Aryssa had barely finished her morning constitutional when a gargoyle swooped on to the ledge above her window with an urgent message from Nicodemus. The Necromancer of Davenmour, or Forensic Wizard as the more easily spookable humans like to call him, was responsible for ushering the spirit of the dead towards their final destination. The power involved in that process was ancient and mysterious and not for the likes of a Fairy Godmother so Aryssa did not pry.
Nicodemus was a formidable figure who made those around him uneasy. Aryssa wondered from time to time whether this made the wizard lonely but she’d never had the audacity to ask. Admittedly, the fact that Nicodemus was disturbed enough by his findings to require her presence unnerved the Fairy Godmother. She dressed quickly and traveled to the morgue, leaving the gargoyle to sleep until nightfall.
The city morgue was actually a crypt located on the far edge of town. Nobody liked the idea of living or working so close to an active portal to the afterlife so the area was desolate and undeveloped save for a few wayward sheep. Aryssa made a mental note to return them to Miss Peep, a nice young lady whose father was too cheap to hire shepherds to assist in herding his overly abundant flock.
The crypt was brightly lit with a plethora of candles to allow for proper examination of a corpse. Several caskets rested on shelves in a cool, dark corner of the room and a large marble slab stood in the center of the room. Beside the slab was a tall, gaunt figure with grey skin and dark sunken eyes. He had a tiny upturned nose and a wide mouth with corners that turned down in a perpetual frown. The phrase “so ugly, it’s cute” popped into Aryssa’s mind as it always did when she met with the necromancer.
His deep purple robes made not a sound as he crossed the room to shake her hand. Aryssa cringed inwardly at the chill in her palm.
“So glad you could make it, Godmother.” His voice was raspy and barely above a whisper.
“Of course, a summons by the Necromancer is a matter of some urgency.”
The corners of Nicodemus’ mouth upturned briefly and he responded.
“As if I could summon one such as you.”
“Stranger things have happened, my friend.” Aryssa smiled back. “So what are we looking at?”
“It’s the princess- or not the princess.” He said, crossing back to the slab.
He pulled back the cloth and Aryssa gasped. What lay on the slab was not the freshly dead body of a 16-year-old girl but a rotting, long-dead corpse that was already losing its shape. The heavy odor of rotting flora and fauna hung in the air.
Aryssa looked at him in horror. “What happened? This can’t be how the princess was found.”
“It isn’t. The decay occurred within hours of being brought in. I don’t need to tell you that this isn’t natural.”
Aryssa shook her head, drawing a perfumed kerchief from her sleeve to tie around her head. She stepped closer for a better look.
“Where was she stabbed?”
“The question is more where wasn’t she stabbed? The body was covered in puncture wounds. Had it not been for her attire, I doubt anyone would recognize her.”
Aryssa nodded slowly as the wheels began to turn in her brain.
“Godmother, in all my years I have never seen anyone murdered in such a fashion by magic.”
Aryssa met his gaze. “It is unlike any spell I have ever encountered myself.”
The Fairy Godmother knew of magic that could decay a person while they still lived, though that was typically ingested via potion. A spindle coated with the elixir would not have been so effective, though the victim would still have suffered greatly.
“Whoever did this must have really hated the princess.” Nicodemus mused.
Aryssa nodded again. Once again all signs pointed to Ravenshade but the Dark Fairy herself said she bore no ill will toward the girl. Someone as powerful as she would have crowed her success from the rooftops before disappearing. Yet, she was spending several days in a cold dark cell awaiting execution. Why? And if Ravenshade was telling the truth and wasn’t the killer, who was?
When Aryssa resurfaced, she was surprised to find Detective Chief Inspector Sutcliffe dismounting from his steed. She moaned inwardly as he approached with a frown. Her mind was whirling with facts and possibilities, she really wasn’t in the mood to square off with her nemesis.
“Good morning, Chief Shroudcliffe. Are you in need of my assistance?”
“I understand my daughter Pepper has recently come into your employ.”
Aryssa blinked. “Pepper is your daughter?”
“Crimson is her mother’s maiden name. She’d taken the job with you against my wishes and hoped my connection to her wouldn’t bias you against her.”
Aryssa smiled. Pepper was right of course. Had she realized she was the inspector’s daughter she never would have entertained the idea of hiring her. The girl’s instincts were spot on, she might make a good detective yet.
“My daughter is eager, loyal, and headstrong, she would serve you very well. She is also very innocent, almost naive, and prone to get into trouble from time to time.” Shroudcliffe was saying.
“I’m afraid she won’t get into much trouble filing and keeping the office tidy, Chief Inspector.” Aryssa smiled.
“And when does she learn to use her wiles to get information from men?”
“I caught her at the station attempting to tamper with evidence in the princess’ case. That was how she convinced the Sergeant to let her into the evidence room.”
“She told you that?”
“And you believe him.”
“Sergent Piper is a good dependable man.”
Who’s probably warm for your daughter’s form. Aryssa thought but instead replied,
“And Pepper is honest, innocent, and naive as you said. I run a detective agency, Chief Inspector, not a bordello. If your Sergent speaks the truth, wherever she learned that it wasn’t from me.”
“I want you to fire Pepper.”
“On what grounds?”
“On the grounds that I’m her father and I say so.”
Aryssa threw her head back and laughed. “That might work at home and at the station but not with me. Pepper has become invaluable to my organization.”
Shroudcliffe cocked an eyebrow. “It’s only been a few days.”
“So what’s your price?”
Exasperated, the Fairy Godmother said. “Why does everyone keep asking me that?”
“You’re saying you want me to pay you to let her go.”
“No, I’m saying she’s an excellent worker who doesn’t deserve to get fired.”
The Chief Inspector gripped her by the arms. “I’m not playing, Godmother. You will end my daughter’s employment tonight.”
Aryssa fixed the man with a steely gaze. “Has no one ever warned you not to threaten the Fae?”
They glared at each other for a moment before he released her.
Aryssa looked into the man’s face and saw not the disgruntled, bad-tempered policeman who ground his teeth whenever she turned up at the scene of a crime but a worried father. She gave his arm a reassuring pat and smiled.
“Fear not, Inspector. Your daughter will be looked after and cared for as if she were my own.”