Chapter 2:

The Killer Who Can’t Kill Twice

Charon's Legacy: The Clockwork Oracle


“Back away from the body,” Savio spoke into the silence. His voice echoed through the lofty chamber. “We can’t afford to have our evidence tampered with.”


Just a glance at his old friend’s body told him the murder’d been staged. Rats had nibbled off bits of his flesh. Mold covered his open neck, as if choking him would do any good. Charon had been dead for a week at least. His head was nowhere to be found.


Other intellectuals in the crowd began to murmur and speculate. What was it that had taken his head? Savio scoured the scene for the murder weapon, but his eyes were instead drawn upward to the ominous Oracle Charon had described. It was an approximation of the human figure, staring down with pitch-black eyes; gears jutted randomly from its insides, spinning slowly but steadily. The details of the machine’s use were never specified.


“A beauty, isn’t she? Such a shame Charon isn’t here to show it to us,” a woman said flatly.


Savio turned to find a lady he’d never seen—well, that wasn’t entirely true, he vaguely recognized her face—staring up at the Oracle with him. Her hair was jet-black, her face pointed like a fox’s. “I’m sorry, who are you?”


“We met at the Lord’s last exhibit, remember? Lucia Gilwood.” She held out a thin-gloved hand to shake.


Savio took it firmly. “Savio Alves. How did you meet him?”


Lucia brushed her hair back. “We met in a bookstore. I was reading a book on ciphers, and I found a letter on my desk once I was done. We’ve been in contact since.”


“Alright, when did you get here tonight? I’m trying to establish an alibi for everyone.”


She shrugged. “I was one of the first five. Would have been around…” she checked her watch, “seven at night. It’s been thirty minutes since then.”


“Thank you. Would you do me a favor and ask the same question to the rest of the crowd? I’m not too keen on talking to everyone,” Savio suggested. Lining up all that evidence would be a hassle, anyways, and probably not a very worthwhile one.


“But of course. Why don’t you start by looking around in the museum? I’m sure the curios are involved somehow.”


Without so much as a response, Savio was already out the double doors in search of his next clue. The estate’s hallways were a labyrinth—supposedly even Charon himself would get lost in their twisting paths. He turned a corner and ended up at the double-doors again. Another, then another.


Along his path he found several intriguing mystical items: a monkey’s paw, a dream catcher (with live dreams caught in it), a magical sickle, none of which he cared for. Nothing he found could have been used in the crime. Well, he thought, even finding nothing is better than interrogation.


And that was when one final guest walked in.


He was a scrappy young man, unfit for a place like this—especially during a murder investigation. Savio approached him tentatively. “You know where you are, right?”


“Of course! This is the Collection of Curious Curios. I’m here to see the Clockwork Oracle. Where is it?”


So he’s here on business. I’ve never met him before. Does he know Charon is dead?


Savio shook his head. “Sorry. Not on display right now. We’re solving a puzzle Charon left for us.”


“What kind of puzzle is it this time?”


“Murder mystery. We found the Lord decapitated in the Oracle’s chamber, if you really want to see.”


The man winced. “I… would rather not. I can’t stand the sight of blood. But I’ll try to help in whatever way I can.”


Savio looked him up and down. His hair was raggedy, but he wore finery fit for the lord himself. It seemed as though he had gotten rich on a whim. He’s late, like I was. If I can rule out anyone, it’s him.


“What’s your name?” Savio asked.


“I’m Isaac Wildthorne. And you’re Alves, right? Charon told me about you,” he replied, a beaming smile showcasing his crooked teeth. “I guess you’re looking for the murder weapon right now?”


“I am,” Savio said.


“Any luck?”


“Not yet. I’m just looking for anything with blood on it. Knowing Charon, the weapon could be anything. It’s even possible this was organized.”


The two of them walked down the dimly-lit hallway for a little while—Savio mentally gathered his evidence. The Lord is decapitated, and his body is a week old. We haven’t found his head. Could it have to do with the Oracle? Or have we just not found our weapon?


Isaac interrupted his train of thought. “That looks like it could have done it,” he commented, pointing out a hefty sword hanging on the wall. Savio was convinced the moment he noticed it—there were dark red stains all over the blade’s edge.


“Go get the others. Tell Lucia to give me the alibis once everyone is here.”


“Lucia? Alright, I’ll look for her.” Isaac bolted off, looking for the Oracle’s chamber. He hadn’t told him where it was, but with enough looking, he would figure it out. Savio inspected the sword, along with its label:


The Blade of Intellectual Burden.


By nature dull as a butter knife, this peculiar weapon gains sharpness and weight in the hands of the mentally acute. For the most intelligent minds, it can be near-impossible to lift.


On impulse, Savio tried hoisting it up. No luck. He felt something of an ego trip—no, it could just be that he was very physically weak. He chose to believe what suited him better.


If this is the murder weapon, the killer must be a prodigy, or at least smart enough to hide himself in the crowd. Then, trickling in like water from a leaky pipe, he heard rushed footsteps advancing down the hallway. Speaking of crowds…


The chaos was immediate. A startled noble knocked the sword off its podium in his hurry; its resounding clang shook the hallway. All went quiet. Savio decided now would be the best time to speak up.


“Organize yourselves. Someone will get trampled in this mess,” he called. “And that sword is evidence. Hands off.”


The murmuring resumed as the guests began to question each other and discuss the mystery at hand. It only took Savio a moment to find Lucia, who was not accompanied by Isaac. She held a notebook in one hand and twirled a feather pen in another.


“Anyone ever told you that you’re good at crowd control?” Lucia asked him.


Savio tried to be humble. “I’m not.”


“It shows.” Ouch. “Anywho, I’ve got some clues. There were a couple of attendees in town about a week ago, and three who live here. Any of them could be the culprit.”


“List me some names. Start with the people who live here.”


“It couldn’t hurt to be a little more respectful.”


“Alright. Please list me some names.”


Lucia brushed back her hair flipped a page in her notebook. “Mars Hendrickson, Katherine Phillips, and Isaac Wildthorne live here. Isaac said he was looking for me, actually. Did you meet him?”


“Yes.”


“Good kid. Very clumsy, though. Almost tripped on the corpse.”


If he were the killer, he’d have known its location. It can’t be him, Savio thought. “I’ll have him assist me, I think. Never know when you’ll need a second pair of hands.”


“Or a mouth.”


“Pardon?”


“You want him to do the talking.”


“That is… a very accurate assessment of my values.” Savio glanced over at the grounded blade and found Isaac, along with a few other gentlemen. “Well, thank you for the information. I’ll do with it what I can.”


Lucia nodded. “If you begin to suspect anyone in particular, let me know.”


“I will,” he said, extending his arm for a brief handshake. Savio was never one for obtuse formalities, but it would be rude to just walk away, he decided. Once he’d properly ended their conversation, he made his way to the sword itself.


The blade was silvered, ornate patterns gleaming. A small red gemstone, carved in the visage of a weight, laid in its hilt. Some of the dried blood had flaked off onto the floor. Savio kneeled down and pressed his finger to the edge—rounded. Something like this could never have killed Charon. Not by itself. According to its description, it’d need someone of high intelligence and physical strength to do any damage.


“How’s the investigation, mister Alves?” he heard Isaac say from behind his back. He didn’t so much as turn his head.


“Fine. Just narrowing my suspects.”


“Need any help?”


“I was just about to ask. Try lifting this sword.”


Isaac knelt down with him, a smile on his face. “No, I couldn’t. I read the plaque. This is a party for smart people, mister Alves. I don’t want everyone knowing I’m… heh, lacking in that department.”


“You’re plenty smart.”


“No, really. There’s blood on that sword. I can barely look at it.” Oh, right. Hemophobia.


“Alright, then. Do me a favor and find us a man named Mars Hendrickson. He’s our first suspect. Ask him what he was doing around this time last week,” Savio directed. “And don’t under any circumstance let him know you think he’s a culprit. Act as if you’re just proving his innocence. Interrogation 101.”


Savio straightened his coat and stood up—Isaac mimicked him, though not very well. “Do you know what he looks like?” he asked Savio.


“Not at all. Best wishes.”


Isaac chuckled and turned away, off to find their first suspect. I’m Holmes, he’s Watson, Savio thought. Usually puzzles are an individual matter, but some help couldn’t hurt—not for the greatest puzzle of all.


While the crowd surrounded the blade and other nearby curios, Savio headed for the Oracle’s chamber. Though he knew not how to operate it, Charon’s description led him to wonder whether it could help him solve the case. His greatest invention yet.


The grand hall echoed Savio’s quiet ponderings as he closed in on the Clockwork Oracle. Careful to avoid Charon’s corpse, he squinted at the plaque next to the looming humanoid.


“One question, one answer, once per man. This is the fundamental principle of the Clockwork Oracle,” he read aloud. “Turn the gear once and ask it anything. However cryptic, its answer never falters. Ask again, though, and it will snatch its knowledge right back.”


What a strange device. It can only tell the future once? Savio questioned. He approached the figure and gripped its brass gears. The metal was cold in his hands.


With a great push, the gears whirred into motion. Above him, the looming figure was illuminated by golden light coming from within. Its hollow eyes shone with radiance as it leaned down, tilting its head at Savio.


“One question. One answer. It shall be.”


Savio thought for a moment on how to word it. This could be his only chance. Besides, what did it mean by ‘stealing its knowledge back’? Surely it could not rob someone of their memories. He decided on his query.


“Who killed Lord Charon?”


A great grinding cacophony resounded from within the Oracle. Its gears spun rapidly, its eyes shone brighter still. It opened its jaw to answer.


“Surely you will come to a conclusion. It is you who has been murdered, you whose face has been stolen and never returned. Your end stalks these halls, waiting for a golden opportunity. For what good is a killer who can’t kill twice?”


With heavy creaking, the machine receded into the wall, its heavenly glow fading to a dull glimmer. Its gears slowed to a halt. Savio blinked. I’ve… been murdered? A killer who can’t kill twice?


A dastardly grin spread across his face. “What a puzzle indeed, Charon. You’ve outdone yourself.”

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