Shadow's Ascendance

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Chapter Fourteen

Running for your life isn’t really conducive to creative thinking, but it wasn’t like I had a choice. What else could I do? Sure, I could stop and ask the lumbering blood beast if it wouldn’t mind waiting a minute or two so I could come up with some way to defeat it, sending it back wherever it came from. It would just open up its non-existent mouth and assure me that I could take as long as I needed. Yeah, and pigs might fly outta my big-yet-firm hairy ass.

As we ran, I did my best to describe to my partner what exactly we were fleeing from. For once, being deaf was an advantage, because I didn’t have to worry about Natalya listening in and becoming scared…well, more scared than she probably already was, looking for her family and in the protective custody of two large male detectives. Figuring out how to tell her that her mom and everyone she knew was dead could wait until after we defeated the creature that had been made from the lifeblood of all living creatures in the local area. If we survived, that is.

After I had finished speaking, Dorf was his usual evocative self. “Well, fuck us gently with a steam-powered saw!” he huffed out. “I mean, I’ve seen some crazy shit before, but that has to take the cake!”

“Tell me about it,” I huffed back. “And, without knowing how it was created, I’m not sure how I can defeat it.”

“What do you mean?” Dorf wheezed out. “It’s obviously not natural, and was created by some kind of magic; you just do some kind of magic back and get rid of it!”

Without having the time to explain, I just simply shook my head no and kept running while my mind kept churning along. As much as I’ve tried to help my partner understand the basics of magic –if only to help him stay alive, in case he was attacked and I couldn’t help defend him- there was still so much that Dorf didn’t know or would get, even if I took weeks to teach him. There was just some things that casters knew that mundanes didn’t. One of the basics was magic can’t do everything, which he did grasp, even if it took him a while to deprogram from what those plays and coppertales said.

The other was, certain magics react quite negatively to other types of magic. For example, if you are battling an angry spirit summoned through arcane magic and you use divine magic on it, it works really well. But, if you are battling said same spirit and you use primal magic, all you do is end up strengthening the thing you were trying to send away. It is things like that that keep me always learning, always studying, and always researching new techniques. Even most partial casters have a slim grasp on how that works.

So, there was a chance that if I worked certain magics against this blood beast, I would be doing more harm than good. And of course, I’d never heard of a blood beast before, much less seen one out and about in the world. For once, I felt paralyzed with indecision, sure that whatever choice I made, it would be the wrong one. I hadn’t felt like this since I had finished my training at the Academy and started on the force, afraid that someone would look too closely at my records for how I received my magical indoctrination and discover I had lied about it all. That fear had lived with me until long after the day I became Detective.

We finally arrived back in Aerdale, all of us winded and worn out. Well, not all of us. Bless the endurance of youth, because Natalya was just breathing slightly heavily –from fear and not exertion- whilst both Dorf and I were panting as if we were about to fall over and drop dead. I would like to say that Dorf was having a worse time than I was, but my fears were working on my mind the way that this forced exercise was working on my partner’s out-of-shape body. Both of us were in a lot of pain, and it showed on our faces: mine mental, his physical.

Natalya signed to me, to ask me what was going on and what we were running from. It was hard for me to explain, especially since even with the spell I was having difficulty translating “blood beast” into the signaling language we were using. I’m not exactly sure if she believed me, but I think it was both the terror on mine and Dorf’s face that convinced her that whatever was coming, it was dangerous and we needed to be prepared.

It was almost funny, but with all of the living creatures gone from the surrounding area, you would think that the sound of a massive creature made of blood stomping along would carry so we could determine how far away it was. But there was nary a sound but our panting to be heard. All in all, it was quite frightening. I kept straining my ears, hoping to catch the sound of it knocking a tree over, or maybe stumbling over a low bush and falling down; anything at all. Yet silence was all I detected.

Suddenly, pushing through the trees along the path we had just used, was the beast. Whatever it was that was holding all of that blood together in that form, it was durable. I watched as it pushed a branch aside, only to have it whip right back towards its head. The beast didn’t even recoil, and the branch ricocheted off and snapped right in half when it made contact with its skin. Swallowing nervously, I began to doubt how effective our weapons would be against it.

Dorf didn’t seem to have any such reservations. Letting out a rage filled snarl, my partner had already cranked up his steam-pistol as high as he could, and the first bullet he fired shot off like an angry wasp, even buzzing the same way. It pierced the hide of the blood beast, rocking its head backwards with an audible snap, and I let out a whoop of joy. I let that whoop die off after I watched the beast put its head back to normal, and before our eyes the wound in its head simply closed up, only some of the blood that had escaped giving proof that we had even hurt it at all. My partner let out a string of curse filled expletives.

Moving faster than either of us expected, the beast strode forward and swung a massive fist down where I was sheltering Natalya. Pushing her away from me, I barely managed to leap to the side before the fist came crashing down where I was just standing. Before I had time to think about it, I had drawn my dagger and I lunged forward, stabbing into the blood-filled fist. Unfortunately, my attack did not go as well as Dorf’s had, and all I got for my trouble was an aching arm from my blow rebounding and slamming my arm backwards. The beast swung its other fist to the side, and then everything was topsy-turvy as I went hurtling through the air.

Ierva, the Goddess of Luck, must really like me for some reason, because I landed in a pile of hay that was stacked in the fenced off area, probably for the horses I would imagine. Vowing to make a sizable contribution to her church the next Seventhday I was free, I stumbled out of the hay pile, only slightly winded and bruised from my flight. However, I could only watch in horror as the blood beast, having thought of me dispatched, turned its sightless gaze towards Natalya. I instinctively cried out a warning, not realizing that it was useless, as it swung its fist at her. She closed her eyes and huddled down, trying to make herself smaller, even though I could tell it would be no use. Nothing could miss at that range.

If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have believed it. I stared, aghast at what it was about to do but unwilling to look away, determined to bear witness to the death of someone I had sworn to protect. But, as its fist came crushing down, something strange happened. It rebounded from her as if she was covered in some type of protective field, and the beast stumbled backwards, even falling down on one knee. As it knelt there stunned, the half-Elven girl opened up her eyes, just as confused as we were why she wasn’t dead. She looked around hastily for me, and when she saw me signing to her to run towards me, Natalya didn’t hesitate but scrambled towards me quickly. When she got to me, I wrapped my arms around her tight, just grateful that she was still alive. The why could wait until later.

“Hey, Jonas! I got an idea!” Dorf yelled out from the other side of the village central clearing.

Normally, I would fire back that even a blind rat finds some cheese once in a while, but right now I just wasn’t feeling jovial. “Hey, I guess even a blind rat gets lucky in the city sewers once in a while and finds something to eat!” OK, I guess I was feeling just a little bit jovial.

“Do you want me to destroy this thing or not, you horse fucker?” he shouted back. I deserved that, even though to my knowledge I had never engaged in intimate relations with an equine companion. Granted, some of the dates I’ve had were not necessarily very attractive in the face, but it still was a slanderous accusation against my character.

“Fine, what do you need me to do?” I said back, ignoring the insult (for now at least).

“Keep it busy, and try to lure it over to the well. And when you hear me give the signal, you can figure out what to do!” Since neither of us knew if this thing actually heard anything at all, I could appreciate his attempts at discretion. I honestly had no clue what he was going to go do, but if when he signaled he wanted me to trip the beast into falling into the well, I could do that. Thankfully, the village had installed a good sized well, not those small circular wells that some of the older villages insisted on using, calling them quaint. Quaint didn’t always work.

Grabbing Natalya’s hand, I ran over in front of the well, watching the blood beast out of the corner of my eye. It had lumbered to its feet, and was swinging its head back and forth, trying to spot us. Natalya signed to me, asking why she was still alive. When I signed back that I didn’t know, it was obvious she didn’t believe me. If I hadn’t seen it myself, I wouldn’t believe me either. Not wanting to miss Dorf’s signal, I signed that we would talk about it after we defeated the creature. Scowling, she signed back fine, and just stood there with her arms crossed over her shirt. No matter how old they are, it seems all females have mastered the art of letting a man know when he is in for a talking to, I thought bemusedly.

Having spotted us, the blood beast came charging after us, and it became a little dance we did, as I continued to spin around the well and duck the blows it tried to rain down on my head. I wasn’t sure how I was going to trip it, since not only did it outweigh me by quite a bit, but what happened to the branch kept replaying in my head, and I could just see my body shooting backwards, all broken and bruised. And, just like a light bulb coming on after you cranked the steam-powered generator, I knew how I could do it.

Signing to Natalya, I asked her since the beast didn’t seem able to touch her, if she would help me trip it into the well. She stared at me as if I had just grown horns on my head. I signed back that I believed it would work, and that I would never place her in danger if I thought she would get hurt. Just then, I heard Dorf bellowing out the first few bars of the Academy’s graduation song, and I knew that was the signal. Looking at Natalya, I hoped she could see that I was being earnest. The seconds seemed to crawl by, but finally she nodded. Which was good, because at that point the blood beast had backed up to the edge of the village, and was charging full speed ahead at us.

Pushing the half-Elven girl behind me, I stood my ground as the beast came at me like a steam-train barreling down the tracks. Waiting until the last second, I barely leapt aside before it connected with us. And, already curled up into a ball and waiting, was Natalya. The beast couldn’t stop its forward momentum, and once it made contact with the girl, that momentum hurled it over her without harming a single hair on her head. Flailing its arms about, it was unable to halt its trajectory, and it went down into the well.

“Out of the way!” I heard Dorf shouting, and I turned to see my partner rushing out of the pub carrying a sack of something. Reaching the well, he upended the sack into the well. It smelled familiar, but what happened next was anything but. Whatever it was, it caused the blood beast to start thrashing around. We could barely remain standing, its motions were shaking the ground that much while steaming vapors were pouring out of the well. After a few minutes, the thrashing stopped, and I looked down into the well, to see only red colored water at the bottom.

Turning towards my partner, who had that grin like the cat that ate the canary, I couldn’t keep the incredulousness from my voice. “How did you do that, Dorf? What was in that sack?”

“Salt,” was what he said, and my jaw just dropped open even more. “Hey, my dad and granddad may have been police, but my mom was one of the best laundresses in our fair city, and she taught me quite a few things. Like for instance, salt and water can get blood out of clothes.”

I couldn’t help myself, even though I knew it was from relief and not from it actually being funny, as I started to laugh, soft at first but growing harder until tears were streaming down my cheeks. All of my magic, all of my training, all of my experience, and in the end it was a simple laundry trick that vanquished our enemy. Just goes to show, we casters don’t know everything, and if this doesn’t help keep me humble, I don’t know what will. What a day.

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