Captain Ordrander listened patiently to Thigpen’s report. He raised an eyebrow when he heard that the killer was a spider that seemed to employ a lover’s embrace, but otherwise he didn’t give away any hint as to how he felt about this case. Thigpen finished his report, and stood waiting to hear what the captain had to say.
A minute of uncomfortable silence passed before the hobgoblin leaned forward in his chair, drew a deep breath, and said “Our first priority is to identify this dead man. Have the body taken to Styxia, see if she will divine the information for us. Here, pay her with these.” The captain set down a small stack of gold coins. “If she is willing to do more, get a price. We can’t ask the Interior Investigators to get involved until we determine who was killed.”
Thigpen took the coins off of the desk and put them in his pocket.
The captain continued. “Our second priority is finding this spider. Any thoughts about that?”
Thigpen nodded his head. “Yes, I think I might. I know of a dark elf in the upper city, he runs a bookshop. His brother is a drider, locked up in Totenhelm prison. Sometimes the drider is an important source of information. Maybe his brother, the book seller, can answer some questions.”
The captain leaned back in his chair. “A dark elf would be a good place to start.” He smiled thinly. “Do what you can. We need to figure out what our prey is in order to fight it. I will assign somebody else to your beat. You stay on this until we know who was killed and what killed him.”
Thigpen smiled and saluted the captain. “Yes sir. I’ll go see the hag now.”
The captain waved as Thigpen left his office, and once more Thigpen was on the go. He was going to swing by the tavern first, though. He was thirsty, hungry, and wanted to sit down and think for a while. The pub wasn’t far away, thankfully. It was called the Thirsty Goblyn and Thigpen had been there almost every day after his beat was over. This was later in the day than he was accustomed to being here.
He walked into the tavern, and looked around for an empty table. The place was busier at this hour than what he normally saw. He managed to find a table though, and sat down heavily. He tossed his kepi on the table, and set his truncheon down in front of him. He looked around the room, and saw Monklar was here at the bar with a female constable. Thigpen thought her name was Gwenda, or something like that. They seemed to be having a good time, but then they had been off duty for a few hours, while Thigpen had been running around the precinct hunting spiders.
Lost in thought, Thigpen was a little surprised when the barmaid cleared her throat and asked again what he wanted to eat. Thigpen told her, and she went off to fetch him an ale. Thigpen continued looking around the room. He recognized a few faces from having been here almost daily. He also spotted one fellow he knew well. It was Queller, his old mentor. Thigpen smiled and waved to him, and Queller waved back. He was sitting with a group of men and upon seeing Thigpen, he said goodbye to them and made his way through the tavern to sit with his former cadet.
Queller was also still in uniform. He set his cap down on the table. “How are you doing, Thigpen?” He said smiling. “Everyone is talking about the body you found this morning.” Queller had brought his own ale over with him, and took a drink. “Any idea what happened?”
Thigpen nodded, and just then the barmaid returned with his tankard, setting it down in front of him. He waited for her to leave, and then took a drink. “Initial report from the doctor is that the jor was killed by a spider. A really big spider.” Thigpen took another drink. “I am going to find Styxia after dinner to see if she is willing to help.”
Queller looked thoughtful, and took a drink of ale. “Need any assistance? I’m free this evening.”
Thigpen smiled, and said “Yes, actually I do. I need to take the body to Styxia. If you’ll give me a hand with that I’d appreciate it.” The barmaid came back with some food, set it down, and left hastily. She would love to have heard what the two constables were talking about, but she could also see they weren’t going to talk around her.
Queller laughed. “A good way to stay informed. Help move the body.”
Thigpen ate his dinner while Queller sipped his ale. After a while Monklar and the female constable came over to see what was going on. As they pulled up chairs, Monklar introduced Gwenda, a jor with long, black hair in a tidy braid. There were more and more women becoming constables in Slothenburg. It gave them some means to be an integral part of society, and to keep their community strong, that didn’t involve military or domestic service.
Monklar had had a bit more to drink than he probably should have, but Gwenda was still very much alert and smiling. “Hello, Queller. Nice to meet you, Thigpen.” She settled into her chair, her kepi Pushed back on her head. “How goes the investigation?”
Thigpen filled them all in on what he knew so far, and what he was setting about to do. He also enlisted them in helping get the body to Styxia. They were as eager to help as Queller was, and for the same reasons. First, it was their duty to help out a fellow constable if they needed it. Second, it was a great way to stay inside the loop if any new information came to light. Monklar was fairly tipsy, but he assured them all that he could carry a hollow corpse with no problem at all. Being he was half orc and half ogre, everyone just went ahead and agreed with him.
Upon finishing his dinner, Thigpen paid the barmaid, and the four constables made their way out of the tavern and towards the doctor to get the body and take it to Styxia. She kept an abode inside one of the biggest trees in the city, down in the roots below the city. The tree came up through a vast hole in the wooden boardwalk. There were iron grills set down around the tree’s circumference to allow rain water to flow downwards from the tree to the swamp below. Just like any other large tree in the city, the boardwalk portion served as a traffic circle for the upper city. Below, however, the base of the tree stood alone and apart from any pathways or structures in the undercity. Styxia liked this arrangement.
Hags are not like most folks. And unlike many monsters, they tend to both thrive on socialization and yet shun it. They like to flaunt their knowledge and intelligence, but when they wish to be left alone, then everyone had best leave them be. They cast magical spells innately, having no need of spellbooks or other tools of the trade. And while powerful individually, they were even more fearsome in a group of three, or coven. Most of what Thigpen and his colleagues wanted to know, could probably be done by Styxia on her own. Getting two more hags to lend their expertise would be an expensive, and potentially dangerous, undertaking.
Igrandir had wrapped the body up in canvas just as he said he would. This made transporting it much easier. Monklar was right, he didn’t require any help carrying the dead jor, but he did need help getting the package on his shoulder. As they left the doctor’s house Monklar was a little unsteady on his feet, but he had no trouble holding up the dead body. His real issue was going to be holding himself up.
The fastest way to Styxia’s haunt was to follow the open streets of the upper city until the group found the tree that Styxia lived in, then take the closest means of descent to get to her. Since the hag didn’t live in their precinct, the four constables and their unfortunate cargo would have to do a fair amount of travel. It was an almost two and a half hour walk to reach their destination. Every half hour or so they had to help Monklar shift the body to his other shoulder but otherwise they made good time. A cart or carriage would have been faster, but not a lot of drivers wanted a dead body on board. And so they walked as the day began to wane into night.
It was dark, but they found Styxia’s tree easily enough, and Queller knew the shortest way to the undercity from where it burst through the boardwalk. The four of them went down a narrow, rickety set of stairs, and found themselves on a little dock surrounded by swamp. Queller put his fingers in his mouth and let out a loud whistle. Off in the direction of the tree came another whistle in reply.
“I think somebody will be along shortly.” Queller said. “I wish we had a lantern.” As the only human in the group the older constable had no infravision, and the dim lights visible down here did next to nothing to illuminate the surroundings. It was like being in a dark room with no windows, just tiny cracks in the walls to let starlight in.
There was the sound of oars in the water, and gradually the form of a large boat appeared. It was impossible to make out clearly, but Queller knew this was Styxia’s boat. She had quite a number of dark creepers that she used to run her errands for her, and serve as her servants. Everyone could tell from the smell that dark creepers were rowing the boat towards them. Their pungent body odor was nauseating, and even before the boat reached the dock, the four constables were feeling the effect.
“Oh, dear God, that’s awful.” Said Gwenda. Monklar gagged a couple of times, making a horrid retching sound. Queller just cursed under his breath, and held his hand up over his nose. Thigpen blinked a few times, and could feel his eyes crossing.
The boat touched the dock, and the four constables clambered aboard. They set the body down in the middle of the boat, and then sat on either side. There were half a dozen creepers in the boat, and they chittered amongst themselves. The small, stinky crewmembers pushed off from the dock, and began rowing towards Styxia’s tree.
The hag kept a number of magical lights on around her tree during the night, and since the creepers hated all light, they would scamper out of the lighted area as quickly as possible, only coming in long enough to deliver whatever they had been sent out for. Thigpen wondered to himself if this was just her way of keeping the wretched little skunks away from her until she needed them. The boat came in to the little island upon which the great tree was rooted. The constables could see that a large number of creepers were there as well, looking to see who was coming to visit. And in the midst of them was the hunchbacked form of Styxia, the green hag of Slothenburg.
The boat ground against the little island, and the creepers on board threw ropes over to their comrades on dry land. Chittering excitedly, those on solid ground heaved until the boat was pulled in tight so that everyone could exit the craft easily. Queller stepped out first, as the highest ranking among the constables. Thigpen followed him, then Monklar and Gwenda with the body. They set the wrapped corpse down in front of Styxia, who screeched in delight and rubbed her talon-like hands together with wicked glee. Her dark, olive drab green face was lit with sheer joy.
She brushed her bushy white hair out of her face with her clawed hand as she exclaimed “Oh what a delight! Is this all for me?” She bowed down and sniffed at the parcel.
“No, but we do have a proposition for you.” Answered Thigpen. “How many gold coins to divine the identity of this dead jor?”
The hag giggled evilly to herself, and waved her right hand over the corpse. The canvas wrapping fell away as if opened by unseen forces. The creepers all chattered loudly and retreated into the darkness. “Ooooo!” she exclaimed, clasping her hands on her cheeks like a little girl who just got a doll from her favorite aunt. She lowered her hands, and looked at Thigpen with her eyes burning as yellow-orange fire. “For ten gold coins, I’ll give you his name. For fifty I’ll tell you how he died.”
Thigpen dug into his pocket and pulled out the coins the captain had given him. He looked at them and then told Styxia “I have eight gold coins. But we might need your assistance further down the line, if we can work out a deal.”
The hag grinned in a most disconcerting manner, and the constables all felt an involuntary shiver. “I am intrigued, constable. What is your name?” She edged closer to Thigpen, and if the dead body hadn’t been between them she might have gone right up to him.
“My name is Thigpen.” He answered. Thigpen had never been more aware of how dangerous a hag could be. He could feel himself sweating.
“So for eight gold coins you wish to know his identity, and then perhaps you might need more help?” A bit of drool dripped from her needle-sharp teeth onto the dead body.
“Precisely.” Said Thigpen. He tried to look away but her eyes drew his attention to her.
Styxia began to chuckle. “We have a deal, constable Thigpen.” She knelt down and touched the dead jor with both of her hands. “Give me a few moments.” She looked up and held out her left hand. “But first the gold.”
Thigpen dropped the coins into her bony hand, and took care not to cut himself on her razor sharp nails. They looked like they were made of iron. The hag snapped her hand closed and tucked it into the leather bag tied around her waist. She then turned her attention to the body.
The green hag mumbled incoherently while she held one hand on the jor’s head and the other in the air just over where his heart would have been. There was a flickering in the lights around the tree, and in the darkness the creepers let out a collective, horrified screech. The constables took a step away from the body, wary and not entirely unafraid.
Styxia looked up at Thigpen. “His name was Fenderlahn.” She smiled thinly. “I’ll tell you this, for free, constable. He came here from the city of Middleswamp.” Her smile vanished into a sad grimace. “He had only been in Slothenburg for eight days.”
Thigpen swallowed hard. In a hoarse whisper he said “He was killed almost the minute he got here.” The hag nodded her head. Thigpen continued and whispered “But why?”
“I can tell you, if you have the gold. Or perhaps another, shall we say, sacrifice?” The hag tilted her head as she looked at him. Her expression was a mix of sorrow and insidious glee.
Thigpen stood silently for a while. “Take one of his teeth, hag.” He looked at Queller, then at Styxia. “If we need more about his death that will give you all you need for divination.”
Styxia was almost crestfallen, but she reached into the mouth of the dead jor and with a crunching sound extracted one of his canines. “As you wish, constable.” She looked at Thigpen as she stood back up. “I look forward to working with you again, Thigpen.”
She turned and screeched at the creepers in their own, unintelligible tongue. Half a dozen came running to take the constables and Fenderlahn’s body back to the dock. The constables rewrapped the body, and put it into the boat. More creepers came out of the darkness to push the boat off. Their odor was still sickening but it was tempered by the relief that the constables were leaving the hag’s island. As the creepers rowed them back to shore, each of the constables seemed lost in their own thoughts. Thigpen’s main concern was why the green hag had expressed any kind of grief for a dead jor. What else had she seen in her divination?
When the boat reached the dock, the constables climbed out and once again hoisted Fenderlahn onto Monklar’s shoulder. They made their way up the rickety stairs, and at the top all four of them just stood there.
Queller finally broke the silence. “Well then, Thigpen. What next?”
Thigpen took a deep breath of the crisp night air, and looked around thoughtfully at the well-lit streets of the upper city. “Suppose we need to get Fenderlahn here to a proper undertaker.” It was cooler up here at night than it was underneath the boardwalks. “Any suggestions?”
Gwenda and Monklar shrugged. They were not accustomed to this part of the city. Queller spoke up again. “I know a fellow not far from here. His name is Perrick. Nice enough, professional. I’m sure he’d be willing to crate Fenderlahn, and arrange to ship him back to Middleswamp.”
“Can you get him to the undertaker on your own?” asked Thigpen. It was clear to everyone that Monklar’s earlier abundance of drinking was beginning to catch up to him.
“Aye, that I can.” Replied Queller. “Here, Monkey, shift him over on to my shoulder.”
The orog did exactly that, and Queller was surprised how light the body was. He looked at the other constables and said “Gwenda, you make sure Monklar gets home. Thigpen, I’ll see you tomorrow at the precinct.” The constables all waved to each other, murmuring their farewells. Queller toted the body off in one direction, and the other two began heading off back towards their own precinct. Thigpen was left standing at the head of the stairs.
Thigpen wasn’t sure what to do next. He was tired, so his body began the long walk towards home. His mind kept going over what needed to be done next. He had found out the dead jor’s identity, and that was good. Now he needed to determine what had killed him. If he knew anyone with gold to throw away he would just go get the money he needed to pay Styxia for the information. Thigpen refused to contemplate what other means by which he could hire her services. The hag may very well ask him to turn a blind eye to something criminal, or even to take part in some nefarious undertaking. That ran right against his deeply held convictions. Unless he came into a sizeable sum of money, and fast, he would have to find other means to solve this case.
Had Fenderlahn been a notable somebody, such as a nobleman or member of the government bureaucracy, this case would already be solved. The Office of Interior Investigations would have swooped in with their own diviners, spellcasters, even psionicists, and quickly determined what had happened and why. But swift justice, much less retribution, was not squandered on the general populace. The further down the ladder you were, the more likely that your vengeance would never be expressed. Thigpen was all too aware that this is why the downtrodden were most frequently the victims of violence and oppression. Who would waste gold and precious time seeking to settle a crime, when the victim was no better than livestock?
This reality had always been a thorn to Thigpen. Even as a child, pretending to be an officer of the law, he felt a compelling motivation to do for all victims equally. He had felt then, and even more strongly now, that whether it was the Empress or a beggar, neither should suffer the indignity of being forgotten in the aftermath of criminal victimization. It was now time to bring closure to Fenderlahn’s life.
Immersed as he was in his own musings, Thigpen didn’t notice how quickly time went by. Before he realized it he had reached the little pile of apartments that he knew as home. It wasn’t far from the precinct tower, and the rooms would have been intolerably small to anyone with a family, even if it was just a spouse. His room was two flights up, had one little window, and a fireplace for cooking and keeping warm in the winter. He had lived here the entire time that he had been a constable. His was apartment nine.
The room was furnished in what could best be described as goblinoid bachelor. He had a chair, a bed, two large trunks in which he kept his clothes, a table and a cupboard. He tended to keep dry food in the bags they were shipped in, leaned up against the wall near the cupboard. There was a small barrel that was half full of a salty orcish beer, and a crock that held dried meat. He didn’t own any artwork, so the walls were bare, save for nails he had driven in to hold his coat and shirts. Thigpen liked his uniform tunics to be hung on these nails instead of folded or tossed into the trunks. A lantern was hung in the middle of the room on a long chain from the ceiling. The room was ridiculously tall considering its small dimensions in width and depth. If a family lived here, they would likely have built a loft for more room. They may even have been able to squeeze in a small attic as well. As it stood, the room was tough to keep warm in the winter. Thigpen had never much minded the cold, though. It made it easier to sleep.
He didn’t think he would have trouble sleeping tonight at any rate. He kicked off his boots, and tossed his uniform on top of the nearest trunk. Thigpen let himself fall into bed, and he pulled the blankets over him clumsily. It had been a painfully long day. Almost instantly he was asleep.