It was now a month into vaccine progress. The doctors were doing what they could to help treat the symptoms, but they knew it wasn’t an actual treatment. 17 people had died of gel-pox, King Jonthar’s parents included. Jonthar had already set aside a lot of money to develop a vaccine, but he set aside more and urged the upper class to donate what they could so a vaccine would come faster. I’m sorry to say that his actions weren’t totally well-received. The essential workers praised him, as did their employers, but the previous king, Queen Keelma’s father, Santha, publicly called it a waste of resources. He believed the problem would just go away on its own, an argument he and Keelma constantly had. “You ALWAYS did lack empathy!” hissed Keelma during one such argument.
“And YOU lack clarity!” accused Santha. “You and your bug husband are wasting time on trivial people!”
“Farmers, food workers, doctors, they’re trivial to you?!”
“They can be replaced!”
“They’re not non-Mechanica machines! They CAN’T be replaced!”
“Anyone can do their job!”
“That’s not true!” Before the argument could go any further, a doctor entered the room.
“Your Majesty! Good news!” he called.
“You dare interrupt…!” began Santha.
“Dad, shut up. Someone more important than you is talking,” hissed Keelma. She turned to the doctor, leaving her father to stand stunned at what she said. “You were saying, Doctor?”
“We’ve gotten the genetic makeup of this particular strain of gel-pox,” reported the doctor. “It’s an artificial strain!”
“Artificial?! Are you sure?!” gasped Keelma.
“Indeed! And the mutation factor’s consistent! We begin experiments on one version of this strain and it already mutates to account for that! I don’t mind telling you, we could actually have a vaccine next month!”
“Has my husband been informed?”
“He’s being told the news as we…” the doctor was interrupted by a loud cheer.
“Sounds like he’s received the news,” mused Keelma. “Doctor, you and your teams are instrumental! Once you have the vaccine, deliver it to essential workers first. Leave us royals and rich people for last.”
“Understood, Your Majesty!” confirmed the doctor as he bowed and left the room.
“…You once called our methods a waste of money, Dad,” Keelma remarked to Santha. “Can you still say that?”
“Quite easily,” scoffed Santha. “And a waste of time too. You gave the unimportant people too much money!”
“They just discovered that this strain of gel-pox is an artificial strain and promised us a new timetable and you STILL say they’re unimportant?!”
“They are nothing more than pieces in a ruler’s game, something YOU’VE never grasped!”
“And there’s the difference between you and me! Don’t bother saying anything else, you WON’T change my mind!” Keelma stormed out of the room and made her way to the stables. She went to her horse’s berth and found her beautiful black and white horse speaking to the Centaur Stable Master. The conversation was…not really what she expected.
“That’s impossible!” protested her horse as she stamped her hoof in frustration.
“I’m sorry, Gale,” replied the Stable Master, “but I don’t know what to tell you! We’ve searched every inch of the grounds and the doctor and his carriage aren’t even here!”
“What’s this about a missing doctor and carriage?” called Keelma.
“Your Majesty, Doctor Anful and his personal carriage are gone, but none of the horses are missing,” explained the Stable Master.
“Anful’s one of the best stable doctors here,” remarked Keelma. “How do you just lose him?”
“We didn’t LOSE him,” corrected the horse, Gale. “He went missing.”
“That’s not much of a difference in this case.”
“Hold on, I just had a thought,” muttered the Stable Master.
“What’s that?” asked Gale.
“If none of the horses are missing, how did his carriage move?”
“…I…I don’t know…”
“His carriage isn’t a horseless one, is it?” asked Keelma.
“No,” replied Gale, “it isn’t.”
“All right, that’s put a frightening spin on this!”
“I think I need a good run to clear my head.”
“Mind if I join you? I just had an argument with my dad.”
“Hop on, then.” The Stable Master helped Keelma up onto Gale. Once Keelma indicated she was comfortably on Gale, Gale trotted out of the stables and then sped up gradually until they were in the woods behind the castle. Gale liked running in the woods, it kept her skills to make quick decisions up to scratch. Keelma just liked feeling the wind blow her hair back, it always soothed her mind. While the forest was thick, the trees still allowed sunlight to pierce the canopy.
“A lovely day, wouldn’t you agree?” asked Keelma.
“Wholeheartedly,” answered Gale. “The air is clean, the sun is out, this is a day where nothing goes wrong.” That phrase invited disaster that day. The instant Gale entered a clearing, she saw something that made her rear up and whinny in fright. Keelma almost fell off!
“Easy, girl! Easy!” called Keelma as Gale put her hooves down and moved back. She finally saw what scared Gale. There was a smoldering wreck of a carriage in the clearing. “Okay, maybe you spoke too soon!”
“What’s going on here?!” yelped Gale. “Where’d all this come from?!”
“We better get back to the castle and raise the alarm!”
“His Majesty’s not going to like this!” Gale turned around and broke off into a gallop. King Jonthar and the Royal Guard were told about the situation and a member of the City Guard told them to expect an investigation team at the site as an Elven convent in the woods had already informed them of the carriage wreck. Jonthar, Keelma, and members of the Royal Guard rode towards the wreck and met with the investigation team and the convent’s Abbess, Nanfel. She and a novice of her order were giving their statement when the King and Queen arrived. The investigators had ordered everyone to stay back as they conducted their preliminary investigations, not wanting the crime scene to be contaminated.
“Goodness me!” whispered Nanfel. “Who could have done this?”
“Hoodlums with little to no respect and even less self-control,” replied the Dryad in charge of the investigation, Redwood.
“But to strike HERE of all places?!” protested Jonthar. “Children play in these woods!”
“If they had any sense of decency,” hissed the novice, “they wouldn’t have thought to do this!”
“Yallen!” admonished Nanfel. The novice subsided, realizing she spoke out of turn.
“Don’t worry,” assured Redwood, “we’ll find these scoundrels and bring them to justice!”
“SARGE!” called an Alraune. “COME HERE! QUICK!” Redwood, the Royals, and Nanfel followed Redwood. He stopped and his eyes widened, seeing evidence that the case was now worse.
“Oh no!” he groaned.
“What’s wrong?” asked Jonthar.
“Mother Superior,” Redwood called to Nanfel, “I’m sorry to report that we need your order’s services.” Jonthar, Keelma, and Nanfel gasped when they got a good look.
“By the Ones!” breathed Keelma as she hugged Jonthar tightly, feeling very scared. What they saw was the shiny, yet still very skeletal remains of an Elf. The pelvis indicated that it was a male Elf and dental records identified the victim to be the Stables’ doctor, Anful.
When the Princesses heard about this, they were mortified and saddened at Anful’s death. News reached the Endeavor and the doctors working on the cure for the gel-pox pandemic. Everyone offered their sympathies and whatever help they could give to Anful’s family. There was little solace to be had at the poor man’s funeral. It was hardly surprising; there were just too many questions surrounding his death. The whole affair was perfect fodder for the news, and it became a media sensation, its details talked about everywhere. Under normal circumstances, the Realms’ top criminal investigators would be tasked with solving it, but that was hard to do safely, given the gel-pox pandemic. The murderer picked an excellent time to strike, even going so far as to kill him in such a way that was unknown. Foresna and Gorfanth were talking to Elmar and Bashoon about it. “Did you guys hear the latest?” asked Gorfanth. “The City Guard had to call off the investigation until a vaccine’s been made.”
“Understandable,” replied Elmar. “What else can they do, given that they’re clueless during this pandemic.”
“Come on, Sir!” admonished Bashoon. “That’s hardly fair!”
“If I came off as derogatory, then I apologize,” answered Elmar. “I merely meant that they’ve exhausted every investigatory avenue given the current public health circumstances. To be honest, though, I doubt Enfanti could solve this one.”
“You’re not really wrong,” remarked Foresna. “I mean, how does someone steal a carriage, kidnap someone, manage to not tip off castle security, destroy it, kill the kidnapped person, then dump their remains in a forest clearing, all within the span of an hour, if the investigations are any indication?”
“If you hear some of the crew,” muttered Gorfanth, “they’ve got some theories about that. I assure you, none of them are good.”
“Like what?” asked Foresna.
“How about you two wait until Ensign Barmek and I are gone,” suggested Elmar, “before you discuss those theories?”
“Gone?” repeated Gorfanth. “Where are you guys going?”
“To Anful’s house to give his family financial aid, if you can believe it,” replied Bashoon.
“I thought Anful’s family hated yours, Elmar,” remarked Gorfanth.
“The feeling is mutual,” answered Elmar, “but neither side would wish death on the other. This is a gesture to help Anful’s family, given their recent loss. Perhaps this will mend fences between our families. As of this moment, I don’t mind assisting them.”
“Good to hear,” praised Foresna. “Just make sure your robes are secured for the ride!”
“What?!” yelped Elmar, momentarily losing his composure. “How did you…the Captain told you, didn’t she?”
“Actually, I did,” giggled Bashoon.
“I’ll be putting a reprimand in your file for that,” muttered Elmar as he and Bashoon headed to the cargo bay.