blood was shed in the city, and removed it without complaint. They appeared before the blood congealed and in some instances, before the act of violence that caused it was finished. Some thought of them as ghouls who could smell blood, but the truth was far simpler. Wards were placed throughout the city some more sensitive than others, each alerting the Cleaners to their next task. The Cleaners were also responsible with the cremation and disposal of the dead, though. Those that joined the Guild tended to be taciturn and morose, but proud. The risk of arriving first on the scene of an ongoing bloodbath ever present, they tended to be fatalistic, as well. It was rare to engage one in conversation, and few of the Council bothered to try. Vamir was one of the few who had, and one of even fewer outside the Guild that could count any amongst the clannish group as friends. Though the head of the Cleaners had a spot on the council, it was rare that he attended, and rarer still that he spoke during the meetings. Hence it made both councilmen start, when a soft, sibilant voice rose behind them.
“Counthillors…forgive our tardineth.” said the voice. “The blood wards…they are dimmed within the healing hallth, for blood ith far too common here. The Healerth clean ath they go here, and theldom have need of uth.” Rovaris and Vamir turned to see the tall, pale, thin, gray form of Vessau, head of the Cleaners. His pale blue eyes fixated seemingly on the wall behind them. Some thought him blind upon first meeting, for he had trouble meeting one’s gaze, and his air was perpetually distracted.
“Vessau! What have I told you about sneaking up on me?” said Vamir warmly. “It is understandable, friend. I take it with the dimmed wards, none of yours were amongst the victims? I certainly hope so.”
“All thafe and accounted for, thank you.” said Vessau. “The thourth of the attack hath been found. Come with me.”
The two councillors followed in silence. Both knew that Vessau was not one for unnecessary conversation. Only Vamir knew the truth of this, that other than work, Vessau was only talkative about one subject; that of his only daughter, Diniella. And though Vamir could see the lines of worry in his friends face, he did not wish to bring Vessau’s private life to light by asking about her.
“The thourth ith the body, here. “ said Vessau, upon their arrival at a bed along the wall of the dwarf’s room. “The man wath dead before being wheeled in here. Indeed, he wath scheduled for cremation yethterday. I know not when or how he got here, but he did not belong in the Healing halls. Note the dithtended thkin of the belly and chetht. The rootth ruptured from the belly, but grew hidden there for thome time. However, I examined thith man two days ago, and beyond a broken neck, falling from the wall, there wath nothing wrong with the body then. This was with a thorough review. Thuithide is always checked twithe for markth of taint.”
“So someone thtole…er…stole the body, and…injected… whatever this was post-mortem?” said Rovaris, frowning. Inwardly he swore. The plant had not consumed the host body as intended. It had likely been disturbed early, triggering the creature to feed on the Healers and other patients before completing with the host. The dwarf could not be blamed directly for this any longer, unless it could be spun that he had an accomplice. Seeing as Vamir, Volgra and Diniella were the only ones who had known of the dwarf from the beginning, and each had a fairly sterling reputation, it would take some groundwork before he could consider an accusation. Of the three, the woman would be easiest to blame.
Vessau gave the councilor a slightly baleful look at his “slip” of the tongue. “That be correct, Counthillor. I will conduct a thorough investigation, you have my word. Very thorough.”
“I have no doubt, Vessau.” Said Rovaris. “You know we have the utmost faith in you and yours. You will of course coordinate with the Watch? Volgra must be kept in the loop.”
“Indeed. I will endeavor to keep the captain informed.” said Vessau.
Rovaris tempered an involuntary grin into what he hoped was a patronizing, friendly smile and nodded, noting the self-conscious avoidance of any lisp-inducing vocabulary in the Cleaners’ last statement. Rovaris had not known the pale bastard had a name before, until Vamir had said it. It was amusing in the extreme to Rovaris that the Cleaner could not pronounce his own name without difficulty.
“I should like to interview the… thurvivorth, counthillors.” Vessau paused, obviously trying to find alternative words. “There were not many, were there?”
Vamir spoke quickly, having looked for an opportune way to tell the man his daughter was safe. “A Healer survived, Diniella. Her and the dwarf are all that remains of the working shift, and of the patients.”
Vessau looked to Vamir, and coughed into his hand, blinking away tears of relief quickly. “Er…yeth…well…a private interview with each would be preferred, ath thoon as pothible.”
Rovaris noticed the exchange…the Healer meant something to the old coot. Family perhaps? He’d have to ruminate on that information. Connections between foes could always be exploited…even if sometimes only for personal amusement.
“Indeed…the healer. She’ll be busy with Volgra and the Watch for some time. Most curious that only one Healer survived. It could be sheer, blind luck, but one cannot be too careful. As you said, Vessau, we must be most thorough.”
The momentary look of panic on the old man’s face was one that Rovaris would savour the rest of the night. He gave a small bow, and bid farewell. There were so many fires to tend, and so little time.