Transcript – The White Marlin

[The Pensive Tower theme plays]

Scroll & Dagger presents
The Pensive Tower
Episode Twenty Six: The White Marlin

[A click, and the strange whirring of the venoscribe begins]

This is the memory of Doctor Agetta Pelroi Caa’dn. Pencori, aged thirty-seven, identified as female. Memory regards the famous Murder of the White Marlin and was donated on the twenty-first of Baretree, in the year 613. Inscribed by Paxton Ferox on the sixteenth of Chillintine, 730.

We Begin.

I expect you’ve heard the story by now. Quite a few people have. Or, at least, they think they have. It really is amazing how your gazettes were able to be so thorough in their reporting and yet miss completely the most disturbing part.

But then I suppose that part of it is being kept out of the papers. I can’t say I’m surprised. The whole affair is terrible enough without adding the more grizzly details.

So, I suppose it is left to me to make sure those details are remembered somewhere, even if it is only here. I almost decided against it, let the world have its sanitised version of events and take the true account to my grave.

And yet, the memory of it keeps me awake at night. I am plagued by visions of it. So I hope that by committing this story to your library, I may finally get a bit of peace.

It’s difficult to know where to begin. I’m sure I don’t need to give you the date, it’s been in the papers enough I’m sure everyone in the world knows the date by now. So, instead, I’ll begin by explaining what I was doing aboard the White Marlin on that fateful day.

I am a native of Xealica, born and raised in Moul Town, and that is where I spend the majority of my year. A friend of mine, Lamla Ludnick, became a sailor and, when she grew tired of the life, settled here in the Federation, in the Wind Islands Archipelago, on the island of Meir. It’s not where I personally would have chosen to live but she likes it there and, once or twice a year, I make the trip across the Wind Sea for a visit.

And it was in the middle of one such visit that I received word from Moul Town, from my sister. Our mother has been ailing for several years now and she’d taken a turn for the worse and my sister contacted me by apovox to tell me to get back as quick as I could.

So, I bid farewell to Lamla and went to the harbour. It was a full two day voyage to Moul Town, and that is assuming conditions are favourable, so I determined to book passage on the first ship that had space, no matter what ship it was. And as it turned out, that ship was the White Marlin.

If you didn’t know, the Marlin is a luxury cruise ship, one of the best afloat, a true feat of engineering. The ticket prices can be a little eye-watering, fortunately there was space in one of the galley cabins so I was able to board quickly and, relatively, inexpensively.

There wasn’t much in the way of storage in my cabin, which was fine since I only had the one bag.

My fellow passengers were the sort of notables you might expect to find enjoying a cruise across the Wind Sea. I will here name only the few who are relevant to my story but please bear in mind that there were around two score others, and that does not include the crew.

The first I encountered, to my ever-lasting regret, was Mister Raeph SinTichard. I met him at the evening meal, I was seated beside him at the dinner table.

I am aware that I am a reasonably attractive woman and so am used to people making their interest known. I am, indeed, quite often pleased with the attention and do sometimes make a new friend and, occasionally, it does go further than that. This Mr. SinTichard, however, was most certainly the kind whose attention I was not pleased with.

It was not as if he were… unattractive. He had a strong jawline and deep brown eyes, and he was well kempt and well dressed. I think the problem was he knew all too well that he was appealing and so carried himself with a casual arrogance that I personally find very unattractive.

He gave me a smile over the top of his wine glass, the kind which I am sure stirred a few hearts over the years, but which filled me with nothing but embarrassment and a desire to be seated elsewhere at the table.

He introduced himself as a merchant, a representative of some textile company from somewhere in Senteria. He was travelling to Moul Town to visit his family’s partner company. After what felt like an eternity of hearing the ins and outs of their pan-Wind Sea operation, he asked me what I did. And I told him I was a doctor. He asked me what was my field.

Criminology, I told him, quite honestly, focussing mainly on criminal psychology. I worked, I elaborated, I admit partly out of a desire to stop him from talking again, as a consultant for the Moul Town chapter of the Marshall Order, our equivalent of your lawkeepers.

That did seem to take him by surprise, mercifully enough, which gave me enough time to turn my attention to the others who were sat at our table.

The person sat to my immediate left was a severe looking woman. A raekn, which surprised me as I’ve not often seen one of that people in company of this sort. Unsurprising, I suppose, as they are rarely well regarded, no doubt due to the unfortunate resemblance they have with rats. I introduced myself to the woman and she did likewise, giving her name as Professor Moran. She was a teacher, she told me, at one of the Universities you have here in the capital, though I forget which one.

To her left was a martyst who gave his name as Witness Kobiah Wakely, a human with pale skin which I’d heard of but not seen before. To my right, on the other side of Mister SinTichard, was an elderly woman, another human, who notably wore a wedding band on a silver chain around her neck, marking her as a widow. She gave her name as Madam duLane and didn’t say much more than that, though in the course of our polite dinner conversation I did hear her give up the information that she was taking this cruise for some time away from the Federation. It seemed her wife had only recently passed and she needed some space away from her home.

The sixth person at our table, who sat opposite from myself, was yet another human, a little younger than Madam duLane though, I think on the younger side of middle age as his hair was only just starting to go grey. Aside from that, he looked perfectly ordinary, though he did wear a white leather glove on his left hand. He had looked up when I’d said I was a doctor and he said that he too was a doctor, though he worked in the medical profession. He introduced himself as Doctor Albret SinKrast. I asked him about the glove and he looked down as if he had forgotten he was wearing it. He smiled and said he had suffered a nasty chemical burn during his training and he kept the glove on so as not to ruin anyone’s appetite.

Much of the conversation was light-hearted, at least until Mister SinTichard launched into another anecdote, at which point the rest of us would wait politely for him to finish before carrying on our conversation.

At one point during the meal, the Captain came to join us. Kiliri Narina was her name. She was a pencori, though I later found out she was a Federation national and had been born and raised in the archipelago. She was a pleasant enough woman, though she seemed a little distracted. At the time, I put that down to her being busy with the duties of her station. Looking back now, though, I am not so sure.

One thing I didn’t notice at the time was how quiet Mister SinTichard was while the Captain was talking with us. Possibly I was just so relieved that his seemingly inexhaustible supply of stories had finally dried out. It was only after the captain had departed that he seemed to come alive again.

The meal ended with drinks being served and we were invited to the foredeck to enjoy the sunset. I chatted with a few other people, though I’m afraid none really stuck in my memory.

The only interaction I can really remember, is when Witness Wakely joined me at the railing. I had been standing there alone, just to enjoy a quiet moment with nothing but the breeze and the sound of the waves gently breaking against the hull of the ship, when I was suddenly aware of him coming up beside me.

He hadn’t spoken much at dinner but he had been polite the few times he had spoken, so I had taken him to be basically good natured if a little on the dim side, as it is with many who enter the religious life, so I greeted him in what I hoped was a friendly manner.

As it turned out, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Witness Wakely was in possession of a singularly sharp mind and his verbal frugality was merely a symptom of being careful with his speech.

There, beside the rail, we exchanged a few pleasantries, though I could tell there was something of note that he wanted to say to me but was building himself up to saying it.

Finally, he asked if I had noticed anything odd about our dining companions. I told him I had not and asked what had prompted him to ask such a thing.

He looked troubled at that, as if unsure of how to answer. He opened his mouth, finally, but was prevented from speaking by the Captain, who came over to ask the martyst if he would say an evening prayer.

Wakely said he would be happy to and promptly left with the captain, leaving me rather nonplussed but not suspecting that anything might be amiss.

The evening progressed until night had truly fallen and the deck lamps had been lit. I had enjoyed my evening but decided it was time I went to bed. I reflected at that point that I had not seen Mister SinTichard since dinner, but only in as far that I was profoundly glad that I had been spared yet more of his stories and had instead been able to enjoy my evening in relative peace.

My peace was not to last however as, no sooner had I made myself comfortable in my cabin then there was a knock on the door. I opened it to find Mister SinTichard standing there, looking considerably more nervous than he had been just a few hours before.

My first thought was that he had misconstrued my polite conversation earlier as some form of invitation and I immediately steadied myself to disabuse him of such notions.

As it turned out, however, Mister SinTichard had no such thoughts on his mind. He told me that he was afraid for his life and he asked if I could protect him.

This did take me off balance. I asked him why he should be so afraid and he presented me with a piece of paper. I thought at first it was a note, and it was in a way. But it had not been written in ink. Instead, the letters had been singed into the paper, as if someone had taken a hot fire poker and used it as a pen.

The note was short, it simply said; “The Red Debt is due.”

I looked up from the note to find Mister SinTichard positively quivering. I asked what it meant but he, glancing frantically left and write, barely seemed to be aware I had spoken.

He only repeated, again and again, that it was a threat and he asked me once more if I would protect him.

I, somewhat irritably, asked him what he expected me to do about it.

“You work with the Marshall Order,” he snapped back, “I need protection!”

I tried to calm him down but he just kept repeating that he was in danger and, finally, asked to be allowed to stay in my room for his own safety.

I was not unsympathetic, I think, but obviously such a thing was out of the question. I told him that, if he was so worried, he should report this to the captain then go back to his own cabin and sleep with the door locked. At which point I closed my own door, locked it and resolved to ignore any further knocking that might come. Though none did.

And that was the last time I saw Mister SinTichard alive.

I was awoken the following morning by the bell. It was a riotous clanging that jerked me awake instantly. It served its function well, for I knew in that moment that something bad had either happened or was in progress.

I pulled on a dress and did the bare minimum I needed to appear presentable, then opened my door into the corridor. There were not enough people aboard for there to be a hive of activity, but everyone was clearly disturbed.

I asked one of the deck hands what was going on but it was the widow, Madam duLane, who supplied the information. She said that Mister SinTichard had been discovered below decks, hanging like a pig in a butcher’s window, his throat slit nearly ear to ear.

I remember being unable to move, practically frozen in place. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Obviously, I have encountered murder before but, it’s one thing to deal with it in the city, when it’s someone you didn’t know.

Even though I had hardly taken to Mister SinTichard, it was shocking to think that someone I had spoken to only hours before was now dead.

I had to see this for myself. I followed the crowd down to the hold. It was filled with many crates, trunks and boxes, cargo that the ship was carrying between the Federation and Xealica along with the personal belongings of passengers that were too big to fit in the cabins.

And, just like Madam duLane had said, there he was.

They had been able to cut him down by the time I arrived and Mister SinTichard now lay on the somewhat wet floor of the hold. Both Doctor SinKrast and Captain Kiliri were there. The Doctor was examining the body.

The Captain looked over, her face frantic, as I reached the bottom of the stairs. Several of the crew were there as well, doing their best to keep away the other passengers who, like me, had come to see if the rumour was true. But, when she saw that it was me, her expression suddenly became relieved.

“Doctor Pelroi,” she called to me, sounding close to tears, “please, could you come and assist with this?”

I crossed the open space, gently moving the other passengers out of my way. The crewmen moved aside to let me pass. And there he was.

Mister SinTichard lay there, spread eagled. The rope still bound his ankles but his arms were free and they lay wide apart as if the dead man were expecting to take flight. His skin was colourless, drained of life. His blood was a semi-congealed pool beneath him. But it was his face that drew the gaze. His eyes bulged almost from his sockets and his mouth was drawn back in what would have been a scream if any breath had still existed in his lungs.

Captain Narina was watching me, clearly hoping for some instruction. I could hardly blame her. She might be the captain of the ship, but this was far beyond what she would be used to. The White Marlin was a luxury liner, she was specialised in the field of entertainment of the rich and influential, keeping things running smoothly, making sure the bar was well stocked.

But a murder? Well there is no shame in knowing when one is out of their depth.

I told her we needed to stop the passage at once. The murderer could only be someone aboard and, once we docked, that person would slip ashore and would never be caught.

I did worry that she would protest, say something to the effect of the inconvenience it would put on the influential passengers or the financial losses that would cause. But, mercifully, the captain leapt to action immediately, moving away to bark orders at a couple of the faster looking of the crew who ran up the stairs in the direction of the decks.

I turned my attention to Doctor Albret, who’d been examining the body with a chill focus that was oddly calming given the craziness of the situation. I usually deal with the more academic side of criminal investigations, building character and psychological profiles, that sort of thing, so it was good to have someone there who knew what they were doing. Albret deduced that the murder would have happened no more than four hours previously, that there had been no struggle but Mister SinTichard had been awake. I made a note of all this in the small notebook I kept in my pocket. I decided that Mr. SinTichard must have known the killer or else been unable to fight back. The killer must have been quick, or else been able to catch the unfortunate Mister SinTichard unawares.

Captain Narina had returned and asked what she could do to help. I advised her to consign all the passengers to their cabins, both for their safety and, if one of them was the murderer, to make sure they couldn’t get away.

The Captain nodded and turned to give those instructions to two more of the crew, while telling others to take the body and put it into an empty cabin.

I walked with them as they carried the body up the stairs and onto the deck. The sun had truly risen by now. As we walked out into the light, I chanced to glance down at the body. At the time, I thought I imagined it, hence why I disregarded it. But as the light touched his skin, I saw a mark. It was only there for a second, on the back of his left hand. It was a twisting design, not truly anything in particular, like one of those blot-tests that analysts use that can be seen a multitude of different ways. I worry what it says about my mental state that what I saw was a snarling, monstrous face.

An instant later, it was gone.

I began by questioning the other passengers. A fruitless endeavour, as it turned out. They all had alibis which could all be corroborated. Professor Moran had woken early and had been discussing theology with Witness Wakely, Madam duLane had been sleeping near the crew quarters and would have been heard if she’d left her room and Doctor SinKrast… Well he had been with the Captain. All the other passengers had similarly air-tight stories. None of them had even known Mister SinTichard before boarding the ship and it seemed none had interacted with him any more than I had. And, though I had no love for the man, my feelings were hardly homicidal.

The crew were no more help. They had interacted with him even less than the other passengers, except to take his bags to his room and serve his drinks and food the night before.

There was one exception. I spoke to the first mate, a tall pencori man by the name of Carllim Su’en, and, while asking my questions, I brought up the note the Mister SinTichard had shown me the night before. He asked what the note had said and I told him; “The Red Debt is due”. The second I said those words, the man visibly blanched. I demanded to know what those words meant to him. He tried at first to deny it but eventually he admitted he had heard that expression before.

It had been just over a year ago, he said. They’d made port at Winmouth and had been stopping there overnight, so the Captain had given them permission to go ashore.

Carllim and some of the other officers had spent the evening in one of the local taverns, he didn’t remember which one, and after they’d been kicked out right before closing, they had made their way back to the ship.

On the way, he had chanced to see Captain Kiliri walking up an alley. It wasn’t unusual, he said, for the Captain to enjoy some shore leave herself but it was strange that she was by herself, especially in a dodgier area of town.

Ordinarily, he said, even then he would have left it alone but he was drunk and curious so he and a couple of his companions decided to follow after her to see what she was up to.

And so they followed her, at least as far as the top of the alley. And when they got there, they saw Kiliri was no longer alone. There was someone else there with her. Carllim insisted that he had been wearing a hood and so was obscured, but I rather suspect the obscuration was far more to do with his drunken eyes than any garment this mystery figure might have been wearing.

The Captain and this stranger were deep in conversation. Carllim said they tried to listen in but they were just far enough away that most of their conversation went unheard. Again, I fear their state was far more to blame. But he said he did remember hearing the words “your promise,” “either him or yourself,” and, most notably, “the red debt.”

After saying this, the two of them left through a door that led into one of the buildings that flanked the alley.

Carllim swore he would have gone to see what the place had been, had it not been, as he put it, “for the betrayal of my own legs.”

But he did wait until the Captain came back out. He remembered that she was looking visibly shaken. He and the others didn’t let her know they had seen her and instead hid behind some dustbins until she had gone past and then they had followed her back to the ship. They had never spoken of it since.

I asked if they had seen the other person again, but Carllim said no, they had never come back out. So, after getting the names of these other two, I left.

I had just decided to go and confront Captain Kiliri with what I had found out, when I heard a scream from above me.

I ran as fast as I could, and I was not alone. Many of the crew and other passengers had also heard the scream and were rushing to its source, which turned out to be the Captain’s cabin.

It was one of the cabin girls who had screamed, and small wonder. For she had gone into Captain Kiliri’s room to empty the chamber pot and do any cleaning that was needed and there had found a sight as gruesome as the one that had been discovered in the hold.

The Captain had… well, I don’t wish to be too graphic. The details are available to the public by now. It remains a mystery how she was able to use so much of her own blood without passing out. She had used it to smear a picture on the wall. A twisted face that snarled down at me. And beneath it had written in huge red letters; “The Debt is Paid.”

I heard a strange noise from the door and turned to see Doctor SinKrast standing there, staring at the scene with a look of absolute horror. Hardly surprising, I suppose, as I believe I mentioned, they had been close.

She had left a note, confessing the whole thing. I’ll leave a copy of it with this donation but I was able to confirm it was her handwriting. I suppose it goes to show that the most tortured mind can be hidden by a smiling face. Mister SinTichard had simply had the bad fortune to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The White Marlin eventually made port, where authorities were waiting for us. Our statements and the bodies were taken and that was the end of the matter.

As I said, not really much there that isn’t already known. I regret that I was unable to understand before the Captain did such a terrible thing, but I suppose there’s no chance she can harm anyone else now.

Final Notes. It is interesting to hear a first person account of these events. Like, I think, most people, I had a passing knowledge of the White Marlin affair. The murder of Raeph SinTichard at the hands of Captain Kiliri Narina, and the Captain’s subsequent suicide, has been the source of much inspiration for popular literature and contemplative essays in various newspapers.

This mysterious symbol, this snarling face, is something new but, as far as I’m aware, it’s not really noteworthy. I think it may have just been another creation of Captain Narina’s condition.

I have here the mentioned copy of the Captain’s suicide noted, and it does indeed paint a disturbing picture. It references a great power that owned her body and soul that commanded her to do what she did, and she dared not disobey. Even, as it turned out, when it commanded her to take a knife and open her stomach.

Not much else to add apart from the fact that one year after this memory was donated, Doctor Albret SinKrast was also murdered. The details of this death, though, were never released to the public.

Inscription complete.

[The venoscribe clicks, and the whirring stops.]

[The end theme plays and the Announcer recites the credits.]