After meeting with Auguste and his mother, Wulfric intended to return to his study. Though he was tired, he knew he would not be able to fall asleep yet. Several thoughts clamored for his attention, but each pushed or pulled in a different direction. The exact nature of paperwork was precisely the thing that could restore his equilibrium. However, he wished to freshen up first since he felt slightly warm from the alcohol he'd drunk. A visit to the lavatory was a good start; he drank some cool water, then splashed it on his face. But he would feel even better after a short walk.
He descended the second floor and was on the way to one of the back entrances leading to the gardens when he heard the unmistakable sound of the castle's front doors. He stopped on the spot, eyes narrowing as he listened. No guests were expected at this time.
Wulfric whirled around, pace swift as he hurried to investigate. The sight that met him in the foyer was as unlikely as the unusual intrusion merited. Count Calbert was accompanied by Doctor Williamson and two guards. As he took in the company, their expressions, postures, and general mood of the situation, Wulfric felt a grim determination settle over him. There could be nothing remotely good about any of this.
He approached the unforeseen visitors, gaze flitting from one person to another, finally settling on the count. Dispensing with any greetings, he demanded, "What is going on?"
Calbert's gaze rose from his journal. “Your Highness. Sorry to disturb you in the late hours."
He greeted curtly, then got to the point. He put a hand around John's shoulder, "This young man discovered my daughter Violet deceased tonight and alerted me and the enforcement here."
He gave the prince a moment to digest the heavy information, his teeth gritting. The guards nearby nodded their affirmation of this statement.
Astonishment overtook the prince, his mouth opening and eyebrows rising. Then, just as soon, his expression smoothed out into near-impassivity. The only indication of his upset was a new tension in his body and a subtly resolute frown gradually etching itself onto his face. "I see,"
he uttered, voice deepening as he turned to stare into the far distance. It was as if the thick stone walls and the massive wooden doors were not there to obstruct his view. His gaze was so intense that it would not be strange to think he was trying to manifest the unknown enemy in front of him by sheer willpower. Wulfric might have claimed Calbert was an opponent to his mother, but while that was not untrue, he was, after all, one of the Crown's subjects. Therefore, whoever murdered Violet, whoever had intended to harm the count in such a way…they were in opposition to the whole royal family and to the law. "My sincerest condolences, Count Damien,"
he offered, catching this gaze. When the other man continued his tale, the prince listened intently. "He also spotted a person of interest leaving the scene: a blonde woman in all black that I had run into earlier tonight after the ball. She had been on eavesdropping a private conversation, so I approached her. Not only had she been eavesdropping on me, but the girl had also been stealing food tonight. That is not indeed the worst part. This same woman enjoys the company of a man named Kazumin Nagasa, who my daughter Crystal claims to have been stalking her."
He opened the journal up to present his drawing, aggressively pointing at the sketch of Persephone, despite his calm tone, "Due to our close proximity, I was able to recall her facial features here. I'd like to propose wanted posters for this villain. Hazel eyes, creamy blonde hair, and her skin was quite fair, I believe…"
Wulfric recognized that woman. "I've seen her at the ball,"
he confirmed. Auguste, who'd danced with her, may know more; that was just one reason to call him in.
The doctor preferred to let the count have his words in. His wrapped hands creeped John a little, but he kept his head straight, nodding when appropriate. John was a little perplexed hearing the two names, considering he knew both. Kazumin he met early in the ball, quite friendly but perhaps a little awkward to the scene. But, on the other hand, he just met Crystal at the library, which is close to the crime scene. So she was the count's daughter? John would have said something about that, but he preferred to keep silent as it progressed just as he expected.
Because he had been observing him so closely, Wulfric had noted a certain doggedness about Calbert. It was to be expected, of course, however…It reminded him of how he'd been kidnapped when Anastasia was. He knew his wrathful desire back then to destroy whomever he believed
responsible hadn't been as constructive to resolving the crime as he might have had liked. Granted, the count appeared remarkably calm. Yet, the tenuous connection between pieces of information and supposition he attempted to string together into a cohesive whole revealed his fixation. From thief to spy to murderer? Plausible, but not as much of a certainty as the count appeared to believe. The mention of Kazumin - the storyteller he recognized based on the context - was also almost entirely irrelevant. Disapprove of him as Wulfric might, the claim that he was a stalker was dubious and not enough to tie him to this matter.
Nonetheless, there was a witness, and that was something factual. Thus, Wulfric nodded shortly. "A reasonable idea we can implement easily enough,"
he agreed, referring to the wanted posters suggestion. "However, I will first need more information."
Saying so, he redirected his attention to John, who had been silent thus far. "Doctor, what exactly did you see and when?"
Unlike the testimony the count gave, which is pretty much a confirmation bias on his end, John's would be less so. He took a second to rearrange the details, pretty much exactly what he told Calbert earlier, in a concise manner. "It was 22:05 when I saw that woman…uh no person, running from the alleyway towards the Tough Tavern's direction, with blood-soaked footprints. It was dark, so I didn't see much of them aside from loose blonde hair strands, black clothing, and hoodies, and they're pretty slim-looking." "That's all I saw, your Highness."
He then gestured towards the sketch shown to Wulfric. "When I mentioned that to Count Calbert, he connected the dots to her. Personally, I couldn't see her face, so I don't know for sure if that is her, but the count has more evidence?"
He turned to look at Calbert to indirectly poke him about what he found at the scene.
Calbert lifted up the piece of bloody bread as if on cue. "This is the same bread that was offered at the ball, the very bread I caught her stealing earlier. Admittedly, I had not been the kindest to the girl as I was appalled by her criminal behavior, so perhaps she was vengeful. All of the information together calls for her capture and interrogation at the least…"
He cleared his throat and stared at John, "Dr. Williamson forgot to also include that he had found my daughter with an ax between her eyes. Despite the overwhelming evidence, if not this blonde woman, there is at least someone out there who is completely deranged running amuck."
Wulfric wouldn't call the evidence overwhelming, but he also wanted the indicated woman brought in. "We'll treat her as a runaway witness for now and pursue her as a potential lead,"
he decided. He then turned to the two guards. "Tell me your names and give me a brief report." "My name is Edward Davidson."
The first introduced himself with a bow.“Clarence Buford.”
The latter then decided to explain all after his declaration, "We were alerted by Dr. John Williamson there was a body in the alleyway between two buildings by the Sorian Library. Upon arrival, Lady Damien was found sprawled out on the ground, blood pooling beneath her head. An ax was lodged deep within her head. Death was most likely instant… Count Calbert Damien arrived and was obviously distraught. Photos were taken of the body, and then we have had her covered up and thus relocated."
He then gestured to Calbert, "Count Damien has requested for us to keep Lady Damien's death private. "
Count Calbert nodded, though curious as to why Clarence had to bring that up now, "This is true… I wished to be the one to notify you or your father as I hoped to keep this from Crystal's ears for now. Her health is wavering, and I do not think she can handle the stress of such a story. If possible, I would like this to be kept out of any newspapers and such until my daughter is in a state to receive the news."
Wulfric glanced at the count. “That is fine,”
he stated. To the guards, he said, "You two will caution everyone in the know to keep the details to themselves until further notice. I will send you some backup, but the additional guards needn't know the victim's identity either."
He took a moment to organize the orders he wished to give. "Buford, you will return to the crime scene and have those responsible for compiling the evidence bring it over. I will also need someone to give a detailed report on your patrols tonight. Most importantly, we will be increasing security and conducting a thorough area search. I'll consider you or any direct superior currently on the scene responsible for the south and south-eastern districts." "Davidson, you, on the other hand, will be handling the southwestern parts. Two or three men should head to the Tough Tavern and investigate it. I don't expect that woman to linger there; however…there may be clues. Advise the owner and any guests that we are seeking a witness to the murder. Inspect the locale thoroughly. Simultaneously, you will spread the search towards the slums. If nothing or no one suspicious is discovered in the next few hours, we'll have to extend it even further outwards…" "If at any point you do happen upon any activity or person of note, send someone to report it immediately."
The prince calmly observed one guard and then the other. “All clear?”
Edward nodded, informing briefly before his departure. "Yes indeed, Prince Wulfric. We had recently left two guards at the Tough Tavern to inspect before we made our way here. However, they went straight upstairs, so I will also find out if they found anything once I am there."
Upon receiving the additional information, Wulfric nodded. “Good, now go!”
Cloak swishing, he swept out his arm imperiously, sending the two of them off.
When only the trio of the count, the doctor, and the prince remained, Wulfric addressed the other two. “Now, gentlemen…if you'd please follow me."
After additional patrols had been sent, Wulfric relocated the trio into the meeting room
on the second floor which was absurdly extravagant. Every step on the polished marble floors echoed in the silence. The table was intricately painted, and the chairs were adorned with authentic gold. A maid moved into the room with a tea set, quietly setting the table for Wulfric and his guests. Another servant brought a map of Sorian, some paper, and writing implements.
Calbert had taken his seat, quite curious about what else they would be conversing about. After giving the information he had, he had supposed all would be done. He was pretty gracious to the prince for the expansive aid he was providing, so it did not pester him all too much to stay longer. He folded his arms thoughtfully, deciding to let the prince lead the conversation while digging through his brain for more information.
Wulfric remained standing, map spread on the table before him. "Before I receive the requested evidence, there are several details I want to confirm with you; the body's location, position, and how you would surmise the murder was committed. An ax to the front of the head is what I've gathered so far?"
he inquired, looking up from the map to the two men. "There are buildings west from my estate, and if one is to cut between them, they will find a shortcut to the library. Violet was found at the eastern end of this alleyway, close to her home. She was lying on her back. I believe she was thus facing west, facing the library. "
Calbert trailed a trembling finger across the map to visually express his words as he spoke. Wulfric felt a hidden glee at the sign of the count's distress and weakness but showed it in no way whatsoever, simply marking the indicated location with a small x. He also made brief notes of the information obtained. "...We believed she had fallen backward from the force of the ax…It was perfectly lodged in her forehead at a 90-degree angle and… It was upside down. The handle was toward the sky."
He halted. That did not make sense. If someone had run down that alley toward her with an ax in hand, why hadn't she flinched or tilted her head… Had she frozen like a fawn? "...or perhaps she fell backward, and someone swung the ax down on her while she was on the ground. The ax was deep after all …"
He clenched his jaw. “We had photographs taken. They will have to be examined with vigor tomorrow." “An unusual murder method…I suppose it couldn't have been thrown,"
Wulfric pondered, shaking his head in dismissal of his idea. The ax would have had to be thrown underhand, from above, land perfectly in the center of her head, and fell Violet in one swoop. An unlikely option.
John's instinct kicked in when Calbert mentioned that ax in her skull. Indeed that ax was weird in that it appeared to have been swung upward, or like Calbert said, the girl fell backward, and someone swung from behind her; both of them were weird ways of killing someone. But there was a critical detail that the count did not mention, and John realized just now, to which he raised his hand to request a hearing. "When you mentioned that ax, count Calbert…"
, He spoke up a little quietly but grew louder over time. "It was buried deep into her, like almost halfway through the blade. I have seen the effects of sword blows on human bones. It would take a lot of force to sink half an ax's blade into someone's skull like that."
He said. "So the perpetrator must have had a lot of upper body strength to carry that out."
Even in the case where the killer swung the ax overhead, it would still take strength to carry through with force. "You can let your forensic team on that detail, if that's reasonable, of course."
There is also one more hypothesis the doctor had in mind, but that felt a little too crazy to be accurate, so he kept his silence on that. "It is, in fact, a noteworthy detail, doctor,"
the prince assured. "So you would say…that our slim suspect, even if she'd swung the ax with the whole force of her body, from above down to the felled victim…could not have made such a wound?"
he sought to confirm. But if that had
occurred, it was strange that there had been no mention of signs of struggle. "That's something I would say is unlikely."
John replied. There are still possible outliers where a slim-looking person could smash someone's skull. Not everyone skinny looking is weak. "By the way,"
Wulfric turned to John, "could you say based on where you saw the blood whether she'd been standing or not when she was struck? And…do we have an estimated time of death?" "That…"
John scratched his forehead quite a bit to reminisce if there was anything noteworthy about that moment. He felt a little bit of headache forming. "Blood was not dry yet, so it likely took place within the hour. As for how she died…"
He took a breath, as it would get quite technical. "I don't remember for certain. I would need to see the scene again. But to be extra certain how she might have died, it would be good to have an autopsy report, to see other minute details like how much damage was done to the back of her skull or how and how many times she was hit. That would paint a better picture than just blood splashes."
Or at least that's how the Varians did their death investigation and how it should be.
Calbert was thoughtful as he listened, building upon the information in his mind and digging the horrific scene back into his vision. "There was blood splatter, minuscule drips mostly in front of her body, by her feet, indicating blood may have come down from her head before she fell… If she was lying down, the damage to the back of her head would be more severe. Her head might not have taken as much of the trauma if she had fallen. However, I did not notice extreme damage to the back of her head. I could say with almost certainly that she was standing based on what we know so far."
Calbert mused, but none too happily.
Wulfric noted what they'd discussed thus far in concise bullet-point format, separating established facts from suppositions (some likelier than others). "So, the murder method is still unclear,"
he concluded. However, determining that was something the official investigators could do based on the data gathered so far. Changing tracks, he tilted his head at the count. "Based on what the doctor said, there's an hour of unaccounted time between nine and ten for what Violet was doing and where. However, I assume she returned home with you after the ball?"
Calbert met his eyes with a nonchalant expression, though his brow had slightly lifted. "She did return home with me, but once I busied myself, at some point, she snuck out to the library presumably. Ever the bibliophile she was. My staff knows to keep a close eye on her and Crystal, but she must have found an opening to leave…"
Emotion rose in him, but he refused to let it show. "I know she was somewhat interested in a man from the Varian Kingdom as she chose to dance with him on her own accord. Roman Ravenwood, from what I have gathered. "
That answer did not at all clarify anything. Wulfric had hoped to narrow down the time frame in which Violet might have been killed, but apparently, Calbert had no idea when she'd left home. So he let the matter rest and considered the next one. Lord Ravenwood… "Do you believe they might have met - is he one of your suspects?"
he raised a questioning eyebrow and let some doubt leak into his voice. It seemed unlikely. "I know they spent much of their time together tonight, but not much else about him… I intend to list to the investigators everyone who could be possibly suspected aside the blonde woman who ran away from the scene…Dr. Williamson, what do you know of this Lord Ravenwood?"
The longer these two asked questions, the more flags were raised for John about the investigation itself. Being allowed in this room, doing the investigation with them, being asked these questions, at the same time not being anywhere close to being a proper professional. Why are they doing all this speculation barely hours after it happened? When can he go home already?
As for Lord Ravenwood, John did know the man. He was a son of the Ravenwood household, well-known in Kolonivka for his metals and the fact that he couldn't go anywhere without them. He had conversed with him here and there, but not too much. A nice guy, but given both their different specialties, they didn't have much in common to speak of. But now that he's in the crosshair of these two, the doctor stopped himself from spilling too much information. Especially in front of this guy Calbert. "Lord Ravenwood? He's a blacksmith living in North Varian. Son of a noble, obviously, Lord Erick Ravenwood. His specialty is armorsmithing and weaponsmithing, quite well-known in fact."
John replied, saying pretty much either public information or readily accessible information if they did their minimum research. "I don't speak much with him personally, though; we didn't have many opportunities to cross paths." “Blacksmith.”
The door suddenly flew open as King Edin stormed in, his entourage of bodyguards following. "What's all this! "
He demanded, his gaze first falling on Count Damien, "Calbert! What the hell are you doing here?"
He did not seat himself and leaned his hands on the table, intense gaze moving to each of them. "Who the hell is that?"
He pointed at John but was clearly asking Calbert and Wulfric. The doctor flinched a little in response to the sudden entry. He had never seen someone act so caricature-like, both in private and public. Oh, didn't he mention this was the guy who exiled him?
Calbert glanced at the bearded king, "Your Majesty. I discussed a severe dilemma with your son and Dr. Williamson of the Varian Kingdom. Would you like to be briefed? " "I already know! That blasted Callum stole a carriage with Anastasia, enticed all the Sultan's offspring and who knows who else. Then he took them who knows where probably some orgy... How could you let this happen, Wulfric?"
King Edin finally sat down, sighing, "We somehow came up out of that fiasco earlier unscathed, and now we're still doomed to war."
On the other hand, Wulfric remained standing and was glad he had not been sitting; he might have startled otherwise. His father's abrupt entrance was surprising, and so was learning that his younger siblings' idea of subtlety was stealing a whole damned carriage
. The Alidasht party had been roped into this… 'adventure.' Thus, it was simple enough to pretend as if he had no idea of the situation. “Callum did what?”
he interjected rhetorically, injecting the proper amount of scandalization into his words.
Calbert gave Wulfric a smirk subtly, then glanced back at King Edin, " Not quite the same subject we were discussing. Indeed, with all this high security here, this is inexplicable.. …Has the Sultan found out yet?" " No, but he will… "
King Edin groaned. Though he wouldn't mind a war as a means to conquer the Alidasht and perhaps even the Varian to expand his territory, they were not yet ready for one. Their army was undoubtedly the greatest, but he had hoped to increase his numbers and increase his possibility of winning.
Wulfric had caught the count's smirk and returned it with an unimpressed side-glance. Then, he calmly regarded the king. "He does not have to,"
he stated. "First, they need to be retrieved as safely and covertly as possible,"
he suggested. "Then, depending on how this unfolds…we provide them with proper care, caution against unescorted late-night wanderings into less reputable parts of the city for those unfamiliar with it…"
the latter would basically subtly blame the guests for being too eager to explore Sorian, but it was better than implicating Callum and Anastasia. It was inevitable that the Caesonian royal family would come across as negligent. Still, they could mitigate that, and it was better than the Sultan thinking there'd been an intentional plot to sabotage them. "...promise increased security, find whoever was responsible for the oversight tonight and punish them…"
likely some poor bastard Anastasia had charmed, Wulfric would guess. "...offer our guests some native servants to get them acquainted with the city, and bring down whichever establishment Callum led them to, if we must."
It was quite a list, and Wulfric intended to recruit Auguste for help - to be honest, he was dearly missing his presence just then. "I can act on your behalf in this matter if you so wish, Your Majesty,"
King Edin rubbed his beard as he listened to Wulfric ramble. He hated listening to others ramble on, but he was glad it was his heir to the throne to do so. A thoughtful and wise King would be beloved, and Wulfric was already well-liked thanks to all the pressure he had been putting on him all his life. He smiled with some pride for his son. "Yes, indeed, this all sounds well. I am entrusting this to you then, Wulfric. However, what is to stop the Sultan from finding out? We know not what kind of state his children shall return in…."
He grimaced, "If at all." Incompetent.’What in the fuck did I just hear?’
This was getting a bit out of hand. The story itself and the fact that they just nonchalantly told everything to his face: literally royal thievery, Alidasht's Shehzadis going missing, and even potential civil war. Mind you, he was here to report a murder. "We will tailor our response to him based on the particulars,"
Wulfric responded. There was not much else to be said until they knew more, and situations like this always required a degree of flexibility.
King Edin did not seem comforted. He stood back up, "I suppose finding them is the first order. I shall go have that put in order… But if this was not the subject at hand here, what were you discussing?" "We have a murderer on the loose. Dr. Williamson found the body."
Calbert replied this time.“Oh. The peasants at it again, hmm? Rats."
King Edin scoffed but did not seem all too worried about it as he began to take his leave. He paused in the doorway, narrowing his eyes briefly, "Oh, and Wulfric, we will be discussing your behavior at the ball at some point." "Of course, father,"
was all Wulfric had to say to that.
Calbert slowly rose from his seat, "Well. If that's all… Thank you, Prince Wulfric. I will take my leave. Hopefully, that elusive blonde woman will be caught soon and questioned."
He was hopeful he could finally leave; he had not foreseen a formal meeting over the matter. "After all, I believe I saw Prince Auguste dancing with her, so he may recognize her. Perhaps he'll know something. I will be conversing with Kazumin Nagasa tomorrow as well."
Calbert's leave allowed John a valid excuse to do the same. "If you don't mind the same for me, Your Highness."
He said, bowing with his hand on his chest. "It's been a long day, and I need to report where I have been to our monarchs. I will have discretion about what happened."
Whether or not he'd stick to his words was still up in the air, however.
Wulfric inclined his head to Calbert and John. There was no reason to hold them up any longer; he'd gained most of what he'd intended from them, and he had other business to attend to. When the doctor said he'd report to the Varian royals, Wulfric leveled a cool stare at him. Though he promised discretion in the same breath, he had little doubt King and Queen Camille would be informed of this. It was regrettable that his father hadn't sent Williamson out of the room before revealing their latest scandal. "I would appreciate that, doctor,"
Wulfric told him, gaze intent. Then, he let the duo depart, offering a brief, "Goodnight, gentlemen."
It was indeed a futile, empty farewell…the night promised to be long and arduous, at least for the prince.