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TriOctium

Dancing with Death [Private]

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Lionel hit the ground running.

Above him, lightning arced across the night sky, causing the air to crackle with energy in the aftermath of the spell. Lionel cursed, ducking into another abandoned alleyway as he heard the sounds of heavy footsteps across the brick rooftops behind him. Lightning magic was a very efficient way to kill someone - fast, lethal and nearly undodgeable. So far, he had gotten off from the fact that the man had terrible aiming, especially under the cover of darkness, but he doubted that fate would be so kind to him for much longer.

Since when has fate been kind to you? Nala'hedriel scoffed.

He discarded the staff he'd been carrying around - his disguise had been blown anyway. Peeking out of his corner, Lionel took a moment to make sure that the road was clear before dashing out once again, heading towards one of the many safehouses he had arranged in this town... But once again he felt a familiar tingling sensation across his skin, allowing him to narrowly avoid the bolt of lightning that shot past his right elbow. His hunter stood behind him as he spun around, fingers extended out in a handgun-esque gesture as a grin extended from his grizzled face.

"Checkmate, Zero." The spell-hunter fired another bolt of lightning.

Darkness leapt from the shadows around Lionel, throwing themselves in front of him, attracted by the sudden burst of magical energy. The lightning bolt hit the wall of darkness squarely in the middle, striking with all the force needed to smash straight through a concrete wall - and vanished in a burst of blue light. The shadows fell away, revealing Lionel's grim expression as he stared back at his assailant. "Yes, checkmate," he replied. "For you."

Lionel crossed the distance between them in an instant, but the spell-hunter was skilled. He drew his sword, swinging it with swift, expert strikes directed at Lionel's neck. He must have been some sort of fencing master, Lionel decided, barely moving out of the way each time the sword came darting forwards, while the spell-hunter moved back, maintaining arms-length distance between them. Lunge, step, slash, step. It was all like a carefully choreographed dance between the two of them, but the uncertainty soon began to show on the spell-hunter's face. Obviously, he wasn't used to having his prey put up so much resistance at close range.

It's the superspeed, Nala'hedriel drawled. It always gets them, every time.

His defense faltered for a split second, but it was enough. Lionel sent a punch into his gut, causing him to flinch and recoil backwards. He grabbed the man's sword arm and gave it a sharp twist; the weapon fell to the ground after a cry of pain. A punch to the face, a strike in the chest, and the man was sent reeling onto the ground. Three ribs broken, Lionel noted. He'll have difficulty breathing. He bent down, grabbing the spell-hunter by his collar as he lifted the man up face to face.

"Who sent you?" Lionel snarled. "How do you know the name Zero?"

The spell-hunter laughed, a hearty laugh that caused him to cough up a bubble of blood. "Your past haunts you, homunculus. You will never be free of it."

Something shifted within the man as he continued laughing, his head lolling back at the sky. Lionel threw him onto the ground by reflex, shadows flying to his arms... But no magical assault came. The man continued his hysterical laughter as his flesh began to melt away, sizzling under the influence of his own spell until there was nothing left of the man except his skeleton. And the sinister black pendant that lay inside.

The Circle of Dead.

Lionel Descartes woke up with a gasp.

Dancing with Death

A private RP between TriOctium and Ice.

Cold sweat rolled down Lionel's forehead as he pushed himself out of bed, groaning. A bowl of water with a towel had been prepared on the table, and he gratefully used it to wipe his face as last night's dream continued to play over and over in his head. Dreams are a privilege, he reminded himself, remembering the days when he had spent each night in utter silence, his body resting yet not fully asleep. Even so, being haunted by events that happened months ago was nothing to scoff about, and it took Lionel a few moments to calm his nerves down.

What's the matter, chuckles? Nala'hedriel asked. Had a bad night?

"Nothing for you to be concerned about," he muttered in response. For all their mind-reading abilities, Lionel had learned early on that T'Skarin were notably unable to share dreams with their hosts. It was one of the many strange things about his 'symbiotic' relationship with Nala'hedriel, the T'Skarin Prince of Shadows. Judging by the sunlight, it was time for him to set off. He threw on a cloak and his pair of sandals, grabbed his cane lying by the bedside and left the room for breakfast.

The Dancing Sword Inn was a quiet place in the mornings, a sharp contrast with the noisy scene it had been last night. One of the tables was still lying on the floor in the far corner, broken glass all around it. Lionel ignored that scene, taking his seat near the bar instead as Zoraida came out with a hunk of bread and a flagon of wine. "You don' look too well, son," the middle-aged barmaid commented. "You feelin' alright?"

"I'm alright. Thanks for asking." Lionel took a large bite out of the bread, then winced at the stale taste.

"Well, if you say so." Zoraida took a look around the mostly empty inn before leaning closer to his ear. "Did you hear? The Baron's been killed. In his own castle, too!"

Lionel choked slightly on his beer, putting down the flagon slowly. "Last night?"

Zoraida nodded with a serious expression on her face. "There's been a big hassle in the morning. Mageknights coming here from the capital an' everything. I was quite surprised when you didn't wake up from all the ruckus!"

Lionel's stomach turned. He hadn't had many good experiences with mageknights, the so-called defenders of the common folk. But a Baron being assassinated... that was big news. And perhaps too much of a coincidence. Satisfied that she had shared the news, Zoraida glided back into the kitchen, leaving Lionel alone with his thoughts.

...

A small crowd had already gathered before the Baron's castle, though none dared to attempt to push past the line of mageknights that had been formed around the main entrance. Their efforts were mostly futile; at this distance there was absolutely nothing to look at, except perhaps the castle's wonderfully kept garden of flowers. Lionel made his way around the boundary, passing by several more mageknights stationed along the west wall before he reached a more secluded spot. The only reason why no guards were positioned here was because a humongous wall, towering nearly three metres in height, blocked the way into the castle.

Lionel knelt down, feeling around at the base of the wall. Within seconds he located the alarm spell that would have triggered should anyone actually succeed in vaulting over the wall, and sent the tiniest bit of his own shadow into the magic circuitry as it fizzled and died out. Not enough to cancel the spell permanently, but enough to stop it for a minute or two. Stepping back, he took a deep breath before performing a running jump - soaring just high enough to land feet-first on top of the wall.

And with that, he was in.

His landing was softened by the grass underfoot, and he quickly moved into one of the side doors as he made his way deeper into the castle. Voices echoed across the empty hallways, its premises having been vacated because of its owner's death. Lionel moved past a large dining hall, ducking out just in time as a clanking mageknight in white armor marched past, then slipping behind him and continuing towards the Baron's bedroom.

He'd only been here once before, through the same way. But the layout of the castle was easy to remember, and Lionel found himself tracing the same steps he had made all those weeks ago.

Just as he got into one of the waiting rooms, he felt cold steel press against his neck. "Don't move, Lionel." The voice was very familiar. Lionel put up his hands in surrender, allowing himself to be pushed against the wall and turned around to face the newcomer: a messy-haired Inquisitor with a sharp nose and a blade in each hand.

"Fancy meeting you here, Jarrod," Lionel greeted with a nervous laugh. "I knew they were going to put an Inquisitor on the case. But I didn't expect them to send you."

Jarrod didn't have the optimistic smile Lionel remembered from five years ago. His face looked grizzled, more hardened by recent events. "You shouldn't have come here, Lionel. I was hoping it wasn't you... but you being here is only going to implicate you in matters further."

Lionel raised an eyebrow. "Are you suggesting that I was the one who killed the Baron?" Jarrod didn't answer, simply staring straight at him for a moment. Then, with a great sigh, he lowered his sword from his neck, sheathing it slowly.

"No, you don't have any reason to go around killing Barons. At least, not that I've discovered," the Inquisitor explained, slowly pacing around the room. "But that still isn't enough to stop you from being my prime suspect."

"Why? Why am I the prime suspect?"

"Because the assassin canceled the Baron's magic."

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The door to the room creaked open, allowing a set of black boots to enter. "Ah, Jarrod! This must be bigger than I thought it was if you were sent here, hm?" At the confused look he received, the man began explaining. "I am Inquisitor Marx, assigned to this mission along with a few my squad members. We only check into crime series and this incident seems to relate very closely to a few others we have investigated. Seeing you on the job, I assume you have other or similar reasons of being here?" His golden eyes turned to Lionel. "Of course, I haven't seen your friend around. Nice to meet you both. I hate to rush but I do need to stick to the investigation. The quicker the killer is found, the safer everyone is. I'll see you in the room?" He inquired before turning and making his way back out of the room and down the hall to the Baron's room in which he was killed.

 

Joining his squadmates, they began reporting what evidence they had found. "Sir, it's the same as the others. The Baron seemed to been caught off guard, so either someone had snuck in or it was someone he was acquainted with. The fight began at close range. And it was most definitely against someone who could cancel magic."

 

A frown touched Marx's lips. "This is the 3rd one. How many more have to die before someone finds this bastard...." With a sharp sigh, he shook his head. "If we've gathered all the evidence we can here then we'll need to continue as we have been and search for this guy. Could you find anything the attacker may have left behind?"

 

All three of his squadmates shook their heads.

 

"Another blind search." He pinched the bridge of his nose, concentrating. "Cat, you stay and wait for Jarrod. See if he has any information we don't and then report to me. Give him the little information we have, in case it may help him. Bird and Bear, I need you two to split up and go around town. See if you can find anything unusual and if we could at least find a trail on this guy. If anyone seems suspicious, question them. I'll be doing the same as well as seeing if any of the higher ups have heard any rumors threatening the Baron here. Go."

 

Bear and Bird immediately left the room, making their way down and outside to take different roads throughout the town. Cat went into the room where Jarrod and Marx had been talking. "Sir? My Inquisitor has requested I see if you have found any information that we may have missed? We have been chasing this man for a while now and we fear we may be missing something."

 

Marx, with another sigh at the bloodied scene in front of him, left the room and went out to address the large crowd outside. "Everyone, please, calm down!" He said, his voice raised loud enough for everyone to be able to hear. Once the nervous chatter quieted a bit, he continued. "Everything is being taken care of. This is nothing we can't handle and the perpetrator will be caught very soon. Don't worry. We are currently searching the town so if he is still here, he will be detained. You all can go back to your homes and know you can rest easy. My team would never allow an intrusion on an innocent. By anyone. So please, go home and try to relax. We will watch over you." He could never tell them someone possessed anti-magic. That would cause so much fear in the world that he doubted the earth would survive the chaos.

 

He waited until the crowd had dissipated a great amount before leaving his post and beginning his own search for anything out of the ordinary. In his search, he had to hold patience as many people came up to him randomly, asking questions to put their minds at ease.

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Two Inquisitors. By the stars, this situation was getting worse and worse by the minute, Lionel decided.

 

By the surprised look on Jarrod's face, he hadn't been expecting the Crown to dispatch another Inquisitor on the case as well. Lionel barely kept himself from jumping when Marx turned to look at him, but fortunately, the newcomer didn't seem to find anything wrong with him being on the crime scene. Perhaps he had assumed that he was part of Jarrod's squad. "I'd want to ask you more, but it's clearly not a good idea to do it here," Lionel breathed to Jarrod. "You can find me at the Dancing Sword Inn tonight."

 

The young Inquisitor raised his eyebrow questioningly. "What makes you think I'm going to let you out of here? You are my prime suspect, after all."

 

Lionel smirked. "Do you really want to see if you can keep me from leaving?"

 

"I don't have to try, I know I can."

 

The two men stared at each other for a whole, tense minute, neither one of them moving an inch. You could feel the tension crackling in the air around them from the atmosphere. But finally, as though coordinated by an unknown signal, both of them burst into laughter, shattering the mood like a sledgehammer through glass. "It's good to see you again, bud," Lionel said, patting Jarrod on the shoulder. "It's been too long."

 

"Far too long," Jarrod agreed. "Don't make me regret this, Lionel."

 

He didn't grace that with a response, quietly slipping out of the room and heading back out of the castle. He hadn't managed to get a glimpse of the crime scene, but that option had already been out of the question the moment he knew that Jarrod Drake was part of the investigation team. Lionel had seen that man take down people far stronger than himself, and he wouldn't want to deliberately cross swords with him. In any case, he had done Lionel a great favor five years ago, and Lionel still remembered that.

 

...

 

The night was cold. Despite being in the middle of spring, a chilling breeze still occasionally swept through the town of Greensdale. At this time, the streets were mostly deserted, with most civilians retreated to the safety of their homes. There were even less people than normal tonight; the Baron's murder might have scared a lot of people home, despite the increased security in the region. To Lionel, the mageknights patrolling the streets only served as a nuisance - most of them tended to be abusive with their authority, and manhandled anyone who looked even remotely suspicious. Or perhaps pretty.

 

Fortunately for him, the darkness was his friend. Nala'hedriel's shadows kept Lionel well out of sight as he walked along the darker side of the street, his sandals barely making any noise. He always found it peaceful to take long night walks; he said it helped clear his mind, when he needed to think. Tonight, he had a mission, however. Greensdale's library, like many others in the surrounding cities, was sponsored by the Crown to have its doors open throughout the night. "Knowledge is a mage's best friend!" Emperor Durandal the Fourth had proclaimed. "And no mage should ever be turned down should he seek knowledge where it can be found!"

 

Well, Lionel wasn't a mage, and technically his citizenship was in question, but he was sure the local librarian didn't know any better.

 

The library building was lit up like a lantern amid the darkness, and as Lionel approached it he felt the shadows fall away from around him. The warmth of the building radiated outwards invitingly, and Lionel gratefully stepped through the front doors. It was no grand library, and its shelves were sparse and sometimes dusty. Unlike the Grand Library back in the country's capital, Zekiel, which had rows upon rows of marble bookshelves and floating tables, this one was a simple, quaint little two-storey building with a sleepy librarian and a sign saying "No loud magic allowed!" on the door.

 

Lionel swept towards the section on anti-magic, which was a fairly small section by itself. Anti-magic was considered to be largely impossible by human standards. The complexity involved in deciphering the exact manner in which your opponent had encoded the spell, figuring out the appropriate countermeasure, and applying it while the spell was still flying at great speeds towards you was far too difficult for even the greatest minds. Still, Jarrod had said that someone canceled the Baron's magic.

 

Someone apart from Lionel. Could it be...? His mind drifted towards the image of a young girl, his sister.

 

His thoughts were interrupted when he entered the anti-magic section, only to find someone already standing there. It was no ordinary person either - he had only glanced upon the man's face earlier, but he remembered the distinctive golden eyes that had looked at him for that brief moment. The other Inquisitor, Marx. Should I speak to him? Lionel wrestled with the split second decision. No, he only took a glance over me, he can't possibly remember who I am. I'll just take the book I need and leave.

 

Just as Lionel decided on his course of action, however, he saw Inquisitor Marx's gaze travel sideways and lock onto him, and he froze. 

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Practiced for its potential? I scoff at such speakings. I think, and I am sure every mage thinks, that anti-magic is something that should never be practiced. It is far too dangerous, too fatal to have someone with that kind of power in this world. That is why they must all be caught and killed. The wielders of this cursed magic. This is a power capable of ruling all and yet there is question as to let them practice it? If they aren't killed, then kill me because I dare not lay eyes on a world that will soon be conquered by them. As for-

 

Marx quit reading as he heard footsteps coming closer to the category he was in than usual. Most of the time, people didn't dare travel into these sections for either fear of being seen as suspicious or fear at what they may find. Still, as the footsteps stopped, Marx looked up to find the man he'd seen with Jarrod earlier today. Zero. He gave a smile. "Ah, if it isn't you. I don't believe I caught your name earlier?"

 

"It's Lionel. Lionel Descartes."

 

"Ah. Lionel. Well, it's nice to properly meet you. How does it feel to be working under Jarrod? I've never quite got to know him, just seen him on a few cases here and there."

 

"He's quite a decent guy, once you get used to his smug attitude and his penchant for swords."

 

Marx smirked. "I assume you're here looking for things on anti-magic? I wouldn't waste my time. Most of them just appear to be speeches and rants concerning it, nothing too informative about it. But you can look all you'd like." He said, giving an invitational motion with his arm.

 

"Yeah, I just wanted to take a look at the books they have here. Seems like it might have been a wasted trip of mine, based on your experience."

 

"Uh, by the way, has Jarrod or the rest of your squad found anything more useful on the case? We could only find some obvious story-telling evidence but nothing that may lead us to the attacker. Did you find any odd marks or clothing or just anything that may point us in some direction here?"

 

"Er... Well, you have to ask Jarrod on that. He doesn't tell me anything, that's for sure."

 

Marx cocked an eyebrow. "Did you find anything personally, then?"

 

"Oh hm. Not really. I think everything I've found has already been reported to Jarrod."

 

"Hm." Marx hummed softly as he shut the book beneath his hands, putting it back where he'd gotten it from the bookshelf. "Well, I hope we get a lead of some sort soon enough. This is definitely the same killer as the other attacks I've been put on. They need to be stopped. Goodnight, Lionel." He said tiredly, placing a gentle hand on Lionel's shoulder before leaving for his temporary room in the town.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Everyone who lived down the main street was awoken early with the loud barking of several dogs who were running, snarling, growling, and tugging on the leashes that held them back. Marx, Cat, Bear, Bird, and Jarrod were rushing along behind them, nearly being dragged down by the sheer force these strong hounds pulled with. They rounded corners and sprinted straights, the dogs always sniffing and seeming to get closer to their goal. Finally, they burst through the swinging doors of an inn and rushed in, clobbering each other in their attempts to get up the stairs. They skidded to a halt outside of a door and began clawing fiercely at it as they yelped and howled to be let in. The Inquisitors all stood, breathing quickly, and Marx pulled out the bit of torn gray cloth he had in his pocket. The dogs began scratching even more rapidly at the door. "This is the room." He confirmed and kicked the door open, finding Lionel and his gray cloak in the room, a corner of the cloak having been ripped off....

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"Where are you going to go?"

 

Lionel stood at the city gates, a look of concern crossing his face as he stared into the eyes of his sister. The young woman turned and smiled back, a smile that hid all of her pain and regret. The wounds of the battle that happened three days ago were nearly gone now, barely visible along her pale skin. "Since when have you been concerned about me, big brother?" She said playfully, sticking out her tongue at him.

 

"We're all that's left," he replied. "We should stick together, find somewhere safe to lie low-"

 

"Is that what you thought when you sent the Inquisitors after Eins and Drei?"

 

Lionel stopped mid-sentence. A single tear rolled down Nicole's face, a painful contrast to the smile that she still sported. "It's fine, Zero," she whispered. "I'll find my own life out of Zekiel. I hear some of the smaller towns are nice places to stay in. And I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself, you know."

 

"Zwei-" He reached out for her, but a jolt like an electric sting shot through his arm, causing him to retract it quickly. Nicole simply stared at him, shaking her head.

 

"Maybe we'll meet each other again-"

 

Loud shouts abruptly woke Lionel from his dream. He immediately jolted up, moving over to the door in three quick strides as he pressed his ear against the wooden surface. Clobbering and snarling noises could be heard outside, as the innkeeper's vehement protests rang through the air from below. Fear pounded through his heart - did Inquisitor Marx suspect him after all? Or did Jarrod betray his identity to the Inquisition? He grabbed the chair in his room, propping it up against the door as the scratching noises could be heard just outside now, backing away to the side of the window.

 

The door was kicked open violently, sending the chair flying as Marx, Jarrod and a few soldiers he did not recognize filed into the room. "Evening, gentlemen," Lionel greeted, reaching for his cane.

 

"Come quietly, Lionel," Jarrod said. The clink of metal chains could be heard as he withdrew a long chain from his bag, causing it to levitate into the air with his magic. "You will receive a fair trial."

 

The chain shot through the air, faster than Lionel could react. Speed had always been Jarrod's strong point - but it was useless if his opponent could preempt his actions. Nala'hedriel flared into action, drawing the darkness of the night around his host as shadowy tendrils shot out to meet the flying chain, dissolving the magic that propelled it. Lionel caught the chain in one hand, dropping it onto the floor as more shadows furled themselves around him, forming the shape of a bestial face behind him.

 

A foolish attempt.

 

Nala'hedriel's voice loudly boomed in both Inquisitor's heads, the T'Skarin's manifested presence causing headaches to anyone incurring his wrath. The air in the room became thick like jelly, the shadows extending towards the intruding force as the dogs began to whimper and back away from the otherworldly presence. But Lionel knew this would not hold Jarrod back for long. The both of them had faced down T'Skarin more violent than Nala'hedriel five years ago, and had triumphed.

 

One of the dogs yelped as the shadows crept up onto its body, slicing and cutting at its skin as it collapsed onto the ground, feebly attempting to cry out in pain as its throat was slit.

 

I can see into your minds, naive Inquisitors. Do not give chase, or I will do the same to you.

 

The full might of Nala'hedriel rushed across the room, turning it pitch black for a brief moment. And then, the presence was gone, the pressure removed and the air back to normal. Lionel was gone, having jumped out of the open window as he rushed into the night, moving with the supernatural speed that had been gifted to him and his siblings as part of the homunculi package. "What a weak lie, Nala," he muttered. "Every third-rate mage will know that you can't directly affect another creature with magic. You could only do that to the dog because it had no magic resistance."

 

Well, it was worth a shot, Nala'hedriel muttered, drawing the shadows of the night around Lionel to hide him from sight. Stop complaining, I saved your life.

 

"Fair point."

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Marx scowled as the dogs whimpered behind him, shaking and pulling on their leashes to run from the room. The Inquisitor cursed under his breath and his squad were equally as pissed off. "Take the dogs back." Marx ordered, handing over a leash to Cat and standing still as she and the two men followed her from the inn.

 

Marx turned to Jarrod. "We need to get him before another person pays for our loss. For now, we should be alright if we can just get guards up here and the surrounding towns to keep him out. Let authorities know to be on the look for him." He stepped forward and laid a hand on Jarrod's shoulder. "Get in contact with me if you need me. I'll be staying on this case, no matter how long it takes. I may be leaving before tomorrow for the sake of sending word to other authorities. I think we should tell the higher ups he has anti-magic powers, but not citizens. There's no need to worry them more than they already will be. I wish you and I luck. Though with you on the case, I doubt it will be too long for him to be caught." He smiled, knowing Jarrod's reputation, and left the room walking downstairs and out of the inn.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Marx flipped through the papers on his desk with a frustrated sigh. It was now 3 days since he lost Lionel using a rookie mistake. Even knowing exactly who he was looking for hadn't helped his search. Guards had their eyes open in all surrounding towns but there hasn't yet been a sign of the backwards mage. All Marx could keep thinking to himself was 'If I were him, where the hell would I have gone to?' Still, nothing came to mind even though he knew the terrain of the lands pretty well, having kept watch in them many times before.

 

"Marx?"

 

He raised his dark brown eyes. "Ah, Cat. Nothing I'm hugely interested in, I assume?"

 

She shook her head. "Sorry. Just another job asking for an Inquisitor."

 

"I thought I told you I didn't want another one until this one was finished?"

 

"I know. But look at it." She said, setting a folder down on his desk and opening it for him. "It's in a nearby town. They're having a lot of thieving issues, but it's small things like food, clothing, etc."

 

Marx cocked an eyebrow at her. "That's... even less interesting than you seem to think."

 

She gave a smirk. "They can't seem to catch the thief. He's getting into locked buildings at night without a single detection from the magical barriers around it. And there is a special guest staying in this town for a week. A very wealthy one with a very important name. Sound like anyone you may have met?"

 

Marx smiled and nodded. "Grab it. Let's see where Lionel may be hiding."

 

Cat nodded. She picked up the folder and dashed from the room to let the sender of the job request a confirmation while beating on the doors of her two squad comrades. "Get up! We're on a job!"

 

Marx laughed at the excitedness that seemed to suddenly grip his whole squad. He stood and slipped on his jacket and grabbed his knife, putting it inside of his boot. Alright, Lionel. I need you to come out. Before the visiting Baron is murdered.

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The rays of sunlight woke Lionel in the morning. He stirred from the corner of the barn's rafters where he had slept, taking care not to accidentally fall over. A couple of ravens had perched themselves somewhere on the other side of the rafter, looking at him with strange curiosity. Perhaps Lionel had stolen their spot by mistake. One of them cawed loudly at him, to which he grumbled, "Well, I didn't know it was your spot." With a careful push, he dropped to the ground, landing as quietly as a cat as the sleeping horses barely stirred in their stalls. The window he had climbed in from last night was still open, thankfully, and he made his exit via the same route.

 

It wasn't as if he was a stranger to the life of a fugitive. But after experiencing five years of relative peace, Lionel had begun to take the comfort for granted - comfort which he now sorely missed. Sleeping on a thin wooden rafter was uncomfortable, to say the least, and super-strength did nothing to ease the muscle aches that came in the morning. He pulled the gray hood over his head and wandered into town, hoping that he'd be able to get some breakfast before a guard decided that he looked familiar.

 

"Two of those apples, please," he bought, picking out two of the reddest ones he could see among the lot.

 

You're a criminal. Nobody will complain if I helped you steal one or two, Nala'hedriel reminded him.

 

"I haven't actually committed any crimes, and I'd like to remain that way," Lionel whispered back. Besides, bad things happened to those who relied too much on the power of a T'Skarin.

 

Lionel had barely bitten into his first apple when the newsboy came running through the streets, handing out flyers as he yelled, "Hear! Hear! Baron Esravash is coming to town!" One of these flyers was unceremoniously stuffed into Lionel's hand, and he raised it up to see a hand-drawn portrait of said Baron with the headlines "ONE BARON SEEKS TO INVESTIGATE THE DEATH OF ANOTHER". He scoffed - the nobility were always sticking their noses into one another's business, even when there was an unsolved murder hanging in the air. No matter what the circumstances were, they continued to hold the delusion of invulnerability until the point where a knife was held to their throat.

 

Slipping the flyer into his coat, Lionel turned and headed towards the old Baron's mansion, where the two Inquisitors had set up base. It might not be good for his resume to be seen at the crime scene again, but then again, neither was being a homunculus. He would just have to make do and figure out a way to stay out of sight from both Inquisitors while waiting for the culprit to surface himself.

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Marx had his hands in his black jacket pockets as he walked comfortably through the streets filled with people. A smile hovered close to his lips but never fully sprung. He seemed quite content. His eyes calmly scanning the crowds for anything out of the ordinary, though he hardly expected to find anything. He doubted Lionel would be following him and Jarrod around. Not with the way he had bolted from the last place along with the reputation both he and Jarrod had.

 

The fact that he doubted to find Lionel was the entire point of him being out and about instead of staying guard for the incoming Baron. For some reason, he felt the Baron was hardly in any trouble at all. Without Lionel around, why would he be?

 

As he walked, he let his mind wander about things he remembered from the last crime scene. He smirked softly. There had been nothing at all to go off of to trace anyone except for that lucky piece of cloth from Lionel's coat....

 

Cat, Bear, and Bird had all split up to do the same as Marx- keep an eye out. Jarrod was staying nearest to the Baron's quarters, perhaps because he knew the least information of the five of them. He wanted to make sure the Baron was properly guarded. He was sure no one would get to the Baron while he was within range and, if someone did, they wouldn't be able to get away without being spotted and taken into custody. Marx had simply agreed, having no reason to urge the Inquisitor away from the task he'd set his mind to. Besides, if Marx felt he wouldn't find anything and the Baron was safe, why make a big deal out of anything?

 

Marx finally reached the shopping centre of town, filled with merchants and buyers galore. Everyone was laughing and bargaining, filling either their baskets or the pockets. Marx saw nothing of much interest and so continued walking through the middle of everything. Things mostly sold were just fruits or vegetables, some areas selling meat and some selling clothes. Nothing that seemed very worthy of being stolen so Marx didn't bother keeping too close of a watch to anything. If someone stole from this place, it would be the seller's problem, not an Inquisitor's. Fruit was hardly worth his expertise.

 

Finally passing through the bustle, Marx noticed he was making his way back towards the Baron's quarters. He and his squad had taken roads that would eventually lead them back so they didn't have to worry about timing when to turn around and start heading back. Conveniently, the sun was still at a pretty good level for Marx to be kept warm and awake as he continued on. Before long, he reached the beautiful stone of the castle-like figure that would hold the Baron for a day or two until he either got too scared or too bored and decided to leave.

 

Marx shook his head as he entered, none of the guards stopping him, knowing who he was. It makes little sense to me. A Baron was killed so the most logical answer for the other Barons is to come out and make sure everyone knows where you're going. Of course. I must be an idiot to assume otherwise. He could also give a harsh laugh of disapproval but knew better. An Inquisitor was to be respectful to those stupid enough to provide him with a job, right? If no one high-classed died under odd circumstances, Marx and his team would be out of a job. Grim, yes, but true enough.

 

He ascended the stairs so he was on the same floor as the Baron would be- probably was by now, considering the time of day. Curious, Marx headed to the room he was told the Baron would be staying. Knocking, he was welcomed in and saw the Baron sitting on the bed, looking up and talking to Jarrod. Judging by the look on his face, it seemed Jarrod had broke the news to the man how risky his traveling was and the Baron was hardly taking it well. He seemed very nervous, so Marx offered a smile. "Ah, sir! Welcome. I'm sorry I couldn't meet you when you first arrived. I was out with my squad making sure the streets weren't hiding anyone with any dark intents. Everything looks perfectly fine so far and my team should be returning before too long, so no one will be able to enter your temporary fortress, sir." His words seemed to reassure the man greatly. With a nod toward Jarrod, he went back out of the room, shutting the door quietly behind him. A man in power on edge is a dangerous man to all. He remembered those words from long ago and never once have they proven false.

 

He glanced up at the sound of footsteps. Cat was coming towards him. "All clear, I assume?"

 

She nodded with a bored look on her face. "Yes. Quiet and dull. I don't even see why we need to be here. It's highly unlikely for Lionel to come chasing his persecutors."

 

Marx gave her a nod. "I know, Cat. But it is our job to stay, you know that."

 

She gave a huff and crossed her arms. "We've never taken so long to grab somebody, Marx." Then she cocked an eyebrow. "Are you worried?"

 

He gave a smirk. "No. Everything is under control, as it should be. Just because we have a fugitive is hardly a worry to me. Wouldn't you agree?"

 

She gave him a knowing look and smiled. "I do. What's the plan for tonight?"

 

He hadn't even began to think about that. As it stood, things weren't going to get exciting enough to stick around. "I'm not sure yet. Just stay around, close to the Baron. I don't want eyes off of him for a moment tonight."

 

She nodded, understanding it was an order. "What will you be doing?"

 

He thought a moment. "I think I'll guard outside. No one ever does that. I want to see if there's a reason why."

 

Cat laughed and wished him well before going behind him, starting her pace up and down the hallway in front of the Baron's door, where she would stay all night.

 

Marx went on and descended the stairs, running into Bird and Bear. He held back a laugh. They were always together. They were assigned opposite roads of different length and yet still managed to arrive together. Though Marx knew why this was. "Everything check out?"

 

Both nodded, Bird speaking for both of them. "Everything is as it should be. Are we guarding inside the building tonight?"

 

"Precisely. The both of you make sure the inside steers clear of anyone but the two guards at the front door, here. This is their post and they know not to move from it, especially while we are on the premises."

 

Both the men nodded. "Understood." Bird said and they both moved upstairs, splitting up and beginning their routes for the night, occasionally to meet up where they had split.

 

Marx went outside, the guards at the doors again having no problem with him. They had remembered the faces of the 5 to be staying here with the Baron. Marx went out a good distance, past the length of the gardens around the building before he began creating his own route. He made sure he circled the entire building in his route, his eyes watching for any changes in footsteps in the ground or small branches being bent or broken, anything that would show it was tampered with while he was away from the spot while circling. The sun began setting and Marx had studied enough to know what everything looked like to be able to notice any change. As his vision began shortening thanks to the sun's disappearance, he began relying on his ears, listening for the sound of anyone being close. He felt his adrenaline spike a little as the darkness made him on edge. He smiled. Being outside would be fun. He hoped it meant that, if anything happened, he was most likely to be the one to deal with it.

 

The flicker of torches outside soon became the only light he had.

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