Arcanum 1780: A New World
A Tale of the Twisted - The Murderer and the Estranged
A Tale of the Twisted – The Murderer and the Estranged
I hate taverns. I love drinking as much as the next man, but I hate taverns. Except when I’m at work. Then I love taverns. They make my job a lot easier.
I took a seat at the bar and kept my ears open as I ordered for an ale. I was looking for a very particular man and I knew that he wasn’t here. But I did know that a very particular man would be likely to know where he was, and I knew he frequented this dingy little tavern. I also knew that he just had a really rough day, because that rough day made waves through the town’s gossip. All “Du Chat tried to kill Clive!” and “Clive has a scratch across his eye!” was all this town could talk about. These rumours are in stark contrast to “There’s a man living in Clive’s shop.” or “I saw a hooded figure leave Clive’s shop after hours on the night of that lady died.” that swirled around him two weeks ago.
Clive was a loathsome toad of a man: always smelling of some pig-piss of a foreign perfume, his voice almost as loud as the sheer uselessness of the tosh he kept in his shop (“Curios” he called them when trying to sell them a glass monkey statue or a bone-carved calligraphy pen), and his demeanor was overly cheery in the hopes that you will forget for that moment that he’s in debt to his brow with the shipping company that furnished his shop. This buffoon was my last lead to Du Chat and my gut told me that he would pay off.
Du Chat would be my biggest bounty collection yet, and that’s because he was known to be dangerous. All accounts said that he had the eyes of a cat and the claws to match, that he could snatch a fly from the air, and that his feet couldn’t be heard by the ordinary man.
Trying to sort through the fantasy and the truth was especially hard, given that his history was made of only criminal implication and tall-tales. I heard that the ship taking him from France to the Americas forty years ago was caught in the fallout of the Gomorrah Event, and that was why he was what he was. I didn’t believe it. Another story I had heard was that he wandered through some spot of raw magic. I found that more believable. Yet another said that he did it to himself somehow. I really hoped that one wasn’t true: the crazy ones tend to die and dragging back a stinking corpse that couldn’t stand trial only got half the bounty.
I hadn’t realized that I had wandered off into my thoughts until I noticed that Clive McMillan had loudly announced his arrival with his ass-bray of a laugh that he was sharing with a group of dock hands that walked into the tavern with him. My eyes locked with his for a moment and he broke eye-contact with a salutary nod before squatting his bulk on a bench at a table in the back. I gave him thirty minutes to get comfortable before I finished my ale and got up to go talk to him. He met eyes with me again as my feet took me to a spot within arms length away from him. The dock hands sitting at the table gave me a look that told me they thought I was here to ruin the party. And in a way, I was.
“How are you today, Mr. Harwood?” He piped with the look of a man whose troubles were a few more drinks away from being forgotten.
I ignored his astounding lack of ability to hold his liquor. “Mr. McMillan, I need to ask you a few questions.” I said firmly but politely.
“Alright. What can I do you for? Would you like a drink on me?” He said with an innocent smile.
“Thank you, no. Has anyone been living in your shop these past few weeks?” I said, my eyes never leaving his face. I caught his smile waver for an instant.
His smile came back in force as he chuckled lightly. “You’ve been listening to those bloody rumours that have been going around, eh?”
“Rumours are what I work with.” I replied, not returning his smile. He was definitely hiding something.
“Oh come now! Why would I have some vagrant live near all of my wares? So he could break them? Or steal them?” Clive said a little too quickly.
“That’s not an answer. Have you or have you not had someone staying in your shop?” I insisted, my patience with him running thin as quickly as excitement began to rise in chest. This finally looked like a lead.
He stood up from his bench and tried to stare me down. “I don’t have to take this! Lea-” was all he could get out before I punched him in the teeth. Immediately, the two dock hands jumped up from their seats to defend the man buying them drinks. At this point, I made it a point to acknowledge their individual features: one was hard faced with light facial hair and looked the older of the two with his black-becoming-silver hair. The other was also hard faced and black haired, but clean shaven and with a missing front tooth.
Older man took a swing at me and I ducked under him as I planted a fist into his ribs, his bark of pain resounding through the tavern. I caught younger man trying to rush around the table from the corner of my eye as my forearm caught the impact of older man’s fist. He hit like a damned cannon ball, and I decided I didn’t want to block another one of his punches as he tried to swing at me again. I ducked under him and came back up with a fist to his nose. Older man fell to the floor clutching his face as younger man leaped at me. I side-stepped, grabbed him by his arm, and redirected his forward motion into the bench behind me, knocking him out as he soaked the impact with his face.
I looked over the scene. Older man was whimpering to himself as a pool of his own blood was starting on the floor. Younger man was face down on a table. The four other patrons in the tavern were glaring at us. The bartender was stepping out from behind the bar and headed in my direction. And Clive was-
I swore under my breath and started to head towards the door, but was intercepted midway by the bartender.
“Explain yerself, arsehole!” He barked at me.
I held out the warrant as I began my reply. “I’m on a search for Du Chat. I’m sure you’ve heard of him, right? He’s killed many people and needs to see justice for it.”
“Bull-Shit, ya don’t! I already seen one of those today! You think you Takers can use ’investigatin’’ as an excuse to stir up trouble in my bar, you got another think comin’, wanker!”
“What?” I wanted to argue but then I quickly determined that arguing with him would waste time catching chicken-shit Clive. I reached into my pocket and shoved enough money to pay for my drink and two of Clive’s into his chest. “Here. Let me go get the rest.” I growled to him as I pushed past him and continued outside the door. I took off running in the direction of his house, which seemed like the best bet where the brainless worm would try to hole himself up.
I caught wind of a commotion from a nearby alley and redirected myself to see if it involved him. And sure enough, I found him wimpering and pinned to a wall in a poorly-lit alley by a figure with long light-coloured hair. From the voice, I could determine it was a woman pinning my lead to a wall. And from her voice she seemed to be… interrogating him?
“Thank you, ma’am, for apprehending my suspect. Now, if you would please turn him over to me?” I said as authoritatively as possible. The lighting in this alley was extremely poor now that the sun was down and I couldn’t identify the woman accosting my suspect from this distance. As I got closer to her, I could make out that she was dressed like a traveler but as I got even closer, I saw that she was dressed with some of the tell-tale trappings of a thief-taker: shackles, pistol, and cutlass latched to her belt; shotgun slung across her back; and loose but form-fitting clothes for better effectiveness in a confrontation. In fact, she was starting to seem familiar…
“You can have him after we’re done talking.” She replied curtly before giving his head a knock against the wall. “Where is Du Chat hiding, idiot? I’ve checked your shop. He’s definitely been living back there but he’s not there. So where is he?”
I froze. She’s… what?
“He’ll kill me if I tell you! He’s not human!” Clive cried before she slammed his head against a wall again.
“Here.” I said as I grabbed my own rifle and slammed the stock into his kneecap, the snap of the impact eliciting a howl from him. “Gonna talk now?”
“Please stop!” He blubbered.
“Doesn’t sound like talking to me.” She said while letting go of him, letting his body slump onto the ground to cradle his maligned knee. He had a literal breath before I smashed his other knee with my rifle stock, making him scream louder in response.
“Alright! Please stop! I’ll talk! I’ll talk! Just stop! Bloody Christ!” He squealed.
“Where is he?” She demanded an instant before I could.
“He’s in the hold of the Tro og Kraft in the harbour! He’s trying to leave town! Please, that’s all I know and that’s all you need to know, right?” He bleated as his hands cradled his left leg.
“That should be enough.” I growled at him.
“If you’re lying, I’ll make sure you don’t have legs to cry over.” She said as she turned and began to walk into the lit streets. I immediately turned to follow her.
“Hold! I have questions for you as well!” I called after her.
“Y’know there is a law against impeding the work of a Taker, right?” She replied dismissively.
“I should say the same to you, especially because I had that lead before you-” She stepped into the streetlight and I froze. Not only was she familiar, but I felt very stupid for not recognizing her.
“Lucy?” I breathed.
“…Dad?” She replied, her own confusion bare in her voice.
We stared at each other for a full minute, speechless. I broke our standoff by rushing in to hug her. It had been nearly three years since I had seen her. Ever since our fight. And she hugged back. She had missed me as much as I had missed her, clearly. We broke our hug and I saw that her eyes were wet with tears. She broke into a laugh and then we started talking.
We talked for over half an hour. She’d apparently had quite the adventure since we last spoke, because she told me all about how she had taken in over fifty warrants in her two and a half year career. I told her about my own in the same time-frame, particularly how I had developed a knack and some instincts for hunting Twisted criminals which she stared at me in wide eyed wonder as I told her the varieties of Twisted I had taken. Which brought us to our current dilemma…
“So we’re pursuing the same criminal at the same time. What are the odds?” I asked her as I compared our warrants in my hands.
“Really, what are the odds? Pursuing the same criminal isn’t a rare thing, but specifically us pursuing the same criminal is less so…” She said pensively.
“You know that one of us has to give up the chase, right? I don’t know if they will pay us both and I really wouldn’t want either of us to waste our time.” I said to her carefully.
“Yeah…” She trailed off. I could tell that she didn’t want to give up as much as I didn’t.
I waited a long minute before deciding that I had the words for this. “You had your adventure right?” She glared at me with her mother’s eyes in response. God, that’s unsettling. “Listen. You had your adventure. You fought, you won, you made some decent money, you saw all of what mattered in the world. It’s time to go home to your mother.” I said as gently as I could.
Her face hardened in response, the bangs of her blonde hair framing the disappearance of that smile I hadn’t seen for three years. “No, dad.” She replied sharply.
“Don’t call me Lucy. You know I hate that.” The sharpness in her voice increasing into open confrontation.
“Lucinda, then. Your mother needs you and you don’t need this life.” I said firmly.
“She has the village and they love her immensely. She doesn’t need me. And yes, I need this life. I’m not sitting around on a farm. Knitting clothes, milking cows, marrying some bumpkin farm boy, and otherwise doing bloody nothing in the world? Mom may be content with that, but I will never be. Why won’t you understand that?” She hissed at me, her fists balled up at her sides.
“You don’t want this life either, though!” I yelled at her, incredulous that she might actually enjoy this line of work.
“Don’t tell me what I don’t want! You have no idea what I want!” She screamed back at me and turned on her heel to continue walking down the street.
“Where are you going?!” I called after her.
“My target isn’t going to collect itself!” She called back at me.
I followed her at a distance. I didn’t bother trying to give her the illusion that I wasn’t following her, but I knew she wanted distance between us. Aside from that, I wanted to know if she could legitimately handle herself and letting her lead would give me a definitive answer. So I let her lead.
We came upon the docks and saw a body. She got to him before I did and I heard her breath catch as I caught up to her. She lit a lantern, held the body directly under the glow, and discovered that the body belonged to Clive McMillan. Our reunion gave him enough time to come flee to Du Chat and try to warn him, probably thinking that warning him would grant him some level of mercy. The deep scratches through his face and the chunk missing from his neck told me that he was thoroughly mistaken. I drew my pistol in anticipation.
“Du Chat! You are caught! Submit yourself to the authorities and leniency will be considered!” I declared as loudly as my voice would echo through the dock. The ships continued to bob against the waves and the noise of the water moving was all the response it gave me. Lucinda gave me a look as she proceeded carefully down the pier, her shotgun in braced in her hand and her lantern hitched to her waist. I followed, keeping my senses on high alert as my eyes looked for the Tro og Kraft’s name painted on the bow of any of these ships. And at last, we found it: the fifth one down the line was a trader ship with Tro og Kraft embedded on its side in gold filigree.
I watched her nod and start to walk across the gangplank and I followed her with trepidation. As we walked across, I thought I saw a shadow move and my heart rate increased in anticipation. Once we were on deck, we caught another scene of carnage: feathers and dessicated bodies of gulls laid strewn across the deck in a red and white mosaic. I stooped down to examine one of them and heard a thump a couple meters behind me. A felid chortle was the only warning I got as a mass of fur and hard muscle barreled into me.
I protected my face from his claws with my forearms, which resulted in him ruining the sleeves to my jacket and scoring deep rents in both of my forearms. I cried out and flicked out with my legs, trying to kick something that I had no actual shot at kicking due to him straddling me above my waist.
A shotgun blast rang out and I felt a weight suddenly fall on top of me. I pushed the weight off and saw Lucinda standing over me smiling, shotgun still smoking. I roll over to see the face of the man I had been hunting and was stunned. Du Chat really was barely a man. His limbs and most of his chest were almost totally covered in fur. His top lip split down the center leading up to his subtly darkening nose and his ears looked slightly flatter to his head. These were just a few of the disturbing sights I saw on him but I was simply at a loss for words about the other ways he just didn’t look human anymore. But what scared me the most were his hands: His fingers looked shorter with all of the fur and their tips ended in coarse pads. When I squeezed the pads of his fingers, clear claws the length of my thumb and the width of a tankard handle pushed out.
Du Chat really was a monster. I didn’t know that Twists could go this far.
Du Chat lurched forward again in an unearthly yowl and resumed his attempt to rend my face, but this time I was prepared. He lurched right into my pistol and wound up taking a shot upward through his jaw. He reeled backward in agony as I leapt back to ready my rifle. Another shotgun blast rang out as I drew my rifle to a firing position. Du Chat flew back again as I looked back at Lucinda. She was there again, smiling as I saw a smoking pistol had appeared in her hand in that split second, her still smoking shotgun hanging by its strap from her shoulder.
I knew in that moment that she would be just fine.
We dragged the body between us to the courthouse and talked to them about the warrant. We were to be penalized for bringing him back dead, but they waived it after we reported to them that he had killed Mr. McMillan, his only known accomplice, and made it painfully clear that taking him alive would have been a danger to the public. But, in the end, they split the reward between us and sent us on our way.
As I walked out, I considered everything. Why the Tro og Kraft? Did he have any other people he had helping him? Where was the captain of the ship? Was the crew dead too? Why would he kill the crew if he needed them in order to leave? What was Clive McMillan doing with him? So many questions, but at this point they weren’t questions that needed to be answered. Du Chat was dead, so the only people who would have use for anymore of this information were historians and storytellers, and I wasn’t really either of those.
I turned to look Lucinda in the eyes. She smiled back at me, clearly satisfied by her accomplishments.
“I did well, didn’t I?” She said through a smile.
“Yes, you did.” I said. I looked at her for a long time, getting an image of her as burned into my memories as possible. She was definitely more than a little farm girl now. She had proved that much by managing to stay away from home for nearly three years, and today she had proved in her actions and line of thinking that she was doing it honestly and capably.
She could do it. But that didn’t mean that I wanted her to do it. This wasn’t a life for her.
“Take the money, sell your gear, and go back home to your mother. She needs you and you don’t need this life.” I said to her at length and with as much finality as I could convey.
I watched the hope leave her eyes and become replaced with disappointment. And I watched that disappointment wither into resentment. I watched her eyes fill with tears as she reached into her jacket. She pulled out the reward money from our contract and stuffed it into my chest as she walked past me. I didn’t turn to watch her leave.
She’ll be fine, I thought to myself.
I started walking to the tavern. I had decided that the pain that I felt in my heart wasn’t too good for a tavern.
- by GreaterSeraph