5. All fun and games till someone gets their throat slit

Rodge Bannister led them to the other side of the room, where heavy curtains hung across the entire back wall, a guard at each corner. Rodge nodded at the guards to open the curtains.

Beyond them was what was left of a set of glass French doors.

“We were celebrating the discovery of the Rhotarr.” Rodge lowered his voice. “Fifteen thousand years ago, when the great god Krimtheros first created the world he gave it as a gift to his only child, Krimceyar. To help him rule the world, Krimtheros created the Rhotarr, a scepter that Krimceyar could used to communicate with Krimtheros. It also gave him the power to move landmasses.”

Ellison started to zone out. Krim was barely ten years old.

“Hold on,” Matilda interrupted. “Are you saying this thing is a communicator and terraformer? Does it give you god powers?”

Rodge cleared his throat. “Not as far as we can tell. It seems to be an ordinary quest item. Well, a very rare one.”

“So it’s a bauble that doesn’t do anything?”

“It’s a rare and valuable quest item.” Rodge walked over to the largest display case. “It was right here.” He waved at the other cases. “We had other valuable artifacts on display here as well, but nothing that equaled the Rhotarr.”

“What does it look like?” asked Ellison.

“It’s a silver scepter topped with a clear jewel. In its center there’s a thin crack in the shape of the letter K. “

“It’s a fancy stick with a knob on the end,” said Matilda. “Got it.”

“It’s valued at about a quarter million golds.”

Matilda whistled.

“How did they steal it?” asked Ellison.

Rodge walked back to the French doors and pointed at the floor, still covered by shards of glass. “As you can see, they broke the glass from the outside. Then they opened the latch and came in.” He opened the doors, stepped outside and waited for them to join him.

From the outside, they could see that there was a set of iron bars, like those in a jail cell, on either side of the French doors. “We normally have these bars closed for extra security, but they were open for the party.”

“So anyone could just break the glass and come in?”

“No,” said Rodge, and pointed to a shrubbery to the left of the doors.

Ellison stepped closer and realized that there was a dead body behind it, a guard, his throat slit open.

“That’s Two Teeth Tom,” said Rodge. “He was guarding the doors that night. Someone must have snuck up behind them.”

“Or was someone he knew,” said Ellison.

“Right, or was someone he knew. Then they killed him, and hid the body so that they wouldn’t be discovered.”

“Wouldn’t have someone noticed he was gone? Or head the glass breaking?”

Rodge motioned to them to follow him and led them into the guild’s interior courtyard. It was a disaster area. There was a small stage with a curtain behind it that had been half torn down. Wooden picnic tables haphazardly arranged, one tilted on its side. Wooden chairs and benches had been knocked over and some were broken apart. And the muddy grass was littered with broken glass, wooden plates, gnawed bones, uneaten fried skirrets and other party remains. The air smelled of vomit, urine and gunpowder.

“We had music and fireworks here last night,” said Rodge. “Everyone was drinking heavily. We wouldn’t have heard anything. Then the rain started and everyone went inside. We have a big common room and the entrance is on that side of the building.” He pointed to the right, opposite to the direction they’d come from.

“So nobody would needed to go around to the back and saw that someone had broken in?” Ellison asked.

“Assuming that they broke in when the fireworks started, at eleven, it was a couple of hours until the break-in was discovered. By then, everything was gone.”

Ellison turned around. The courtyard and the house was surrounded by a high stone wall. He couldn’t see any way that someone would have climbed in, not with the spikes. Especially not in the rain and carrying sacks of loot.

Matilda saw where he was looking. “There must have been a lot of stuff for them to carry,” she said. “How did they get it out?”

“We don’t know,” said Rodge. “When we discovered the theft, we searched the guests. We might have missed something small, but a lot of the items were pretty sizeable. The scepter alone was three feet long.”

Ellison looked back at the stage. “What about the musicians and the fireworks crew?”

“They were all searched, even the instruments and their cases. Also, they were all in full view of everyone all night.”

“They didn’t take any breaks?”

“No, and they complained about it.”

“Is there a back entrance?”

“No, just the main gate. And the guards were sure that nobody had come in or out who wasn’t supposed to.”

“So someone did come in and out! The caterers? Some of the guests?”

“No, just three of the guild members who left early. They got drunk. Very drunk. Vomited everywhere.”

“Maybe it was a cover, so they could sneak the loot out.”

“I doubt it.” Rodge shook his head. “Look here.” He pointed to a pile of clothes and armor behind a table at the far end of the courtyard. “They got so sick that they threw up all over their clothes, took them off, and just left them there.”

“They walked out naked?”

“Practically. We all saw them. They were singing loudly and off key. They left right after the rain started, as we were all going inside.”

“So the artifacts must still be on the property somewhere,” said Matilda.

“That’s what we thought, too,” said Rodge. “I’ve had teams searching the place all morning.”

“Maybe the guards at the gate were in on it,” said Ellison.

“Good point,” said Rodge. “I’ll have them tortured.”

“Or maybe the people who are doing the searching,” said Matilda.

Rodge rubbed his forehead. “I can’t afford to torture everyone.”

“Maybe Glad can give you a bulk discount,” said Matilda.

“No, no, I’m happy to pay his full rate. I just won’t have anyone left if I do that. Plus, the housekeeping staff are off-limits. They’re all returnees.”

“What, all of them?” asked Matilda.

Ellison thought some of them looked familiar as he walked past them in the hall. He must have seen them at Alfred’s funeral last week. Except for the one blonde woman, he recognized her as Donna, a waitress at the Barley Mow Inn, where he was staying, and where he had most of his meals.

She was flighty. He hadn’t expected her to last long at that job.

“Yeah. Elea Carlyle supplied them for the duration of the party. I was was thinking of keeping a couple on permanently. So hard to find anyone on Krim who can cook and clean.” He shook his head. “Now I’ll have to let all of them go.” He turned back towards his study. “I was opposed to having them on Krim, you know. And with what happened last week, I’m even more concerned.”

“You mean, when one of them was murdered?”

“No, when the murderer was arrested,” said Rodge. “It ruins the whole character of the world if you have to stop and think if the person you’re torturing is a returnee who might get his feelings hurt.”

“What are you going to do if you find out that the thief was one of them?” asked Ellison.

“Nothing,” said Rodge. “What can I do? I mean, I’ll fire them, and complain to Lifeworks, but that’s about it. I was thinking of firing them all now, but then the place will never cleaned up, and also we’ll never get the artifacts back.”

Rodge punched his fist into his hand and Ellison jerked back.

“I’ll get you whatever you need,” Rodge said. “Someone’s made a fool of me and I can’t let that stand.”