Apologies for the delayed post. Nothing serious. Just overwhelmed by things that had to get done yesterday, and ended up having to let the post slide until today.
Quinnya eased herself into a kneel beside the body, and then leaned low over Letha, looking at her face. Letha’s eyes were already open, staring mutely, blindly, but Quinnya used her fingers and thumbs to push them open wider still, until the dead eyeballs were protrudent. She muttered a few words and spat into each eye.
Caewen started to say, “What are you doing?” but Dapplegrim hushed her.
Quinnya’s breathing grew more ragged, more forced, and her face flushed with a hot under-glow. A glisten of sweat now was visible on her brow, and a single trickle of it ran down the side of her neck. Quinnya started to tremble. A faint light appeared deep in the dead girl’s eyes. It was like the light of a storm, flickering, coming and going, just over the horizon. At last Quinnya let go of Letha’s head and the corpse slumped like a doll back to the ground. The dead girl made a sticky sound as she resettled back into the pool of her own mostly dried blood.
Quinnya seemed to need to catch her breath after the spell-working. She got up, moved a little unsteadily to a rude stool that sat near the door, and sat herself down in a heap of night-gown and frazzled breathing. After a few seconds she said, “There was a man. His face was hidden by a hood, but he wore a pale cloak, maybe white? Maybe a very light grey? He came in through the back and surprised Letha. There was no obvious magic, just a knife. But there was something odd about him too. A sense of something amiss. I don’t know what exactly… but something about him felt unreal.” She looked at Dapplegrim. “It seems your suspicion about him is right. There was a strangeness to him. He might not be a real person at all, just a trick, or illusion maybe. Or someone wearing an illusion.” She shifted her gaze to Caewen. “However, you have nothing to do with the murder either. I was able to see that clearly.” A pause. “Which is good.”
Caewen opened her mouth, surprised. She blinked. “Why would you think we have something to do with this?”
“You’d be shocked at what people think is clever. A person kills someone. Often enough, they’ll report ‘finding’ the corpse to the sheriff or town guard, thinking that such folks will be tricked. I suppose a person thinks that if they are a witness, or a helper unto the law of the land, they can’t be a killer, well and well. However, those of us who oversee such matters are seldom fools.”
“I see,” replied Caewen. She looked at the ground, at the red-black dampness of the blood on the stamped down grass of the floor. “The man you described, it does sounds like the assassin whom Fafmuir was taking an interest in. He was drinking in a beer-stall, over by the market.” She thought back. “It was, what… only yesterday? So much has happened.” A feeling of tiredness sludged around in her head as she thought about it all. “So much.”
“Fafmuir? The Magician of the Dawn Chorus?” She made a horizontal jab with one hand to indicate height. “Shortish man, going bald, round face, cheery smile? Likes to whistle?”
“That’s him, yes.”
“Now, that complicates things. Fafmuir’s on the Broad-Table. He’s one of the three grand representatives of the magi of brightness and day.”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“Well. If he is involved, either plotting or working against a plot to murder, then there is something very much larger here than some petty killings. I wonder what is at work then?” She looked at Letha’s still face. “I wonder if we ought to have a word with him? Fafmuir, I mean. After all, She of the Many, the Three and the One don’t seem to be acting against these murders. And why is that then?”
“H’m,” replied Caewen, fixing Quinnya with a more careful, studying look. “Dapple?” she said. “Are you sure you can follow the trail of blood? Could you maybe check? Just go out a bit and come back.”
He shrugged his fore-shoulders. “Sure. If you like.” With a swish of fabric, Dapplegrim pushed out of the tent through the tear in the back. They could hear his hoof-falls receding.
Caewen waited a moment before she said, “You said ‘no’ to her too, didn’t you? When you were young and walked the maze? You must have come out through the central door, too.”
Quinnya gave Caewen back a hard long stare. Finally, she said, “That’s a dangerous topic of conversation. A person might come to a bad end by disclosing matters that are secrets of the gods and the godlike.”
“And yet I am not dead. You are not dead. Either the goddess isn’t quite so good at ensuring her secrets as she implied, or I haven’t divulged a secret. You know about the cave under the tor, and the ghosts as well, I wager. You met her, and you declined her offer. Just as I did.”
After another longish moment, Quinnya settled herself, adjusted her shoulders and said, “How did you know?”
“I’ve not heard anyone else call the goddess ‘the many’. Even if that title is used, you’ve been using it too consistently, too often. It was as if you knew why she was ‘the many’. You know about the patchwork of ghosts, all of them lost maze-walkers. And, now that I think about it, you reacted rather too strongly to my coming out through the central door. You weren’t suspicious of me, though, were you? You knew exactly what I had encountered… where I had been… what I had seen… but you were deflecting suspicion. You didn’t want anyone else to wonder.”
“That is more or less the truth of it.” Quinnya looked up then, and twisted, glancing over her shoulder, as if looking for something foul or terrible to come racing at them from the tor that rose behind and above the tents. She raised her eyebrows, looked back at Caewen. “Well, it does seem I’m not dead. You’re not dead either. Her vengeance has not visited us for discussing the truth of her.”
A shrug. “We both know the truth. There were no secrets to divulge, really.”
“I suppose so. M’m.” She changed the subject, abruptly. “Now, where has that horse-thing of yours got too?”
Caewen started towards the rent in the fabric, but looked back at Letha. “Do we just leave her? That seems wrong.”
“No choice. I’ll send someone in the morning. For now, we can’t risk the murderer escaping.”
“Yes. I guess so.”
“Indeed it is so. Onward.”
They stepped out through the tear in the tent wall and found themselves in a narrow space between the rear sides of many other tents, all crowded together. There were guy ropes criss-crossing the air all over the place, and quite a foetid stink. Caewen eventually traced the smell to chamber pots, which had presumably been shoved out the back of each of the respective owner’s tent. “Best not to trip,” said Caewen as she picked her way among the taut ropes. “Now where has Dapple got to?”
Just as she wondered this, his great black shadow moved across the gap at the far end of the tents. Red eyes dully alight were the only detail visible. He spoke loudly, above conversation but just short of a shout. “Hurm. The trail goes off this way. Hurry. The scent is fading.”
They made their way to him, then paced along a few feet behind, as Dapplegrim sniffed at the air and ground. Twice he lead them down the wrong way, then had to double-back. After the second time, he mused aloud, “I think the cunning bugger did that on purpose.”
“Language, creature!” exclaimed Quinnya at once. “Young lady. Please inform your beast that sort of talk is not acceptable among his betters.”
She shrugged. “I can tell him, but he can hear you, and he says what he says, and does what he does, more or less however he wishes. I don’t have any rein over him.” Turning then to him. “Dapplgrim, what did you mean, by that? He did that on purpose?”
“The murderer went off down that way, then doubled back, then went off this other way. He was counting on the possibility of hounds, I reckon. Hrmmm.”
Caewen looked with puzzlement down the other path. “Will that work?”
“Eh, sometimes. Because he went down the path, and back up it, the scent is twice as strong that way. So, yes, it is possible to get confused, but a good dog master would bring the dogs back up and down the path and find the other trail. It might delay, but not stop.” He snorted. “Luckily, I’m much smarter than a dog, so such tricks won’t help him elude us for very long at all.”
Quinnya frowned. “Or could the murderer simply be of two minds? Maybe he is acting indecisively, well?”
“Could be,” conceded Dapple. He seemed a little annoyed, perhaps preferring to have outflanked a clever trick. “Anyway, this way now. Hurry along. Hurm.”
He trotted off, and they followed.