The ride back into the city was as smooth as the ride to the mansion. After all, cars in this world hovered, and there was no contact between tire and pavement. Interestingly enough, they still made the ground out of concrete and asphalt. I never heard a particular reason that things ended up this way. I also didn’t know why cars hovered at all. Engineering in this world had gone a completely different direction than it had in my own world.
With the use of magic, things that were impossible became possible, and things that were common in my old world had become nonexistent. Buildings rarely went over two or three stories. Whether the technology for skyscrapers existed, no one in this world spent time trying to build them. Meanwhile, Amaryllis’s biggest engineering achievement were the floating islands. These massive land masses floated in the skies, tethered to the ground by trolley lines and elevators.
It was like a giant had simply ripped a mountain out of the ground, tossed it in the air, and left it there. They were absolutely breathtaking, and if you were unused to being under the shadow of one, it could be nerve-wracking too. We had just driven under one of the closest islands. This wasn’t the one where my old University was built. In fact, I had no clue what each of the islands held. One seated the main government buildings, another was the location of various embassies from other countries, but that was as far as my experience went.
To the observant eye, it was clear the type of locations that ended up on these islands. They were the women who were being propped up over everyone else. The government didn’t just rule on high as a concept, but also literally. The classism in Amaryllis was out of control. I wondered if other countries had it so bad. The only other one I had experience with was Matahari, and there was definitely classism there. I had thoughts about how everyone being in their respective plan was a product of women, but my old world had its fair share of classism as well.
As the island overhead blocked out our vision of the sky, the temperature dropped a few degrees. On top of that, the quality of the buildings also dropped. Typically, if someone could choose where to live, they wouldn’t live in a place where they could only feel the sun during certain times of day. That meant that the poorer neighborhoods tended to congregate where the sky was blocked the most.
As I understood it, the Male District, well, I might as well call it the Male Ghetto, where all the men who were deemed beyond rehabilitation were housed, was similarly placed under an island. It was as if the women wanted to state that these men were literally under them. They wanted the shadow of female ingenuity to be cast over these men for the remainder of their lives. Perhaps that line of thought was a bit too extreme. Maybe I was being melodramatic. It still felt that way to me.
Those men weren’t kept in ghetto conditions. From what I understood, women spared no expense providing their men with a comfortable and elegant piece of land that maintained the wealthy appearance from which they were accustomed. It was enough that the men didn’t revolt, and some could even have been called happy remaining in the district for the remainder of their lives, playing with women fed to them and jacking off into a cup weekly for their payment. It was more like an early retirement.
It was a beautiful prison, but in the end, it was still a prison. I hoped that they realized that. Yet, I had no sway over them. They were products of a different era. It was for people like my former teacher, Takasha, and Oswald, that friend of my fathers. I actually didn’t know if either of them were in the Male District or if they had fled the country. I knew very little about much these days. Two years had been far too long. Then again, other than a year at Academy, my life had never been in a state where I was able to gain a good grasp of this world. Perhaps that was part of the reason I always struggled so hard.
Cornelia’s mouth tightened as she saw the quality of the neighborhood drop with each block farther under the island. I had gotten her to agree to this by promising more women, but it was clear she was starting to regret it. I just prayed that we got there before she changed her mind. That turned out to be an impossibility, as a few moments later we were stopped by a barricade. There were a dozen police cars parked, resting on their extended car legs used for when the vehicles weren’t being powered. The lights were flashing on the top of the cars, and there was an orange tape that seemed to denote a crime scene.
Our car came to a stop. There was a policewoman there, but she seemed to be talking with someone over her walkie talkie, and struggling to get a signal under the oppressive island.
“The intersection is a block up, but it looks like it’s been sealed off by the police.” The driver in charge said.
Cornelia shot me a look, but without waiting for my opinion, she leaned forward. “It’s fine, turn around. It looks like this isn’t in the cards for today.”
I wasn’t paying attention to her. My eyes were instead on the corner where I was asked to be. This police setup didn’t spring up in the ten minutes it took us to drive here. It looked like it had already been here for a bit. That meant that whoever had called me, this was exactly what they wanted me to see. Wasn’t in the cards? I dealt the cards. I opened the door and took a step out.
“Clyburn!” Cornelia hissed as I shut the door behind me.
While straightening my collar, I walked right passed the front of the car. A moment later I heard a click as Cornelia tried to follow me. By that point I was already stepping past the police line. I had timed it so the police officer was looking the other direction.
“Stop!” I heard a hush whisper from behind.
I ignored it and kept walking forward, determined to reach the intersection. I had gotten a phone call that wanted me to be here. The least I could do is get there. There was a crowd of police ahead, and they were huddled around an alley just next to the alley in question. As soon as I approached, I could smell a whiff of iron. It was a smell I had unfortunately become all too familiar with. It was the smell of blood.
I glanced around the intersection, and my eyes landed on something on the wall. My body went cold as I looked at the words written across the wall. It wasn’t simply what the words said, but how they were written. The text was smeared onto the wall, the text written not just in blood, but in gore. Chunks were still stuck to the brick, falling off as weight overcame their natural stickiness. Worse of all, the words were addressed to me.
Welcome Home, Other Worlder
Other worlder, or someone who came from another world. As far as I was aware, I was the only person who had ever come from another world. I didn’t believe it to be so coincidental that a message appeared in Amaryllis the day I returned to the city, in blood, addressing someone from another world, where I received an inconspicuous call to be there, and have it had nothing to do with me.
Furthermore, it was a message that only I would understand. Only my girls knew I came from another world, and I couldn’t believe one of them would have told anyone else. This meant that the person who did this had to be someone I knew! Of course, believing that, there were two faces that came to mind. The first was the face of Ashley, my old roommate and mother to a demonic child. The second was Rebecca, another demon who hated all men.
Lilith had said that the two Demon’s were in hiding and lying low. It looked like that was no longer the case. My eyes continued to explore the grotesque scene in front of me. Another man might have suddenly vomited or passed out. However, this wasn’t the first time I had seen this kind of thing. It looked like a serial killer had been here, and they had wanted to be seen. When my eyes fell to the base of the wall, I realized the wall was just the start. The ground was the worst site of all.
There was a pile of limbs and body parts. It was unclear whether it was a single dismembered body, or multiple bodies. I didn’t know of a single body that could create that much gore. There was a red stained sheet over it, trying to hide it from public eye, but it didn’t do a good job. There was a stick in the ground, and it went up to something covered by a cloth. It was clearly someone’s severed head on a spike. I started having an uneasy feeling as I considered who might be under that cloth.
“This… looks familiar…” The voice came from my right just as I was considering reaching out and grabbing it.
I glanced over to see Cornelia standing there. Her face was a little white, but she seemed to be handling the situation pretty well. Even some cops were keeled over vomiting, but other than a queasy appearance on her face, Cornelia stood solidly by my side.
“Is that so?” I asked, making a slight grimace.
“The Day of Wrath, the WRA massacre.” She breathed.
My eyes widened. “You saw that?”
I had been thinking the same thing, but I had never expected her to bring it up. The day when Diba Monic had tried to summon demons and had ritualistically sacrificed dozens of people, this scene had a similar feeling to that. On the positive side, I now recognized that strange look in Cornelia’s eyes. It was a haunted look from someone who had seen too much. I didn’t know when she had been in a situation where she’d have been present in that event, but it was clear from her behavior that she had seen this kind of thing before.
“I was attending school at the time.” She answered awkwardly, not meeting my eye.
Although she said that, it wasn’t so simple. Few people saw the inside of that building. After the island almost was flipped on its head, the police had made sure to quarantine that area. It was difficult to imagine when she’d have gotten a look. Perhaps she had seen crime scene photos, but something told me that this wasn’t the case. I was just about to dive into it even more when we were interrupted.
“You two aren’t cops. What the hell are you doing here?” A woman barked.
I looked up to see a woman in a long brown trenchcoat. She was wearing a nice blouse and a tight black skirt, and black leggings. She was a little older than me, and while pretty, had a rough expression on her face. She was glaring at the pair of us.
“Roxanne,” Cornelia grabbed my arm and pulled me back. “We’re here by mistake.”
“Annie?” She blinked and then looked at me. “A man? Is he one of your charges?”
“Ah… yes… he suddenly felt the need to shove his way forcefully into your crimescene. I apologize.”
“Yeah? Well, I’m sorry, don’t take this personally, but I’m going to need to take both of you in for questioning.”
Cornelia’s eyes widened. “R-really? Is that seriously necessary? We don’t know anything about this. We just arrived.”
“I may have been your senior in school, Annie, but I can’t overlook protocol. I’m already not arresting you on the spot. Well, if I tried, the MPA will probably be breathing down my… hey! You stop!”
While the two women had been chatting, my eyes had fallen once again on the head on the pike, with a sheet hanging over it. I reached out and pulled off the sheet. Roxanne noticed, moving between me and the head, and yanking the sheet out of my hand. However, my eyes had already fallen on the head. That would be the identity of the person. I let out a loud hiss.
“Damn it!” Roxanne cursed, putting the sheet back over the head before turning back and seeing my expression. “You know him, right?”
“Him?” Cornelia hadn’t been looking at the head closely and had been caught off guard. “This is a man?”
A man’s death was always an event that was newsworthy. A man’s murder could quickly turn into a complete circus. As Cornelia let out the words, Roxanne began to rub her temples, a very annoyed expression on her face.
“He was leaving.” I said, my teeth clenched together. “How did this happen?”
“That’s my job to find out.” Roxanne responded.
I turned and grabbed her coat. “That’s not good enough!”
Cornelia gasped, reaching out for my arms, but stopping when Roxanne put up a hand. “You know this man?”
“He was my roommate.” I said, shaking, “And my friend.”
“You don’t mean…” this time, Cornelia’s eyes widened like teacups, a truly shocked expression on her face.
“Rigor Dracona, age eighteen. This is the first day he was released from the MPA.” She responded, reaching up and grabbing my hands.
Realizing there was no point in throttling the messenger, I slowly allowed my hands to unclench. “I saw him just this morning. He was on his way out. He was safe. Where was his agent? Where were his bodyguards?”
Roxanne put on a more sympathetic look as she pulled my hands off her shirt and then smoothed it with her hands. “The parts on the floor weren’t just one person. The head is his, but the body is all of them.”
“This… this can’t happen.” Cornelia shook her head in disbelief. “The MPA… this…”
Roxanne nodded slowly. “Yeah, I know, the whole point of this act was to protect men. For a man to be brutally murdered right now? Someone’s sending us a message.”
She wasn’t wrong, but that message wasn’t for them. It was for me. Someone went after my roommate on purpose. I had known him for four years, and just like that, he was dead.
“You look like you have a clue?” Roxanne eyed me suspiciously.
She had probably told me as much as she did because she suspected that I might have some information. She was a detective, and it was clear she was in full detective mode. Part of me wanted to tell her everything I knew. Part of me wanted to reveal the concept of demons, and shadow creatures, and demon kings. However, those were the things of legends and make believe. I would be labeled as insane if I even tried to reveal these things.
“The makeup.” I responded dryly, trying to work moisture back into my mouth.
“What about it?”
“He was wearing it.” I responded. “In Academy, Rigor was an eccentric. He’d wear lots of makeup and style up his hair. Over the last two years, he hadn’t been doing that. Yet… his… what I saw… he seemed to look more like the old Rigor. Someone dressed him up that way, I think.”
“It was his first day out from under the MPA eye, it’s possible he put it on himself as a means of asserting his freedom.” Roxanne suggested.
“That’s a possibility.” I responded; my voice emotionless.
Clearly, I didn’t believe it, but I wasn’t going to argue with the detective. With her arms crossed and her scratching her chin, she looked me up and down, her brow furrowed as she considered things. After a moment, she lowered her arms and sighed.
“I won’t bring you in, but you will need to answer some questions before you go.” Roxanne said. “Go over there, yes, by those two. Just wait patiently and stay out of the way for a bit.”
I was lost in thought, and also fluctuating being bouts of extreme anger and loss, so when I didn’t move after a few minutes and an eye raise, Cornelia grabbed my arm and started pulling me in the direction Roxanne had indicated. As she did so, I tripped on something, and there was a clatter as something fell from my pocket.
We made it a few steps when Roxanne yelled out. “Hey, Annie.”
Cornelia glanced back at the woman, who was standing there casually with her hands in her pockets. “What is it?”
“Get control of your charge.” She said. “I have a feeling this city has become a lot less safe for men.”
“Yes…” Cornelia didn’t say anything else as she turned away.
There was a flash of anger and annoyance, but when she glanced at me, she only bit her lip and muttered to herself irritably. That was perfectly fine with me, because I wasn’t paying any attention to her. No matter what I thought, my mind kept going back to Becky and Ashley. They had to be the cause of this. While I was stuck for two years, who knew what they had been up to. They were clearly looking for some kind of revenge. I had to get in touch with Lilith and Mia as quickly as possible.
Roxanne must have radioed the two policewomen, because as soon as we got there, they immediately began guarding us while we sat down in the back of a police car. Cornelia’s eyes were on me, but my eyes were locked on the scene I had left behind. I could only half see it from my position in the car.
“Clyburn, I don’t know what to say…” Cornelia began.
“Paper.” I interrupted her.
She blinked. “Huh? What?”
“Paper, and pencil. Do you have them?”
“Y-yes… in my purse.” She pulled up her purse and then pulled out the pad and a pencil and handed it to me.
“Thanks.” I put the pad on my lap and immediately began drawing.
Cornelia watched me awkwardly for a few moments and then began talking once again. “Loss is an inevitable part of life. I can’t predict how you’re feeling right now, but I can provide you with a shoulder to cry on. You can’t let these events bog you down too heavily. If… if you need some time, we can delay your duties by a week. Conversely if you need the kind of comfort that only a woman can provide, I can recommend to you several women who are properly vetted for comforting men.”
“How kind of you.” I muttered while my hands danced across the page rapidly, drawing an ornate rune.
“Clyburn, I am not your enemy. In time, you will realize that I only care about your best interest.
She reached and touched my shoulder and then blushed. “S-sorry, I just find you so fascinating.”
I stopped, lifted my hand, and then channeled mana into the rune. I only channeled a little, and I kept an eye on the two police guards watching us. Thankfully, neither one seemed to be sensitive to mana, and they kept their eyes forward. As for Cornelia, she was now staring at my hand with wide-eyed surprise. A few moment’s later, a voice started drifting to our ears. It was said normally, but it was extremely faint, and barely loud enough. Cornelia ended up leaning closer instinctively to hear until her face was only a few inches from my own.
“So… what do we know?”
“Shhh….” I shot her a glare, causing her to blush again.
“After being released from the MPA, he was left in the custody of his agent and a single guard.”
She appeared to be having a conversation with a uniformed woman who was holding a pad of paper. As for how I had honed in on their particular coordinates, that was why I had dropped a small coin. I had etched a formation into it. It was a very generic tracking formation. I could think of a dozen different uses for such a thing, but right now I was using it as a means of creating a one-way listening device. Yet, the coin didn’t land too close to them, and it was a bit difficult to hear.
“Just one?” Roxanne was asking.
“Yes. There was no reason to believe that Rigor was in any danger. A single guard should have been enough.”
“Should… humph… tell the MPA I want three trained women on every man. This is the first male death on Amaryllis soil since the Day of Wrath. I intend it to be the last.
“Ah… Lieutenant, it’s the second. There were those councilmen and that prince in the embassy…”
“That’s foreign soil.” Roxanne growled. “The hell if I’ll take responsibility for the crap they do up there.”
“Is there anything else we should know?”
“Yes… there is something, probably nothing.”
“Just tell me and let me decide what is important!”
“Ah, it’s just… the bodies still need to be autopsied, but we believe that this was only carried out by a single person, not a group.”
“The cuts were all done the same, using the same knife, in the same way. Assuredly, if there were multiple people, there would be some differences seen, especially in as many…” She swallowed hard, “As many cuts as were made.”
“So, three people, one of them a trained bodyguard, were taken out by a single person without the use of a firearm.”
She shook her head. “No resonance.”
Roxanne let out a sigh. “You’re still holding something back from me. What is it? I don’t have time to play games here. The entire MPA might be at risk.”
“It’s just… I was going through old cases recently, and something about that writing seems familiar.” The officer sounded uncertain.
“Familiar? You meant, like this person has murdered before.”
“Possible… ah! That’s right, I remember now. There was a case, a little under twenty years ago. It was another murder, similar to this one.”
“Another murder… you mean a male?” Roxanne asked. “Wait! You don’t mean…”
“Yes… the word ‘Cheater’ was written on the wall in blood. It’s just, the handwriting looks somewhat similar to this. Furthermore, the dismemberment, the spike… I mean, I only saw pictures, but the scene is eerily similar to back then.”
“Yeah, I’ve read the case. I don’t think there is a woman who hasn’t. Male murders are so rare that this case is studied in class. I thought they finally arrested someone?”
“Keep this quiet for now. This is dangerous information to have. If we arrested the wrong person all those years ago… it could jeopardize everything. I can’t imagine that the woman who killed Noah Bornholdt is still out there. Wait… didn’t he have a son?”
“That’s right, his son is… isn’t his name Clyburn.”
“Clybur-“ She stopped, and her eyes suddenly rose up, she was looking right at me. “Oh, shit.”