The crowd watched in silence as the military escorted its new prisoner toward the steep stairs of the Emperor's palace. It was customary for them to parade these types of captives before the city. No one had seen the military capture a prisoner like this in a long time.
The prisoner was a tall young man, a bit gaunt for his height. He had a head of dark blond hair that fell sloppily over his dark blue eyes. He was wearing many layers of clothing made from animal pelts. The clothing was a bit too large on him as though he was not the first to wear them. Thick plastic handcuffs, bound together by metal chains, held his hands together behind his back.
The man leading the prisoner was Head General Tolaymus. Even though his better years were clearly behind him, the General was a tall, imposing man clad in large glistening metal armor. He had raggedy blond hair that fell to his shoulders and a short beard.
Tolaymus stopped his mount at the bottom of the palace steps, a giant scorpion called Skurge, armored with a steel stinger and claws. He looked to the top of the palace steps, which rose higher than any home around the palace. He dismounted his scorpion and faced the civilians who had paused in the middle of their business on the street to watch. Two soldiers brought the prisoner to the General who took the prisoner's chin in his hand, forcing him to face him.
"Whatever you think I did," the young man spoke weakly, "you're wrong."
Tolaymus went behind the young man, kicking his back and dropping him on his face against the hard dirt of the street. He stepped over his back, grabbed the back of his shirt and pulled him up, talking into his ear with a smile. "I know you didn't but an ambiguous gypsy makes the perfect scapegoat. Nobody will mind if we take out some of the gyptian trash."
* * *
That evening the Emperor went to see Tolaymus in the military dining hall. He was a small old man with a long white beard. He looked malnourished and fragile and his layered silk robes made him look even smaller. His wrinkled almond shaped eyes seemed tired yet he was almost always smiling.
When the Emperor entered the hall, the bar like atmosphere, fell into complete silence. Tolaymus stood up from where he was seated and bowed slowly, "your excellency."
"Walk with me, General," the Emperor told him, motioning for the General to follow. His voice was unexpectedly deep and serious for his small, fragile appearance.
Tolaymus followed the Emperor out onto the balcony. It extended around the entire palace, overlooking the city and the desert dunes that surrounded it. When the Emperor was certain they were alone, he asked Tolaymus, "where did you find that boy? The prisoner you brought in today."
"Outside Shayle," the General answered flatly.
"Hmm." The Emperor remained silent for a moment before saying, "you should return to Shayle. Find out exactly what he was doing there. Was he ever in Laridion?"
"Am I to take his word it?" Tolaymus sounded offended.
"I won't keep him in custody on your assumptions and he will certainly not hang for them," the Emperor said bluntly. "I imagine you arrested him because you think he was the one who killed the Denton family."
"There was no evidence of a weapon used on any of the bodies. Just... brain matter everywhere and he is a psychic. A telekinetic one."
"Just because he could, doesn't mean he did," the Emperor sighed slowly. "Assuming it was actually a psychic who killed the Dentons, you still can't prove it was him. Do you even know for sure that he's psychic?"
"He may not be guilty but there is something odd in his presence. It's like a scent or an aura. There's something close to him that I sense."
The Emperor turned to his General, looking bored. "Your personal feelings are no reason for us to hold him. Psychics have always been part of this world and they are certainly not the most dangerous thing about it."
"It only takes one," Tolaymus said wistfully, looking out over the desert. "The right one."
"General, leave the fantasies to children. Go find the facts."
* * *
Tolaymus returned to Shayle the following morning. It was a small village in the sandy desert. There was hardly anything to entice anyone to stay in such a place. All they had was a small market place, a single hotel, a restaurant and clay homes belonging to those who could not afford to go anywhere else.
When Tolaymus arrived, he left his scorpion, Skurge, outside the village and entered with two lieutenants. They went to the market place and his presence immediately drew the attention of everyone nearby. With all eyes already on him, he announced to no one in particular, "I want information on the gypsy that was arrested outside the village yesterday." When no one said anything, he turned to the butcher, pointing. "The man had several pounds of beef and pork with him. Is that all he bought from you?"
"Yeah," he replied instantly.
"What did he need it for?"
"I don't know. Did you think maybe he was going to eat it?"
Tolaymus smirked as he approached the butcher's stand, slightly amused with the man's shamelessness. "What exactly do you butcher here?" He ran his hand along the counter and sniffed his fingers as though he were searching for something.
"The usual, though much of the surrounding wildlife isn't suitable for human consumption. I have to get a lot imported."
"You ever butcher a person?"
The man answered easily, "not recently."
"I have. Recently." Tolaymus held his hand out to one of his lieutenants, who handed him a sword. He reached it over the counter, touching the tip just under the butcher's chin. "And he wasn't dead when I did it. I suggest you save the smartass comments for a General less likely to ram this through your neck and leave you pinned to the wall."
Tolaymus handed the sword back to his lieutenant casually. He left the butcher's stall and approached a vegetable stand across the sandy street. "You talk to the kid?" He picked up a head of lettuce, biting into it.
"No." The woman behind the stand watched him nervously as he chewed it slightly and seemed to be running it over his tongue. "He didn't talk to anyone. He just... kept to himself." He paused for a moment then spit it out, placed the lettuce back on the stand and whistled a loud, sharp whistle.
Skurge came running to the Head General's side, sliding across the sandy street. "Get this shit out of here," Tolaymus told the scorpion, pointing at the stand and stepping aside. An older man who had his own stand next to the vegetable one, grabbed the woman by her arm and pulled her over the gate separating their stands. Skurge's armor coated tail snapped over his head and down onto the stand, smashing it down the middle, sending lettuce leaves and wooden debris everywhere. "Don't sell that. It's dry," Tolaymus said calmly and mounted Skurge.