Irving reached into his pocket. He removed the card, slowly, checking the piece of cardboard it was attached to.
1604, Sheol Building, Mas Strip.
He removed the card and eyed the door in front of him carefully. Room 04, Floor 16. He swiped the card and heard the electronic lock give a mechanical beep of approval. He nudged it forward and braced himself, stepping carefully into the room.
He took small steps down the corridor, keeping a constant eye on his surroundings. The dark kept him on his toes, something had no reason not to be. His eyes began to dart as he passed a room. Pitch black but with noticeable edges resulting from the dim glow of electronics. He carried on further, entering what seemed to be the main room. He began to trace it's edge, slowly gaining his bearings. A small chuckle arose as he turned to face what appeared to be a couch.
“Are you always like this?”
Sepia's hands lit up like Christmas trees as he adopted a fighting stance. “Give me one reason why I shouldn't blow you through the outside wall.”
The intruder's face had the soft red glow of Sepia's magic as it laughed once more.
“That's a neat trick.” He could see the silhouette of a head tilt to one side. It's hair fell just below the shoulders as it moved.
“I'm going to count to five...”
“I'm not here to fight. Or kill. You'd know it if I was.”
“How do I know you're telling the truth?”
“Turn on the lights.” The figure's arm extended to the left. “Put your keycard into the slot by the door. It'll turn everything on.”
Sepia hesitated a moment before slowly edging backwards towards the corridor.
He took a few steps back and felt the wall. There was a small indentation made of plastic that he could feel was just large enough for the keycard. He slipped it in and winced slightly as the lights came on. He regained his composure and resumed his aggressive stance, keeping his eyes on the intruder.
“I come bearing housewarming gifts.” The intruder said, lifting up a bottle of wine and two glasses. “I thought you might appreciate it.”
Sepia relaxed his stance. He was still alert, but knew that diplomacy was more likely the preferred route here. “Who are you?”
“Call me Addy.” The visitor stood up for a second and walked over to the kitchen. “This is a nice apartment, Irving. A girl could get used to living in a place like this.” She removed a bottle-opener from a drawer and unstopped her wine. As she moved, Sepia took full stock of her. She was a young woman, seemingly in her mid-twenties, with blonde hair that fell to just below her chin on the left side of her head, and further down to below her shoulder on the right.
“You get in an accident?” Sepia asked, turning his gaze away for a second to inspect the apartment. The room he had passed in the corridor was a bedroom, the corridor itself between the bedroom and the kitchen, opening up into the living room. He saw more doors on the far side of the room, and the kitchen itself opened up into the room as part of it, rather than a separate entity. Few expenses appeared to have been spared – Sepia's new television, for instance, was easily mistakable for a wall.
“Oh, the hair?” Addy patted her hair down. “I like it. They say uniqueness is everything these days.”
“That doesn't explain the clothing.”
In contrast to her hairstyle, Addy's clothing was dark and form-fitting, like gym clothes that she'd forgotten to change.
“You've got to admit, they move your attention to my hair.” Addy offered him a glass of wine. “A toast?”
Sepia took the glass and smirked. “So, what brings you here 'Addy'?” He clasped the wine glass with two hands, patiently waiting.
“I'm a meddler. You've gained a fair bit of interest since you showed up here, you know.”
“That was a couple of days ago.”
Addy laughed and waved him away. “That's nothing compared to the people you're dealing with.”
“Even I don't know all the players.”
“So, you're small leagues, then?” Sepia set the wine glass down on his new coffee table and sat down on the couch. “No surprise there, I suppose.”
“Oh, I'm not small-fry. I promise you that.” She sipped her wine delicately. “You're just in a whole new league, sunshine.”
She placed her wine down on the kitchen counter and smiled. “I'm just giving you a friendly warning. I know you know what I am, I've heard all about your magical intuition. From what I hear, it actually is magical. Just like those glowing fists of yours. You learned that from the Monks of Racursis, didn't you? No matter, that's all irrelevant now.”
“Then why did you come here?” Sepia scratched his head. “I'm kinda missing the reason.”
“Just to make sure you knew exactly what you're getting yourself into.”
“And what would that be?”
Addy laughed. “That would be telling.” Her image toppled into itself with a loud CRACK and, for a moment, Sepia had to regain his composure.
“She calls herself Addy.” Sepia placed her picture on Red's board. “She invaded my new apartment last night.”
“What do you think of it, by the way?” Red asked, turning from the board to face Sepia. “It's nice, right?”
“Yeah. I like the skirting boards.”
“Hand-crafted by a blind craftsman.”
“Ladies...” Blackwood interjected briefly. “If you're quite finished gossiping, I believe we'd better start investigating just what it was that found it's way into the apartment. Discussion of the finer points of decorating can wait, surely?”
“Yes, well...” Red refocussed himself. “Two murders and an intruder of unknown, likely supernatural origin. Time to get to work.”
Blackwood set a text down on Melee's desk.
“Do you think you could help me translate this? I think it might be a lead.”
“Sure thing.” She said, smiling. “Lucy, would you mind popping down to MacCreedy's and picking me up some Mordrake root? I need it for a spell I'm working on.”
“... So I'm your errand girl now?” Lucy asked, placing her hands on her hips.
“Oh... I thought you were going out, is all.” Melee's face dropped somewhat.
“What gave you that impression?”
“It's just... I thought because...” She gulped. “Because you're not doing anything.”
Lucy sighed and walked out the door, slamming it behind her.
“Not a defining moment in modern diplomacy...” Blackwood removed his glasses, wiping them slightly.
“Damage control?” Sepia asked, nodding towards the door.
“Nah,” Red waved it off casually. “She's having a mid-life crisis or something. It doesn't do any good to help.”
Sepia frowned somewhat, staring at the door. Red stepped into his office, waving to Sepia, urging him to follow him inside. He slipped in, shutting the door behind him. Red sat, putting his feet up on his desk. Sepia simply stood, staring down at him.
“You should come back to mine tonight.” Red said, smiling. “I figure you need something relaxing after last night's debacle. You can meet the family, have a nice meal, some pleasant company...” He rubbed his neck a little. “Call me old fashioned, but I believe company may be the one thing that keeps us all from going insane.”
Sepia eyed him warily. He noticed the scuff-marks on his shoes were relatively new, likely the last few days. It was now January, and Christmas was about the right time for them to have been given to him. Shoes are a personal gift. You need to be close – immediate family. Likely someone who gre up clothing him to know where his shoe size would have ended up. He was wearing a tie that had a similar sheen of store-bought freshness to it. It was plain black with a single silver band running across what was approximately the middle. It had been bought by someone acutely aware of social situations, with Red's line of work it had to be professional. A single silver band was extreme, though. It was more of a line, really. Excessively thin but just wide enough to require more than one piece of thread. It was a silly manifestation of workplace hangups. It was someone's idea of a joke.
“I'll come visit your mother and your daughter sometime. I think we have work to do at the moment.”
“How did you know I had a daughter? Or that my mother lives with me?” Red was amazed.
“I'll tell you later.”
“Riiight.” Red slowly stood from his desk. “Well, I'm going to Hra with Lucy. Wanna come?”
“No thanks.” Sepia opened the door. Red nodded and slipped out, with Sepia following behind. He closed it softly behind him. “I'm waiting on some results.”
“You don't have to wait much longer.” Blackwood pulled out a cellphone. “Hello? Yes. Mmhmm.” Pause. “Okay, that is exciting. We'll be there soon.”
“Body sixteen isn't dead.” Blackwood moved towards the door and grabbed his coat. Melee seemed to be processing the information.
“But how's that possible?” Melee asked, finally rising from her seat. “We saw the bodies.”
“Ah, now that is the exciting possibility.”
“I don't like this place.” Lucy grumbled. Their car was traversing the gravelled road steadily, a sleek black vehicle that Red had thought looked inconspicuous enough. Hra was an hour's drive from Mas. Aeter was closer, and in possession of a teleporter, but by the time they'd walked, it would have taken just as long.
“You've been here before?” Red asked, winding down the windscreen.
“Only once. I never got inside.” She sighed, putting on her sunglasses. They were large, but not oversized. She turned to face a man standing on the side of the road. Red stuck his head out of the window a little to speak to him. “Hey there. I'm Red. We spoke on the phone.”
“Yes, of course.” The man seemed to be in his twenties. He was wearing a suit and eyeing the pair of them very suspiciously. Lucy sneered a little at him. He stepped backwards and smiled weakly. “You know the rules, of course?”
“Nothing we see inside gets mentioned outside. Total secrecy.” Red cocked his head a little. “You sure you're not a cult?”
The man laughed a flat, forced laugh and walked ahead. “We'll have to ask you to leave your car outside.”
Red unbuckled from his seat and opened the door. As it shut behind him, he heard the telltale whirr of it's locks. If there was nothing inside, it locked automatically. A nice feature, but sometimes it was just a nuisance. He and Lucy walked side by side towards the large gate standing before them. It was ornately crafted, although it was only a simple wooden door attached to a wall, the wall itself was the product of what looked to be decades of labour. It was one of Towan's many historical sites, and like many of them, no one was allowed in. Except, of course, for Red.
“Right this way.” The man turned his back to them as he opened the gate. Red could see a misshapen mass around his leg, and he smiled.
“I think I know why they're so secretive.” He whispered to Lucy as the gate opened.
“I think you wouldn't have taken so long to find out, anyway.” She said, pointing. There was the noticeable hum of life in the monastery as it's inhabitants carried out their daily tasks. Gardening, cleaning, the washing of clothes, preparation of food. All happening oblivious to the world around them.
“Are they all... children?” Lucy asked, stunned. The man hurried back over and hushed her.
“We ask that you keep your observations to yourself.” He turned to face the monastery again. “This children are all static Were.”
“Static Were...” Red sighed. “Oh man.” Lucy looked confused. “A Were is someone who, given a trigger, will shapeshift. Maybe into a horse, a bat, a mammoth, whatever, right?” Lucy nodded, and Red discretely pointed to a young girl walking past. She had wings sticking out of her back. For all intents and purposes, she appeared angelic. “Sometimes, very rarely, it goes wrong. Your body doesn't know what to change back to. Something gets stuck. That's how a static Were gets made. Scholars believe they're the source of the entire concept of demons.”
“But why kids?”
The man sneered a little. “When someone becomes a static Were, their DNA changes at a basic level. The body loses it's ability to grow correctly. It assume that it's current state is it's prime state.”
“You're saying... they're permanently children?”
“Precisely.” The man sighed. “Marianne!” He called for the angel girl. She jogged over, briskly, smiling.
“Yes? What's the matter?”
“Marianne here could turn into a dove before it went wrong. She turned thirty a month ago.”
Red stared into her face. It had the appearance of being no more than eight years old. He had to turn away, partially out of shame.
“Did you want something Talbot, or are you just showing me off?”
“Yes, of course.” The man, Talbot, pointed to a building on the east wall. “Marianne here runs our archive. You called about a shipment, didn't you? She'll be able to help you track it down.”
“Right this way, gentlemen.” A young woman, in her twenties, showed Sepia, Melee and Blackwood through the morgue. "We moved the bodies here from Aollo because the morgue was too small. It could have handled it, but anyone else would have been turned away. Besides, we have better facilities here."
“How's someone like you old enough to be running a morgue?” Sepia asked, suspiciously.
“I'm something of a genius, they say.” She turned, smiling. She had jet black hair that she cut short, wearing the longest part just below her ears. “Left med-school at nineteen. And I don't run the morgue. I'm normally in the ER. I was just filling in when they asked me to look over your bodies.” They turned a corner to see a man sitting on a plastic chair a pair of black pants and a surgical smock. “We weren't sure what to do, and you were coming straight away, so we thought we might as well let him stay here.”
The man was clutching a drink, breathing heavily. He seemed more than shaken by the experience.
“Thank you... Sorry, I didn't catch your name.”
“Emmy. Emmy Kamoguchi.”
“Short for Emily, I assume?”
“Emeria, actually.” She smiled and walked towards the exit. “I'll be in the office. Let me know when you're done.”
Blackwood stepped forward, approaching the man. He pulled up a chair and pulled out a notebook. “Richmond Fielding, right? Age 42, living in an apartment in the Orpheus building, the same building that Crisis Solutions, the company you own, operates out of.”
“That... that's correct.” The man appeared to be breathing heavily, but Sepia could tell it was just a reaction. His body wasn't moving correctly.
“You're Cainish, I assume?” Sepia asked bluntly. The man seemed shocked for a moment, but he soon readjusted.
“Yes. You don't hear many people call it that anymore.”
“You're a vampire...” Blackwood smirked a little. “That explains why you survived. Now, the obvious question: why would anyone do this?”
“Why does anyone massacre an entire business-worth of people?” The man chuckled slightly. “I have no idea.”
“No enemies, then?”
“I work all day, and sleep at night. I can't go out when I'm awake, and when I can, I sleep. I don't make many friends – or enemies.”
“Not even through the business?”
“None that I can think of.”
“We found a symbol...” Melee stepped forward, handing him a piece of paper. “Any idea what it means?”
“No, sorry. Where did you find this?”
“Carved into one of your desks.” Blackwood stated, suspicion rising. “Why do you ask?”
“Just wanting to know what the damage is.” He sighed. “I'm not sure I can start business up again, though. Who'd want to work for me now?”
“Thank you for your time.” Sepia turned to Blackwood and Melee. “I think we should let this man find his way home.”
“Of course. Thank you for your time.” Blackwood stood and followed Sepia towards the door. He waved at Emmy as they passed the office, and as they left he could see her rising to deal with Richmond.
“So, what do we know?”
“Richmond Fielding had nothing to do with any of this. Well, nothing more than anyone else. He genuinely cared about restarting business. That means he wouldn't intentionally sink it, means he didn't start it. He didn't come forward with who was behind it, because he really doesn't know. If he did, he would have told us from the get go.”
“Then we're back to square one?”
“Not quite.” Sepia continued marching down the hall. Mas City Hospital was a large, sprawling thing, but the exits were marked clearly enough for him to find his way. “This was about power. They knew Richmond was the boss, that much is clear. This wasn't about debts, or rituals or anything. This was a show of power. Establishing dominance.” Sepia stopped in his tracks, turning to face the others. “Melee, get me a list of every single person who works or lives in the Orpheus building. Blackwood, find me any cults or related groups whose method involves displays of power on a wide scale. It's a broad lense, but it's all we've got.”
“So, square two then.”