There is a certain silence that surrounds death, of a kind that cannot be found anywhere else. There had been a time when I was well versed in that silence, my blades slaked in blood, but now it felt alien and new. I had left that destructive past behind and never thought anything of its kind might follow me into my new life.
I sat on the edge of a table, brooding over the darkening crimson stain on the floor. I had laid Flikk on the worktable that had previously held his golem. In its place, he looked tiny and fragile, not at all the determined, cantankerous genius I had worked with these past two years. Nothing but a shell remained.
A clattering outside the lab had me reaching for my daggers again, but I knew before the doors opened this wasn’t the return of the Inquest. No, they were long gone, taking their spoils and disappearing back into the jungle.
With the lab’s defence systems deactivated, the doors opened easily, and with a great deal of clattering and cursing, a handful of investigators came stumbling over the wreckage of Flikk’s research. Three golems followed them, great lumbering things without any of the finesse of Flikk’s creation.
The lead investigator – identifiable from his intricate headpiece festooned with glowing, slowly rotating key symbols – stopped in the centre of the room and turned a full circle. His gaze caught on Flikk’s covered body, before he turned to me.
“My name is Investigator Attus,” he said, eyeing me warily. I hadn’t bothered to see how much blood I was splashed with, but I suppose I did look a bit maniacal. “Warning beacons in Rata Sum suggested there might be something of a… situation, here in your lab.”
“Flikk’s lab,” I corrected, and pointed to the golem worktable.
Attus flinched. “Yes. I see. And you are?”
“Amber. Currently a member of Flikk’s Advanced Exploratory Golem Development krewe.” The only member, aside from Flikk himself. He wasn’t an easy asura to work with. “We were raided by-”
“The Inquest. Yes, I know.” The investigator sighed and pressed both hands to his temples, dislodging his fancy hat.
“You know?” I could feel anger building in my chest, a slow, simmering pulse like the beat of a drum. I jumped down from the table, making Attus take a step back. “So what are you going to do about it?”
“The Inquest are a registered, legitimate krewe,” Attus said nervously. “There’s very little we can do.”
Somehow, a dagger had found its way into my hand. Very deliberately, I forced it back down to my side, then laid it on the bench behind me. “They’re murderers and thieves,” I ground out. “Any other krewe would be dismantled for anything half as serious.”
“Dismantled by the Arcane Council,” Attus said, and suddenly I could see a little spark of my anger reflected in him. The investigator was as furious as I was, but his hands were completely tied. The Inquest didn’t exactly control the Council, as far as I knew, but they had more influence over it than any other single krewe – and their numbers were growing all the time.
I took a deep breath and changed tack. “I’m certain I know who murdered Flikk. She called herself Interrogator Zurra.”
Attus nodded decisively. “Very good. We still have the power to bring charges against individuals. I will personally see to it that this Zurra is brought to justice.” There was a little bit of desperation in his tone, as if he doubted just how effective that ‘justice’ might be, but I appreciated his offer all the same. All the fight went out of me. I felt exhausted, and sick, and heartsore. Suddenly, I wanted to be very, very far away.
Attus wheeled away from me, surveying the lab again. “I can have clean-up golems sent down, if you wish. And…” His voice softened. “And a funeral krewe, too. Your master’s body must be returned to the Eternal Alchemy. I have no doubt his mind and soul are already there.”
Probably ordering around whatever lackeys he could lay his hands on, knowing Flikk. He’d never let a little thing like death keep him from his work.
“Will you be reforming the golem krewe?” Attus asked. “I’m sure I could help in requisitioning materials, perhaps a few apprentices…”
I shook my head, despair licking at my thoughts. “There’s no use. All Flikk’s research is gone. I can’t recreate it without him.”
“I see.” Attus’ voice was studiedly neutral, but I could see how hard he was trying not to look at me. “Well, no doubt the Inquest will make good use of your master’s work. It’s not far to their complex, after all. Only a few hours walk north-east of here, actually.”
My mouth dropped open. He was trying – and failing – to be subtle about it, but was Attus actually giving me… directions?
He turned to one of his assistants. “You’ve been out to the power plant, haven’t you, Tesso?”
“Yes, sir.” The second investigator was much more deadpan than his master, but I could see he was trying to hold back his eagerness. “I worked with the Luminates krewe for six months. The Inquest took a great deal of interest in our research.”
“Hmm well, you were right on their doorstep, were you not?” Attus swung his hands behind his back, apparently trying to remain casual. For a moment, I thought he was about to start whistling. “I’m sure you can see the Inquest complex perfectly clearly from the power plant.”
“Indeed you can, sir,” Tesso replied.
“Very good, very good.” Attus actually did start whistling then, just a few tuneless bars, before he realised what he was doing and cleared his throat. “Ah, yes. I’ll have the golems sent down immediately, Amber. My condolences on the loss of your master.”
Within half a minute, the investigator had rounded up his krewe and departed, the three big golems clunking after him. I stood in silence, looking round the ruined lab. My gaze fixed on the rusty stain on my feet, then on the shrouded figure lying on the golem workbench. I took a deep breath, steadying my shaking hands. Just north-east of the power plant, was it? I could picture the route in my head, barely half a day away. With a feral grin, my teeth bared at nothing in particular, I reached for my daggers.