Warrior Prophets Chapter 20
The Claw’s Sting
A massive arm fiddled with the delicate metal mechanism. The only light in the dank room was from the blazing fireplace. Shadows danced on the white-skinned form at the workbench. Long greasy hair crowned a balding head that had not seen the sun in many moons. The muscular figure moved his left hand expertly around the metallic apparatus. He pulled and pushed and hammered and twisted the contraption, finally grunting in satisfaction. The mechanism was a long wrought-iron device attached to the owner’s right shoulder. The man stood up and swung the dark, sleek, metallic device with what looked like a claw at the end. The device was situated where an elbow, arm and hand should have been. The claw was composed of two curved blades facing an opposing single one.
“P-p-prince A-a-akavish,” a servant stammered as he opened a heavy wooden door, allowing sunlight into the room.
“Damn it, Trigor. Shut that door.” Akavish muttered angrily. “How many times have I told you that I hate the Ashkelon sun?”
“Y-y-yes, Master.” Trigor bowed his head.
“Bring it to me,” Akavish commanded, pointing his claw at the tray Trigor held in trembling hands.
Trigor walked obediently to Akavish.
Akavish grabbed Trigor’s arm with his metallic claw and with his healthy left hand grabbed the vial from Trigor’s tray.
“What did the apothecary say? Tell me his exact words!” Akavish ordered.
“H-h-he said: T-t-tell that P-p-prince Claw of yours to use this sparingly. It is highly c-c-concentrated. One drop is enough to k-k-kill a man.”
Akavish smiled at the last phrase. He poured the entire vial into a thin metal tube that rested within his metallic arm and closed the tube tightly. The bottom end of the tube narrowed to a needle thin point.
“Now, for our first trial,” Akavish said looking at Trigor.
Trigor’s mouth opened wide in horror. He tried to back away from Akavish, but the claw held him firmly. Trigor’s arm bled as he struggled against the sharp pincers of Akavish’s claw.
“N-n-no, Master,” Trigor whimpered. “I have served you l-l-loyally.”
“I tire of you and your stammering.” Akavish twisted his right shoulder suddenly. The thin tube within his claw slid down quickly with a hissing sound. It stopped a hairsbreadth from Trigor’s arm. Trigor almost fainted from fright.
“Damn it!” Akavish cursed. “The extension is too short. Wait a second.”
Akavish hammered and tweaked and pulled on his claw some more, as Trigor writhed in panic.
Akavish slid the tube up his claw until he heard a ‘click’ sound. He twisted his right shoulder again. The tube slid down and this time penetrated Trigor’s arm. Trigor stiffened suddenly and fell to the cold stone floor, lifeless.
“Excellent.” Akavish released his claw’s grip on the dead servant. “Now, for some field trials.”
“People are dying in frightening numbers, like mullet in the fisherman’s net.” King Larus paced the floor of his palace chambers. “You’re sure it’s not a plague, Krafus?”
“I am certain, my liege,” old Krafus advised. “It is poison. But how it’s being administered, I cannot imagine, nor for what purpose. I cannot determine the pattern of deaths, except that they were misfortunate enough to wander the streets of our dear Ashkelon alone at night.”
“We must stop it!” Larus pounded the stone wall of the chamber. Big Larus was still large. Over the years he had lost some of his height, but more than made up for it around his belly. “It is bad for commerce. The tavern owner has lost more than a third of his business, let alone the brothel and the temple. The priests will have my head if I don’t make the streets safe for their evening rituals.”
“I’m at a loss. The killer has eluded our patrols and even my own night prowling. We will need additional help, if we are to find this killer.”
“You can’t mean Akavish?” Larus looked distastefully at Krafus.
“Even one-armed, my former pupil, your son, Prince Akavish, is a formidable huntsman. It may be good for him to be given a mission and to get some air.”
“You ask him then. I still find the sight of him repulsive, and that claw is even more disturbing.”
“I will talk to him.”
“That is horrific,” Akavish said to Krafus with great empathy. “Someone is indiscriminately poisoning people at night? How do you know they are random? Perhaps it is a new smuggling cartel? Or secret Egyptian agents, killing off Phoenician sympathizers? You know how the Egyptians have been resorting to all sorts of nasty tricks to regain some of their old glory.”
“I’m familiar with all the underground and criminal efforts in Ashkelon,” Krafus said, “and I tell you, it is not related to any of them. For Baal’s sake, someone poisoned the old cook, Berisol. She was the most innocent, most beloved person I can think of.”
“Maybe someone didn’t appreciate her cooking,” Akavish chuckled darkly.
“Never mind the reason, Akavish. I’ve given up on determining that. We need to rely on brute force and surveillance and catch this killer, or Ashkelon will turn into a poor, empty husk, with no business, and no people for your father to rule.”
“And what rule is that? He sits on his throne and gets fat, living off old glories. He just looks inwards, never thinking of new glories, new conquests.”
“And he is wise, young Akavish. He is wise to focus his energies on the prosperity of the city. He is wise to increase trade, to balance the needs of the priests and the merchants and the residents. He is wise to develop loyalty of the citizens to the throne and not rely on fear. Ashkelon is stronger now than it ever was with the Canaanites. Even your mighty Israelites have not dared attack us all these years. It must trouble Joshua greatly that we are part of a strong, robust federation that will not fall so easily. No, Akavish, King Larus is wise to strengthen us from the inside and not seek ill-advised exploits against the Israelites you so hate. Baal be praised! The god of Canaan has been better to us than Zeus ever was. But your father’s rule is not the issue. This killer is.”
“Leave it to me.” Akavish stood up. “You came to the right person. I will track the killer and stop him and deliver the miscreant personally to my father, no matter what I think of Larus’ lily-livered reign.”
“Just be better-spoken in front of your father. It is to your advantage.” Krafus stood and departed the dank, dark room. He did not see Akavish grin broadly.
“I have him,” Akavish called out from outside the King’s chamber. “I have the killer.”
“What? Why do you disturb me at this demonic hour?” Larus responded from his bed. “Could this not have waited until morning? Why do you need to bring him to my chamber?”
Larus opened the door to his room.
Akavish walked in with a white-robed body on his shoulder. He dumped the corpse unceremoniously onto the floor of Larus’ chamber.
“Here he is, father. As ordered.”
“I asked Krafus to handle this. Why do I need to see a corpse?”
“Queasy in your old age? I thought you would want to know about the serial murderer in your precious city. Krafus seemed to think the future of Ashkelon rested in this murderer’s hands.”
“Yes, yes. Of course. We didn’t understand why or even how he was killing such a variety of people. How do you know he is the one?”
“I saw him in the act of murder. I was too late to save his last victim, but he confessed to all the other deaths and even how he did them.”
“How did you get him to reveal?”
“I can be persuasive.”
“Why did he kill all those people? How?”
“It was quite simple. He was mad. He is Egyptian, as you can tell from the robes. He had a falling out with his slaver partner, also Egyptian, who became his first victim. After that, he seemed to like the power of taking life – those Egyptians seem so obsessed with death – so every night he prowled, seeking lone victims. Their deaths made him feel alive. He justified each death as necessary, even good, to feed his hunger.”
“H-how do you know so much?” Larus took a step back.
“Scared, father? This is the knife he used. If you look carefully, you’ll see it’s coated with a strong poison. All he needed to do was slice his victim’s arms lightly and they would die instantly from the poison.” Akavish sliced the air between him and his father.
“Careful with that.” Larus took another step back.
“Why? Are you afraid something might happen?” Akavish approached with his shiny menacing claw on the right and the poisoned blade on the left.
“I am not afraid of you, Akavish.” Larus stood to his full height, meeting Akavish’s dark eyes.
“Good. There should never be fear between fathers and sons.”
“Of course, but please put the knife away and get rid of the corpse. Thank you for tracking him. You have done me and Ashkelon a great service and I shall not forget it.”
“You found him?” Krafus burst into the room.
“Yes,” Akavish turned to Krafus.
“Who was he? Why did he do it? How?”
“He was an insane Egyptian slaver,” Larus answered. “Akavish has done us a great service.”
“I’ve examined the bodies again,” Krafus said, “and I noticed a pattern on each of them. Did you find out how he killed his victims?”
“Yes.” Akavish offered the blade, handle first, to Krafus. “He sliced them lightly with this poisoned blade.”
“Curious.” Krafus held the blade with one hand and his chin with the other. “That does explain things, though each mark was identical.”
“How so?” Larus inquired.
“Each body had two slashes on the front of their forearm and one on the back of the arm, and a small circular wound between them – almost imperceptible. I only noticed it because old Berisol bruised so easily. Once I saw it on her corpse, I checked the others.”
“What does it mean?” Larus asked.
“It means this madman developed a very unusual and precise killing ritual. I’m just amazed at his consistent accuracy. How did you kill him, Akavish?”
“With his own knife,” Akavish responded.
Krafus looked at the arm of the dead Egyptian murderer. The hackles on Krafus’ neck shot up. The Egyptian’s arm was adorned with a barely visible, but perfectly symmetrical pair of slashes on the front of his arm, followed by a single slash on the back of the arm, and a tiny wound in-between the slash marks.
Krafus looked at Akavish’s claw and noticed the two front blades, the one opposing blade and the thin metallic tube inside his artificial arm. He shuddered involuntarily and for the first time in his long and dangerous life, felt fear.
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