Bane of Moog

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A young marshalsman shivered, cupping his hands to his mouth and shifting his feet. It had been a long night so far and did not show any signs of ending soon. There was nothing worse than a long night except a long frozen one. He had just knocked at a fine, blue door. Blue like his cold face. Glowing firelight seeped out around the door's frame. A mere tease of warmth. No more real ability to warm him than the threadbare cowl and cape he had been issued.

"Open up already. Don't these high-ups know it's the Time of Orion? Or do they not care if us poor soldiers keep our fing—"

The door opened outward and he jumped back. A figure loomed in the doorway, shadowed by the firelight behind.

"Let me in to see the bloody Councilman, would ya? I'm freezin' my—"

"You're speaking to the bloody Councilman, son."

A double take by the young constable revealed the black robes and wraps and the severe visage that confirmed this one was indeed a Councilman.

Stunned, the young man could think of nothing to say but, "Apologies, Sir," and awaited his demise.

"Never mind that," the Councilman said in that impatient way which shows contempt toward fear. "Why are you here?"

With some effort the lad put on his official voice and posture. "To inform you that the Wardens of Moog have struck again, Sir. And this time they did more than terrorize the populous. They've desecrated sacred floors."

"So that is what all the screaming has been, eh?" The Councilman grinned like a barghest dog. There was a few day's growth of beard on his chiseled face. And a proper scar across his nose and cheek. All this together made him look feral. "I thought the citizens finally figured out what worthless creatures they are."

A woman's laughter spilled out from behind him. The marshalsman weakly joined in. But the Councilman's following scowl told the marshalsman that he was not invited into this upper class humor any more than he would be invited to step in out of the icy wind.

"The temple has been violated then?"

"Yes, Sir. The scene's been left untouched, the way you like it, I'm told. Death is all over town. But we figured you'd want to handle the temple first. If any'd be the bane of these murderous Moogites its you, Sir."

"No currying favor, if you please. It's unseemly. I've no skill at all compared to Inquisitor Otso. A shame he is otherwise occupied. As am I, to be honest, but these attacks from Moog are most likely related to my current investigation." The Councilman turned slightly toward the interior. "Eldress Chanthara, I'm afraid there is business that will take some time."

"Perhaps we will break fast on the morrow, Vrogun. Perform whatever duties press you."

The marshalsman peered into the room. It was strange. Dark glossy stone walls. An unusual heat emanated which teased his face with tendrils of warmth. The older woman inside was thin and long-faced, straight gray hair down to the middle of her back. She reclined by the fire in a black chair with a steaming cup of something aromatic.

Councilman Vrogun nodded to the woman and pulled up his broad hood. He stepped out into the biting wind. "Darkstar take me," he groaned. "It's cold as a Bloodfish grin out here."

The temple of Gradearic was of black onyx construct. The style was Romanesque, with thick pillars around a large central dome. Dispose the grand nature, this holy place was smallish. There was never a long line of worshipers to the moon of death. No space for large crowds necessary. Even so it had wide, tall front doors. They were elaborate like most religious things, carved with otherworldly creatures. Some were similar to bats, lizards, and boar, but also at least one unidentifiable beast, humongous as it was horrific. Darkstar was not a place one could take lightly, and its temple matched that gravity.

"How many exits?" the Councilman asked.

"Two or three I think. The front entrance and a couple back doors. Not counting the dome up top what's been broken."

"You think," he repeated. "First thing you need to know if you will be working with me. I deal in facts not conjecture. Count the exits and report to me with certainty."

The young man jogged off and the Councilman entered alone. He pulled at the heavy black doors by iron handles shaped like ram horns. They groaned but gave way to his strength, spreading wide. He swiveled his head in a wide sweep of the scene. A large room. In the center was a dais with relics and scrolls. In the middle of this, an empty pedestal. The revered Orb of Gradearic nowhere to be seen.

This revelation forced a wellspring of curses spilling from his lips. If Moog stole Gradearic's orb ... But he forced himself to suppress conjecture and continue the observation process. Above the dais hung a large replica of Darkstar, moon of death. Above this the broken stained glass dome. Allowing his vision to spread laterally, he counted two antechambers on each side of the hall. Statues of ugly creatures guarding each. There was a passageway to left and right between the antechambers with winding stairs up to balconies.

Finally, he allowed himself to focus on the most obvious. The three mangled corpses. He followed the clues patterned in their blood.

Vrogun spoke quietly to himself. "The guards came from their post at the front entrance, no doubt. Hearing the crash of glass if not the death cries of the priestess."

He knelt by the guards, not touching but maneuvering to observe their wounds and the positions in which they fell and died.

"They faced a master here. Relied upon their armor a bit too much. But they were not without skill. Simply ... not expecting so much ... dexterity."

The marshalsman returned and grimaced at the scene.

"The Orb of Gradearic is missing," Vrogun said. "I presume you did not know this as you did not mention it earlier."

The man gasped and then in a breathy voice said, "No, Sir. No indeed. Is it truly?"

Vrogun sighed. "I am not in the habit of jesting when it comes to such things. Inform the high priest."

The marshalsman turned to go but Vrogun raised his hand. "A sword is missing as well." His eyes tracked a jarring white scrape along the ebony floor. "Any witnesses?"

"None we saw. No one hanging about the temple when we arrived. Should have been at least a servant on duty, but probably thought this his star-blessed day and ran off. Only one exit, by the way. The one you came in."

"Of course," the Councilman said. He was staring down at the words written in blood. "This temple is modeled after the ethereal tomb of Darkstar. There would be only one gate. Is it locked at night?"

"I expect—" but the young man checked his words and decided on, "I'll look into it to be sure, but I'd be surprised if they left it unlocked through the night. Too many hedge mages looking to syphon off some power for their necromancy. Damned sick—"

"Was it locked upon your arrival to the scene?"

"Well, no, come to think of it, it wasn't."

"Reach out to all the disreputable hawkers, Vrogun broke in. "Find out if a broadsword with temple markings has been pawned this night from a scrawny slave."

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