Windows of the Soul
Chapter Four

Erestor closed the door to his lab behind him, laying his head wearily back against the solid wood, and, he closed his tired eyes. He knew his frustration had leaked through in his report to Gil-galad, but at this point, he did not have much to report. Erestor understood the necessity of keeping his Lord apprised of the situation, but the time it took to tell Gil-galad that he had nothing could be better spent finding something! The meal had been welcome though, and the company. If Erestor did not find it so inappropriate to call his King and Lord so, he would admit to himself that Gil-galad and Elrond were his friends and he enjoyed their discussion and meals together. What had surprised him somewhat was that Elrond said nothing about his questioning of Glorfindel.

Erestor lit the oil lamps and shrugging off his heavy robe, moved to his desk. Gildor and Saelbeth's reports lay neatly stacked in the center, waiting for his attention. Pouring himself a glass of strong wine, he sat and began reading through their notes. That his only company in the room was the sheet-draped body of his victim seemed not to bother Erestor as his mind drifted into his case.

Erestor pulled Saelbeth's report to him first, reading over the room's inventory and looking closely at each drawing. Next, he studied the autopsy reports, mentally walking himself though the procedure again and again. This process was repeated several times as the approach of night was ignored. Erestor pulled out the drawing of the victim's body, eyes focused on it, but his mind was somewhere else.

She is tired; the day's work had been long. The relief at being home, in her room is expressed by a tired but happy sigh. The flash of lightning and the boom of thunder have her jumping, the storm's intensity causing her unease. The uniform is shed thankfully, the shoes kicked off happily. Nude, she walks to the wardrobe, pulling from within, the comfort of her old robe.

"Comfort of her old robe?" Erestor scrambled through notes, his brow furrowed as he tried to figure out exactly what it was that caught his attention. There was something about that robe. Scanning Saelbeth's inventory sheets again, he found no mention of a blue robe with silver etchings. Of course not, he thought, the victim was wearing it. Saelbeth would not have inventoried anything directly on the victim's body.

Erestor frowned, his mind traveling back to his own memories of the room. What was it about that blue robe? It was a costly garment, the fabric heavy, and the silver etchings elaborate. How would a servant obtain something of that value?

His eyes fell on the interview with Menelui, the victim's friend. He lifted the parchment, already knowing what it contained. Yes, Brennil had a current lover. One of the palace guards, in fact, but Erestor could not see a guard being able to afford something so costly either.

Erestor reached for the quill, writing down his thoughts. The victim dressed in a robe that could not have belonged to her, the open wardrobe...

No it was not listed in Saelbeth's notes. No thin robe. Erestor sat back, fingers letting the parchment fall onto the desk. The killer had dressed the victim in the blue robe, but then where was the victim's? Did the murderer take the robe with him as a memento? Killers often took an item belonging to their victim so they could later relive the crime.

Erestor set aside the quill and rising, went to the large windows. He stared out into the blackness of the night, his thoughts wandering back to his victim.

There is a knock on the door. She is tired and frowns briefly, but she answers it. Surprise shows at the visitor's identity, but she lets him in. She laughs a bit self- consciously, pulling at the neck of her robe. Nervously she explains, just arrived home from work, having a cup of tea, would you care for some?

Erestor frowned, his eyes drawn to the lone teacup. Did he put something in the tea? He moves closer to it and picks it up. The purplish residue is still as visible and still as mysterious.

The tea? She becomes groggy, stumbles to her chair, and has to sit down. Her mind races as she is undressed, but she cannot focus her eyes, cannot cry out... fear grips her. No, not that! Every Elf's deepest fear of rape coming back to her terrified mind...but wait, he dresses her again in something soft and heavy. Her mind drifts further away, only to be brought back sharply when she feels tightening about her neck. She cannot breath, cannot move, and cannot cry out! Breathing becomes impossible, but she can still feel the pain, all her frightened eyes can see are the chilling ones of her killer staring back at her as her life ends...

Erestor shuddered, forcing his mind to retreat, swallowing the bile that rose to his throat. He shakily moved back to his desk, collapsing into his chair, and reached for his wine with a quaking hand. Taking a healthy swallow, Erestor laid his damp head upon his desk. Erestor's face was still pale as he raised his head, eyes falling on the picture of the dead elleth.

"You knew this killer, knew him well enough to feel safe letting him into your room. You were comfortable with him, perhaps even trusted him." Erestor's voice trailed off, the silence of the room building once more before he continued in a whisper. "Is that why he took your eyes? You knew him, knew his face, so he cut out your eyes. Your eyes reflected his image, windows to the soul, so he took them..."

Erestor's head drifted back down to rest on his arms. He drifted; sleep coming to claim him despite his efforts to resist. Following him into an exhausted sleep were blue eyes... Dead blue eyes.

*********

He stands, nude, in front of the mirror. Many have told him, over the years, that he is pleasing to the eye, but he does not see it. What he sees is only average. But his beauty inspires lustful thoughts and furtive, self-given pleasures among his admires.

Others see the dark, exotic eyes that gleam with intelligence...a shimmering silky length of hair long enough to sit upon and wrap around a lover's body...the full, sensual lips that rarely smile. He is stunning when he smiles. His limbs are long and slender, lean muscle under milky flesh. The body of a poet, a dancer, a scribe.

He uses this beauty as a tool. His allure is a much a tool for him as the cold steel of his equipment or his analytical mind, much as the hammer and the saw are to a carpenter.

He raises a hand and holds it in front of him, turning it this way and that, admiring the slender strength. His hands are his best feature, he thinks. Hands tell much about a person, it is said, and his hands are strong, lean and smooth. The tip of one little finger is slightly crooked, an injury sustained in boyhood, one that never quite healed properly. What do these hands speak of, he wonders?

He raises that elegant hand to his mouth and wets the tip of a finger, suckling lightly. A thrill courses through his body, raising gooseflesh over his skin.

Lazily he strokes the damp finger over a nipple, and the flesh pebbles and grows hard under his touch.

A pinch next, and he gasps at the slight sting. Just a glimmer of pain, and he pinches harder, then flicks the nub with a fingernail, drawing a whimper from his lips.

A hand caresses his buttocks, skimming over the silky skin of a slender hip, pausing a moment to run smoothly down the length of a lean thigh. The hand circles around, pressing flat against the expanse of a trim stomach and comes to rest.

Not his hand.

He looks down. The flesh is lightly bronzed, knotted with muscle, the tendons standing out starkly.

He lays his own on the one resting on his stomach, and finds the skin warm and pliant under his touch. The palm is broad and slightly rough, rasping lightly over his skin. The fingers are long and wide, easily able to span his abdomen, the nails blunt and trimmed short. It is a strong hand, but its touch is surprisingly gentle.

A warm, solid form presses against his back, and he flinches at the unexpected touch. He peers intently into the mirror. There is a figure behind him, shrouded in shadows, its features concealed in a smoky grey mist that has appeared around them.

No smoke, there is no fire...it is a fog that envelops him now, tendrils curling around his legs. It is chilly and damp, and he shivers. He feels the first lick of fear coiling in his belly, the fine hairs of his body standing on end, his testicles drawing up into hiding in his groin.

The body behind him is comforting, reassuring. He leans back into its embrace, its arms coming around to enfold him in their warmth.

Hands stroke and sooth the nervous tension from his body, running up and down, kneading the sleek muscles of his chest. A hard shaft nestles in the cleft of his buttocks. It is large and pulsing, and his groin tightens, imagining that thick flesh splitting him in two.

He closes his eyes, sighing, and leans his head back against the shoulder behind him. His hands hang loosely at his side, fingers clenching and unclenching as the touches become progressively more intimate, pinching, pulling, tweaking. He is aroused, his length swollen, curved up toward his belly. His hips thrust almost imperceptibly into nothingness, aching for a touch to ease the relentless throbbing.

The fog thickens, surrounding him in its moist, dank gloom. It swirls densely about him, leaving his skin damp and chilled. The hands caressing his body withdraw, and the heated flesh pressing firmly against his back is gone. He cries out when blazing wet heat encircles his arousal and swallows him whole. He bucks wildly into that moist, slick cavern. He is close...so close...

The heat is gone. He opens his eyes and looks wildly about him, searching for someone...anyone, but sees only that oppressive mist. The mirror is gone. He stands alone and aching, heart racing with fear.

A hand suddenly clamps around his throat. He wheezes, reaching up to break the grip, but the hand squeezes tighter, cutting off his breath. He cannot breath - he struggles, flailing against the grip that is like iron on his neck, slowly choking him. The fingers dig in; he feels his windpipe slowly crushed under the force.

He is strangling... he is dying.

The last thing he sees before all goes dark is a flash of blue.

*********

Erestor jerked upright in his chair, stifling a scream and gasping for breath. Cold sweat was clammy on his body. His eyes, large and terrified, darted about the room as though in search of his attacker. His heart fluttered with lingering terror, and he choked down the bile that rose in his throat.

He was safe in his office, he saw with relief, and slumped back in his chair. He had slept the night away sitting at his desk, for the sky over the cityscape turned pink dawn. The oil lamps had sputtered out sometime during that night. He rubbed at his gritty eyes and willed his heart to slow to its normal pace. "Nothing but a nightmare," he told himself.

Shakily he rose, his legs weak, and refilled the oil lamps with trembling hands. With a last glance at the sheet-draped body, he closed the door behind him and began the long walk back to his own chambers.

The chambermaid assigned to Erestor's wing was just leaving his rooms as he approached. She gave him a curious look, taking in his rumpled clothing and unkempt hair, but asked no questions and nodded politely when he requested breakfast to be delivered immediately.

With a sign of relief at finally reaching familiar, comforting surroundings, Erestor set about drawing himself a bath and changing into clean clothing. The breakfast was delivered by a fresh-faced young elleth soon after, and he had sat down at the small dining table in the corner and taken a hearty bite of lightly scrambled eggs when the door burst open and Gildor rushed in, breathless.

"There you are! We have been looking everywhere for you," the young Noldo said. "Where were you last night? I waited for hours," Gildor accused.

Erestor looked blankly at the younger Elf, then remembered implying the night before that he would be joining Gildor. "I fell asleep in the laboratory." Forcibly, he pushed the memory of the nightmare from his mind and shrugged. "I am sorry."

Gildor's face softened as he realized how exhausted the autopsy must have made his superior. "I understand," he responded, then steeled himself for what he had to say.

"I am afraid, Erestor, that there has been another murder."

To be continued...