The youngest child of the Solune royalty. Scholarly, but overall directionless, but has an interest in history. A jack of all intellectual disciplines, adept of many, thanks to her slow aging. Reads a lot, has her own library in the castle. Bit of a ditz.
Within every man it comes From every mind it comes
There is no escaping it—
Except through death.
The actions of the day are remembered
Only now, during its process.
Thoughts and tribulations
Ideas and mistakes
Every failure and success
Taken one step further,
Solidified in memory by—
Are filtered and strengthened by—,
The Mind’s Connections strengthened by—
Only through me.
The flesh will seethe into the mind This is when it comes.
May call it an accident,
Thinkers and prophets in time They know the truth.
Truth, once found,
is to be distilled
Archetype and myth
Proverb and poetry
Politic and action
Not a sphinxian proposition,
No enigma for confusion.
It is dreams, the gift of sleep
Translation across hemispheres
This, the key to Revelation.
Kemia (full version) is the third draft of Decay. This will likely be the final one.
“I found this behind the bar.” Setzer handed Natasha a thumb-sized glass vial. It was empty, but lined with a distinct maroon residue. “They must have been poisoned.”
“Yes,” said Jade, “There was something wrong with the taste.”
For the first time since the inn had been built, there was more than one person in its attic. Three of the seven within were dead.
Setzer didn’t like the involvement of Jade Sing. He had a long list of reasons for why he disliked her. The first reason was that Jade was a foreigner, but the worst, somewhere near the bottom, was that she was a cannibal. Natasha had never seemed to be too interested in arresting Jade, despite Setzer’s suspicions. Every time he’d investigated one of Jade’s catches, she had come away innocent. Did she eat people? Yes. But did she kill them? Not according to evidence. Cannibalism isn’t technically illegal, and it seemed that Jade was either a master frameup artist, or she simply took advantage of murders and reaped the spoils. One thing Setzer was sure of: Jade was a sly opportunist. That was also on his list.
Jade had broken into the inn attracted by the scent, she had claimed. She had found the bodies and sampled them, and then she had alerted the nearest guard, Sergeant Alice; a small, jumpy woman built like a brick house. Alice then told her Captain, and they had both arrived along with Constable Setzer; the short, often cross young man with long black hair, pale skin, and dark eyes.
To Setzer’s chagrin, it seemed he was again going to prove Jade’s innocence. He surveyed the corpses. Each was missing part of its calf, and one’s face was so bludgeoned that it was unrecognisable.
“Easy to draw a conclusion based on this,” he said. “First, based on the vial and the… taste, we can assume that these people were poisoned. Second, Dhesmond Machina owns and runs this inn. He could easily spike his alcohol and claim that the victim passed out. Finally, the inn didn’t open today, and,” he handed Natasha a hand-copied document, “yesterday’s travel ledger shows that Dhesmond skipped town this morning and hasn’t returned!”
“Wonderful!” Alice clapped.
“So, Natasha, are we going to search Hannibal or Baracus? He probably escaped to one of those cities.”
Natasha Glass Rhye studied the list and felt her neck tighten.
“Neither. This is not enough.”
“Umm, okay but…” Setzer said, “what else do we need?”
She looked at him calmly, “Who are these people? Where did the poison come from?”
Setzer wasn’t happy, but orders were orders. “Fine, we’ll identify the bodies first.”
“Good.” Natasha’s face was stern, “After you two are finished, meet me at the Ph.Kem. lab. Alice, I would like you to visit the undertaker for this area and get them to identify the body, whether you yourself can identify them or not. If the district mortician can get us faces quickly, bring us a note, otherwise, come without it.”
“Sure,” Alice nodded.
Setzer sighed. “Alice, do you know who usually comes here? To the bar?”
She took a deep breath, and presented Setzer a word salad. “I know almost just about all the people from around here.” Alice’s grasp of syntax faltered when she was excited. Setzer always assumed it was due to her being a foreigner, a Plainkind for the west.
Natasha left them to parse out the identities as well as Alice’s speech, and exited the building, studying the ledger. She watched the cobbled streets as she went, and headed northwest to speak to one of the city’s construction foreman.
Setzer and Alice sat at a table in the bar and drew up a list of all the patrons. Alice identified the two who were dead, and they were crossed off. Setzer went out into the city and sought out the rest of the people list.
Jade was told to stay behind, tasked with keeping people out of the bar. After much frustration, Setzer managed to bargain her into promising that she would “try not to eat anything,” and “definitely not touch the mysterious body.” He hoped he wouldn’t have to answer to families again, but he could never be sure with Jade.
It took until noon to find everyone. Most of them had no idea that anything was wrong, they simply wondered why the bar was closed. One person mentioned that Dhesmond had become too touchy as of late “He damn pussified litl’ bitch nao. Gon haffin’ a new bar.” Setzer assumed that this loss would be considered good news to any innkeeper. Most of the other patrons agreed that, in the past month or so, he had seemed more stressed than usual. Setzer and Alice thanked each person for their time, and soon the list was empty, except for one name.
Alice looked, and shook her head, “Reighleigh Straker. We only checked his house, remember? He’s maybe at work.”
It dawned on Setzer why the Captain wanted them to meet her at the lab. “Does he work at the Ph.Kem. lab?”
“You know, I think the good Captain is a few steps ahead of us.” Setzer shook his head.
Alice smiled. It seemed that was what she did when she was confused. Or happy. Or angry. Setzer had come to accept that nearly all emotions led Alice to smile, but he had yet to tell the smiles them apart.
“Natasha must have known all along… Now we just have to confirm that he isn’t there, at the lab, and our bases will be covered.” Setzer nodded to himself.
Alice just shrugged, “We’ll meet there after I go to the cemetery.”
“I doubt we’ll need it, but orders are orders, I guess.”
To his surprise, Setzer arrived that the Philosophy of Kemia lab first and had to wait a few minutes. Natasha arrived late, with the slight sheen of a person who just walked halfway across a city and back.
“Where did you go?” asked Setzer.
“I went to where they are extending the wall.”
“Did you find the identity of the third body?”
“We deduced that it was Reighleigh Straker. Not sure why Dhesmond would beat him up like that though.”
The Captain shook her head.
“You will see when we go inside the Philosophy of Kemia Laboratory,” She returned the vial he’d found at the inn. “Search his desk when we get inside.”
Natasha knocked on the door. It was answered by a woman who looked like her, except she was younger, smaller, wore a white coat, and had more hair.
“Natasha?” She asked.
“Chloe,” she nodded. “We are here as part of an investigation.”
“Ah, sure. I’ll get someone who actually works here.” She turned and called, “Straker?”
Setzer glanced at Natasha. If Reighleigh was here, alive, then his investigation was worthless. A moment passed, and she called out again, but for someone else.
“Finch? Yes, ah, the guard is here.”
Chloe let them into the lab. It was brightly lit, with large wooden desks. Some were capped with thick layers of metal, but all of them were covered with metal and glass instruments, and lined with drawers. In the far corner was a small room sealed with a heavy door.
A lab student approached them. His lanyard read “Finch Däwngale Zeth.” He was a short man with pale skin, dark hair, and dark eyes. He wore a white lab coat and held a mess of papers.
“Oh, Captain Rhye,” he looked from Natasha to Chloe, “Here to talk to your sister…umm, to talk to Chloe?”
“No. We speak enough when we are not working.”
Setzer said, “Is Reighleigh here? I need to—” see if he’s alive, is what he thought. “I need to search his desk.”
“He’s in the supply locker, right there.” Finch pointed, “It’s heavily barred to prevent theft. Some of that stuff is dangerous, you know?”
There was a loud metallic creak and Setzer’s stomach churned. According to his logic, the man who stood before them was dead, his body stashed in Dhesmond’s inn. The Constable took a deep breath. He hadn’t earned his rank by faltering. Lost, he defaulted to his orders.
“We are here to search your desk.”
Reighleigh gave him a deep frown.
After a pause, Finch helpfully pointed to one of the counters, “It’s that one.”
Setzer strode to it and began opening drawers until he found one filled with thumb-sized test tubes, and a labelled jar of distinct red liquid. He took the vial found at the inn out of his pocket. The size and shape matched, and the colour was almost the same (the inn’s vial having dried).
Natasha looked sidelong at the doctor. He seemed to be stifling his nerves. Her eyes moved down to his hands and she saw that his knuckles were blue.
In his head, Setzer read the label on the jar; Hyperthermic Coronary Accelerator. Then he looked up and nodded to Natasha. She nodded back. They’d found the poison’s supplier. Reighleigh moved slightly. Natasha knew those movements; the flight response. He would go either for the window or the door. Natasha’s eyes moved fast, her mind faster.
Then Alice flung the front door open, and jumped inside, shaking the floor as she landed.
“I got it!—Oh, hi dear; I mean Finch,—anyway, I got it!” She waved the mortician’s note in front of her cheery face, “The last dead person is not Reigh even for sure now, it’s Dhesmond Machina!”
Reighleigh froze. His face hardened, and then he steeled himself and sprinted for the door. Alice smiled and repositioned slightly as Reighleigh leaped forward and tried to tackle her. Unfortunately for him, Sergeant Alice was nearly twice his weight in muscle; a capable guard in the occupational sense well as the literal one; guarding the portal. She restrained him with ease.
“You’re under detainment for killing three people using poison!” Setzer ran to the man and seized his hands. he began winding a cord around Reighleigh’s wrists.
The man retorted, “How could I have murdered someone who isn’t even in town!”
“You—” Setzer had no idea.
Natasha finally spoke, her mind finished with all thought, “You followed him, but not through the gate. You went through the part of the wall that is currently under construction.”
Setzer and Alice looked at each other across the man who stood between them. Reighleigh remained silent.
Finch was unsure what to think. He looked between Natahsa and his wife nervously.
Chloe called to her sister, “go on!” She loved to see anyone competent at work. It was, in her mind, an art.
Natasha strode to the nearest desk and sat down on it.
She faced Reighliegh,
“Jade confirmed for us that all three victims were poisoned.
Setzer confirmed that the liquid and vial found at the inn match with the poison and containers found here. Likely they were killed under your instruction, using your chemical.
Alice confirmed that the body was Dhesmond’s.
Finally, I confirmed that Dhesmond exited town, but supposedly never returned. We have the ledger.”
Setzer had finished his knot, so he presented the items as Natasha mentioned them.
“Shortly before I came here, I spoke to the foreman of the wall project and confirmed that on the same day that Dhesmond left, the she saw him return through her construction site, along with someone else; you. I assume you exited before the workday started and managed to convince the poor man back into town so you could snuff him. Then you poisoned him like you did everyone else; except he would have known his fate when you handed it to him.”
“How haunting!” Chloe blurtend.
Natasha frowned at her sister and continued. “You threw Dhesmond’s body with the rest. But,” shepointed to his bruised hands, “you beat the recognition off his face first.”
She took the ledger from Setzer, and dropped it beside her. “You left Dhesmond’s closet full of skeletons, with his name on a document proving that he tried to evade the law. You framed a dead man. It would have been the perfect crime—if there was no one who could identify a dead body. But what is the job of a coroner if not identification?”
Natasha stood, towering over everyone in the room by at least a head. She said, “Dead men do not sneak into cities or poison and brutalize themselves. You will face judgement in the court. We will bury the dead with love and respect. We will bury you, when you are done rotting to death, with apathy and forgiveness.”
A quiet came over the room. Natasha bodily lifted the criminal over her shoulder, and the guard filed out.
Word Count: 2125.
This is the second draft of Kemia. Polished and added illustrations… does this count as an illuminated version?
This is the third draft of “Decay.” There are a lot of differences, to the point where I can comfortably call them different stories, so feel free to check it out.
This is the second draft of a story written as an exam for my Detective Fiction course, 01-26-202-01. I got a decent mark in the end, I think, so perhaps that’s indicative of the quality of this piece.
Chloe returned home around midday. Her mother found her and gave over the letter, saying, “It is already too late, dear.”
Curious, Chloe read.
I will be home tomorrow (the Second of the month) in the morning. Please be prepared to receive me and to accommodate a guest.
Third Prince of the Solune.
“He is here already. He arrived this morning.”
“Where?” Chloe was suddenly disoriented.
“He went out with that guest of his only a few minutes ago.”
Chloe wanted to find him, to chase him around town, but she said, “I will not disturb him, if that is the case. Likely he is showing his new friend around the city. I will wait—ah! I will, ah, I’ll be in the cafeteria…”
Gwenhime watched her daughter prance to the stairwell, and then trip down half the flight. She sighed.
“Not a new friend,” Gwenhime mumbled to herself.
“You know that God made man for one reason: to reach the top shelf for woman.” Whispered the tall, dark haired man.
The woman who heard him, the woman with whom he was with, laughed as she reached above his head and took the bottle of spirits. She reached higher, and up to the top shelf, and pushed on the bottom of the bottle with the tips of her fingers until she could no longer reach it.
“Your highness,” she whispered back, “you are so tall, will you not help a poor maiden? Your God must also have made woman to compel man.”
“Of course, my ‘almāh. Ask, and it shall be given.” And he delivered it into her hands.
“Yes, we will have to thank your God for the intoxicated loving we are to have, and then thank my god for that which will result.”
“Dear!” He wiped the hair from his pale complexion. “Not before marriage!”
“How quaint of you!” She replied.
Both laughed, playing the part of lovers in the little store.
The woman paid for the bottle, as she maintained both their incomes. Her hands were rough. She handed the bottle to the man to carry and put her wallet away. She had chin-length, sand-coloured hair, and dark eyebrows. Her young-looking face that had the unusual resting expression of anxious joy.
Alexandre “Jutt” Dirge’s first reaction when she saw the poster was a dismissive sneer. Work for the castle? I guess she really isn’t interested in my assistance after all.
She felt a pit in her stomach, and her neck muscle began to twitch involuntary from the stress. After a full day of research on hormones and neurotransmitters, Alexandre’s perspective on the matter had shifted slightly. Well, let’s see what happens if I show up anyway.
Chloe made a feline noise as she sneezed, covering her mouth with a handkerchief. She stared at her food, now half eaten. The city could not afford to feed her steak every day of the week, but she figured that this week was to be the exception. She was meeting her brother for the first time in years, and she would also be leaving the city very soon. Tomorrow, if Lilllith shows up.
Chloe had ordered two slabs of moose steaks. Unlike Alice, she did not eat her meat raw and bleeding. She pondered and planned what exactly she would do with the second steak. She had thought she was hungry enough to eat it, but now she was less sure. She silently sulked, and poked at it with her knife.
“I guess I should only have gotten one…”
Footsteps made their way down the stairs into the basement diner. Chloe didn’t bother looking up to see who it was.
“I wonder when my brother will return.”
The person called out, “He has returned.”
Chloe heard the Messenger and looked up. The woman that stood above her was not who she had expected. It was Alexandre Dirge.
Chloe’s manner shifted. She said, “Oh look, it is you. Have you gotten your Philosophy Doctorate yet?”
Alexandre frowned, “No.”
“For what have you come?”
Alexandre took a sheet of paper from her coat and handed it to Chloe. It was folded almost as many times as a kingdom map. Chloe opened it up and saw that it was one of her posters.
“You took it down.”
Again, Alexandre frowned, “No, I got this from Finch. One of your extras.”
Chloe looked up and examined the woman. She saw her for the first time.
“Who are you?”
“Alexandre Dirge. Those who knew me in childhood call me Jutt.”
“I knew you in childhood. I used to see you around, playing with Finch. Ah, didn’t you two used to audit classes?”
“Why are you here?”
Alexandre pointed at the poster.
“You want to be on the expedition team? Why?”
“I would be a good addition. I can use a hand-and-half backsword better than most of people in your prison. I know this, because I am the reason most of them are in prison.”
Is she bragging, or… “And how is it that you are the reason? I thought it was the guard who arrested criminals.”
“Do you not remember the gang wars a few years ago?” Alexandre Jutt smiled, revealing sliver-coloured teeth. “This was my doing.”
“—You were Natasha’s informant?!”
“I am the Messenger.”
Chloe stood up. I already knew this! Natasha always called her “the younger Dirge.” She breathed.
Chloe said, “Even so, why would you want to? Most people do not want to leave the city, let alone the kingdom.”
“There were ways that seemed right to me, but in the end they were the ways of death. He that works, works for himself; for his mouth craves the work. An ungodly man digs up evil: and in his lips there’s as a burning fire. The froward man sows strife: and a whisperer is divided from her closest friends…
I would rather keep myself busy this summer.”
Chloe wasn’t sure what she should think of this. Whose words are those? Did she pull such poetics off the top of her head or…where did she get it from? I though I read all the books in our libraries, and yet…
They stared at each other for almost a minute, trading thoughts through expression. Finally Chloe spoke.
“Yes, you will be the first then. It would be good to have you. You, like me, can hold the double role of guardsman and researcher. The poster, I am sure you already know, state that we meet tomorrow at noon.”
“And you, ah, you don’t have a sword do you.”
“Yes I do.”
“Another thing,” Jutt sat down across from Chloe, glancing at what were effectively her leftovers, “Your mother told ne to call for you.”
“Ah!” Chloe stood, knocking the backs of her knees on the bench, causing her to drop back down. “Ah…” She stood properly.
“You can have this if you would like,” She said, already on her way out.
Is he back? Has my brother returned?
She ran up the stairs three at a time and went directly to the throne room.
There were four people there.
King Rhye said, “Oh, it’s good that you made it. We were just finishing up, you almost missed the introduction.”
“Yes, Chloe;” Her brother said, “I would like you to meet someone.”
It had been nearly a year since she had seen him, but he had come on business—for the trial of Janna Rhye. They had not truly spoken in nearly a decade.
Kent was clearly his father’s son. He was tall, handsome, and strong. In fact, he had arrived in full plate armour. The difference was that he had Riley-black hair and dry blue eyes, unlike most of his family. In his youth, he drove both Solune and Riley women mad with eros. Chloe laughed internally, perhaps that is why he never stayed in the kingdom?
Kent continued, “This is my betrothed, Senica.”
Chloe’s eyes flashed to the fourth person in the room. Her unconscious mind began its work. “The annoying one!” Oops. I keep saying things like that…there has to be something wrong with this room.
“Oh, is that how I look in your eyes?” It was Senica, Senica the Djeb anthropologist. She laughed the perfect laugh. Chloe stayed quiet.
“Kent and ‘the annoying one’ will be joining you on your expedition,” Gwenhime said.
Chloe had the dim feeling that, she too, found Senica to be somewhat irritating.
She paused. “Wait, both of them?”
“Don’t you need researchers?” The King said.
“Hmm. It’s too bad though,” Said Senica.
Chloe washed her anger. Gwenhime did not, making an openly scornful expression.
Chloe took a breath, “What is?”
“Looks like you won’t have to take my survey after all!”
There was a pause, and Senica laughed at her own joke. Kent patted her head.
Chloe’s unconscious suddenly, unceremoniously, ejected an answer. “Wait!”
“You two are getting married?”
“Yes, before the expedition,” said Kent.
Senica added, “Don’t want to worry about those loose-Lussa.”
Chloe sighed. I guess I will have to get used to her.
Rhye said, “It was the condition of our blessing that their First Task be to aid a family member with some form of grand task.”
“As is customary,” said Gwenhime.
Chloe nodded. When Janna and Drake had become bound although not specifically married, the first thing they had done was help the King in the Legendary war. I doubt my expedition will be that grand.
“So, when will it be?”
“Oh, I’m thinking tomorrow,” Kent said.
“No!” Chloe stood (or, she thought she did. She was already standing, and so she lurched instead), “Tomorrow Lilllith is to arrive. We cannot have so many things on the same day!”
“Ho! We should have it right before we leave. That way we can fulfill our promise immediately; the expedition transport will be our wedding carriage!” Senica proceeded to swoon.
“Very well, but it will be very early if that is to be the case,” Gwenhime said.
When the meeting ended, Chloe spoke with Kent privately for a few minutes. Before she left, he said, “Can you perhaps invite some friends? To the wedding I mean. The only friend I have is the bride…”
“Oh, ah, sure, I can do that,” Chloe said, “I will, ah, I’ll talk to some people in the morning before Lilllith comes.”
She returned to the basement diner and saw that Alexandre was still there.
Chloe started and turned to see Finch placing his lunch on the table. She looked around the room. It was filled now with people in the bud of their adulthood, people like Finch or Ammelia, Alice or Astore. There were others too, the room contained people at all stages of life intermingling, kissing, talking, eating. Since the walls opened after the Legendary Event, the range of nationalities had begun to spread as well.
“She is someone I know. We, ah, we’re very close; she attacked me last night.”
“I think we are becoming friends though. We will see.”
Finch sat down and considered her words. Then he said, “Oh that’s the girl with the leg! Is she really still sleeping? Has she died?”
Chloe, hit with an irrational concern, checked Ammelia’s neck with her fingers. She was cold to the touch, but her heart beat. “No, she’s fine. Ah! I will have to leave soon, I, ah, I’ve forgotten that my mother has a message for me. I think we got a letter.”
“I am not sure, I went straight to bed last night.”
Finch replied, “Really? Did you sleep here?”
Chloe looked around and realised that her speaking partner had been switched.
“Yes, after I was assaulted,” The woman emphasized the word, “I couldn’t make the trip back to my organization’s camp. Really, I should be leaving soon, since I am a bit better now. You’ve no transit system in this kingdom. It is truly disappointing.”
“Transit system?” Finch didn’t know what this meant.
“Camp?” Chloe interjected.
Ammelia gave a grungy smile. “Nevermind that.”
She stood and Chloe saw her leg. The cafeteria was full for lunch. If it hadn’t been, Chloe may have redressed it properly for her.
Finch said, “Did you eat? You look like shit. —excuse me… I was in the guard for a while. We had people, women especially, come to work looking like you; like shit.”
Ammelia shook her head, almost vomited from the movement, then sat back down. Finch gave her the leftover half of his lunch; cheese and a chunk of meat.
—But Finch was already on his way out the doors.
“Sorry, I’ve got a Kemia exam! Hope to see you again some time!”
Chloe and the Ammelia both stood. The assassin took the food with her and ate it as they went.
As they entered the forest-reclaimed space that was the outdoor campus, Chloe said, “Likely you know already, but I will tell you my name nonetheless. Iam Chloe Rhye, Fifth Prince of the Solune.”
“If, four hours north, Lilllith has not been attacked, then you certainly will be, at that location, on your way back.”
“Four hours from here?”
“From this city.”
Chloe didn’t know why she was being given this information, but she didn’t dare question it until it stopped presenting itself.
“I will be there,” Ammelia said.
“D—, ah, don’t go easy on you, is that it?”
The Lussa slipped on moss, caught herself, and stopped. “I would actually rather that you did go easy on me… I hold value in my life.”
Chloe had been expecting a different sort of cliché. “Ah… I’ll pass the message along. Are you…” She stopped and watched Ammelia’s eyes again. They dimmed, the sclera darkened unnaturally.
“Am I what?”
By now the sclera, the whites of the eyes, were black; black as the girl’s hair. What is happening? Her irises changed next, turning from their natural bluish-purple to a bright white.
Chloe didn’t know what to do, so she just finished her statement. “Are you the youngest in the… in your group of dissenters?”
The inverted eyes scanned Chloe’s face, and then the surroundings. Is she the same? Am I still talking to Ammelia? The lush campus was empty—most of the students were in class or at home.
Ammelia looked back at Chloe and blushed, “I’m the youngest—of the women.”
For a moment, her eyes flickered back to normal. Chloe was unnerved.
“Is there anything wrong with you?”
Ammelia looked at her quizzically, “No, I don’t believe so.”
“With your eyes I mean.”
Ammelia stared at her hand, and then a nearby wall, then said, “No, I can see fine.”
Chloe took a breath. First Yaska May, and now you. What is happening on the Underside?
Chloe said, “Why are you involved in all of this? Clearly you are subject to rather unsavoury acts.”
“This is what I stand for. You’ll understand exactly what each side believes…if you make it to the Underside alive. I am simply in opposition to the rest of the royalty.”
Chloe knew what was going on with the eyes, and it troubled her. She had seen this happen before, to a dear friend, a long time ago.
Chapter 7: Posters Part2; or Alice’s Wondrous Cooking
Not since her final year in study had Chloe done so much in a single day. Talking with Finch, meeting the Djeb woman, Senica, encountering Alexandre, making posters, and then the assassination. Assassination attempt. She was so drained that she barely made it home. She reached the city gates, exited, and then re-entered the castle.
“Chloe!” It was her mother.
Gwenhime could tell by face that, even though she had good news, it would be best received in the morning.
Chloe fell face down on the bed. She craned her neck to face the window above her, and then her eyes pacified.
Alexandre… Alexandre and who? I wonder if that Djeb woman would come. What does she study? I should not have brushed her off. She is from the south, she said. How strange. What is in the south? I wonder if anyone will look at the posters. I should… add a time and place to them… so people know, so I know when to meet.
Vision returned and she took a few notes, and then slept.
In the morning Chloe, forgetting that her mother had a message for her, left the castle early and headed to Alice and Finch’s house. Finch was still asleep when she arrived.
Alice was cooking with fire. Chloe had witnessed this before; the younger woman would take the cover off of her stove, light the wood within it, and cook over the open hole.
“We mostly have eggs, because they’re cheap. And moose too!” Alice said.
She had already cracked seven of them into her little pan, so Chloe wasn’t sure why it was being brought up, especially in a manner that implied she had any other options.
“Can you hold?”
Chloe took the pan. “You know that I burn things, so, ah, whatever you’re doing, do it fast.”
Alice laughed, stated that eggs could not be burned, and then returned from the indoor cellar with vegetables and a block of white cheese. She cut them into small bits and, even though the pan was well past maximum capacity, added it all in.
She took over again and said, “Crush me some salt and pepper, yes?”
Chloe found their salt stones and peppercorn, and threw them into the mortar and pestle on the kitchen counter and mashed.
“Ah, I want to add a location and time to all the posters we made.”
“Yes! When do you leave then?”
“The third. So, the day after tomorrow. That’s a guess, but it rides on the assumption that Lilllith would like to rest at least one night before leaving again.
Alice nodded, and then yelled as a piece of something went into the fire.
“You should have used a bigger pan.”
“This is the bigger pan!”
Finch woke up around the time that food was ready.
“Usually I cook, you know.” He made sure to inform them.
“I know, and you cook like a normal person too, with the stove elements in the stove, and coals for heat.”
They finished—it was very well made—and updated the posters. Chloe decided that the date they used would be the day of Lilllith’s arrival, at noon.
They hit the university right as it opened, and had enough materials for each building. The cafeteria was their last stop, as it generally was not in use until lunch time. It was not empty when they got there. Senica was present, as well as a dark-haired person sleeping in the far corner. They put up a poster, and then a second after a few excited urgings from Alice, since it seemed they had extras. When Alice and Chloe finished putting up both ads, they turned back and saw Finch talking with the Djeb woman.
“Yeah,” he said, “my morning class doesn’t start for another hour or so. I definitely have time. Why don’t we sit?”
“Sure,” Senica replied.
“Me too!” Alice jumped in.
Chloe sat with them for a while. Senica, it seemed, was an anthropologist, which explained why she had lived in the south: for study.
“So, I am conducting a few surveys. I have talked to the university, and I’ve set up this booth here.” She handed them clipboards. “Do you all have pens?”
“No!” Alice said with glee.
“Okay, you can use mine.” Senica turned to Chloe, “Hello again, what was your name?”
“The name is Chloe.” She paused, then added, “Chloe Rhye.”
“Wonderful, would you add your data?”
“No thank you.”
During the short survey, Finch managed to fish out some information from Senica; she was born and educated in the Djeb, that anthropology seemed far more developed there than in the Solune kingdom—he even got her to admit that she was engaged.
“No ring?” Finch flashed his own.
“Oh, that is not customary in the Djeb, so no. Maybe after the marriage.”
Chloe asked, “How long are you staying in the kingdom?”
“Not very long. Conducting studies doesn’t actually pay very well, so I just go wherever he does. For now, we are here.”
“What does he do, to have enough to support both of you?”
“Ah!” Alice jumped up, “Work!”
“Well—” Senica stopped to watch Alice. The Plainkind woman tripped out of the room, waking up the sleeping individual on her way out.
Chloe looked to see, and they locked eyes. She recognized her from last night—the dark haired girl in the corner was the failed assassin! She gave Chloe a cheery smile, watched Alice leave, and then went back to sleep. The girl, Ammelia was her name, seemed to fit in with the university very well, looking like a typical sleep-deprived student, asleep in the cafeteria.
“When does she work?” Senica asked.
“Still has an hour probably,” Finch replied, “she just likes to be early. She’s likely to be Captain soon you know, what with Natasha Rhye ascending to Captain Commander.”
“Really? Well, thanks for participating. We’ll compile this for the university before we go. You should grab a copy of the journal!”
“Did you talk to her?” Chloe motioned to the person in the corner.
“No. She’s actually not a student here. She looks quite sickly too.”
“And did you see her leg? I saw when I got here. It’s bandaged and pink.”
“Blood pink.” Senica had the uncanny look of maternity, “Although I don’t think it’s still bleeding, it must have been pretty bad when it was, to go through all that expensive cloth.”
“And you said she was here when you arrived?”
“Yes—and I got here quite early! Likely she came some time last night. This building is always open, you know? For the students.”
I believe I have an idea of when she arrived…
“Well, if your husband is interested,” She gave Senica one of the extra posters, “Feel free to join the Lussa expedition. In fact, if you do, I will answer your list of questions.”
Senica read it over. “You’re working for royalty?”
“I am the royalty.”
Senica’s eyes widened.
They spoke for a while longer, and then Finch left for class. Senica folded the poster and followed him out to meet her fiancé. Chloe was left behind, but not alone. She stood and moved to sit across from her Lussa visitor. She intended to wait, but eventually she lost focus and her mind wavered.
Senica the anthropologist, Alexandre the Kemist, and who… me the historian? That might make a decent team, but if feels like we are missing a leg from this table. I wonder…