A/N: See the end of the chapter for some info and fun facts!
Leandros rested his forehead against the cold wood of his guest room door. What was he to do now? He didn’t know where to begin sorting through this murder. He needed to talk to Roman — Roman would be able to point him in the right direction, at least, but the Councilors wouldn’t let him speak with him. The only reason they hadn’t arrested him as well was the fact that Zerelis saw him leaving his room — all the way across the house — just after Miskatos died, and Leandros didn’t want to tempt their generosity. Not when Roman was depending on him.
With a sigh, he pushed open the door and entered the room only to freeze on the threshold. Someone sat cross-legged on his bed.
When the figure lowered her hood, revealing a long, stark-white braid and skin textured like living flame, Leandros swore and shut the door behind him, glancing back to make sure no one had seen.
“Devikra?” he asked. “What in Atiuh’s name are you doing here?”
“Hello, Leandros,” Devikra said pleasantly. “Where’s Egil?”
“Not available to talk right now.”
“Too bad. Wil had another vision. Unity Enforcers are on their way to Histrios, and I thought Egil might want to get out before they arrive.”
“Shit,” Leandros said.
“Don’t worry about Miskatos, just get Egil out of here. I’ll handle everything else.”
Leandros laughed humorlessly. It wasn’t often he surprised Devikra, and he took no pleasure in it, this time.
“He was arrested for murder, Dev.”
Devikra’s dark eyes went wide. They reminded Leandros of Roman’s, occasionally. They were the same color, had the same inscrutable depth. “Miskatos?” she whispered.
“It happened a few hours ago. Roman arrived at the scene just a minute before everyone else — it didn’t look good. But I think they were bound to blame him the minute they saw the Enforcer brand on his wrist.”
Devikra’s brows furrowed. “How do they even know about that?”
Leandros sighed, perched on the end of the bed. Quickly, he ran through everything they’d learned since arriving in Histrios, starting with their cold welcome and ending with the murder.
“So it really was murder, then?” Devikra asked.
“Roman said it was poison, before they took him away.”
“What else did he say?”
“Nothing. He didn’t have a chance,” Leandros said.
“So let’s go talk to him. Where is he?”
“It’s not that simple. They’re keeping him under watch until the city guards can take him somewhere secure, though they think that won’t be until morning. They’re having a hard time making it through the storm.” Leandros paused, then, and eyed his very dry friend. “Dev, how did you get here?”
Devikra waved him off. “I have more resources available to me than the local guard, Leandros. Besides, I was worried about you two. It seems I was right to be.”
“You’re the one that sent us into this mess,” Leandros muttered.
“And are you going to complain about it, dear, or should we go speak to Egil?”
“They won’t let me see him,” Leandros said. “And you shouldn’t just go walking about. Your appearance will make Roman’s position more tenuous than it already is, if anyone sees you.”
“We’ll have to be quiet, then.”
Leandros frowned at Devikra. Seeing that she was serious, he sighed. “Fine. I’m not sure that we have any better options. I don’t know the exact room, but I saw the general direction they led him in. Let’s go.”
Leandros went first, glancing up and down the hallway to make sure no one was around before ushering Devikra out and shutting the door. The Oracle of Damael was unhurried as ever, confident and calm beside Leandros’ own uncertainty. She smirked at him and lifted her hood again, and in her dark traveling cloak, she blended seamlessly in with the darkness.
The two of them wandered the darkened hallways, keeping close to the walls, moving slowly so as to stay silent. The size of the house made finding Roman’s temporary hold easily — the private guard they’d seen on their way in sat outside a locked door, a lit oil lamp set on the ground at his feet.
He had to be watching Roman’s room.
“We should distract him,” Leandros started to say to Devikra, before she pushed past him and brazenly approached the guard. Leandros swore and shrank back into the shadows, watching.
The guarded started when he saw Devikra. She lowered her hood as she approached, and over the gentle tapping of the rain on the roof and the creaking of the old house, Leandros heard the cadence of their voices. Devikra slyly handed him something: the guard looked at it, handed something back, and then — to Leandros’ shock — walked away.
Once he’d passed beyond the reach of the lantern, into the darkness that hung heavily upon these halls, Leandros approached Devikra. “What did you do?” he asked.
Devikra raised an eyebrow. “I bribed him,” she said, then laughed at the shocked look on his face. “You have money too, Leandros. I thought you’d have learned how to use it by now.”
“But what if that didn’t work? What if he’d called for help? How do you know he’s not on his way to get the Councilors right now?” Leandros asked.
“To answer your second question first: I promised him more money once he gets back. There, easy. It’s not hard to tell when someone will accept a bribe, dear. There’s a certain look to them. You just have to make your offer tempting enough.”
Leandros scoffed. “I still think that was rash.”
“And when you’ve been doing this as long as I have, you learn to accept the risk if it makes things easier for you,” Devikra said, patting Leandros arm. She brandished the key the guard gave her. “Now come on, he said he’d give us the time it takes to smoke two cigarettes. We can’t waste it.”
With that, Devikra picked up the lantern and threw open the door. The room inside, while lacking windows, was similar to the ones Leandros and Roman had initially been given. There was a bed, a chair, a bedside table, and an armoire. Nothing more.
“That took you longer than I expected,” Roman said. He laid on the bed, his hands folded under his head, but he sat up when Devikra waltzed in. “Dev! What are you doing here?”
Devikra crossed the room, set the lantern on the bedside table, and gave Roman a kiss on the cheek. “Hello, dear. I hear you got yourself into trouble.”
Roman laughed. “What gave it away?”
“Wil had another vision,” Leandros said, staying in the doorway to keep watch. “We don’t have time to stay here and find Miskatos’ killer — more Enforcers are coming to Histrios.”
Roman frowned. “You’re suggesting we just leave? What about Histrios?”
“Histrios doesn’t have much hope of staying conflict-free, if more Enforcers are coming,” Devikra said, “And you know I like to stay out of their business. It would be best for all of us if we remove ourselves from the situation entirely.”
This made Roman’s frown deepen. Leandros sighed and leaned against the door frame, resigning himself to sitting through another one of Roman and Devikra’s ethics arguments. It’s not that Leandros didn’t have an opinion himself, it was that getting between Roman and Devikra’s evenly-matched stubbornness was a futile effort.
Best to wait it out.
“I promised Miskatos I’d try to help,” Roman said.
“And now he’s dead. That releases you from your promise, I’d say,” Devikra countered.
“What if the killer tries to kill again? You’d be able to live with that, knowing we could stop it?” Roman asked.
“I could. And I know you could, too. From what I hear, the Councilors got themselves into this mess. This is a problem for them and local law enforcement.”
“What about my name? They think Egil did this — what if that spreads? Won’t that be bad for your business?”
“Your reputation is already conflicted enough; I doubt this will make a difference,” Devikra said. Behind her, Leandros cringed. Her tone sounded far too much like his mother’s when she signaled a conversation was over.
“It makes a difference to me,” Roman said.
Leandros cleared his throat. “I’m sure we can compromise,” he said, unflinching when two pairs of dark eyes were turned on him. “Devikra, give me until noon to investigate. Perhaps I can find the real killer before then. Roman, if I can’t, promise you’ll leave here with us.”
“That’s fine with me,” Devikra said.
Roman considered Leandros. “Alright, then. But only because I believe you can solve this by then.”
Leandros’ face felt warm. He wasn’t sure he deserved that kind of faith Roman was placing in him.
“I’ll need your help if I’m to solve anything,” he said. “I don’t even know where to begin. Did you see anything tonight that could help?”
Roman nodded and dropped back onto the bed. “I saw a lot, but I’m honestly not sure what to make of it all. Hey, Dev, when was the last time you wrote to Miskatos?”
“Not since Wilhara’s vision. I knew I was going to send someone up here even before then, so I didn’t bother,” Devikra said, gathering up her silken skirts and perching on the edge of the bed. “Whatever letter Miskatos received yesterday wasn’t from me.”
“So someone did forge a letter from Devikra,” Leandros said. “To what end?”
“And why remove it from the study?” Roman asked with a wry smile. “I think the letter contained a poisonous powder — and what’s more, I recognize the poison. I never used it, but I knew Enforcers who did. It comes from a seed found around Heartfell. The seed on its own is harmless, but processed a certain way, it becomes deadly when inhaled.”
“So that’s why it killed Miskatos but only gave you a rash,” Leandros guessed. “How’s your hand, by the way?”
“Better. It doesn’t itch as badly,” Roman said with a shrug. “That’s the thing about this poison — aside from the rash, which only appears in some cases, it looks for all intents and purposes like a natural death. It can take several hours to travel through your body, but there are no symptoms until it’s too late. There’s a reason it was so popular among the Enforcers.”
Roman held up a finger. “There is one downside to the poison, though. Once processed, it only stays active for a few hours. After that, it’s no deadlier than dust.”
Leandros frowned. “So it couldn’t have come through the post.”
“Exactly! Someone with access to Miskatos’ study, someone who knew his habits well and knew a letter from Devikra wouldn’t be seen as suspicious, left that letter and then hid it again to remove the evidence. It seems they wanted this to look like a natural death, but I suppose my presence ruined that.”
“There can’t be many people who have access to the study,” Devikra said. “Miskatos’ wife, the house staff.”
“The Councilors were all present when the letter was removed from Miskatos’ study,” Roman added. “I wouldn’t discount them.”
Leandros rubbed his temples. “So I’ll start by speaking to Penelope, the Councilors, and the house staff, though I’m sure they won’t be very receptive to my questions.”
“Probably not,” Roman admitted. “Look for motives, ask after alibis. If you can, see if anyone has connections to the poison — geographical or alchemical. It’s a rare thing, so I’m surprised someone this far south even knows how to employ it.”
“You’re missing one more piece of this puzzle, Leandros,” Roman said. In the low light, he gave the alfar a small smile. “It’s an important one.”
“I don’t suppose you’ll just tell me what it is,” Leandros said.
“The poison is a paralytic,” Roman supplied.
“I don’t see what that—,” Leandros started, only to stop mid-sentence. He remembered Miskatos’ body, thought he might never forget the sight of it. “Miskatos’ face.”
“His face?” Devikra asked.
“He— well, one of the Councilors said he looked like he died of pure fright. It wasn’t far off,” Leandros explained. “Did he see something before he died?”
Roman nodded, finally explaining why he’d been in the study — he went over his trip to the garden, his shock at seeing Miskatos at the window, and his urgent trip upstairs to check on the man.
“You think he saw something in the garden?” Leandros asked, when he’d finished. “Or do you think it was a reflection in the window that he saw?”
“I hadn’t considered that,” Roman said, tipping his head to one side and frowning. His long hair was down, for once. He looked ethereal in the low light, the warmth of the fire lovely on his skin tone. “That’s possible, but I don’t understand why the killer would come back to the study when they worked so hard preparing the poison. Sometimes it is just the obvious answer — check out the garden for me, will you? Just to be sure? If someone was down there, they might’ve left a sign.”
“I will,” Leandros promised. “I’ll get you out of here, Roman.”
Roman smiled. “I believe you. Just be careful. Someone in this house is dangerous —dangerous, and highly trained.”
Leandros jumped like a startled cat when a soft knock came at the door behind him.
“That would be the guard,” Devikra guessed. “Well, Leandros and I have some work to do, but we’ll get you out of here one way or another, dear.”
She gave Roman another peck on the cheek before getting up and grabbing the lamp; Leandros looked away. He wondered, briefly, what his life might be like if he could give out affection so easily.
“Good luck,” Roman called, as the door shut behind them, sealing him in.
The guard took the lamp back from Devikra, along with a small stack of bills.
“Thank you,” Devikra said with a small, charming smile. “We got everything we needed.”
The guard nodded, giving a cursory glance up and down the hallway. “I’m glad, because I won’t risk that again.”
“Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?” Leandros asked. When the guard frowned and nodded, he continued, “You’ve been posted at the doors all evening, right? Has anyone come or gone in that time?”
“In this storm? I’d like to see them try. Beyond the garden, the streets are all flooded. Nobody’s going anywhere.”
Leandros nodded, keeping his expression neutral. He didn’t point out that Devikra was able to get in, despite the guard’s apparently-watchful eye. “And how long have you been employed here?”
“Since the Councilor was elected,” the guard said, sombering significantly. “It was a good post. He was a good man.”
“I didn’t know him long, but I’m inclined to agree,” Leandros said. “Thank you for your cooperation.”
On the way back to Leandros, room, Devikra smiled at Leandros. The morning light was beginning to filter through the wide windows in pinks and oranges, just enough that Leandros could make out the expression.
“So,” she said, “Shall we solve this mystery together?”
A/N: First, an update! I’m thinking there will be three parts to this Interlude, but it may turn into four – either way, the final part will be the most important interlude in the series, hands down.
A fun fact: the poison is a combination of anthrax and ricin (both of which have been used in letters)!
Finally, I’d love to hear your theories so far! Leave them in the comments!