Barrett looked to the tent outside the city gates with the wary guile of a man who’d seen a few things go haywire in his time. He didn’t expect trouble from the visitors, but then again, trouble had a way of showing up unannounced and making itself at home. And after this morning, he wasn’t taking any chances. These were dark times, but the city hadn’t seen a high-profile crime like this for seventy years. Well… that is unless you count that one incident last year, but that wasn’t a murder. High-profile? Sure. Scandalous? Of course! But not on the same level as this.
It could not be denied that this was still a city divided. It had been a huge step for both cities when the Telemans brought them together: The modest workingman’s town of Ati from where Barrett’s own boss’ family, the Tuckers, hailed, as well as the equally renowned Montieros… and Sinsun, Teleman’s own home, a more prosperous community of wealth. But even though that income divide was still recognizable after the annex, the newly formed community managed to work cohesively, with both now defunct towns having spots on the main council, all headed by House Teleman, of course, albeit in an unofficial capacity.
It seemed those days of peace were behind them though. Old Ian Teleman, the last of his house, had succumbed to insanity last year, during the incident… and now the young Montiero boy, Alfonse, found dead, bled out from a violent piercing, likely a longsword. The authorities, of which Barrett was one he supposed, did not have any strong leads. They had checked the scene, an old community stable in what was once a bustling section of town but now was all but deserted, and found little. It seemed the crime happened there as there was no sign the body had been moved, but no weapon, no motives, no suspects. The boy’s mother had broken down at the news, and his father put on a good show of it, but was a clear emotional wreck inside. The younger siblings would be unable to provide any useful information. The family affairs were being handled by Alfonse’s uncle Horace while the others grieved, but he was not involved in the politics of the town, being related only by marriage. Alfonse’s sister, Sidnei, had actually been the most helpful. She had no knowledge of any political enemies and assured them that Alfonse would not have gotten mixed up in any nefarious dealings (what would you expect a sister to say), but had at least cleared up a bit about his regular schedule, and offered some insight on whom he had been dealing with in general. No surprise names there. Alfonse was an up and comer in Sinsun-Ati’s political climate, and was dealing with all the big names a young politician would. But his presence in the stable was inexplicable. According to his sister, he did not frequent the area and had no reason to even head in that direction. Barrett didn’t know Sidnei well, but he knew she was a devout believer in the truth and didn’t suspect she was trying to mislead them on this.
She wasn’t his problem right now though. There were strangers camped on the outside of town, who had in fact arrived the night before the body was found, and Barrett had been ordered to round them up. Tuck had said it was his duty to detain the strangers until their innocence could be proven, but Barrett suspected that Tuck wasn’t the one pulling the strings on this one. Another of the prominent houses, Drisette if he had to put money on it, had likely set Tuck to it. After all, there was no evidence these newcomers were involved. They had, to the best of Barrett’s knowledge, not yet even entered the city. But an overly confident man was just a dead man who hadn’t been told he was dead yet, as Barrett’s mother used to say. Sword at the ready, Barrett exited the gates and walked to the tent.
Unit 6 dismantled the camp with the elf. They would be moving into the city today and waiting for their third to catch up. Their packs were light and in need of restocking, and the small respite might do them some good. How long had he been traveling with the elf anyway? In the lifetime of a clockwork, it wasn’t much, but the small modicum of time seemed to Unit 6 to have growing importance. Are we friends? Walks-the-crooked-path’s hand grazed Unit 6’s as they folded together the canvas tent, the fair elvish skin juxtaposed against the metallic sheen of the latter, bringing Unit 6 out of his own head and back to reality.
“We have company,” said the spider-like mechanoid, noticing the approaching soldier for the first time.
“I saw him,” the elf responded. “He brandishes his sword but his face does not threaten harm. Perhaps all welcome-parties will be this dire in the coming days.”
“Yes, perhaps,” the sullen reply.
The duo continued tearing down their camp, and had just finished when the soldier arrived. “Hail, strangers. It is a troubling day on which you join us, I am afraid. There has been a murder in town, and I have been sent to detain you until we can clear your name. Please understand that we do not consider you enemies and this is a mere precaution.” The man paused here and glanced at both to gauge their reactions. Seeing none, he continued. “Will you come with me willingly?”
“We will do what we must and if we can be of any assistance in this matter, please don’t hesitate to ask.” WTCP was a natural when it came to palaver. Unit 6 envied that… at least he thought he might. He wasn’t entirely certain what envy was.
The soldier’s sword arm relaxed visibly. “Barrett,” he said simply, in what Unit 6 took as an introduction.
“My name is Walks-the-crooked-path, and this is Unit 6.”
“With names as common as that, you might just get lost in the paperwork shuffle,” Barrett joked as they began the trek into the city. “One thing about this job that I absolutely love, you know…” oozing with sarcasm. “Paperwork.”
Unit 6 stopped at this, gazing intently at their new – companion? captor?… Whatever he was, perhaps this man had an answer for him. “Barrett,” the clockwork asked… “What is love?”
Barrett began to answer, but choked on his own lack of words and simply shrugged and once again turned toward the city. The three marched to the jail, unaware that fate had just made another of its incomprehensible connections, as life churned on under the ever-encroaching shadow.