In less than 24 hours on this planet, with days that apparently measure longer than that, there has been one party and two murders. The Butler had Mobian taken into custody over all that and sealed up the library. I had gone back to find Holly and Mobian’s companion, Lily. The companion had run off to see what she could do for him.
“Alright, so… we don’t really have to solve this thing… but who all’s at play here? That Morigoth guy was saying before he went to the eternal dirt nap that everyone at this shindig but you. He specifically mentioned Sir Reginald and someone called the Burgess of Meredith.”
Holly smiled. “I met that thing. Has a squid head, wears an outfit with big shoulders and a cape. He wanted to talk to someone called Lacastra. You said you wanted to try something else to get him loose. What would that be?”
I shrugged. “Considered offing someone else. Might break into someone’s room and see if anyone’s got a sword, but I don’t know if we’ll all be confined or not or if there are swords all over the place. These rich types keep weapons all over the place.”
We heard a knock on the door. I headed over to open it. “Yes?”
It was the house guards, wearing a combination of alien tactical and poofy decorative sleeves. “Oh my. Can I help you gentlemen?” I remembered them packing rifles, but now they had polearms of a sort. Actually… yeah, these were the rifles, just with the barrels and stocks extended.
“We’ve been asked to gather everyone in the ballroom. We need you and your mistress to come with us,” one of them ordered. I looked to Holly.
She put on her old time accent again. “There’s no reason we can’t accommodate this request.”
We let them show us to the ballroom, which was apparently not the large room from the first night. I was going to stick with Holly, but then the poofy-sleeves barred my path and indicated a group of servants, and Lily. “Over there.”
I made my way over to her. “You didn’t get far, did you?”
“No,” she said. “But I overheard them say say Mobian was being kept in the cellar.”
I thought back to my tour with the Butler. “Makes sense. They keep wines there and have a cage for temporary storage of valuables. They probably put him in the cage.” It had just been that, a simple metal cage set into the stone. Rusty in places, even. It would slow someone down and deter casual theft, someone clever enough could get in or out easily. Mobian wouldn’t be deterred for long.
Once I made sure Lily was fine and found out what she knew, though, I brought her with me to find someone I recognized as a cook. “What is going on? Why do they want us all here?”
“They say Lady Morigoth is going to address us. The sister, Lacastra, she is in charge now,” she told me. She looked around. She looked like the same species as the Butler, but yellow-skinned. Also, she expanded her throat like a frog, but I didn’t hear a croaking noise when it contracted.“She is not here. But I think Mister Donpre, the Head Butler, is with her. They say the Mobian killed Master Morigoth.”
“Had anyone looked into the cause of death for him?” I asked. “I don’t know the Mobian to kill.”
“Sadlie!” the cook called out to another young alien like this. This one was a brighter lime color, but I think was the same species? There were some differences, like a wild plume of hair that stuck up like Vegeta, the Prince of like three Saiyans. This one was smaller, even if the hair made her look taller. She walked over, bringing a friend with her. “This is…”
“I’m Delilah, servant for the Lady Snyders of Hanover,” I said.
And Lily joined in. I wasn’t going to introduce her in case the staff refused to cooperate with someone working with the suspected murderer. “I’m Lily, I’m with The Mobian.”
Sadlie didn’t seem bothered. “I don’t believe what they’re saying. Morigoth wasn’t poisoned by the Mobian, no way or how.”
“Poisoned?” I asked. “Any idea how it was administered?”
“I thought it was something in his cigars,” Sadlie said. “There are herbs on the planet that many don’t react well to and it leaves bioluminescent bacteria.”
“Impressive knowledge,” I complimented her.
The cook laughed. “All the locals know about those plants and bacteria.”
Sadlie nodded. “Yeah, but the difference is there’s no sign the poison affected his respiratory system.”
“He was foaming when I got there,” I said.
“You were there that soon?” Sadlie asked.
I nodded. “They were questioning me because I found the other body, the laundress. They sent me away when I asked about her. Mr. Morigoth thought of her death only in regards to his own safety.”
Sadlie’s friend made a gesture, like a religious sign. I think it was a pentagram, and ended with a hand gesture where all her fingers except the equivalent of the pinky and pointer were up. “Poor thing.”
Sadlie spoke up. “It was a local blade. Tarn marks.” Out of deference for Lily and I, she explained, “Tarn blades have a distinctive edge.”
“So either it’s someone local, or someone wants us to think it’s a local,” I pointed out.
The three staff shared looks among each other. The cook glanced over toward the other crowd, past a group of puffy-sleeves standing in the middle of the room. “There, the one strutting around in that leather top with all the patterns on it like he was one of us.”They’d indicated someone with the same gray skin as Morigoth, but with patchy blonde hair all over his face and head. And I mean patchy. His head looked like he’d meant to play chess on it. “That’s Mr. Grurn. His house has been a rival of Morigoth’s, but he fancies himself an amateur archeologist and environmentalist. Goes from planet to planet, shooting and stuffing animals to preserve what they look like, acting like he’s one with all the people he comes across. Bought himself a traditional outfit and tarn blade to act like he understands us.”
“So, a rival of one murder victim who happens to own a weapon matching what killed another. Possibly connected.”
“Probably connected,” Lily said.
I shrugged. “We don’t know for sure. For all we know, these are coincidences. Could always be more than one killer in the building.”
The cook swatted me on the arm. “Don’t go saying that or you’ll upset everyone over your own supposin’.”
I shrugged. After all, I knew for a fact there was more than one killer present. There was myself and at least one other person. I decided not to reveal that to the rest of the staff, but I contacted Holly via some nanites in her ear canal. “See if you can speak to Grurn, the fellow in the leather outfit there. He’s kind of a big game hunter who likes to dress and arm himself like the natives of wherever he goes. He owns a sword like the one that killed the first victim.”
I decided to keep the line open so I could hear everything and offer suggestions. While this gaggle of servants broke up over by me, Holly made her way over to Grurn, who was glaring at Sir Reginald. Sir Reginald may have been glaring back. It was difficult to tell due to the fish’s eye placement. He might have been glaring at a big, komodo dragon-looking alien in a dress with a huge back end. The lizard person licked its own eyeball but didn’t seem bothered by the fish glare, so I felt safe assuming this was about Sir Reginald and Grurn.
“Oh my god,” Holly said as she got close. “I heard you had a sword! That’s so cool.”
Grurn smiled and held himself up a little higher. “Why yes, madame. I own many weapons, but the one I have in this building is a genuine local Tarn blade from the Eastern Blood Swamp of Caar Ne Heeke.”
“Wow, do you have it with you or anything?” Holly asked.
Grurn’s smile eased up. “I’m afraid not. In light of the circumstances, I thought it best to put it up.”
“Going unarmed while a murderer’s afin?” Sir Reginald asked, easing forward in his treaded aquarium.
“Reowr,” I commented. “Looks like someone’s part catfish.”
“I understand you’re something of a fighting fish as well, Sir Reginald,” Holly pointed out.
Sir Reginald blubbed a bubble. “I was quite the duelist, once upon a time. In my youth, I was said to be quite the swordfish.”
Realizing I was more alone than I intended, I looked around for Lily. She was sneaking off toward the walls of the room. A tapestry had fallen over there, revealing a small side door nobody cared about. Could be a closet, but it could also be a way out. I quietly and surreptitiously made my way over. Stealth is at least as much about attitude as armor that turns someone invisible.
“Other sentients are predictable,” Grurn said. He patted his own chest with a closed fist. “I have fought dangerous creatures all over the known universe, and some unknown universes.” He turned his cheek toward us, showing off a scar. “Before I came here, I hunted a dangerous creature known as a jackalope infesting a backwater planet.”
“I know a place said to have those,” Holly said. “They’re a myth though. There are none.”
“Not anymore,” Grurn said with a grin.
“And yet a laundress was murdered with the same sort of blade you own. Truly, a hunter of the dangerous,” Sir Reginald poked.
Lily kept an eye out around her, so she spotted my approach. Good. Less risk of startling her. I raised a single finger to my lips to let her know I was keeping this quiet, too.
“I had nothing to do with that. I didn’t even know it was a laundress. If it was me, she wouldn’t have been able to crawl all the way up the stairs, that’s for damn certain!” declared Grurn.
That statement drew stares, but oddly startled was the centaur alien with the alien “hair” formed out of a bony headplate who had been talking to a faceless alien with a blank, veiny head and hands sticking out of a black jumpsuit. The centaur clattered on his hooves. “She crawled upstairs? It’s a wonder she didn’t call for help.”
Lily gently tried the door once I reached her. Nothing.
“It’s locked,” she said.
I bent down to examine it. Pretty simple stuff.
Grurn shrugged. “No one knows how they’ll react in a life or death situation until they’re in one.”
“Yes,” Sir Reginald agreed. “Be glad you’ve never had to be in one, Mickledorn.”
The Blank alien nodded and patted Mickledorn the centaur on his padded purple shoulder. The centaur brushed it off. “I need a drink and a think,” he said, heading off alone by himself.
“Well, wish I had a Belgian with a mustache to tell me about how they all fit into this,” I said to Holly, and also out loud. “Sir Reginald owed Morigoth money related to gambling debts. Grurn was some sort of rival of Morigoth’s.”
Lily looked at me, then back at the crowd with Molly in it, then nodded. I glanced at her to acknowledge her understanding of the situation, then turned my back and pressed my hands against the lock. The lock snapped under the strain of my superior strength. It wasn’t built to be all that secure, and who would believe Lily or I actually broke it ourselves?
“Mickledorn is a second or third cousin of Morigoth’s. He wanted Morigoth to write him a letter of recommendation to get him into the same college his girlfriend was going to, but Morigoth refused. Said it was better if he didn’t sully the family name or something. They broke up and moved on, but that was years ago. He laughed it off.”
“Anyone else?” I asked.
“No, but it’s cute you’re caught up in it like this,” she said.
“You mingle and be your usual amazing self. Lily and I are going to go find Mobian if he’s out already, or go down and ask him what’s taking so long getting out of the cage.”
“Sure thing, detective Gecko,” she giggled. I groaned.
As soon as we got through the door, which actually put us in a side hallway, Lily turned to me. “I knew it! I knew something was up. You’re undercover or something. You’re not really pregnant, are you?”
“You’re right. And these boobs aren’t really this big. Here, feel them,” I said. Lily raised a hand. I almost had her, but then she pulled away. I laughed. “Yeah, I actually am pregnant.”
“Aww,” she reached for my belly.
I slapped the hand away. “No time. As Sir Reginald would say, the game’s afin. Now, let’s find the Mobian.”
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