The Cyneweard

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Part I - Bringer of Storms :: 2

Watcher Wilcox heard a familiar squik sound, telling him that he had just trod on something that wouldn't clean easy. He looked down and saw the toe of his shoe dipped in crackling, coagulated blood. He grunted and slid the tip of his boot against the side of his trousers.

"Whatcha got for me, Greer?" he asked after looking back up. He met the gaze of his only Protector, Fielder Greer. The feline stood a hand shorter than Wilcox, himself quite tall, and was covered in a thin layer of black fur. Though not a fan of Animas himself, Wilcox could appreciate good work ethic in anyone, be they Hume or other. Greer was damn near the best he'd ever buddy'd up with.

"Dead priest," replied Greer, a stick of rolled Whistleaf burning in the corner of his mouth.

"Is that all? Priests die all the time. They're old."

Greer shot him a glance.

Wilcox finished the thought. "Like me."

Greer grinned. "This one looks to have been murdered."

Wilcox looked back down and followed the pool of darkening blood to the horror-stricken, wide-eyed face of Priest Dumdhall, a prominent and long-serving leader of the Chop's Humbolt Church.

"Shit," he remarked, eyeing the holy man's wound. "That looks like one mean cut."

"Yup," Greer confirmed, leaning over. "Scraped the back bone."

"Strong attacker."

Greer nodded.

"Smell anything?"

"Just blood. Sweat. Your damn thistleweed."

"Funny that you mention that," Wilcox replied, spitting a bright green glob of saliva next to the corpse. He rolled a gob of sour stems to the other cheek with his tongue.

"Not much faith in you, is there?" Greer sighed as he eyed the gob mingle with some blood. He knelt down next to the body and began looking over the robes.

"Nope. Lost that when I saw two soldiers peeling off another man's skull skin."

The Protector shook his head. "Spare me."

Wilcox huffed and moved over, kneeling beside his subordinate.

"Witnesses?"

"None that've told me about it," replied the feline. "If there were some, they either got swept up in shift traffic or escaped the bad weather."

Wilcox nodded. "Who reported?"

"A devotee who had an appointment for an anointment."

"Damn. Say that five times fast."

Greer chuckled.

Wilcox patted at the robe's pockets. "Nothing here. Thought these Humbolt guys were loaded."

"Not much tithing here in Lil' Mille."

"True," Wilcox nodded. "But these guys always have a secondary job, ya know."

Greer shrugged. "Office is clean. No sign of a struggle. Judging by the look on the man's face, he didn't expect to die today."

The Watcher nodded. "So no witnesses, no sign of a struggle... think the priest knew the attacker?"

Greer shrugged. "Can't tell."

"Anything else I should know?"

"Haven't got around to checking out the church's garden. Door was open when I got here. Blew shut with all the wind and rain."

"Not enviable, stomping around out in that. Was bad enough walking here in it."

Greer looked up at his boss and let out a soft sigh. "I guess I can get to it after I finish up the living quarters."

"Don't bother. I'll do it."

As Wilcox crossed to the garden door, he turned and slapped the top of his balding head. "Knew I shoulda worn a hat."

Greer laughed.

Outside, the wind darted to and fro like a prize fighter with wet gloves, sending stinging rain into the Watcher's face. He put up an arm over his eyes in an effort to keep the elements at bay.

The garden was impeccable, likely the priest's sole hobby besides priesting. Nothing looked out of place, but Wilcox walked the radius of the fence anyway, eyes darting up and down, left and right, trying to find something that looked amiss.

After a few laps in the weather, he dropped his arm and let the rain slap him a few times.

"Who would want to kill a priest?" he asked the wind.

It howled a retort and kissed him with even larger rain drops.

This was the core of this mystery, he decided. Who would kill a priest? Why Dumdhall? Why today? What had the man done to have deserved such a grisly end? Wilcox had heard for years that priests of most of the faiths were corrupt in some way, giving holy favors out for money, operating whorehouses or contraband channels when the tithes were low. He had even heard of a priest smuggling illegal, amateur-made slugthrowers and crossbows to the Unionizers. But Dumdhall didn't seem to be that connected, nor that brash. He was a quiet and old servant of Humbolt. Nothing more, nothing less.

The Watcher wiped at his wet face and gazed ahead of him. He saw a hedge undulating in the wind, gesturing a come-hither.

"What'd you see?" he asked. "Who did this?"

As if in answer, the hedge was parted wide by a heavy gust. He caught glimpse of a small, burnt stone. Wilcox blinked and wiped at his eyes and walked over to part the hedge himself. The stone was set atop disturbed grass. Water was pooling around its edges, threatening to created a hole in which the stone could sink.

Wilcox knelt down and lifted the stone to the side. Just as the rain started to hit the dirt that had just been underneath rock, the Watcher heard someone step behind him. He lept up, rock in his hands, and growled.

"Woah!" shouted Greer holding up his hands. "Easy there."

"You nearly got a rock for dinner," the Watcher said, chest heaving. He dropped the stone to the side.

"You ok?"

"I found something. Help me move this dirt out of the way," Wilcox replied, pointing to the dirt pile that was beginning to become mud.

"By help you, you really mean for me to dig it up by myself."

Wilcox nodded.

Greer sighed, shook his head, and knelt down. He pulled at the dirt in large clumps, tossing them to the side.

Wilcox watched on, curious and elated, anxious to see what was beneath his little find.

"Ow," yelled Greer. He hopped up sucking at his index finger.

"What happened?" Wilcox shouted, hands raising to calm the Protector.

"Something cut me," the feline replied, shaking his hand.

Wilcox looked back at the hole and saw something shining back at him. He bent down and picked it up. It was a medium-sized blade with a distinct curve to its tang.

"Thistle shear," he said, holding it up to Greer.

Greer nodded, his finger once again in his mouth, and moved closer.

"I think we may have found what killed the priest."

"But not who," Greer replied after removing his finger with an audible smack.

"Only farmers and merchants use a thistle shear."

Greer nodded and looked back down at the hole. Water was beginning to wash away the rest of the dirt.

"Odd," he said, watching the water do its duty. "Why would a farmer or storeman kill a priest?"

Wilcox shrugged and turned his attention back to the hole. "I really don't-" he began but stopped. "What the-"

"Bones?"

Wilcox handed the knife to his Protector. "Hold this."

Greer obliged and watched as his boss began a digging frenzy, tossing mud all over the once pristine hedge and fence. When the Watcher had dug enough, he stood back up and whistled.

"What is it?" inquired Greer.

"Shit."

"What?" the feline repeated.

"This is something...something else entirely."

"What is?"

Wilcox pointed to the hole. Greer saw two mud covered skulls staring back at him, their eyeless sockets caught in a never-ending surprise. One of the skulls' necks had been snapped. Around the collar bone of the other was a necklace, silver, with a purple and gold pendant. A red heart was in the center, a pearl E etched into it and a golden fist clutching it.

"The imperial seal? Here?"

"I think this just got a lot more complicated," replied Wilcox.

"I want overtime," said Greer.

"Over their dead bodies."

"Exactly."

Wilcox placed his face into his palms and grunted "Shit."

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