Guard Duty: Part Three
Only a few minutes after Smith discovered the body, the corridor outside the Ambassador's room was full of people. The scream, and resulting commotion, seemed to have roused almost the entire castle from their beds.
"Keep everyone out, Habbard," Smith instructed the Kougra.
This, after all, was a crime scene. Someone could easily slip in and doctor the evidence.
"I demand to be let in!" a voice came from the corridor as a brown Lutari pushed his way to the front.
"Major Brenham, please," Smith said, barring his way. "You may disturb evidence if you come inside."
"You cannot hold me out here!" the Major shouted. "I have diplomatic immunity!"
"If he's going in, so am I!" another voice said. "I have diplomatic immunity too!"
A royal Moehog stepped forwards.
"Neither of you are coming inside this room," Smith said flatly.
"Who are you?" the Major demanded.
The Moehog straightened up. "I am Lord Guillaume Von Stratus, Ambassador of Meridell."
"Him!" the Major shouted. "Captain, I demand you arrest this man!"
"Lord Von Stratus?" Smith questioned. "Why?"
"He's from Meridell!" Brenham shrieked. "Who else would want to attack a Harkdale citizen!?"
"No one is being arrested yet," Smith announced. "That said, no one is to leave the castle, either, until investigations are closed. Habbard, I'll hold this room, you get down to the castle's main gates and see that a lock down is put into effect."
"Yes sir," the Kougra answered, saluting and rushing out of the room.
"If you'll excuse me," Smith said to the gathered crowd, closing the room's door firmly in their faces.
The room was a mess. Clearly there had been some kind of a struggle prior to Ambassador Walter's scream... but oddly, there were no wounds on his body. This immediately suggested poison to Captain Smith, but if he had been poisoned, why would there have been a struggle? Poison normally meant stealth.
A small locket around the Ambassador's neck seemed to glint at Smith, and the Draik paused for a moment. He could not recall the Ambassador having worn it earlier that evening. He leaned down and flicked open the locket. Inside was a picture of the Ambassador, and a strange lock of hair that gave off a rather unsavoury smell. Smith flicked the locket closed again, and moved to the Ambassador's desk.
There were official papers there, also in a mess, as if someone had been throwing them about. But on top of them was an object that was quite out of place. It was a stone pestle and mortar, and it still had some finely ground powder in the bottom. Smith took a small bag from inside his uniform and emptied a little of the powder inside. He would need to get the sample tested to see if it was indeed poisonous.
But that was another thing that didn't make sense about this... why hadn't the killer taken that with them?
When the rest of the guards arrived back on shift the following morning, it became a lot easier to begin the investigation. The Ambassador's body was moved down to a specially created morgue in the dungeons. The door was locked, and Smith was the only man with a key. Eventually a water Faerie from the Healing Springs arrived, and confirmed poison as the cause of death, though she was unable to determine the exact chemicals used.
Smith knew he would have to go calling in order to find out for himself. Early that morning, he left the castle and headed west, out of the city. It wasn't long before he was joined by Major Brenham.
"I thought I gave orders that no one was to leave the castle?" Smith asked.
"As I said, I have diplomatic immunity, you cannot stop me," Brenham replied. "Besides, a Harkdale citizen has died; I have every right to be a part of this investigation. Now, tell me where you are going."
Smith pointed to a dark patch where the crater met the woods.
"Jhudora's Bluff," Smith explained. "Marina, from the Healing Springs, couldn't determine the form of poison used. Jhudora has more experience with such things."
"But it was poison, you are sure?" Brenham asked.
Smith nodded, taking out the small bag. "This was found near the body. It seemed to have been mixed specially."
"In a pestle and mortar?" Brenham asked.
Smith paused, and nodded.
"I have travelled with the Ambassador for a few weeks now," Brenham explained. "He was a deeply health-conscious man. He believed in the healing power of tinctures and tonics... and had been taking dried Turnip, in ground form, nightly."
Smith looked down at the powder he held. "Still, it is better to be sure."
Jhudora cackled madly. "Exactly why would I want to help you!?"
From her throne, made from the twisted roots that now wove through her ruined castle home, she glared down at the two Neopets with contempt.
"Because there is a murderer on the loose," Brenham answered. "That's bad news for all of Faerieland."
Jhudora stared at the Lutari. "You don't seem to have grasped how things work around here. I don't care about Faerieland."
"If you don't think you can do it, that's fine," Smith said, knowing how to handle Jhudora better than the newcomer. "We can always send this sample off to Illusen. I hear she's much better at this sort of thing."
Jhudora growled, flicking her purple fingers out and summoning the packet of powder to her.
"I'll show you!" Jhudora spat. "I'm light years ahead of Illusen!"
The purple Faerie took a small pinch of the powder out of the bag and held it in her hands. She began to infuse her magic into it, making it glow purple. Eventually, she sprinkled the powder down into her other hand, and as they fell, the particles began to glow three very distinct colours. Purple, green, and blue.
"Ground turnip," Jhudora announced, identifying one of the ingredients. "And also... hmm, Black Peachpa."
"Is that poisonous?" Smith asked.
"Not normally, just doesn't taste as nice as a normal Peachpa," Jhudora answered. "Though, it can become poisonous when mixed with chemicals found inside a Bagguss... but that's not the third ingredient."
"What is it?"
"I'm not sure..." Jhudora said, frowning. "Though, Illusen wouldn't know either! It's unfamiliar to me."
"Poisonous?" Smith asked.
"I don't think so," Jhudora replied. "Leave this with me, I'll study it more. It might make an interesting concoction for unsuspecting quest seekers."
"But you don't think the mixture is poisonous?" Smith asked.
Jhudora sighed, and placed a few particles on her finger, which she licked.
After a few moments, she answered, "Doesn't seem to be, no. But if your victim ate any Bagguss yesterday, it would be enough to mix in his stomach."
Feeling slightly deflated, the pair left Jhudora's home and headed back to the castle.
"You didn't eat anything with Bagguss in it on the way here?" Smith asked.
"No," Brenham answered. "And as I recall, it wasn't on last night's dinner menu either. So, what's our next step?"
"My next step is to start interviewing people," Smith stressed. "You are to head back to your room."
"I demand to be part of this investigation!" the Major shouted.
"Demand all you like, but you're not going to be," Smith told him. "You're the only person in the castle who actually knew Ambassador Walters. At the moment, you're my prime suspect."
"Habbard," Smith said, stopping the Faerie Kougra during his patrol.
"Sir!" Habbard replied, saluting. "I took the liberty of beginning interviews in the guest rooms during your absence. No one heard anything immediately preceding the scream, sir, most were asleep. However, Lord Von Stratus did recall hearing a commotion coming from the room earlier that night, soon after the Ambassador retired for the night. He claims to have heard the Ambassador shouting with someone, and the noise of things being thrown."
"Did Von Stratus know who was shouting?" Smith asked.
"He seems to think, upon hearing his voice this morning, that it may have been Major Brenham," Habbard answered.
"That would make sense." Smith nodded. "He was pretty angry when he left Fyora, and he'd want to take it out on someone. That's not why I stopped you though, Habbard."
"Last night, when we reached the Ambassador's room, you were coming from the other end of the corridor," Smith explained. "And when I spoke to Vyline a few moments before the scream, she said she'd seen you passing through... and that path would lead you right past the Ambassador's room."
"Sir, surely you don't think that..."
"I gave you strict orders not to patrol outside the Ambassador's room last night," Smith added. "Orders from the Queen herself, which you seem to have disobeyed, Habbard. You also made no secret of your dislike for the Harkdale regime, after what happened to your friends in Cogham."
"Sir, I swear I had nothing to do with it," Habbard explained. "I passed the guest rooms to investigate a light I saw moving along the east gallery. There was nothing there, so I didn't linger, sir, honestly."
"Maybe so," Smith agreed. "But until that can be confirmed, and you can be eliminated as a suspect, you need to step back from the investigation. Lieutenant Jones will help me in the meantime. This is nothing personal, it's just procedure... you understand?"
Habbard nodded slowly. "Yes, sir. I'll take over from Jones on dungeon duty."
Habbard slumped off, considerably less upbeat than before. It pained Smith to practically accuse one of his men of the murder. He was convinced that Habbard wouldn't be to blame, but he had to be sure. The eyes of Harkdale were watching him, he would need to leave no stone unturned if he wanted to avoid complications.
To be continued...