It’s just on two weeks until the podcast of The Spiral Tattoo is released. Here, then is chapter one…
The breasts were rather perky.
As soon as I had the thought, I regretted it. It was a tasteless thought, considering the owner of the breasts was dead, and she was lying in mud and rubbish. She was also in an alley in one of the worst parts of town. I comforted myself with the thought that at least this time I hadn’t said anything out loud, and that Elanore would have no cause to look at me reproachfully, or worse, let rip with her rather caustic tongue. I glanced sideways at her and saw that she was looking at me with arched eyebrows. That was all rather difficult to do since I was perched on her shoulder.
“What?” I think I sounded whiny, but then I was feeling like I had been caught out in some terrible act. My partner Corporal Elanore Fursk, a Troll who I felt thought she was an Elf, was prone to making me feel that way. Sure I had the better education, the better breeding, the higher intellect, all by virtue of being Eleniu. Even with my family background and the training provided by Royal Magic Academy, she still always had a way of making me feel like the uneducated monster.
“I didn’t say anything.” I said defensively.
“No, but you were thinking it,” disapproval dripped from her every syllable. How does she do that I wondered?
“Last time I checked, Troll’s, even as unusual as yourself, are not mind-readers.” What a lame comeback I thought and snorted. What had I been reduced to.
“I don’t need to be a mind-reader to know what you’re thinking.” She returned, her eyebrows raising up and down expressively.
Elanore and I have been partners for nearly five years, walking the streets of the fair city of Delvenport as members of the City Guards, so I didn’t doubt it. I generally knew what she was thinking too, so that makes it fair. She had joined the guards in an effort to gain some respectability. She was unique for a Troll. Somehow her brain had made connections no others had. She had learnt to read, not only common, but several other languages. Where and how she won’t say. She could converse on the various philosophical debates with insight and most alarmingly humour. She also enjoyed live theatre, which was quite frankly bizarre. How anyone could like theatre I don’t know. No wonder that when she arrived in civilisation she baulked at the offered job opportunities. Being a hired thug just didn’t fit. Her acceptance into the city guard a decade ago was something of a legend now.
In one of those weird dichotomies I joined to escape respectability. I wonder if that’s why the Captain had set us up as partners? I come from a family of high Eleniu, with a proud history of acting as mages and courtiers. I had done my duty by attending the Royal Magic Academy, and having gained my staff, a rod that others would call a tooth pick, I promptly moved from the family digs and went slumming in the guards. Since then I have forged my own reputation, some good, some bad. I now will say though, that if you call me a fairy I will curse every pore of your body to break into a puss ridden mess for a hundred years.
I launched myself from her shoulder and flitted down to hover just above the stiffs face. It’s always easier to think of them like that I find. The only source of light was from the light globe that I had levitated just above the body’s head. The stiff was a Human, with grey blue eyes that were still open, and magenta hair. She was definitely pretty, or had been pretty in life. Death robs the skin of a glow, and makes it pallid in a way that makes everyone unattractive. Death really is the great leveller I thought, not for the first time.
“Well?” Elanore asked somewhat impatiently.
Taking a breath I sniffed, with my eyes closed I let the air disturbed by my wings waft across the face and hair.
“She doesn’t smell of drugs or alcohol. So I doubt poison or drunkenness will have done her in” I said.
I sniffed again. “The only magic I can smell is cosmetic, her hair for a start, but not the face. So I doubt magic killed her either.”
I flicked down to look at her neck.
“I would say she was…” I started to say, seeing in the dim light abrasions ringing her neck.
“Strangled. By a cord of some sort, probably a red silk scarf” Elanore interrupted me.
“What?” I flitted back up to her level, which was a good seven foot above where the stiff lay in the mud. “How can you tell from up there” I said looking around, and then peering down at the body. “I can’t see anything from here.” I was whining again. Damn, corpses in alleys always make me edgy.
Elanore smiled and calmly reached up into an enclosure that was a good eight feet up the side of the building, and hidden in shadow. She pulled a long, thin red scarf, silk I thought, from the darkness.
“It’s damp,” she said. “Whoever did this must have tried to wash it. I wonder why they didn’t just leave it there.”
“Good spotting,” I muttered, only a little miffed.
She held it up to me and I sniffed and then sneezed. “It’s been doused in some sort of cheep booze. I won’t be able to get anything from it now.” Not only are Eleniu exceptional magic users, but we are superb bloodhounds. I was better at smelling than spells, which meant I was exceptional at both, I can hold my own thank you very much.
I returned to my inspection of the body, flittering down and hovering over her breasts. This was my least favourite part of the job. I prefer nice robberies to murders, or hobbling pickpockets in the market. Inevitably death meant hovering over a cooling corpse, stinking of death. Even so if I had to investigate a death, I preferred to do it at the scene. At least then I could escape the smell. Back in the cold room the smell of old death lingered in every crevice.
The stiff was nude, which was not overly unusual, what was unusual was for a Human she had no body hair. None whatsoever. Weird. She also had this amazing tattoo. It snaked up the right side from her groin. It was a spiral, that wound in a series of tight circles. Every time the spiral crossed itself there was a gem, a sapphire, emerald, ruby or diamond. All looked to be of some value. It ended with a curve that ran under the line of her breast.
I had at first thought the gems were glued onto the skin, and I had wondered why the murderer had not taken them. On closer inspection I found that they were embedded into the skin itself. The faint smell of old healing and cosmetic spells hung over them. I must have grunted.
“What is it?” Elanore asked, “Did you find something?”
“There’s some impressive magic here, these gems are embedded into the skin.” I said. “I’ve never seen the like.”
“So you would have to cut them out then?” She asked, crouching down to get a better look.
“Yes” I said. “And there is no indication that the killer attempted to do that.” I gestured at the gems, all obvious in their position and value. “See. No sign of anyone even trying to pull them off, they look completely undisturbed.”
“Hmmm” She hummed to her self, standing back up and looking around the alley. “Interesting. There is no sign of a struggle around here. No indication of robbery. I’d say the body was killed somewhere else. How long?”
I gently touched her neck, just below the ear and silently cast one of my most useful spells. “Not long I would say, less than half a bell.” I said as I flew back up to her level, and settled on her shoulder.
“That’s not long ago” she said quietly.
“Not long at all. Say have you heard about tattoos and gems like that?” I asked, gesturing down at the body.
“Well Gurt.” She said in that tone that told me she was about to lecture me. “If you paid more attention to our beat, you would know that not far from here, amongst the bordellos of Red Alley, a new establishment had opened about a month ago, which is called The Spiral Tattoo. Further you would know that all employees are tattooed just like this, with corresponding precious gemstones. There has been some speculation as to how they were affixed, and I think this will settle a bet I had made with Sergeant Houng.”
I sighed, I knew where this was going.
“You know Gurt, if you spent less time in the honey pot, or gambling at Bluebells, or indeed kept your ears and eyes open when we are walking on patrol, then you might actually already know this.” She continued. There was a touch of weariness in her voice, as this was an old argument.
I rolled my eyes, “Yes Elanore, off course Elanore, whatever you say Elanore”. I grinned to myself. I knew that would get under her skin, but I also knew that she would have to smile.
She laughed. It was a soft gentle laugh, completely unexpected from a seven foot two, green skinned, tusked Troll.
“Your incorrigible you know” she said shaking her head in exasperation.
“Encourageble you mean” I said with a grin.
“There’s no such word, as you well know” she laughed again, the gentle teasing easing the edge left by the familiar lecture.
I laughed too. “Well you may have something there. So where are her clothes? Was she snatched from the club? Robbery gone wrong? As far as I can tell she wasn’t interfered with.”
“Those are the questions we will need to answer.” She said as she stepped back into the middle of the alley and looked up and down. It was a typical back alley, dirty and dark. No lamps either magical of mundane lit the walls. Rubbish filled the corners, and all the doors looked heavily barred. She reached out and grabbed the light orb I had set floating just above the body. It’s light disappeared as she put it in a pocket, and the alley was plunged back into darkness.
We continued to stand there in silence, both lost in our thoughts, and waiting for the body cart to arrive. We didn’t have that long to wait, as the cart arrived, with a couple of rookie guards pulling it nervously into the alley.
“Corporal Fursk? Is that you?” One of them asked nervously. They had every right to be nervous. Entering the alley, all they would have seen is the unmistakable shadow of a Troll, barely outlined against the darker shadows of the alley. I stretched my wings and launched myself from Elanore’s shoulder.
“Well I wouldn’t want to be intruding on a Troll, in the middle of the night, in a dark alley with a body if it wasn’t her, would I” I said as they started at my sudden movement.
Their silhouettes relaxed a bit as their hands fell back from their truncheons, and they laughed, although their laughter was still tinged with nervousness.
“Ain’t that the truth Guardsman Gurt,” said the taller of the two.
“Just Gurt, and Elanore” Elanore said, moving up to them and putting the scarf into her pocket. “She’s down there.” She gestured back towards where we had been standing. “We have finished here. When you get her back to the guard house tell the captain she appears to have been a worker at the new brothel, The Spiral Tattoo, and we will be headed there next.”
We moved out into the only slightly better light of the street. There was only a half crescent moon, and that kept hiding behind clouds. The sputtering torches outside houses and fires in braziers cast odd flickering lights and shadows. Along this part of Merchants Way, a broad avenue that runs in great zigzags down from the palace gates to the docks, there were no light orbs. We stopped to watch the flow of the crowd, still thick despite the late hour, oblivious to the death that lay not to far from them, moving between the markets and docks.
The city of Delvenport lined the flanks of the mountain Delvk. It encompassed a valley formed between two vast spurs of rock known as Delvk’s Fingers, that thrust their way down the mountain side and out into the sea that lay at is foot. The harbour formed by the spurs cutting into the sea was one of the deepest and calmest in the known world.
The spurs also had vast veins of precious metals running deep into them. There may have been richer single mines out there, but no other city had a concentration and variety like Delvenport. It had meant that Delvenport had grown into a mighty large city, fuelled by commerce. Sure there had been conquests and wars over the years, and its wealth and might had waxed and waned, but there has always been a port here. For the last few hundred years this part of the world had been relatively peaceful and Delvenport had grown mostly unmolested.
“It’s a shame that whoever found her decided to just send a runner to the Guard House, and not hang around to answer a few questions.” Elanore observed the crowd, eyeing up the comings and goings. For myself I sat down on her shoulder and stretched. Elanore usually spotted anything that needed spotting long before me, so I tended to let her.
“Yes” I said, “but nothing unusual there.”
“No.” She sighed. “Nothing unusual. I wonder what they were doing in there. They must have practically tripped over the killer to have sent word to us, for us to get here that soon.”
“Unless it was the killer?” I said, the question almost not a question. “I lay even odds that was the case.”
She nodded. “That thought had crossed my mind as well. But why?” We continued to stand there, letting the ebb of the city wash around us. Elanore seemed lost in thought, which meant I was quickly getting bored. I amused myself by watching the strangers to the city. They were easy to spot as they all did a double take when they realised that the Troll standing calmly on the side of the street was dressed in the livery of the City Guard.
“This new club then?” I asked finally. When she gave no answer, I stood and launched myself into the air and hovered in front of her face. “Well? Are we going to stand here all night? I’m getting a little bored and cold.”
Evidently not, as she started off down the street, and I was left hanging in midair, both literally and figuratively.
“Hey” I said and took off after her. With her long legs she could move with speed, and it took all my effort to keep up, which is why I like to ride on her shoulder. And no it’s not laziness, no matter what the other guards say.
“I wish you wouldn’t do that” I muttered as I landed on her shoulder and took a grip on the tab she had sown on there.
“It keeps you on your toes,” she said, “or maybe on your wings.”
“Yeah and your mother too” I said, and then chuckled.