"It's nearly midnight," he began without preamble. "I've brought you a hot toddy and some roasted sesame seed cakes and after supper I think it is time we ..."
He stopped as the smell hit him. It reminded him of helping his father make blood sausage back on the farm. He felt cold, suddenly. There was a distant clatter of something hitting the ground, breaking, spilling. He sat down heavily. He absently chided himself for making a mess, spilling the tray. He distantly wondered how he was ever going to get the blood out of the curtains - he'd have to do it by hand, there was no way he was trusting such delicate fabric to a laundry.
It was about then he realised he was crying,
Arnaud lay face down over his desk. Yulis had found him like this many times before, exhausted from long nights pouring over books and documents and handwritten transcripts by candlelight. Tonight, though, all the candles were extinguished - the icory wax spattered with crimson droplets. Even the lightstone Arnaud kept on his desk was dim, shrouded in congealed blood.
It was everywhere. It pooled around Arnaud, spread across his paperwork; it soaked the rug beneath his feet, soaked the golden horses on his purple tunic; it spattered on the ceiling above his desk, and the bookcase opposite his seat. It looked as if someone had been dabbling in it, even, smearing it on the walls. There were bloody footprints and handprints everywhere. Not Arnaud's. Arnaud would never make such a mess.
He knew without looking that Arnaud's throat had been cut from ear to ear, probably from behind, probably several hours ago..Somewhere nearby someone was screaming, shouting for help. He felt a quirk of irritation - it was very late to be making that kind of racket! Some people were so inconsiderate ... then he realised it was him making all the noise, and then it all became very confused indeed,
In the last three months, four more civil servants associated with the department of historical research have been bloodily murdered.
The first victim died three days after the Spring Equinox. Calladan of Widow's Walk was murdered while travelling to his family home in Sybella. He is survived by a wife and four children.
The next, Douglas Wyrdwatcher, was a 68-year-old veteran of numerous military campaigns and a man "built like a bear". Not a man to die easily, claim his colleagues. Despite this he was found dead by colleagues while visiting Canterspire in Morrow.
The third was Bridget Windsdottir, a Suaq cunning hunter but a sworn pacifist who had chosen to devote her life in service to the Empire as a civil servant, she was said to be one of the department's finest minds.
The most recent death, was Arnaud di Sarvos, an elderly man already in his twilight years, he was well-known for his attention to detail - a trait honed during his time at the School of Epistemology in Tassato and in his twenty years of service as an aide to the Imperial Syod.
All four were actively involved in researching the origins of the vallorn, work commissioned by the Advisor on the Vallorn. It is not clear how much of their research was completed, or was in a usable form following their bloody murders.
Their deaths add to the murders of several civil servants from the same department who were slain in the months leading up to the Spring Equinox.
In each case, the victims were attacked when alone and killed with an edged weapon or weapons. The murder scenes were drenched in blood - not just from the arterial flow of their severed throats, but as if the murderers had made a point of making sure to spread as much blood around as possible. In many cases there was no obvious method whereby the assassin or assassins gained access to their victims. Friends, family and assistants heard no sound of a struggle, and there were no signs of doors or windows being forced.
Their loss is a bitter blow for the Empire. Training a replacement takes years, so replacing the losses will likely take a decade or more even if the murders can be stopped. Regrettably many of the civil servants who work as researchers for the Empire are elderly and several have opted to retire rather than continue with their work further compounding the losses.
Investigations by the magistrates are ongoing.
As a result of these murders, and the retirement of several prominent civil servants, at the start of the Summer Soltice 379YE, the Senate ability to commission Historical research has been significantly reduced - the number that can be performed each season has permanently dropped from five to two. If the murders continue at the current rate, then the department will effectively cease to exist within another season.
This reduction in capacity will certainly effect the Imperial titles with the ability to commission research. The Minister of Historical Research; the Advisor on the Vallorn; and the Dredgemaster of Feverwater will now be competing with scholarly-minded senators to deploy the limited resoures of the department. As before, however, the Civil Service will deal with commissions on a first-come, first-served basis, based on when the research is announced in the Senate.
During the Summer Solstice, the Senate raised a motion intended to provide full time protection for the remaining civil servants concerned with historical research.