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       She sat at the bar with a stack of papers. Freaggar’s notes had proved to be of little help. How the man had
managed to actually spend five pages detailing the exact location of the body, and why he thought it was so important
as to warrant such a lengthy explanation, Alice couldn’t even fathom. Aside from the exact position of each finger on
Father Terev’s hand, the notes merely gave simple information: name and age of the deceased, assumed cause of
death, what Terev was wearing. Things Alice could have found out on her own just as easily. Twenty years after she
had left the Guard, everyone there was still as utterly useless as ever.
       The one good thing that came of the notes is that she found out the body had not been moved by the Guard. She
figured it must smell absolutely horrid by now, but it would at least give her a chance to get her own information from it.
       Finally putting down the papers, Alice grasped the mug on the bar next to them, and swilled down the entirety of its
contents.
       “Lissa, if you don’t mind, I’ll have another.”
       The woman behind the bar, young, vibrant, and slightly effervescent, nodded at Alice, and went to refill the mug.
On her way to the barrel of ale, she tripped over a crack in the floor, and fell face-first to the ground, the mug flying out
of her hand and smashing against the spout of a barrel, turning it and letting loose a stream of ale that splashed
playfully on the stone floor. Lissa quickly stood up, grabbing another mug, and filling it from the errant stream. Alice
sighed.
       “So where’s Tosk, anyway?” asked Alice.
       “He’s out meeting with some old friends from the wars.”
       “Lovely. And he left you in charge?”
       “No, Benal’s in charge... but she’s sick, so that pretty much just leaves me and K’ryla.”
       “I see.”
       “So, what are you working on this time? One of the nobles cheating on his wife again?”
       “Nope. Dead priest this time.”
       “Sounds like fun.”
       “You need to get your hearing checked.”
       With that, Alice drank down the last of her ale, slammed some coins on the counter, and sauntered out of the
tavern, waving behind her.



       Outside the tavern, Alice stopped momentarily, breathing in the stale, slightly burnt air of Durnkalast. She looked
toward the building across the street, wherein she had her office and her home, contemplating going in and having word
with some of her contacts, to see if she could learn anything else. She decided against this, as she still needed more
information in order to get any information; an absurd paradox, she mused.
       She decided on going to the temple of Mendak, to see what she could find at the scene of the crime. The way this
investigation was going, she didn’t expect much. She half-expected the priests to have accidentally wiped their own
memories and blown up the temple at the same time, the way this investigation was going. The incompetence of others
remained the one constant in her work.
       As she turned to walk to the temple, she heard in the distance a small explosion, the familiar and distinct crack of
combustion that accompanies the firing of a gun. Instinctively, she ducked, and then fell as a bullet ripped through her
right shoulder, the impact nearly spinning her around.
       Before she hit the ground, she already had her gun in hand. It was a marvelous piece of workmanship. It was
forged, as are all pieces of truly fine machinery, in the city-state of Inlarzol. It was crafted specially for her by the master
machinist Kalheadar, in thanks for “help” with a problem he had. The weapon was made of bronze, with decorative
patterns etched into the sides, and various gems inset into the barrel. The gems were not there merely for show, as
each of them had been cut and enchanted, by Kalheadar’s students, so as to give each bullet that exited the gun a
significant amount of potency. It fired faster and hit harder than any other gun around. Alice kept it in her long coat at all
times.
       From her position on the ground, Alice could see, about 20 meters away, a dark plume of smoke rising above the
heads of the crowd on the street; the sign of a cheap gun having been fired. The weapon was probably of local
construction, and the wielder was likely one of the many street thugs in this area of the city. Alice stood up, calculating
in her mind the distance someone would be likely to have traveled in the time since the shot was fired. She realized that
her would-be assailant could be just about anywhere by now, and would be too difficult to track down in the midday
crowd.
       And then she felt the end of a gun’s barrel at the back of her head. She turned slowly, keeping her weapon
pointed low, and faced a young Orkish man holding a cheap, crude gun.
       “Looks like I’ve got you, Ms. Hellstalker.”
       With those words, the Ork found himself missing a kneecap just as soon as hearing a thunderous crack and
seeing thin whisps of white smoke rise in front of him. Naturally, he screamed, dropped his weapon, and fell to the
ground, in that order.
       “Who sent you?” demanded Alice, now aiming at the fallen Ork’s head. The attacker merely screamed
incoherently. Alice repeated her demand several times, but the response never changed. After the fourth time, the air
around the Ork appeared to be moving, and his head was quickly twisted off by an unseen force.
       “Well... That failed to give me any leads at all,” muttered Alice, holding her wounded shoulder.

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All text 8 2004
R.