Shadow's Ascendance

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Chapter Two

I was so concerned with getting back to the station to start deciphering the markings that had been placed on the woman and the alley that I didn’t even think about where I was walking until I heard Dorf clear his throat. Looking up, I spotted him on the driver’s side of his steam carriage, grinning at me. “Climb on in, partner,” he said, relishing my obvious discomfort.

“Uh, that’s OK Dorf, I’ll just go ahead and walk back to the station. It will give me time to clear my head, stuff like that.” I hadn’t turned and ran, but I made sure I backed up away from that metallic death machine just in case he tried to force me. Or it ate me, which was also likely.

“Oh come on Jonas! Don’t tell me you’re still scared! It was just one time!”

“Three times, Dorf! Three times you’ve almost killed me riding in that tiny little death box!” Realizing that I was dangerously close to pouting and whining, I changed tactics. “And of course I’m not scared! Orcs don’t feel fear! I…just want to walk, that’s all.” I knew that I was protesting too loudly, but it was either that or admit how much it terrified me riding around in one of those things. Wave of the future, my hairy ass! There won’t be a future if people kept insisting on driving around in those steam-powered rickety machines. Me, give me a good horse any day. At least you can try to reason with a horse; with a steam carriage, if it breaks down, there’s nothing you can do but pray to the Gods that you don’t get hurt.

Partnerships are like any relationship, in that after a while you can read the other person like a book, and even call them out when they are full of bullshit. This was one of those times. Dorf just snorted once and drily said, “Yes, in the pouring down rain you want to walk eight city blocks. Just get in, you big pussy.” And with that, he opened the door and slid inside. He knew that there was no way I could just ignore an insult like that, and in fact I could feel my temper straining to break free. The only way to avoid making a scene was to prove that he wasn’t right. And so, back stiff with pride and a barely suppressed howl held in by my lips, I opened the passenger door and crammed my massive frame inside the steam carriage.

No sooner had I closed the door than Dorf pushed down the steam lever and released the brake, hurtling us forward into traffic. He had already started the engine, so I didn’t have time to prepare myself. Thankfully, it was pretty late at night and the rain was doing a lot to keep most people inside where it was dry, so he only cut off two or three drivers with his little maneuver. I dug my fingers into the door frame and held on for dear life as he sped along like there was a demon after us. “I got the accelerant gears fixed so the stick doesn’t get stuck! Much smoother, wouldn’t you say?” he shouted over the rush of wind and the din of people out and about, the steam powered streetlights we hurtled under almost creating a strobe effect that wasn’t helping my stomach stay settled. He knew I couldn’t reply, seeing as how I was completely focused on not hurling up my dinner, and this made it all the more annoying…well, at least to me, it did.

Not for the first time, I bemoaned the fact that I got my physique from my Orc parent and not my human one. Dorf may have been tall and heavy for a human, standing roughly 12 Hands and weighing about 23 Stones, but he was a lightweight compared to my height of 14 Hands and weight of 24 Stones. And my weight was all muscle, not fat. Unlike me, Dorf just kind of squished himself into the driver’s seat, whereas I had to recline the passenger seat almost all the way back and I still felt trapped. But on the bright side, he got the air filtration system fixed and the engine’s steam and exhaust wasn’t blowing back into the cabin anymore and poisoning us until we both puked. That was something at least, and not a pleasant memory to think about.

I’d known other half-Orcs before: they were usually the result of rape from raids by Orcs on the human villages located high up in the mountains, where they are taught that every life is sacred; or, here in the city, when a human woman desired to get back at her family, sometimes she went slumming and found an Orc in a tavern who would give it to her raw and rough - and as is often the case, no protection charms were used and nine months later a little bastard resulted.

Me, I was different. My father was a human, and my mother was an Orc. He had met her when he saved her life. There had been an attack by the Dwarves on a relatively peaceful Orc village, as punishment for a raid another band of Orcs did on another Dwarven town. None of that mattered to the Dwarven party, that they were punishing innocents, they had just been out for blood. And blood they got, killing most of the children and elderly in the village while the men had been out hunting. Afterwards, they had captured the Orc women and were going to sell them into slavery to make back for some of their losses from when they were raided. Eye for an eye and all that. And before you say anything, I don’t hate Dwarves for doing that. It didn’t happen to me, it happened to my mom and long before I was born. Why hold a grudge?

My dad had been a merchant caravan guard, and his caravan had met up with the Dwarves to help them out; the Dwarves didn’t know anyone who bought slaves, but the humans did. One look at her, he used to say, and it was love at first sight. Using his wages that he had just earned, he secured her freedom. Even though she only spoke Orcish and all he spoke was the Common tongue, he still managed to convey that she was free to go and that he wasn’t going to hurt her. She somehow managed to tell him that she was unmarried, and since her parents were killed she had nothing left to go back to in their former village. The Orc men would consider her Uk-rath, or unclean in Orcish. If they didn’t kill her outright, they would just rape her repeatedly until she took her own life. Yeah, my people are so supportive, I know.

So, he took her back home to his little home that he had out in the country. It wasn’t much, just a small hut with a plot of land that he had some chickens, goats, and vegetables on; but to my mom, she said it was like their own little piece of paradise. I mean, eventually they built it up into what I remembered most clearly from my childhood, with a barn and cattle and stuff, but back then it was barely enough to subside on. She learned to speak his tongue, and he picked up words and phrases from her. His name was Bart, and her name was Regtha, or Reg for short. They got married, and within a year out popped little old me.

Maybe because my dad was human I look more like him than an Orc. Not sure, I’m not a scientist or anything. Doesn’t really matter anyway, since I am who I am and I can’t change it. My eyes are blue and most Orcs have brown or black eyes, my skin is almost a dark tan color and all the Orcs I’ve seen are green or brown, and my tusks barely jut out from the sides of my mouth. I’ve been told I’m very handsome, in a savage primal sort of way. To be honest, I don’t really care if I’m found attractive. Married to my job is a very apt description of my social life.

As Dorf made a turn at a speed I considered well past reckless, I looked down at my clothes to avoid making eye contact with the people wondering who the maniac was behind the wheel of this steam carriage. Focusing on that might help my gut. All detectives had a uniform that we wore, though anything else like a coat or a hat was up to each individual; as long as the main uniform itself wasn’t altered and was visible, the brass upstairs didn’t care how we dressed.

The colors of our uniform were selected by a committee that ultimately reported to the King. Why would the King care what colors the city police wear? Beats the shit out of me, but there it is. Personally I think this committee is just a bunch of unctuous sycophants who try to cozy up to our King, Edward Terrance the Fourth, since he’s still fairly young as monarchs go. He took the throne only 5 Cycles ago, after the untimely death of his father, Edward Terrance the Third; turns out, our late King had an allergy to a new crop called peanuts. Such a shame. Thankfully, he seemed to want to continue the traditions set down by his ancestors, and so there hadn’t really been any changes as far as I could see, which was really all the general populace wanted. To be able to live out their lives without oppression or too much oversight.

It’s funny, but even though we are technically a monarchy, we are all considered free men (or women) as set down by the city charters written up over 5 centuries ago. The city came first, and then the land around the city, and so on and so forth until one day we had a kingdom that’s called Tyrinos, after our 1st King. Weird, I know, but apparently that’s usually how it goes. So since we are all free people, the city couldn’t just keep sending out the city guards to deal with small problems like petty theft, drunken bar fights and things of that nature. That’s why a police force was created, to help keep the peace so the city guard could do what they were supposed to: guard the city from outside threats, leaving us to deal with threats inside the city.

Detectives and flatfeet (or patrolmen as they like to be called) all have our own uniforms. Like Dorf, I was clad in dark red trousers, made from some fancy new material called denim. The manufacturer had just landed the contract with the police department, and in fact weren’t selling them to anyone else for a few years as part of said contract. Not sure how I felt about not wearing good old cotton anymore, but I had to admit that these trousers were pretty durable, warm, and they cleaned up very well. They went well with my black hobnailed boots.

We also both had on a thick black button up shirt, though to be fair my partner’s was in danger of rupturing at the seams and mine was almost form-fitting against my torso. I really should start helping Gregory in watching what Dorf eats, I mused. Dorf was always a big guy, but since he and Gregory had settled down he had gotten very complacent and let himself go quite a bit. And that much weight on a human body wasn’t good for him, I imagined.

Putting that aside for the moment, like I usually did every day, I adjusted my duster to try and maintain a little of my body heat that this cold steel machine was trying desperately to suck out of me. My partner seemed immune to the chill (or at least never complained about it, and he liked to complain), wearing a tanned cowhide leather jacket that had more stains and patches on it than I knew what to do with. Whenever I brought up maybe getting it replaced, Dorf reminded me that this jacket was older than I was, and would probably still be around long after I was gone. An old joke between us, with just a hint of bitterness amidst the laughter.

See, Orcs usually die of natural causes, since it’s perfectly natural to die if you have been stabbed or chopped up or had any other violent method applied to your body. Orcs that don’t succumb to death that way only live to be about 40 Cycles or so; being half-Orc, I split the differences between my parents and would probably live to the ripe old age of around 60. I was already 23, and Dorf was about 35; barring him dying from some illness brought about by his weight, he would more than likely outlive me by a good decade or so. It wasn’t something either of us liked to think about, but the truth doesn’t care if you like it or not, it’s still the truth.

I was jarred from my daydreaming and reminiscing as Dorf pushed down on the accelerant stick and slowed down this horrendous contraption to something approaching a sensible speed. He then pulled up on the brake as gently as he was capable of doing, and knowing what was about to happen, I braced myself against the roof of the car. Even though he probably thought it was a gentle stop, I still had to stop myself from rocketing forward once the brake was fully engaged. With a sputter and a wheeze, the steam carriage came to a shuddering stop, and I let out a breath I hadn’t even been aware I was holding as he shut off the engine.

“See? That wasn’t so bad.” Dorf tried to reassure me as I peeled myself off of my seat.

“You are such an asshole,” I panted out.

“Ah, you big crybaby. You didn’t even come close to dying, and we made it here without the old girl breaking down once. I’ll call that a win.”

“You can call it whatever you like,” I replied as I flung open the door and unboxed myself from the passenger seat. “I still call it a death machine, and wonder every time why I let you talk me getting into that thing.” Slamming the door a little harder than I intended, I watched him wince slightly at the abuse his ‘baby’ was taking. Since he was senior in our partnership, he got to drive this contraption home, and I was more than happy to let him have it.

Changing subjects, he spoke up. “Hey, listen, if I’m going to call it a ‘clerical error’ about the paperwork not being filed in time for the press to get a hold of it, we both can’t walk in the main entrance to the station. Some of the reporters like to camp out there this late at night, hoping to get the earliest scoop on the bloody business we deal with. How about you go in the side entrance and go to the library and lab and start working on deciphering those markings?” Dorf suggested. No matter how slovenly his appearance, his mind was still sharp as a tack, and I knew it was sound advice. It was one of the things that people respected about him.

“Sounds like a plan, partner. Since I’m going to be working on this for the next few hours, any chance you can get one of the apprentices to bring me some hot kafe? Lots of cream and sugar, please.” This was one of the reasons our city still traded with the Nover Confederacy, an island nation that built its empire on the backs of thousands of slaves. Officially, Aerendor condemned slavery (seeing as how we’re all recognized free people and all); unofficially, they needed the trade that the Nover merchants brought, and so all of those dealings were kept very hush-hush. Gotta love the hypocrisy of politics, I grimaced.

“How you drink that crap I will never know. What’s wrong with a nice cup of tea?”

“Tea is as weak as mother’s milk compared to the strength of kafe, partner. You should start drinking it sometime; it’ll put hair on your chest, and stop you from looking like you haven’t hit puberty yet.” I smirked at him.

“Besides the kafe, how about you drink a nice cold glass of go fuck yourself, eh?” Dorf hated being reminded of how little hair grew on the rest of his body, and I knew it. I guffawed loudly, which didn’t sweeten his disposition one bit. “Fine, I’ll have one of the apprentices bring you that swill. Now, hurry up and get cracking on those markings. I can only delay so long.”

“No problem Dorf, and thanks.” He waved off the gratitude and walked nonchalantly up the steps to the precinct while I kept an eye out for reporters and went down the side steps, entering the building through the lab and library entrance. Now, the real police work can begin, I thought smugly. The devil was in the details, after all. Cases like this present a real challenge, and I so loved a challenge. I cracked my knuckles as I closed the door behind me, blocking out the steady drip of the rain, the noise of people talking, and the bright white streetlamps. Inside was the softly lit quiet and the dry sanctity of the library and lab. Time to get to work.

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