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Garyn's found his mudcrab, alright. It's taken up residence on the highest point of a large, smooth rock at the end of the peninsula. It has everything a mudcrab could want - water, moss, mushrooms. The blueing corpse of an Imperial bureaucrat.

The crab valiantly defends his domain against the thrusts and jabs of Garyn's broadsword, but it is to no avail. The sword cracks its shell and pins it against the rock. For a moment, it continues to struggle - beating and snapping against the air, trying desperately to grab onto something. But the twitching slows, and with one final shudder, its claws relax.

Garyn bends over to examine the dead Imperial, holding his nose as he does so. Already the maggots are beginning to feast. It would not take a policeman to deduce that the man was murdered - the pool of dried blood and the yawning gash where his throat used to be make it quite clear.

He begins searching the man's pockets. To his surprise, he finds a small purse full of gold - around 200 septims worth judging from the weight - and an unsealed scroll. Garyn unfurls it.

Processus Vitellius
Seyda Neen Census and Excise Office

Arrille - 450 drakes - PAID
Draren Thiralas - 200 drakes - PAID
Eldafire - 130 drakes
Erene Llenim - 78 drakes - PAID
Fargoth - 111 drakes
Fine-Mouth - 54 drakes
Foryn Gilnith - 225 drakes
Indrele Rathryon - 127 drakes - PAID
Terurise Grivayne - 98 drakes -PAID
Thavere Vedrano 134 drakes - PAID
Vodunius Nuccius - 87 drakes

So the man had been a tax collector. Half the town might have had cause to kill him. Strange that whoever did it didn't take his money.

Garyn sighs. He will have to report this to the Census and Excise Office. And even if he were comfortable with the idea of lifting money from the corpse of a murder victim, turning the money in is the only way to deflect suspicion. Why can't doing the right thing ever be profitable for once?


Sellus Gravius does not look pleased to see Garyn marching back into his office.

"I thought you'd have left by now," Gravius says.

"I'm still planning on it," Garyn says. "But more important business got in the way. I've come to report the murder of one of your tax collectors."

Gravius's face falls. "Ah," he says. "That must be Processus Vitellius. He's been missing the last few days now. We were afraid something like that might have happened. Are you certain it was foul play?"

"Quite certain," he says. "His throat's been slit. So far as I can tell, he's been dead for a while - probably for longer than I've been in town."

Gravius sighs. "You'd better go and speak to Socucius Ergalla in the census office. He needs to be informed of this."

Garyn nods and heads through the courtyard to the office where he had been processed. Ergalla is every bit as annoyed to see him as Gravius was - though like Gravius, his reaction changes when Garyn delivers the news.

"What a waste," he says, shaking his head. "He was a good man, too. But these are dangerous times we live in."

"Tell me about it," Garyn mutters.

"Did you happen to find the tax money he collected?" Ergalla says. "I hate to sound callous, but I have a job to do."

"I did," Garyn says. "And the tax record as well."

He hands them over to Ergalla, who frowns. "Hmm. Odd that he was murdered, but not robbed. Still, your honesty is appreciated."

He pauses for a moment, brow furrowed in thought. "In fact, you're just about the only person in town I can rule out definitively as a suspect, released convict though you may be. Even the guards aren't beyond suspicion. And I've heard you're a mercenary of some skill - cleared out Addamasartus singlehandedly, if Arrille the innkeeper is to be believed. If you're looking for some money, I would like to see Processus's murderer punished. If you can find him, and bring him to justice, the Census and Excise Office will pay you a reward of 500 septims."

Garyn's eyebrows raise slightly. He'd been preparing to politely refuse the man - this is the Empire's business, as far as he's concerned. But he hadn't been expecting such a generous offer. "Five hundred drakes?"

"That's what I said," says Ergalla. "And I stand by it. I'm offering you good money, honestly made. Are you interested?"

Garyn falls silent. It's hardly a guarantee. He might not find the murderer at all. And if he doesn't find him before dusk, he'll have to stay in town another night, which he hasn't the money to do. He barely has enough for the strider as it is. And he'd rather sleep next to the dead smugglers in the cave than work for Hrisskar.

That's two reasons to say no against five hundred reasons to say yes. Well. The smugglers' cave is empty, at least.

"Very well. I'll find your murderer."

"Good," Ergalla says. "I suspect this tax record you found will give us some idea of where to begin."

"Indeed," Garyn says. "A list of people who owed him money is as good a lead as any."

"It's a start," says Ergalla. "Report back to me when you've found the culprit."

It's not until Garyn begins scanning through the list that he realizes the problem - one he really ought to have recognized earlier: He has no idea who these people are. The only one he recognizes is Fargoth, who couldn't kill a musk bug with a warhammer.

His eyes land on one name in particular - Vodunius Nuccius. An Imperial name, unless he had cruel parents. And the only one on the list, at that.

He is, if anything, easier to find than Garyn expects. Garyn spots him walking about town, making his way from the gathering of wooden huts on its outskirts toward the tradehouse.

"Vodunius Nuccius?"

The Imperial nods. "That's me," he says. "You're the fellow who came in on the boat yesterday, aren't you? I would have figured you'd seen enough of this dung heap by now."

"Other business has kept me here."

"Oh? Like what? What's this about?"

Garyn clears his throat, choosing his question carefully. "What do you know," he says, "about a man named Processus Vitellius?"

"He's the local tax collector," Nuccius says. "Not the friendliest fellow you'll meet. He's been missing the last few days. Why?"

"He's been found," Garyn says. "Dead. Murdered."

Nuccius sighs. "Can't say I'm surprised," he says. "Nearly everyone despised him. I won't pretend I didn't, either. Not that he deserved to die, obviously. Is there a reason I'm getting this news from you, stranger?"

"The Census and Excise Office has tasked me with investigating his death. I'd like to know if you have any idea of who did it."

"You're asking the wrong man, I'm afraid. I can't think of anybody who'd have more cause to do it than anyone else."

"Not even somebody who owed eighty-seven drakes to the Imperial Census and Excise Office?" Garyn says.

The Imperial's face reddens as his teeth clench. "I have been a loyal Imperial subject my whole life," he says. "I have paid every septim I've ever owed in taxes every year I've ever owed them, and I will pay my share this year too. And even if I wouldn't have, I am not so stupid as to think that killing a single official would erase my debt. Or that a death sentence would be worth the money.

"Murder is not in my blood - I'm not that sort of man. And I am definitely not the sort of man who appreciates some damned outsider thrusting his cock about town, digging through my tax records and suggesting I might be a killer. Rest assured, if I ever learn who did murder Processus Vitellius, I'll inform the proper authorities and leave you the hell out of it.

"I don't know what you think you're trying to accomplish, outlander, or why the Empire would send you to do it. But whatever you're doing and whyever you're doing it, at least do me the courtesy of not wasting my time, too. If you'd like to do something useful, you should consider breaking the news to Thavere Vedrano over at the lighthouse. She's the only one in town who ever liked him, the poor woman.

"Now if you'll excuse me, I have work to do. Unless you're not finished?"

Garyn looks straight at the man, his expression unchanged. "No, that will be all."

"Good," he says. He heads toward the tradehouse, muttering various epithets under his breath.

Once Nuccius is out of earshot, Garyn sighs loudly. The man was right. This is pointless. This was a murder which happened days ago, which nobody was likely to confess to. And Garyn is expected to find the one who did it despite not being trusted by anybody in town, and despite having next to no experience in conducting a criminal investigation. The only thing he can do that's likely to be productive is to break the news to Thavere Vedrano.

The door to the lighthouse is unlocked. He enters quietly. There's a Dunmer woman seated at the base, reading a book.

Garyn clears his throat. "Are you Thavere Vedrano?"

"I am," she says. "What do you want?"

"I'm afraid I've some bad news."

Her face falls. "It's about Processus, isn't it?"

Garyn nods. "I'm afraid so. He's been found dead outside of town. Murdered."

Thavere closes her eyes. "Gods," she chokes. "Why Processus? How could this happen?"

She turns away, fighting back tears. "He was the gentlest man I've ever met. I've never seen him raise a hand to anyone. Who could have wanted to kill him?"

"Truth be told," Garyn says, "I was wondering if you might have any ideas."

She thinks for a minute, sniffling. "I don't know. I can't think he had any serious quarrel with anyone. I've only ever even seen him get angry once."

Garyn's eyes narrow. "And when was this?"

"Well, not even angry, I suppose," she says. "I saw him arguing once with Foryn Gilnith about his taxes. He thought Processus had been levying too much, skimming off the top for himself."

A choked sob escapes her. "Ridiculous! Processus wouldn't have done such a thing."

Garyn's face remains implacable. Now this is something to go on. "And do you know where I might find Foryn Gilnith?"

"I imagine he's at home right now," she says. "He lives in the shack nearest to the pond."

"I'll speak to him," Garyn says. "Do you know of anyone else who might have wanted him dead?"

Thavere shakes her head. "No, I don't," she says. "But there is one more thing I would ask of you."

"What is it?"

She wipes her eyes with her sleeve. "Processus and I had become...very close, in these past few months. Could you find out what happened to the ring I gave him? I would like it to remember him by."

"I will do my best," he says, and leaves her to grieve in private.


Foryn Gilnith's shack is exactly as Garyn would have imagined it. A small, run-down, moss-covered cottage with a leaky roof. The inside is as drab as the outside, unfurnished except for a hammock hanging in the corner and a crude table.

Gilnith looks up from a meager meal and glares at Garyn. "You're trespassing, outlander."

"Sorry to barge in like this," Garyn says. "But I believe we might have a mutual acquaintance. A dead man by the name of Processus Vitellius. Do you know anything about him?"

Gilnith rises from his chair. His eyes narrow. "That fetcher? You're damn right, I do! I'm the one that did him in, and a good thing too!"

Garyn's eyes widen. He hadn't been expecting an outright confession.

"He was skimming a load of money from all us honest people," he continues. "Overcharging us on our taxes and keeping the difference for himself. He was always flaunting his money around, showing off his new clothes and jewels."

"I see," Garyn says. "So you slit his throat and dumped his body in the swamp."

He nods. "Yes, and good riddance to the bastard. Just look at what I found on him!"

He pulls an exquisite gold and emerald ring from his pocket. "You think he could afford this on a taxman's salary? Don't make me laugh! The man was as crooked as they come. This town won't miss him."

Garyn's eyes narrow. "That ring was a gift from Thavere Vedrano. The closest thing to a widow the man has."

"So what? Is that supposed to make me feel sympathy? It's her fault for carousing with that damned crook in the first place. She's made her choice. What's yours? Them, or us?"

"You have it the wrong way around, Gilnith," Garyn says. "The choice is yours. You can either come with me to the Census and Excise office, or I make you come with me to the Census and Excise office. Whatever Vitellius may or may not have done, I'm not letting you get away with murder."

Gilnith snarls. "You snivelling, boot-licking, coward!"

Gilnith draws his dagger as he says his last word, lunging at Garyn with abandon. Garyn leans back, safely distancing himself from the peasant's wild thrust.

His back is exposed now. This is all Garyn needs.

With a single thrust his sword skewers Gilnith from kidney to ribcage, drawing life and expelling breath as blade pierces lung. Gilnith falls back and writhes, gurgling as blood dribbles from his mouth. Two more strokes and it is over - the lump on the floor that was once Foryn Gilnith ceases to move.

Garyn stands alone in the blood-soaked room. He has been in Seyda Neen for all of a day and already he has killed four people and committed two justifiable but legally-dubious acts. At the rate he's going, he'll be lucky if there's anyone left in town in a week.

If it weren't already high time he left Seyda Neen, it certainly is now.


Garyn walks out toward the courtyard with his pockets considerably heavier than they were before. It had been easier than he anticipated to convince Socucius Ergalla of what happened, particularly once Thavere Vedrano was summoned to give her testimony. Processus's ring turned out to be rather convincing evidence.

Ergalla gave him his reward and Thavere gave him a few healing potions and her undying gratitude. He suspects that all anyone else in town would give him is two hours to leave.

Garyn takes the bag of coins out of his pocket and examines it again. It would be an above-average month's commission for a mid-ranking Fighters Guild member back home. He can't count all of them but he certainly has a good feel for what that much money weighs in his hand. Regardless of whether Vitellius had been an honorable man or not, Garyn certainly won't regret earning this money.

His train of thought is interrupted when his foot strikes a barrel in the courtyard. A few pieces of debris come tumbling out of it. Near the top of it is a cheap brass ring.

Garyn bends over to examine it. There's an inscription on the inside.


Garyn laughs. Of course. Of course he would find it now.

He's still chuckling as he exits the office. He whistles at the passing Bosmer and tosses him the ring.

"Here you go!" he says. "Put in the good word to Arrille, won't you?"

Fargoth's eyes wide up. "Oh, thank you! Thank you! You are now my favorite friend! I -"

"Just let Arrille know about this, won't you?"

Fargoth scampers off toward the tradehouse, eager to tell Arrille the good news. Garyn gives him a few minutes before following him in.

When he leaves, he's decked out completely in netch leather and chainmail - though mainly the former. He knows he'll need it if he has any more days even remotely like this. He's not sure if he actually got the discount he was promised, but helping out a friend couldn't have hurt.

Garyn looks up. The sun is getting low in the sky. The strider will be leaving soon. He begins making his way toward the dock.

Suddenly he hears a shrill sound from above, very swiftly getting closer. Instinctively he throws himself to the ground. There's a loud, blunt thud a few feet from his head. For a moment Garyn stays on the ground, motionless. Then, slowly, he brings himself to his feet.

Right next to him is a robed Bosmer crumpled into a twisted heap on the ground. Next to him is a thick leather-bound book, sprawled open on its spine.

Garyn groans. "For the love of Stendarr, can I walk FIVE STEPS in this place without someone getting killed!?"

He comes closer to examine the body. Idly, he begins flipping through the book. It's a journal - more specifically the journal of a wizard named Tarhiel. He's assuming this must be the unfortunate Wood Elf's name. Apparently he'd managed to create a spell that would allow him to jump dozens of miles in a single step. But he had neglected to consider that he would eventually need to land.

"Idiot," Garyn mutters.

He looks through the wizard's belongings. In the folds of his robes there is a cheaply-made arming sword - the sort any half-respectable village smith could throw together in less than a day. More intriguing is the faint blue aura around the blade. The Old Master had taught Garyn to recognize enchantments upon a blade. This one had been imbued with a reasonably powerful lightning spell. It could sear open new wounds, arrest the rhythm of the enemy's heart, and even turn an enemy's plate armor against them.

Well. He's not usually in the business of grave robbing, but in this nitwit's case he's willing to make an exception. This mer's misfortune has become his boon.

He straps the sword to his waist before dashing back to town and reporting the death to a guard. Then he finally makes it back to the strider dock, just in time for the last trip of the day.

He pays the caravaner and steps into the hollow cavity atop the beast's back, slowly clambering down into the cabin.
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Garyn Balvadares

January 2017

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