2.27 ~ Presence of Death

~ Iunday, 20th of Aprilis, 11831 ~

The presence of death had been Doctor Hervé’s explanation for sanguiosi’s awakening. Vampires of Italaviana were closely tied to spirits of death, even if they interacted with them in a way that was different than if one were Clandestinian.

Pierre had a large map of Clandestina before him on his desk, the edges of it going beyond the realm’s borders and showing the beginnings of the eight other realms in close proximity. He had marked the spots where the illness had been reported and was tracing a cluster as he thought.

The south of the realm met Italaviana with no natural landmasses or rivers to separate the two. The illness was most concentrated there, so perhaps there was an increase in vampires settling in the north of that land? People became infected from the proximity, did not develop symptoms, but if some people then emigrated further, into Bladeren… Perhaps under other circumstances Mora could hold it at bay, but she either did not wish to, or could not.

Primulace, the realm to Clandestina’s east was more of a mystery, the Bastoni mountains keeping the realms from being close allies. There was not much information on its magics or bestia known here. Reports from Bastoni did not mention anything unusual, though. He had not heard of anything from the north, but much of that was not in the Kingdom of Triumphe, being lands for fay-born whose allegiance was to Faery. To the west there was ocean, and a thin peninsula that was one of the lands of Dracæna.

Cerinthe, the realm above Primulace, and to Clandestina’s north-east, had a type of vampire as well, he had learned since coming to live in Piques.

One could deduce that this whole area of the world had magia of death in some capacity. If the keres did flee, surely some of them and their descendants settled nearby? Or the keres lived here becaue of all of the death in the surrounding realms already existed. They were Clandestina’s ‘vampire’ perhaps?

He sighed, cradling his head in his hands. Returning the two men to life yesterday had brought about not only a headache, but chills. Or perhaps he had caught the sanguiosi finally? He coughed into his hand, but felt no pain in his throat.

“My Lady?”

There was no response from Mora.

He pulled out some paper and wrote a quick note to the kitchens, asking for tea to be made and brought to him. He was halfway to the door before remembering that Elizabeth had made him a tea that actually helped last time the cræft-induced illness was plaguing him, and he scratched out the orders and rewrote the note for Lizzy instead.

Not a quarter hour later she was there, a small teacup in hand. “They’ll bring us a whole pot and something to eat soon, but I wanted your headache to be treated.”

“Is there anything special you do for it?” he asked as she sat down across from him. He took the cup and drank. It was chamomile and mint, sweetened with honey. He warmed up from the center, the chills leaving with each swallow.

She hesitated for a moment. “Yes… there is. Why do you ask?”

“Your tea is the only thing that helps when I get these headaches. I was curious about what you did.”

She bit her lip at this. It only interested him further.

“Well, my dear?”

Pierre waited patiently while she fiddled her hands, not having her own teacup to distract her.

“It is a little unladylike,” she confessed. “Maman would scold me for it. Though it seems to be magically sound, I discussed similar with Lord Vivien.”

“Your Maman is not here. And if Vivien knows then surely I should as well.”

She glared at him, but it was half-hearted, and when she saw that his eyes-brows raised and he still waited, she huffed.

“Oh, fine. I make the tea as anyone does, there is no specialty in that. After… well, I lick the spoon of the honey, and stir it once more.”

Saliva. She used her blancræft in the same way that a Familiar did, using saliva instead of blood as a carrier for the spirits. There was far less magic in it than in blood, but there was some.

She took his silence for disgust. “Forgive me, it is terribly rude and—”

He stood and walked over to her, tilting up her chin when she looked down to avoid his gaze. He then kissed her, deeply.

His headache began to fade.

“I think that is brilliant,” he said when he finally pulled away. “Perhaps not something you wish to say while in mixed company, but brilliant!”

She smiled, blushing, and was saved from saying anything by the servant arriving with the rest of the meal. Pierre insisted that she add the honey into the teapot itself, though she made him look away as she licked the spoon and stirred it again.

After a second cup he felt as if he had not performed any cræft.

“Merci, my dear. You have saved my morning. Now I can write a few letters.”

“To whom?” she asked. She finished her own drink and walked over to his side, looking over the great map that had been pushed aside to make room for tea.

“Doctor Hervé, Lord Ophion, and Margrave Bastoni. It is about the illness. I have a few ideas about the cause and spread, but need some more information. This may hopefully lead to a better cure.”

“You believe it has to do with vampires?”

At his astonished look she raised an eyebrow and gestured to the map. “Most of the illness is in the south, near Italaviana. Two nights ago my cough returned after being near a vampire from the realm for only a moment. It is the realm we are most in contact with in trade and people.”

He did not want to admit that she made the connection far quicker than he had.

“You will be a wonderful duchesse, Lizzy,” he said.

“Has Lord Tibault mentioned any increase of immigration to Bladeren?” she asked instead, still embarrassed at the implication yet adoring it every time Pierre mentioned it. She linked their fingers together. “I would think it would take more than one dhampir chef to begin a plague.”

“He has not. I will ask him, and also write Comte Bladeren as well. Would you like to add your own words to the letters, or at least to those of perhaps Doctor Hervé?”

This caught her off guard. She was beginning to become used to Pierre’s oft mentioning their probable wedded future, but to write the letters together when he penned them as the duc would be as close to an announcement of an engagement as possible without a ring.

“Oui, I would,” she said, and took the offered blue-and-gold streaked dip-pen from Pierre.

***
~ Dvoday, 21st of Aprilis, 11831 ~

After their own day of rest the three fay were to be smuggled out of Spadille and to Bastoni. Pierre and Sabine escorted them to the Duc’s Forest that night where Elwin waited for them.

“You come to Sabine’s aid far faster than to mine,” Pierre said to his margrave. The man stood at the edge of the woods with his wolf at his side, his clothes somehow pristine even in the damp grasses. “You have not been at the château since the meeting and yet you come within a day at her call.”

“You have not seen me at the château,” Elwin corrected with a grin. “Should you have need of me I will be at your side. And who do you think brought them to your dungeons?”

“Ah. Did you mask the scent?”

“I did. I do not know if I will be able to teach you such magia, but perhaps Rhianu can if you stay for a time with us. Perhaps before you become duc proper?”

To learn more magic, things that could help him keep his secrets, was temping. “I will think about it, Grandpère. Thank you for the offer.”

“We are family, Pierre. You are always welcome.”

“And who are you, my lord?” the woman asked. She stayed close to Sabine, the two women walking arm in arm and coming up behind the men. “Can you tell us more about where we will live?”

“I am Lord Elwin Spadé, dear lady. I am here on behalf of Lady Morgaine. The town of Ffon is both in Clandestina and in Faery, the two planes merging as one so high in the mountains. You will be safe there, unknown, and protected. We will travel through Faery to reach the destination quickly.”

“Lady Morgaine?” Pierre asked. “Why does Sister have any say over who may live in Ffon?”

“Were you not aware? She wed the margrave Bastoni not long ago, Midspring Night. They are on their honeymoon right now. It is why I believe she has not met with you yet, though she wrote Rhianu to allow their entrance.”

“I was not.” Pierre had met with the margrave at his birthday celebration in mid-Prima, but the margrave had said nothing about being engaged to Morgaine.

“You had been ill, was my understanding, and that is why you were not invited when it was realized you were at the castle. But you would have been.”

“I was quite occupied at that time… It is good to know I was remembered though.”

Elwin clasped Pierre’s hand, hugged Sabine, and lead the three now-living fay through the forest. After a few steps they were no longer visible.

“Morgaine is the Margravine Bastoni,” he said to himself. “I do hope I will meet with her soon then. Now, I have some business in town, my lady. I will of course walk you to the château and—”

“Nonesense! You will be wasting time by doing that and it is late already. I will be just fine. And Aranea is with me. I am not unused to the night, Your Grace.”

Though it felt ungentlemanly Pierre could not deny this. It had, after all, been Sabine that found the corpses, even if Elwin helped to bring them back to the dungeons.

“Fine, I will not argue with you, madame. Though I do ask you check upon Wolfram, if it is not out of your way. He wished to come with us, but I was worried he still might be unwell.”

“I will speak with your student, Your Grace.”

They parted ways, Sabine returning to the château and Pierre making his way to the city. It was a cool night, with few clouds, and the third quarter moon hanging large in the sky. Halfway there Pluta found him, meowing to alert him that she was near if he needed her, then disappearing into the shadows again.

She truly was a perfect familiar, Pierre thought with a smile. It was a comfort to have her near. He would make sure to share his breakfast with her tomorrow.

Pulling his cloak up around himself the lord of death returned to the smaller streets and alleys where Lizzy had found the fortune-teller. Shops that advertised they would only open after midnight, buildings that seemed abandoned. Such places were known for their silence, everyone taking care of themselves before any other, and mistrusting of officials. If a suspicious death occurred, it would be kept quiet and often assumed that the dead had deserved it.

He wanted to find someone who would.

After exiting a particularly long alley he found himself before a large courtyard, a grand metal fence separating most of the area from its surroundings. An imposing building sat in the center, illuminated by twice the amount of lamps as on the main street, making sure that every inch of the plain dirt courtyard was visible.

The prison.

The chief doctor, Augustin Raoul, would be here, his investigation still on-going. Perhaps Pierre did not wish to waste any more of those dear investigator’s time and the doctor would be found dead tomorrow morning in his cell?

He straightened his jacket and pulled down his collar, allowing his face to be seen before walking to the gate and waiting to be greeted. Pluta came up by his side and pressed up against his legs.

“Monsieur, bon nuit!” a guard finally called. He came over from his post, but did not yet open the gate. “Have you business here this night?”

“I am His Grace Pierre Salvador. A prisoner was brought in at my pleasure several days ago.”

“Oh, Your Grace, pardon my ignorance, I did not recognize you! The prisoner is likely still in the holding cells. Do you wish to discuss his imprisonment or to speak with him?”

“I have several questions for him. He is Augustin Raoul, the previous chief of the hospital.”

“Of course, of course.

The duc was allowed in and Pluta followed, puffing her fur and meowing before running ahead. Pierre looked to the guard and picked up his pace, following his familiar.

“Oh, pardon, Your Grace… how do you know where to go…”

Death was present. Pierre tightened his grip on his cane and walked faster, paying no mind to the guard who was trying to keep up. Though he had just moments ago planned to stage a suicide, giving the doctor the satisfaction of a true suicide had not been in his plans.

“Quickly, open the door,” he ordered, finding the cells. The doctor had hung himself. He was still swinging from the sheets he had used as a rope, eyes wide in the dark, his mouth opening and shutting, arms twitching, the body trying to survive after the soul had already parted.

The guard did, swearing as it took three tries to unlock the door. “Let me get a doctor,” he said before running back, either not knowing or forgetting that Pierre was a doctor as well.

Good, this would be easier without a witness. Pierre unsheathed the dagger from his cane and cut the body down, letting it fall without ceremony. Part of him wanted to just let the man stay as he was, but death had been the easy way out for him. No trial, no humiliation, no knowledge that everyone would known of his crimes and the public condemnation. All of those should happen, and only then would he be allowed death. That would satisfy Pierre.

He knelt beside the twitching corpse and pricked his finger with the tip of his dagger through his glove, letting a drop of blood sink into the fabric. He re-sheathed his blade and with a grimace touched the doctor’s mouth.

Something was wrong. He felt the soul of the man, but the flesh was not the same. There was a poison in his system, still wrecking havoc with the nerves and causing the twitching. It felt familiar.

Pierre frowned. He could neutralize it and return the man’s life… but this felt like the poison he had ingested a few weeks ago and that gave him pause. Were they connected? This could merely be a popular new poison that the doctor took and hung himself after finding the effects not fast enough to his liking. Or was this more and an assassin was staging a murder as a suicide?

The body was still now, gazing out into the darkness.

“Your Grace, please, I am the nurse here tonight!”

Too late now. Without a word Pierre stepped aside as the guard returned with another. She knelt by the man, touched his neck, saw the marks of hanging, and shook her head.

“It must not have been too long ago,” she said. “He is warm. Thank you, Your Grace, for so quickly trying to get him down and taking the rope off, but it was too late.”

“Yes, I could see this,” he replied.

“We will inform his kin in the morning and arrange a funeral.”

“He was likely going to be found guilty,” the guard added. “We had evidence about what he had been doing, witnesses too. This just saved us more work.”

Pierre almost laughed.

~ Previous Chapter ~ Next Chapter ~

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