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Investigator Vale: Retinue of Shambles, Part 1


The Wood Elf sprawled across the bed in the pristine cabin, a dagger protruding from his chest and a pool of blood spreading beneath him. "Murder, Vale?" said Nemdalan, High Elf captain of the Silver Swan sailing ship, obviously hoping she would change her declaration to something less sinister. "Are you absolutely certain?"

Investigator Vale sighed. "Do you think he accidentally plunged the blade into his own heart, Captain Nemdalan? I suppose it could be possible, but I find it highly unlikely."

Firrinor, a Wood Elf brew master looking to take advantage of Queen Ayrenn's proclamation that opened the borders of Summerset, would have been one of the first of the new immigrants to step foot upon the High Elf homeland. Now, he was nothing more than a memory in Valenwood and a guest at Y'ffre's campfire. The investigator bent closer to examine the hilt and pommel protruding from the brewer's chest.

"It had to be one of those high-and-mighty High Elves, yes?" said Zaraki, the Khajiit clothier. "Despite Queen Ayrenn's promises, they don't want the likes of us to sully their pristine island."

"Perhaps," said Vale, using the light of a candle to better study the intricate carvings that decorated the handle of the murder weapon. "But I find the use of a ceremonial dagger rather significant. Daedric, I believe. I don't recognize all of these symbols, though the pattern suggests the adoration of multiple Princes. Intriguing."

"So what are you saying, Vale? We're scheduled to dock in Shimmerene tomorrow morning!" Captain Nemdalan sputtered.

"I'm saying, my dear captain, that you have not only a murderer aboard your vessel—you have a murderer who's also a Daedric cultist, and those tend to be the most intriguing kind," Vale said, hardly bothering to hide her enthusiasm. "Now this voyage is finally getting interesting!"

* * *
Vale and the Khajiit clothier searched the ship's deepest hold, exploring the narrow spaces between the crates, kegs, and barrels piled from deck to ceiling. "You didn't have to accompany me, Zaraki," the investigator said, bemused. "I'm quite capable of taking care of myself, you know.""

"Zar meant no disrespect, investigator," Zaraki replied as he brushed cobwebs from his tawny fur. "But this one didn't feel right allowing you to descend into the bowels of this ship all by yourself. Not with a murderer on the loose. Why the captain and his cowardly crew didn't volunteer to help you, only Jode and Jone know for sure!"

Vale squeezed through the gap between two stacks of crates and led the way into a small clearing in the middle of the forest of cargo. She noticed that one of the stacks was balanced precariously, as the bindings supporting it had come loose during the voyage. She stepped gingerly past the unstable stack to stand in the center of the cleared space.

"Precisely where I expected to find it," she said triumphantly, pointing to a makeshift shrine to one of the Daedric Princes. "The god of pledges and promises, if I remember my lessons with the headmaster of Daedric studies at the University of Gwylim."

Zaraki circled the rune-covered deck and the Daedric symbol rising from its center cautiously. "You attended the university?"

"Well, let's just say I audited a few private lessons with the headmaster," Vale said slyly. "She learned as much from me as I learned from her, I'm proud to admit."

As the Khajiit reached a furred hand toward the skull-topped wooden plinth surrounded by vile runes, the investigator slapped it away and motioned him to be quiet. Footsteps were approaching the hidden shrine. Vale and Zaraki pressed into the shadows cast by the close-packed crates and waited. A moment passed, and then a tall High Elf in noble garb emerged from a gap between the stacks.

"I take it you're our Daedric cultist?" Vale asked as she stepped into the surprised High Elf's path.

"Lord of Trickery take you!" he shouted as he drew a wickedly curved dagger from his belt. "You should have never gotten involved in the affairs of the Retinue of Shambles, Breton tramp!"

Before Vale could respond, Zaraki leaped into action. The clothier brandished a sword from who knew where and blocked the cultist's dagger thrust. "That is no way to treat a lady!"

The cultist pointed his dagger at the Khajiit and began to cast a spell. Not waiting for him to finish, Vale planted her expensive leather boot into the small of the High Elf's back. The kick knocked him sideways, into the unsecured stack of crates. The crates clattered to the deck, crushing the cultist beneath them.

"Damn!" Vale said, blowing a loose strand of hair out of her eyes. "I didn't think the entire pile was going to come down! I can't get answers out of a dead man!"

"At least that will be an end to the murders, yes?" Zaraki said.

"He mentioned the Retinue of Shambles," Vale replied. "I have a feeling this was just the beginning." Investigator Vale paused, looking the Khajiit over appraisingly. "And something tells me you aren't a simple clothier, Zar."

"I'm not? This one has no idea what you're implying, investigator."

Vale scowled. "A mystery, Zaraki. Haven't you heard? Investigator Vale solves mysteries. But I'll deal with that later. Right now, I think we could both use a drink. Shall we go and inform the captain that he has a mess to clean up below decks?"