The wait was far too long for anyone’s liking, but at last Gwenda returned with the only constabulary sorcerer the precinct had. His name was Vonder, and he wasn’t a very charismatic human. In fact he tended to emit the most unholy body odor, and to offend a bunch of goblinoids that was quite an amazing feat. Gwenda also brought Captain Ordrander, and a handful of other investigators. Thigpen swore a little under his breath, because they were surely going to take over this scene. Queller looked at him, knowing how his former protégé felt.
“Don’t fret it. Look at this as a chance to search for the widow on your own while they get bogged down here.” The older man said.
Thigpen took a deep breath, and silently nodded his head.
“What have we got?” The captain asked Thigpen. His tone suggested genuine curiosity and not a condemnation.
“It was a Red Widow, we all saw her.” Said Thigpen. “She called up an ettercap and around a hundred or so spiders to cover for her, and she escaped around the pilings. We’re still looking for any trace of her.” Thigpen pointed upwards to where the lanterns were illuminating the overhead nest. “And we need Vonder to take a look at that, and tell us if it is safe to approach it. Either way I suggest we cut a hole in the boardwalk and just access the web from above.”
Ordrander stood looking upward, and the hobgoblin’s mouth once again did that slack-jawed “what in the hell am I looking at and listening to” thing.
“Great merciful swamp beast.” He finally said. “This is the damnedest thing I ever saw.”
Vonder was meanwhile casting spells to determine if the web was inhabited, or if there were traps placed that would make the work of investigating the nest more difficult.
“There is something up there.” He said, somewhat excitedly. “But it isn’t alive.”
The captain called out to the investigators that had come with him. “You guys go up topside and find out what we need to do to cut through the boardwalk or whatever is right over that web. Then once you find out, do it!” Then he looked at Thigpen and Queller. “You two have done excellent work. Go home, get some rest. I am going to put out an alert to all precincts to watch for this creature. We’ll get her.”
Thigpen and Queller hung out for a little while longer, and then the exhaustion hit them both. They had no idea what time it was, and neither one cared. They felt tired all over.
They parted ways, and Thigpen went up to his apartment. The night air was chilly in the upper city. It must have been late, there was hardly anyone about. He managed to drag himself up to his little room, and once inside he collapsed on the bed and slid into a heavy, nightmare-filled slumber.
It was later than usual when he awoke, and at first Thigpen was in a mild panic about being late for his patrol. But he remembered he wasn’t on patrol, not yet anyway. He still had to track down that demonic red spider creature. He changed into a clean uniform, made a sandwich, and ate it as he walked to the precinct tower. First he would check in to see what they had found overnight.
Captain Ordrander was in his office, and the entire precinct was buzzing with activity. As soon as a patrol finished their rounds, they would team up in teams of two and head out to the battle site and work outward looking for clues to where the Red Widow had gotten to. Ordrander motioned for Thigpen to have a seat in his office, and closed the door. The captain sat down in his own chair with a weary, tired sigh.
“Here’s what we have so far.” He said, his voice overflowing with exhaustion. “We cut into the web from above, and recovered another body. Looks like she had been feeding off of it for almost a full week.” He looked at Thigpen, and could see the half-orc’s surprised expression. “She probably got her victim almost immediately after disposing of Fenderlahn. But she wasn’t in the web, and hasn’t shown up since.”
Thigpen pondered this information, his mind working at a furious pace. “But if she had a victim, then why did she go after Luka?” he looked at the captain. “And why then would she have gone after Trenvane? She doesn’t kill for sport, she kills to feed. If she makes too many men vanish, she draws attention to herself. Her survival depends on keeping a low profile.”
There was silence in the office as the two men considered this. As if this entire affair made any sense to begin with, it was starting to really come unraveled now. They were missing a significant portion of the puzzle, and while they might have the border pieces in place the picture inside was still very much a mystery to them.
“Where is Queller, I think we need to discuss this.” Said Thigpen, not so much as a question but as a statement.
“He sent word this morning that he was taking some time off. I reckon yesterday was too much for him. He isn’t as young as you are.” The captain chuckled. “Every constable in the city, every precinct, and every available resource is being put to work finding Josephyne.” He smiled half-heartedly at Thigpen. “Hit the street, see if anything begins to make sense. Maybe we overlooked something. We must have.”
Thigpen stood up, and said “I will go over to Queller’s home and see if he has thought of anything. I’ll be in touch, Captain.” He then saluted, and left the office. Thigpen noticed that more of the constables were fully armed than usual. Wherever the Red Widow was, she was not going to just easily slip out from this dragnet.
On the street, everything was business as usual this morning. The sun was warming up the city, and Thigpen smiled as the breeze caressed his whiskery face. He was overdue for a shave, having been too intent on working this case to have run a razor across his face. He walked to Queller’s house, his truncheon dangling from its’ strap. He could almost forget that there was a monster loose someplace in this city. It could even be that she fled the city. There was no telling, because really nobody was certain what this monster was capable of.
The townhouse that Queller called home was over a fletcher’s shop, and there were always feathers blowing about, in the street, in the stairwell, everywhere. Thigpen went through the door on the street and up the steep, narrow stairs to the small landing one flight up. There were three doors here, the one on the left being for Queller. Thigpen knocked quietly and waited. When there was no answer, he knocked again, this time a little louder. There was still no reply.
Thigpen shrugged, and figured the older man must still be asleep. It had been a very rough few days, and Thigpen was tired too. He went back down the stairs.
Back on the street, Thigpen looked up at the front of the building. There was a window up on the third floor that was open a little, but otherwise nothing of note. Thigpen took his kepi off and scratched his head, looking up the street. He thought for a moment about Josephyne. Assuming for a minute that she could transform freely from spider to human or demihuman, if she was injured, what form would she take to seek help? Surely there were resources available to a monstrous spider that needed her wounds tended. But there were far more capable healers if it was a woman in distress. And not far from where the battle took place was a small hospital that catered to the poor in that neighborhood.
Thigpen put his kepi back on and started walking. There were other healers in Slothenburg, some of them able to even restore the dead back to life. But it was more likely that a woman, clearly hurt in a fight that involved at least one crossbow bolt, a few cuts from a sword, and numerous blows from a truncheon, wouldn’t want to draw very much scrutiny. Thigpen wasn’t even sure she could have survived such wounds. He stopped walking.
The constables had done a lot of damage to the Red Widow. She wasn’t some low level opponent. He mulled this for a few moments, then resumed walking. Regardless of how powerful she was, nobody was going to take her on alone, not now. There were too many people looking for her, and a lot of witnesses to how much of a fight she could put up even when outnumbered fifteen to one. She had been savagely beaten by the attack squad and was now firmly on the defensive side of the equation.
There were two healers on the way to the charity hospital, and Thigpen stopped at them both to inquire if they had tended to a red-haired female last night or this morning. Neither of them had. One wasn’t even an “open wound” healer, only tending to illness and disease. The other one hadn’t had a patient in the last two days, and even that wasn’t anything as severe as what Thigpen was looking for.
Thigpen reached the hospital about mid-morning, and asked the matron at the front counter the same question he had asked the other two healers. “Have you had any red-haired women as patients in the last half a day?”
The woman was middle-aged, probably of intermixed goblinoid lineage, and utterly devoid of a sense of humor. She didn’t appear to have ever smiled, judging by the permanent frown lines carved into her saggy, sour face. “Is this an official inquiry, or are you looking for a friend?” she asked blandly.
“Official.” Thigpen replied, mimicking her blandness.
“Hmm.” She stood up from the stool she had been sitting on. “You’ll have to speak to the Abbot. Wait here.” She waddled ungracefully through the double doors behind her.
Thigpen looked around. The furnishings here were sparse, and that was a generous assessment. Like any place that dealt with the impoverished people of the country, it had to rely on the generosity of donations. Somebody had donated three chairs and a beaten-up couch. That was as charitable as they felt, in this room any way. Looking down, Thigpen noticed the floor had been scrubbed clean but not enough to get the dried blood out from the cracks between the tiles. It was a morbid reminder that people didn’t come here in the best of shape. And if Josephyne had been here, even if she had gotten help, she was still badly wounded. And that made her more dangerous.
The matron returned, and held one of the doors open. “Come this way.”
Thigpen followed her down a hallway with doorways all along both sides. In every room there was ample evidence to how violent Slothenburg could be. Some were exam rooms where the injured could be treated, others were recovery areas for people who were too badly injured to be sent home, or for those that had no home to return to. At the end of the hall was an open door, the office of the Abbot. Behind a large, drab desk was an old frog jor with long, wispy white hair receding from his huge forehead.
The Abbot smiled broadly, and said to Thigpen in a very joyful tone, “Please have a seat, constable.” The matron closed the office door, and they could hear her footsteps disappear back down the hallway. “You are looking for a red-haired woman, one with severe injuries?”
Thigpen nodded his head as he sat down in a ratty little chair. “Yes, sir.”
Before Thigpen could continue the Abbot said “I thought you might be along. She did promise to see the constabulary about her injuries. We were going to get you ourselves last night, but she insisted on doing it herself.” The frog jor’s smile was immense.
Thigpen was confused, but tried not to let on. He set his truncheon on the desk, and fished his little notebook and pencil out from the right breast pocket of his tunic. “Can you verify her name, and the exact nature of her injuries?” he asked as calmly as he could.
“She said her name was Francesca.” Said the Abbot. “She had been caught in the middle of a fight between some ruffians in the lower city. Her wounds were grievous, to be sure.” The frog jor sat back in his chair. “She had been stabbed in a couple of places, and there was some blunt injury trauma as well where she said she had been hit with a chair. I would swear that she had also been shot with an arrow or bolt, but the projectile had been removed. Probably in the chaos of the fight.”
“Francesca.” Repeated Thigpen. “Are you sure of that?”
“Oh yes, quite sure.” Said the Abbot reassuringly. “She received the best help we could give her. I’ll say this, the girl is much stronger than she appears. She was able to leave here this morning in pain, but nonetheless able to walk freely on her own.”
“She left here?” asked Thigpen, disturbed but struggling to remain patient.
The Abbot nodded his head. “Oh my, yes. She insisted.” He chuckled. “I tell you, she is somebody to be reckoned with. You know what they say about red-headed women.”
Thigpen closed his book and tucked it back into his pocket. “And she went to the constabulary to report her attackers?”
“She must have, because here you are!” said the Abbot jovially.
“Any notion where she lives?” asked the constable.
“None at all, sir. Only that she felt good enough to leave, and we were in no position to argue.” Said the frog jor.
Thigpen stood up, and took his truncheon off the desk, slipping the strap back over his wrist. “Thank you, sir. We’ll make sure justice is served.”
The Abbot stood up, and said “Thank you, constable. Would you like me to show you out?”
Thigpen knew how weak frog jor legs got as they aged, so he shook his head. “No thank you, I can find my way. God bless you in your work here.”
“Thank you, constable. Thank you so much.” The Abbot said as he sat back down.
Thigpen left the office door open when he left, and walked briskly down the hall. He didn’t bother to acknowledge the matron as he broke into a jog through the front room and out the main doors. Once on the street, he put his whistle in his mouth and blew a signal for non-emergency assistance. As he stood there he ran over the facts in his mind. Ok, she was a clever fiend. She gave a fake name, and a believable story. She used the charitable nature of the healers against them. And she was recovered sufficiently to once more pose a threat. She was fully aware that the authorities were after her, and likely knew as much about them as they did her. Maybe more.
The constable on patrol here came quickly, as Thigpen had hoped he would. Before he could ask how he could help, Thigpen told him, “Go to the precinct tower. Inform the captain that the Red Widow was here, and she has been substantially healed. I am going to find Queller and get his help. We have one more place to try and find answers.” With that the other constable saluted and ran off to relay the message.
Thigpen began heading back to Queller’s house. He needed his old mentor’s advice. The next step would be to see if the Torkezahn crime family could cast a light on any of this. But he didn’t want to approach the cartel without getting Queller’s input, and ideally, Queller’s presence. The older constable had been around the precinct long enough to know all of the players in the established game of law enforcement and criminal schemes. He was a known influence himself. He was vital to helping Thigpen get to the Red Widow, if she had allies in the nefarious underworld.
Thigpen arrived once more at Queller’s townhouse. Ascending the stairs he was bemused by the bits of feathers being wafted about from the business downstairs. Not the place to live if you had an allergy, mused the half-orc. He knocked on Queller’s door. There was no response. He knocked again, this time louder. Still no answer.
Thigpen went downstairs, and stood on the sidewalk in front of the stairwell door. Where was Queller at? He might be a sound sleeper but it was after noon now. He walked over to the fletcher’s doorway and looked in. There were half a dozen people working inside, churning out arrows and crossbow bolts by the bushel. There was also a number of children here, responsible for cleaning up the leftover feathers and bundling unsuitable feathers for sale to other industries. The master fletcher was supervising the work in his shop, and noticed Thigpen standing in the doorway.
“Can I be of assistance, constable?” the wild elf asked. His skin was darker than that of his high elven cousins, more tan and healthy looking. There was no guessing his age, of course.
“I’m looking for Queller, the sergeant that lives upstairs.” Said Thigpen. “I was told he was taking a few days off but I need his advice on a case.”
The elf wiped his hands on a rag. “Ah yes. One of the kids here took that message to the precinct tower.” He looked at the children working. “Which one of you ran a message to the constabulary for old Queller this morning?” he asked.
A little boy turned and raised his hand. “I did, sir.”
“Tell this constable what that was all about, will you?” the fletcher waved towards Thigpen and then resumed his watchful duties.
The boy walked over to Thigpen. “Whatcha wanna know, sir?” he asked.
“What is your name?” asked Thigpen.
“Ulder.” The little boy said.
“Ulder, what did the old constable tell you to pass on to the precinct?”
The boy looked up at Thigpen innocently. “He wasn’t feeling good, sir. Said he was going to take some time off, rest and such. He looked ill, sir. Tired like.” He dug in his pocket and produced a silver coin. “He gave me this as payment for taking the message.”
“Did he say anything else?” asked Thigpen. A silver coin was a handsome price to pay to send a child to deliver a message.
“No sir.” Answered Ulder.
“Thank you, Ulder. Good job.” Thigpen smiled at the lad, who went back to his work. Thigpen waved at the fletcher, who smiled and waved back.
Thigpen walked the few steps back to the door to the stairwell. He looked down the street while he thought about what to do next. Something wasn’t adding up. It didn’t feel right.
He went back up the stairs, and paused in front of Queller’s door. He looked down. There was a small tuft of feathery down caught in a strand of spider silk in the space at the bottom of the door, buffeted by an imperceptible breeze inside the townhouse.
Thigpen stepped back and delivered a strong kick to the door right near the latch. The wood splintered and gave way with a crash, and inside Thigpen could see every surface covered in thick cobwebs.
“Ah crap.” Said Thigpen. He turned and ran down the stairs. By the time he hit the street his whistle was in his mouth. A loud long blast, repeated, to indicate an emergency. He was getting very tired of arachnids.