Knife in the Dark

Lady Mia bit back a retch as she walked into the tavern. The smell of stale beer, mold, and something that reminded her uncomfortably of urine assaulted her nose. Her face scrunched with disgust, tightening even further when she saw the whores, prostitutes, gigolos, and whatever else they called themselves parading in the far corner. She forced herself to keep moving forward, past the caretaker playing a game of dice with a couple of burly strangers, heading towards the bar.

There he was. It had been one thing to be told it, it was quite another thing to see it. Dismas, the highwayman turned mercenary in her employ, lying dead on the counter. She could only see his jet black hair, which was matted with dirt and filth, and a hole in his jacket, one that was soaked with blood that had long since dried. It was the only noticeable thing aside from dirt and a couple of blonde hairs, no doubt the result of a night spent in the company of a whore. He hadn't been murdered here, there weren't any bloodstains on the counter. Well, no bloodstains that hadn't been there for weeks at least. "How did it happen?" she asked curtly.

The bartender, who was absentmindedly cleaning out a filthy wooden mug, shrugged unconcernedly. "Hell if I know," he grunted. "The grave digger found him out back. The body was covered in dirt so I think he'd been back there awhile. He left after drinking for a bit, but the cheap bastard was being stingy that night. Not spending as much of the coin that you give him. Anyway, that was a couple of hours before they found him. I heard some shouting outside, but he's always shouting at people once he's had a sip."

He glanced down at the body. "Look, can you just get this out of here? People will start to complain when it smells." He paused for a moment. Then, almost as if it was an afterthought, said, "M'Lady."

Mia fought back the urge to grunt. His tone was more of an insult than if he had simply forgotten her title. She wouldn't get anyway by confronting him though. Truth be told, she wasn't surprised, nor could she bring herself to be truly angry. After everything these people had seen her grandfather do, it was to be expected. Anyway, she had bigger things to worry about.

Glancing at the caretaker, she gave a firm snap. Even though he wasn't looking, he leapt to his feet. Scrapping his coins off of the table and stuffing them into his pockets, he hurried over to the counter. He smiled at Mia, the same wide, dead smile that he always gave. The one that made it look like hooks had been planted in his mouth and were stretching his face back. "You know what to do with him," she said calmly. Nodding more viciously than was necessary, the frail old man took Dismas' body and threw him up over his shoulder, carrying it out of the tavern.

"Was anyone else here when it happened?" she asked the bartender, watching the caretaker go as she spoke. "Anyone who left before or just after he did?" The bartender scratched his nose.

"I get a lot of people in here, and they all start to look the same once they've got drink in them," he said, almost as if he was dodging the question.

"If you're looking for a bribe, I'm not in the mood," Mia said, her voice a snarl. "Who else was here?"

The bartender looked annoyed, but relented. "It was actually pretty quiet when he was in. Not too many people. Most of them never left, but I'd say three did. Your feral woman, the wizard, and the merchant. No one else came near here. I asked the old loon playing dice over there," he gestured to the caretaker. "He was eyeing the tavern from his hut, he didn't see anyone else walking away aside from a couple of drunks. If you're trying to figure out who murdered him, they might know. " A wry grin spread across the bartender's lined face. "Or do you think it was one of them?"

Mia didn't answer. She walked away from the bar and out the front door of the tavern. The caretaker was plodding off to the cemetery in the center of the hamlet, carrying the body into a tiny rundown shack next to it. He lived in that shack, as well as worked out of it. She didn't want to think about how that worked. She had matters that were far more important and equally gruesome to think about.

Dismas has been one of her best fighters, as well as one of the first to join her here in her mission to cleanse the corruption. He had been on well over a dozen expeditions, more than most of the mercenaries that were fighting here. He had commonly come back shaken, sometimes bloodied, but always on his feet. She refused to accept that he had been killed by a common drunkard. He was fast with a pistol and even faster with a dirk, an average person would've been the corpse on the counter if they had tried to pick a fight with Dismas. Someone else had done it.

She turned over the people the bartender had identified. The feral woman, the merchant and the wizard. The hellion known as Boudica, the antiquarian named Katharine, and the occultist that called himself Alhazred. All of them had been with her for some time. Not as long as Dismas, but enough that they were veterans of fighting the horrors beyond the hamlet. And as of now, they seemed to be the most likely to be Dismas' murders.

She took a turn at the statue of her grandfather, heading to the abby. Of the three of them, which was the most likely? In terms of raw ability, Boudica was the most able. She was a towering mass of muscle that yearned for battle the way most yearned for the warmth of others. She could've ripped Dismas' life away from him with ease.

But the method of murder didn't make sense. Mia had seen the men Boudica had killed, and they could barely be called men when she was finished with them. Bright scarlet mounds of flesh with bones jutting out at every other angle flashed in her mind's eye. Boudica standing over them, a mad grin on her face and her teeth stained with blood. A single wound was too subtle for her.

It made more sense for Katharine and Alhazred, their weapons were smaller and suited the size of the opening in Dismas' jacket better. In their cases though, Dismas was still the more skilled combatant. Alhazred could utilize powerful and dark magic, but he was rather physically frail. As for Katharine, the woman was an utter coward. So many of her expeditions had ended with a dry blade and a sack filled with gold. Mia was half surprised that she knew how to hold her weapon. Pausing, she chastised herself. Katherine was a coward, but she still had a strong swing. Skilled or not, one was all it took.

All of this failed to take motivation into account. The only one she could think of that would want to murder Dismas was Boudica; she would consider killing him to simply be fun. Katharine might have done it if he had had something worth stealing, but Dismas had a tendency to walk into the tavern a rich man and walk out a poor one. Once, he had even walked out a poor man with syphilis. So robbing him didn't seem likely. As for Alhazred, no one knew what he wanted. He always kept to himself.

Even as she considered all this, she reminded herself that there didn't need to necessarily be a logical explanation. She had seen the men and women who had fought against the corruption falter. Watched brave warriors reduced to sobbing wrecks, self destructive monsters, and on one unpleasant occasion, a body swinging from the rafters.

Forcing that unpleasant memory out of her mind, she gave a sharp rap on the front door of the abby. After a moment, the door slid open and a man clad in armor poked his head out. "Ah, Lay Mia," he said, pushing the doors open wide. "How can I assist you?"

If one of the three the barkeeper and the caretaker had seen had killed Dismas, she needed to move fast. Someone in the hamlet must have seen something, even if they hadn't realized it. "Reynauld, may I have a word? Is there anyone else inside?"

"One. But she-" there was a loud snap followed by a cry that mixed pain and pleasure. Reynauld hesitated, looking over his shoulder in embarrassment. "Is a little preoccupied at the moment. She's been in there since dawn." Mia had no reason to talk to her then. If she had been in the back since the sun came up, she wouldn't have seen anything of value. "And of course you may, My Lady." Stepping inside, Mia sat down on a nearby pew, Reynauld sitting next to her.

"Dismas' body was found near the tavern, he was murdered. Single blow." Mia said. At that moment, she wished she was back in her makeshift estate with a glass of wine in her hands. She had to admit that she had she had been delving into her private stash more than she should've been. It had kept her sane during moments like this, moments that were becoming more and more common as the weeks slid past.

Reynold drummed his fingers on the pew in front of him, chaffing the wood lightly. "To be honest, I'm surprised it took this long," he said

Mia blinked. "You are?"

Reynold nodded. "He and I were the first, your first soldiers in this war we've been fighting. Not to boast, but I know him better than most. He was quiet when he first came here, only talking when he had to. If he wasn't on an expedition, he would be in his room. He only ever stopped by the tavern to eat, and his meals tended to be on the light side." He glanced at Mia, his expression hidden by his helmet. "He didn't drink and whore at first, he was more reserved. Didn't you notice that?"

Mia shook her head. "Things have been busy around here. Dozens of mercenaries coming in, dozens being buried. Bandit attacks, the swine, that cove we just found, it's all keeping me up at night. Which is why I need your help right now Reynold. Too many of my people are dying from the agents of corruption, I don't need one of my own helping them along. Did you see Dismas doing anything out of the ordinary? Something that would earn him enemies around here?"

Reynold looked away from Mia, deep in thought. "No. He's been spending all of his recent days reaching for the bottom of a bottle and laying with women. That part is rather obvious though. The only odd thing that sticks out for me is that he doesn't bring much gold with him to the bar as of late. I've accompanied him once or twice. Trying to convince him to pray instead of drink of course," he said, speaking a little too quickly, "and he seemed to always be out of coin when he was good and drunk. After that he would retire to a private room. Somehow. Never saw who he chose though."

Mia wasn't listening to that part, she didn't need to know the particulars of Dismas' sex life. So Dismas was always rather poor after his days in the tavern? That was one thing in Katharine's favor, she wouldn't be likely to kill a penniless man. Still, this wasn't much to go on, and was only a start. "Anything else?"

"Only one other thing comes to mind," Reynauld said. "He asked me what the proper methods for a quick wedding session would be and how much it would cost." He snorted. "He might have been getting desperate enough to try and marry one of the whores. He was an odd fellow. Dependable in a fight, but a crooked man to the core. Still, he will be missed."

"Yes," Mia said. An uncomfortable thought was creeping at the back of her mind. She wasn't lying when she said that Dismas would be missed, but she had a feeling Reynauld would be missing him for a different reason than she would. She wasn't lying when she said that she would miss the man, but it was for very mercenary reasons.

Dismas had been a talented fighter that had proved his worth in this war against corruption. She needed men who were both skilled enough to stand against the abominations beyond the hamlet, and brave or stupid enough to fight them in the first place. There was very little overlap between the two groups, many of those who had made the journey to her far flung homestead were very lacking. At least a dozen of those rotting in the graveyard had died on their first expedition, and just as many on their second. She had had very few men like Dismas, and now she had even less.

Reynold was far more idealistic however, so she put up a facade of empathy. She didn't want to bring up that Dismas was a thief and a murderer. Reynold was too valuable an ally to alienate. So, she rose to her feet, lowered her head, and muttered a quick prayer. "Thank you Reynold," she whispered, hoping that her voice came off as convincingly weepy and sorrowful to the knight. "I need to keep looking. To find who did this." Mainly to keep them from killing more of her men.

Making her way out of the abbey, she tried to block out the sound of the woman flagellating herself as she pushed open the front door. Reynold waved somberly from where he was still sitting. "LADY MIA!" She came to a halt the second she had descended the last of the abbey's forward steps. A woman with dirty blonde hair covered by a pointed hat in a tattered blue coat slid to a halt in front of her, rubbing at her side. Mia looked down at her with curiosity and confusion. It was the grave robber turned mercenary, Audrey. "Lady Mia," she gasped. "I've been looking for you. At the tavern-"

"I know," Mia said curtly. "Dismas is dead. I saw the body myself. It-"

"I think I know who did it!" Audrey managed to force out. Mia's eyes widened in surprise, but she forced herself to remain calm. Audrey had only said that she thought she knew who had done it. She had to make sure. She made a gesture with her hand, indicating that the younger woman should continue. "The sorcerer, can't remember his name. Dismas followed him into the back alley. Dismas was mad at him, he said that he owed him some money. That he had a loan to pay himself, and that he needed the scholar to cough up. They started arguing and shouted at each other, the scholar said that he didn't have the money. Dismas said that, in that case, he'd take double next week. Dismas was staggering around, I think he was drunk. He wasn't being subtle at all. After that, the scholar grabbed Dismas by the throat and forced him back up against a wall. I couldn't see what happened after that, but he came out and Dismas didn't."

Mia's eyes narrowed in suspicion. "You're certain?" She could not afford to rush, she needed to make sure that her information was god before she did anything radical. And to be frank, this sounded wrong. Alhazred confronting Dismas directly? It was absurd. "You didn't see anyone else go in and out of that ally?"

"Well…I…I'm not sure," Audrey said hesitantly. Mia ground her teeth in frustration. "I mean, they weren't the only ones down there. I mean, Katharine went in with Dismas. I think that she was the one he owed money to." Audrey put her finger to her chin, a look of shock spreading across her face. "Now that I think about it, she left long after the scholar did. I just thought it would be more likely that it would be him. He was angry when he left, while she was calm."

"I see," Mia said, mulling this over internally. She was reassessing her early thoughts of Katherine. Killing a broke man was one thing, killing one that owed her money was quite another. On the other hand, Dismas extorting Alhazred raised interesting possibilities. "What about Boudica? Did you see her anywhere?"

"That beast of a woman? No," Audrey said, shaking her head. "And she wouldn't have any luck hiding with her size. She'd be terrible at it anyway. I've been with her in the warrens three times. Every time one of those pig abominations shows up, she screams like a madman and charges directly at them, hewing a head or two off. A couple of the new recruits were more scared of her than the swine."

Mia sized Audrey up. She was a tad unhinged, although to be fair, the same could be said about many of those in her employ. Now that she thought about it, she was a bit like Dismas in that she liked her belly full of ale and her bed warmed by another. Mia couldn't help but wryly wonder how much of the payments she made towards her warriors were wasted away at the tavern.

Taking a step closer, she gave a loud sniff. There was no noticeable smell of alcohol on Audrey, although she did smell as if she needed a bath. Badly. She spotted a handful of black hair on the front of her coat, hair that couldn't be farther from her natural blonde. It was rather evident exactly what the nature of the smell was. It couldn't have happened more than a couple of hours ago. The younger woman took a step back, blinking in confusion. "I'm…flattered by the implication M'lady, but I think this is hardly a good time."

"Oh shut up," Mia grumbled. So, at the very least, she wasn't entertaining the ravings of a drunken lunatic. Something that she had had to deal with on more than one occasion. "Did you spot anything else? Was either of them carrying a bloody dagger for instance?"

Audrey shook her head. "I don't know. All that I saw was that someone had stabbed him and I thought it might have been the man with the turban. It could have been Katharine though, now that you made me think about it. They both do match up. All I know is that I heard Dismas get smashed against a wall and then I heard him get stabbed."

"Very well. Thank you for this information. I suppose." Without a further word, Mia departed, heading across the hamlet. Audrey looked after her before walking in the opposite direction, her pockets jangling with coins as she went. Apparently she hadn't drunk her latest payment away yet.

The only thing that was perfectly clear, at this point, was that it looked like Boudica was innocent. No one had mentioned anything about her so far, in terms of having seen her or in terms of why she would want to kill Dismas. That left Katharine and Alhazred, and both of them had potential motives now. Mainly in the form of debt.

Still, she couldn't forget about Boudica. Even if she was most likely in the clear, there was always the possibility of factors beyond her knowledge. Audrey had seemed a little uncertain of herself. She claimed that Alhazred had done it, but she hadn't actually seen the murder. Katherine had been in the alleyway as well. She could have done it as easily as Alhazred. It was more likely, in fact. The alternative was that Katharine had witnessed the crime and had neither reported it, nor had she tried to stop it.

She gave a snort. Well, to be fair, Katherine was the kind of person who would let someone be murdered right in front of her. Even if it the killer was someone as unimposing and quiet as Alhazred. It would have been a different matter if he had been using that eldritch sorcery of his, but all accounts pointed to there only being a knife involved.

"Unless they were accomplices," Mia whispered to herself. She came to a sudden halt. She had not considered that. It would certainly have made things easier. Two against one, particularly when the one was drunk. They both had motives, could they have possibly conspired together to eliminate a common foe. Maybe Alhazred had gone to Katherine with his money problems, and she had flown into a rage when she had learn Dismas had loaned out money, despite being in debt.

If Alhazred had indeed gone to her that was, but that seemed likely. Katherine was easily the second richest person in the hamlet. Mia was the first, but on a rare day or two, Katherine could technically be considered the first. Mia had made it abundantly clear that she would not be making any loans to anyone in the hamlet, not anymore at least. She had been wiling to do it at first, but said loans were often wasted. Whether it be guilt driven donations to the church, or the trinket saleswoman scamming her gullible fighters, Mia had found that she rarely, if ever, got her money back.

Katherine could loan out gold if she wanted to, that was her business. She seemed relatively savvy with money, she had to be considering she was somehow turning a profit out here. But had she killed over it? Walking without thinking, she found herself passing by Katherine's cavern. She idly glanced at it. The dark skinned woman was standing at the entrance, hunched over a large burlap sack. Even from this distance, Mia could see that it was overflowing with gold.

Glancing over her shoulder, Katherine scowled at her. Pulling the bag closer together, she began to quietly count them. A twinge of annoyance hit Mia. "Don't think too highly of yourself," she muttered as she passed. Then she came to a stop and turned around. Something seemed rather off about Katherine. She took a good long look at the woman, trying to piece it together. And then it hit her. Katherine's sheath was on her back. It was empty.

Looking away, she walked firmly away, forcing herself to not move too fast. Katherine seemed to be preoccupied with her gold, but she might still hear someone running. A missing weapon when there was a body not too far from here. Audrey had been onto something. She might not have even realized it, but she had pointed Mia in the right direction. If Katherine's blade had had any evidence on it, she would have her murderer.

Turning slowly, praying that she wasn't trying too much attention to herself, she slowly made her way towards the blacksmith. If Katherine didn't have her weapon on her, it would most likely be there. Maybe she had sent it there to have incriminating nicks repaired. One way or another, it was the only hope that she had. If Katherine had simply thrown her blade into the warrens or the weald, it would be all for nothing.

The smoky smell of a burning furnace reached her nostrils as she neared the smith's workshop. Pushing the door open, she was greeted with the sound of metal ringing on metal. The blacksmith was working in the back, hammering away at a partially forged sword. "Ah, Lady Mia." The one eyed man-at-arms, Barristan, was standing near the forge. He was pressing a glaive against a spinning whetstone, which he stopped as soon as he entered. Placing it on a nearby rack of weapons, he gave a tired smile. "What brings you here?"

"It's urgent," she said hastily. "Did Katherine leave anything here to be maintained?"

"Yes," Barristan said. Reaching across to the rack, he drew the jagged blade that Katherine used as a weapon. Mia had never liked it, it had always seemed to be a bit of an anomaly. It was too long to be a knife, yet too short to be a dagger. Combined with the award curve it had, she wasn't sure how anyone found value in it. Yet, for some reason, Katherine has chosen to rely on it.

Taking it, she turned it over in her hands. The thing was in remarkably good shape. Internally, she thought a good deal of that might be down to lack of use. The edge was sharp, the point was firm, and the hilt was flawless. She felt a sinking feeling in her stomach as she looked. It was if the thing had never been touched before, let alone used in a battle before. She had thought that she was on the edge of finding the truth.

"Is everything all right Lady Mia?" Barristan asked, looking puzzled.

"I don't know," Mia said, taking the weapon by the hilt and giving it an experimental swing through the air. "I'm trying to figure something out, and it's proving to be more difficult than I thought it might-" she came to a stop as she felt something scrap her index finger, right where the grip gave way to the cross guard. Grabbing the rest of the weapon by the flat of the blade, she looked at where she had felt the odd sensation. There, pressed into the hilt of the weapon, was a drop of dried blood.

"What's been done with this weapon recently?" Mia asked, looking at the blood, hardly daring to believe what she was seeing.

"The usual, sharpening and cleaning," Barristan said. "Although, I have to admit I wasn't the one who did the cleaning. Katherine has been taking care of that by herself. She hasn't been on an expedition for awhile, and she's been polishing it quite a bit ever since. I didn't see her drop it off, there was just a note, but she told me to sharpen it and wash it. I only sharpened in though, it looks perfectly clean from what I could see." He blinked. "Why? Lady Mia, you seem very tense. Is something wrong?"

Mia's grip tightened on the weapon in anger. She knew dried blood enough to tell how old it was. This was very recent. "Katherine is a murderer," she growled. Barristan stiffened for a second, but then stood up in a flash. His mace and shield were in hand. "Put her in the sanitarium. One of their cells can be used to hold her. Tomorrow, we'll hang her. Barristan nodded without hesitation, storming out of the forge. Mia stood there, staring at the foreign weapon in her hand. Her blood boiling.

XXXXX

Mia watched coldly. Katherine was hanging loosely from a set of gallows, her face purple and lifeless. The barrel that she had been standing on had been pitilessly kicked to the side. Katherine had been pleading for her life, sobbing and crying like the coward that she was. Mia had shown no mercy as she had deprived her of the support that had kept her from being strangled.

Very few had come to watch. Reynold had come out of respect for Dismas, Barristan to show his duty as the one who had arrested her, and the caretaker, who simply did as he pleased. Reynold knelt, said a small prayer, then made his departure. Mia wasn't sure if he was praying for Katherine or Dismas, but decided it didn't matter one way or another. As he left, Barristan approached the dead merchant and cut her down. "Another body for you, I'm sorry to say," he said, hoisting the body up and handing it to the caretaker. The caretaker simply nodded, flashing that broken, empty smile of his. Bowing in respect to Mia, Barristan made his departure as well.

"Should I bury this one as well?" the caretaker asked, flashing his yellowing teeth at Mia. "I'm sorry M'lady, but in all the hustle and bustle of getting an execution ready, I've been falling behind on my grave keeping duties. I've still three bodies to bury." He let out a wheezing laugh. "The graves are still in order though, so I've not been negligent."

Mia sighed in exasperation and pity. The caretaker was a diligent and hard worker, despite his tendency to come up short at times. He had served her family faithfully for decades, she really should do something to show her gratitude. She would sleep on it and come up with something. Maybe she would have him retire and let him live on her coin. She owed him that much. Assuming he would even permit himself to stop working.

Something that broken him a long time ago, and she had a terrible feeling that her grandfather had had a hand in it. Whatever he had seen or had done to him, it had reduced him to the shell of a man he was now. He seemed to throw himself into his work to cope, maybe taking it away from him would be cruel. She shook her head, feeling exhausted. Problems and more problems, rarely any solutions. A dilemma that could be found in every corner of this hamlet.

"It is of no concern," she said kindly, or at least attempted to. "And yes. Katherine may be a murderer, but we have standards. We aren't like the swine, we bury the dead." Nodding and giggling, the caretaker carried Katherine's body off towards both his little shack and the graveyard. Mia followed.

She wasn't entirely sure why, but something was driving her on. She had a good feeling that most of it was the anger she felt towards Katherine. The thought that she had been betrayed, betrayed by someone who had sworn loyalty to her, still enraged her.

Before too long, they had reached the tiny little home of the caretaker, the door having been left wide open. As they entered, Mia's nostrils were assaulted by a horrific stench. A scent of decay and death. Three bodies were lying across a table in the far corner, taking up half of the shack. A woman in a plaque doctor uniform, a leper in golden armor, and a jester wearing a white porcelain mask. All of them were showing signs of decay, and what appeared to be maggots were crawling out from underneath the leper's mask.

"I see you buried Dismas already," she commented, looking at the bodies.

"Sadly not," the caretaker said, carelessly throwing Katherine's body on top of the already untidy pile. "I never got around to it. As I said, it takes a lot to construct a gallows on such short notice." He giggled. "I had to break up some of the old furniture I dumped out back."

"But then where is he?" Mia asked. "Where did you put the body?" The caretaker pointed at the table. Mia was getting very frustrated now. She felt sympathy for the caretaker's condition, but her patience had its limits. "He isn't there," she said, barely holding back her anger. "Stop playing games. Where is he?" This time the caretaker looked closely at the pile. He rubbed his eyes a couple of times, as if that would magically tell him the location of the corpse he was searching for.

Eventually, he turned to face her. "I'm sorry, he doesn't seem to be here." Another laugh. "Maybe he got up and walked away. Maybe he went looking for a lady to keep him company. Farther away though. He was always complaining that the tavern only had redheads and brunettes."

Mia opened her mouth to scream in frustration. Then she stopped. Something about what the caretaker had said had struck at her deeply. A horrible feeling was spreading through the pit of her stomach, one of regret and horror. "Where is Audrey?" she asked. She had no idea what she had asked that question, only that she ned it was an important question to ask.

"The last time I saw her was yesterday," the caretaker said, his smile having never faulted. "She hasn't been seen anywhere today." Mia ran as fast as she could. Somehow, her feet took her to Katherine's carriage, despite the fact that she hadn't been intending to head there. Climbing up, she shoved the entrance open and peered inside.

Empty. There wasn't a single thing inside the carriage. The gold that Mia knew had been stored in there yesterday was gone. It had been stripped bare. No. Wait. There was one thing still in the carriage. A tiny piece of paper. Picking it up, Mia slowly began to read.

Dear Lady Mia,

I had a feeling you would realize this sooner or later. You were always a woman of sharp wit. This is goodbye. I have been part of your holy war, as Reynauld has been calling it, for a year. I've done more than most. Brigands, the living dead, cultists, and other horrors I dare not speak of. All of them dead by my hand. Yet, despite this, there is no change.

The ruins still crawl with the dead, the weald becomes more and more overground, the warrens continue to be the dominion of the swine, and that newly discovered cove crawls with even more foul filth. We have not even come close to that Darkest Dungeon your grandfather whispered of. After all of this, I have made my decision.

I cannot do it. I cannot stand one more expedition into those forsaken places. My body has been ravaged by disease, steel and claw. My mind has suffered even worse. All in the game of a battle that we are losing. Lady Mia, your cause is doomed. I will not deny your right to fight it, but I will have no part in it.

I would have simply left, but I needed gold. Sadly, I was not very frugal with what I had earned from you, yet I could not bring myself to earn more. Thankfully, I had a partner in this endeavor. However, the two of us needed more than she had. We knew that Katherine had nearly as much money as you. So we hatched a plan.

Audrey stole Katherine's weapon and bloodied it with swine blood. Meanwhile, I cut myself with my dirk. A shallow wound. It was painful, but also apparently fatal to the untrained eye. I waited out in the alley until I was found and taken away. Audrey had slipped me a potion to dull my senses. I was conscious, but the pain was much more bearable. As I did this, Audrey planted the weapon at the forge with a message that appeared to be from Katherine. She would then go to you after she had learned from the bartender who you suspected.

If she led you on to think it was Katherine from the very start, you might suspect us. So she led you to think it was Alhazred at first, with Katherine being an uncertain possibility. Naturally, it was positioned so that Katherine would eventually seem the more likely culprit, particularly with her blade being sent in for cleaning.

We then stole her money after she was arrested. We'll be far away by the time you read this. I am a horrific person, but I have long since accepted that. I've taken innocent lives before, lives that deserved to be snuffed out much less than Katherine. Besides, she most likely would've died before too long. People like her aren't cut out for the life you force upon people.

I swore an oath of loyalty to you My Lady. But I must break it. My life is doomed to be a short one, but I will not have the last of my days be ones of pain and suffering. I imagine you will understand, even if you do not agree.

My deepest apologies,

Dismas.

If anyone had happened to pass by that carriage at that moment, they would have heard a tearing of paper and a shriek of fury and regret.

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Author's Note: Something odd happened this month. Neither of my five dollar patrons submitted their prompts to me, or they did and there was a communication failure. Still wanting to do the monthly one-shot, I went to my third, one dollar patron and let her chose the prompt. She asked me to write a mystery, although she did not specify the setting. I had always wanted to write a Darkest Dungeon story, and I know she's a fan of it, and so, this happened. Mysteries are uncharted territory for me, and I'm nervous about how this one came out, and I hope you find it to be to your liking. This one's for you xXNanamiXx.

I would like to thank my Patrons SuperFeatherYoshi, xXNanamiXx, and Ryan Van Schaack for their amazing support.