Fraruitt Part 2
In the entire next half an hour or so, Karlos performed the role of a perfect, gentlemanly “Mr. Knight”, making Jel’s niece and nephew circle around him, starry-eyed. Even when the adults sat down for business, the two children were still tugging Karlos’s two sleeves, refusing to let him go.
“Okay, okay.” The green-eyed man had astounding patience for children — perhaps because he too, was a child yet to grow up. “If you two play with Evan outside for a while, I promise I’ll bring you guys on an unforgettable adventure.”
Lily refused to fall for it, and rejected blank checks. She asked stubbornly, “What adventure?”
Karlos feigned being in a dilemma. “If I told you, it wouldn’t be a surprise anymore, would it?”
A lollipop in his mouth, Mike looked up at him condescendingly, asking in a muffled voice, “So you plan on deceiving kids?”
“Mike, Lily, I’ve said that you shouldn’t make demands of adults.” Mrs. Shelton sternly criticized, “Where are your manners?”
Lily pouted unhappily.
No, no, it’s fine.” Karlos contemplated and squatted down, whispering into Lily and Mike’s ears, “How about we have a one-day tour at the Temple’s forbidden Underground Palace ?”
Mike widened his eyes, and Karlos hurriedly put his hand over his mouth. “Shh, this is a secret, little sir.”
But Lily considered for a moment and asked cautiously, “Will it be more exciting than the Creepy Museum?”
“A thousand times more exciting.” Karlos laughed. “I promise.”
The three of them started a rowdy meeting, until the mischievous gremlins reached common understanding. Evan led two clingy brats outside to play, and only then did Jel motion for Karlos to sit and listen to Mrs. Shelton speak.
When Mrs. Shelton was younger, she was a Temple member as well. But now, she had long retired with triumph to take care of her grandchildren. She took out a tightly wrapped file from her handbag, and placed it on the coffee table. She began grimly, “It has been thirty years since I left the Temple. Keeping in mind your duty of confidentiality, I should not be asking about what exactly happened in the Temple’s internal structure. But the accident last week in the kindergarten where Mike and the others were at truly made me apprehensive.”
Jel opened up the file to see investigation photos of the crime scene. Theoretically, the given information of the case should exclude the specific time of death. The local police should not reveal these to the common citizens, but hunters should always have connections with people of different social strata — the police, government officials, gangsters, and even crime syndicates.
Even an older hunter like Mrs. Shelton, who had retired for many years, still ensured she had her own sources of information.
“This is the case in the State of Sellute where someone’s eyes were dug out.” Jel frowned and glanced at his mother. “Yes, I saw this in the newspapers. They said that a woman in the State of Sellute had her eyes dug out and then her corpse was thrown away. The police suspect that the culprit was mentally unstable.”
“The victim is Mike’s teacher, Ms. Laura,” Mrs. Shelton said. “That day, she wasn’t at work and did not take the day off. As you know, their kindergarten has a rule. Every morning, teachers must first wait at the entrance for the parents to hand their children over to them. That morning, after I brought Mike to the kindergarten, we stood there for more than ten minutes in the cold wind before the kindergarten principal hurriedly arranged for another teacher to lead the kids in. No one knew that she died.”
“How was the body discovered?”
“A child snuck out and found it among the trees in the park behind the kindergarten.” Mrs. Shelton said, “That child wasn’t even five. He might have suffered a shock, so he’s in treatment now. His guardian even rejected answering the police’s questions. The police believe that Ms. Laura was killed when she was alone, locking up the doors the night before. After killing her, her body was tossed in the park. To keep the children safe, the kindergarten is temporarily closed, and all the parents had to bring their children home.”
“Yes, this, I understand.” Jel gave the victim’s photo to Karlos who was beside him. “But, Mother, what about this worried you?”
“Just my intuition.” It was a while later when Mrs. Shelton finally answered softly. She looked no different from any other old married woman crossing the road with her grandchildren and large bags. But in this moment, alarm and sobriety that only some warriors could have glinted in her eyes. “Your father knew someone who’s currently working as the police chief in the State of Sellute. We got ourselves involved in this case through personal connections. But there is no progress even after a week. Word said that Ms. Laura died due to a rupture in her internal organs. Even now, the forensics can’t give a concrete answer.”
“What could allow a young, strong adult woman to suffer no other outside injuries at all, not even from defending herself, aside from her eyes being dug out? All that while her organs were crushed into pieces by someone… or some kind of creature?” The joyful screams of children came from the courtyard. It seemed that Evan was playing a game with them. Mrs. Shelton’s voice became softer and softer.
“Your thoughts?” Jel turned to ask Karlos.
Karlos leaned against the couch quietly, and studied the rather high quality “photo” with furrowed brows. He had seen Jel’s works before, but it was his first time to know that aside from commemoration, there was such a use to Mr. Good’s favorite photographs… It was as though he could see the crime scene himself.
“True.” Karlos pondered and responded, “I know a type of Decay who could destroy internal organs within an instant. We call it ‘Drummer’. Level 2. It doesn’t mean it’s not that strong., But for some reason, Drummers cannot create their own ‘barriers’. They’re used to moving alone, and eat very simple foods. They like to eat humans’ ‘suffering’, being a type of ‘spirit-consuming’ Decays. I’ve never heard of a Drummer who felt interest in humans’ flesh or… their eyes.”
“Then, her eyes were…”
“Dug out with some kind of tool,” Mrs. Shelton finished. “That’s fine. Maybe this is a human culprit with a perverse mind like what the police said — but what did you say? Drummers? Isn’t that a Decay that was long extinct?”
“Mother.” Jel interrupted her. “You’ve already retired, stop worrying about the Temple. I will report to the dispatch department, and tell them to investigate this.”
Karlos stared at the female corpse’s empty eye sockets in the photo, rubbing his chin with his fingers. “Just because it used a tool doesn’t mean it’s a human.”
“You mean, a Decay with a human form?”
“Yes. Other than that, there’s a possession-type of Decay too.” Karlos put down the photo. “I can only be sure after seeing the body myself.”
Mrs. Shelton scrutinized Karlos up and down. “Are you a fresh hunter graduate?”
“No.” Karlos flashed a smile that could melt snow. “Most beautiful lady, I am the best unofficial Temple member.”
Jel went out to contact the Temple’s dispatch department, but Amy unexpectedly joined him outside. Seeing Jel, they shrugged. “Your mom and that Mr. Cleric are having a nice chit-chat like they were kindred spirits. I felt unnecessary and extra sitting there, so I’m here for some air.”
Jel rested his head on the flower railings in his courtyard, and glanced back at the people in the living room. Then, he muttered to Amy, “To be honest, I’ve gotten a strange feeling these past couple of days, as if… he was constantly seeing someone through me.”
“It started from that day I offhandedly told him I was a descendant of the Fraruitts,” Jel said.
“Maybe he knows Karlos?” Amy’s eyes lit up.
Jel shrugged. “I don’t know. He wouldn’t tell me.”
When he spoke, his side profile faced Amy. And Amy, who had been carefree this whole while, suddenly squinted at Jel with some astonishment… Was it their imagination? Jel’s side profile suddenly looked slightly like John’s.
A thought flashed past Amy’s mind — Roy had certainly mentioned that according to history, Karlos did not take on any work from the Temple. But in that frightening war, enough Clerics had died to form a football team. By the end, they did not even have the time to record all the changes in succession. And “John” had certainly mentioned that he only took up the Cleric post in a special time.
Was there a chance that… a chance that he was…?
Lily spotted her little uncle from afar, and hopped her way into his arms. Jel carried her in his arms and tossed her in the air before catching her. The little girl shrieked before giggling on and on, tugging his sleeves and begging him to do it again.
But through the opened door, Amy carefully observed the green-eyed man in the room, witnessing his diligence in taking care of Mrs. Shelton — from pouring tea for her, and putting in the milk, to listening to her talk about everyday things unblinkingly.
If he was just Karlos Fraruitt’s friend, and if he had simply seen his old friend through Jel, why would he be so interested in all the little trivialities of this family?
Amy suddenly found this diligence extremely familiar, just like Amy’s father who had returned to visit them many years after their parents’ divorce — afraid of facing Amy, but yet, he yearned to see them; was willing to do anything at all for them, and would even poorly attempt to get onto his good side; would listen to him talk about those little unimportant things as if he was starving for them.
If… the Cleric dying in the battle was, in truth, the legendary “genius” Karlos… how probable was that?
Amy’s mind was buzzing. Their bulging eyes were fixed on the smiling handsome youth who elegantly lifted Mrs. Shelton’s hand as he invited her to visit the garden.
Archbishop Aldo was famous in history because of his “accomplishments”, and upon his name’s immortalization in the history books, he was revered and admired by the later generations, while Karlos Fraruitt was not… The retellings, legends, unofficial history, official ones of for a millenium now… had led him to become the legend in the people’s hearts.
Was it really him?
Sadly, before Amy could find a chance to be alone with “John” to ask him, they were urgently summoned by the Temple. This caused the Healer to sigh with regret. But Amy would have never expected that the chance for them to know the truth will soon come in an unexpected turn of events.
The next morning, Mike and Lily who were temporarily staying in Jel’s house ran sneakily into Karlos’s room, their slippers in hand as though they were robbers. They scratched the door and called for him with a voice as soft as a kitten’s mewl. “John, John…”
“Come in quick.” Then, he cast a glance at Mike’s little backpack. “What’s inside?”
Mike opened the bag and said righteously, “Tools for a campfire!”
Sausages, potato chips, lollipops… and even an artwork named “Karlos”.
Looking at the buff and muscular man in the get-up of a superhero, the actual person, Karlos, twitched his mouth.
“I heard stories about the Underground Palace from granny. She said there’s lots and lots of monsters in there.” Now that they were setting off, Lily seemed to be a little afraid.
Before Karlos could respond, Mike interrupted her overbearingly, “Granny was just joking! As if there’s any monsters in the Underground Palace! Only tons and tons of heroes are living there, and working hard everyday. When Christmas comes, they’ll get Santa Claus and reindeers to deliver presents to good children!”
Honey, that’s the job of the elves in the North Pole, okay?
“We’ll even get to see Karlos! I want to give this to him!” Mike raised the picture of the buff man with a wide grin and announced solemnly.
Honey, you’d already met him, and he… truly did not want this idiotic drawing.
Lily tugged the edge of Karlos’s shirt, and whispered, “What will happen if Granny and Uncle Jel finds out?”
Mike, “Girls are all scaredy-cats! If I knew this was happening, I shouldn’t have brought you!”
Lily glared at him angrily, the moisture in her big eyes gathering, her little mouth puckering together as if she was about to break out crying.
“Normally before an adventure, ladies and gentlemen,” He spoke grimly, “I will not stand for any internal strife — and you little brat, how can you bully your little sister? Alright, don’t cry, little gal, you’re right. I’m sending you off now to write a note to Uncle Jel. Just tell him we’re going on an adventure and we’ll be back in the afternoon. How is that? Do you know your spelling?”