2.6: Underworld

“What do you see?” Warden Crata asks.

     Stark takes his place before his desk. There rests an assortment of crime scene photos with matching autopsy reports. Each report is open to the page detailing the wounds on display in the photographs. A few of the reports have watermarks of the acronym THV. As for the victims in each of the photos, Stark immediately finds the connection. Their bodies sport a litany of puncture wounds. She almost stops there when she notices all of the ME reports were signed by the same person: Reichs.

     “Wait? Reichs? As in Reichs Forensics University? The founder of damn near every current forensic technique? How’d you get your hands on these reports?” Stark asks incredulously.

     “Called in half my favors, and even then, I was nearly stonewalled.”

     “So, setting up a meeting between her and I is out of the question, huh?”

     The warden gives her a dry smirk, then nods to the photos. “What do you see?”

     “All of them have very similar wounds to the ones Nuria suffered. You used that detail to try and discover the assassin’s identity.”

     “And I succeeded.” Warden Crata moves around his desk and pulls another dossier from a drawer.

     Stark takes the dossier from him and the first thing she sees is an image of a woman with pale skin, straight dark hair, and eyes red as rubies. The name beneath the ID is Kari. The next few pages document her criminal history. Starting back ten years, Kari was slowly becoming a better and better assassin. Her first kill was the man who escaped justice for allegedly hitting her brother in the street and leaving him to die.

     All that is known about her is that her Sudita activated when she was caught on tape killing that man. Speculation from every murder with her as a suspect corroborates that she is Vanusi, but all speculate on different species of bats. A still image from her first murder shows her arms drenched in blood, a pair of leathery wings sprouting from her back. None of that is as bad as the next detail Stark finds.

Known Associates: Underworld

     “Oh, hell!” Stark says, aghast.

     “If someone went to the trouble of hiring them, then there is no longer any doubt they will hire another. And perhaps someone better and more experienced than Ms. Kari.”

     “Think you can find out any other member info? When they hit us again, I’ll have to be ready.”

     “I would if it were possible. Nobody knows who the Underworld members are; just that they never break a contract and have no scruples about killing. And without making the attack on Nuria public, we’ll have to rely on the resources we currently possess. I have to say, I’m not a fan of those odds, Stark.”

     “If we reveal news of the attack now, we’ll be seen as negligent. Losing face in our professional circles will be the lightest consequence. The school won’t be closed, but no parent will trust us again.”

     Warden Crata sits in his chair and leans forward, pressing his chin against his hands. “Perhaps not.”

     “How do you mean?”

     “THV- the Three Holy Vanusi, have a huge stake in this as well. Half of Kari’s latest victims were officials of the THV campaign. And we may know who her target at FHA was, after all.” The warden gives Stark a gravely pointed stare.

     “I considered her, but it doesn’t really make much sense. Nuria said the woman was after “Bigene scum” specifically. Tyra’s only Vanusi,” Stark says.

     “True, but have you considered that perhaps Kari was sent there by two different employers?”

     “I understand why The Pure would be one, but who would be the second?”

     “The man who came and took her hand. The very one who put Nuria on the self-destructive path that put her in Kari’s path. I have been attempting to find his identity also, but he covers his tracks annoyingly well. All I could find with what we know of him is that he may be involved with the disappearance of another THV official.”

     Warden Crata pulls out another folder from his drawer and hands it to Stark.

     “I think you like handing me files a little too much,” she says as she cracks it open. “Okay, the man was an officer who handled funding for archaeological research. His apartment was searched the day after he was declared missing by his assistant. His body has yet to be found, but an exorbitant amount of blood was left behind. His death is certain given the amount found.” Stark shuts the report. “How does that relate to our mystery man?”

     “Because of what I was told. Something that wasn’t in the news, and it must stay that way.”

     “I’m all ears, sir.”

     The warden nods. “That crime scene is eerily similar to others, all relating to either officials of THV, or political rivals. And now again, with Kari. Perhaps this guy has never contracted a killer, and when she was caught, he had to ensure nothing could be traced back to him.”

     “Okay, but then why risk coming to the school to help Nuria?”

     “Help her? Those books nearly broke her spirit, you said, right?” Crata asks.

     “True, but FHA has no books with subject matter on phoenixes.”

     “None?” The warden asks.

     “Not on phoenix biology.”

     “So, what? He gave them to her to aid her to learn how to transform?”

     “How do you think he got his hands on those databooks? I posit that he tortured the archaeology financier for the location of the databooks. I mean, who else in the Vanusi government would know where such historic texts were being held.”

     “He killed a man for databooks?”

     “For now, that makes the most sense to me. Kari nearly killed Nuria. Perhaps him taking the hand and making it disappear is a way of letting Underworld know he’s onto their game. I believe he and Underworld are the rivals, and THV is caught in the middle somehow.”

     “Which means Tyra and Nuria being together amplifies the danger that they’ll be in. You need to consider sending them home.”

     “I think all these reports you’ve handed me proves they’re never entirely safe.”

     Warden Crata sighs and looks weary, down to his soul. “I’d prefer not to see two young ladies in such great danger again.”

Stark straightens and folds her arms, giving the warden his same gravely pointed stare. “We’ve learned the hard way what comes when we let our guards down. Nuria and Tyra will eventually lower theirs, but it’s like you said; she’ll have someone in a position of power who has her back.”

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