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  5. I found myself with a new assistant after Carl left, a young man by the name of Joseph with fine hair, bright just like the midday sun. Unlike the shy and introverted Carl, Joseph was outgoing and passionate, and well-liked by the others at the department. He was not always the brightest match in the box, but he had the unique talent of not putting people off even when he says the dumbest things.
  7. That morning, he came in with coffee for everyone in the office. The first thing that came out of his mouth when he opened the door was, "Hey guys, have you heard? Snowstorm warning from the Northern Observatory! It's Ymir!"
  8. I lifted my eyes from the paper. "Yes. I also got another report stating that the tourist numbers in Dione this year -"
  9. "- tripled compared to last year." Tracy finished the sentence as she took her coffee from Joseph's tray.
  10. "Whoa," Joseph exclaimed as he put the last cup of coffee on my desk, "it's gonna be a busy winter."
  11. The laid-back atmosphere of the office was broken by the urgent ring of the phone.
  12. Tracy picked up the phone. A few seconds later, she shouted, "Sir, you need to hear this."
  13. It was not like Tracy to make a big fuss out of nothing, so I took the speaker from her and found myself on the phone with the night-shift officer.
  14. "Sir," the man quickly went through the matters, "we found a dead woman in a hut over at Stele Village. There are red drawings under her body that look like some sort of magic symbol, and..." My brow had furrowed as I listened to the report. "…there are holes on her neck that penetrated her artery. They look a lot like… bite marks."
  15. "Give me the exact location. I'm heading over." I put down the speaker and rushed to the scene with Joseph.
  17. Stele Village was a town built next to a graveyard - a curious thing to many visitors. The town had its origins in the traditions of Dione - up north, it was customary for the family of the dead to gather next to the grave and revel through the night, so as to keep the dead company and prevent them from feeling lonely. With time, these gatherings led to the founding of Stele Village.
  18. It snowed heavily the night before. The investigator set up a police line around the abandoned hut, but heavy snow covered up any indications around the hut, leaving only the tracks of the night watchman who discovered the body, and the investigators’.
  19. Joseph and I crossed the police line into the hut. The first thing that greeted us was the suffocating smell of blood. Seeing Joseph turn a little green, I gave him a little nod and he dashed outside to throw up.
  20. Inside, the hut was pitch-black. With the windows tightly boarded up, the only source of daylight was the open door behind me, casting a long shadow in the morning rays. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I saw the patterns underneath the body.
  21. The officer's description that it looked like some sort of magic symbol was certainly accurate. A hexagram was surrounded by a circle of inscriptions in an unknown language, which was surrounded by yet another circle of burned-out candles. The victim lay at the center of the hexagram, dressed in nothing but a thin silk dress clearly ill-suited to the harsh northern winter.
  23. "The symbol looks like it was drawn with blood. Still not sure if it's animal or human blood." The investigator reported.
  24. "Well, that explains the smell..." having thrown up his entire breakfast, Joseph's voice was hoarse and raspy.
  25. I put on my gloves and began to examine the body. The skin had turned blue and purple, and a thin layer of frost covered it. She had a beautiful face, but her eyes were wide open, with an expression filled with pain and fear. Her hands were clutched tight in front of her chest. I pried open her fingers and found pierce marks on her palm, but there aren’t any no sharp tools nearby that could have caused it.
  26. There were four little blackened holes on her neck, deep enough to penetrate the artery. Strangely, though, there was no blood on her skin or clothing. The marks did not look like they were caused by wolves or other types of animals, but do fit the gap between human canines. I turned over the victim's head and found an orderly row of print marks behind her neck.
  27. As I examined the body, Joseph was listening to the investigator's report and taking notes, occasionally peeking over my shoulder curiously.
  28. "Strange, isn't it?" He said, "Not a drop of blood to be found anywhere - could the killer have sucked her blood dry? Or maybe..." he gave me a meaningful look, "...the summoning circle was drawn with her blood?"
  29. "Summoning circle?"
  30. "Yeah, hexagram, candle, the sacrificial maiden...that's what the books all say." Joseph mused, chewing on his pencil, "Maybe the killer was a summoned vampire?"
  31. I rolled my eyes. "You're a cop, Joseph, not a horror writer." Without waiting for his reply, I turned and gave instructions to the investigator. "Send the body to the coroner. We'll need an autopsy. And get a sample of the blood used for the symbol, see if it matches the victim's."
  32. Human canines are not long enough to pierce another human's neck artery without leaving only four holes on the body's neck. I would not be shocked if someone told me there were werewolves in the Dione Mountains, but vampires? Come on.
  33. And the strange patterns...I knew a thing or two about those crazies at Bluepeak town, and while their rituals might be weird and creepy, they knew where the line was and had never crossed it, until now. But maybe it was time I had a good chat with them.
  35. While we waited for the coroner's report, I took Joseph with me to Bluepeak town. The town was practically empty - most of its inhabitants were working in the Andvari Mines at this hour. I stopped in front of the house that I was looking for, knowing exactly where it was. As I prepared to knock, Joseph quickly noted down the door number and asked in a low voice, "Sir, who are we looking for?"
  36. "Hmm..." I found myself at a loss for words. "The High Priest? The Elder? Something like that..."
  37. "It's Prophet, sheriff." The door opened to reveal an old man, looking at us with cold eyes. "How many times do I have to tell you that?"
  38. "Whatever." I flashed my police badge. "You have the right to remain silent, but it is my duty to remind you that anything you say may be used in evidence."
  40. The Prophet – his name was Gilbert - sat in the interrogation room. He remained silent as he listened to the accusations, and for some time after.
  41. "Do you want me to call a lawyer?" I tapped the desk impatiently.
  42. "Now, now, Pete, old boy, how long have we known each other? 30 years? 35? When you were no more than a wee policeman just getting your feet wet..."
  43. I interrupted, "Something pertinent to the case, Gilbert."
  44. "Fine, I'll give you pertinent. This is absurd. Total nonsense. The Glorious King whom we worship isn't something you summon from the fire of hell like some third-rate dime novel. We don't do shit like this. You know that, sheriff."
  45. "The law doesn't care what I do or do not know." I shrugged. "Give me a list of names and you're free to go for now, but don't even think about leaving Dione. We'll find out what you've been up to last night and let the evidence prove whether you're guilty or clean."
  46. Gilbert took out an old cowhide notebook from his pocket. Unbelievable - did he carry that with him all the time?
  47. "We know the law and we respect it while we're still in this world." Gilbert handed me the booklet. "Other than that unfortunate accident with the nutjob who beat someone to death 30 years ago, we haven't caused you any trouble. You know that, Peter. "
  48. "Yeah, except the complaints we get for your strange parties," I quipped and sent him on his way.
  50. Gilbert was barely out the door when Tracy brought the coroner's report.
  51. The victim died of hypothermia. No sign of intoxication by alcohol or drugs. The holes on the neck were definitely caused by some sharp, pointed object that pierced the artery, and the victim lost about a pint of blood. Other than the print marks on the back of the neck and the mark on her palm, both of which I already found during my examination, there were no other external injuries or signs of violence.
  52. The blood on the ground was chicken blood, not from human. Not even an ultraviolet sweep could find any traces of blood on the body itself. The pint of blood was cleanly drained from the victim, and there were no indications as to where the blood went.
  53. We also investigated the whereabouts of Gilbert and the followers listed in his notebook last night. All of them had alibis. The victim's time of death was estimated at around midnight. Half of the people on the list were still on duty in the mines, and the other half were with their families. As for Gilbert himself, multiple witnesses testified that he was preaching to his followers on duty from 11pm to midnight in the mines and did not set out for Bluepeak town until past midnight. The odds that he could have travelled all the way to Stele Village within such a short time were very low.
  54. Above all, we could not imagine how the murderer managed to quietly bring the victim to Stele Village without any use of violence or drugs. We ran into a brick wall just trying to reconstruct the crime scene.
  56. With the case at an impasse, the look on my face definitely was not good. Even Joseph knew better than to talk to me with raised voice. As he put down my coffee, he asked almost in a whisper, "Sir, what could those marks on the victim's palm and neck be?"
  57. I felt a bulb light up in my head at Joseph's words. I had focused my attention on the strange symbols and the drawn blood, neglecting those two questions. I took another look at the photo of the mark on the victim's neck and quickly realized it looked like some sort of chain. Add that up with the marks on her palm...
  58. "A necklace," I said aloud.
  59. "Huh?"
  60. I grabbed Joseph's badge, which he had hanging around his neck, and pulled hard. Joseph yelled in pain and surprise.
  61. "Look," I brushed aside Joseph's hair, revealing the back of his neck and the bruise I left on it.
  62. Joseph touched the back of his neck gingerly. "So the murderer took the victim's necklace? Tried to disguise the crime as a vampire's work?"
  63. "I don't think it's that simple." I pointed at my own palm. "The victim might have pulled it off herself. There might have been a sharp point on the pendant that caused the wound on her palm."
  64. "Why did she pull it off? Where did the necklace go? "
  65. "First we need to prove that there was a necklace at all."
  67. The victim's name was Vera, daughter of a single mother in Ring Mountain City. Her mother worked the night shift, and she was on duty when the tragedy happened to her daughter. We had checked on the girl's background when we informed her family of her death. She had just celebrated her 18th birthday. Those who knew her said she was a well-liked person with no enemies, kind and gentle, a loving daughter to her mother, and a diligent student who was planning to attend Herschel Academy next year.
  68. Vera's mother was ill in bed when we visited her again. She looked like she had aged many years overnight. Joseph gave me a little nudge, pointing at a photo of Vera and her mother in the living room. Vera had a bright smile on her face and a red pendant hanging by a chain on her neck. The pendant was red gem surrounded by metal thorns.
  69. With the permission of Vera's mother, we searched the room carefully but did not find the necklace.
  70. "Is it valuable?" I asked her.
  71. "No sir," she answered in a weak and rasping voice, "just a birthday present I gave her when she was little. Copper and glass. I don't have much money, you know. "
  73. The magic circle, the bite marks, a pint of blood, and a lost necklace. I buried myself in my desk, frustrated at the lack of progress.
  74. Tracy tossed me a newspaper. The headline: Vampire in the Snow?
  76. I had an uneasy feeling - a hunch that this was just the beginning of something big, something really bad. Like a blizzard was coming, and all we saw was one fleck of snow.
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