“Have you heard the latest?” Matilda Scarletstrike took one of Ellison’s greasy, overly-salted deep-fried skirrets. The skirret was a stringy, pale root vegetable about the size of a pinky finger. A bitter, anemic carrot. Or maybe a zombie pasnip. She pointed the skirret at Ellison. “The head of the assassin’s guild has been assassinated.” She snorted, then ate the skirret.
Ellison pulled the plate of skirrets back towards his side of the table.
They were burned nearly to a crisp, so you could barely taste the skirret itself over the oil and grease, just the way he liked them.
Matilda could go buy her own skirrets.
“Duke Warrenus Oudinnet?” Ellison moved his beer closer as well. “Live by the sword…”
“He was stabbed in the back by his number three.”
“Not number two?”
“No. Bonefist the Hurricane is retiring and leaving Krim. There’s going to be a big party tomorrow to send him off. I’m talking about, what’s his face, Darkflow Ghost. He goes by Gus. Nice guy.” She snorted. “And an idiot. They caught him this morning, at home, asleep in his bed.”
“What happens to him now?”
“He’s going to get kicked of the guild, probably,” Matilda said, and pulled the plate of skirrets back to her side of the table.
“It’s worse than that.” A tall, pale-faced man in a dark gray cape pulled over a chair and sat down at their table. “You get hunted by the guild for the rest of your life. Or, well, as much of it as you decide to spend on Krim, anyway.” He stretched out his hand then, noticing that they were eating skirrets, pulled it back. “I’m Darkflow Ghost. I hear you guys detect things. I want to hire you.”
“To do what?” Matilda asked. “Protect you from the assassins?”
“No way,” said Ellison.
“Right, what he said.” Matilda grabbed Ellison’s beer. “No way are we going up against your guild.”
“The Paladins of Death are nothing if not fair,” said the Ghost. “If I can prove I’m innocent, I can stay in the grid and assume my rightful role as head of the organization.”
“We charge by the day,” said Ellison. “Whether or not we find any proof.”
“That doesn’t seem fair,” said the Ghost.
“Well, you could be guilty,” said Matilda. “And we’re not going to fake evidence.” She shook her head, lips pursed. “Not where the assassins are concerned.”
“And since it’s about the assassin’s guild, the rates are double,” added Ellison.
“That’s fine,” said the Ghost. “I’m sure you’ll clear me. And when you do, the first thing I’ll do as the new guildmaster is hire you guys to find the real killer. No matter how long it takes.”
Matilda looked directly at Ellison. Her eyes said, “Take the job.” But the rest of her face said, “I’m thirsty and will drink your beer.”
“Order your own beer,” he told her, then turned to the Ghost.
“You’re on. We want today’s payment up front, in case you get thrown into a torture dungeon.”
The Ghost winced as he took out his coin purse. “I forgot about the torture dungeon.” He counted out the gold pieces. “We’ve got the one of the best dungeons on Krim. I’d hate to be stuck there for the rest of my immortal life.”
“It wouldn’t be forever,” Matilda assured him. “Krim is going to go out of business eventually.”
“So tell us what happened, Ghost.”
“Call me Gus. Anyway, I left the guild sometime around seven last night. I’d been doing my job, sending our renewal letters to members, reminding them of all the privileges afforded by guild membership. We recently upgraded our poison laboratory…”
Ellison made a speeding up gesture.
“Right. Nobody saw me leave. The gate guard must have been off somewhere. If I’d known what was going to happen, I would have waited for her… But anyway. Sometime around nine, Duke Warrenus Oudinnet was stabbed in the back in his office. They tell me that Warren didn’t see who did it, that I was the only one in the guild house other than the gate guard, and I’ve got one day to prove my innocence.”
“Where was everyone else?” asked Matilda.
“Home, or off killing people. The rest were an an impromptu gathering at the King’s Armpit. If I was the actual assassin, I would have waited until there more people in around, so that I wouldn’t be the other suspect.”
“What about the guard?” asked Ellison.
“Nimble Wind? She’s got a peg leg. You can hear her coming a mile off. No way she could have snuck up on Warren and killed him.”
“So what’s your defense?” asked Matilda.
“I was home with my girlfriend, Lady Ismena. I live a few minutes away, so I was there by seven thirty and stayed home the rest of the night. Warren was killed around nine because when everyone got back, the blood was still fresh.”
“So who do you think did it?”
Gus the Ghost thought about it. “My best guess? Someone who wants to be a guild member. There’s a rumor that if you kill an assassin, you automatically qualify for membership. But I have no idea how they got in and out of the guild.”
Matilda frowned. “I don’t know,” she said. “If that was their motive, why haven’t they already taken credit?”
“Because the rumor’s not true,” said Gus.
“So, sometime last night, someone walked into some bar and said something like ‘Hey, someone just killed the head of the assassin’s guild! I bet they automatically become a member, right?’ and was about to buy everyone a round of drinks and someone else said, ‘No, that’s just a myth. What really happens is that the guild tracks you down and throws you into a dungeon where they keep you alive and torture you until they get bored.'” Ellison looked at Matilda. “If that happened, probably someone at some bar somewhere would remember it.”
“Yeah, yeah!” Gus chimed in. “If they knew that Warren was dead before anyone else did, that meant they’re guilty.”
“I can put out the word, I guess,” said Matilda.
“And maybe someone saw me come home last night, so it’s not just my girlfriend’s word,” said Gus.
“Is she home now?” asked Matilda.
“Yes. She’s working tonight, but that’s not for a few hours.”
“Why don’t you go talk to her and the neighbors,” said Ellison. “Gus, can you take me to the guild hall so I can look around? It sounds like we’re under a bit of a time crunch here.”