Of Poets and Angels, Chapter 1
Ethan was drunk when he stumbled across the dead man. Poets should be drunk, he firmly believed, and should not trip over dead men in the middle of the night.
He had been strolling along in the garden at the end of MouseStreet, bottle of gin in one hand, enjoying the simple pleasure of solitude. He hadn’t been watching where he was going; his feet knew the garden paths well, when he tripped. Over a body. He laughed at first, thinking it another drunken poet laying down to stare at the sky, trying perhaps, to spy a few stars through the haze and pollution above. Ethan tried offering the poor sot a drink, but the other poet didn’t move, he just lay there.
“Hey friend,” Ethan mumbled, gin slurring his words. “You’f ha’ too mush to drink.” He laughed again, and poked the man, who stubbornly refused to stop staring at the stars. Ethan’s hand felt wet. He pulled it back, curious at the sticky substance that coated his fingers. He held his had up to the feeble light of the garden’s only gas lamp, it was covered in something wet, sticky, and black. Not black, red. It was blood.
He screamed. Ethan was not a brave man, he had no illusions; he screamed and crawled away from the body. People came running, neighbors and friends
Eventually Ethan calmed, and once curiosity overcame the shock, he stood, still clutching his bottle of gin, and moved closer to get a better look. Quite a crowd had gathered by now; housewives and harlots, clerks and foundry workers, all come to gawk at the dead man laying half in, half out of the communal well.
Even though most houses in the city now had plumbing, most of Ethan’s neighbors preferred still to gather their water from the well. The water was sweet, cool and free of the slight sulfurous taint found in most piped water. The small garden also provided a social focus: a place to gather and chat. It was the pride of MouseStreet.
Ethan stared at the dead man who had so rudely tripped him. He was laying at a rather odd angle, arms and shoulders on the path, chest and stomach upright against the stone wall of the well, with his legs drooping down inside the well. “Wha’ was he doin’ in our well?” Ethan mumbled.
Morgan, a clerk Ethan only knew in passing, spoke up: “He’s right. That guy was climbing out of the well. Look at him.”
“What in a Shadowy Hell was he doing in the well?” Another familiar voice asked. Ethan peered into the darkness; the horned silhouette could only be the Cesar, the Hellkin shopkeeper who ran a basement shop in Ethan’s building. “There’s nothing but water down there”.
“Well, there’s obviously something down there, or he thought there was, else he wouldn’ta been down there,” someone else said. Ethan thought it was Wallace Gale, the owner and keeper of the Hog’sBreath Inn. Several of the shapes round him nodded at his wisdom.
Ethan spoke up again, a question nagging at his gin-addled brain, “Who ish he?”
Nobody moved for several heartbeats, and then Cesar and Wallace both stepped forward and knelt by the dead man. They pulled him clear of the well. He was well dressed in serviceable, well made black clothing, and his dead hand still clutched a wickedly sharp, narrow knife and. Wallace searched the dead man’s coat pockets, and Cesar examined the body: stomach, chest, and neck.
“Stabbed,” Cesar observed, finding a narrow puncture in the man’s neck. He held up the dead man’s knife. “By something just like this.” Cesar’s sharp profile looked back down at the pallid face. “I don’t think he stabbed himself, but he saw it coming, and whoever killed him carried a similar knife. Odd.”
“Very odd,” Wallace interjected and held up a leather wallet that displayed a red circle on heavy white vellum: an Orbis of blood. “Those knives are standard issue for Inquisition Secret Police.”