Quaestor LaermontQuaestor Laermont was glad to be back in Terminus. In fact, he was glad to be alive, given what he’d just gone through in the southern jungles. He’d also been surprised to have work waiting for him on his return. A message had been left for him by, of all people, the elusive Professor Craxtus. The professor’s young protegé Aeria Luxus had a job for him. The pair had met and discussed the case of one Dullius Fortis, a good friend of hers and a man, Laermont had heard, who had an interesting past. The detective had read the poster, listened to Aeria’s explanation and was now embarking on his task.
The first port of call he had was the Societas. He hadn’t expected them to tell a detective much of anything and he’d been right. They were about as tight-lipped as any organization could get. Failing that, Laermont was going to have to rely on his own information network. He had a small group of individuals from varied levels of society who kept him informed and now he sent word out that they should learn as much as they could about this Dullius Fortis.
He also sent out several of his acquaintances who worked at the street level to put out a message that if he was around, Dullius Fortis should get in touch with one Quaestor Laermont regarding a mutual friend. Perhaps the telegraph of the streets would bring the man to his door.
Meanwhile the detective set about learning as much of Dullius’ movements before he’d vanished as was possible.
That meant following any, and all, leads available to him. Such as the vague instructions left on the message: “Speak to the proprietor of The Vitae” -- or one Cicely Akvavit. A young terran woman of diminutive stature and two-toned blue hair who had worked rather hard to establish her business. Much could be said about The Vitae, but most notably was the atmosphere which made people from all walks of life feel welcomed.
The tavern-esque setting was warm and somewhat busy, and when Laermont approached the bar counter he was given a warm reply. However, when questioned about Duilius, the demvir was given most unfortunate news -- Cicely knew nothing of the man. Had never even heard of him prior to those fliers popping up, as a matter of fact. She had, however, been instructed to direct anyone asking about him.
At the back of the tavern, seated near a corner, was a figure wearing a hooded cloak facing the rest of the open tavern. The seats nearest to the figure were abandoned, as if they’d been left open so that anyone could speak without worry of the overly nosey. But it was the figure’s face that was perhaps the most interesting thing.
Or, more to the point, the lack of a face.
Strange and unnatural shadows clung to the hood’s opening, acting as a veil that gave only the faintest of impressions of features. The only identifiable feature were the lips, curled in a playful smirk while unseen eyes scanned the crowd for dangers -- or clients.
The air of hidden menace around this character immediately put Laermont on his guard. Even from across the room, to where Ciciely had pointed, there was a dark aura that emanated from him. The closer the detective got, the more he realized that the shadows around the man’s face weren’t moving. This couldn’t be good.
His impassive demvir faceplate helped disguise his uncertainty and there was nothing of his concern betrayed in his voice as he regarded the man. “I was directed to you by the proprietor of this establishment. My name is Quaestor Laermont. I was told that you might have information regarded Duilius Fortis. Is this accurate?”
It was the detective’s usual approach to open directly. He didn’t want to give too much away either. There were all sorts of forces in the world and after his recent experiences with mind control machines and ancient aliens in Valmoor, he was ruling nothing in or out at this point.
The figure tilted their head as they listened, but once prompted they did not immediately answer. It was several painfully awkward moments before, finally, they said, “I believe you are mistaken.”
The accent was thick, distinctly Hiemisian but from the far eastern coast, and definitely female. Though the cloak hid her figure her voice was light and airy, and carried an almost sing-song quality to it. The smirk pulled itself tighter across the woman’s face and she sat back in the chair. Her cloak fell open to reveal that she was someone of diminutive stature, and despite the modesty of their clothes (plain, and ill-fitting) the woman knew she had a figure that attracted -- and likely used it.
But this was not one of those times.
“The message said to come here if you knew the man, did it not?”
“It might have done, but I think we both know what it meant was that you know something about him and you want to know if your suspicions can be confirmed.”
Internally Laermont kicked himself for not properly reading the poster. It was a nearly unforgivable error, but he was hoping that he could turn things around before it became too costly.
“Perhaps we can help each other out. I have contacts and resources in the city that I am assuming you don’t have. I am sure that we could find him together. I would, however, need to know more about why you want to find him and what you intend to do once you have found him. Specific details aren’t necessary, of course, but a general sense would be good.”
The woman paused as if to consider her words.
“I will share what I know,” she said after a moment, though she sounded hesitant. “However, you must first tell me how you know him.”
“I’m looking for him on behalf of some friends of his, so I don’t know him per se. These friends of his are worried because he’s been absent with no news for quite a while. My interest in him is merely to locate him and ensure he hasn’t come to harm. Will this do?”
Laermont waited to see how the woman would react. He was still trying to weigh up why she was magically concealing her features and what her own interest might be. Clearly there was more to this Kincaid fellow than met the eye. He seemed to be drawing a great deal of attention in his absence.
“It must.” She replied.
Sitting forward then, the woman interlaced her fingers and proceeded to rest her chin on them. “These friends of yours, they are most curious if they seek to find Fortis,” she remarked. It was a statement left dangling in the air, unanswered for a moment while the two assessed one another in silence.
Maybe the woman had hoped Laermont would supply her with more information -- a casual defense that may hint to who had employed him -- but nothing came from the machina. Then, in a flippant and almost casual disregard, the woman said, “But, then again, he has always kept curious company.”
The woman reached up and pulled back her hood, revealing herself to be full-blooded laicar and looked to be in her early twenties. Beautiful, in a graceful and mysterious way, the playful smirk that danced on her lips seemed to highlight the deep blue of her eyes. Her hair, black as coal, was straight and cut short in a bob-cut that framed her face and only added to her mischievous air.
“I am Mia,” she introduced, “and I apologize to your friends. I know no more of Fortis’s disappearance than they do.” She sounded crestfallen. And the way her smirk wavered for a second as her eyes dropped….
But then it was back, and her blue eyes were pleasant. She regarded Laermont with a soft expression, saying, “I had a hope. ‘Maybe friends of his will show,’ I told myself. ‘He has friends. He always has friends. They will know.’”
It was hard to read this woman, even after she’d revealed her face. Laermont watched her, looking at the subtle interplay of movement in her features and the expression on her face. He supposed that if he really found laicar (or any race) attractive, that this woman would qualify. Luckily for him, such charms had never really drawn him in. Detectives were best when immune to such things.
Nodding in acknowledgement, Laermont replied, “It does appear that he did keep quite curious company. I won’t deny that my friends fall into that category. It might be impertinent of me, but might I inquire as to how you know him? Specifics are not necessary, I’m just curious as to what your interest in finding him would be? Personal or professional?”
Once again, he took it easy. There was no point in jabbing into Mia with a question that would simply make her more guarded. If she relaxed enough, the detective would try slightly more probing questions.
Mia hesitated for a moment, and then, as if on reflex, pulled her hood back over her head to hide half of her face. Slowly, she stated as if it were all the explanation that Laermont needed, “We have… history.” A silent pause before she added in her thick, western Hiemisan accent, clarifying, “Good history.”
The laicar woman shifted in her seat, and changed topics, “Might I ask which of his friends hired you?” Before Laermont could supply a vague answer, she hurriedly added, “He has many enemies. People who he has annoyed or angered. People who would lie, or have others lie to find him. People who want him alive so that they might hurt him instead.”
Laermont hesitated, trying to determine how much he trusted this woman. She wasn’t showing any particular tells that would indicate that she was a liar, but she also could be extremely good at lying. He flicked his eyeplate over her face and nothing stood out. He laid his hands on the table and met her gaze. “I was hired by members of the Societas. They are curious as to where their boss has gotten to. I am not in the habit of taking on jobs of this nature without trusting the origin of those jobs.”
He sat back and waited to see what her response might be. He thought that he’d detected genuine affection for Kincaid in her previous statement about the man. However he was still not willing to accepted what this woman said at face value.
Mia looked as though she was considering something. Then, she nodded, “The Societas would be as curious. They’re not familiar with his habit of disappearing as I am. However, this time is different.
“Duilius has a pattern, a habit of sorts, before he disappears from one place to another. It’s not something he waves like a flag but if you know what to look for you can see it.” She fell silent for a moment, “But not this time. I’ve tried all my old contacts, and they haven’t seen him. I’ve exhausted every possible angle except one: his friends.”
She turned her face up to him, and although her eyes were hidden beneath the hood, they were unmistakably looking into his. “I need his friends. They can search in the places I don’t know about. Talk to the people he knew. That is why I set this meeting up.”
Now that had the ring of truth to it. At this point, Laermont was willing to commit and he made it clear. “Very well. I will accept what you’ve said and I agree to work with you on this case. I’ll report back to you on what I find and we can meet if any new information comes up. Is this acceptable to you too, Mia?”
He was still al business. His tone was formal, but it was merely his way. Laermont would otherwise have been much warmer with the woman because he saw in her a decent person, trying to do the right thing. If she was indeed working for a malevolent power, she was covering herself better than anyone he’d met before. There seemed to be genuine emotion in what she was saying and Laermont had no reason to doubt her sincerity.
“It will have to be.” Mia agreed. She implored, “Please, speak to the others. We must make sure nothing is missing.”
The laicar woman rose from her seat and nodded politely, “I will be here every evening. If you need to get a hold of me before then, order the Night Alert. It is a rare beverage that the proprietor claims will get even a demvir buzzed. She will find me, and I will find you.”
She departed then, leaving Laermont at the table with a playful smirk as her only goodbye.
A drunken demvir? That was funny. He doubted it was true, but at least he had a way to get a hold of Mia if necessary. He sat for a moment, gathering his thoughts and then stood. He had enough work to be getting on with.
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