The Cult of Light (Short Story)
For generations (no one knows how many) they have been in the habit of walking the city each day at dusk and placing candles on each windowsill and in each doorway. At dawn they return, just as the last of the wicks are beginning to sputter, and remove the melted stubs. Light, they say, is an art, one which they have long since perfected. Every candle, made by hand, lasts exactly as long as it is not quite bright enough to see in the place where it burns.
Unlike the hoards of tourists who come from every corner of the known (and sometimes unknown) world to catch sight of the phenomenon which is the Cult of Light, I did not come to the city to revel, starry-eyed, in their bizarre practices. I landed in this backwater town as respite.
Respite is a curious word that my superiors in the Guild of Law Enforcement use when someone is too politically awkward to keep around. That’s what happens when you bring down the biggest family the goblin mafia has ever raised only to discover that prominent council members happen to have their silky pockets lined at the expense of the brutes.
Besides, there had been a murder.
As a Detective Constable, I couldn’t deny that it felt just a little degrading to be sent to what is, effectively, a provincial town simply because some fool was ignorant enough to walk down a dark street at night. The department also insisted I travel post, a further embarrassment to my badge but politics is politics.
The young officer who manned the front desk glanced up at me nervously. I was in no mood to waste words on a sprog fresh out of Academy so I held up my badge instead and let him gawp for a second.
“There’s been a murder sir!” he cried, eyes wide and worried.
I rested my hand on the pommel of my sword and called to mind the breathing exercises my apothecary had recommended.
“So I’ve heard.”
My apothecary would be proud. It had sounded so much more reasonable than I had intended. But the boy sat there, forlorn and pale and driving my blood pressure steadily skywards with his lack of initiative.
“It would be really nice to see the body,” I hinted.
He cocked his head, puzzled.
“Do you think so? It gave me the heebie-jeebies you know.”
“Take me to see the body idiot.”
He scrambled to his feet, face flushed and murmuring something about tonal recognition classes at the Academy. I ignored his blathering as we made our way through to the back of the station to a small side room where the unfortunate fool (the victim, not the officer) lay covered in a sheet on a slab. The policeman hovered at my shoulder.
“Do you mind if I leave you to it? We never have murders here.”
I glared at him, pulling the sheet aside.
“You’ll stay right where you are.”
Truth be told, his discomfort was somewhat therapeutic. If I was to be on this ridiculous case, I’d make sure to enjoy it.
I glanced at the body.
Quite definitely murder.
x x x
Candle Lane, the home of the Cult of Light, was mildly spectacular. Had I been there on holiday, I might have taken a moment to appreciate that the entirety of the avenue was illuminated in gold flame without the exception of a single crevice or corner, but there are reputations to be upheld when on duty. The officer from the station evidently had not realised this vital principle.
The woman we were looking for was easy to find considering she had her family name painted in enormous letters above her door. Needless to say she was not pleased that her husband had not come home the night before and was even less pleased to find that he had been rather gruesomely inhumed.
These provincial types cry at the slightest disturbance to their daily routine. It’s rather tedious really, especially having to watch underage constables offering them tissues and expressing limp condolences. We did, however, surmise that he had been out particularly late that evening, running some errands and having a drink with his friends.
Case closed. And I told her so.
Drunk men are often foolish enough to walk down dark streets alone at night and find themselves waking up (or not waking up) on a cold slab in the morning with a knife in their side and less cash in their pockets than they had started out with.
She sniffled in the most unladylike manner and put on a fresh burst of tears. The confounded woman had the most incredible stamina I’d ever seen when it came to pitiful sobbing. She put a hand on my arm and I tried not to cringe.
“That’s the thing officer, there are no dark alleyways in the city . The Cult of Light makes sure of it. There’s something else going on, there must be.”
I narrowed my eyes but the officer patted her on the hand in the most condescending way. I made a mental note to find an excuse to slap him before I left.
“Now now,” he simpered, “I hear that people are often shocked by the death of a loved one and it can lead to all sorts of confusion and denial.”
She stared at him in disbelief.
“I know my husband is dead you imbecile. I’m telling you that this wasn’t just a mugging.”
Though I had been inclined to disregard her before, the woman was growing on me. She turned pleadingly and that’s when it all became so much more interesting.
“He was agitated that evening. He was upset and talking what I thought was nonsense but he must have discovered something.”
I raised my eyebrow.
“They say, that is, there are rumours. People have been seeing shadows on the Avenue of Light.”