Shadow's Ascendance

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Chapter Twenty-five

As we walked, I prayed to every deity that I could think of that we could get out of Aerendor without any trouble or complications. A funeral procession was no place for the ignorant bigotry that the average citizen of our fair city had about the Ronan; but, knowing the way our luck has worked these last few days, that would be the time for a full-scale riot to break out. Luckily (and yes, I’m using the word ironically), the working day shift was over, and we had some time before people started heading out to the Entertainment District or to go out to eat.

We had enlisted a few flatfeet to help keep the foot traffic away, and Dorf and I walked alongside Ivana, he with his steam-pistol out and fully charged up, me with my hand in my duster pocket ready to cast a spell. There’s no way she was so blind that she couldn’t see how nervous we all were, but the female half-Orc just walked alongside the litter carrying their matriarch’s body, holding Madam Darya’s hand and unashamedly pouring out her grief. Either she really trusted us, or she just didn’t give a shit if someone did try to accost us. Maybe she was hoping that would happen, since it would give her a valid target for all her impotent rage and fury. I had seen that reaction before, and it was all too common amongst my people.

Since the streets were relatively empty, we managed to make really good time to the nearest Gate, only taking about 20 minutes or so to walk to it. The Chief must have sent a runner on ahead, because when we got there, they just gave us a cursory once-over and waved us on our way. Once we were actually outside of the city proper, only then did I breathe a huge sigh of relief. At this rate, I would owe a whole week’s pay to all the various temples and churches around the city; to be honest, I would gladly pay it, since it seemed that my reverent prayer was working…or at least, it seemed to be.

In my time, I had attended more funerals than I wished to count, starting with my parents over 8 Cycles ago, to the mass grave we dug for the Ronan just a few days ago. Wasn’t exactly something I wanted to brag about, but I knew my way around most of the myriad cultures and funeral rites that made up our little slice of the world. And, I knew that Dorf was familiar (now) with the Ronan burial customs, but it had never really occurred to me to ask my partner if he was religious or not. Yeah, over 3 Cycles together, and there’s still a lot I don’t know about him. But, it was something I wanted to know, and now was as good a time as any.

Not wanting to disturb the other people around us as we walked, I quietly got my partner’s attention. “Hey, Dorf,” I whispered, “can I ask you a question?”

“It’s a free city/kingdom,” he tried his best to whisper back. “Go ahead.”

“I’ve never asked you, but are you religious in any way?” I continued whispering.

He turned his head and gave me a strange look. “That’s kinda private, don’t you think?”

I couldn’t help but stare incredulously at him. “How many times have you shared details of your sex life with me about your husband? Hells, you’ve gone to the water closet and told me how big a shit you just had and what color it was! But religion, that’s where you draw the line?”

Even though he flushed a little bit, Dorf bulled straight ahead stubbornly. “Some things I just don’t like to talk about, OK? Why do you wanna know, and why now?”

Now it was my turn to flush a bit. “It’s just…this is the 2nd funeral we’ve been involved in in less than a week! I was just curious, since I don’t recall ever hearing you pray or say you attended service in a church or temple, or anything of that nature. That’s all.” He continued to stare at me, so instead of challenging him I finally broke the gaze and looked away. “You know what, forget it. It’s really not worth getting into an argument over. Just drop it.”

The walk was silent for a while, as most of the mourners had worn themselves out with their crying and wailing once we got a ways away from the city. I could see their caravan parked not too far from here, in a small grove off the main road. So I was not expecting when Dorf began to softly speak. “I was raised Terran, OK? I don’t like to talk about it, since I left the Church when I was about 16 Cycles or so. So, to answer your question, I consider myself religious, but I haven’t attended service for many years. Happy?” All I could do was nod, and he glowered off into the distance before nodding back and not looking at me.

There were many different religions and faiths inside Aerendor, made up of many different races from all over. A lot of them had intermingled over the last century or so, and so it wasn’t that uncommon to find a young Elven woman offering a prayer to Aerun, the Elven Goddess of Youth and Protection, before heading out for a night of fun; then, when she got back home, making a sacrifice to Stoutheart, the Dwarven God of Revelry and Alcohol, that she wouldn’t be too sick the next morning. Hells, I pray to so many different deities and religions (depending on what I’m asking), that sometimes I can barely keep it straight, and I have a great memory if you don’t recall (and if you were me, you would, because…well, you get the gist).

Terran, however, is definitely not one you would ever see me endorsing. See, they are a really weird religion. Not only are they Human-centric, almost to the point of outright racism and bigotry, but they truly believe that their Goddess is the only “real” Goddess, and the rest are just facets of Her personality that others have misinterpreted. Doesn’t make them very popular with the other churches and temples, which is why theirs is located in a much protected part of the city, New Aerendor, or as most people call it, Old Blood District. And, a big reason that my partner left the Church (I’m sure) is that they consider homosexuality a sin. They say that if a child cannot result from a union, then that union is unholy and can’t be sanctioned.

“So…are your parents still in the Church?” I asked him quietly after a few moments had passed. We were getting closer now to the caravan, and I knew this was a conversation he didn’t want to have among strangers.

Sighing once, Dorf said, “My father isn’t. He said that if they can’t recognize that two people loving each other isn’t wrong but beautiful, then he wanted no part of them. Hells, he even got in the priest’s face, saying that even if we couldn’t reproduce on our own, we could adopt an orphan and provide for them a home, and that child could grow up to do wonderful things for our city and the world! He made me really proud Jonas, I tell you what.”

Then, he hung his head down. “My mom, on the other hand…she doesn’t get me at all. She was happy that I went into the military, since it meant she wouldn’t have to worry about me out on patrol with all the other ‘filthy races and degenerates in our fair city’ possibly harming her boy. Then, when I left after my tour was over and went into the Academy, it nearly broke her heart. To top it all off, I came out to my family after I finished the Academy.” I raised my eyebrows at that as he chuckled grimly. “Yup, went over about as well as a fart in church. Let’s just say that holidays aren’t exactly something I look forward to, since it means either going back home for an awkward and uncomfortable meal, or skipping it altogether and getting a ration of shit from my dad and my sister for never making time to see them.”

“Dorf, buddy, I am sorry about all of that. So, have they ever met Gregory?”

Hearing his husband’s name made him brighten up a bit. “Yeah, and my dad loves him, though he has to watch himself since for years he used to be a racist about Elves and people like that. You know how it was when I introduced you to him at the Police Ball last year? When they honored him for his years of service?” I did indeed; it was almost comical the way Waldorf the Second kept tripping over his own tongue, trying not to say every bigoted thing that popped into his head. It would have been funny if I wasn’t so infuriated by it I almost lost my temper.

Continuing on, Dorf said, “And my sister absolutely adores Gregory, and why wouldn’t she? He’s amazing, the best husband anyone could ask for.” Then his face fell, and I could almost predict what he was going to say next. “But no, my mother has never shook his hand, hugged him, or said more than a few words to him. To her, he is the reason that I’m damned and won’t be joining the rest of my family in the afterlife. I tried to tell her that the only person I want to spend eternity with is the one wearing my matching wedding band; as you can imagine, that lead to a huge fight and I was actually asked to leave. My family home, and they threw me out as if I was some destitute beggar.” I could see how much this hurt, but I also knew that nothing I said could make it better, so I simply clapped him on the shoulder and squeezed gently.

Clearing his throat, my partner finished speaking. “So, technically I don’t have a religion, since the only one I’ve ever known basically turned its back on me and told me I was awful and should just change who I’m attracted to, who I love. I can’t change the way I am, I just AM that way. That makes sense, right Jonas?”

Nodding enthusiastically, I told him. “Of course it does! Besides, you mean to tell me that some all-powerful, all-knowing being really gives a shit what Her worshippers do in the bedroom? I’m sorry, that sounds like mortal prejudices, not divine blasphemy to me.”

Breaking into a grin, Dorf guffawed once, which rang out quite loudly in the small and silent procession we were still in. “Yup, you’re damn right,” and he winked after saying that, which only made me groan. “So, is your curiosity satisfied, cat, or do we go for the kill?”

Holding up my hands in mock surrender, I chuckled. “I yield, good sir.” After that though, I got a little serious. “Sorry if that brought up painful memories, Dorf; trust me, I won’t bring it up again.”

“I truly appreciate that, partner, I really do.” He was saved from any more potentially awkward small talk by Ivana finally letting go of Madam Darya’s hand and walking back to us.

“I have been recalling all of my positive memories of her, to help speed her on her way beyond, and to help guide her back later if she so chooses. Now, Detectives, I know that one of you had mentioned that you had helped with the burial of the rest of our caravan outside of Aerdale. May I ask how you knew so much about Ronan death rites?” Even though I know the Chief had said to keep the existence of Natalya a secret, in case the Ronan had tried to act up, I felt bad about my part in their matriarch’s death, and decided I would come clean.

“Well, we learned it from Natalya, the deaf half-Elven girl that was the sole survivor from the attack. I mean, I guess I wouldn’t call being hypnotized an attack, but still…”

“What do you mean, the deaf half-Elven Ronan girl?” Ivana asked, frowning.

“What do YOU mean? Natalya, blonde, about 10 Cycles or so,” I responded.

“There is no such person who lived among my caravan, Detectives. Whomever you talked to, they weren’t Ronan.” The fear that suddenly appeared in Dorf’s eyes was mirrored in my own, and we knew we had to get back to Aerendor as fast as we possibly could.

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