"Has anyone been in the room since you found him?" The hired detective asked, surveying the room from the doorway.
"N-nay, sir." A nervous, yet guff voice answered from his elbow. "I locked the door from the outside when I saw him and ran for help."
"Good. Who saw him last?"
"I did, sir." The innkeeper replied, watching the hired alchemist tiptoe around various objects as he entered the room. "I was making the nightly rounds, making sure all the rooms were in order and everything. He was sitting at the table, reading. Didn't even look up when I asked if there was anything he needed. Just waved me away."
Altra nodded and slowly turned a complete circle, taking in every aspect of the room. It was complete and utter chaos; books pulled from the shelves lining the walls and thrown to the floor, a table overturned and it's contents jumbled upon the floor in a black, inky heap, and bullet shells everywhere. And right in the middle of the floor was a blue-clad body laying amid a pool of blood.
"You are aware that this man is--was--a State Alchemist, aren't you?" Altra asked, turning the corpse over with his foot. "So why didn't you get another State Alchemist? You must know that they will was to conduct their own investigation." He continued at the innkeepers nod.
The middle-aged man at the door set his jaw stubbornly. "You were the only one that we could get on such short notice, and I'm not for letting this linger. I've built this place up my whole life, and pretty nicely, too. I've yet to had the stain of a scandel on this place, and I'm not for changing that now."
The alchemist grinned and turned to the table, right-siding it and emptying several pocketfuls of items onto it.
"One last question, and then you can leave: shots were fired, and you said you were downstairs the entire time, and yet you didn't hear anything?"
The innkeeper shook his head ruefully. "Nay. Thats one of the reasons I wanted you. You've quite a reputation, and I can already tell that we're dealing with something less than natural."
The hired detective nodded and motioned for the man to leave, already bending down to strip the body of it's jacket as the door closed. As the blue coat can free, Altra stood up and held it out at arm's lenght, examining all sides of it. Tossing the jacket over the back of a chair, the alchemist turned to the body, one quick glance confirming what he already knew. Both the jacket and body were devoid of any markings at all; cuts, rips, bullet holes, or even bruises. In fact, the only signs that this man hadn't died of natural causes were the streams of blood leaking out of his nose, eyes, and ears. Well, that and the obvious struggle that had occurred.
Turning back to the table, Altra snatched up a que-tip, an empty vial, and a bottle of clear liquid. Grabbing a fistful of hair with a gloved hand, the alchemist pulled the head upright and rubbed the que-tip all around the inside of the corpse's mouth. Letting the head drop back down with a quite thud, Altra deposited the saliva-covered que-tip in the empty vial with one hand and popped open the bottle of liquid with the other. With a skill obtained only with years of practice, the alchemist-turned-ninja poured exactly fifteen drops of the precious liquid into the vial, and only the vial.
Corking the bottle, the young man swirled liquid inside the vial around, watching it intently. Slowly, the clear liquid inside turned a pale blue. Altra sighed and tossed the vial over with the rest of the contents on the table, dropping the bottle of specially-blended chemicals into the pocket it had come out of. So, so far, Altra had ruled out natural death, death by a weapon (At least one that left obvious wounds), and poison. So what did that leave? Altra sighed again. Something "less-than-natural".
Under different circumstances, the young man would have probably welcomed, even enjoyed the challenge, but not tonight. Kika had disappeared without a trace, almost as if she had just fallen off the face of the planet. Altra had been searching for her for monthes, and had yet to find a single clue to her where-abouts. The alchemist shook his head and lightly slapped himself in the face. Now was hardly the time for brooding.
Bullet shells littered the floor, and the gun was still in the dead man's hand. From the direction the body fell, as well as the bullet holes around it, Altra gathered that the man had been firing at the window. The ninja strode over and stuck his head out the window, looking up, down, left, right, and out. The intruder had obviously entered the room from here, but the only possible way of doing so was by flight. This was the third story, with at least a twenty-five foot drop to the ground below. The entire outside wall was worn completely smooth, and the window sill was free of any markings at all, denouncing the possibility that the intruder had used a grappling hook of some kind. The entire building was surrounded by a twelve foot wall, but it was too far away for a man to jump to the window from.
So, once again, we come back to "less-than-natural". Altra thought, turning around and leaning against the sill. There's the possibility that he was killed by a rival alchemist, but I doubt that there's an alchemist anywhere stupid or crazy enough to go against the State, at least not lightly. Besides, I don't know how the hell he'ld manage to do something like that to the poor man. Huffing in frustration, Altra looked around for something he hadn't examined yet. His eyes fell on the heap of junk that had been knocked from the overturned table.
Striding around the table, the young man knelt down and began sifting through the ink-soaked items. Most of it was books, along with several pens, papers, and smashed inkwells. As he overturned one book, a glint of metal caught the young man's eye. Grabbing and pulling it out, Altra discovered that it was the dead alchemist's pocketwatch. Altra grinned as an image of him smashing his own pocketwatch at the feet of his patrol leader came unbidded to the surface of his mind. Tossing the watch over his shoulder, the alchemist turned back to the pile of books. Suddenly, a bright and familiar symbol on the page of an open book grabbed his attention like a hook. Altra carefully grabbed the book and extracted it from the others.
The book was one of the very few--thank God, or whoever it was that watched down on them all--that hadn't been covered in ink, and was in very good condition. The alchemist scanned the entire page, flipping to the next one after that, and the one after that. Grinning, he snapped the book closed and promptly dropped it in one of his numerous pockets. I think I have my answer, and if so, I've got quite a bit of work ahead of me.
Striding to the door, the young man pulled it open and headed downstairs. Perhaps I can enjoy this after all. Its not everyday that you get to cleanse the world of one of it's sins, you know.
A lone mansion stood by the hillside, surrounded by woods. Several birds were enjoying the birdbath that sat in the courtyard. A loud and deep voice suddenly broke the calm silence with such force that the ground itself shook, scaring the birds away.
The homunculus left a victim in mid-torture, his whole bottom half being crushed by a metal block. She knew that if he was mad at her then she was in big trouble. Lament bounded up the stairs three at a time, nearly bowling over Deceit.
She entered the Master’s room cautiously. If he was mad, that usually meant that whoever he was mad at would be pinned to a wall by a large nail in each limb while he explained why he was mad at them. This time was no different of course.
A large spike shot out of the ground and impaled her, continuing to go until it had pinned her to the wall. The Master sat at his desk with Despair at his side. The look on his face was so fierce that Lament came close to shaking with fear.
“Do you remember the alchemist I sent you to kill?” Master questioned, keeping the fierce expression on his face. Lament nodded, careful not to show the fact that she’d already forgotten about the state alchemist.
“You forgot to destroy all of his research,” Despair said, shaking his head solemnly. “According to Deceit, another alchemist now has some of that research. You do realize what that means, don’t you?”
Lament shook her head. She knew that the state alchemist had been researching something that Master didn’t want the man to know if it meant that he could tell his superiors in the State. Whatever he was researching must have been pretty important.
“You stupid *****!” shouted Master, the tone of his voice starting to frighten Lament. It was rare that he was mad, and it was even more rare that he swore. “That research holds the key to killing a homunculus! If anybody knows that knowledge…”
He stopped shouting and began to massage his temples. The spike that pinned Lament to the wall withdrew into the ground as Despair handed Lament a small stack of papers.
“This is the man who found the alchemist’s research. You are to either kill him or destroy the rest of the alchemist’s research.” Despair said. Lament bowed to Master and walked off with the papers.
Altra couldn't help but look over his shoulder as the priest lead him across the marble floor of the cathedral. The ceiling arched high overhead, and a large stained glass window let light into the room on every five feet, on each wall. Pillars shaped to depict holy figures supported the ceiling every twenty feet to all sides, forming a large grid. And at the end of the gigantic room, a large alter stood majestically, surrounded by golden stands holding lit candles. The brown-robed man led Altra straight across the room, until the finally reached the alter. The priest pulled the alchemist silently around the podium and flipped a large rug there over, revealing a wooden trap door.
Grabbing a candelabrum from the podium, the priest lifted the door and descended into a dimly lit library, which was even larger than the cathedral above it, if that was possible. Bookcases twice Altra’s height formed an impossible maze, standing end-to-end, and corner-to-corner, forming five foot wide passages. Magical globes of light hung near the top of each bookcase, casting an eerie orange and yellow glow. Without a word, the priest led Altra through the passages, until he finally stopped and lifted a hand to point at a shelf on Altra’s right.
Nodding his thanks, the alchemist slid a latter over and began to climb, the priest already heading back to the shaft of white light in the distance that marked the exit to the church above. Ignoring the silent man, Altra began scanning the books, sometimes pulling one out and flipping through it before putting it back and selecting a new one.
The ninja wasn’t sure how long he spent down there, pouring over the research when the slightest flicker of a shadow off to his side warned him to leap off of the ladder to the side. A wooden stool burst into splinters on the bookcase, just barely missing the leaping young man. Altra landed in a handstand, immediately spinning around and launching himself backwards as a chair burst into pieces on the floor where he had landed.
The ninja looked up to see a woman standing about ten feet from him, her eyes flickering eerily into the magical lights. She didn’t say a word as Altra quickly examined her, his eyes finally resting on the red symbol on the back of her right hand.
“Well, well. Isn’t this a surprise.” He said, a slight grin coming to his face as he clapped his hands together. He passed each hand over the other one, transmuting a blade on his right and a small shield on the left. “I was just coming to find you.”