Chapter 1

Copyright© 2012 by Stultus

My very first thought upon the young lady coming into my office was that she was badly overdressed. She was wearing far too much clothing, especially for a warm and humid late spring afternoon. Fortunately my second thought helped to start to take care of that little problem.

"You look a bit hot, my dear," I suggested, "so why don't you undo a button or two on your blouse and cool off a little?"

My words weren't merely a suggestion. I put a little mental effort behind it and locked her eyes into mine. I only needed a moment to make the connection to put my first grasp upon her will to begin to subvert it to mine. It's a handy little trick, to be able to undermine someone else's mind and take control of it, ultimately as deeply and completely as I could desire to do so, even to the extent of creating a mindless slave. I rarely take things to that particular extreme though. Mostly because it's mentally exhausting to utterly subordinate someone's will to the extent where my victim would no longer possess a thought that was not my own. Doing something like that takes a lot of time and effort ... and is only rarely ever worth it, even for the amusement value.

Creating an interesting and utterly malleable plaything is all nice and well, and an occasional fun sport, but security and self preservation is usually of considerably more importance to me. Pretty young ladies, even ones that barge into my office unannounced and without an appointment, usually have family, friends, guardians or lovers, if not all of the above, and contrary to the beliefs of most homicidal roaring boys with poor impulse control that roam the dark alleys of the city at night, most toothsome young women who disappear (especially the decorative ones) will be missed by someone and awkward questions will undoubtedly be asked, sooner or later.

Fun is fun, but I take great pains to keep my own not inconsiderable impulses for amusement at least nominally grounded with a strong measure of caution. Or at least I try to these days. When one has the rare magical gift of influencing and sometimes fully controlling another person's mind you can't be either too careful or cautious. The use of magic is nominally legal within the Gray Empire, but only just. It's certainly not socially acceptable, even for younger son of a very minor lord. Being known or even suspected of having this gift is a good way to feature prominently in the files of the Guardia Imperia, the emperor's own secret police as suspect #1 in the likely event that something terrible might ever happen someday anywhere within a hundred miles of me. Disaster just waiting to happen and ten times, or even a hundred, worse than just being born a Sylvan gypsy!

Coming from a noble family wouldn't protect me either, or at least not much, and sooner or later I'd end up on the wrong end of a lynch mob or a judicial bonfire. Besides, not even aristocratic society can be bothered much to care about the fate of a fourth son, let alone one from a southern marcher family whose borderlands are weeks away from Mirabelle, the imperial capitol. Being from the nobility is useful, but marcher families are of a distinctly lower crust than most older and more venerable imperial patrician clans. Being a d'Bounderby does have its advantages ... and its limitations as well and with experience I'm beginning to slowly understand the difference. The odds are even beginning to improve that I'll live long enough to reach the ripe age of thirty in a few more years!

I'd come here to Ormsford, at the furthermost most northwestern armpit of the empire, precisely to avoid that sort of problematic 'justice'. I'd pushed my luck a bit too far back in Mirabelle and left my exceedingly comfortable (and overly opulent) quarters there only just in time to avoid being questioned as a person of interest in a rather large blackmail and burglary ring. Against my better judgment, I'd allowed a rather weak link in my unfortunately oversized organization to be overly indiscrete and when pinched by the city vigiles watch he had wasted little time fingering me as the mastermind and his primary fence for the stolen swag. There was no firm evidence against me, but I had to 'suggest' my innocence and use my gift to cover my tracks rather more firmly and comprehensively than I would have preferred. It was a rush cleanup job too, and that never bodes well either.

Being young and ambitious, I'd let ego get into the way of common sense. In retrospect, I'd been too visible, too aggressive in my greed and quite careless in a number of ways. Without my gift, even my noble name couldn't have saved me from an extended stay in some imperial dungeon at His Highnesses pleasure, but I'd recognized the danger early enough and moved with alacrity to cover up my tracks. For the most part successfully. The fact that most of the local vigiles there were more bent than a thrown horseshoe helped save me as well. I couldn't count on that happening again here.

You can't pay off every guardsman, but if you buy the right ones you can at least have an adequate warning if their buddies start to show an interest in pissing in your morning oatmeal. Nothing against me could be proven ... that time, but I had the rather good sense to realize that I'd already attracted a bit too much official attention. I could deal with polite inquiries into my business habits from the vigiles, but I absolutely didn't want the Guardia Imperia taking an interest in my affairs under any circumstances. The empire doesn't have many chartered magicians, wizards and the like ... but they all seem to work for the Guardia on imperial business, such as ferreting out magic abusing weasels like myself!

A more honorable man would have used my gift for public service and accepted an imperial salary as a chartered magician, but not me. I had dreams, goals and plans to achieve them ... and none of them were particularly honest ones.

I could have stayed and patiently endured the growing investigation against me, but it was smarter to just relocate away from the capitol for awhile to let the dust completely settle down and allow my name to become mostly forgotten. No one comes here to Ormsford for their health, but it was the third largest city in the empire and I thought that there might be some worthwhile economic opportunities to be found up here in the frontier. This city is the trade nexus for the entire northern region (mostly wilderness) and with the ruins of the fabled kingdom of Celantha (and its legendary riches) beyond the wasteland hills to our north, the city is home for adventurers, merchants, traders, factors, poor nobles and northern marcher clans, and also plenty of rogues, scoundrels and chancers just like me.

Fortunes are made and lost in the counting houses, docks and back alleys every day, and I've tried to take my share ... but quietly, trying to attract as little attention and notice here as possible. That means keeping my ambitions and appetites much more under control, and using my 'gift' with considerably more restraint and moderation ... much to my personal annoyance.

Overtly, I dabble with trade, which is still very much a semi-scandalous activity for any member of a noble family even in dire straits. To keep my hands as clean as possible from the indignity of actually owning cargos, or worse, having to possess actual inventories of physical goods, I much instead prefer to act as a middleman for other factors and merchants, helping them make bigger or better deals and then taking a percentage. Consulting and advising others is safe, and mostly easy money but the profits (like the risks) are low. Sometimes I'll buy or sell nominal minority shares in cargos or commodities on my own, mostly river cargos to and from the capitol, if I have the hunch that the profit will be unusually good. Once in awhile, I'll even risk a regional trade caravan, if I think the reward versus the risks are exceptionally good, but they usually aren't.

With my gift, it's easy to learn trading secrets, or inconvenient facts that someone wants kept hush-hush or hidden. Insider information on market trends, or the potential unsoundness of a cargo vessel (or its captain) can help avoid potential investment disasters. However, I do have to admit that most of my magically obtained insider knowledge tends to be utilized for more nefarious purposes.

Blackmail is an ugly word ... but it is also extremely profitable, if handled carefully through suitable intermediaries ... ever so very quietly. Knowing when certain wealthy individuals will be away from their home, or learning of a rich treasure worth stealing can also be extremely profitable as well. I don't usually dirty my own hands with the actual burglary, I have a few skilled minions for that, but I take my percentage ... and ensure that my little gang keeps its activities quiet and irregular enough to avoid police or governmental concern.

That was my primary mistake back in Mirabelle, being too greedy and overly ambitious until my gang became too large and far too notorious to operate safely. I will not repeat that same mistake again here!

For appearance sake, I keep a small office on the street of the factors, Silver Avenue, sharing an office chambers with a couple of investment partnerships, a group of barristers that specialize in commercial contract law, and a noted commodities trader who seems to hear every worthwhile rumor first. The sign on my door states that I'm a 'Confidential Consultant', which means that I'm a 'fixer'. The man to go to when you have a problem that requires a solution that might or might not be legal, or requires certain caution, delicacy or even outright secrecy.

Most of my usual clients just want a second opinion on a potential business opportunity before they sign the contract and press their seal into the wax. Perhaps have me check out a possibly shady merchant, or the provenance of a dodgy cargo that might have fallen off of some wagon in the early hours of the morning in some dark alleyway. Not to mention misplaced shipments that might have disappeared some early morning from a warehouse. I've also investigated potential sons-in-laws and heiresses as well, to find any black marks on their characters or lurking family problems before the wedding. Getting a divorce is tricky work, legally anyway, so the smarter families do their due diligence long before any marriage banns get posted at the church. I've done my share of divorce work too, but only for exceptional fees. It takes a lot of dirt to obtain an annulment, let alone an actual divorce ... even for the nobility. Not to mention the payouts necessary for a friendly bishop and then his archbishop too, to get their concurrence. My gift has been helpful there as well, influencing the desired outcome for further financial considerations.

Despite the growth of my more legitimate and entirely legal employment opportunities, some of the old business habits remain, and sometimes earn the sweetest rewards. By acting as the helpful agent to recover certain embarrassing documents or indiscreet love letters, or stolen objects d'art too distinctive or hot to fence, I can 'return' them to their original owners, collect a large fee and ensure the perpetual silence of the client. Furthermore, I gain positive word of mouth on the street as a premier fixer and problem solver ... especially for the wealthier merchant clans and the local nobility. Sure I could make a lot more by flogging off the loot to other scoundrels and crooked merchants, but this method keeps most of the risks of any criminal enterprise to an acceptable minimum.

Slow and steady, as the proverb goes, often does win the race. It's less exciting, true ... but there is now little risk and I can still enjoy most of the rewards! I had been far too bold and shameless with my rapacity back in Mirabelle and I was resolved not to make that kind of mistake again here!

My would-be client today didn't appear to offer the prospects of fattening my purse much, but appearances can be deceiving. And since she had arrived without an appointment and I was already in something of an aroused mood, I was just in the frame of mind to indulge in a bit of sport with her!

Looks wise, she hardly seemed to be worth the effort. She was young and a bit short and thin for my tastes and her white unblemished skin suggested that she spent little if any time out of doors. A touch of her hand to guide her to a chair by my desk indicated that she did some work with her hands but they were relatively smooth with little callous, except for her thumb and fingertips. Her blouse and skirt were simple but clean, and of good linen weave with a little hand-embroidered decoration, probably of her own hand-work. This suggested that she was probably from a crafting family of moderate means, but unlikely to be able to afford my usual fees.

Her gaze at me was purposeful, with her eyes focused and intense as I began to take the measure of her will. Undoubtedly her errand to visit me was something frivolous, such as locating an errant or wayward lover, a task for which I would have little or no interest in handling even for a pouch of heavy silver. As our eyes continued to lock as she seated herself down by my desk, I could feel my will begin to cloud hers. Also, now that my hand was upon hers making more intimate contact, I could now begin to sense her surface most thoughts, and her heightened level of overall worry and concern.

"Sir, I'm sorry to come barging in like this unannounced, but are you Lord Kyle du Bounderby? I need to speak with him most urgently!"

The use of the more formal 'du' showed that the young lady had enjoyed some education, or at least had basic knowledge of noble society and thus was trying to be exceedingly formal with me. No one, even back in the capitol, used 'du' even upon legal documents, unless their family name was usually old or powerful. The mere hearing of the formal 'du' in an introduction generally indicated to me that its possessor was undoubted a prat, or an asshole of the first caliber ... and my favorite variety of prey. Being from a very politically unimportant family from an unfashionable corner of the Southern Marches made even the bearing of the noble d' title an imperial courtesy, rather than an ages-long right.

My great-grandfather was a mere imperial squire of no title and less authority with the name le'Nichols until the day the company of troops he served in lost its captain and both lieutenants in a nasty border skirmish. This left the young squire next in authority to protect a vital southern outpost near the desert, which he somehow managed. Suitably impressed with his success when he arrived with the main army a few months later, the then Prince Imperial gave him a battlefield knighthood, a title and a modest section of the newly conquered lands just north of the Sea of Sands. The lands weren't really very good for much other than grazing goats and sheep, but they were just productive enough to support a small newly noble family and barely keep enough men-at-arms to deter the desert tribal raiders away from richer imperial lands further north. Even three generations later, I noticed in Mirabelle that our noble family name still had the 'Marcher stench' to it and our betters took very little notice of us except to sneer. Snobbery is very much the primary court industry these days, especially with a rather paranoid and weak sitting Emperor who is constantly in poor health.

"My father is Lord d'Bounderby, so you may call me just Kyle, or merely Mr. d'Bounderby, if you must. Alas, I bear no noble titles and even the formal 'du' is quite excessively unnecessary for our minor Marcher family. But please my dear, sit and rest for a moment and take a few deep breaths ... and do take off that collar ruff and let out a few more of your vest buttons so that you might take in the air more freely."

She did just that, unbuttoning slowly and with deliberation a few more buttons of her embroidered vest that covered a high necked linen chemise underneath. When unbuttoned as well, this now exposed her pale white neck to me and a little bit of her upper chest well above her bosom, but I encouraged her gently to undo yet a few more.

"Good girl... now a few more. And just a couple more ... there, isn't that better?"

The view now certainly was. With a little more mental effort her vest was soon quite undone entirely and next her blouse was half buttoned as well, giving me a much improved view of the silk sleeveless bodice underneath and a hint of exposed cleavage. I noted with pleasure that her milky white breasts appeared to be at least as soft and unblemished as the rest of her skin.

My gift works quite adequately with just plain fixed eye contact alone, but it can take time to establish a firm hold over my victims will that way. With even minimal physical hand contact, I can speed up the process significantly and within moments her eyes began to glaze over and her mind became quiet, a blank slate for me to write upon, and impose my own will. I unfastened the last half dozen or so buttons of her chemise quickly with no complaint and a moment later I had stormed her final defenses, lifting up her silk bodice so that I could now place her bare firm small breasts into my hands.

With such intimate contact, she was now entirely in my power and I could now enjoy some limitless fun with her without fear of either refusal or interruption. My office on the second floor of my chambers had a private door and no one would barge in without knocking first. Well, usually anyway.

"You've been examining my hose, my dear, with interest at what it might conceal. Take your hands and release my cock and find out my dear and make its acquaintance better within your mouth!"

This was a command of course, and not a helpful hint or even a suggestion, and with her eyes closed in her hypnotic daze, her helpful fingers pulled down my hose without hesitation and my penis found a ready pathway into her mouth. For a young tradeswoman, she wasn't entirely unskilled and clearly she had performed this sort of service before, but probably not in any professional capacity.

For men, the wearing of breeches, even short ones, was rather out this spring and as this spring weather here was already quite warm, I had quickly adopted that fashion trend. This allowed my pretty young thrall to locate and release my penis quickly and with little effort. Even the doublets and jerkins were short this season, leaving nothing to give visual obstruction to cod within a gentleman's hose. As ever, fashion descended down from the imperial court to the rest of us mere mortals, and the Prince and Princess Imperial had quite entirely set the fashions for the capitol, and thus the entire empire, since their royal wedding early last fall. The Prince Imperial took almost indecent pride in displaying obscenely large sculpted cods under his hose that distinctly displayed his marital equipment 'up and out', and rather excessively so by prior moral standards of the church and the imperial court. Now the trend seemed to be to display the most 'erection' possible with your codpiece, within the limits of tolerable male comfort. Mine was strictly moderate, entirely average in its advertising of my natural masculine endowment. I possessed enough natural internal stuffing that adding much more in the way of excessive padding just made normal walking and sitting activating discomforting, let alone riding a horse! By the heat of summer, especially here and in the capitol, I was certain that the trend would be for a more natural display of a gentleman's cock and balls exhibited under just thin nearly transparent hose alone.

Collar ruffs were becoming increasingly fashionable (and oversized) too, but that was one trend that I was trying to resist!

For her own part, the Princess Imperial set her own trends for female fashion wearing bodices that displayed an alarming amount of her adequately sized breasts, up to and including revealing entirely her rouged nipples to full public display. That trend hadn't quite caught on with the nobility up here in the remote provinces, but necklines were plunging and skirt hems were rising. The Dowager Empress had never allowed even her ankles to be displayed in court, but already it was rumored that bare knees would be en vogue this summer and clergymen everywhere were already outraged! While the church wasn't technically anti-sex, it did possess a rather vigorous sense of its role in enforcing morality and the existing imperial sumptuary laws ... and with about an equal lack of overall success.

With my hose pulled down to my knees and my penis engulfed in the young woman's mouth, I began to remove my boots so that I could peel off the hose so that I could better enjoy myself. It had been awhile since I had partaken of this sort of delicious fun and I was able to ejaculate rather swiftly into her warm tight mouth. The thrill of keeping a victim in thrall to my will has always been extremely stimulating for me and I had little difficulty keeping my erection so that I could bend my young guest down face first across my desk and I lifted up her skirts so that I could now enter her.

She tight but no virgin and her vaginal entrance smoothly accommodated my complete entrance into the depths of her private sex as I abruptly took her. Technically this was rape of course, but the fantasy I had built into her mind would tell her that she had instigated this assignation of her own will and had given herself freely to me. Her body was finding my thrusts inside of her pleasurable and I could use this growing lust to bind her to me more fully, should I desire her for a long-term plaything. Or, should she prove to be either inconvenient or troublesome, I could just as easily alter or erase these memories entirely from her mind instead, instructing her to forget our encounter had ever occurred.

My victim, I still had not gotten her name (nor did I much care) only groaned with louder pleasure when I removed my rigid member from her moist dripping snatch to bury it now fully with forceful determination now inside of her slender ass. Her asshole was considerably stretched by this unexpected and significant intrusion but I quieted any thoughts of alarm or discomfort within in her mind.

"You love my cock inside of your ass and you want me to fuck it harder, and as deeply as possible!" I suggested as I grasped her left breast hard in one hand and pulled back her long hair sharply and I rammed myself forcefully into her and soon her moans became ones of pleasure.

"Yessss..." she hissed in ecstatic delight, even pushing herself harder onto my cock as it rammed harder and deeper into her backside until I soon exploded once more inside of her.

Taking a short rest in my own comfortable desk chair, I instructed my new pet to completely undress and then to kneel in front of me to give my cock and balls some proper and extensive worship with her mouth and tongue. The hard wooden floors of my office had been polished by several sets of knees since my arrival here, but her oral talents were notable, better than most and I observed with approval that her hair coloring quite matched the wood. Other than a slight aptitude for sucking cock, her erotic skills were not exceptional but she appeared to be rather trainable, and I certainly had the spare time at the moment. With proper indoctrination, she would make a superb slut-pet, always eager to fuck and be fucked with little or no free will remaining of her own. Perhaps she might also be trained to yearn for the whip, to desire pain as sexual pleasure?

So many delightful options ... but this was the exact sort of unrestrained extravagance that almost got me into trouble back in the capitol more than once. There were countless women that could be easily taken from the streets that few people would miss, but this was rarely true for the pretty young ones or ladies of good family. Besides, when any women can become my abject sex slave the attraction for me wanes after just a few weeks. After a month or more of serving my every sadistic whim, it is also difficult to put my victims mental pieces back together again, to restore her mind and will as they were before ... but without any inconvenient memories of her alleged abuse. There are other more permanent methods of removing an unwanted plaything that I'm bored with, but that sort of treatment is wasteful and I do hate waste.

Before I took this little creature home and discovered how well her pale milky skin took to a whip, it would be best to find out more about her. Who her family was and when or if she would be missed if she just 'disappeared'. I'd cum twice already and while I was good for at least one more bout of sport, I could now think reasonably clearly and logically with my urges now somewhat restrained. A man who cannot restrain his urges, no matter how pleasant they might be, is little more than an animal and will likely meet an animal's fate. I was still learning this lesson.

My decision to seize upon this young lady today had been rather overly impulsive, and perhaps unwise. I usually had more restraint. Undoubtedly it would be prudent to take a fuller measure of this woman, and discover her original reason for bothering me, before any irreversible tampering with her mind started to occur.

"Pet, I want you to stop sucking my delicious cock, just for now, and sit back on your heels and relax and close your eyes. I want you to listen to me and answer each of my questions carefully, and you will always tell me the truth and not the answer that you think will most please me. Do you understand?"

"Yes Sir." She calmly stated. I got up and stood behind her so that I could better caress her head. With a hand or better yet two upon her head I could sense her thoughts clearly and more easily discover any attempt at evasiveness or falsehood. Also now in this position I could better condition her mind to either place her in deeper permanent mental bondage or else more easily clear her recent memories if I needed to release her unspoiled.

She told me that her name was Danelle and that her parents ran a small but fashionable dress shop on Glitter Alley, near Silk Street just off of Royal Avenue. She had no current lover or firm matrimonial plans but she thought her parents were attempting to arrange a marriage with a local lad on Weaver's Row. She was only nineteen, but her hand-work was already good enough for master's certification from the Embroiderers Guild. She was popular in her neighborhood of fellow craftsmen, and already renowned enough to have several regular wealthy clients of her own.

Alas, she was clearly a woman of some means and public visibility whose absence would be quickly noted and with some alarm. Furthermore, she had been advised by one of her customers to visit me for my help and had solicited several other opinions from her family and other clients about the wisdom of such a visit to consult with me. If this toothsome creature vanished, or at least anytime soon, I would be certain to be questioned and that was an unacceptable risk to take just for dalliance. She would have made a good pet, but not an exceptional one worthy of such a risk taking. Alas, it appeared that our trifling together today would only be a singular occurrence.

I would need to gently remove most of my hold over her mind and somewhat modify her memories of this afternoon, but this could be easily done. My grasp upon her will was complete but yet still a light one and no permanent mental disability would be likely to occur. The effort would tire me, but not excessively so ... and it was necessary.

As for her job for me, her purpose of coming, this was to obtain justice for the death of her older sister whose naked body had been pulled out of the river late last fall. Even more popular than Danelle, Rochelle had been a flower of their community and she had successfully made a love-match with a local wealthy dairy farmer just to the southeast of the city, near the marshes. Suicide seemed highly unlikely but no murder could be proven either and even after some personal attention was paid to the case by the governor himself, the mysterious death was pretty much filed away unsolved and forgotten about. Except by Danelle. She had come to offer me her entire savings, which was a moderate amount of silver (by crafter standards anyway) to consult with me, but still a rather inadequate fee by my usual standards and I had little interest in taking any charity cases.

The last thing I wanted was for word to get out onto the street that I could be hired on the cheap, out of boredom, or worse ... sentiment! Saying 'no' and refusing most potential paying clients just increased my allure and the demand for my services by the elite (or at least those with heavy purses).

Anyway, I don't normally conduct hands-on investigations myself. There are informers aplenty down by the docks that will do that sort of work and for coppers. Her slight purse of coins was far less than sufficient to arouse in me even the slightest bit of curiosity in taking on this mundane assignment that ought to be best handled by the city vigiles.

I laughed heartily at the very thought of a d'Bounderby actually being lowered to muck about in the street to discover who might or might not have killed a mundane shop girl! This was not the sort of clientele (or fees) that I was attracting these days!

You might think it hard of me that having decided to ignore her pleas for justice, that I then kept her in thrall for another two full hours. I made her suck me hard once more while on her knees, and then I fucked her again in each of her other orifices, spewing forth my seed one final time into her womb. I had no idea if she was currently fertile or not, but that was a matter of no importance to me in any case. The idea that she might soon be carrying my brat was an arousing one that gave me great mirth as she sucked me again with fervor until I began to grow tired of our sport.

I then gently readjusted her memories of the afternoon to remove any and all memories or recollections of our sexual coupling, and with a comforting pat on her ass I sent her back alone into the growing gloom of early evening, and without me as her hired consultant.

No, I didn't have the least amount of regret at all for using and then abandoning her without helping her. My only real regret was that I couldn't have kept her as a fucktoy until I either got bored of sporting with her or she became with child. I had done this countless times previously and had never lost even a moment of sleep over the deed later. Women were just sluts - pets to be used and enjoyed for my amusement, but this time it was different...

This time, about ten minutes later I walked down the single flight of stairs to the street and said good night to the receptionist of our chambers and my thoughts were now entirely focused upon what sort of fine dinner I should obtain for myself this evening. I normally dined out on Friday evenings and my cook would have the day off in any case. I'd already forgotten entirely about Danelle until I stepped out onto the wooden walkway outside of my chambers and saw the crowd gathering in the middle of the street in front of my building. Someone had been struck by a carriage, a man standing next to me stated and I would have just kept walking, unconcerned, except that for a moment the crowd in the street parted for a moment to allow our local vigiles street watchman to examine the victim of the accident, and then at once I recognized Danelle's battered body, now being pronounced as dead.

This shock froze me in my tracks and I found that I could not look away, and I began to push my way through the crowd to get a better look and to hear what the witnesses were telling the vigiles watchman. It was indeed Danelle, there was no mistake about that. She had apparently been run over in the middle of the street by a carriage, a small black hack drawn by two all black horses. The two witnesses of the actual accident agreed that the driver had not only not slowed down to avoid striking her, but he had in fact been at a full gallop, giving the horses the whip for more speed even as he rode her down, according to a few witnesses who had seen the actual accident itself.

The client I had refused to help was now dead, just moments after leaving my office and I couldn't believe even for a moment that this was either coincidental or accidental.

Well-dressed in my yellow hose, sleeveless quilted silk jacket and doublet, complete with a fine black cape and silver tipped cane for my usual evening revels, I was obviously a person of either substance or importance and I had little difficulty extracting complete statements from each of the witnesses of the accident. Unfortunately, no one had really noticed anything before the woman's initial shriek, just as the two black horses trod over her and the right carriage wheel rode over her still screaming body, silencing her forever. The small black cab had not stopped or even slowed down in any way and continued at a gallop down Silver Avenue towards the river for at least one block and then turned east down Sword Street. From there onwards the cab slowed its pace to normal and became indistinguishable from the rest of the street traffic and undoubtedly merged with the usual busy evening traffic on either Royal or Gold Avenues, unnoticed.

I questioned everyone I could find along both Silver Avenue and Sword Street as well for several blocks but no one had any further memories of the cab or its determined driver, not that the descriptions of the killer were of much usefulness. Few observers had marked him at all before the killing, and those who saw him gallop away merely noted an unexceptional figure that was wrapped in a dark colored cloak and had a dark cloth cap over much of his face so that no features were notable. Luckily, one unusually observant witness (who's memory was somewhat assisted by my gift) was certain that she had seen the hack parked down by the corner prior to the incident, apparently waiting for someone. She had been inside another factorage chambers next door to mine when the accident had occurred but she had been near the doorway when she heard the scream and came outside quickly enough to see the cab gallop away and turn down at the corner and she felt certain that it was the exact same one that had been parked nearby earlier.

I risked scanning her mind deeper for just a few moments and her surface memories seemed to match her story with some accuracy. This also gave me now a slightly clear mental image of the hack, and of the hunched cloaked driver at the rear whipping his horses to their utmost as he made his escape, but unfortunately without any precise details that would aid in his identification or capture.

A determined canvas of the remaining original witnesses revealed few if any other additional details. Some thought him to be a small sized man, but others considered him to be of at least normal stature instead. No two witnesses could agree on any other facts about the accident and I started to become extremely frustrated.

Given time and the authority to do so, I'd have grabbed the lot of them and examined each of their minds in private, and in excruciatingly precise detail, excavating every nugget of their memory. Unfortunately, already I was attracting too much attention, enough so that the local vigile of the watch, an old imperial veteran by the name of Wergan had marked my unusual interest in the accident and was currently intently following my questioning of the street witnesses and taking notes. I'd also used my gift heavily to carefully readjust Danelle's mind, which had been an exhausting mental process, leaving me with quite a sharp headache in both mind and body.

By now the coroner's cart had arrived and Wergan assisted the pair of lads in collecting Danelle's body. Like all unusual or unnatural deaths, it would be taken to Ormscraig, the great fortress on top of the hill to the south of the city where the imperial Lord Coroner would undoubtedly briefly examine the body and declare an immediate verdict of accidental death.

I was certain that this was a murder ... but I was much less sure why I now suddenly cared!

Danelle had just been one of my pets, a slut of no importance that I'd temporarily amused myself with. She'd been a momentary dalliance rather than one of my usual occasional sex slaves so my emotional attachment ought to have been minimal. I'd possessed her, taken her will and then her body, to do with as I pleased with no care or concern whatsoever for her own feelings. They were unimportant. I had the gift, the power to compel her mind and I did so, with no regrets other than that I couldn't keep her for further nastier pleasures in the future!

Now ... I was feeling regret, and I couldn't understand why. I was learning with maturity to restrain (somewhat) my urges and impulses, but now I felt anger and worse... rancor at this unknown killer who had intentionally ridden down my pet in the street, as if she were nothing but a stray mongrel.

I couldn't say that I treated any of my prior pets with anything resembling kindness or even consideration, but I had never disposed of them once I was bored of playing with them as one would garbage! Those that I had altered beyond repair I found alternative uses for, usually in some private brothel or as a sex slave for a private master in another city or town. The thought that something that had been mine had now been so deliberately destroyed filled me with increasing bitterness and animosity.

No, I had not accepted Danelle's pleas to find the killer of her sister. Her words had been nothing but empty noise to me, but now she was murdered too, perhaps by the same man or his agents. This thought galled me. This murder could not have been a coincidence!

With nothing left to learn here, I walked with haste up the hill on Silver for two blocks until I reached a favorite local drinking house, The Silver Fox, and I took up a booth in the corner for much of the next two hours. I drank my fill of good wine with increasing need, but with little or no effect upon my still tormented and racing mind. The always fine quality vintages did not offer me their usual comfort, at least not at first.

There was no helping it. I was now involved, and without a client ... and worse still, without a fee! She had probably been followed to my office chamber by her killer, who had then waited for me. He had stalked her and then had run her down at the first opportunity.

Good wine, in moderation, can bring the imbiber some wisdom, and tonight it helped to bring me some slight clarity. My sense of panic slowly diminished and I could begin to focus my mind upon my thoughts, to sort them in the hopes of exacting some sort of exact meaning of the evening's disturbing events, but true enlightenment evaded me. There are certain herbs and potions I sometimes indulge in, suitable for calming the nerves, increasing alertness and/or improving ones mental perceptions, some of which could be easily obtained from the host from under the bar counter, but I needed to keep my wits both sharp and quick ... but operating at a slower and more deliberate pace. I kept my indulgence to just more good wine and allowed my mind to ponder with some gradual increasing clarity.

Danelle had clearly been asking questions about the murder of her sister and she had refused to let the matter die, or remain quiet about the matter. She had talked to the wrong people or the wrong person and then had compounded her error by invoking my name into the business. I'd only been here for less than a year, about nine months since the end of last summer, but in that time I'd had enjoyed several prominent successes and my name and reputation were not unknown. Anyone with connections either up the hill towards the keep where the nobility or the rich lived would have heard of my success as a consultant. Same for the meaner folks further down the hill near the river and the squalor of the warrens to the west. I knew of or had conducted business with every significant criminal or gang lord in town, albeit quietly.

The murderous hack driver couldn't know how much Danelle had told me. Logically, she could have told me everything that she knew ... which I hadn't had the foresight to have asked about. In her trance, she had indeed answered my questions, but I did not delve deeply into her own investigation into Rochelle's death, as it had not interested me at the time. Now, I regretted not emptying out her thoughts and memories of this as well. Undoubtedly she had a suspect or two, knowledge that was now lost forever to me.

I'd once met in Mirabelle a necromancer, a warlock of some power and ability to speak with and even control the dead. He was completely insane of course, a man too dangerous to even know let alone do business with, but once he had been useful to me when I was trying to locate a lost hidden treasure. He had made a dead man speak for me, telling me in substance where to go to find this lost item, but the experience chilled me to the very bone! The spirits of the dead when summoned must obey and speak truthfully, but their answers are evasive and while technically truthful, often very misleading.

I have no knowledge of what happened to that necromancer after the night that I had hired him. Undoubtedly living in some cave wearing garments of flayed human skin and surrounded by a heap of skulls and other bones of his victims. Warlocks all become utterly deranged at some point, lost forever on dark paths to power involving countless human sacrifices, ritual torture and murder, and the like until someone hunts them down like the rabid dogs they are. I hope that our paths never cross again!

The imperial policy towards the official governmental use of magic is limited at best. They might keep a few healers at the castle, maybe even a diviner or perhaps a war mage, but not even the Lord Coroner would keep a necromancer around. It would be a handy way of questioning dead witnesses, like Danelle, but if known publicly the citizens of most towns or cities would never stand for it. Not that I could wrangle myself into the castle to commune with her corpse in any case, not without an invitation or some obvious imperial related business.

I work exclusively for just three people - me, myself and I. I came here to Ormsford so that I could continue to make a fortune. Revenge, especially justice, wasn't cost efficient or wise ... but I was still filled with rancor for the killer and my internal fury was seriously clouding my judgment.

I ordered a third bottle of wine and drank most of it, but it still didn't give me any wisdom, but it did give me some clarity. I wanted to solve this murder ... and likely also the earlier murder of her sister. Not because I felt any guilt for her death, but because someone had taken something from me that had once been mine! Or at least this is what I was trying to convince myself of!

It was foolishness to get myself involved in this purely civic matter. The vigiles would certainly handle this and properly investigate her death. This didn't need to concern me, I kept reminding myself! I ordered more wine ... but true wisdom and peace of mind continued to elude me, so I settled for numbing my wits to a near stupor instead.

I couldn't say with any honesty that by the time I left the Silver Fox a few hours later that I had firmly decided to sleep on the whole matter and that by tomorrow morning that I might have forgotten all about the entire business entirely. That would be something of an exaggeration, but I was having a great deal of second and third thoughts about the wisdom of getting involved when a small dark cab driven hard by two coal black horses came up fast behind with its wheels on the narrow cobblestone walkway. I should have allowed the tapster to call a cab for me, something that I normally would have done in any case, but I had decided that I wanted to walk home, to clear my head a bit in the cool evening air.

Although I'd had a great deal to drink, much more than usual in fact, but my wits were still lucid and my senses sharp enough so when I heard the loud sound of hooves approaching fast from behind me I hurled myself without turning around to look first into the nearest doorway, and with just a bare second to spare. The dark carriage passed by close enough that its side lantern (which was unlit against city regulations) brushed roughly against my cape and tore it as it passed within inches of me. The cab disappeared quickly into the darkness and all I could see of the back of the driver was a dark cap and cape, with nothing else noticeable.

With it being the middle of the evening, Silver Avenue was largely devoid of witnesses. Being one of the largest commercial streets, Silver is usually packed busy all during the day and it is equally as quiet at night, except for a few of the better and more expensive eating and drinking houses, but with the lateness of the hour most of these establishments were closed. I saw no one else around to help identify any other features of the driver or his hack, but it was obvious to me that this was our same dark clad murderous friend from earlier this evening.

The killer was indeed afraid that I also now knew whatever secret Danelle might have discovered before her death. Clearly, I was now to be his next victim, preferably also resulting from a street accident. Cab and wagon accidents do occur in the street, and somewhat often, but plainly this was no coincidence. I'd been lucky this time. Another goblet of wine more would have dulled my senses and reflexes enough to have made his accident entirely quite believable, and probably entirely successful. If the killer was smart the next time, he'd probably give up on the carriage accident method and just shoot me down in the street with a pistol fired from some dark alley.

In my father's time, an assassination attempt with a matchlock pistol or even a blunderbuss musket would have been a chancy thing, full of risk and uncertainty. The newest wheellock models were still uncommon, each handcrafted and expensive requiring the services of an expert gunsmith to fabricate and maintain, but the weapon was easy to use, concealable and more importantly reasonably reliable ... and the expense was now within the means of a determined killer with means. I kept a matching pair myself, one in my desk at chambers and the other at home, but neither was on my personage now, unfortunately.

Like it or not, I was now involved. The killer had made it personal this time!

The internal mental anguish within me still felt like regret ... but I ignored it. I couldn't have prevented Danelle's death, even if I had accepted her commission, but perhaps it was worth the while to find some means of avenging her with my own variety of justice.

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