Shadow's Ascendance

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Chapter Twenty-two

“Detective Jonas, I’m sure you know that some of the Ronan –like myself- are casters, but we mainly stick to telling fortunes and futures. Ours is not the flashy spells of the wizards and clerics, but a very subtle way of briefly glimpsing possibilities in the soon-to-be and the present. And of course, we learn various charms and wards, things to make our lives easier and safer as we travel around this great land of ours.”

I nodded my head briefly. Even mundanes knew about the fortune telling that the Ronan did; it’s why, even though they may be misunderstood and sometimes despised, they still draw people eager to know their future and what it held for them. “Yes, Madam Darya, I know all about that. But I get the feeling that’s not what you are about to tell me, is it?”

The older woman gave a deep, long sigh, while Ivana rubbed her arm sympathetically and glared at me, as if it was my fault that her mother figure was troubled. When she started speaking, Madam Darya pitched her voice low, as if afraid of even speaking the words out loud and having somebody else hear them. “What you don’t know, a secret that even very few Ronan know about for sure, is we also have another, darker power.” She gave another deep sigh, before choking the words out. “We can also curse people as well.” I had heard that before of course, but to have it confirmed by this woman was a really big deal. Ivana stopped rubbing her arm and slowly pulled her hand back, as if she had just discovered she was petting a highly venomous snake that could turn on her at any moment. Although she tried to put on a brave face, I could see that the half-Orc’s reaction hurt Madam Darya dearly.

As I leaned back in my chair instinctively, I could see why this was a closely guarded secret. The Ronan were already reviled in a lot of places, with people going by lots of false information and heresy. If it was proven that they could curse people, then no village would ever let them darken their doorsteps again. Within a generation, they would be wiped out. They would be hunted down and killed, simply as a precautionary method of keeping everyone safe from the ‘wicked and immoral Ronan’. Still, I swallowed nervously a few times before replying.

“I can understand why you don’t want this to get out, and I swear that barring what I have to do with this to help bring a murderer to justice, I will never speak a word of it to anyone. You have my word.”

“While I don’t doubt that you are an honorable man, I would much rather have a blood oath on it Detective. After all, apart from most full casters, no one in the Ronan knows about this; not even Ivana knew before this moment, and I will ask her to swear the blood oath as well.” I recalled that Natalya had known about it, and wondered where she learned it from.

Ivana looked hurt and insulted. “Mother, you can’t be serious!”

“Deadly serious, my daughter. This admittance is a secret that is only passed down from one caster to their apprentice on the teacher’s death bed. Seeing as how you have no talent in that regard, I have already broken one of our oldest covenants by letting you stay in the room with the Detective whilst I told him. But, it may be up to you to help him on this case, and I don’t want you ignorant of the dangers you may face.”

Blood oaths were serious business. A magic older than any tradition I’d ever heard of, blood magic carried serious repercussions if misused, which is why most casters swore off of it. Myself, I had used it for various spells to make them permanent a few times, but even I was wary of using it casually and only did it when I had no other choice. “Are you sure, Madam Darya?”

“As sure as rain is wet, Detective. I must know that if something were to happen to me, neither of you would ruin what little good name our people have left. It’s the only way that I’ll feel safe and ready to continue.” The older woman turned to look both Ivana and I in the eyes, trying to impress on us how serious this all was.

That was a look I’d recognized, and I knew that there was no argument I could make that would change Darya’s mind. So, I pulled out my athame from my pocket and cut a small incision in my left palm. As the blood dripped down on the table, I swore my oath. “I, Detective Jonas Kuurnok, so solemnly swear that I will only use my knowledge of the Ronan curses to advance my apprehending of the vicious killer that slaughtered quite a few of their people, and barring that, to never speak to another soul not in this room of it forevermore. If I do, may the potency of my blood and my broken honor mark me for all others to see as an oathbreaker.”

There was a small flash of light, and when it cleared the cut in my palm had healed up. I took out a disposable piece of cloth to clean my athame, and then I wiped up the blood left on the table before casting my flash fire cantrip and burning away any traces of my being left behind. You could never be too careful when it came to someone getting a hold of a piece of you, to use against you with a spell or some such attack. And that was what I had meant when I said that blood magic was older than any tradition I’d ever researched. It wasn’t by my own ability that my wound had healed, nor was it the result of any deity or power that I called on. Mundanes could even do blood magic, though most casters didn’t inform them of that since it helped keep the ignorant and uninformed safe and free from doing anything they’d later regret.

From the corner of my eye, I watched as Ivana pulled out her belt knife –which surprised me, since usually when we have people in the interview rooms, their weapons are removed for the officers’ protection- and mimicked my actions and words. Since I’m sure she had never done a blood oath before, that wasn’t surprising. If you are stuck doing something unfamiliar, copy what someone else did that worked and hope for the best. She hadn’t asked to be a part of this, and yet she still came through anyway. As much as I didn’t want to, I felt a growing respect for the beautiful yet obstinate half-Orc.

Without asking, I pulled another disposable cloth out and handed it to Ivana, indicating she should use it to clean off her belt knife and the table. After she was done, I did for her like I had done for myself, burning away any traces of her being left behind. When she stared at me and raised an eyebrow, I explained myself. “Using your blood, someone could easily cast a spell that only designated you as the target or they could do other nefarious things with it. That was for your protection. As annoying as you can be, nobody deserves to have that done to them.”

The beautiful half-Orc grew pale. “I never knew anything like that was real! I mean, I’d heard rumors before about it, tales around the campfire, but…”

“We casters generally don’t go around broadcasting that it can be done; it just gives most people more to worry about, and doesn’t grant them peace-of-mind at all. Besides, since only casters can do anything with it, it makes it easier to track down if someone does do something stupid like that. Believe me, this way is the best way to do it, quick and quiet.”

She swallowed nervously, but begrudgingly gave me a nod to show she understood. Part of me wanted to push it, but I recognized that time was running short and that I could tease Ivana later. “So now, Madam Darya, can you please finish with your story? Is this about a curse?”

“I’m afraid so. It all started over 100 Cycles ago, with my great-grandmother. You have to understand something, there are times when we are fortune-telling that we are taken over with the vision that we are seeing. It may seem cruel or heartless, to hear the words that we say, but it’s not like we take joy in being the bearer of bad news. We hurt just as much as the person who wanted a glimpse into their future, hoping for some happiness or prosperity.”

“Anyway, our caravan was parked outside the gates of this fair city. Yes,” she said in answer to the look of surprise on my face, “at one point we weren’t pushed out towards only the outlying villages, we could actually stop and enter Aerendor. So, a young man sought out my great-grandmother and asked for his fortune. My grandmother, who was only a child, was being watched by my great-grandaunt, who sat in the wagon and was charged with writing down the fortune that was read in case the customer wanted to review it later.”

“This young man gave my great-grandmother the silver coin she charged, sat down, and took her hands. I’m sure he was expecting to hear about marrying some girl he loved, having many riches from a job he worked at, or something along those lines. What he got, however, was more than he bargained for. According to the notes my great-grandaunt took, my great-grandmother threw back her head, and in a voice that wasn’t her own, told the man’s future.”

Madam Darya stopped talking, and asked me if I could get her some water. I walked out into the hall, grabbed an apprentice, and told him my request. Just a minute later, the older woman had emptied the cup of water and was ready to resume her tale. “My great-grandmother told that young man: your future will be empty, devoid of love and children. Your life is nothing of consequence to anyone, and you will die alone without having made a mark in this world. After she finished saying that, she slumped forward and passed out, finally releasing him.”

“Naturally, this didn’t sit well with the young man. He grew very angry, and demanded that my great-grandmother stop playing around and tell him his real future. But my great-grandaunt could see that she was out cold, and so she called out for some of my distant relatives to come and escort the young man out of the wagon and away from our campground. As he left, he swore that the ‘crazy bitch’ was wrong, and he would amount to something in life.”

“Well, when my great-grandmother came to, she had no recollection of having said any of that. Normally, after one of those prophetic tellings, she would be weak for a day or two, but this time it had drained her and she laid bedbound for over a week. She had errands she was supposed to attend to in the city, such as finding more ink to repaint some of the fortune-telling cards that had begun to fade from use over the years. Instead, my great-grandaunt volunteered, saying she would be happy to enter the city and procure the ink that was needed. Changing into city clothes and taking one of the cards for comparison, she bade my great-grandmother goodbye and journeyed into Aerendor. That was the last time anyone saw her alive.”

Tears sprung up in Madam Darya’s eyes, and I felt sympathy for her. Dealing with a death in the family, especially one that someone else caused, was never easy. I know, believe me. So I gave her a moment to collect herself and to dry her tears. When she felt she was ready, the older woman gave me a nod of thanks and resumed her story. “When the police found her, the card had been taking from her pocket, as if to verify who she was, and she had been tortured to death. There were these strange marking all over her naked body and along the circle that she laid in, inscribed with a knife and in chalk, respectively. And, whomever had done it had removed her head. The only way my great-grandmother was able to identify the body was because of a red flower-looking birthmark my great-grandaunt had on her lower right hip.”

“The only thing that made my great-grandmother proud was there were clear signs of struggle in the alley, so my great-grandaunt fought her assailant as best she could. Plus, something she never told the police –who already said it was my great-grandaunt’s fault, somehow, since she was Ronan- was she could detect the traces of a curse that had been unleashed. She must have unleashed it before the coward took her head. Whomever the killer was, they hadn’t gotten completely away scot-free. That was one of the only things that brought her any peace. It broke her heart, however, and she passed away when my grandmother was barely a teenager. I never got to know either of them.”

“I am truly sorry for your loss, Madam Darya,” I told her sincerely, while Ivana pulled her towards her and gave the older woman a tight hug. Even after all those years, that pain never truly goes away, the pain of knowing that someone took away someone’s life just because they could. Although she had never met her great-grandmother or her great-grandaunt, it was obvious that Darya still felt the loss of having lost two family members too soon.

“I’m sure that you all suspected that young man; did your great-grandmother give his description to the police?”

Snorting with frustration, the old woman sounded bitter, which I couldn’t blame her for being. “Oh yes she did, and if the police actually took her seriously, they never let on. Supposedly, they did a citywide search but were unable to find someone who matched his description. Our caravan sent out a few of the younger men to canvas the area and to ask questions, but…well, you know how most ‘decent’ people view us. Even though they were trying to track down a killer, everywhere they went they were treated like thieves.”

Changing the subject, since dwelling on how bigoted some people could be wouldn’t help anything, I asked, “Would you be able to provide a description of the young man?” She raised an eyebrow before admitting that her great-grandmother had drawn him into her journal after her great-grandaunt’s death and that Ivana could get it for me later after we were done. Trying to restore some of her faith in me, I simply said, “You never know if it will come in handy. Also, is there anything you can tell me about these curses? It might help,”

Sniffling, Madam Darya wiped her eyes once more and pondered my query. “You’ll forgive me, curses are not something we have a lot of writings about; most of what I know is passed down and retold from one mentor to their apprentice. All I remember reading from the notes is that my great-grandmother thought my great-grandaunt had released a death curse. It’s when the caster uses their impending doom to power the curse; most of those that are done can last for many Cycles, Detective. And there are no rules to what they could entail.”

An odd thought went off inside my head, and I quickly asked about it before the logical part of me said it wasn’t possible. You learned early on that what was possible and what was impossible changed when magic was involved. “Could this death curse do something as potent as, say, doom the recipient to live forever, bound to walk this earth always alone?” She frowned and nodded. “Because, if that’s the case, as crazy as it sounds I believe that that original young man is still roaming the world today -enacting his revenge on your people for both the curse and the ill fortune that was predicted, accurately it seems.” I gave a feral grin in response to the gasps of shock and disbelief both she and Ivana let out. “And that brings us one step closer to stopping this murderous bastard once and for all.”

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