Part I - Blood and Thunder
What remorseless emperor commands me
I no longer govern my soul
I am completely immersed in darkness
As I turn my body away from the sun
“Blood and Thunder” by Mastodon
He smelled blood. Had to be. Its coppery wafting notes tickled his nostrils. Acrid, too. Stale, maybe? Long dried? His eyes narrowed and a hand shot to his hip, extracting his service slugthrower from its holster. Its cold, square barrel rested against his thigh. The weapon’s weight was a comfort to him. He pressed his shoulder to the door, some of its peeling paint chips falling onto the shoulder of his navy uniform’s shirt.
“Francesca, this is district four Sigil. We’re servicing a missing person’s search permit. You have one minute to open the door before we force entry.”
He didn’t think that’d work. The case was rather new, but the blood smelled old, maybe multiple weeks old at this point. If someone was in there, they weren’t going to be answering doors ever again.
The case was simple; missing persons. Francesca Grude, a member of the engineering firm Totalis. She had graduated from Chop City Alchemical Academy, a sprawling-campused engineering school. Got out with honors, immediately called up to service by Totalis. Her history was benign, no red flags, no known reasons to go missing. At first, he had simply placed it with the other missing person cases he’d seen come across his desk. Ninety percent of the time, the missing parties showed back up after a day, a week, a month off from life. Driven mad, wild, or madly wildly in love, they nearly always came back. Or were found in their place of residence, nesting or hermitting away their problems.
A tap came to his shoulder. He shot a glance at his partner Tamara, his partner and fellow Seeker. She was a rare one; a hybrid of an Animas and Hume. Her face was tinged with fur but mostly bald, ears feline, mouth and nose of a Hume. She had a tail and padded Hume fingers with longer-than-average nails. As far as he knew, her feet were typical of the Hume variety. What she lacked in physical conformity she made up for in toughness and self-depreciating humor. He imagined the latter was a defense mechanism formed as she grew up. He wouldn’t really know. She didn’t talk about it much.
“It’s been two minutes,” she reminded him in a gruff, hushed tone.
He nodded and twisted off the door. “We’re coming in,” he announced as he shot his partner a glance.
Tamara nodded and shifted in front of the door. She twisted the door knob, found it locked, and then drew back. In one swift shift of weight, he booted foot slammed into the wood just under the door’s knob. The jamb splintered, the door buckled, and it swung open violently.
“Careful,” she intoned to him.
He nodded and raised his slugthrower, both hands gripping it at eye level, elbows bent slightly.
The stench of stale, dusty disuse filled his nostrils. And there was the blood again. Stronger now. Tamara coughed. He could only imagine how strong the stench was to her.
“Blood,” she whispered to him.
“Right,” he agreed. “Francesca?” he asked the entryway. No response.
They moved through the foyer and into the living room, two electric braziers casting the room in a dingy orange glow. The small living area had a telescreen, a couch, a televoice, and at least five bookcases sagging under the weight of a few dozen, maybe a few hundred, of thick looking technical books. He looked over his shoulder and saw his partner clearing the adjacent galley kitchen. It was small and cramped and dark. He heard her try a light switch but no light responded to the call.
“Clear,” she said. “Nothing.”
“Same. Hallway next,” he said, pointing to it just ahead of them. She hummed her agreement. He took another sweep of the living room before falling in line behind her.
“Francesca,” she asked the hallway, her own weapon now raised and ready. Tamara turned to look at him over her shoulder. “Two, left right. Take left.”
Another nod from him and he waited for her to dart into the right room, then slid himself into the left room. The bedroom was dark and, as in the kitchen, the light switch did not illuminate the room.
No immediate threat detected, he reached with his left hand to his pocket and extracted a handlamp and depressed its on switch. A narrow beam of light shot from it and turned a section of the bedroom into near daytime. The cone of light fell upon a desk that was turned over and leaned with little care against the nearby wall, papers and boxes littering its underside and the floor around it. He swept the light over the rest of the floor near the desk and found papers everywhere, even beside his own foot. Finally, he rested the illuminating beam onto the bed. More and more papers, multiple boxes, pictures, and even a few small trinkets littered the bed.
He stuck his head out of the room and found himself staring at his partner.
“It’s a mess in here,” he told her.
“In here too,” she replied. “Someone was searching for something.”
“Yup. Nothing but papers in there?” he asked.
“Just papers and books and boxes.”
They both turned their heads down the remainder of the hallway. One room remained, what he presumed was the owner’s bedroom. The door was shut.
“Shall we,” he asked, now holding his weapon and the lamp against one another.
“Lets,” she responded, giving her partner humorless grin.
One last place to look, at least one body to find, he thought. He sighed and raised his slugthrower and lamp, bathing the hall in light.
“Francesca,” he called one last time. Again, no answer.
He felt a hand on his left shoulder. They’d be doing this entry together, just in case. How many times had they done this?
She tried the knob, looked to him, and shook her head. He sighed and nodded. Tamara kicked the door open and then latched on his back, her slugthrower perched on his shoulder, his own along with the lamp out in front of him.
The stench caught them off guard. Her weapon slipped from his shoulder as she bent over to wretch. He opened his mouth and pulled his upper lip down to try to keep his nose from even trying to pull in air. On the bed lie a just-starting-to-bloat corpse, eyes bugged out, skin darkening with decay. There were clothes, but much too stained to tell their original color.
Even his eyes were protesting, tears starting to form at the ducts, trying to tell him to get out from the noxious room. He fought the urge to blink and moved closer. The black coated metal grip of a slugthrower was sticking out from underneath the corpse, its arm and hand frozen forever in a failed attempt to reach for it. The body’s other hand was gripping something else, but he couldn’t quite tell what it was. It would have to wait.
He shot a glance to Tamara and saw her in the doorway, back to the corpse, still coughing. Had she ever been around a corpse before? He couldn’t remember.
“I have to get the wardrobe and bathroom cleared. Get some fresh air, Tam.”
She nodded and started heading out of the room without looking back at him.
He made his way over to the wardrobe and, weapon pointing at it with his right hand, threw open the doors. A neat but sparse collection of clothes started back at him. After pushing around the clothes, he felt confident to move to the bathroom door next to the wardrobe. The knob turned and the door moved. He went in gun first.
It was a normal, cramped city bathroom with a toilet, bath, and sink with mirror. What wasn’t normal was the copious amounts of smeared blood in the sink. A couple of bandage cover strips lay on the floor. Blood droplets stained otherwise white tiles on the floor.
He pushed the bath curtain back and found more blood droplets in the tub, though these were less apparent. The perpetrator most likely was washing a wound in here after finding the sink less than efficient. Must’ve been a large wound, he thought.
A trail of blood led from the bathroom back into the carpeted bedroom and towards the bed, just in front of it. He cursed under his breath at himself for not finding the trail when he first entered the room. He was too seasoned to make such a rookie mistake, even in the presence of a dead body.
As slowly as he dared, he leaned over the edge of the bed and looked at the corpse. The body was too bloated to make out any slug or knife wounds. That’d have to be determined by the healer on duty at Chop City medical.
He found Tamara just outside the apartment’s entry door on the second floor landing. The air outside was muggy and smelled of metal. It’d rain again soon.
“Now that was a hell of a smell,” he sighed.
She laughed. “Sorry, it was really powerful.”
He nodded. “Your first corpse, and with your senses, doubly powerful.”
With a nod, she sighed. “Yeah, I could smell…well never mind. It was powerful. You’re right there. So what’d you find?”
“Besides the corpse? Blood, lots of it. Some of it might not even be the corpse’s. Looks like the victor in this little scenario cleaned a wound in the bathroom. Big wound too.”
“I’m guessing the corpse isn’t Francesca.”
He shook his head. “It’s bad off but definitely male.”
“So…a fight, in her apartment? That…”
He nodded. “Doesn’t make any sense. Yeah. We’re not the first ones to have come calling for her.”
“Does this change anything?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” he said, shaking his head. “But we will have to call it in.”
“Yeah,” he said as he stared off at the gathering clouds in the distance, his mind wracked with questions to which he didn’t know if he wanted answers. “Looks like it’s gonna be a lousy day.”