Shadow's Ascendance

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Chapter Twenty-three

Just then I heard the door open up behind me, and I spun in my seat to see who it was. If it was either Dorf or the Chief, I could understand why they would come in; otherwise, everyone on the force knows that if one of the interview rooms is in use, you only disturb them if there was an actual emergency going on. Since I couldn’t hear any of the klaxons that would alert the station in case of a fire or ether leak (ether being one of the gases that helps Steamtech work), I couldn’t see how there would be something going on that demanded my attention in this critical juncture. But, I didn’t see anyone there. Concerned, I got up and went over to the door.

“You’re so bright, it hurts to look at you,” I heard Madam Darya say, pain in her voice. I turned around to look at her, but she was staring off to the side of her table. Looking at Ivana, she simply shrugged her shoulders. Whatever was there, she couldn’t see either.

“I’m so sorry for what we did to you,” the older woman choked out through sudden tears. “But please, can’t you stop killing us? Hasn’t the debt been paid?” Tears ran down her cheeks unheeded, and Ivana stood up to put her hands on Madam Darya’s shoulders in support.

“No, I see that now. I understand why you are doing what you are doing; I can’t say I condone it, but it does make sense.” The tone in her voice had switched from pleading to acceptance, which did not bode well. Whatever she could see that Ivana and I couldn’t was going from confusing to frightening, at least to us. I smelled sulfur, oddly. The half-Orc woman stared at me, pleading with her eyes to try and make some sense of what was going on. Now I was very concerned, since my thermal vision still didn’t show anyone standing there (not that the overhead electrical lamps helped in that regard), and so I switched on my arcane sight.

To be honest, I’m not exactly sure what I was expecting to see. A ghost perhaps, (and before you mock, if you’ve never been haunted by a ghost, you have no idea how terrifying they can be) or somebody under an invisibility spell (which doesn’t really make you invisible, just bends sight around you). I think I could have accepted either of those things. What I couldn’t accept was the figure that was roughly Human male shaped glowing so brightly that I couldn’t even make out any features. Staring at him made my eyes water so badly that I dropped the arcane sight unwillingly.

“All I ask is you leave this child alone; Ivana, daughter, I only want you to speak well of me after I’m gone.” And with that cryptic statement, Madam Darya leaned her head back and before our eyes, her throat was slit from ear to ear and blood quickly soaked her blouse and scarves. Ivana screamed out wordlessly while she futilely tried to stop the blood flow.

I however took a more violent approach. After the older woman had said her final words, I had drawn my dagger and stabbed roughly where the figure had last showed up to my arcane sight, and was rewarded with the blade sinking into it (even though I couldn’t see it) and blood dripping down from the wound. The smell of sulfur grew stronger. My relief was short-lived because the figure pushed me against the wall and threw open the door, leaving a trail as it fled.

“Do something!” Ivana shouted at me. I knew it was too late for the older woman, but I also knew that she didn’t need to hear that right now.

“I’ll go get some help!” I shouted back before bolting from the room. Granted, I wasn’t lying, since if I saw one of my fellow officers I would have them go in - for Ivana’s sake. But, I wasn’t going to go out of my way to find one. Instead, I wasn’t going to waste this opportunity to catch the son-of-a-bitch whose wound was making it very easy to track him down.

The trail of blood lead down the hallway, away from both interview rooms and heading off towards the stairwell that lead to the library and laboratory basement and the sub-basement where the massive steam engines/generators were located. Since I found it highly unlikely that the “bright man” would risk being around something that technological (since his magic would disrupt the generators, possibly in a very destructive and suicidal manner), I thought it more probable that he was heading to the library, since it had its own exit to the side alley.

As I raced along, a thought occurred to me. If he could become invisible, did that mean that he’s been here at the station spying on us? Listening into our conversations, watching us try to solve the mystery of who he was and why he was killing the young women? A nasty idea formed and twisted my guts in knots, filling me with the chill of despair. If he had indeed been following me and Dorf, then he may have been there when we decided to head out of town to talk to the Ronan. And if that was the case…I tried desperately not to vomit. That would mean that it was our fault that Natalya’s mom and family were all dead. I stumbled, but refused to let myself fall. Later, I would deal with these consequences later.

Flying down the stairwell, I reached the bottom and stumbled, landing in a crouch unintentionally. That surely saved my life, because a bolt of something white lanced through the air right where my head normally would have been, scorching the wall as it practically melted a hole in it. “Fuck!” I screamed out, as I crab-walked out of the stairwell and over to one of the library shelves. Dying today was definitely not something I had planned on doing. After a few seconds, I heard a door being slammed open and another bolt shot out from the exit doorway, keeping me pinned. I gave it a ten count, then peaked my head out from behind the shelf. There didn’t seem to be anyone there, but I wasn’t about to take any chances.

Remember that gut wrenching spell that I can do at a moment’s notice? Yeah, as I leaned over I pointed at the doorway from behind the shelf and cast it. Whether the “bright man” was truly immortal or not, that spell should have even him writhing in agony. But, he appeared to be truly gone, since I heard no puking or moaning. Then, something I should have noticed before became very clear. Never once, not when he was running nor when he was giving Madam Darya a Naga necktie, did he make any sounds at all. And yet she heard somebody speaking to her, so I doubt she imagined all of that. Not like I was going to have a chance to ask her. Sighing morosely, I got to my feet and cautiously headed towards the open door. Just because he wasn’t standing there didn’t mean he wasn’t just up the alley stairway, waiting for me to appear.

When I got to the stairwell, all I found at the top of the stairs was my dagger and a small pool of blood. That was where the trail stopped; I don’t know what he did, but there was no more blood drops leading away so he must have either found something to staunch the bleeding, or he somehow managed to heal himself. Or maybe the curse healed him, I thought bitterly. Nobody was standing around, looking like they had been shoved or hurt, so he must have slipped through the crowds out walking around and gotten away. And that sulfur smell was fading away. Swearing softly, I stomped back down the stairs and closed the door behind me.

Just as I was about to wipe the blood from my dagger off on my pants, it occurred to me that I had the blood from our murder suspect right here. Remember how I’ve said that blood magic can be bad unless you only use it on yourself? That blood magic spells can be some of the most vile and messy ways to hurt or kill someone? Yup, I was going to break my own rule and use his blood to send something nasty his way. Not enough to kill him, mind you, but just enough to inconvenience him and to help us track him down. Frankly, we could use all the help we could get. I would just have to be careful not to involve Dorf in this.

It probably wouldn’t surprise you to know that there was a Council set up to help police all of the magic users that reside here in Aerendor. To be fair, since magic appears to be very powerful (not saying some of it isn’t…), this helps the general populace to not go around lynching every caster they could find if something goes wrong in their lives, such as getting fired or having an accident. They rest easy knowing that no one is above the Law, not even casters like me. Also not surprising would be the fact that the Council of Magic ranks blood magic used against someone else as vile as necromancy or domination spells. So, I didn’t want my partner to get a whiff of what I was about to do. It was stupid and reckless, and even though he was a mundane I didn’t want any of the heat coming back on him because of my dumb decision.

Reaching into one of my duster pockets, I pulled out a thin cloth that seemed to shimmer in the light. Even though it appeared as flimsy as lace, it was strong enough to only be cut by an enchanted weapon (and even then, it would dull the blade). Why, you may ask? Because it is made of a material that sheds magic like water flows off a duck’s back, called negatium. It’s very rare and very expensive, so I don’t use it often - but for preserving the blood of a magic-using suspect, it’s the perfect tool. This way, he won’t be able to send a spell back through his blood to destroy it. And yes, trust me, that kind of thing can happen, but it’s only effective if you know where you blood is…and it’s also extremely painful. You’ll have to take my word for it.

Wrapping my dagger carefully in the negatium cloth, I got the blood off of it and stowed it away in my duster pocket that I kept free specifically in case I need something kept separate from my other spell components and foci. Then, I went back to the stairwell leading back up to the main floor of the station and, as I suspected, watched as the blood drops that had been spilled by the “bright man” turned to ash. He had wasted no time in taking care of that little detail, and I was relieved that I had acted so quickly. Not getting it all you bastard, I thought grimly.

Now that that was taken care of, I climbed the stairs to get back to the interview room, treading softly down the hall. I could hear voices other than Ivana’s, so I hoped that somebody had heard the door being slammed open and came to check on me. When I turned the corner and gripped the doorjamb, I braced myself for what I would probably see. Bringing myself around, I spotted Dorf helping a couple of the flatfeet loading Madam Darya’s body onto a flat cart. Her body was already covered with a sheet, but the front of it was soaked with blood. At first, I wondered why they seemed to be getting her ready for transport, but then it hit me. Of course, the half-Orc would have to bring the body back to their caravan to prepare it for burial.

Spotting me, Dorf looked so happy to see me alive that I felt a bit guilty for letting him worry so. “Fuck, Jonas, where have you been? Just left the body here for us to do all the heavy lifting?” I knew that his berating me was just his way of showing that he cared, an act he was putting on for the rank and file. Normally, I would have given him attitude right back, but I was so drained from everything that I just offered him a nod. He knew right away that something was wrong. “Hey guys, why don’t you take the body out and wait for Miss Ivana to return from the washroom? Wherever she asks you to move the body, just do it and don’t argue, OK?” Both flatfeet nodded and they wheeled the older woman out into the hall, not looking me in the eyes. I don’t know what I was showing, but obviously they felt it was too private to inquire about.

After they had left, Dorf turned to me and put his hand on my shoulder. “Hey, partner, listen. You can’t beat yourself up about her death. Miss Ivana told me what had happened –even covered in blood, she was still pretty level-headed- and it doesn’t seem like there’s anything you could have done differently. Whomever this asshole is, he knew how to get around without being detected, and he obviously had been planning to kill her. It wasn’t your fault.”

Chuckling grimly, I shook my head. “I’ll tell you about it in a bit, but yeah, it may have been my fault…well, our fault, technically, but still.” Both of his eyebrows shot up at that, but I didn’t give him a chance to interject. “Since I was in the room with her, I’m taking the blame.” Sighing loudly, I then said quietly, “However, before Madam Darya was killed, she had told me some stuff that will definitely prove useful to our investigation. I just need to wait on telling you until I can be sure that we’re not being watched. And before you ask, yes the ‘bright man’ wasn’t in the room at the time, so I feel pretty confident he doesn’t know this yet.”

Nodding slowly, Dorf simply said, “All right, Jonas, I trust you. We’ll wait until a little bit later before we talk about it. In the meantime, what do we do now?”

“Are all the other Ronan witnesses done giving their statements?” I asked.

Thinking about it for a second, he nodded. “I had just gotten the last paper from Sean and was coming down to go over them with you when I heard Ivana screaming for help. When I rushed in, I saw her cradling that older woman and listened quickly to what she told me before I went for help. Unfortunately, as I’m sure you knew, it was way too late by that point. Why?”

Swallowing, I told him. “Because if they’re all done, the Ronan are going to want to go back to their caravan and prepare her body for transport and burial. And, I think we should go with them. It’s the least we could do, partner.” I finally sheathed my dagger.

“You’re damn right it’s the least you could do, Detectives,” a voice hissed out from the doorway, and we both turned to see Ivana glaring at us with enmity. “So, on the way you can tell me if what you learned was worth the cost of our mother’s death; because if it isn’t, the Gods help you because I might end up killing you myself before the ‘bright man’ gets another chance.”

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