“Get off him … Now!”
I hauled her off the body; and almost threw her to one side. It was hardly an easy task, as she weighs more than I do, but at least she didn’t turn her teeth and claws on me. I’m surprised I got away with it.
She had left a bit of a mess. Launching herself from several feet away, in the bushes, her landing had crushed his ribcage, and ‘natural weaponry’ had pierced lungs, heart, and opened up the entire upper chest. He was dead: and I doubt he even had time to feel pain. I was glad to still be alive myself, however it would have helped if Astrillen hadn’t taken the attitude, “shred first …” and we won’t bother about the “… ask questions later” bit.
I spared a glance for the cat. She had, of course, easily landed on her feet, and was now sitting, fastidiously licking paws and muzzle clean. In all honesty, I hadn’t realised that she had been following me … until the attempted attack.
“Sorry about that, old girl. Thanks for getting rid of the problem … before he managed to become one.”
The totally unconcerned look that I got in reply was one I well knew. I suppose it’s the feline equivalent of, “Okay: friendship comes first, just don’t try that again”.
There were things I needed to do, and fairly quickly. The mind of the deceased might still contain some answers, if I could delve into it soon enough. I had plenty of questions whirling through my own head: starting with the obvious ones. Who would want to see me dead, and why? How did he get so close without me sensing him? Were there any of his ‘friends’ waiting further along the trail?
All of those would remain a mystery, unless I could rapidly scan my assailant’s memories. It was breaking a few rules: as if I didn’t do that a half dozen times every day … most days: nevertheless I ‘could’ access certain images directly from the brain … even a no-longer functioning one.
First things first though: I set an enhancement spell on my own senses. Sight was not a high priority in this dense scrubland, and amid such a gently undulating landscape. There were far too many nearby places where it would be easy for someone to hide from view. I cast far with my hearing, and smell. Good: apart from the two of us, and the body, there was nothing larger than birds and small mammals within range.
I knelt beside the grisly ruin of flesh: taking in the visual clues that remained. Hmmm … someone went to a lot of trouble to make himself ‘ordinary’ and unnoticed. The clothing is typical of a travelling tradesman or craftsperson: without being stained or marked in any way that might indicate a particular trade or craft. A quick search through the less-icky pockets … ok: I’m not the squeamish sort, and I did search all of them … turns up no paper-work, nothing to identify the man, no purse, no pipe, no knife: nothing. I’ll check his shoulder bag, which I can see over by the bushes, later. I have a feeling there will be nothing helpful there either. Interesting: apart from the slightly acrid smell of fresh blood, there’s a hint of male sweat, but he appears to be far too clean. No dirt under the finger-nails … hands are strong and capable, but certainly not knarled like those of any common labourer. The shoes are definitely ‘wrong’. They appear well-worn, however they are made of soft, supple, expensive Monceran leather … too comfortable footwear, designed to look perfectly natural and nondescript, and enabling any reasonably light-footed person to walk almost without sound. Could he have been a professional assassin? I don’t think so. No: an arrow, or throwing knife I wouldn’t have even felt until it was too late. There was absolutely no reason for him to have been seen at all. No reason to step out in front of me, sword raised to strike down … and that’s ‘wrong’ as well. I can see where he dropped it: a common or garden short sword, usually carried for personal protection, but … well: the tip isn’t quite the right shape for a weapon intended more for stabbing than sweeping strokes, and it looks like far too fine metal. I’d almost put money on the cutting edge being considerably sharper than you might possibly expect.
… and the result of my quick inspection? … a couple of interesting points that don’t fit, but nothing whatsoever of help. Let’s see what I can find left in his head.