Chapter 281: News
The sun was setting, and dusk descended on the land. Auckes had returned from his investigation.
"Did you see him, witcher? What'd he say?" Linus quickly asked Auckes. "Why was he absent for a week? He needs to explain himself!"
Auckes and Kantilla exchanged a look. There was a solemn expression on their faces. "He can't. Mr. Pitt…"
"What do you mean?"
"Mr. Pitt, there's nobody in your assistant's home. The door was open. Even his mother was missing."
Linus frowned in disbelief.
Auckes then turned to everyone else. "You know our senses are sharper than most people’s. I smelled blood in the air, so I tracked the scent down and saw a few patches of dried blood on the ground. It had been there for about a week. This is no missing person case. And the door was brutally kicked down. The lock was distorted," Auckes said. "There's marks of it getting kicked down, and the ground outside was covered in footprints and horseshoe marks. There were about seven or eight of them. Bandits or criminals. Either or."
"There were invaders there? And about a week back?" Linus' jaw dropped. He froze. "So he ran into trouble the moment he got home? Is fate out for his life?" He sighed. What a shame. Whishaw was a good soul. He came from a farmer's family and worked hard all his life to get into Oxenfurt. He would’ve graduated in two years, gotten a good job, and said farewell to poverty forever. He could’ve helped his mother too. Why did this happen? "Is he still alive? Any chances of his survival?"
Auckes fell silent.
Linus clenched his fists and gnashed his teeth. "Witchers, please rescue Whishaw and his family."
"I'm not finished yet." Auckes shook his head. He said grimly, "I'm sorry, but Whishaw and his family are dead. We searched around the house for any suspicious marks, and we dug out their corpses in a field about thirty yards away. One of them was a young lad in his twenties. Someone smashed the back of his head in. He looks like the guy you described. The other was a crippled woman in her forties. Died the same way he did. She was possibly his mother."
Auckes extended his hand and loosened his fist. He was holding a golden student's crest of Oxenfurt.
Natural History: First Year'
Linus took the crest with trembling hands, his eyes filled with sorrow and sadness. Tears were welling in his eyes.
"Our condolences, professor. We buried them right after we took the crest." Kantilla said, "And we erected a couple of wooden steles for them."
Linus looked a little better after hearing that.
"Did he tell you anything before he left? Or did he start acting weird?"
Linus shook his head.
"Looks like an unplanned robbery and murder then," Roy piped up. "They're probably bandits living near Oxenfurt. That, or they came from somewhere else."
"Oxenfurt's bandits are killing people near the academy? This is the center of Redania's academia. Is safety that bad even in this town?" Felix cocked his eyebrow.
"No. It's been more than two years since anyone was killed in Oxenfurt's vicinity." Linus clenched the crest and gnashed his teeth. "The bastards. How dare they kill a student? I'll tell the management about it. The king will never let these bandits hurt the kingdom's talent. Witchers, will you help us track these bandits down? It's a personal request. I'll give you two… no, three hundred crowns. Is that enough?"
Roy exchanged looks with his companions. They agreed, and he nodded. Bandits, huh? More EXP for me then. No reason to give this up. Besides, Linus is paying for food and lodging. And he's gonna reward us. No reason to say no.
A pause later, Auckes said, "Mr. Pitt, there's something I'm curious about. There were marks of torture on their corpses. Lots of it. Bruises around their wrists and ankles, burn marks from candle wax on their skin. And they were slapped too. If this was an actual robbery, there was no need to torture them. The house was dilapidated, and there was nobody but an old lady inside. There's nothing valuable there. Even if there was, why'd the bandits torture them?"
Everyone fell into silence.
Auckes guessed, "Maybe the killer had a grudge with Whishaw. Or they might be trying to wheedle something out of him. That'd explain the abuse. Probably held his mother hostage too," Auckes guessed.
Serrit suggested, "Or maybe the killers are deranged. Torture might be some sort of fun for them. Or maybe Whishaw got on their nerves, so they tortured him. Mr. Pitt did say he was an honest and stubborn man. It's possible he angered the killer."
"If that's the case, we'd be left with no clues," Letho said. "I'll go with Auckes' theory for now. The killer probably knows Whishaw and was trying to get something out of him. It's possible that his acquaintances are behind this. Think closely, you two. See if you've missed any clues. Maybe you missed a few witnesses?"
Kantilla looked at Auckes. She wasn't great at investigations.
Auckes was upset. He glared at them. "I double checked the place, and there was nothing there! You can see for yourself if you don't believe me!" Auckes sighed. "There's nobody around his place in a five-hundred-yard radius. There's only a path to Oxenfurt further away, but carriages travel that path a lot. I won’t find any good leads."
"We have no better choice then. Let's start by questioning Whishaw's acquaintances," Letho decided. "What do you think, professor?"
"That's the only way," Linus said. "I like the lad, but he's only been my assistant for less than a year. All I know about his family is that he has no other relatives aside from his mother who lived alone in the shack. But I know more about his connections at school. His friends are the other assistant, Ben, his roommates…"
Linus kept listing his acquaintances. "And then the other faculty students. But I don't think they'd do something this heinous."
"Leave the interrogation to us," Letho said. "It's hard to lie to a witcher, especially when you're a scholar. You'll need to gather the students for us though. We won't punish the innocent. The guilty, however…"
Linus nodded. It was already late, though, so they had to leave it for tomorrow.
"Professor, aside from the people on campus, who else did Whishaw get in touch with? I mean in the town," Roy asked. He thought things were not this simple. The killer's probably not anyone among the students.
Linus massaged his throbbing forehead. "Whishaw's in charge of purchasing the creatures' food. The only guy in town he talks to would be the meat seller. He was an honest kid. He would jot down all the spendings down to the smallest number. I'll get the records for you."
Once they got the records, the witchers started discussing and coming up with plans, then they went to sleep at the dorms.
Linus asked Roy to stay, and they went into the zoo. They made a promise, so he had to check on Gryphon.
Roy noticed his exhaustion. He said, "You can do this after we're done with the case. I'm not in a hurry."
"It's alright. Work and personal life are two different things." Linus massaged his cheeks and perked up.
"I'll be counting on you then."
Roy practiced his swordplay and marksmanship for hours. When midnight came by, a cloud of smoke appeared in the zoo, and Gryphon was back to normal. It was the size of a calf. Its body was brownish-yellow, its wings greyish-black, and its eyes were shining. Gryphon grew a little over the past month. It was starting to look like an apex predator.
"Take it to the operating theater, Roy. Pin it down, but don't hurt it."
The magical light shone down on the griffin. A pair of pale, gaunt hands were caressing the creature. Linus would pry its beak open to check its tongue, pull on its claws, and check on its mane and wings.
Even though Roy was right there, the griffin still growled quietly. It felt mortified.
"Alright, Gryphon. Be patient. You'll be having a feast after this."
The griffin roared.
The checkup was done half an hour later.
"About seven months old. It's growing well. Master Roy, the griffin is in great state. I don't see any parasites or fleas on it. I can see you've been raising it well." Linus pulled his hands back and took his gloves off. The look in his eyes was a lot gentler now. He thought Roy was an animal protector just like him. "Do trim its nails every month. Gryphon is transfigured most of the time, so it doesn't have enough time to sharpen its nails. They might grow inward and hurt it. And Gryphon needs to exercise more."
"I need to keep it under disguise if I want to go around," Roy explained, then he shook his head. "But this is my fault." He hugged the griffin. "I'll keep an eye out for that."
Linus nodded. "Gryphon will be staying at the zoo for the next few days if nothing else. It'll get its exercise. I'll test its flight and hunting skills. And I'll come up with a menu for it."
"I'll be counting on you." Roy gave Gryphon a look that said, Stay in touch. He hesitated for a moment, then he asked, "I have a question, professor. Have you ever tried riding Blake or Chelsea?" Longing appeared in Roy's eyes. "You can soar through the skies…"
"I get what you're saying." Linus shook his head. "In most cases, griffins can carry one person when they're ten months old. However, I'm scared of heights, and griffins are far too proud to let anyone ride on them. They'll get angry if I force them into it."
Ten months, huh? That won't be long now. "It's alright. Gryphon is a good girl. It's not as aggressive as the other griffins. Riding it is the best way to form a bond." He patted Gryphon's head and smiled at her. "Am I right?"
Gryphon roared in confusion.
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