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To Die with the Mist

BY K. R. SANDOVAL


Though I had not long traveled with Master Dirtan, I soon began to notice that wherever we went, he always found trouble. He told me it’s a matter of course, that by the nature of his occupation, he always had to be on the lookout for murders and mysteries, but it seemed to me that he almost reveled in the puzzle of it all. Or perhaps it was merely a staunch commitment to truth and justice. I struggled to tell the difference with him at times.

 

Not even a full day into our stay at the small farming village of Isaning, when Master Dirtan had found a new job for us. The murder of a locally famous composer.

 

As usual, he had me run errands around town when we arrived while he went out to look around. An unpleasant job for me as it had rained the day prior, so many of the unpaved roads were muddy, but a necessary one. When we met back up at sundown, he gave me little in the way of new details.

 

“New job,” he had said to me as soon as he had walked back into the inn room. “We leave right away.”

 

So, despite the late hour, we were on our way to a new case. The job was at a farm at the edge of town. On our way, he informed me about the case.

 

“Earlier this morning, a man was found dead,” Master Dirtan began. He was fixing his collar as he spoke. Thankfully for both of us, it had been a waning moon last night, meaning he had actually gotten sleep for the first time in several days. He looked well rested for once. “A Mistfolk composer by the name of Mulduron Lagderm.”

 

“Mistfolk?” I asked. I had heard of the Mistfolk but never met any in person. They tended to be a reclusive people.

 

Master Dirtan nodded. “Rare in these parts. They tend not to live so out in the open.”

 

“Why is that, Sir?”

 

“Direct sunlight is deadly to them. That’s how Mister Lagderm was killed. They found his body burnt up by the sun in an open field. His apprentice found his body just after dawn, worried since he hadn’t returned all night and he obviously never travelled during the day.”

 

“And we are certain it’s murder? If sunlight is deadly to them, could it not have been an accident?”

 

“The guards thought so at first, but Mistfolk have some control over the mist, to protect them if they get caught out in the open. A neighbor reported no mist that morning, and that she had seen Mister Lagderm go out with someone the night he died, so they inspected his body closer and found a wound on his head. He was struck with extreme force, enough to have left him unconscious.”

 

“So they believe someone struck him and left his body out in the open to kill him?”

 

“And make it look like an accident, yes. The guards have gathered Mister Lagderm’s family and close acquaintances for us to question.”

 

 Without another word, we made our way down the cobbled road to the Lagderm farm. As we arrived at the small farmhouse, Master Dirtan stopped outside and looked around, then pointed to the south. “The guards told me Mister Lagderm was found that way, in a field a few minutes from here.” He pointed to a house across the road from the Lagderm farmhouse. “And that house belongs to a Madame Milea, the woman who claims she saw him go out. She should be inside with the others.”

 

I nodded and followed him into the building. We entered into a living room. Small and simple looking, with little in the way of decorations or adornments. Just a table on one end, and two couches on the other. Around those, many people were gathered. A few guards stood around the room, while three people sat on one of the couches. Two of them were pale like alabaster with scarlet red hair. A young man and a slightly older woman. Mistfolk, I quickly surmised. The third was a human, tanned skin as if she spent much time outdoors but delicate looking features, and dark hair. Two human men stood beside the sofa, closer to the Mistfolk. On the other sofa was an old dwarven woman, wrapped in shawls.

 

When we walked in, one of the guards, one wearing heavier armor bearing the insignia of the local noble family, came up to us.

 

“Mister Dirtan, thank you for coming,” the guard said. He seemed a little wary, but Master Dirtan was used to that and said nothing as he just nodded his head politely. The guard turned to me. “And you must be Sir Sunobirn Elthea? I am Rigarean Stith, Captain of the Guard of Isaning.”

 

“A pleasure,” I said as I saluted him. Almost a month, I have travelled with Master Dirtan and left my old post behind, but I was still a knight and those customs do not die easily.

 

Captain Rigarean gestured to those gathered. “Well, Mister Dirtan, they’re all yours.”

 

“Now, hold on a moment,” the Mistfolk man said, standing up. He seemed a twitchy man. Barely in his twenties by the look of him, though I knew nothing of the Mistfolk to say for certain. “Who exactly is this now?”

 

“Evar Dirtan, at your service,” the Master responded with a slight bow of his head. He took a few steps forward to scan the room. As usual, he had this intense look to his eyes, as if he were sniffing out the culprit. It was a look that could silence any, and the twitchy Mistfolk slowly sat back down. He looked around at all of them for a moment. I tried following his gaze, to see if I could notice what he noticed. He was looking at the hems of their clothes from what I could see. There were mud stains on the twitchy Mistfolk’s trousers. Made sense for a farmer.

 

“I will be conducting the investigation of the murder of Mulduron Lagderm from henceforth. I am sure with all of your cooperation, we can get to the bottom of this very quickly.” He turned to the twitchy Mistfolk. “Why don’t we start with you, then? What’s your name?”

 

The man looked around a moment, then back at Master Dirtan, barely matching his intense stare. “I… well, I am Mulsunn Lagderm, son of Mulduron.”

 

Master Dirtan nodded then turned to the Mistfolk woman. “And I presume you are his daughter?”

 

The woman nodded. She was more composed than her brother, but still avoided the Master’s eyes. “My name is Filadela. I’m his eldest.” Her dress also had mud stains, I noticed. That seemed odd.

 

“No doubt the inheritor then,” Master Dirtan said, but the daughter scowled. “No?”

 

“No, that would be his precious little angel over there,” she said gesturing towards the human woman on the sofa. The woman looked away, almost in shame.

 

Master Dirtan turned to her. “And yourself? I doubt you’re related by blood here.”

 

The woman shook her head. “No sir. I am Alura Semar… if you please,” she answered quietly.

 

“I imagine that is who you are regardless but do continue.”

 

She seemed unsure of what to say for a moment. “I uh… well, I was Master Lagderm’s student. He was teaching me music.”

 

“That must have been quite the honor to have a Mistfolk composer personally take you on as his apprentice.” She nodded but said nothing. “And he named you his sole inheritor?” She nodded again. “He must have really cared for you.”

 

“He’s… he was like a father to me, ever since my own passed a couple years ago.”

 

Master Dirtan said nothing more and looked to the two humans standing by the Mistfolk. “And you two?”

 

“Well, I’m Dacsunn Nirold,” one of them, the taller and fancier dressed of the two, answered. “Madame Lagderm here is my betrothed. She was with me when her father was killed.”

 

“We’ll get to all that soon enough,” Master Dirtan said before glancing at the other.

 

“Oh, I’m Elenear.” He gestured at Mulsunn. “I’m his alibi, you see.”

 

“Once again, all in due time.” Finally, Master Dirtan turned to the old woman. “And I presume you are Madame Milea?”

 

“You presume correctly, wolf,” the woman said bitterly.

 

There were mutters throughout the room as she said that. Master Dirtan forced a smile to his face. “So, you have all been made aware of what I am?”

 

“I heard rumors about a werewolf in town,” she answered. “I talk to the other women, and I keep myself informed.”

 

“Wait, a werewolf is conducting this investigation?” Mulsunn objected. “That cannot be legal. Their kind cannot be trusted.” The usual paranoia. Master Dirtan hardly even seemed fazed, but I still felt a flash of anger on his behalf.

 

“Shut it!” Captain Rigarean shouted back. “All of you. If you want your father’s murder solved, you’ll let the werewolf do his job.” Not the most ringing of endorsements, but I kept that bitter note to myself.

 

Master Dirtan, to his credit, bowed his head in thanks, then turned back to the group. “Now, to my understanding, it was you, Madame Samar, who found the body, correct?” The apprentice nodded. “Tell me what happened.”

 

“Well… well, you see, I was worried. You see, I normally have my lessons with Master Lagderm around dawn, since he can’t go out in the day. You understand.” Master Dirtan nodded. “So, I came over around… maybe an hour or two before dawn, as usual, but Master Lagderm wasn’t home. I waited an hour or so, but he never came home. Lady Filadela,” she gestured to the daughter, “she came home not long before dawn and then Sir Mulsunn, he came not long after. But no Master Lagderm so I went out to find him and… well, there you go.”

 

“And where were you before arriving at the house?”

 

“I had been with my family. We had breakfast together, then I came right over.”

 

Master Dirtan nodded. “Very well.” He turned to Mulsunn. “Your turn.”

 

“I was… well, I was with Elenear. That’s… that’s really all there is to it.” A very twitchy lad.

 

“That’s all?”

 

“That’s really all.”

 

“Very well. Lady Filadela?”

 

The daughter straightened up, as her betrothed squeezed her shoulder. “Well, I was spending the day with Dacsunn here. Him and his family. I came back before dawn, when it was safe to travel.”

 

Master Dirtan stared at her a moment, as if studying her. “Now, you said that Lady Alura was the sole inheritor of your father’s estate. Had you been aware of that?”

 

Lady Filadela scowled. “Yes, I’m aware.”

 

“Did he explain why?”

 

“Because he was always a sentimental old fool,” Mulsunn grumbled, just barely loud enough for Master Dirtan to hear.

 

“I’m sorry?”

 

“What my brother means is he was a kind man, my father. He knew that Filadela there had no one to provide for her, besides her mother and two sisters, none of whom have much in the way of wealth.”

 

Master Dirtan turned to Lady Alura. “Is that true?” The apprentice nodded quietly. He seemed to consider that for a moment. “And had you known of the will?”

 

She shook her head. “I didn’t know until the town clerk came by to ensure the execution of his will earlier today.”

 

“How much did he leave?”

 

Lady Filadela’s eyes flickered in annoyance as Lady Alura answered. “Well… quite a hefty fortune. He was rather famous you see and had played before royalty many times… I believe the clerk said it was a few million sants.”

 

One of the guards whistled in amazement, and Mulsunn’s fists tightened as she said the fortune. A hefty fortune indeed.

 

Master Dirtan nodded, thought for a bit, then looked at the old woman. “Madam Milea, could you tell me what you saw the night of Master Lagderm’s death?”

 

She scowled, but nodded. “Well, it was around an hour or so before sunrise. I woke up early. My usual morning pains. I went to the porch to try to enjoy the breeze, since that usually helps, and as I was coming out, I saw Mister Lagderm walking out towards the field.”

 

“Was he alone?”

 

“Don’t interrupt me,” she snapped. Master Dirtan held a hand up in apology. “No, he was with a woman. Don’t know who, but a woman.”

 

“Could you describe who you saw?”

 

“Shorter than Mister Lagderm. Slender figure. Long hair. Simple looking dress. I have bad eyes. Can’t tell for sure who it was.” I glanced over at Lady Filadela and Lady Alura. Either one fit that vague description. Only one that ruled out then was Mulsunn.

 

“Were they carrying anything?”

 

“Neither one that I could tell.”

 

“Continue.”

 

“Couple minutes later, I see another woman going inside the house, and that was it. Went back inside not long after that. Didn’t see anything else.”

 

“Nobody else returned in that time?”

 

“Nobody.”

 

I could tell by the way he furrowed his brows that Master Dirtan was unhappy with the stories. Something wasn’t adding up for him. He looked back at the two men behind the sofa.

 

“Mister Nirold, you were with Lady Filadela all night? There was not a moment where she was alone?”

 

He thought for a moment, looked down at his betrothed, then back at Master Dirtan. “She went to take a bath near the end of the night, but that was all. She was in there half an hour, but she’s always liked to take her time and relax.”

 

“Is there a window or door in your home’s bathroom?”

 

Mister Nirold hesitated then nodded. “I suppose there is.”

 

“And how far is your house from here?”

 

“Well… just a few minutes, I suppose.” He pointed to the south. “That way.”

 

“Are you accusing me of something, wolf?” Lady Filadela demanded, but rather than answer her, Master Dirtan looked her over.

 

“Did you take the road back here or did you cross through the field?”

 

“I walked her back along the road,” Mister Nirold answered on her behalf. “The field was muddy from the rain.”

 

“So naturally, you took the cobbled roads.”

 

“Naturally.”

 

Master Dirtan looked to Elenear. “And you? You were with Mister Mulsunn?”

 

“I was. I took a short nap a little before dawn, I suppose, but I’m a very light sleeper, and he woke me about half an hour before dawn.”

 

“And your house is how far?”

 

“A few minutes as well.”

 

Master Dirtan looked back at Captain Rigarean. “How far is the field where Master Lagderm was found?”

 

“Around ten minutes from here.”

 

“What was used to kill Master Lagderm? Do we know?”

 

“A shovel found in the backshed. The shed was locked.”

 

“Who has the key?” Master Dirtan said, turning back to the group.

 

“My father and I have the only keys,” Mulsunn said. “But I was with Elenear and, as Madam Milea said, a woman killed my father.”

 

“That’s not quite what she said,” Master Dirtan corrected. “A woman accompanied him was all she said.” He puzzled it all over for a moment longer, then turned to me. “Sir Sunobirn, what are your thoughts?”

 

I struggled with it all but couldn’t come up with anything. I looked at Madam Milea. “You’re certain the woman had nothing in her hand?”

 

“Certainly, no shovel,” she insisted.

 

“And how long after they left did you see the other woman come inside?”

 

“Maybe ten minutes or so later.”

 

“Good questions,” Master Dirtan told me. “And I think that rules out one person. That matches Lady Alura’s story then, that she came back to an empty house, and if she came back ten minutes after Master Lagderm left, then she could not have accompanied him. Ten minutes to the field, ten minutes back, not accounting for the time to murder him, it’s simply not enough time. I think we can rule out Lady Alura rather safely.” The apprentice sighed in relief.

 

“So you think it was one of us or something?” Mulsunn said, gesturing between himself and his sister, a hint of annoyance to his twitchy voice. “How absurd.”

 

“I agree. It would be absurd,” Master Dirtan confirmed. “I’m accusing both of you.”

 

Lady Filadela stood up suddenly. “How dare you. I will not take this from the likes of you.” Mulsunn though looked more shocked than outraged.

 

“You will take this because you know it to be true. Allow me to explain. You and your brother both had windows of opportunity. You while you were supposedly bathing and your brother while Elenear was napping.” He gestured to Madam Milea. “Your father was seen with a woman going to the field. We’ve already ruled out Lady Alura, which leaves only you. Mister Nirold here lives in the same direction as the field where your father was killed. Meaning you could have come, gotten your father, brought him to the field, then went straight back to your betrothed’s house.”

 

She opened her mouth to argue, but Master Dirtan held up a hand and gestured down to her dress. “Your dress is muddy. Drying, but fresh enough.” She glanced down at her dress in surprise. “But there’s the issue of the shovel. Which brings us to Mister Lagderm.” He turned to the other Mistfolk. “You had the key to the shed. You were not seen by Madam Milea because you were already waiting for your father in the field. You left Elenear’s house, grabbed the shovel quickly before going out to where your sister brought your father. Struck him with the shovel quickly, and when you two were sure he was unconscious and would not wake before sunrise, parted ways. You returned the shovel, and that was that.”

 

“And why would I murder my own father?” Lady Filadela said through gritted teeth.

 

“To get back at a sentimental old fool for trying to look after his student, I would imagine. I’ve known men to kill for a lot less than a few million sants.”

 

She took a step forward to argue but Mulsunn sighed. “There’s no point fighting, he’s got us. He’s figured it out.”

 

As she turned to argue with her brother, and as their companions joined in the shouting, it was only Lady Alura who covered her face to mourn the man’s death, something Master Dirtan seemed to notice by the way he glanced at her.

 

He turned towards the door and looked over at Captain Rigarean. “They’re yours now Captain.”

 

The Captain nodded in respect. “Thank you… Mister Dirtan.”

 

I followed Master Dirtan out the door, the sound of screaming and arguing drowning out the muffled cries of Alura Samar; the only one in that house I pitied.

 

 

K. R. Sandoval is a writer from New York who enjoys writing stories that blend different genres and tropes together, to see what these stories can be. He especially enjoys writing strong character driven stories full of intrigue, and apart from writing is a great lover of film and music.


© To Die with the Mist | K. R. Sandoval

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