• A Cold Night

    “Mayor Rigs!”
    “Ey, Mase!”
    The Kanshire Soup Kitchen is a volunteer facility located in the Northern Grip of town. It was started by various members of the community to aid the citizens during tough economic times. At all other times it serves as a vital lifeline to the critically underpaid mayor of Kanshire, Liam Rigby, and the city’s greatest (poorest) detective, Mason Nicholas Matthews.
    “This line is murder,” Mason sighed, slumping against a pillar.
    “You’re preaching to the choir my friend. When I volunteer, the line moves like bang, bang, bang,” Liam swung his hand with each bang to indicate speed.
    “I don’t volunteer often,” Mason stood up and stretched his arms, “but when I do, there isn’t even a line.”
    “Are you sure your cooking doesn’t scare everyone off?”
    Mason shot a look up towards the counter as he took his tray and moved forward, “I’ll have you know, Sherri, that my cooking is of chef level expertise.”
    “Best instant ramen ever,” Liam added.
    “Amen,” Mason confirmed.
    Sherri smiled, “Well, I don’t have instant ramen today, but I do have a roast beef stew served over steamed rice and a fresh vegetable medley.”
    “Yeeeeessss,” Mason moaned.
    “I’ll have doubles,” Liam cheerfully declared.
    “Triples here,” Mason said.
    Sherri laughed, “Alright you two, settle down.”

    Mason and Liam took their usual seats by the back window. From here, one could see the start of Edgewood Forest.
    “They say those trees are haunted,” Liam said, tucking a napkin into his collar.
    “This again? How boring,” Mason said, placing his across his lap.
    “Then tell us something good, like a great mystery that only a detective such as you could solve!” Sherri said, placing her own tray on the table before taking a seat.
    “Huh? Tch, okay. I’ve got something cool. This story is about a job I got called for all the way up in Koltz.”
    “Ohhh?” Sherri’s eyes lit up, “I hear their technology district is unparalleled! You can buy anything electronic there!”
    “Yeaaah,” Mason said, spooning up some stew, “I didn’t go to shop little lady. No, I was there on business. Murder was the case.”
    “I should hope so,” Liam chimed in, “It’d be too far to have you come in to solve a theft.”
    “Okay shh. You guys know the deal with arcane detectives right?”
    Sherri put a finger to her chin and looked up, as if recalling something she’d once heard, “Fancy pants glitter lords who don’t have to put in a hard day’s work.”
    “Bingo,” Mason said, taking a sip of water, “There are all kinds. The first, and very simplistic, tactic they employee is to scan the area to see if any magic had been used recently. If this turns up inconclusive, then they examine any and all wounds to determine the kind of weapon used. If they can draw up a few leads, then they bring in a clairvoyant to examine the wound. If the seer is talented enough, then he or she can actually use the wound, and the weapon type, to find out who did it.”
    “But they’d need to know for sure whether it was a sword, or a dagger right?” Sherri asked.
    “Right. If a dagger was used, but the crime scene investigators tell him or her a sword, then the results will most likely come back inconclusive.”
    “But can’t the clairvoyant just search every single weapon type, sort of like a brute force type thing?” Liam asked.
    “Yeah, which is lame, and also time consuming. If the victim was beheaded, then anything from a rusty butter knife to a schiavona could have been used. Furthermore the clairvoyant has to be able to visualize the weapon used in sufficient detail. If his or her idea of a sword varies from the one used—“
    “Then it’s inconclusive,” Liam finished Mason’s sentence.
    “Yup,” Mason nodded.
    “It sounds like they have a lot to do, and plenty of chances to fail,” Sherri said, eating a bit of her own food.
    “Oh yes, and that’s why they called in the big guns. It turns out that there had been a rash of brutal slashings. Multiple lacerations about the chest, throat, and face of the victims, and they’d eventually succumb to death from severe blood loss.”
    “I suppose that magic detection and clairvoyancy were inconclusive, seeing as they called you in.” Liam tore a biscuit in half and dipped it in his stew.
    “They even tried the whole brute force thing using every last weapon encyclopedia in the Great Library.”
    “What if it was a slicing instrument that was used, but another object sharpened to a fine edge?” Sherri asked.
    “That’s what I was considering on the car ride to the latest murder scene at the time. If that had been the case, then it may have been impossible to determine exactly what type of weapon had been used. The victim was male, in his mid-thirties, a shop keep in the city’s business district. His wounds fit the serial killer’s mo alright. I noticed something peculiar that wasn’t mentioned to me at the briefing however.”
    “What’s that?” Liam asked.
    “The cuts about the victim’s face were clean and seemed to bleed very little, but as they went down past the throat and onto the chest, the tissue seemed to have sustained more damage and thus bled more. Furthermore there were signs of a struggle having taken place.”
    “So the killer strikes the face first, working his way down with strikes becoming more and more aggressive,” Liam noted, “What about his forearms? Were they cut?”
    “It seemed that way,” Mason admitted, “but the victim’s forearms weren’t cut, only bruised. The arcane detectives believed that the victim was taken by surprise, cut up, and then beaten about the arms with the weapon’s handle before collapsing.”
    “Sounds like an amateur,” Liam remarked.
    “I don’t know,” Sherri said, putting her chin in her hand, “The weapon used could have dulled within the first few slashes, resulting in more force being needed for further strikes.”
    “Definitely an amateur then, seeing as he picked such a fragile weapon to use,” Liam retorted.
    “What happened next?” Sherri asked.
    “I reported my findings to the arcane detectives and prepared to return home the next day.”
    Sherri groaned, “Aww! I thought this was going to be about you busting a hard case.
    “Wall, ew didn’t et me finnish,” Mason said, chewing his own biscuit.
    “Mase, don’t talk with your mouth full,” Liam scolded.
    Mason finished chewing, “Okay okay. Anyway, that night, another murder occurred.”
    “The killer strikes again!” Sherri exclaimed with excitement.
    “The arcane detectives thought otherwise. This death occurred by stabbing, so they considered it unrelated,” Mason said.
    “But you went to the scene for a peek anyway,” Liam said.
    “Of course. Once again the arcane detectives botched their initial report,” Mason said, taking a drink of water.
    “How so?” Sherri asked.
    “By leaving out important information. This crime scene had no signs of a struggle whatsoever. It had been snowing since I arrived as well, but there were no footprints from either the suspect or the victim to be found.”
    “Whoever committed the crime must have smoothed them over,” Liam said.
    “Indeed. I found this to be strange, since the previous crime scenes had footprints and blood everywhere. It’s as if in this case, the killer had either made sure to clean up, or—“
    “The murder hadn’t taken place at that location!” Sherri blurted out.
    “Bingo,” Mason smiled.
    “Hold it. Why were you so sure that it was the same guy?” Liam asked.
    Mason shrugged, “Just a hunch. That and I was leaning on the improbability of two serial killers emerging with such a short time.”
    “Meh,” Liam ate a spoonful of stew, “Anything else?”
    “Yes, actually. The stab wounds themselves were strange as well. One was smooth, and deep. Another, shallow and jagged. Both were surrounded by small, but dark bruises.”
    Sherri raised her eyebrows, “Like the other victim’s forearms!”
    “Another reckless assault,” Liam noted, “First the suspect plunges the weapon in deep and hard. Then they stab the victim again, losing focus before striking the victim with the weapon’s handle repeatedly. Sounds like the suspect lost his or herself in a fit of rage.”
    “That makes sense.” Mason said.
    “But that isn’t the way it went does, is it?” Liam asked.
    “Nope, but good try,” Mason devoured his own biscuit in one snapping bite, “The killer wasn’t exactly an amateur, and did not succumb to a fit of rage. He was actually pretty chill the whole time.”
    “Explain,” Liam said, moving onto his rice.
    “Of course,” Mason took another drink of water and continued, “By then I had already found my one and only suspect. The previous victims weren’t connected in any way, and all fit the mo. The last victim stood out however, and lead me to believe that, if assuming the killer was the same suspect, that this killing was not planned.”
    “Perhaps he stumbled across the killer accidentally?” Sherri asked.
    “Precisely what I had been thinking. The victim was a young man living at home with his parents and attending Koltz’ Arcane Academy. At the time he was working part time at an ice cream shop to help pay tuition.”
    Sherri’s eyes went wide, and she opened her mouth to speak, but Liam cut her off, “Let him finish.”
    “Thank you,” Mason took a ridiculously large spoonful of rice and put it in his mouth, nearly choked, and washed it down with water, “Ahem. Now then, my suspect was the owner of the ice cream shop. It was a pretty popular eatery while it was still open, and there was a strong possibility that all of the previous victims had stopped by there at least once before their deaths. I believed that during these visits the shop owner, or killer, first noticed his potential victims and began stalking them.”
    “That’s so creepy,” Sherri remarked.
    “It gets better.”


    During the day I visit the ice cream shop, but, despite the friendly and accommodating atmosphere, I can’t bring myself to order any of the delicious treats. The red velvet upholstery of the booths reminds me of blood, and the idea of the same man who had picked out the charming little knick-knacks lining the shelves and counters being a hardened serial killer turns my stomach. He comes out from the back drying his hands with a pink towel and greets me with a smile, but I turn away. It disgusts me that he can wear a smile when his only employee was found just last night, dead in an alleyway with a look of anguish frozen on his own face. He cheerfully calls after me, something about staying a while and pampering my taste buds—some bullcrap like that, but I quickly leave the establishment. I understand that he has a job to do, but it’s as if nothing had ever happened at all.
    I spend my remaining daylight hours at a diner down the way. It isn’t nearly as cozy in here, but it’s open twenty-four hours and the coffee is strong. As the clock strikes eleven I try one last time to convince myself that this is a waste of time, and that I’m wrong about the seemingly nice old man at the ice cream shop. The waitress, a middle-aged lady with a kind face that looks as if it’s seen its fair share of laughter and joy, asks me if I need a refill. I politely decline, citing my lack of funds.
    “You’ve been sitting on that same stool for the last four hours, polishing off the complementary mints one by one, but this whole time you’ve had a serious look on your face,” she says, “I don’t know your story, but you seem so alone right now,” she pauses, and then, “This one’s on the house.”
    I perk up and snatch the last mint, popping it into my mouth, “No worries my dear,” I say, rising from the stool, “I’m never alone.”
    That does the trick, because she gives me a smile. Looks like she’s relieved. I shoot her a goofy grin, holding the mint between my molars, and then take out a twenty and place it on the counter.
    “Oh no I couldn’t—,“ She starts, no doubt remembering my earlier excuse.
    I wave a hand to dismiss the thought, “Da cawfee wuz amacing,” I say with the mint still gripped between my back teeth.
    She puts a hand to her mouth to hide a giggle, and cocks her head, “Be careful, there’s a killer on the loose,” she warns, sobering up a bit.
    I wink and leave the diner. Everything near and far seems to have taken on a heightened level of stillness, the wind itself dead and gone somewhere as a chill pierces my coat and pushes the warmth of the diner from my heart. I look up the empty lane towards the ice cream shop, splotches of darkness illuminated by the pale radiance of streetlights overhead. The crunch of snow underfoot as I start up the way snaps me back to reality, and I quickly look around. On a night like this, when the world feels so cold and quiet, it’s easy to feel like you’re being watched. Perhaps a pair of phantom eyes follow me from some shadowy hideaway. I chuckle at my own behavior and pop the collar on my coat to try and keep warm, eventually making it to the back door of the ice cream shop.
    I examine the wood panel and the brass handle, imagining what, say Kanzen, might do in this situation. He’s excellent with a lock pick—but not me. That stuff is hard. I take a small disc with a clamp on one side and a rotating crank on the other from my pocket. After the clamp is secured to the handle, I push the disc’s outer ring against the door and grip the crank. Turning slowly, I listen to the crick and crackle of splintering wood. Not exactly the most elegant way to break into a space, but the odds of being heard are low—if you are careful. Turn the crank too fast and you’ll get a pretty loud snap from the door breaking. There’s a small pop and then I discard the brass door handle into the snow.
    The back hallway of the ice cream shop was lit even at this late hour. The owner probably left them on to deter thieves. I duck under each window as I creep up the hall. Wouldn’t want some night-owl neighbor to spot me and call the city guard. The door I am looking for is now right in front of me, made of all metal and no doubt leading to the freezer. I try the handle on the front and it gives with a clank. Figures. Who locks up ice cream anyway?
    Opening the freezer door automatically turns on the overhead light, which is actually a naked light bulb in a hanging socket. To the left are a few shelves with aisles in between, and dead ahead is what appears to be a workbench. Built into it is a grinder, sawing equipment, and a vice—tools typical for an ice sculptor. Skilled mages can create amazing works of art through sheer force of will, but the everyman has to improvise you see. In this case the sculptor uses a workbench like this to craft and detail each individual piece before using low level magic to meld them all together.
    I enter further into the freezer and stoop down to the floor. It’s been cleaned recently, which isn’t too out of the ordinary, but when I turn my attention to the ice cream aisles I note that it’s quite grubby over here. Perhaps the owner’s former assistant was not thorough with his cleaning. Perhaps. I walk back into the open and take a small spray bottle from a pouch on my belt. Inside is a chemical compound, Luminol, crafted by Kanshire’s Science and Research Guild. I spray it on the clean areas of the floor and put the bottle away. Next I reach up and unscrew the light bulb. Now, in the darkness, I can see several brightly glowing splotches on the floor. This meant that at some point there was a lot of blood on the floor in here, as Luminol reacts to the iron in hemoglobin to produce the glowing effect. My suspicions confirmed, I prepare to make my exit and report what I’ve found to the arcane detectives in the morning. That is, I had planned to do so before a sharp pain burst into the back of my neck and I collapsed, unconscious on the floor.


    I awoke, head throbbing rhythmically with my heartbeat, to find myself bound to a wooden chair. The loud whir and frequent peel of an object being filed down let me know that I was still in the ice cream shop freezer—and not alone.
    “You’re awake,” the ice cream shop owner cheerfully notes, a shaft of ice in his hands. He lowers it onto the grindstone and there is another sharp peel.
    “Rough night,” I say, looking around. I doubt anyone would hear me scream.
    He stands 5’11 from what I can tell, and when speaking with the locals I found out that he’s a very charismatic individual with an uncanny talent for drawing others to him. He married young, had two children, and is now a grandfather. His build suggests that he keeps in shape through exercise, a habit picked up from his service in Koltz’s militia. Everyone says that he has lived a happy and blessed life, so why this?
    “So,” I say, “I guess you’re going to call the police so they can haul me in.”
    He laughs a short, almost cruel laugh, “What’s your name?”
    “Nugget,” I reply deadpan, “Nugget Michaels.”
    He stops grinding for just a second, “Well Nugget,” and resumes, “I want to show you something.”
    “And what’s that?” I ask.
    He casts an unsettling look over his shoulder, the peel of the ice being filed screeches across the walls, “Something beautiful.”
    I test the ropes binding my wrists and find them done up pretty tight. Looks like they still teach knot tying in basic. I’m relieved that my legs aren’t bound, but I’m still in a tough spot. I’ll need time and opportunity if I’m going to make it out of this alive.
    “Why are you doing this?” I ask.
    “Doing what Nugget?” He counters with a question of his own, sliding the ice along the grindstone.
    “The murders. Is that what’s beautiful? Death?”
    He stops grinding, as if to ponder my question, “No,” he says with a insincere gentleness in his voice, “but this is,” and turns off the machinery. When he turns around I see a sharpened piece of ice in his hands. It’s a perfect ice sculpture of a shorts word down to the finest detail, and he cradles it in his hands, almost cherishing it.
    “So you won’t tell me then? Why you do it?” I attempt once more.
    “There isn’t enough time,” he croons softly, more to the ice blade than me.
    He looks me in the eyes as he approaches, raising the weapon above his head. I was hoping to save this for later, but he left me with no other choice.
    “I have something you desire, and I’ll let you have it, but under one condition,” I say, picturing shoelaces in my mind’s eye.
    He lowers the weapon slightly, “What do you want?”
    “I’ll give you my shoelaces if you tell me the full story behind your murders.”
    He retrieves a chair, and sitting down, sighs, “Deal.”


    I first joined the Koltz Militia shortly after the government rose in power from mere city state to sovereignty in the Greater Crest north of Pate. Rictus Belange, First Consul of Pate at the time, was the first to recognize Gerald Tolson, our mayor, as king, thus furthering our legitimacy as a kingdom. What should have been a time of unity and prosperity for our people was cut short however, and it seemed that as soon there was a kingdom, every warlord wanted to be king. Public executions became a facet of daily life, and the ruling regime explained that revolting citizens needed to be put down for the safety of the people. So, over the course of a single month, over one thousand people were beheaded in the town square. This would go on, at an increasing rate, for nearly a year.
    I was assigned to the 8th Battalion, which was forward deployed as threat deterrence in the outlands of Koltz’ southern territory. Our official objective was to present a strong military presence, but we often skirmished with revolutionaries taking hold in the many forests and mountain ranges. Morale had been diminishing among our rank and file, the daily struggles and horrors of a prolonged field campaign wearing them down. As for me, I could never accept the reality of the court killing thousands upon thousands of people for the safety of the people. One day you were the one protected, and then the next you’re suspected, followed by a quick trial before you’re dissected—head first into a wicker basket to the roar of a blood thirsty crowd. Violence. I lost all faith in the king and his regime, coming to believe that there was no justice to be had within the halls of man, but on the battlefield—where only the strong survive and the weak are crushed. There was still death, yes, but an honesty in that death that brought comfort to my troubled mind.
    When the conflicts ended, the battlefield was taken away from me and I was left with a lying king in its place. Rather than repeat the same mistakes as revolutionaries before me had, I turned to God. Over time, and through the teachings of the church, I came to realize that only God could end the suffering of man, but I was level headed enough to know that he would not. God’s blessing would not shine upon the sinful children of Koltz. Still, our need for a God was great. Tell me then: if man cannot attain the power to create life, what other power of God can he exercise? Death. I had already taken many a life on the battlefield, but if I was to achieve Godhood, I would need more power. I would also need to not get caught. So here I am. I wed, had children, and opened my own business while pursuing my training as a living God, so that one day I might assume the throne as the divine king.

    “You’re absolutely nuts,” is all I say when he finishes his story.