As it turned out, he could have stayed up as late as he wanted. They arrived at the town hall to find all of the marauders dead.

"Oh no, not again," said Fate, starting to get the cold sweats.

Jo held up a hand. "It wasn't a ghost this time," he said, as he moved to examine some of the bodies.

"You bet it wasn't," said a voice from the back of the hall.

Spurs jangled as a tall, lean man in a cowboy hat strode in from a back room, a bloody axe over his shoulder. His face was grizzled, and he wore an eyepatch over one eye. He spit a dollop of blood out of his mouth as he looked over the three of them. "You're not with them, are you?"

"Oh no!" cried Fate. "Quite the opposite. We killed their leader."

The man nodded. "I suppose I ought to thank you for making my job easier. But it was already too easy. I could have used the challenge." He spit out another bit of blood.

"Are you okay?" asked Fate.

"Yes," said the man. "It's not mine," he added.

Jo regarded warily. "I don't think I caught your name."

"It's unimportant," said the man. "I'm here on behalf of Monrovia Event Planning. We received a report that someone was interfering with the Harvest Festival and I was told to handle it." He looked at the carnage around him. "I handled it."

"Wow," said Fate.

"I guess it's a very important festival," said Jo.

"The Harvest Festival is a continent-wide event that brings in $15 billion a year to Monrovia alone, and many times that for local economies," said the man. "So yeah, I'd say it's important to make sure all locations have the peace of mind knowing that they can go forward with local festival events without any danger or disruption." He paused, and spat on the ground again. "You locals?"

"Not exactly," said Fate.

"My friend was passing through earlier," said Jo, "and caught wind of this trouble, and was seized with the same fervor as you seem to have in making sure the Harvest Festival went as planned."

The man nodded curtly. "Well, again, I ought to thank you, if I needed the help. Which I didn't." He lowered his axe from his shoulder and cleaned it on the dead body of one of the marauders, then slung it over his shoulder again. "And no offense, but you all look a little out of your league here. If I can offer a little unsolicited advice going forward: mind your own business."

Fate folded her arms. "Well, not that you need the help," she said, "but I thought you might want to know they were working for somebody else."

"Yeah?" said the man. "Who's that?"

"Lady Remoulade," said Fate triumphantly.

"Well, I guess I'll go pay the lady a visit."

"You can't," said Fate. "She's dead."

"If you handled that kill as cleanly as the one you did here," said the man, "I think it's best if I still head over there and check for loose ends."

"We were also," said Fate, "going to check for loose ends."

"Do something else," said the man. "I work alone."

"Look," interrupted Jo. "We've got our own business there so if you don't mind, we'll head over and you head over, and none of us has to talk to the other."

"Just make sure you stay out of my way," growled the man, and leapt out the back window, which was next to the back door, shattering glass everywhere.

The three of them stood for a while, looking at the window as dangling sheets of glass shards swung to and fro.

"He's got a good head start," remarked Jo.

"Well, it's not a race," said Fate. "I think we should first tell the villagers the Harvest Festival is back on." She peeked out the window. "I think they're all waiting out front."

Jo scanned the room once more and said, "I think it should be safe to go out through the front."

As they opened the door, a couple of strands of bright yellow ribbon that had been strewn haphazardly across the door fluttered in the wake.

Jo grabbed a sign tied to one of the strands and looked at it. "Event Planning Security At Work," it said. "Please stay clear of the area until security has finished. While work is in progress, staffers may not be able to distinguish friend from foe and cannot be held responsible for any death or injury to anyone who enters the marked area."

The square outside the town hall was filled with curious but cautious villagers, maintaining a good distance from the door.

"Is he... er... done?" asked a man.

"Yep, all done," said Fate. "I have to tell you, he did not clean up, so you might want to get some people who aren't squeamish and uh, clear out the place. But more importantly, the Harvest Festival is back on!"

The crowd cheered, and began high fiving and running to pass on the news to the rest of the village. One woman scratched her head, looking at Fate, and said, "I could have sworn you left."

"We did," said Fate, "and we just snuck back in a few minutes ago."

The woman muttered something about not being able to keep track of young people these days, and wandered off to smash the stockpile of Human Sacrifice Festival signs.

A small crew came up to the door with a cart full of pitchforks and empty burlap sacks, looking nervously at the yellow ribbon. "So, er, just double checking, you're sure it's safe to go in," said the crew leader.

"He's long gone," said Fate.

The man nodded and said, "Much obliged," but still took a peek for himself before motioning the others to follow him in.

The same yellow ribbon was strung across the imposing front doors of Chateau Remoulade, which were wide open.

"I've never seen those doors closed," remarked Fate.

"Back in the day," said Jo nostalgically, "nobody locked their doors. Neighbors trusted each other. It made the job so much easier."

Spurs jangled as footsteps echoed on the hard stone floor, and they saw the same man they had met back in the town hall emerging from within the chateau, bloody axe slung over his shoulder. He snatched the ribbon down, looked at all of them, said "I'm done" curtly as he spit out a mouthful of blood, and walked past them down the road.

"Well," said Jo with a sigh. "I guess we'd better go see just what he's done."

After a thorough sweep, the three had reconvened in the room that had once been Lady Remoulade's audience chamber. Jo was seated on the plush velvet chair, frowning as he made marks in a notebook. "So that's seven bodies total," he said. "Butler, stabbed in neck. That happened earlier, you said," he said, nodding at Inversion.

"Yeah, the doctor did it."

"Three servants, exact job unknown, cut clean in half, two lengthwise and one horizontally, found in the entry hall. All armed. One servant in the audience chamber, decapitated." He gestured with his pen toward the body in question. "Location of head, unknown."

"I have a guess," said Inversion, looking up at a high stained glass window, which had a head-sized hole smashed in it.

"I wonder what that was about," said Fate. "He just pitched it through for fun?"

"I cannot begin to guess what that fella finds fun," said Jo, shaking his head. "Seems as likely as anything." He continued. "One cook, in the kitchen, looks like internal injuries from being thrown violently against the wall, or multiple walls."

"See?" said Inversion. "I can't keep smashing people into ceilings, you don't know what could happen."

"And one lady's maid, diagonal slash across the torso. Seems like she had some work done. Lips definitely not real." He looked up at Fate. "Not sure why that detail was important."

"You never know what might be a clue," said Fate.

"We're not trying to solve a murder," said Jo. "Just trying to get a handle on the situation." He chewed on the pen. "So what do we have as far as documents?"

Fate patted the crate before her. "Brought these all up from the dungeon," she said.

"Here's some letters from the desk in her bedroom," said Inversion.

"All right, let's give them a skim to make sure none of them says she's sent for help, and then take them back with us to go over in detail."

To Chapter 8: Assassin Lessons