Murder In Shusoran
There was a light in the window of the Windward Inn in Shusoran.
The man inside had paid the extra fee for a private room, and he was
staying up late.
Hate burned inside the man's heart, throbbed in his brain. It was a
poison that lurked within his soul but came out in his writing as his
pen scratched across the page. Each tainted word spewed onto the
paper, an intense expiation of violence that could not be contained.
At last he was done; he replaced his pen in its case and capped the
inkwell, then blew out the lamp.
Before retiring, he crossed the darkened room to the window. As
always when he was through writing, he was actually trembling with
emotion. The man slid open the window and breathed in deeply, letting
the night air soothe his nerves and calm him. He knew his work was
important, but that did not mean he should lose control. That only
cheapened what he did, cheapened the cause.
He smiled, taking another deep breath. Everything would begin in
the morning, after all. The man had to be ready.
The thrust of the knife blade sliced into his thoughts, cutting them
off abruptly with a spike of icy pain. Death came quickly; his body
collapsed to the floor, sightless eyes still fixed on the future.
He had been right. Everything would begin in the morning.
He just wouldn't be there to see it.
* * * * *
"A single knife wound. Neat, simple, no frills," summed up the
doctor. Her neatly pressed white uniform was a stark contrast to the
brutality of murder, cleanliness and control next to the blood and the
stench of violence unleashed.
"Thrown through the window?" asked Sergeant Dayne Rathman, the
Shusoran guard officer assigned to investigate.
The doctor tugged on her green braid, a habit she affected when she
was trying to think something through.
"No, Dayne, I don't think so."
"I don't understand."
"Well, when you throw a knife," Dr. Nyla Le Malisk explained, "it
spins in flight. When it strikes a target, that spinning is stopped by
whatever it hits. That extra rotational force tears open a slightly
wider wound than this one. No, this was a straight thrust, driving up
under the ribs and into the heart."
The guard scowled.
"Thanks a lot, Nyla. Let's see, the door was locked, but this is a
ground-floor room. So, presuming that the body hasn't been moved..."
"I don't see any sign that it has."
"...then whomever stabbed him could have walked right up to the
window, stuck the knife in, and walked away."
He crouched down next to the doctor.
"Mind if I get a look at the knife?"
He picked it up gingerly. There didn't appear to be any clues, no
threads clinging to the hilt, no distinctively-colored hairs caught in
a chink in the blade. It was a common steel-bladed utility knife, not
even a hunting knife or steel combat knife. The kind of knife used for
slicing open letters, cutting rope, even eating with when one was on a
"Orakians favor knives in battle, don't they?" Dayne pondered.
"Soldiers with combat knives, yes. This blade could have been
anyone's. It's not like we Layans never need to cut anything."
Dayne rose slowly to his feet.
"This wasn't used as a tool. It was used in battle, to kill another
living human. Layans don't use knives to fight their enemies."
"Are you saying that because you believe it, or because you want to
Nyla got up as well. There was nothing for her to do, not for the
"Honestly? I don't know. Laya's Law has been broken. I don't like
to think it was one of us."
"The Orakians have a law against killing, too; they call it Orakio's
Those twin laws, Dayne knew, were why the Orakians and Layans of the
world of Aquatica hadn't slaughtered each other long before. The
Orakian cyborgs, machines designed for battle, and Layan monsters born
and bred for combat had fought many times since the end of the great
Devastation War of a thousand years ago, determining control over
natural resources, but human warriors never entered battle against one
Holding back from killing, though, was not the same as tolerance.
The two races detested one another; trade and commerce had been
unthinkable. Peace had been a resting period between battles.
Sometimes, change comes from a wellspring of public opinion, forcing
governments to yield. In Aquatica, though, change had come from above,
thrust upon the people by their royal houses. Maia, only child of the
King of Cille, a Layan land to the north of Shusoran, had gone and
married an Orakian. Rhys, Prince of Landen, was from an
entirely different world, and his quest to win his bride had been an
epic, the kind of story that could be--and was--set to music and played
in the common rooms of inns like this one. The heir to Shusoran's own
crown, Prince Lyle, had aided Rhys on that quest, being a key part of
Most of the people of Cille and Shusoran had gone along with it
grudgingly. Peace was a valuable commodity, and trusting to Orakio's
Law had always been a nervous matter. The Orakians of Agoe and Rysel
had gone along, too, for much the same reasons. Old hatreds died hard,
though, and it was difficult for people to accept that a thousand years
of enmity had been washed away by the simple pledge between husband and
The fact was that there was a small but vocal minority who insisted
upon clinging to the old ways, people who despised each other's race
and would allow nothing to disturb the purity of their hate. Their
message tugged at more hearts than people were willing to admit, hearts
that while not wholly infected with prejudice still found it hard to
trust their former foes.
Hearts like Dayne's.
He had to admit it to himself; he wanted an Orakian to be
guilty. It was much easier to believe that an outsider could be
guilty, a stranger with odd cultural peculiarities, than that one of
his own would violate Laya's Law. Murder was not an unknown crime in
Shusoran, but it was very rare; the last had been nearly seven years
Murder like this was the worst thing Dayne could imagine. Not a
killing done in the heat of battle or a fit of temper. No, this had
been cold-blooded. Step up to the window. Thrust the knife home.
Leave the blade behind so as not to be seen with a bloody knife. Walk
calmly into the night. A chilling and brutal crime, and yet so simple.
Nyla was looking down at the room's writing table, a frown taking
shape on her pretty and girlish face.
"I don't think an Orakian did this," she said.
Mutely, she tapped the pile of stacked pages. They were not piled
neatly, but in a rough heap, as if the writer had been in a hurry, or
in the grip of strong emotions, flinging one page aside in his rush to
get to the next.
"Listen to this," the doctor said, reading. "'We must not let
ourselves be led astray by the carnal urges of a debased prince.' And
here: 'A true follower of Orakio would never permit contamination by
the Layan plague.' Or this: 'The peril of losing our souls has grown
beyond even what Orakio foresaw. It may be necessary to abandon
Orakio's Law in order to purge our fair land of the Layan cancer that
seeks to overwhelm us.'"
"He wrote that?" Dayne pointed to the corpse.
Nyla took out the pen and wrote a few words on a blank page.
"The ink's the same, at least."
"We ought to give a medal to whomever killed this filth."
Nyla glared at him.
"Is that what you really believe, Dayne?"
The guardsman sighed.
"No, I suppose not. If Laya's Law has been broken, then the killer
is no better than that worm."
He glanced down at the body.
"And I guess," he admitted grudgingly, "that if we don't do our
utmost to catch that killer, then neither are we."
Sounds of a commotion from outside caught the guard and the doctor's
"You can't go in there, sir!" protested the innkeeper.
"Don't tell me what I can and cannot do, Layan!" There was a
scuffle, short and quick, the innkeeper no doubt being shoved out of
the way, and then the door burst open. "Abel, what are these--"
He broke off as he caught sight of the body laying on the floor.
Dayne smoothly moved over to cut the newcomer off from coming further
into the room.
"I'm sorry, Sergeant; he just forced his way by," apologized the
innkeeper from behind the new arrival.
"So I see," Dayne said.
The stranger's momentary silence was broken as he apparently found
his tongue, rounding on the uniformed guard sergeant.
"What have you done to Abel, you Layan dog?"
Dayne's eyes narrowed.
"I have 'done' nothing. Someone killed this man last night."
"What?" Shock filled the newcomer's face. He was not
unhandsome, though a bit on the thin side, and there was zealotry
burning in his eyes. He tried to run to the body, but Dayne blocked
the man's way, his strong right arm pulling him back.
"This is a crime scene," he said. "I'm making an investigation. If
you care about seeing justice done, you'll understand that we can't
have you tracking into the room and upsetting possible evidence."
"Justice?" he sneered. "I don't see justice here. I see a Layan
pig who destroyed a good and loyal Orakian covering up the true reason
for his death on behalf of your master. Abel Godley is the first
martyr to the cause of a true Orakian civilization, and all your lies
will not be able to wash his blood from Layan hands!"
He tried to rush forward again, but Dayne steered him out of the
door with greater size and strength.
"What I see is a little man who ought to know better," the guard
said flatly. "Our most sacred law has been broken. Supposedly it's
yours as well, though to judge by your friend's writings some
Orakians don't hold it in very high esteem. Do you share his belief
that the time has come to set aside Orakio's Law?"
The man's thin face grew red.
"Are you accusing me of this? Oh, you're sly, Layan, but you
won't get away with it. The true inheritors of Orakio's way are here,
and they shall not allow your lies to pass unchallenged!"
Dayne snorted derisively.
"Rant to someone who cares. I take it that you dent that this crime
is your handiwork?"
"Yes, I deny it, for all the good it will go. You Layan pigs--"
"I said that I've heard enough of your ranting," Dayne cut him off.
"All I want from you is your name and where you're staying in
Shusoran--and believe me, if you lie about either one, things will go
very badly for you when we find out."
The man returned his glare defiantly.
"Terence Ballard. I have a room at the Southgate Inn, together with
my fellow Sons of Orakio."
"Good for you. I suggest you go there and join them and leave me to
do my job. We don't need your friend's filthy blood staining our city
any longer than it has to."
Ballard probably had several more insults to offer to Dayne
personally and Layans generally, but the guard didn't bother to wait to
hear them. He spun on his heel, strode back into the victim's
inn-room, and locked the door behind him to keep the fanatic out.
"It's starting already," he told Nyla. "The late Abel, here,
apparently has a number of his friends in town."
"Do you really think they're responsible?"
Dayne shook his head.
"No, I don't. It makes a nice, neat solution, one Orakian fanatic
killed by another. It would help discredit their whole reactionary
moment. I don't think that's what really happened, though. Frankly, I
couldn't get that lucky."
"What scares me," the doctor said, "is the possibility that a Layan
did this, one who feels about Laya's Law the way this man did about
"That's what I'm afraid of, too," Dayne replied, nodding agreement.
"That would turn Godley into a martyr, give his friends all the more
reason to detest Layans. It also draws support to his cause, makes
ordinary Orakians who are willing to try peace but not sure they can
trust us that much more ready to slip back into the old ways."
He hooked his thumbs into his belt. Having to listen to Ballard
spew mindless insults made him ashamed of his own thoughts earlier. It
was too easy to cross over that line from caution into bigotry,
especially with a thousand years of hatred ready to back him up.
"Not much we can do if that's the case," he admitted.
"You can catch the killer," Nyla pointed out. "If the right person
is punished for the crime, it will be much better than if no one is and
suspicions are allowed to fester."
Dayne couldn't argue with that.
"By the way, why are so many Orakian reactionaries here in
Shusoran?" Nyla asked. "One man I understand, but a whole group of
them in a Layan town?"
"There's some kind of trade conference going on at the castle,"
Dayne said. "It was supposed to be kept quiet, but these things
have a way of getting out. It starts this morning."
"So you think the Orakians are here to make trouble?"
"That would be my guess. Protests, rallies, a few riots, whatever
they can do to stir things up and interfere with smooth negotiations
between Cille, Shusoran, and Agoe. Our own fanatics are probably doing
the same if they've heard about it too."
He scowled angrily, looking at the hate-filled manifesto lying on
"The wretch was probably writing his speech for whatever they had
He made a cursory examination of the room for clues. About four
hours' worth of oil had been burned in the oil lamp, which meant that
the man had gone to bed at midnight and been killed sometime after.
That presumed, of course, that the innkeeper, Sera, had filled the lamp
full for her guest. When she'd summoned Dayne, she'd said that he had
seen Godley going to his room after dinner at eight. Hopefully that
was accurate; eyewitnesses could be mistaken and Dayne needed every bit
of useful information he could get.
It probably was, though. Sera had struck Dayne as being competent
and alert. Her business depended on taking care of her guests' needs,
so she kept a good eye on the common room. If she said it was eight,
then it probably was. The body had been found at seven, when the dead
man had requested Sera to wake him up. That left a seven-hour window
The guard took a look at Abel's own knife just out of curiosity; it
had been left, sheathed, on the nightstand. The design was similar to
that of the murder weapon, cheap and utilitarian, with no
ornamentation. The room key had been on the nightstand, too, before
Dayne had relocked the door with it. That just added more confirmation
to what the medical evidence showed, that death had occurred at the
window and that had been how the murder got to his or her victim.
Nothing else in the room caught his attention, so he turned his
attention to the man's bag. Dayne found clothes and toiletries,
mostly, but there was also a corked glass vial containing some sort of
electric blue liquid.
"Too small for liquor," Dayne decided. "Nyla, why don't you take a
look at this?"
The doctor took the vial, examined it, and sniffed the stopper.
"I don't know what it is," she said.
"Could you find out? I'd like to know if this is some noxious poison
Abel was going to dump into a well or if it's just an Orakian shaving
"All right. I'll run a few tests."
"Thanks. I'm going to check the ground for footprints, and then
I'll have to report back to the castle. The murder of an Orakian
agitator just now is something the crown will probably want to deal
Death and politics, Dayne thought. That was one association left
over from the Devastation War he could easily have done without.