Episode 7: Perplexing Conundrums

The Multiverse Chronicles

Season One: Episode Seven

“Perplexing Conundrums”

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The Multiverse Chronicles: Trials of Blood and Steel - Dungeon Door

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Captain John Bess rolled his letter into a thin tube and shoved it into a small green canister. He screwed the canister shut, strapped it onto a pigeon, and checked that the harness was tight. Then he opened the cage and sent the pigeon on its way.

Your Majesty,

 

It is with a heavy heart that I inform you that your daughter, Princess Cassandra, has been murdered.

 

At this time, we are uncertain as to the identity of the perpetrator. However, we are working closely with Prussian security in this investigation, and they are fully cooperating with our efforts. Current evidence suggests that the rogue agent who killed our princess may have been a Prussian defector. We are unsure of the perpetrator’s motives, but I will keep you informed of any updates.

 

 Regrets,

Captain John Bess

of your Royal Guard

 

The terrible news lifted in a flurry of grey feathers, and John watched the bird until it disappeared into the dark sky. He lowered his eyes. A pink glimmer in the eastern horizon suggested daybreak would come soon.

Too soon.

He let out a slow breath and turned toward the Prussian palace. Garish electric lights blazed within the windows.

In the aftermath of the murder, the Prussian’s security force had tripled; soldiers had turned their weapons over to a psychic tracker for investigation before returning to duty, and dignitaries underwent telepathic checks from Prussian guards—newly-equipped with telepathy artifacts—and checks from a few of his better-trained Britannian guards, before being allowed to return home.

It was unfortunate that all this security was not in place before his princess was murdered, but more troubling was the fact that two of his Britannian guards had been nearby and were unable to stop the assassination.

He frowned and rubbed his chin, noting the late-night stubble that was forming underneath his sideburns. The queen is going to have my head if the fault proves to be ours. Her only daughter died on my watch. He could already imagine the ensuing headache once word arrived in Britannia. The Dragon Queen was too old to bear another child, and the princess was her only daughter.

She would have to declare a new heir.

A non-dragon-born heir.

That would inspire a nightmare of rivalry among the current nobility.

“Excuse me, Captain Bess?”

The captain looked away from the deep purple sky to see a dark-haired, clean-shaven Prussian guard—Lieutenant Gerard Kerner—jogging toward him. The lieutenant came to his side and looked up to meet him in the eye. His larynx bobbed hard as he swallowed. “We have an update.”

“Lieutenant.” Kerner was his liaison with the Prussians, and as such, deserved his undivided attention. “What have you learned?”

“Based on your men’s descriptions, we have identified the woman running from the Princess’s room last night as Alia Behringer.”

“The prince’s bodyguard?”

Kerner nodded. “Yes.”

“They were close,” John recalled aloud.

Too close, really. Behringer was far too chatty to be an effective bodyguard, and she had a distinct lack of respect for the captain’s guardsmen. Never seemed to respect the princess, either. If Behringer respected the Britannians at all, it was because she respected her prince. Still, a lack of respect did not equate to murder. Not usually.

Something about this case did not feel right. The blame was too convenient.

His frown deepened. “Have you asked Prince Alfons if Miss Behringer had any motives for killing Princess Cassandra?”

“Not yet.” Kerner took a deep breath. “At the moment, we can’t find him. It seems the prince’s disappearance coincides with the princess’s murder. As a result, some of the locals have seeded a nasty rumor that he and Behringer were in on this together.”

John inwardly cursed. Rumors spread faster than a dragon’s fire, and the queen’s temper was even faster to flare, especially when it came to her daughter. If the prince and his bodyguard truly had murdered the princess, then Prussia would soon be in flames.

“Let us hope that is not the case,” he stated quietly. “If it is, Queen Catherine will not take lightly to the news.” He paused. Revenge, jealousy… “Is it possible that Behringer murdered the princess and did the same your prince?”

Kerner scowled. “Possible, but unlikely. Like you said, they were close.”

“Close enough to inspire madness? The kind found in a man or woman scorned? You Prussians encourage class intermingling far beyond what is appropriate.”

Thick lines ran across the lieutenant’s forehead in a deep-seated “v.” “Our closeness inspires allegiance, not a desire to murder our superiors.” Kerner raised his chin. “In any case, I am surprised that the murderer’s description matched that of Alia… or any of our guards, for that matter.”

“Of course you would be surprised. Your general lack of telepaths is depressing.” John snorted and eyed the palace again.

He frowned. If what Kerner said was true, and Behringer was not behind this, then any number of rivals could have orchestrated the event. The queen had earned many enemies with that temper of hers. Perhaps one of those enemies had timed the assassination while the princess was in the most vulnerable of places—again he cursed the Prussians lack of foresight—and then placed the blame on Behringer, an already-distrusted scapegoat.

Or perhaps, given how disgruntled Behringer had been, they had paid her a deal too good to pass.

Either way, he needed to get to the bottom of the murder before any rivalries got further out of hand. “We should continue the investigation.”

“You should send word to your queen, first,” Lieutenant Kerner said cautiously. “I fear what would happen if this rumor reaches her before your report. Already we’ve had two incidents that nearly resulted in a brawl between your men and mine. They aren’t as calm as you.” He paused. “Why are you so calm? Given the reputation of your queen, I’m surprised that reputation doesn’t extend down the ranks.”

“In certain cases, it does. But having a level-headed commander is valuable.” John looked down his nose at the man. “As such, I have already sent my fastest pigeon with word that we have started an investigation. The Dragon Queen will understand that anything from any other source is rumor.”

“Good.” Kerner nodded. “Let’s get started.”

* * *

Your Highness—wake up!

Alfons tried to roll onto his side and instead landed on his stomach, flat against a hard, solid floor. He winced. He was not sure if it was the knot on the back of his head or the husky voice inside, but he had a splitting headache. Worse, he did not particularly remember why he had a splitting headache, though the current odors did nothing to help. His room was dark and dank, strong with the smell of musky sweat.

This was not his room.

His muscles tensed. Hard, chalky floor—not polished wood—the dungeon?

This was most certainly not a good sign. And he could not see—

His eyes were covered, and the rope around his wrists were a good indication that he was in trouble.

Come on, lad. Wake up!

That voice did not help.

Alfons worked himself into a sitting position and grimaced. Pins and needles tingled through his left arm and toes, and his fingers were numb from being bound so long.

How long had he been out?

Hold still, won’t ya?

He frowned. The voice in his head did not belong to his imagination. His imaginary voice was much smoother, and far less Scottish. This voice belonged to a telepath, unless he had hit his head harder than he did not remember.

And what was a Scottish telepath doing in a Prussian dungeon?

Was he even in Prussia?

“Who are you, and what do you want?” he demanded.

His voice echoed back to him from the hollow walls.

Quiet! the voice snapped. I’m a friend. Now—if you don’t mind—please lower your hands to the table beside ya so I can cut the ropes.

This is odd, the prince thought to himself. After a moment of fumbling, he found a splintery wooden table, winced upon getting a splinter lodged in the palm of his hand, and then rested his hands on the table’s surface.

He lowered his voice. “Do you mind removing the blindfold, too?”

Not yet. That’d be too noticeable. Stop fidgetin’.

Alfons frowned. How would removing the blindfold be more obvious than a Scotsman cutting him free? Perhaps the man could turn invisible or had an artifact to do the same.

The coarse rope niggled around his wrists.

Maybe the telepath was hiding in some unseen shadow, and he was using telekinesis to assist in the ropes which, after what felt like eternity, fell limp.

Follow my lead. Pretend yer hands are still tied.

“All right…” He kept his hands together, but— “How am I supposed to follow you while I am blind?”

“Hey!” Another voice shouted, gruff. “What are’ya—”

He froze stiff as the sound of something thudding against the hard ground reverberated through the dungeon.

Didn’t I tell ya to be quiet? Oiy. Ya don’t listen. Remove the blindfold and drag the guard into the near cell… I’ve unlocked the door.

Alfons removed the blindfold. A cramped, stone cell surrounded him, the entrance barred. Water dribbled along the side of the cave wall. Just outside the cell, an unconscious man in a brown pair of slacks and a rough, cotton shirt lay on the ground.

The prince’s mysterious helper was nowhere to be seen.

Second point to the man being an illusionist.

An invisible telepath.

Now move the guard into the cell, the voice reminded him firmly.

Alfons shook his head. He was not particularly fond of following a random telepath’s orders. But, without any better ideas, he complied. He dragged the unconscious man into the cell.

Oh… Your Highness? You need to change yer clothes. These aren’t the best disguise, given you don’t look like a pirate, but at least ya won’t be stickin’ out like a sore thumb. The telepath’s accent came stronger than before, with a few dropped consonants rattling around Alfons’ brain.

He glanced down at his royal blue sleepwear and compared it to the outfit of the guard. The rough cotton did not look comfortable, but the telepath had a valid point.

A few minutes later, Alfons had changed clothes and silently prayed to his ancestors that there were no lice in these things, then stepped out from his cell.

“All right, now what?” he asked. “Where are you?”

Don’t you worry, lad. I’m around. Head down this hall and take a right.

Stone walls, wood tables, and a mice-eaten sack for a bed greeted him around the corner, but he found no sign of his mystery telepath. Alfons sighed and followed the sloped hall to an iron door.

Go through this door, then left.

Alfons glanced over his shoulder, but there was no way to trace a telepath’s voice to their location. Not by sight.

Don’t worry about me, Your Highness. You need to get yerself out.

Alfons pushed the door open to reveal yet another hallway, and not another soul.

The door to yer right…

The indicated door was made of iron, with a white roman numeral “ten” painted across the bars. Upon further inspection, Alfons noticed the curves at the end of one of the strokes. The “X” was not a roman numeral, but a Greek chi, the symbol used by a particular syndicate of pirates.

That explains who took me, he thought to himself. He cautiously pushed the door open.

“Hey! What are you doing in here?” a man shouted from the other side.

Bloody flames of the dragon! the telepath yipped. He wasn’t here earlier. Err… Act natural!

Alfons swallowed hard. Act natural. Right. Should not be difficult for the prince of Prussia to act natural. “Uh… it is just… me. I am checking out… what is in here?”

“Who is me?” A large, bald man swung the door open, blasting Alfons with the terrible odor of someone who had not showered over the course of a week.

“Uh… I am Gabe.”

Dragon’s breath, ya suck at this.

Alfons could swear he felt the telepath shaking his head in dismay.

Try sayin’, “I am here to see the woman.”

“I am here… to see the woman. Yes.” Alfons forced a smile.

“Sorry, ‘Gabe,’ but I don’t think you belong here.” The man removed a thick lead pipe from his belt.

Alfons stepped back. Sweat beaded along his forehead. While he was a skilled swordsman, unarmed combat was not his forté. And this man was…tall and well-muscled.

Definitely well-muscled.

“You know what?” Alfons stammered. “I think you are right. I think I will be going now…”

“Hey, Ruski!” a female voice hollered from the cells behind them.

The large man turned around, his shoulders hunched. “What did you just call me?”

“Your dialect is terrible, you know that? I’ve heard peasants with better accents than yours,” she taunted, mimicking his Russian accent.

I’ll agree with the lass, the telepath noted as the pirate strolled toward her cell, his knuckles white from the grip on the lead pipe. Now if ya would—

“Hey, Ruski!” Alfons yelled. The large man started to turn, and Alfons took the opportunity to knee him in the groin. The man dropped the pipe, which the prince quickly retrieved. He swung the metal hard. With a blow to the back of the head, he knocked the pirate unconscious.

At least, he hoped he had only knocked the pirate unconscious.

Sort of.

The man was holding him prisoner, after all, so he was not as inclined to mind if he had caused permanent damage to the pirate’s brain.

Alfons took the keys from the man’s belt. Then he followed the source of the woman’s voice. He peered inside the barred cell window, then let out a sigh of relief. He inserted the key into the rusty lock. “Alia. Nice to see a friendly face.”

Now’s not the time to be chattin’, lad. We need to be leaving.

“Agreed,” Alia said.

Alfons swung the door open. It creaked on its hinges. “You hear the voice, too?”

“Yep. All morning. Gave me this to change into, too.” She gestured to her own pirate’s garb of a ragged cotton shirt and trousers. “Said something about an escape attempt, so I went along with it.”

What did I say about not having time for chattin’ ?

“He’s a bossy wee lad, ain’t he?” she added in his accent.

Now come, that’s not nice of ya.

Alia slipped out from her cell, and then she and Alfons searched their way through a maze of stone walls. After sneaking past two more guards, getting lost once, and finally knocking the third guard out cold, they found their way out of the stone building. There was a small cluster of trees just ahead, then a forest. Alia checked the immediate vicinity, and once they received the all-clear from their telepath, they raced for the trees.

Once there, the voice chimed in. Hold on there, now. I need to catch ya up-to-date. There’s been a few complications at yer palace—

“Show yourself, first,” Alfons demanded. “I am not fond of disembodied voices. Though, you have been helpful.”

A cinnamon colored rat waddled out from under the bushes and flicked its tail.

Alfons blinked. How had Cassandra’s pet made it all the way out here?

Allow me to introduce myself. Name’s Henry. I’m that ‘pesky’ rat from the garden. He pointed his tiny nose in Alia’s direction and squeaked. I’ll thank ya for not shooting me.

“You’re a shapechanger?” Heat crept to Alia’s cheeks.

Aiy. Now I’m not sure how best to put this, so I’ll be blunt. Prince Alfons—your fiancé is dead, and Miss Behringer over here has been framed for her murder.

The color drained from Alia’s cheeks, and she stared at the prince. “Alfons…I’m so sorry.”

Alfons clenched his teeth. This was not possible. Cassandra could not be dead. Even if she were… “How can we trust you?” he snapped at Henry. “You’re a rat… Literally!”

Alia crossed her arms. “Alfons has a point. The last thing I remember before waking up in prison was our argument. You’re a telepath. Care to explain how I lost my memory?”

“And mine…” Alfons realized aloud. He had been in his bedroom, preparing to have a wonderful sleep. Then he woke up here.

He scowled. Telepaths were known for manipulating memories.

The rat mentally cleared his throat. A distant clank and whirr filled their ears, and they both turned to face the woods behind them. Though I agree that this isn’t a particularly favorable outlook for myself, if I may, this might not be a good time to be havin’ this particular conversation. Perhaps later?

Approaching, step by step, were a number of glowing gold eyes.

* * *

Miles into flight, Hermes reached the border of the northern Prussian forest. The pigeon flapped tirelessly, trained for such flights, though he planned to take a food-break once he reached the other side.

A pair of glowing gold eyes spotted the pigeon from the ground, waited until the bird was within range, then lifted its rifle, sighted the target, and fired.

The shot echoed across the trees. But due to a slight miscalculation in wind speed, the bullet only clipped Hermes’ wing. The pigeon faltered, but he had been trained as an elite war bird, so he compensated for his broken wing, angling his beak and tail feathers in an attempt to direct his plummet away from the assailant. The wind coasted under his good wing, and he dove into the thicker part of the nearby woods.

The marksman waited as the bird disappeared into the trees. Despite being ordered to retrieve the pigeon, the marksman turned around on its spiny metal legs and began its trek back to camp. The bird had fallen into the Deep.

The Deep—even in the marksman’s artificial memory—resonated with its core and sent a tingle of fear through its metallic body. Time in those woods did not run per its computations. The Deep felt—according to the small jade stone that housed the marksman’s artificial spirit—wrong on all accounts.

Furthermore, despite being a minuscule section of the woods, few who entered the Deep ever came out.

* * *

The adventure continues in the next episode, when Trish ventures through her first day in the Britannian camp, where she makes both friends and rivals…

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