Four Deaths Four Killers 19-04 (Heretical Edge 2)

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Needless to say, Marina and I were both reeling from that revelation. A thousand thoughts kept screaming through my head, all of them independently vying for attention. It was like a high-pitched whining in my ears, even as my head shook rapidly. “Wha-what? What are you talking about? What the fuck do you mean, breeding farm?” 

The blue-scaled, six-eyed man apparently known as Gliner gave a short nod, grunting. “Just what Archie said. This place, it poses as a nice, friendly, safe home for everyone. And it is, sorta. That’s what Valdean intended it to be. But Ausesh perverted that wish and has secretly been selling all the children of everyone in this vault and then erasing everyone’s memories.” 

“Oh for heaven’s sake,” the ghost-lady objected. “Of course I haven’t–” 

“Silence, creature!” Gliner snapped. “You should have already vanished. If you think–” 

Achibold interrupted. “My friend, I’m sorry, but you’re wrong. You’ve made a mistake. As I said, Ausesh was innocent of this. It was Valdean himself who sold the children.” 

They both started to argue again, until I held up my hand. “Stop! Just–just stop. Wait. Ignoring who is ultimately responsible, are you both completely certain about that whole ‘selling children’ thing?” 

The two of them exchanged glances before meeting my gaze and nodding. Archibold spoke first. “Yes, though we may disagree on the responsible party, my partner and I are both in firm agreement on that point. We investigated for quite some time. We’ve found the programs in the computer system intended to erase memories, a few video fragments of children in the vault, records of the… buyers entering secret areas in order to pick up their new… property.” He grimaced, anger and hatred visible on his face as he said the last word. “And more. It is absolutely certain. There were children here, many over the years, and they were sold into slavery, as tools and worse, while everyone else’s memories of their existence were erased.” 

Marina closed her eyes briefly, murmuring several soft curses under her breath before looking over at me. “What’re we supposed to do? How do we tell their parents? Or any of them? What–” 

“First thing’s first,” I interrupted. “We find out who was really responsible for it. I uhh…” Frowning, I looked at the two ‘bodyguards’ first, then at the ghost lady. “I’m just not sure exactly how we do that.” 

“She’s a ghost,” Mariana pointed out. “Can’t you just force her to tell the truth?” 

“I am already telling the truth,” Ausesh insisted. “But to be clear, I do not believe it would be possible if I was not. She may force me to act, may summon and empower me, may… in various ways, punish me for not doing as requested. She could even force me, with very little effort, to claim that I was responsible. Which I was not. But it would take an incredible amount of fine skill and training to force me to tell the truth in a way that would convince either of you.” 

“She’s right,” I admitted with a wince. “I can make her say and do things, but I don’t know specific spells to ‘tell the truth.’ Mostly I possess people for that and… well. That won’t work with her.” After a moment, I sighed. “And it won’t work with Valdean either. He’s dead too, and we don’t even have his ghost to talk to.” 

“So what you’re saying is,” Marina started, “we have two guys here, one of whom says the bad guy was Valdean and the other says it was Ausesh. We can’t get the truth out of them because they both believe what they’re saying. And the only people in the vault who would know for certain are already dead, so we can’t possess them.” Belatedly, her eyes widened. “Wait, what about Denny?” 

“What–or who–is a Denny?” Ausesh demanded. 

“It’s a restaurant in the Bystander world,” Archibold began to sagely inform her. “Mostly known for cheap breakfast meals and extended hours. But I have no idea what it has to do with this particular situation. Unless they have dramatically altered their corporate direction in these past years.” 

I sighed. “Not Denny’s. Denny. She–she has the power to make people do what she says. That’s the short version. She doesn’t like to use it, but yeah. Maybe it could help here. Except it didn’t work on… on another ghost we talked to. But she was special. I’m pretty sure you’re not empowered by a mystical super-power granting universe, right?” She stared at me, and I coughed. “Right. So maybe we can get some real answers.”

Marina was looking around once more. “So you three just lived down here, out of the way?” 

Gliner nodded distractedly, his angry, hateful glare directed toward his former employer. “Archie and I were hired to protect this filth. I believed we were friends, almost family. I trusted her. We spent years together, and she…” He stopped himself, visibly shuddering at the thought of what he believed she was responsible for. “She wasn’t the person I thought she was.” 

“And here I thought that if you had some concerns as to my character,” Ausesh dryly (and somewhat bitterly) pointed out, “you would have talked them through with me. Or at least given me some opportunity to defend myself and prove my innocence.”

“You deserve no defense, child-enslaving filth!” Gliner snapped. He didn’t throw himself at her, but it seemed like a near thing. If she had still been alive, I don’t know that he would have stopped himself. “You lied to us for years, decades! You used us while you let dozens of innocent children suffer for your own gain. I hope your soul rots and suffers in whatever hell awaits you.” 

“Okay, just hold on, guys,” I quickly put in. “Stop. We’ll take this one step at a time. We’ll go back to where Denny is and see if she can use her power to get you to tell the truth. I’m sure there’s a couple ways we can check to make sure it’s working. Maybe it won’t be perfect, but it’s something. Can you three agree with that? I mean, we’re doing it anyway, but it’d be nice if you all cooperated.” 

Thankfully, they didn’t object. Well, Gliner had a few worries about Ausesh, but I assured him that I could keep her under control. So, with me keeping a tight mental grip on the ghost woman just in case she was the bad guy here, we started back toward the elevator. On the way, Marina asked Archibold, “So are you really trying to say that the drive you put in the server to block it from registering that you guys existed down here wasn’t supposed to make Sitter shut off?” 

“As I said,” the neon-orange Orc-Cyclops patiently replied, “our employer assured me that temporarily erasing us from his memory, while also blocking our area from being monitored, were the only things it would do.” 

“That is all it was supposed to do,” Ausesh insisted. “But like I told you, and them, before, I was given the drive by Valdean to use in any emergency where we needed to stay hidden. I care deeply about Sitter, I would never hurt him. The drive shouldn’t have done anything more than what I told you, and it certainly shouldn’t have shut him down when he investigated!” 

Either she was a very good actress (which was possible), or the woman really was distraught about Sitter. She seemed genuinely upset whenever his whole situation came up. Even more openly upset than she was about dying, to be honest. Which was a little weird. 

Opening the elevator doors, I gestured for the others to get on. “I hate to ask this, but are we sure that both Valdean and you, Ausesh, weren’t responsible for the whole selling children thing together? I mean, why are you guys so sure only one of them was behind it?” I addressed the last bit toward the two bodyguards. “If they both built the vault together, they could’ve come up with the bad part of it together too, right?” 

Archibold and Gliner exchanged looks once more, before the latter spoke carefully. “In one of the very few clips we were able to find–ahh, here.” Moving carefully so we wouldn’t think he was a threat, the man reached into his pocket and withdrew a small device. It looked sort of like a handheld gaming system with a slightly larger screen, or a phone if half its size was taken up by several physical buttons instead of a screen. Hitting a few of those buttons, the man held it up so we could see the video that appeared there. 

On the screen, several blurry, distorted figures were standing in what sort of looked like some sort of loading dock. To one side were a series of cages holding obvious children. I could barely make out any details of the figures standing there, other than to say that there were four of them, three of whom were adults and one was another child. The adults were standing just a bit away from the child (the one who wasn’t in a cage), and seemed to be having a conversation while he just… stood there and looked at the kids who were in cages. It seemed like they were using him as a prop or something. Maybe they made him demonstrate his powers for them. I wasn’t sure, it was obvious this footage started in the middle of whatever was going on. 

Another obvious thing was that the footage was badly degraded or whatever. It was in black and white, and there were fuzzy lines across it. Between that and the static and overall blurriness, it was impossible to make out any details about any of the people standing there. The voices, when they came, were distorted as well, but at least somewhat understandable. 

“We’ll give you three hundred thousand for the whole lot,” one of the people said. It was impossible to tell who was talking through the distortion and overall terrible quality. 

One of the other figures on the screen replied, “You’ll pay three hundred and fifty thousand and not a penny less. That’s what we agreed on, and I’m not about to let you weasel out of the deal.” 

Yet another voice asked, “What’s the matter, you think it won’t be enough to split with your old partner?” 

That sent a chuckle through the group before the second voice snapped, “I told you before, that’s over. I don’t have any partners. This is for me, nobody else. Now, are you going to pay what I’m asking for, or do I advertise my wares to someone who isn’t such a cheapskate?” 

“There’s no need to be insulting,” the first voice insisted. “If you say these kids are worth that much, I guess we’ll just have to take your word for it. Of course, we’re going to want to see a little demonstration just to make sure you’re not trying to rip us off.” With that, one of the figures, the one talking, apparently, raised a hand to point at the child who wasn’t in a cage. “And I know just how to start.” 

The footage cut to total static then, and Archibold grimaced before quietly saying, “That’s all we were able to salvage. Someone went in and deleted the footage, but this little clip was still there. Just took a little work to dig it out.”  

Marina shook her head. “You can’t tell who any of those people are, or even what they are. You can’t tell who’s talking, or anything about them. They’re just blobs on the screen.”

My head gave a short nod. “Yeah, and you can’t tell if the person they were talking to was a man or a woman. Between all the blurriness and static, and that weird distortion, you can’t see them or make out anything about their voices. Which is just… really inconvenient, to be honest.” Even as I said that, I was hitting the buttons that would take us back to the server room where the others were waiting. 

As the doors closed, Archibold cleared his throat. “Ah, I truly hate to be an imposition, but would you mind terribly if I stood in the middle of the elevator while it moves? I tend to… get a bit motion sick if not.”

“He’s right, it’s not pretty,” Gliner confirmed. 

Marina and I looked at one another briefly, but shrugged before stepping out of the way so he could move there. I wasn’t sure if this was some sort of long-game trick or whatever, but we’d just have to keep an eye on him. Something told me these guys weren’t a threat. Well, to us anyway. 

“In any case, the person in that video certainly wasn’t me,” Auseth insisted. “I told all of you before, I do not enjoy interacting with new people. It seems less terrible now that I am dead, but these two can both testify that I hated talking to people. Hated and… and feared. I am not ashamed to say that new interactions made me uncomfortable and… and sick. I have physically thrown up after only short interactions with strangers. Why would I have what appears to be many interactions with multiple people to sell these children? For money? I have everything–” She stopped, her form flickering a little. “I… I had everything I wanted in here. What on Earth would I need money for? I never go anywhere to spend it. When I was alive and talked to people I didn’t know, it made me ill. Literally.” 

“She is not exaggerating about that,” Archibold agreed while looking over at me. “We were hired to do more than protect her. It was also to interact with people so she wouldn’t have to. And we’ve seen when she tried. It, like my motion-sickness, was not a pretty sight.” 

Gliner made a slight growling sound while glaring that way. “Which was obviously a cunning deception. She set the whole thing up to make herself look innocent in a situation just like this. Because she thought no one would see through it.” 

Sighing to myself as the three of them begin to argue again, I turned away to look at Marina. The elevator was making its way steadily back to the server room, and with any luck we would soon have an answer so we could be done with this. I was really hoping that Denny would be able to settle whether Ausesh was responsible or not. I really hated to put the whole thing on her shoulders, but what else were we supposed to do? I could stop the woman from doing anything else, fairly easily, actually. She was a brand new ghost and I had perfect control over her, as far as physical actions went. I could even get rid of her if I wanted, or make her stronger. But I couldn’t be certain that she would be telling the truth if I asked for it. We needed Denny to use her power. There just wasn’t another way that I could see. 

From the look on Marina’s face, she felt the same way. We both knew Denny was the best way to settle this. If Ausesh could be proven to not be responsible, then it had to be Valdean. They were the two who had put the vault together. It was simple process of elimination. Well, sort of simple. The whole thing was somewhat complicated by the fact that both suspects were dead. And our way of getting out of this vault had been shut off. 

Yeah, that bit I was trying not to focus on too hard. I hoped Perrsnile had managed to get him rebooted or whatever by now. If we could prove either Ausesh or Valdean was the one responsible for Mophse’s death, and Archibold had already confessed to Valdean’s, that would solve the mystery and Sitter would be able to let us out of the vault, right? 

And yet, part of me was still pessimistic that it would actually be that easy, for some reason. 

While I was thinking about that, Marina turned to the two bodyguards and ghost woman. “Can I just ask, do any of you have any idea what we can do about–” 

Then it happened. Dakota’s face appeared in my mind, as I heard the words, “Killer’s bletherskate ahhh!” At the same time, the alarm spell I’d given them started to go off.

Oh no. Oh no, no no. I jerked upright, eyes widening with shock. What the hell? Dakota had obviously been about to say something else after bletherskate. My taboo power allowed me to hear one word before and one word after. But she had been interrupted. She was trying to tell us that the killer was there, or something. Then she… she cried out. Why? Why did she cry out? What was–

“Flick, what’s going on?!” Marina demanded, staring at me as the alarm spell kept blaring. 

“Something’s wrong with the kids,” I quickly replied, my gaze snapping to the buttons. “Fuck, fuck, how do we make this thing go faster?!” 

It was a rhetorical question, and yet Gliner stepped past me. As I snapped my staff up, he held one hand out placatingly, then hit three buttons. “Hold onto something.” 

And with that, the elevator suddenly doubled, maybe even tripled, in speed. We were rocketing along so fast Marina and I almost stumbled from the surprising force. I was pretty sure we would have if it wasn’t for our own enhancements. 

Of course, I wasn’t thinking about any of that. Holding my staff in one hand, glaring at the doors, I was cursing myself for leaving those three alone. Had I really been expecting two kids and Perrsnile to protect themselves from someone who attacked them? 

But who would have attacked them? This didn’t make any sense at all. The bad guy in this whole situation was either Valdean or Ausesh, and both of them were dead. And I had the ghost of one right here. Wait, hold on, what if it was the ghost of Valdean? What if he was responsible for this and his ghost hadn’t actually vanished? What if he was still around after all? What if his ghost was there and now he’d gone after Denny and Dakota? What–fuck, fuck, come on! Guilt rushed through me. If something happened to them, if–

Finally, the elevator doors whooshed open. Marina and I leapt out, with the other three right behind us. We were back in the server room, and I immediately spotted a figure lying on the floor nearby. It was Perrsnile. He had a great gaping wound in his chest, enough that I knew one thing for sure. It was too late to do anything for the man. He was dead. 

“Dakota! Denny!” Marina shouted their names as spun in a circle, eyes searching every corner of the small area. But there was nothing. The only other person in the room was the dead man, lying in a pool of his own blood. There was nothing we could do for him.

The girls were gone. 

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16 comments

  1. Okay, okay, okay! Don’t freak out, we’ll see what happened to the girls soon. Just hold off on the pitchforks for the time being, huh? Maybe occupy those hands by boosting this story on Top Web Fiction right here if you’re enjoying this story! Thanks so much if you choose to do so, and your tags are: Archibold, Ausesh, Felicity Chambers, Flick, Gliner, Kids These Days‚ You Take Your Eyes Off Them For Two Seconds…, Marina Dupont, Well This Clearly Can’t Be A Network TV Mystery Investigation‚ There Wasn’t A Single Request To Zoom Or Enhance The Video

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  2. Well, that’s another murder for the count, bringing it to four. The lack of mention of Sitter makes me think he’s back up and walking and is involved in some way, willing or not. Another wait and see moment.

    Thanks for the chapter Cerulean.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Well, I hope Seller isn’t missing or Avalon would be really upset.

        Before I “joked” about Sitter being the Killer because of the whole “the butler did it” trope so we’ll see.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. haha, no worries, just saying blether probably would’ve been faster. 😉 She’s going for a word that no one would say accidentally. And hey, maybe the power would misinterpret the word ‘blather’

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  3. Thanks for the chapter – dang, finally caught up & it’s on a cliffhanger! Though with Cerulean’s track record, that was always going to be a high probability! 🙂

    I thought at first it was going to be Perrsnile, having gotten around & subverted the system behind Valdean’s & Ausesh’s backs, but that theory’s scuppered now… Unless he’s not really dead & just faked his own death! Now I’m thinking it was Sitter all along… He seems sentient/sapient, perhaps he got fed up of being ordered around and wanted out & would need funds to set up for life outside the vault. After all pretty much no one else had better access to the working of the vault & computer, or would be unnoticed by everyone. & his programming means he can’t get out until the murder’s been solved, so he needs Flick to find a convenient patsy.

    If it wasn’t Sitter acting of his own accord, then perhaps someone else with a technological power/skills had subverted him? That’s why I thought of Perrsnile, but guess not! On the other hand, introducing a new baddy at this late stage risks being a bit of an unsatisfactory reveal.

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