Shadow's Ascendance

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Chapter Nineteen

As I unlocked and opened my apartment door, I tried to recall the last time I was actually here. Was it three or four days ago? Honestly, they were all starting to blur together. I knew that I was home the day of the murder, since I had only gotten on shift when Dorf and I got assigned to the case. But I think, even then I had just been home catching a quick nap since I had attended a lecture on advancing magical practices at the University that morning. So, a long time since I had slept in my own bed that’s for sure, I thought as I hung up my duster.

Closing the door behind me, I did a cursory check around my apartment to make sure that there wasn’t anyone in waiting for me. It only happened once, back when I was a flatfoot, and it was a jealous boyfriend unhappy his girlfriend had reported him for assault. He had thought that his years in the military and working in the King’s Guard would excuse him for making her face look like an abstract painting and nearly killing her. Not only did it not, we had criers hawking his description within the hour and mentioning a reward for information leading to his arrest. So, he thought to either take it out on me or threaten me into rescinding the arrest. Bad mistake.

I’ve said it before, most of my magic is very subtle and not flashy or powerful. And usually, if you catch a caster by surprise, you can prevent them from getting off a spell. Unless the spell in question is something that you’ve done so many times, you have it always memorized and can do it with very few gestures and almost no words…like my spell that causes instant upset stomach, vomiting and diarrhea. He ambushed me after I had closed the door by wrapping his arms around me and squeezing, I fired off the spell while painfully pointing my hand back at his gut, and then I simply elbowed him and stepped out of the way while my trick did all the work. I’ve never seen someone so grateful to be taken into custody. The amount of praying he did to make the pain stop would have made a pious cleric proud, probably.

Finishing my sweep, I was happy to say that there was nobody waiting for me in my apartment. Seconds later, that proved to be a lie when something flung itself against my ankles, nearly tripping me before I could turn on the lights. Not that I needed them, because my thermal vision illuminated clearly what had so viciously attacked me. It was wending back and forth between my legs, pressed up against me, fur rubbing off on my pants. “Did you miss me, girl?”

The calico cat sat back on its haunches and began to meticulously groom in between its front paws, holding them up one at a time while ignoring me. Smiling, I stepped over her and was quickly struck by one of her paws, claws out but failing to really penetrate my denim. Attack thwarted, she hissed at me and shot off back towards the bedroom before I had time to scold her. Chuckling to myself, I went and put my stuff down on the table. Yup, she missed me, and she was pissed that I knew it. Cats can be funny that way.

Her food dish was nearly empty and there was no water at all in her bowl, which probably meant that she had been drinking the water out of the water closet. I hadn’t meant to be gone this long, it just happened; thankfully, I had long ago gotten in the habit of putting out a few days’ worth of food whenever I fed her, and she had gotten good at not gorging herself when she saw all that food. Plus, if she got really hungry, I had put a small charm on one of the large knots in the wood wall, and woven a sympathetic charm into her collar so she could get out and explore the neighborhood. A few of the local kids looked out for her, and I usually made sure to pick up extra candy for them whenever I went out to the market, as thanks for doing that.

Making sure my pet was fed and had water took my mind off of things. Being a flatfoot –and later a Detective- was a lonely business. Long weird hours didn’t lead to too many chances at company. Hells, if I didn’t constantly clean my dick of cobwebs, I’m sure it would be covered in them by now, that’s how much female company I enjoyed. So, not too long after Dorf and I became partners, he and Gregory gave me a cat. I would have some company and someone to take care of, and cats are pretty self-sufficient as it were. Even the one thing that all cat owners had to do –change their litter box- I had taken care of, creating a spell that eliminated any waste that she deposited into the box the moment she stepped out of it.

By the Gods, I didn’t even have a name for her! I just called her Cat, and that seemed good enough for the both of us. She would come around for petting and attention whenever she wanted it, and run away whenever she had her fill. Now, I could make a sexist joke here about how that’s most women are, but most women I’ve known have more loyalty than this creature has for me. A druid once told me that most pets refer to their owners as their person, and have ‘names’ for us that are a collection of memories, smells and sounds that help them identify us among all the other people in this world. It wouldn’t surprise me to know that she only referred to me as ‘person who is almost never here and occasionally feeds me’.

My apartment is really nothing special, painted a dull beige color. It has a small kitchen, a tiny living room/dining room, and a bedroom with a small water closet attached to it. I didn’t even have any windows I could look out, not that I wanted to; being the center apartment on a floor may have meant I had neighbors on all sides, but it also meant that nobody could sneak up on me either. Everything in this world is a trade-off, and I gladly choose this one.

Now, the apartment directly above mine (which is also the top floor) I rent out for my magical workings and experiments. Unbeknownst to the landlord and building owner, I have boarded over the door leading into that apartment. The only means of access is a ladder and panel cut into the ceiling of my bedroom. Sure, I could probably afford a place that had a spare room that I could use for my magical things, but I liked it here. This way, if there was a problem with a spell I was working on or an experiment I was conducting, it would only affect that apartment, not the one I lived in. And, if something went horribly wrong where it could also affect this apartment as well, more than likely I wouldn’t be alive to worry about it anymore.

It was also painfully apparent that I didn’t host people here often. Besides the table in the kitchen, there was one in the living/dining room, along with two chairs, only one of them comfortable. And of course, that was the one that Cat always chose, so before I could sit down I had to brush it off of all the cat hair she shed all over it. I may have a cat as a pet, but I damn sure didn’t want to look like I had one when I went out into the city. A few minutes later, the chair was cleaned off and I sat back into it, groaning at how good it felt to get off of my feet.

But, I really needed to read some more on those case notes about not only this recent murder but all the murders that had happened every 20 Cycles. So, I reluctantly got up and went over to the table where my notes were stashed in my bag. After taking them out, I went over to the ice box and opened it. I would need to replenish the ice very soon –or master that one spell that would keep the interior cold for a year and a day, whichever came first- but it was cold enough in there that my reward for the last few days was still chilled and waiting for me.

Pulling out the glass bottle, I smiled as I pulled out the cork. Recently, some genius had come up with a brilliant solution of what would happen if you really wanted some nice ale but didn’t have time to go down to the pub. And that solution was bottling it in thick glass bottles and stoppering it with a cork, to keep the ale nice and fresh. Then, you stored the ale inside your ice box, and just took one out whenever you wanted. Plus, if you returned the bottles to the plant, they cleaned and reused them and gave you a small collection fee for doing so! Like I said, sheer brilliance.

Lifting the bottle to my lips, I took a long draught before putting it down and smacking my lips. Damn but that was refreshing! Just a little hoppy, but really dark and bitter, with a hint of chocolate and kafe coming through. I carried that and the papers back over to my chair and put them down on the table so I could pull off my boots. A moan of relief that I couldn’t contain escaped past my lips. My feet echoed that sentiment. Leaning back, I took another drink before sadly putting the ale down by the side of the chair and picking up the papers.

Those marking were the key to all of this, I was sure of it. They weren’t runes and they weren’t in Draconus, the two most common written languages for magic use. Even most clerics and other divine traditions knew a smattering of both of those languages. But these, these were different. The more I stared at them, the more they almost seemed to be moving around counter-clockwise, which obviously couldn’t be happening. I just knew if I could crack this code, it would bring us a giant step closer to catching the son of a bitch who had murdered that poor girl.

However, I couldn’t ignore that fortune telling card of the Ronan either. Somehow the two were linked. Maybe if some of the Ronan that were camped outside of the other nearby villages took up our offer of sanctuary, I could get some answers. I adored Natalya and was glad that we had saved her life, but she was no help when it came to this. Someone who was a bit older, maybe if we were lucky even one of their casters, would shed more light onto this mystery.

After I finished off my ale, I put the bottle back on the table and kept reading and rereading the case notes. At some point I must have passed out, because what seemed like hours later I was awakened by someone pounding on my door and calling out my name. “Coming!” I shouted out, bleary eyed and hoarse voiced as the pounding continued. “Give me a second, I’m coming!” Groggily, I got out of the chair and stumbled my way towards the door.

Another thing I had down was I installed a peephole at eye level and a cleverly hidden sliding panel at waist level. If anyone was dumb enough to try and trick me into opening the door for them, they would get that gut-misery spell for their troubles. Moving the peephole cover aside, I looked out. Standing there was a page from the force; I recognized him by his cap and having seem him around the station a few times. Unbolting the door, I opened it. “Can I help you, son?” I asked him, and he snapped off a smart salute.

“Detective Jonas! Chief Copperbeard has requested your presence down at the station, to interview the Ronan who have made their way into town via the roadways not too long ago.”

“Well, I’m glad the warning got out to them, but that should have taken hours. How many are there, son?”

“I believe there’s about twenty or so, sir,” he said, and he took a step back as my jaw dropped and I looked at him, aghast. “I saw them myself, so I can attest to that number, sir. Shall I return and inform the Chief that you’re on your way? Another page has already been dispatched for Detective Waldorf, sir.”

“That would be fine, son. Tell the Chief I shall be there within the hour or so, depending on foot traffic.” Snapping off another salute, the page turned on his heels and headed towards the stairs on the side of the building. This place was old, and so no elevator for us here. Besides, living on the fourth floor meant that only people who really wanted to see me made the effort to climb the stairs. I closed and locked the door before leaning back against it, shocked.

The Chief had sent messengers to the other three or four villages that surrounded Aerendor. Even figuring if only two of them had a Ronan caravan, that should have placed the number of refugees at about one hundred to two hundred. If only twenty or so made it here to our fair city, the ‘bad man’ that Natalya had seen had been very busy…and he would have much to answer for.

With a heavy heart, I went back over to my chair and tugged my boots back on, grumbling as I did so. I put the empty ale bottle back far enough on the counter that I hoped Cat wouldn’t notice it and knock it off, out of boredom or spite. Then, I went to the sink and pumped out some water to run over my hair and my face, drying off as fast as I could before tying my hair back once more into its customary tail. Looking into the mirror, I knew that I didn’t appear my best, but it would have to do for now. A nice shower would have to wait.

“Let’s get this show on the road,” I muttered to myself as I donned my duster once more, automatically patting my pockets to make sure all of my spell components and focuses were still in their rightful place. Then, I unlocked the door and exited my apartment before locking it back up again and heading towards the stairs. I had a feeling that the little cat nap I had just taken would be the only rest I would get for a long time.

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