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Enigma: Order & Outcasts


The edge of the walls of Talran were aglow with the last breaths of a dying day.  John watched the wisps of sunset decay quietly as he did every night, from the roof of his home.  It was perfect for this activity; the roof had an excellent view of the wall, was low enough that he had no trouble ascending it, and was high enough that no one would be able to see him atop it from the street.  He did not like anyone interrupting him while he kept vigil. 

The glow faded into the velvet night, and one by one the sparks of the night sprang up, futilely trying to match the warmth and shine of the sun.  The stars had a sad charm to them in this way, John thought.  They would never be as good as their cousin the sun, but they shined their light just the same. 

A star was not the sun, even with all the other stars joining it.  They perish with the day, overcome by the sun.  Those born in the night could never live in the day.

John fished into the pocket of his trousers, drawing out a length of cord.  At the end of that cord was tied a shard of what looked like rough, clear crystal, tinged with black at its edges.  He brought it up to his face, and glimpsed through it into what it showed through its facets. 

The angry face of a wife angered by her husband's adultery.

The tear stained blouse of a young girl desiring to find her brother.

The sly grin Nhy had during lunch when he told a racy joke.

The nervously fidgeting hands of a man as he described his missing jewels.

The serenity on Nashla's face as she prayed at her altar.

The joy of the little girl who held her once lost pet cat.

John sighed.  It had been a long day.  He had once thought that his investigation service would be the key to finding what he sought a few years ago, when he first arrived at Talran.  He had met Nhy that night, and the former thief had gladly accepted when John had offered him partnership in his new enterprise.  These past few years had been full of incredible experiences, good and bad, but John was always surprised by the sometimes horrible things the people here were capable of. 

Of course that made his work all the more important to him.  There were scarce few in the City of Golden Nights that cared for anyone but themselves.  The city watch could only keep up with so much, and many injustices went unnoticed every day.  Much like the place John had grown up, the shadows preyed on anyone without power. 

Unlike that place, here he could do something about it.

John had great power, magic that flowed through his veins, power that he did not deserve.  He could only lend that power to the people that actually needed it, a little at a time every day.  Only at night would he allow his power to serve only him.

At his will, the shard floated up into the air, the cord dangling underneath like a long tail.  A tiny spark of light, the barest ember of power, flickered within, awaiting his command.

"Go tonight, little one," He commanded softly.  "Seek the one we both miss.  Search along the north wall, then return along the east side of the city through the alleys.  Show me all you have seen while I sleep."

The shard drifted off into the night, as though carried by a gentle wind.  John scanned the sky once more, as if what he sought could be seen against the night.  He then laid down on the roof, closing his eyes while the stars flickered on, tiny lights of hope in the night.  His hope was with them tonight.  Perhaps tonight he would find her.


Morning light graced the river that wound lazily through southern Talran, giving it a glorious glittering sheen.  Nhy always loved that glitter on the water in the morning, and was glad his morning walk to work ended along the water's edge.  The sparkle on the water reminded him so much of the light reflecting off a hundred coins as they turned in the air.  Sure, Nhy loved treasure, as any former thief might, but all of those tumbling coins would have to land, and he would be able to tell you which way each of them would fall before they landed.  And then he would be arrested for something.

Life was fun like that.

Nhy had a strange relationship with luck, the kind of relationship with black eyes and broken plates and screaming and yelling.  He could not pick up a gold coin in the road without getting an arrow to the knee for his trouble.  But he took every misfortune with a sly grin, because, as in many bad relationships, the good times were so much sweeter.

For example, he had been a thief in the local guild until three years ago, getting through by the hair on his neck and a well-timed crossbow bolt when necessary.  The finale of his career in mischief included a jewel that promised early retirement, a slip up in his disguise, and the bedroom of his guildmaster's daughter. 

The night of his exile had landed him in the tavern where he met one John Enigma, who had confessed to the ex-larcenist he was in the process of finding someone.  Nhy had a knack for finding things, be they people or objects of wealth, and a partnership was struck. 

After a few months of discovering  this person was incredibly difficult to find, they had managed to make a name for themselves with the town guard, a group Nhy had good reason to ingratiate himself to, as well as the general populace of the large city.  People came to them with problems, some of which involved the sordid and seedier side of the city.  John was more than keen to help those with genuine problems, and Nhy was just happy to be along for the ride; there was nothing quite like watching John work.

In order to finance their continuing search, Nhy suggested they make a business out of it, if they were going to do it anyway.  Thus was born Enigma Company, Freelance Detective Professionals.  So successful was this endeavor that the local temple dedicated to Shyra, the goddess of justice, endorsed them by assigning a priestess to aid them. 

Nashla Revida was one of those girls that Nhy truly felt for, the innocent, good, and helpful ones that were bound to have their hearts broken by someone like him.  Not him, of course, he wasn't deluded enough to believe himself a lady's man, but sly, cunning, charming young men that only had one thing on their minds. 

Nashla, at least, had access to divining magic and training with a plethora of heavy, blunt weapons, so she had that over the other poor girls.  Nhy pitied the man who would break her heart one day, he would have no idea what was coming to them.

Turning the last bend in the river before reaching the modest office along the riverside, Nhy spotted the big wooden sign hanging over the door, the painting of an eye over the word "Enigma."  He barely spotted the shadow in the upper right corner of the sign, and shook his head.  He looked up past the sign to the roof once he was close enough, and sure enough he could see John just starting to rouse at the edge of the rooftop.  It must have been a tough night.

"Rise and shine, Captain Wonderful," Nhy shouted up to the roof.  "We open up in a few minutes."

John's hand disappeared from the edge of the roof, and a moment later Nhy saw John's head peer out over the edge, his long black hair dangling over the side.  "You know I've never been to sea."

Nhy shrugged. "Would you prefer General, then?"

John cast him a look that was sharp even at a distance.  "There's no need to be cruel."

"Whatever, just throw me the key so I can come inside," Nhy shot back.  John tossed a cast iron keyring with only two keys down to Nhy's waiting hand, and with a deft jab and twist the door was open, ready to receive the day's problems.

Nhy made his way inside, ready for a nice warm morning tea.  By the time John was down from the roof, the kettle was almost boiling.

"Someday someone will see you up there," Nhy warned him.  "Plenty of people can see in the dark."

"I sincerely doubt it, friend," John grumbled, collapsing into a seat at their modest table.  "I have other ways of remaining unseen."

"But still," Nhy said, as John let out a tremendous yawn.  "You really should get more sleep." 

John nodded, bleary eyed.  "That we can agree on.  It has been quite some time since I've slept well."

"So," Nhy leaned forward, "quit making yourself tired and stop the search for a night or two.  Krawl's breath, let it be for a week. It's been three years since we started, you gotta know it won't happen overnight, especially if you don't take care of yourself."

John was quiet for a moment.  Nhy dared to let himself believe that he was actually going to take his advice.  The sorcerer looked up at him and said, "Speaking of taking care of those who need it, what news do you have today?" 

Every so often, Nhy would get together with a few old friends from the thieve's guild that he hadn't yet accidentally managed to get arrested or run out of town -- all of whom had rightly deserved it -- and they would share some drinks and gossip.  It was Enigma Company's proactive means of doing good; instead of waiting for the big problems they would seek out the problems that needed an urgent hand, usually for no fee.

The ex-thief sighed.  "There's a few stories that might grab your attention.  Black Arm Tamarni got a tip that there was a shipment of questionable magical components coming in from up river."

John dismissed the tip with a wave.  "I'll tip off Captain Hylastra about that one.  Bad, but not serious."

"Sure," Nhy said, trying to hide his disappointment.  He was hoping to get the easy job today.  "Redwin said there would be a heist tonight somewhere in the illustrious Jaderoad district, something about an eager buyer in Harkenal."

"Troubling, but Redwin's word is hardly the word of an honest man."

Nhy nodded.  Redwin was infamous for proclaiming big jobs and not seeing them through, usually because he was distracted by something easier -- or something prettier.  Nothing much came of his tips either, it usually amounted to him bragging to his friends about some big secret that didn't exist.

"We could humor him," Nhy grinned.  "Just in case he actually shows up."

John smiled darkly, but shook his head.  "Anything else?"

Nhy rubbed his forehead.  In truth, much of the previous night was a blur, he was surprised to remember this much through the dwarven ale Redwin insisted they try.  Then something struck him out of the blue, something half overheard by two off duty guards whispering over their drinks. 

"How about kidnappings?"

The kettle began whistling, it's keen rising shrill seemingly echoing the intensity of John's interest.  Nhy got up from the table and started pouring the tea. 

"Kidnappings?" John asked, stroking his chin.  "We would have heard about that sooner.  Someone would have come to us or the city guard."

"That would only be if someone was missing the ones who were kidnapped," Nhy said quietly as he brought the two cups back to the table and handed one of the cups to his companion.  "The people who were kidnapped were street folk, urchins and homeless."

"Rodrahan," John mumbled, staring into his cup.  "Outcasts and unfortunates."

Nhy lifted his head and cocked it to one side, his eyes narrowed at the sorcerer across the table.  "Is that elvish?"

"No," John said.  "It's a word from home."

Nhy nodded his understanding.  "At any rate, the guards have been keeping this quiet for about a week.  There are supposedly three people missing."

"Any particular area this is taking place in?" Serin asked, his curiosity slowly mounting.

"South of the river," Nhy said.  "I don't really know much else."

John sipped at his tea for a moment.  His eyes became sharp and he cast a glance out the window.  "Let us find out then just what the city guard knows about these missing street folk, and maybe they'll have something that Nashla can look at."


The guard house, sitting on the eastern side of the city up against the wall, was bustling as usual as John and Nhy made their way past the door watch.  Clerks came and went carrying documents and missives, officials sat across from each other at wooden desks discussing matters pertaining to city security, and uniformed militia gave reports to scribes for the end of their shifts. 

Nhy had seen the inside of many guardhouses in his time, and not once had he seen one as organized as Talran's.  The head of the guards, a severe elf known as Hylastra, was a dedicated, no-nonsense sort of leader, but without him the Talran guards would not even be a shadow of what it was now.  Nhy had spent a few years on his bad side, but the pragmatic elf recognized his contributions to the city in a way that a human leader never would have.

One of Hylastra's lieutenants, Borrik, stopped John and Nhy on their way to the captain's private office.  The statuesque man stood directly in their way, his arms folded in front of his chain mail shirt. 

"Can I help you gentlemen?" he asked, feigning politeness.

"Yes, as a matter of fact," Nhy said, quickly.  "You can take three paces to your left, and we'll be on our way."

"You can't bother the captain right now," Borrik said, ignoring Nhy's witticism.  "If I can't answer any questions you have, you are out of luck." 

"Is there a problem?" John asked, cutting off Nhy's next remark.

"There's always a problem in this city, Mister Enigma," Borrik said dryly.  "I needn't remind you that we are the ones who solve this city's problems every day.  There's nothing you could help with that we cannot handle ourselves."

Nhy was about to give the tall guard a rather snarky piece of his mind when John bowed curtly to him.

"I do not mean to cast aspersions upon your talented and skilled militia, Lieutenant Borrik," John said politely, "I am hear only to help."

"We don't need your help," Borrik said flatly.

"No," John said as he rose back up, "but the people of Talran do.  No matter how well you patrol, how tightly enforced your laws, how impeccable your methods, unless you assign a guard to every citizen, you will never solve everyone's problems.  There are many shadows in this city, where you can never see, and I happen to be an expert on shadows."

A shiver ran down Nhy's spine.  John spoke no word of a lie, to be sure.  Nhy had seen John ply the forces of magic, and in addition to common magical feats like lightning, fire, and ice, he had some tricks that made Nhy's skin crawl.  With but a touch, John could twist shadows off of walls and floors to make things happen that only happened in nightmares.

Borrik's face was unreadable, as usual, but his hand rapped nervously on his bracer.  "I suggest you leave, Mister Enigma."

"I will, after I speak with your captain."  John said, his voice still polite.

"That's not possible right now," Borrik said, still nervously tapping his fingers.  "The captain is away on official business with the Duke.  I'm in charge right now."

"No one else available?" Nhy muttered.

"Then I have a tip for you," John said.  "There should be a shipment of magical contraband coming from upstream into town today.  I suggest sending scouts down to the river gates and by the docks."

"I'll handle the deployment of troops," Borrik said sharply, then relaxed and nodded grudgingly.  "Thank you for the tip, I'm glad you came to us with this." 

"We must work together to make this city safe," John stated.  "Those are the words of your captain, yes?"

Borrik nodded.  "Was there anything else?"

"Yes, in fact," John said.  "May we talk in private?"

Borrik furrowed his brow, almost suspiciously.  "Fine, we'll use the captain's office."

"As you wish," John said.  "Lead the way lieutenant." 

Borrik escorted them through the busy hall to Hylastra's office.  He unlocked the door and let them in to the darkened, strangely aromatic room.  He lit the candle at the desk and stood off to the side of the chair behind it.  "What is it you have to say?"

"Nhy told me this morning about a strange thing he heard at the tavern last night," John said, crossing his arms.  "He said there are people missing, people the city guard have not announced as missing."

Borrik gave them a strange look.  "I am not aware of any new missing persons."

"Really?" Nhy said.  "I happened to overhear a few guards under your command last night, talking about street folk that have been disappearing south of the river."

Borrik's eyes drained of concern.  "Oh.  That."  He pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed.  "I am still in the middle of my investigations, but it is believed that those who have gone missing will not be found again."

"Oh?" John said, his eyes narrowed.  "Why is that?"

"We've seen a lot of crimes of this nature," Borrik said.  "Beggars who disappear are often the target of thugs and lowlifes looking for an easy target."  The guard cast an glance at Nhy, who smirked and shook his head.

John mulled this over, stroking his pointed chin.  Finally, he looked Borrik in the eye, saying, "Give me all the details you can about these incidents.  I would like to carry out my own investigation."

"You really think you'll find something we haven't?" Borrik scoffed.

John glared at him with ice blue eyes.  "At least I will be looking."


This story is the property of Tyler Clapp, Author (AKA "Cael") Copyright DarkFireGraphics.com