Forget it, Sid. It’s Shadowmoor.
Sid Burns reclined on his darksteel armchair, tapped a mountain, and lit his cigar against his forehead. Bitter, too bitter; but the way business was going lately, Tattermunges were the best he could afford. The chair wasn’t comfortable either, but he needed something that could survive his temper. He fished out a bottle of Ballynock from his desk drawer and took a swig. It burned. At least something still worked.
The flamekin private detective’s office had seen better days. Back when Ingrid, his kithkin secretary, was still working there, the place had been spotless. She was a good kid. Then she went missing, and Sid next found her at the bottom of a five-toed grave. Sid tracked down the giant responsible, but, favor of the mighty being what it was, he couldn’t deal even 1 damage and would have ended up in the graveyard if he’d tried.
Things weren’t the same after that, and soon his business started to fall off. Now, it was all Sid could do to burn through his cheap boggart-made cigars and work his way to the bottom of his last bottle of Ballynock single malt.
A knock on the door derailed his train of thought. The veil of cigar smoke parted to reveal the tall, lithe figure of an elf. One look at her, and Sid got +2/+0. The color of her deep brown eyes, the sheen of her long hair, the gentle curve of her horns: this one was a knockout, and the -1/-1 from the smoke made her features all the more delicate. Sid knew she was trouble—there were only two kinds of elves, and green creatures don’t wear dresses like that—but he didn’t care.
He said: “Won’t you sit down, Miss?”
“Larissa,” she replied as she sat down. “Larissa de Feuilledor.”
Sid gestured toward the Ballynock still on his desk, but she shook her head. She was trying to look strong, but Sid figured she only had 1 toughness left. She smiled, poured herself a double, and took a long drink. All moonglove, this one.
“What can this eyeblight do for you, Miss de Feuilledor?”
She considered her answer. The building was quiet at this late hour, and Sid could hear the cackles of caterwauling boggarts from somewhere down the street. This wasn’t the kind of neighborhood that could expect warren-scourge patrols, and that meant gangs of boggarts coming out nightly to set tarfires and pursue all manner of shenanigans. Just as Sid began to wonder whether she’d heard him, Larissa spoke up, this time in a soft voice that forced him to lean toward her.
“Could you—?” She looked downward, then shot Sid a captivating glance, moving so close that his heat became almost painful. The words spilled out: “It’s about my sister, Tess. She moved here with her new husband, Jack. She’s not like me— They were… Are. Good creatures. Green creatures. I don’t know why, but he started working for a merrow, Conrad Finn. He’d work late, and she’d call me up, crying that this time he wouldn’t make it home. One night, she turned out to be right. The cloudgoat rangers discovered the body in such bad condition that they couldn’t even make out his subtype: if not for his veteran’s armaments at the crime scene, she might never have figured out it was him. Of course, when she saw the pictures (he’d been hit with a volley of shards and then inverted), she couldn’t take it. I warned her what that meant: someone wanted him dead and bad enough to take a one-for-three, but she wouldn’t listen. She went to Finn’s place in the Hotel Juzam. I heard that she’d been pounding on Finn’s door, screaming at him from the hallway, and they had to have security bounce her. Nobody’s seen her in play since then. She’s a one-drop; she’s never been away this long.”
Larissa’s composure started to crack. Sid handed her the handkerchief from his suit’s front pocket, careful not to set it alight. He put his hand on her shoulder as she sobbed gently. If this was an act, Sid thought, she was good enough to play the Ancient Amphitheater.
“Miss de Feuilledor,” he finally asked, “how long ago was this?”
“It’s been six— No, seven turns now. You don’t think she’s been discarded?”
“Let’s not jump to conclusions, Miss—“
“Larissa. Please call me Larissa.”
“Miss de Feuilledor,” Sid contined. “She might be hiding out from removal. I’ve heard of Mr. Finn, and he’s the kind of merrow who’s put the scare into 4/4’s, let alone one-drops like your sister. I’ll tell you what, though, I’ll start looking for her this turn.”
“Thank you. And about payment?”
“Three red mana per turn, plus expenses.”
“Of course. I’ll have to stop by the Grotto. You’ll understand if I don’t carry red mana on me.”
She meant the Springleaf Drum, but Sid was too polite to correct her. A broad like her could have any color of mana she wanted, as long as she was willing to tap herself to get it. Hard times had kept Sid away from the Drum, but he knew the kind of girls they had there—long on legs, short on scruples—and he doubted that the Grotto would let Larissa in, even to filter her mana.
She returned the handkerchief to Sid, and strode out of his office. Her scent lingered, which Sid finally recognized as black lotus. Her sister might have been a one-drop, but she wouldn’t come cheap. Her story was almost convincing, but this business about the husband didn’t add up: to have been killed like that, he either had at least four toughness, or someone was taking card disadvantage to send a message. Whatever he’d gotten himself into, it was bad news. Sid drank another Ballynock, then followed Larissa into the night.
Sid knew the way to the Hotel Juzam. He arrived outside just to see a frustrated kithkin shaking his fist upwards. Some faerie had stolen his hat, and were playing a game of Frisbee with it around the fourth story, illuminated by the hotel’s neon sign. He looked about ready to do something, but, apparently having thought the better of it, just shouted a curse and left. The flamekin have an expression: “You may as well try to swat a faerie.” It means “impossible.” Sid didn’t know what a white creature was doing in this part of town, but at least he had the sense to run off before he lost more than just his headgear.
Sid approached the front desk. He heard a distant melody coming from the bar, but he didn’t have much interest in the music when there were no other flamekin around. He’d attracted other attention, though: from the corner of his eye, a squat boggart wearing a spiderwig looked up from his newspaper to stare. Sid got Finn’s room number from the desk, slipping the boy a generic mana. He took the stairs up, and, hearing footsteps, he ducked into an alcove and waited until the boggart passed. Sid noticed an ill-concealed Thornbite Staff under the boggart’s suit. He snuck behind the boggart and tapped him. That boggart wouldn’t be a problem until next turn, but, to be safe, he also shattered the staff.
After a knock on the door, another rough-looking boggart let him in without saying a word. Sid didn’t think much of boggart goons: most of them would sacrifice their own aunties just for +2/+2. Still, he had to be wary of anyone who had enough cards not to worry about his flunkies ending up in the graveyard.
The boggart seemed to be leading him into the bathroom, but just as Sid was about to ask a question, he noticed the huge bathtub full of water, holding the fattest merrow he had ever seen. His chubby fingers were clawing at a changeling steak, which metamorphosed into a different meal with every bite. Sid shuddered, as the food briefly took a form resembling his own face in between shifting from a potato to crème brulee. The boggart poured Sid a glass of wine from the merrow’s bottle; the wine was cheaper than he’d expected, but it steadied his nerves.
“Welcome, Mr. Burns,” the merrow drawled. “I am Conrad Finn. I understand you’ve been looking for me. I sent Miss de Feuilledor over because I knew you’d head right here.” Sid was about to speak up, but Finn put a hand up and continued. “You’ve had some business with a mutual friend,” Finn laughed, “He told me that you’d never come if I asked. So I sent that elf over, and here you are. Did you like her story? Someone makes trouble, who should know better than to make trouble, who was warned not to make trouble. Then the troublemaker disappears.”
Finn stuck his finger into Sid’s glass, making a whirlpool motion in the wine. At the same time, the room around him began to spin.
“You could say I’m an expert in making things disappear. Of course, I wanted to see who could make trouble for our mutual friend, first.”
Sid’s image once again appeared on the changeling steak, before settling on rack of lamb. Finn tore off a piece, chewed, and swallowed.
“I’m not impressed. I don’t think Miss de Feuilledor would really have first-picked you anyway. A good detective would have known better. How do you like the wine? It’s a Pestermite.”
Sid untapped to find himself tied to a dolmen. He looked over to see an enormous foot, which he recognized as belonging to Hugo Rhodes, the giant who’d murdered his secretary. As he struggled, he heard a voice, high above him, laughing.
TO BE CONTINUED