Sentinel Syndrome: A Familiar Tale

There were night people, there were day people, and then there were sentinels. Since the guild arbitrarily assigned their officers to whichever shift, day or night, that happened to be more convenient for the guild, none of the members lasted on any one shift to develop a preference.
Beki Twynog was by default a night vulpin, but for the first time since joining the guild three weeks ago she was actually on nights. The last three weeks had been hell on her, with basic training and learning several bajillion procedures and routines all the while with her body clock on the kilter. Now for the first time she would normally try and get herself back to cyclic norm, or at least she would do if she wasn't so tired.
Keep at it, girl. She thought. When you hit deputy, you'll be able to have some control over what times you work.
Still, she was in uncharted grounds. This wasn't the hectic and chaotic madness of the junior sentinel's office, the deputies office was a calm and less stressful environment; which was surprising to say the least. Whenever a deputy wandered from this domain, most seemed ready to snap the arm clean off of the next criminal they see, and the rest were less sociable.
A paper dart drifted over Beki's head.
There was one, tiny, little seed of anxiety in the office and that was carried in Beki's gut. Three weeks, and she still had to execute cases as they were handed down to her. Beki would normally never place paw in the deputies' office, if it weren't for the fact that the officer that had been assigning her cases to her was there.
"Twynog, isn't it?" A muridan's voice croaked from beside Beki. She turned to face a tired-looking deputy who barely managed to keep his head from falling onto the desk.
"Yer one of th' prettyboy's latest victims, right?" The muridan said, yawning.
"Um..." Beki blinked. "I'm assigned to deputy Cadnos at the moment."
The muridan pulled his dreadlocks back and grinned. "That's what I said. Didn't anyone tell you the prettyboy started his week's leave today?"
Beki blinked again. "Oh?"
"Ohyah." The muridan nodded. "If you want your assignment, ask his replacement."
Beki followed the muridan's point towards a desk, larger than the rest, at which sat a stuffed toy resembling a vulpin. Barely three feet in height, the toy was dressed in a small green leather replica of a sentinel's coat with a tin badge pinned to the breast. The tail was about the same size as the rest of the toy, giving the whole thing the look of a mutant squirrel. It was so adorable that it would make the average person wretch.
"Lord, girl. 'zat the only word you know?" The deputy muttered. "Schrau's habit is to leave stuff on the seat."
Beki picked up the stuffed vulpin, which was heavier than it looked, and placed it on the desk. A short stack of files sat on the seat. Beki picked through them until she found one with her name attached to it with a paperclip. She tucked the file beneath her armpit and started to walk away.
"Put 'im back." The muridan said, a hint of disgust in his voice. "Doesn't do the rep' any good to have a deputy sittin' on his desk. That's the sort of stuff junior officers do."
Sheepishly, and feeling as if the world was playing a cruel joke on her, Beki gently placed the stuffed vulpin on the seat, dropping the file as she did so.
The muridan sighed and started to chew on Gilgal's cheese sandwich. "Jailbait today..."

"Who's not busy?"
"Not me!" Mogas Wemus crowed. "I just landed the Janus Krrrahn case!"
The heads of every officer in earshot turned to face the catfolk. "You?" Neek Korsn muttered from behind her stack of paperwork. The muridan was a slower writer than most, and therefore always had a backlog.
"Yep." The catfolk grinned.
"I thought you were on days today." Sumas Despayre pointed out. The dhampir was doing nothing but sitting behind his desk tending to his sword.
"I was, beforrre I landed this peach." Mogas stood up. "Well, see yew loserrrs, I'm on a fast trrrack to a deputyship."
"Check the boarding times." Neek mumbled, more malice in her voice than encouragement. "You were saying, Beki?"
The vulpin clutched the folder protectively. Truth be told, she was rather scared of Neek, who had somewhat of a reputation of being somewhat psychotic. "Um."
"What's the case?" Sumas sighed. In contrast, the dhampir approached life with an almost zen-like philosophy, a small stone of calm at the riverbed. Of course, when he drew that sword of his, all that faded.
"Kidnapping." Beki squeaked.
Neek's head thudded against her desk. "Not the mayor's daughter again?"
"No. Abarack." Beki flipped open the file and began summarising. "Jane Skwire-"
"Please don't tell me that's her real name?" Neek muttered, looking up.
"Seventeen, went missing from her famiry home a day ago."
"Any suspects?" Sumas asked, ever the professional and much more likely to land deputyship before Mogas.
Beki shook her head. "No. Not even an interview with her parents."
"Well then, that's something to do." Sumas announced, laying his sword down on the table and standing up. "Neek, you doing anything right now?"
"Jus' festering, brother."
"Let's go find your little runaway, Beki."

Beki felt that she should get used to this. One parent distraught, the other angry at the law for failing their child. She took a deep breath. However...
"What are you doing here, wasting precious time while my dear Jane is at the mercy of Sikkar only knows who?" The mother, a rather rotund lady named Anna boomed while her husband, Stephan, sobbed in a rocking chair in the corner of the room. Beki really wanted to say something, but felt that she would wind up being throttled by the generous arms of Anna Skwire. There were worse ways to die, sure, but Beki couldn't name many at this moment.
Besides, something was bugging her. Not the fact that Sumas and Neek were happy to let Beki take lead despite their seniority - This was her case after all. Sumas sat next to Beki, a cup of tea balanced perfectly in his fingers which Beki was glad she refused, a muzzle does not make for good table manners. Neek ferreted around the room on the pretence of looking for clues but really just satisfying her curious nature.
Beki, naturally, had attempted to discover if the Skwire family had any enemies that would kidnap their daughter for a ransom. Anna maintained the illusion that the Skwire family were upstanding members of the community, loved by all and loathed by none. Besides, Beki doubted the Skwire family had enough gold to ransom, since Anna seemed to prefer a life of wealth that did not necessarily include gold.
No enemies, no motive, no sign of struggle. The Skwires were adamant that their little Jane had been spirited away in the night. A thorough search of her room had revealed nothing in evidence.
It was pretty much like the time when the outhouses of the guildhall had been blown down during a violent storm last week. Beki had nothing to go on.
But that wasn't bugging her.
It was something about Sumas; the way he sat, sipping his tea with casual grace and the hallmarks of a superior upbringing. It wasn't any form of class divide, since Beki knew she had come from a better family than Sumas did. Sumas was just better at playing the gentleman than Beki was at playing the lady.
It was the fact that he knew something. Something that Beki didn't, something important and he wasn't telling.
Beki had to figure this out for herself.
"Are you positive that Jane was abducted, madam Skwire?" Beki hazarded, and Sumas' smug smile widened an eighth. That let Beki know she was on the right track.
"Of course I'm sure!" Anna huffed. "Are you insinuating-"
"I'm not insinuating anything, madam." Beki quickly interrupted. This was probably the best thing her upbringing had to offer - She could intercept a rant at thirty paces.
"Of course not. You probably do not even know what 'insinuating' means." Anna sniffed.
No, of course not. Beki kept her thoughts to herself, now was not the time to grow horns. I was raised in one of the richest merchant families on Welstar, you're just a fishmonger's wife. "Did Jane have any friends we might contact?" The vulpin calmly replied, her voice cold and threatening.
And, like so many socialites, Anna Skwire could ignore a loaded threat in subtext even if it was aimed at her at point blank range with a jittery caffeine addict on the trigger. "I'm afraid not." Anna replied. "Jane was far too busy in her studies to have petty friends."
Controlling mother with delusions of grandeur, useless father with the spine of a doormat, pressure to do well. Beki was onto something. Thank heavens her parents had spared her from trying to run their lives vicariously through her and allowed her to make her own decisions in life, but Beki had seen several families ruined under similar circumstances.
This was definitely Beki's turf. No wonder this case had been assigned to her. "Werr, is there anyone I should know about?"
"Th-There's that boy." The father muttered, choosing for what was undoubtedly the first time in his marriage to ignore his wife's volcanic glare. "He... He often visits her when they think we're not watching."
Anna sniffed disdainfully, "That urchin? He does not have the intelligence to abduct my poor little Jane..."
"Could we have a name, prease?" Beki calmly asked, barely able to contain her glee.
"John..." Stephan mumbled. "John Dowe."
Neek almost dropped the vase she was currently inspecting. "Please tell me you're not serious?"
"That low-life would never dare to harm my family." Anna huffed.
"Right. Whatever. How would you describe their rerationship?"
"Relationship?" Anna squealed, her voice almost shattering the vase that Neek had almost dropped. "They had no such thing!"
"Look, lady, she ain't asking if they were forming the two-backed monster in the hayshed on a regular basis." Neek growled. "Were they fightin'? Were they friendly? Did they swap cooking tips on a regular basis?"
"And I do not like that which you are insinuating." Anna harrumphed. "Now if you'll excuse me, I think you should be out there looking for my daughter."
Sumas' smirk blossomed into a full grin and he finished his tea. "Of course, ma'am. You have been most helpful."

"Odd." Beki muttered. "I don't remember seeing that tower out west before."
"What tower?" Sumas asked, glancing in the same direction.
"Oh, nothing. Probabry just a trick of the right." Beki sighed. "My rittre runaway, hmm?"
"Um, can I get a transfer offa this case? It's far too clichéd for my liking." Neek mumbled.
"No." Sumas replied. "Well, I think we should find where this John Dowe lives."
"I recognise the name." Beki added. "Marcus Dowe, best damned baker in Abarack."
Neek groaned. "The butcher's daughter ran off with the baker's son?"
"I believe that Stephan is a fishmonger, Neek." Sumas corrected her.
"Still jus' as bad."
"So, do we hit the Dowes?" Sumas asked Beki.
"Ret's cut out the middreman." Beki hazarded. "I bet their son's been missing for just as rong. Ret's check out their shop. If I remember correctry, there's an upstairs apartment that hasn't been used for years."

"Do we knock?" Sumas asked as the three sentinels stared at the faint glow of candlelight that shone through the upstairs window.
"Naw. They won't answer." Neek pointed out, spitting on her palms. "See that drainpipe? And I'm a rat." The muridan handed Beki her battleaxe, which weighed about twice as much as the vulpin did.
"Wouldn't it be easier to ratform?" Beki asked, struggling to her feet after being introduced to the cobbles under the weight of Neek's weapon of choice.
"Sure, I'll strip for you, hon', but it'll be a pain in the tail to open the window." Neek pointed out as she began her ascent of the drainpipe. Neek made good time, climbing up the slippery lead pipe faster than most people ascend ladders. She perched on a ledge that ran beneath the windows and inched her way over. "Excoose me?" She called, knocking on the window. "Could you please-"
The window opened outwards, displacing Neek from the ledge and sending her into a descent towards the ground.
Normally, Beki would have been able to dive out of the way, but she was weighed down by Neek's axe.
"Ooh. Comfy." Neek noted after a moment as a concerned head peered out of the window.
"Hello? Are you all right?"
"I'm fine, sugar." Neek called back. "John Dowe, I presume?"
"That I am." The man replied. "That was some fall, ma'am."
"Oh, I had a soft landing." Neek replied, generously patting Beki's backside as she stood up. "Nice tush, Beks."
Sumas cast the muridan a suspicious glance then called up to Dowe, "We would like to ask you a few questions about the disappearance of Jane Skwire?"
"Um... I... Uh... Not really."
"Well, you could invite us up for a private discussion on the subject." Sumas pointed out.
"Or we could just holler our interrogation until one of the neighbours complains about the noise, hmm?" Neek added, needlessly.
Dowe leaned far out the window, casting cautious glances down the street in both directions. "One minute, I'll unlock the door for you now."
"What did you see?" Sumas asked Neek as Dowe disappeared into the apartment.
"She's there all right." Neek nodded. "Haven't seen a girl throw on a dressing gown so fast since I stayed at the guild barracks."
Sumas nodded, then asked, "Are the rumours I heard true?"
Beki finally worked her way upright and spent a furious few moments straightening her coat before glaring at Neek.
"What?" The muridan innocently replied, then came the unmistakable crack of a hand against leather. "You have got a nice ass, girl. It could get you far in this guild, sweetie."
"Please, come in." John Dowe said as the door opened. "Um... I can explain everything."

Beki was still stinging from her little incident as the two humans hurriedly eked out an explanation. It was standard star-crossed lovers fare, straight out of a cheap romance novel. Beki had her suspicions since talking to Jane's parents.
Then again, Jane Skwire no longer existed. She was now Jane Dowe and that news had prompted Neek to create a sizable dent in the apartment wall with her forehead in complaint.
She sat next to Sumas again, who was halfway through his second cup of tea of the night. The air inside the apartment was almost unbearable for Beki to handle.
It was the usual tirade; her parents did not respect him or his family, the Dowes and the Skwires had been a' feudin' for generations, and the two lovers had met during one particular face-to-face argument between the two factions.
The most depressing thing was that, in such cases, the guild had simple 'fill-in-the-blanks' forms that was legally accepted as a report. At least Beki wouldn't be spending too much time on the paperwork.
And, as they both twittered on, Beki wanted to tell them to get over themselves and work things out with their respective clans rather than go into hiding. Of course, there was a more pressing issue.
"If you're in hiding, why are you doing it in your father's own bakery?"
John blushed. "It, uh, was the best I could come up with in such a short time."
Typical. Barely thinking less than a day into the future. Beki was in a foul mood, and would have said what Neek said next had the muridan not got there first.
"Okay kids, time for auntie Neek to smack your heads together." The muridan warmly said. "One, you're getting yourself deeper in trouble than you hoped to avoid by running away from your problems, so the mature and adult way to deal it would be to face that bridge when you burn- Uh... Never mind." Neek regained some composure. "Two, Jane, your father is a doormat honey. Pull down his pants and he'll have 'welcome' painted on his ass. If you need a crack to chisel away at the problem, then pop's gonna be your best chance."
"It's not that simple." Jane said.
"Oh? Ain't it? There was me thinkin' that life was simple. Silly ratty." Neek smacked her forehead. "Hey, we all make lifestyle choices that our parents don't approve of. Orphans get really lucky in that case. Okay kids, nothing is simple. Got it? But if you want something to be simple, then that's gonna have to be coming clean, 'cause you'll find that when you do things become very simple indeed." Her whiskers twitched. "Running solves nothing, y'hear?"
"And what would you know?" John asked.
"More than you, kiddo."
Sumas placed his empty mug down on the crate that worked as a table. "Well, regardless of what you choose to do we will have to inform your parents that we do know of your whereabouts. Legally, we cannot drag you kicking and screaming back into their arms. No crime has been committed, however we are obliged to deal with a missing person's incident as the letter of the law requests."
"We won't go back." John sternly said, clutching Jane's hand tightly.
"That's your choice." Beki replied. "It's not our prace to force you to make the right one."
"The hell it ain't." Neek snarled.
"Neek." Sumas warned.
The muridan crossed her arms and muttered something probably obscene.
"We'rr reave you now." Beki said, standing up. "We do have to terr your parents, Jane, but even so it should give you enough time to make a decision."
They left, the cool air of the sleeping city slamming into Beki like a tidal wave. The vulpin couldn't feel any better as she loosened her coat to let the breeze in. "Whew."
"It could be worse, Beks." Neek said. "It could be a tanner's. Just as hot, but you don't get the smell of nice doughnuts."
"Good point." Beki said. "Forget I comprained."
"You didn't." Sumas pointed out.
"I would have." She sighed. "Okay, time to go deriver the news to the Skwires-"
"Don't ever say that name again." Neek spat. "Please."
"-And then it's paperwork time." Beki looked up. "Okay, you two can head on back to the harr. I can dear with this."
"Are you sure?" Sumas asked.
Beki glanced back at the baker's shop behind her. "Yeah, I'm sure. I can handre this."