Week 429: Corpus Delicti

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Naevius Squalidus

Alcohol is a Solution
Apr 2, 2019
Lapidus Silvarum, in Terminus
Dahlitium (⏆50 per)
Bigatium (⏆100 per)
Auritium (⏆300 per)
Vitatium (⏆1200 per)
Caelitium (⏆6000 per)
Note: Very belated follow-up to Gray Feathers

Corpus Delicti

Wordcount: 1950​

Beneath the roots of one of the larger trees of Lapidus Silvarum, there was a root cellar that had been transformed. Amid the nutrient-rich soil and the silvered roots of the tree there were numerous shelves with casks and barrels of different spirits and liquors, together with bottles and smaller casks of wine and other beverages. A hundred alchemical tools and devices were scattered around the cellar, on tables, in buckets, hanging from the walls or just forgotten on the floor.

There were sconces on the walls that could hold torches, but instead the room was lit by an enchanted glass orb near the ceiling. One whiff of the air in – or even near – the cellar could explain why open flames might not be welcome without proper care.

A long table with a single chair took up the space near the middle. There were scraps of leftover meals, half-empty bottles and cups, more tools, and near the occupied end, five pristine bottles full of a bright orange concoction, one of the five already nearing empty.

In the solitary chair, Naevius dozed, one bare talon up on the table, chair leaned back and precariously balanced. His dark round shades were on the table, his lab coat draped over the back of the chair. Other than his canvas pants, the enlil man was unclothed, baring his chestnut feathers and the diamond-shaped grey patch in his chest.

“Milord?” came a call from the stairs.

Slowly, Naevius opened his bloodshot eyes, blearily staring up at the light overhead.

“Milord, you have a visitor!” Geneva called.

“Tell them I’m not here!” he yelled back, starting to close his eyes again.

From directly in front of him, a familiar voice mused, “Then who do we have here?”

Shocked, Naevius squawked and the chair toppled backward. He lay there for a moment, not even trying to get up, just staring up at the long coat over the blue tabard, finally looking up to meet the man’s eyes. Fuck, Naevius thought. Havital Vicarious, of the city guard. “Ah, Offic—sorry, Inspector, what can I do for you?”

“Thank you, dear,” Havital said to Geneva, none-too-subtly shooing her out of the cellar. “I won’t keep him longer than necessary.” To Naevius, he took a sterner tone. “I’ll skip the preamble: I have questions and I believe you have answers.”

With a groan, Naevius laid his head back, staring up at the ceiling still in the toppled chair. Finally, he rolled to the side, coming up to his feet in a stumble before catching himself against a pillar. Blindly he reached out to a nearby shelf and snagged a brown earthenware jug, with a white cloth tied over the top. “You know it’s rarely as simple as that! But pull up a chair, have a drink, ask your questions.”

As Naevius let the jug thunk to the table, he reached for his own chair only for Havital to snag it first. The inspector sat down, annoyed perhaps but familiar with the eccentric chemist. Huffing, Naevius shuffled across the room to grab a chair from a corner of the room, tipping it to empty the discarded rags piled up on the seat. As he returned to the table, he procured two pristine tumbler glasses and laid them on the table. Finally seating himself, both men were now on the same side of the long table, each with an elbow resting on it. “Kvass,” Naevius declared as he untied the string and flipped the stiff white cloth off the jug. As he worked the cork stopper free, he noted, “Weak, nearly water. Even if you downed the whole jug, no one could accuse you of investigating while intoxicated.”

Havital waited for Naevius to fill both glasses and then wrapped his talons around the glass. “You have any inkling what I’m here about?” he asked.

Fuck, Naevius thought again. Any answer could be bad, but he brought the sweet-and-sour drink to his lips to buy a few seconds to think. There weren’t many that made the chemist cautious but Havital had a shrewd eye, wit to match. Even in Boreas when they were school-aged. While he swallowed and tried to think of a convincing lie, it dawned on him that… “No, actually. Unless it’s complaints from the neighbors. I’ve been down here for weeks. Months?”

The raptor gaze of the inspector narrowed but the genuine confusion apparently convinced him and he sighed. Havital took his own sip of the kvass and as he let the glass hit the table, he looked up at Naevius from under his furrowed brow. “Niketas Leon.”

Naevius was still confused for a moment but then the name – and everything that went with it – clicked. “Oh.”

“Leon was human garbage,” Havital spat out. “That doesn’t preclude him from a fair trial. You were involved in his death in some capacity, and that barely matters. For all I know, you sold happy pills for the celebration that followed. That, I don’t care about.

“What I do care about is that it appears you were the one that got Keydis involved.”

“Who..? Ohh, the blacksmith!” Naevius laughed as he leaned back and swallowed more of the tepid alcohol. Sweet, tart, barely registering on the tongue. “Hard-headed, that one. Expect she could use that forehead as a back-up anvil!”

Havital irritably tapped his talon on the table but joined in the laughter. Naevius suddenly realized he was nervous, the strange disparity of the inspector’s reactions causing his skin to prickle. “My niece,” Havital explained.

Those bloodshot eyes widened even as the chemist paled. He pointed at Havital, then off to the side as if Keydis was in the room with them, then back to the inspector. “You don’t… That’s her? I thought she was like, I don’t know, ten?” Mentally, he started ticking back the years. “Serpent’s saggy tits, where have all the years gone?” Abruptly, he returned his attention to the inspector and started waving his hands emphatically. “Hey now, you can’t be thinking I singled her out intentionally! I didn’t even remember your kid’s name, much less know her place of business!”

Silently, Havital drank the rest of his kvass before laying the empty cup back down. As much as he had gotten on in years, grey feathers threatening to outnumber the blue ones, his glare was still legendary, sending chills down the normally unflappable chemist’s spine every time he had to deal with him. Childhood acquaintance probably earned him more leeway, but Naevius had little doubt that if he crossed whatever invisible line the man had drawn, he’d be behind bars in a heartbeat. In a twisted way, they were friends.

Only, they were friends on opposite sides of the law. Allegedly.

As the silence stretched on under the weight of that gaze, Naevius leaned back and snagged the mostly-empty bottle of his personalized orange concoction. He needed something stronger. After a harsh swig straight from the bottle, the potent alcohol seared his throat and his mind in equal measure with an orchestra of flavor and body. The bottle slammed to the table as Naevius grimaced, grinned, then leaned forward and matched that raptor gaze with one a few hairs shy of madness.

“If I’d known who she was, I’d never have hired her. That goes double, knowing she was your kid. I thought I was getting someone to do the tedious work of staking things out, finding out the shit-heel’s patterns and routines, maybe pick out an ambush where the greasy fuck could be snatched up quietly.” Naevius leaned back in his chair and laughed. “This crazy bitch – sorry – this girl, d’ you know what she did? She walked straight the hell into the center of Lupanar, walked straight up to the Ignominious Nine at dinner, and said, ‘You’re coming with me, fucker!’”

The raptor gaze faltered, and Havital’s face cracked, torn between laughing with the chemist or just staring in disbelief. “She didn’t…”

“On my mama’s saggy tits! They say she knocked out both of his bruisers with her bare hands, and hauled Leon straight out in broad daylight. Even you were never that insane!”

There was an obvious hint of pride peeking through, but Havital quickly regained composure. “What was your purpose with Leon, anyhow? Altruism isn’t your style.”

The laughter died down and Naevius paused to pour more kvass for Havital and take a swig from his bottle. “Months back, people brought some kid to me. Terran but raised by tribals in Boreas. You say altruism’s not my thing? Took the sick bastard in, gave him free medicine – and only medicine! – set him up with the monks at Juno’s. Not enough altruism for you, yet?”

“Mm, I’m sure there’s more to that exchange.”

“A bit, aye. Angsty little fuck, sick in the lungs and a tongue that doesn’t know a lick of Common, but he dragged himself across the way from Boreas to here for one thing: to find the man that killed everyone he ever knew.”

From an inner pocket, Havital produced a pad of paper and a pencil. “… monks of Saint Juno… Boreas to Terminus… illness of the lungs…” he muttered as he jotted down notes. “What was his name?”

“Think you’d spell it N, U, N, Y, A. None--!”

“None of my business, is that what you’re going to say?” Havital’s eyes narrowed. “I’m going to guess that being holed up in here, you’ve got no inkling of what state the body was found in. Maybe that sated this ‘kid’ and maybe it awakens an urge to commit more acts of vigilantism. I’m telling you, the things that were done…”

“Fuck him,” Naevius snapped. “Niketas Leon got what he deserved and good on that little shit for having the resolve to get it done. He’s got that blood on his hands, but never you fret, your baby girl’s hands are clean. Leon was alive and still trying to buy his freedom long after Keydis went on her merry way. He was alive the last time I saw him, in a room together with our foreign visitor and several locals.” The chemist stood up. “The girl’s not a witness, and I’m not a witness to anything more than a heated spat of words. Everyone with a conscience was disgusted by that sick slaving bastard. No telling who actually killed him, and I’m doubting anyone will point a finger. Could even be some of the Nine, there to shut him up.

“If you need to close your file, jot down, ‘fucked hard by the wheel of karma.’”

“Give me a name, or come make your statement at the station. I wonder how many of your customers might see you there. Wonder who they might talk to.” Havital’s tone was ice. Hard, cold. Unyielding.

Naevius hesitated, and lifted that bottle one more time. He tilted his head back, throat wobbling with every greedy swallow. As he downed the last drop, he threw the bottle across the room. There was a crack, but not a shatter. Poetic in its own way. “Chara’nira.”

Realizing how difficult that was for Naevius, Havital opted not to push him any further. “Thank you. Stay put, relax. I may have more questions for you. You’ll be here?”

It wasn’t a question. “Who can say?” A thousand, thousand possible eventualities were flitting through his head. Appearances were everything and nothing; if helping the guard made it seem like he wasn’t helping, but refusing to help gave off the impression he was squealing, the clear choice was the one avoiding both penalties.

But getting caught…

“Then we’ll talk later,” was the only response before the blue-feathered enlil turned for the door.


Writing Week is 434

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