|| TW: mention and suggestion of rape, torture, and violent death ||
Kiol remembered that name. Nirin had mentioned it before… wasn’t that one of the new cult leaders? The enforcer or something? Kiol eyed the man. He didn’t look particularly strong, but if he stood up Kiol thought he’d be very tall. Taller than Ruadhan, even.
“Oh I’ve been fine, just fine.” The man tilted his head, almost like Nirin except it had none of the adorable inquisitiveness, only arrogant slyness. “Did you get my note?”
Nirin blinked slowly at him, then felt in his sleeve and pulled out a small folded paper.
“You sent those kids?” Kiol asked. Emalen looked at him then turned back to Nirin as though Kiol hadn’t said anything. Kiol looked too, peering over Nirin’s shoulder to read the note. Only, he couldn’t. It was a line of runes in nonsensical order. Nirin calmly folded the paper and put it in his robe.
“We heard you were interested in the soldiers. Thought we could help out.” That caught Kiol’s attention, not that he’d let it slip for a second this whole time. But he didn’t want to interrupt.
“Thank you,” Nirin signed.
Emalen lifted a finger to stop Nirin from continuing, not that he was going to. “We’d like a favor in return. I know you didn’t really have any interest in coming back. But Tori has requested your skills, so when you’re done helping this dog, you’ll report to us.”
Nirin stiffened at the word ‘dog’ and didn’t reply for a few seconds. “I don’t know where you are now.”
“We’ll pop over to the old spot if you send a message.”
Nirin nodded slowly and Kiol frowned. “You’re going to help them?” he signed, disgusted. “This is my assignment, don’t get caught up in this shit for me.” He turned to Emalen. “We don’t need your help or your stupid favors.”
“Too late,” Emalen said, a smile plastered on his face. “It’s already been given.”
Nirin put a soothing hand on Kiol’s arm. Then he bowed to Emalen and walked off. Kiol glowered at the man for another few seconds but his ire was simply met with that unconcerned smile. He stalked off after Nirin.
“Let me go with you,” Kiol said.
“No,” Nirin signed. “They won’t do anything to me. And they really do need my help with something important.”
“I don’t know yet. I don’t think it’s cult related.”
Kiol couldn’t tell if that was true or if Nirin was just saying it so he wouldn’t worry. He sighed and crossed his arms. “What did the note say?”
“It was a location in the east side of the city. Perhaps we should start our questions there tomorrow.”
“What was the location?” Kiol signed. His face fell. “If it’s that brothel, I swear—”
“It wasn’t,” Nirin signed, unable to stop his smile at Kiol’s exasperation. “It was the south-east. I’m not sure what’s there.”
This time Kiol knocked on Nirin’s door and waited for the boy to open it. He was ready to leave anyway so they started out. The location was a morgue, its signboard painted with the faded runes of Death - Afterlife - Peace. The city had two official morgues and this wasn’t one of them. No one built over the top of morgues, but this building had others encroaching over and against it, meaning it hadn’t originally been a death house. It was small and the knobby man who greeted them did not wear any gems on his belt to indicate a position in the Society. He opened the door but did not let them through, looking them up and down.
“What’s your purpose coming here?” he asked. That was a strange greeting. Morticians should have assumed someone at their door was either looking to identify a body or had one to drop off.
“Looking for someone,” Kiol said. “Wasn’t in the city morgues.”
“Well they’re not here,” the mortician said and began closing the door. Kiol caught it and held it open easily.
“We’ll check,” he said and pushed the door open, knocking the mortician aside with the movement. He stepped in before the man had time to fix himself. Nirin came in after, bowing his head in apology and gratitude as he passed the threshold. Kiol descended into the chilly underbelly of the house, lined with stones to keep it cool. It was a small cellar, with five bodies lain across two tables.
Kiol lifted the sheets to see the bodies as the mortician hurried down the stairs after them. He was saying something but Kiol paid him no mind. All five were female and had died brutally. All different ages. The oldest appeared to be somewhere over fifty but the majority were in their twenties or thirties. Morgues were temporary places for corpses; especially as they were embalmed they should have been gone.
“Who are these women?” Kiol asked. The mortician scowled and said nothing. “Where did they come from?”
“I thought you were looking for someone,” the man sneered.
“Yes, you. To answer my questions. How did these women die?” The mortician kept his mouth shut. Kiol strode over and slammed him against the stone by his neck, and the man’s reticence dissolved just like that. He clawed at Kiol’s arm until he was released and he gasped for breath, obscuring whatever he said. Kiol tilted his face towards Nirin to read the translation.
“They were brought to me and I was paid a hefty sum to take them and keep quiet.”
“Brought by who?”
“I don’t know. A man brought them on a cart.”
“Fi—six days ago.”
“How did they die?”
“Raped and mutilated, by the looks of it. Died from the blood loss.” Kiol stared down at the man, working his jaw. He must have thought Kiol was angry at him, as he raised his arms pleadingly. “I had nothing to do with it! This work pays barely enough to survive, I needed the money! All I did was take some bodies, that’s my job anyway!”
“Shut up,” Kiol spat, and turned around. Nirin was lifting a sheet. Kiol snatched his wrist before it could expose the body underneath. “Don’t look,” he said sharply.
Nirin gave him a gentle stare. “I’ve seen worse,” he signed. Kiol hadn’t felt the cold before but it rushed to him now, bumping his skin and raising his hair. Of course Nirin had seen gruesome deaths, Kiol had left him surrounded by dozens years ago. But the abhorrent depravity of this violence was almost too much for even Kiol to stomach. “I want to rest them,” Nirin signed.
Kiol clenched his jaw. “Fine. Let me move the sheets.” He carefully brought each one down so that it exposed only the tops of the women’s faces. With a steady hand, Nirin traced three runes across each of their foreheads. Love - Grief - Peace. The ritual was supposed to be done by the dead’s loved ones. If the souls were not told they would be mourned and missed, they would stay trapped in the bodies forever, restless and anguished. If they had no loved ones, a stranger’s genuine message could work too. It was a priest’s job to rest the unloved dead. But the tenderness with which Nirin wrote, the mist that wet his eyelashes, Kiol thought he must have been more effective than any priest.
He finished the task and Kiol gently covered the faces back up. Nirin stood between the two tables, staring listlessly at the ground, his eyes still wet. Kiol hesitated, then reached out and gripped his shoulder. “It’s okay,” he said clumsily. “You, uh. You did good, kid.”
Nirin brushed the tears away. “Five,” he signed. “Five bodies. There were five thugs, originally. Do you think they're connected?”
“Yeah,” Kiol said. That was his thought too.
“What does it mean?”
Kiol took his hand back and sighed. “I think I know.”
He returned to the prison with Ruadhan in tow. The guards would only listen to the Temple General’s order to leave. With the prison empty and the door locked, Kiol dragged one of the impostors out.
“Who did they threaten to mutilate?” Kiol asked. The man stared at him, silent as always. But when Kiol continued his defiance slipped. “Your mother? Wife? Daughter?” The man clenched his jaw, swallowing hard. “There’s no other soldiers here,” Kiol pointed out. “No one to tell on you. If you tell us who is in danger we’ll find them and keep them safe.”
“It’s not that easy,” the impostor groaned. “I don’t know where they are. You can’t find them, you won’t find them in time.”
“Them?” Kiol prompted.
“The rebels,” the man whispered.
“Rebels have your daughter?” Kiol asked.
He shook his head. “My family.”
“Rebels have your entire family?” How could they kidnap sixteen families without it being known? Friends, neighbors, co-workers, they would have noticed and reported such a thing.
“No.” The man’s head hung low and Kiol had to crouch down to see his words. “They are my family.”
“Your family is threatening your daughter?” Kiol was just getting more confused but the man shook his head again. He gripped the man’s head and forced it upright. “Speak clearly,” he said. “Who are ‘they’ and who are they threatening?”
“They’re rebels. We—we’re rebels. My family.”
“So the fake soldiers are rebels’ doing?” The man nodded. “But if you’re a rebel then why did they need to threaten you?”
“It was a suicide mission. We knew even then. And if—when… when we were captured, she wanted to make sure we wouldn’t talk.”
The dried blood on the man’s face was starting to streak again with his tears. He was blubbering and Kiol struggled to follow his words. “They don’t know. They don’t know what she’s promised to do to Lerina—my, my wife. They trust her—they still trust her.”
Kiol recognized the name. He recognized it enough to understand it being spoken, but he couldn’t remember where he’d heard it before. He looked over at Ruadhan standing by the wall.
“The owner of the largest brothel in the city,” he said. Kiol closed his eyes and shook his head. Of course. But at least his instincts had been right. He shook the impostor to bring him back to reality.
“Did some of the others ignore her threats? Five of them?” The man sniffed and nodded tearfully. “So the threats were followed through. Why didn’t the rest of their families report the missing member?”
“I told—I told you, they trust her. They don’t know. She told them when we— when we left, that we were on a mission and—and that we wouldn’t return for a long time. She must have… she must have done something—something similar to get the others without suspicion.”
“We’ll find them,” Kiol promised, but the man only continued sobbing. If he was a rebel though, and his family were rebels, didn’t that mean they’d become prisoners anyway, and likely die in this very place? No wonder the men wouldn’t talk. Not only would the person they loved most be killed with unimaginable violence, but the rest of their family would be caught as rebels. The best option was to take the suffering yourself.
“It’s too late,” the man was muttering. “It’s too late anyway. Too late. Please, God, please—go now. Please save her. By Creator’s name, please.”
Too late? Kiol whipped around to face Ruadhan. So that’s why the man had finally spoken. When they kicked the guards out, whichever soldiers were working with the rebels would assume the worst and were going to inform Domora already. The man would rather his wife die by martial torture than that promised depravity.
Ruadhan gave a nod, calm and collected as always, and walked out the door. Kiol brought the man back to his cell. The other was screaming and beating upon the bars of his own, fists bloody and raw from his efforts. He must have been screaming that whole time and Kiol hadn’t known—yelling for the other not to speak and doom both their families.
The man Kiol put back curled up on the cold ground, hugging his head. Kiol locked the cell and sprinted after Ruadhan.