Tongues of Flame

Chapter 5 — Part 2 — Tongues Of Flame

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Asëa hurried after Esmeralda as she led them to the temple. The kindly woman had seemed so tired just a few minutes ago, but her excitement seemed to be providing her energy now. The temple was a large stone building. Stepping inside, she saw a raging fire crackling in the center of the main room, in what seemed to be a makeshift brazier. Esmeralda darted towards the fire, and said a few words, awkwardly, in a strange language. Trailblazer responded, but before Esmeralda could continue, Elizabeth walked towards the flames and responded fluidly in the same tongue. Esmeralda’s surprise was evident.

Asëa took Darryl by the arm and walked him a few paces away. “What exactly happened?” she asked in a whisper.

“I don’t know,” he replied. “At first, we thought Jeremy might have been killed by a vigilante, but…. Niel was never really like that. Nor were any of the others. They simply started dying in their sleep, being found as shriveled husks in the morning, almost as if their life force had been drained….”

“And you are alright? Elizabeth… seems to be personally worried. Do you know why?”

“Yes, there was some needless finger-pointing, but other than that, I’m fine,” Darryl said. “I have no idea why Elizabeth would be worried, though…. So far, all the victims have been male. There have been enough so far that I doubt the young woman need to worry, although if this continues for too long….”

“We will try to put a stop to it before that happens. I will do everything in my power to protect her. Do you know if there are any similarities between the victims?”

“The main similarity is that all the victims so far have been young men,” he said. “I’m not aware of any similarities other than that.”

“That is not very much to go one. Perhaps later, I would like to see one of the bodies. But I do not want to leave you and Elizabeth alone…” Asëa said, turning back to watch her.

A few minutes passed, before Esmeralda, who had been listening in apparently stunned silence, finally spoke up. “You never told me that you spoke Ignan!”

“I… Oh! Yes, of course!” Elizabeth said, clearly surprised. “Sorry about that, it’s just something that I picked up at some point. I must have forgotten about your curiosity, forgive me.” She turned back to the elemental and continued their incomprehensible conversation.

After a few more minutes, Elizabeth turned to face them all. “I see now what you are trying to do. Father, I think that I should accompany our friend,” she said a word that Asëa did not understand, probably Trailblazer’s Ignan name, “when it leaves, to provide translation when necessary. Oh, um… I believe that translates roughly to… ‘Trailblazer’? I’m not sure which version you prefer. I’ll stay in town as long as it’s safe, but…. Well, Father, I just don’t have a good feeling….”

“Yes, she is more than welcome to come with us!” Asëa added. “As I said, I will do everything in my power to keep her safe.”

“Well, I don’t see why that wouldn’t work…” Darryl said slowly. “You all seem like decent people, after all, and have managed to survive a great deal as of late….”

“Well of course you’re welcome to travel with us,” Miithi said, “but did you learn anything about our elemental friend here?”

“Yes, I believe you already know about the efreeti?” Elizabeth said. Asëa nodded. “Then you no doubt know that Trailblazer is seeking out the one who tried to imprison the efreeti in the first place. Trailblazer is under the assumption that you are willing to help, am I correct?”

“Well, seeing as we currently have no leads on Dice, and Asëa did say we would help, I see no reason not to,” Miithi said.

“Yes, of course, we will help!” Asëa said defensively. Miithi made it sound as if she was the only one who wanted to help!

“Yes, that sounds reasonable,” Elizabeth said. “Trailblazer also said something about the gate back home being closed, although it sounded as if that were a lower priority than dealing with the person who did this. And I believe there was something about you attacking some fellow creatures of Fire…?”

“Yes, can you please tell her that we did not mean any harm?” Asëa said slowly. “They attacked us, we only defended ourselves, and we did not mean to kill any of them. The slimes just exploded, we would have stopped attacking if they had let us pass. And I am sure the snake thing did not die. I did not want to kill any of them, but we had to keep investigating. Please tell her how sorry we are. We did not try to kill any of them.”

“I will be sore to tell it that,” Elizabeth said, before turning back to Trailblazer. They talked for several seconds, and Asëa thought Trailblazer sounded less angry than before.

She walked towards them, and stood next to Elizabeth. “If there is anything we can do,” Asëa said, as Elizabeth translated for her, “if they can be revived, we would be more than willing to help in any way that we can. Again, I am sorry.”

Trailblazer said something, and Elizabeth translated. “Trailblazer says that there is most likely little that can be done now, except for tracking down the one who called the efreeti.”

Asëa nodded, before she realized that they had not even tried to heal the elemental. “I am sorry, we did not even as. Are you hurt? I can heal you, if you are wounded.” She pushed her armbands further towards her shoulders so they would not be singed.

Elizabeth relayed her offer, and translated Trailblazer’s response. “No, Trailblazer is not injured at all. It does appreciate being given fuel, however.”

“Does she need more? Or is this enough? And, she knows that we would like to try and solve the problem in town first, right? It is likely more pressing.”

“Yes, Trailblazer does not know where to start searching, anyway. Perhaps we might be able to find some information in one of the larger towns, but for now, I don’t think that any of us know exactly where to go.”

“Good.” Asëa smiled.

“Well then, do we have any clues on what might actually being causing these deaths, assuming it is indeed not actually Darryl?” Miithi asked suddenly. Asëa glared at him for a moment, before moderating her expression. He was quite right, this was hardly important, but he did not have to be so blunt about it!

“No, nobody has been able to identify the culprit,” Esmeralda said. “All the deaths have been quite clean, aside from the men essentially becoming dessicated husks. It’s certainly some form of magic, but beyond that, we have no idea what’s causing the deaths, or why it has only affected young men.”

“Perhaps tomorrow we can speak with some of their families. They may be able to help,” Asëa suggested.

“Yes, it’s quite unfortunate that a new victim has appeared every night, so if the trend continues, you might even be able to examine one of the bodies…” Darryl said mournfully.

“How many other young men are there in town?” Asëa asked. “Err, not counting Miithi, Boots, and Flinn. And were all the victims human? Or were there elves or dwarves or other races?”

“Well, I don’t often peruse those records,” Darryl said, “but… probably a few hundred, at least? I believe there have been more human victims, just because humans are a bit more common in Tinsville, but the other races have certainly not been safe.”

“Hmm, too many to try and guess, then.” Asëa said. “Do you have a map of the town? I would be interested to see where the bodies were found, and where the men lived.”

“I don’t know off-hand,” Darryl said, “but you could ask the coroner. He might know.”

“And where would we find this… coroner?” Asëa asked. The word was unfamiliar. Perhaps it meant map-maker?

«It means coroner,» Elizabeth said. «Someone who examines dead bodies.»

«Ah, thank you!» Asëa said.

Darryl cleared his throat politely. “The coroner would be in town hall, of course. Just follow the main road, past the market. You can’t miss it.”

“I assume we’ll be doing something about these zombies and this fire elemental,” Flinn said. “If that’s the case, I’m going to the market. Tell me the plan later.”

“Oh, yes, I could use some more arrows, too,” Asëa said, “and it sounds as if the market is on the way.” She did not like using her bow so often, but she needed more arrows to defend Elizabeth and the others. “And perhaps some tools so I can make my own. Would you like to come with me, Elizabeth? I do not want to leave either of you alone.”

“Certainly, I suppose it would be easiest if I show you to it. Shall we go now, then?” Darryl asked.

“Lead the way,” Miithi said.

“Yes, please do,” Asëa added.

“Elizabeth, you simply must teach me all the languages that you’ve picked up at some point!” Esmeralda said suddenly. “I will stay here and continue trying to chat with Trailblazer, perhaps after resting for a bit, but I would love to have a proper tutor for Ignan! Perhaps I’ll stop by for dinner tonight?”

“Oh, yes, of course, Esmeralda…” Elizabeth said quietly.

* * *

Asëa tucked her new tools into her backpack as they walked towards town hall. Darryl led them to a small office, and knocked on the door.

“May I help you?” the man who answered it asked. He was well-dressed, compared to the others in town, and wore glasses. His voice was a dry monotone, utterly emotionless.

“Yes, at least, I hope so,” Asëa said. “We are trying to determine what is causing all the strange deaths, and were wondering if you could tell us, or show us on a map if possible, where the bodies were found, and where the men lived? If there is any pattern, it would narrow our search considerably.”

The coroner raised his eyebrows slightly, but continued in the same monotone. “Ah, yes, a popular topic, these days. So popular that I have started to keep those particularly records in an easily accessible location. One moment, please…” he said, ducking inside and digging several pieces of paper out of the top drawer of a desk. He also retrieved a map from a shelf nearby. Consulting the papers, he pointed at the map as he spokes. “The first two deaths occurred here and here. Those were the only two that became undead. All the others were cremated before nightfall. Those deaths occurred here, and here, and….” He listed all the deaths, far more than Asëa had realized. She could not see any obvious pattern, though there was a slight cluster around the Darryl’s shop. But she supposed that was merely due to more people living there. It seemed every corner of the city had seen an unexplainable death.

“And all the bodies have already been cremated?” Asëa asked. “I suppose we shall have to speak with their relatives tomorrow. I do not suppose that you managed to save anything, some hairs or blood perhaps, of the first victims?”

“Normally we would save the bodies until a proper funeral can be arranged,” the coroner continued, still in a monotone drone, “but in this case, their disposal has been quite swift and efficient. The first two were not disposed of as quickly or efficiently, but the mob was still quite thorough.”

“But you do not have anything? Even just a drop, spilled on the floor?” Asëa insisted. It was possible that she could yet save some of them.

“None that I am aware of. The deaths were unusually clean for murders, if they were murders at all. The families of the later victims are likely still in possession of the ashes, but the first two victims’ remains were destroyed as thoroughly as possible, for public safety.”

“Hmm, that is too bad. I hope there are not, but if there are any more similar deaths, could you keep a small portion, perhaps a vial of blood, for a week?” Asëa suggested.

“I see no harm in attempting to comply with your request. I will see if I can do so, although practical considerations might interfere.”

“Thank you. I will pray to become strong enough to reincarnate the dead in time. It is too bad that you do not have a cleric strong enough in town. It is too bad that clerisc require a mostly whole body, it would be difficult to take them to the nearest town. Well, thank you for all your help. My name is Asëa, by the way. I hope that there will not be any more deaths, but… we do not know enough to stop it yet, I think.”

“Asea…” he muttered, before pulling out a piece of paper and some writing supplies. After dipping the pen in ink, he hesitated a moment. “Would you be so kind as to spell that for me?”

“I… do not know how you would write it in Common,” Asëa said. “I can write it for you in elven, if you want.”

The coroner nodded, and handed her the pen and paper. “Yes, please, if you would be so kind. You may write it here, including your full name, if you would be so kind.” Asëa carefully wrote her name, , and handed the paper back to him. He looked at it, wrote some notes on it, and put it in the top drawer with the other papers.

“Before we go, coroner,” Flinn said. “As far as you and your men could tell, were there any causes of death confirmed? Wounds from weapons, arrows, poison, magic? Ans sign of struggles? How about times of death, were they all in the dead of night?”

“No apparent wounds,” the coroner said. “It was observed that the ‘desiccation,’ as it has been called, was most severe around the victims’ heads and hips. We saw no signs of struggles. All the victims died during the night, in their beds. As far as we can tell, they passed away in their sleep.”

Asëa glanced at Elizabeth. She was not sure what “desiccation” meant. Elizabeth seemed to guess, and translated for her again.

“Hmm, so the bodies were drained of life, apparently without the victim’s noticing, or even waking up…” Miithi mused.

“Yes, it is especially strange if they died without waking up in their own beds,” Asëa added surprised at her own calmness. “Were there open widows or signs of someone entering their rooms? Or could something have happened earlier in the day that did not take effect until night? It seems like one of their families would have noticed if something had entered forcefully.”

“Hmm… have night watches been increased as of late?” Flinn asked. “No glimpses of the perpetrator? No details we can work with to narrow down who it could be? Male, female? Long hair, short, height, anything?”

“The guards specifically noted that there were no signs of forced entry,” the coroner replied. “A few of the victims’ doors were in fact locked from the inside. The guards have been unable to identify any events prior to falling asleep that would have caused the deaths. There have been increased night watches, including many civilians taking up torches and acting as militia. Although ‘suspects,’” he said the word disdainfully, “have been sighted, the descriptions are often inconsistent, and there have been more supposed sightings of the perpetrator than there have been deaths.”

Asëa sighed. “Thank you very much for your help. It seems we shall have to investigate this ourselves.”

“I wish you luck, Asëa,” he said. “If you find anything pertinent, please inform the proper authorities.”

“Yes, we will. Would it be too much trouble to send a messenger to Darryl’s shop if there are more deaths, so that we can examine them? I hope there will not be more, but I doubt that this will just stop on its own.”

“I suppose that would be possible. Normally I would require some paperwork, but in this situation, it is probably a good idea to ignore some of the formalities for the sake of efficiency. However, I do still need a written request,” he added, passing her another sheet of paper and a pen, “so that it does not get forgotten. Signing your name in the Common alphabet is preferable, but if you are unsure of how to do so, signing in the Elven alphabet is acceptable.”

Slowly, carefully, she wrote her message — Could you please send a messenger to Darryl Smith’s apothecary shop in the event of more unnatural deaths similar to the others so that we can investigate them. — in Common, before signing her name, in Elven. She thought that would be sufficient.

“Thank you,” the coroner said. “Is there anything else that I can help you with?”

“No, thank you,” Asëa said, smiling broadly.

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Tongues of Flame

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