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Luther Patenge

On the Mend

Written by Luther Patenge

“Well this is bad,” Officer Meight announces, displaying his great talent for understatement. He nudges the corpse’s left hand and wrist with his boot, drawing attention to the expensive rings and bracelets, all emblazoned with the maker’s marks of the Jusaah family.

“Don’t kick the stiff Harry.” Officer Luchen mumbles as he inspects the body and clears away the surrounding trash, mostly clay bottles and other detritus. The watchmen have been granted a small reprieve- the victim had been kind enough to drop dead somewhere relatively secluded. Citizens have a tendency to get in the way of good police work: asking stupid questions and giving worse answers. “There’re no marks on her. So we can rule out being stabbed, strangled, kicked or beaten to death.”

“She died of natural causes?” Officer Meight asks with a cocked eyebrow. He idly toys with the tin of snuff in his pocket and eyes the entrances and exits of the alleyway.

“Don’t be daft, I just ruled out all the natural causes. Or didn’t you hear me?” Luchen replies. There is neither humor nor cynicism in his voice. “The jewelry suggests that she’s a Jussah”

“Yeah, I noticed that. What’s a girl from a jeweler family doing out alone near the river? Especially wearing stones like these and pretty looking clothes like that?” Officer Meight motions to her attire.

 “Gods’ honest I’m amazed she didn’t get killed all natural-like. The jewelry alone is worth a small fortune.”

“Worse yet,” Luchen stands from his kneeling position with a grunt. “Torfen the Tramp told us that he saw her lying there two days ago before he found us. I’m willing to accept that nobody pilfered the rings because she was mostly buried in trash. Maybe no one else saw her.” Both of the watchmen think back to Torfen approaching them on their patrol, leading them to the girl before running off screaming for no reason, as Torfen the Tramp was want to do. “What I don’t understand is: where are the rats?”

“Agreed, this girl’s well-fed and has been here for at least two days and not a nibble. You’d think the little bastards would be picking her clean by now.” Harry Meight eyes the leather laces of his boots, almost expecting the aforementioned vermin to be chewing on them.  The watchman pauses to think. “It’s sorcerers, Pete.” he concludes as he snorts a small pinch of snuff. “No wounds, no stealing, no rats, dead girl. Gotta be. Case closed.”

“Harry.”Officer Luchen groans and leans against the alley wall, the wide brim of his steel helmet clacks lightly against the bricks. “There are less than three dozen sorcerers in the whole damn city. If we arrested one every time that you thought that they killed someone or stole something they’d all be in jail six times over.”

“Yep, and we’d have a lot less crime. Simple truths Pete, unnatural power makes people act unnaturally.”

“I thought we’d already agreed that killing and stealing was about as natural as things got.” Luchen replies with a smirk.

“Alright alright, back to business- you getting all softy on those monstermen isn’t helping us figure out this murder. While we’re at it, how are we gonna’ bring this up to Horatio Jussah?”

“He’s still not happy about those stores of his getting robbed. He says we let them slip by.” Peter Luchen adds, flicking the brim of his helmet.

“Of course we let them slip by. Those stores were behind on protection payments for three fortnights. No payments, no protection.” Officer Meight emphasizes his point by spitting on the ground. “Then there’s High and Mighty Horatio Jussah: ‘Our taxes are payment enough’. Like we all don’t know that without those protection payments the Watch couldn’t afford enough boots on the ground to even stop the pickpockets. Taxes are hogwash.” The two watchmen nod in tacit agreement at settling this matter.

“There’s only one thing to do: wrap Little Miss Jussah up in a sheet and take her to Orsine. If the apothecary doesn’t have an idea, then nobody does.” Luchen says before producing a stained sheet from his canvas knapsack.

Inside the dimly lit store Orsine follows the watchmen into his back room, maneuvering between the myriad tables and cupboards with a surprising ease for a man of his substantial girth. Hurriedly he beckons an apprentice to take over running of the store proper in his absence before he joins the watchmen in the backroom. His ruddy cheeks inflate and deflate quickly as he takes a few quick puffs from his long stemmed clay pipe, then gestures to the girl on his table with it.

“She’s been murdered you say?”

“Yes Mr. Orsine, possibly by sorcerers.” Officer Meight says with a nod.

“Hmm, unlikely.” Orsine replies before Luchen can get the opportunity to restart their argument. “You see these crystals?” Orsine points to the elaborate array of glowing grey crystals hanging from the ceiling, bathing the room in their dull, un-flickering light. “If magic residue gets into my herbs and curatives they’ll become unpredictable and I’ll have to throw them out, so I don’t hurt a customer by accident. These crystals will stop shining in the presence of magic. A lethal ensorcellment would leave behind enough more than enough residue to put out all the lights in this room.” Orsine then leans in, producing a spyglass from a pocket of his apron, to observe the girl in finer detail.

“Magic detecting crystals... I should get me one of these.” Harry Meight muses aloud.

“Absolutely, I’ll even pay for it. If nothing else it’ll get you to cut out all that ‘Monstermen’ talk.” Luchen replies, remembering their previous embarrassments dealing with the magical community. Watchman or not, it’s not acceptable to call someone ‘monsterman’ to their face.

“Excuse me Officers.” Orsine interrupts, not pulling his attention away from studying the body. “You said that the girl was murdered, yes?”

“In fact we did.” Officer Luchen replies, using his sleeve to mop some sweat from his acne-scarred brow.

“And what evidence do you have that points to this?”

“Rich Jussah girls don’t go walking around by the river and just drop dead in alleys all by themselves.” Harry Meight states while absent-mindedly fiddling with a small bundle of horns hanging on the wall.

“This one may have, mostly at least. Please draw your attention to her hair and her fingernails,” Orsine indicates to these points with his pipe stem. “Note the burgundy coloration of both her hair and her fingernails. These colors are quite popular in the fall; I’ve been sold out of all the relevant dyes for a week. You will notice that the tips of the nails and the roots of her hair are uniformly uncolored. No ‘rich Jussah girl’ would be caught out in public performing such a fashion faux pas.”

“So you’re telling us… she realized her mistake then died of embarrassment? I don’t follow.” Harry Meight replies, leaning in close to inspect the aforementioned parts.

“No, I’m saying that between when she went out and when she died, her hair and fingernails grew a quarter of an inch. There’s only one substance in the city with such effects. One substance, that if ingested in large enough quantities, is poisonous.”

“Flesh mending potions,” Officer Luchen sighs in realization. “She drank so many that it killed her. The rats can smell that garbage so they stayed away. That explains the lack of wounds. Even if they did have a nibble on her the marks would heal up as if they were never there,”

“She died from spirit poisoning? This girl was hooked on the Mend?” Harry Meight asks to the room at large; taking a second, hard look at the deceased.

“Yeah, I remember having to take one after getting all banged up during the candle tax riots.” Officer Luchen rubs his chest through his chainmail tunic and red watchman’s tabard; feeling where his collarbone was broken by a piece of flung masonry. “All your wounds go away; all your pain goes away, even little aches you never thought you had. It’s quite a rush; I can see why you’d want another sip. Must’ve been too much for her.”

“Indeed. The spirits in the flesh mending potion see the hair and fingernails as ‘broken’, attempting to fix them. This causes their sudden growth.” Orsine lectures aloud, pocketing his spyglass and adjusting his felt beret. “What will you do now officers? It will be very hard to explain to Horatio Jussah that someone in his family was on the Mend.”

“Agreed. He’ll probably accuse us of wrongdoing just to save face.” Officer Luchen states. “All that racket’ll put the street-alchemists underground. Our Mend-monger disappears and we’re left out in the cold with no culprit to show for it.”

“Okay boys, here’s the plan.” Officer Meight announces, drawing himself up to his full height. “First we’ve got to get this body over to an icehouse, that’ll slow down the rot and buy us some time for an investigation. Then we go back and explain the plan to Captain Debrun. Next we’ve got to get out there and figure out who’s selling this stuff to nobles.”

“You’re saying that we should hide one of Horatio Jussah’s dead family members from him. That’s a might sick isn’t it?” Pete Luchen asks, cocking an eyebrow.

“Horatio Jussah will probably lodge a missing person report for the girl. That’ll confirm her identity all tidy-like. Once we’ve got the culprit who sold her all of that Mend we can thaw out Jussah girl and present the whole tight package to Old Man Jussah. Case closed, we’re heroes, Horatio gets off our backs and starts paying his protection money like a good citizen again.”

“It seems that you are well on your way to success.” Orsine says flatly while repacking his pipe. “When you leave, please take the girl out the back door. As a curative salesman, having customers seeing dead bodies in the store does harmful things for my reputation.”

“Understood. Thank you very much for your services again.” Luchen gives the apothecary a quick salute before starting to bundle up the corpse.

“Just doing my part for the city. Good luck officers.” Orsine waves as he returns to the front of his shop.