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Open Minded Skeptic

Cassandra Blake stepped out into the fog-cloaked alleyway. Only sputtering gas lamps struggled against the gloom, casting misshapen shadows over the grimy cobbles. Her boots crunched shards of glass and unknown debris as she made her way to the centre of the alley.


There, a grim shape lie still and twisted under the jaundiced light. She knelt beside it, withdrawing her viewing glass from her leather bag. Nothing could have prepared her for the savage destruction wrought upon what was once a man. Great gouges rent his flesh, nearly severing a leg. His abdomen gaped open like a second mouth.


As a detective of several years recently transferred to this side of Rustledge, Cassandra was no stranger to violent death. Yet this moved beyond the bounds of mortal weapons. No blade could inflict such uneven, bestial wounds. She scanned the scene slowly, noting spatters of viscera along the walls yet no trails leading away. It was as if the attacker had materialized from the ether to commit this horrid act before vanishing once more. Rustledge was no stranger to the creatures of the night, but a specter could not commit such an act.


From the deepening shadows emerged a tall figure, cloak billowing despite the still air. Cassandra looked up to find piercing grey eyes studying her beneath a wide-brimmed hat. "You will find no rational explanation here, Detective," said the stranger in a murmuring voice. "For this poor soul fell prey to forces beyond any science to explain. No creature of the night could cause such brutal savagery and float away with not even a blood drop," Cassandra rose and signalled the two flatfoots hovering nearby, leaving the surgeon to his grim work.


"Well, doctors?" she asked. "Have you anything to say about our friend here that might aid the investigation?"


The older of the surgeons wiped bloodied hands upon his apron, sighing wearily. "I wish I did, Miss Blake. In all my years, I've seen nothing like these...laceration patterns. As if some wild animal with a scapel and bone saw fell upon the poor fool. The biting tears are so erratic. No animal delivers death in such a fashion. Then see hear? Almost like a sharpened weapon lanced open his abdomen, closest guess would be a werewolf with a sword, changed back and was standing on something they took with them. That's insane but the only theory I can muster at the moment detective."


"Look around," added a constable, gesturing to the alley floor. "This is a busy street, you mean to tell me they planned it, prepped it, and no one saw any of it?"


Cassandra frowned, nodding in agreement. "If anyone saw anything we wouldn't know it, folks don't like trouble and they will look the orher way when it finds them," She turned to find the mysterious stranger still observing silently from the shadows. There, at the very edge of vision, gleamed a pair of keen eyes observing patiently.


"You there," she called. "Show yourself at once."


The eyes blinked once, then their owner detached smoothly from the enveloping darkness. A woman emerged, swathed in trailing cloak and wide-brimmed hat shadowing piercing features.


"Forgive my intrusion, Detective," said the stranger in low, haunted tones. "I am Nocturnia Darkwood. This death, like others before it, bears the stench of fell magic and meddling science. The creature is not of Rustledge nor is it a creature of the night. I have been hunting it, this is actually the third body and only whole one left at the scene. The other two was only limbs, but this area reaks of its stench."


Cassandra raised a single brow. "Magic, you say? Pray tell, what business has a fanciful notion in a grim place like this, what are you proposing? Frankenstein? Don't make me laugh."


Nocturnia's lips curved faintly. "Open your eyes, Detective, and you will see. Forces beyond you prowl unseen amidst the fog, preying upon the innocent while constables search in vain for claw or fang. Let me help you peer into the mist. I can be of great assistance, I know it is unnatural, but this creature harmed someone that showed me great kindness. They deserved a full life... not to be ripped apart, I am not human, but I once was and I still contain a few human emotions."


Her words held a melancholy that pricked Cassandra's skepticism. This Nocturnia spoke with undaunted conviction, grey eyes burning as if privy to truths beyond mortal ken. What mysteries did this death harbinger keep locked within her shadowy soul? Despite reserve, Cassandra found her interest piqued.


Yet shook her head denying the offer, "It is against standard procedure, you should also halt your pursuit of the perpetrator, leave it to the justice system."


Nocturnia smirked falling back into the shadows, her eyes lastly visible till she blinked and she was gone.


Cassandra returned to her cramped office, hanging up her coat and lighting a cigarillo. Sliding case files from a towering stack, she settled behind her mahogany desk to review clues by lamplight.


Hour upon hour slipped by as she scrutinized photographs of mangled corpses and scrawling notes describing baffling wounds. The more she studied, the less sense any of it made. No threads wove these deaths together including the savagery of their endings. How did she miss the body count?


She rubbed eyes aching with effort and traces of long-held grief. Five years had passed yet even solved she got visions of her childhood blood-soaked home. For all her reputation of icy precision, these mysteries reopened old pains she kept locked away. Reels played in her mind, of her sister she had locked away for the murder if her parents.


She still saw her face, Alice whispering through the cell bars, "I am sorry Cassandra, I can't tell you what happened. Just know, I'd do it again. They deserved to fucking die... I still remember mothers suprise, she didn't expect me to kill her." Her sister's chuckle echoed in her mind as she snapped back to reality.


Drawn shadows stole into the office as the night matured into deepest blue. Still Cassandra read on, fruitlessly chasing understanding that seemed to recede further into the Rustledge mists with each passing hour. Just what kind of predator, natural or otherwise, stalked their city to inflict such wounds without warning or trail? Dawn's paling light found her drained and restless, the answers no closer than before dark fell.


That night, Cassandra's fitful sleep offered no respite. Nightmares intruded with merciless clarity. Though five years had passed, no matter how far she fled the images gave her no escape.


Cassandra awoke with a shuddering gasp, drenched in cold sweat. Weak dawn light barely diluted the gloom of her narrow bedroom. Her rapid pulse gradually slowed as reality reasserted itself around phantom memories. Rising, she splashed chilled water upon her face and stared sternly at her reflection in the water-spotted mirror.


Another cup in hand she splashed on her face and her mirror image was no longer her own. Alice replaced it head tilted eyes glowing yellow. Cassandra leaned in, examining the surreal appearence of her sister fully nude with embering eyes with what appeared cat like slivered pupils. Her face froze in an unsettling grin, though when Cassandra moved only Alice's eyes followed boring into her own.


"Alice?"


Alice tilted her head slowly, "Hey little sister, did you miss me? I will be coming home soon, hopefully..."


"Alice your dead, I watched them hang and burn you, you were possessed from witchcraft. You sacrificed our parents with a knife in some cult act."


Alice's smile faded, her emerald eyes flickered back as the glowing orbs vanished. Her arm shot out grabbing Cassandra's throat pulling her against the mirror surface, gashing her head, cracking the glass. Alice leaned in shedding a tear as her eyes gazed back and forth with her sisters. "You believe that Cassie? Do you think those words are true?"


Cassandra winced and blinked and Alice was gone. The broken mirror and her wound on her head were both still very real, had she hallucinated and head butted the mirror? She cleaned the wound taking a pill muttering, "She's not real, she's dead, you did the right thing. You did the right thing.." She shook her head, she had to break free of this curse before she lost her mind herself. Pushing it down she composed herself in the shattered reflection, letting out a deep exhale before exiting the bathroom.



No more would she allow past pains or logical doubts hold her back from uncovering the truth. Not when another killer was loose upon the vast town's streets, slaying citizens in brutally inexplicable ways. By any means, she would lift the veil on this latest mystery and finally lay to rest the ghosts haunting her since that ill-fated night five years past.




From the rooftops of Rustledge, Nocturnia watched unobserved as Cassandra readied herself for the day. Through her sightglass, she admired the detective's steady determination in the face of terrors that would break even hardened constables.


For all their barbed exchanges last night, Nocturnia saw in Cassandra an open and questioning mind, however well its owner kept it guarded. Beneath steel will and keen wit lay scars mirroring her own, of lives disrupted by forces civilization refused to acknowledge. Perhaps here was an ally worth winning over.



Their paths crossed again at the docks, where fresher corpses had been dragged from the mud. As pathologists mutely surveyed latest mutilations, Cassandra and Nocturnia plunged once more into fiery debate. Cassandra's disbelief chafed against Nocturnia's conviction, yet each point raised questions that dug deeper under her skepticism.


By conversation's end, Cassandra reluctantly conceded certain details defied reason. Perhaps mysteries existed beyond her perceptions, though magic remained a dubious notion. Nocturnia smiled faintly, seeing fissures widen in the detective's doubt. A mind that dared reconsider its walls saw farther than any shackled by perceived limits. Their partnership, it seemed, had only begun.





21 de Fevereiro de 2024 às 14:31 0 Denunciar Insira Seguir história
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