Shadow's Ascendance

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Chapter Twenty-nine

The sleep spell works perfectly well for knocking one person (or a group, if you so desire) unconscious, but what it can’t do is help you murder someone. It’s a safeguard worked into the magic. Don’t ask me, it’s not like I put it there, but it’s there just the same. It isn’t all physical contact that triggers it. You can pick up a sleeping person, and as long as you are just carrying them, they will stay under the spell’s power. However, deliberately slap said person, or drop them hard, or anything like that, and the spell will be broken early and they will wake up.

So, as much as I wanted to pummel Stumpy, I made sure to not think such thoughts as I lugged him into the first wagon I could think of: Madam Alisa’s. I thought the irony was very poetic, that he was alive in the very same wagon of someone he murdered. Righting the only chair inside the wagon, I tore up her bedsheets –she certainly didn’t have a use for them anymore- and tied up the old Dwarf as tightly as I could without making it so tight that it caused pain. Yes, that meant he was doubly tied up. Wouldn’t do to have him wake up early; besides, the pain would come later. And, of course, I made sure I searched him, just in case he had any other weapons on him. Besides more ammunition for the steam-rifle, his trademark whittling knife, and a small holdout pistol, he was clean. Now, I just had to wait for Dorf to return.

It wasn’t too long before the door to the wagon opened up, and I heard Dorf’s voice outside, though he didn’t come in. What wasn’t surprising (even though I had hoped she wouldn’t try to interfere) was Ivana’s voice, demanding to know why she couldn’t be a part of this interrogation. My partner was doing his best to explain it to her, but the beautiful but stubborn half-Orc wasn’t having any of it. Finally, after a minute, I had had enough.

“All right, that’s enough Ivana!” I barked out when I reached the door, causing them both to quiet down for a moment. “If you want to help, please go with my partner and take Madam Alisa’s body out of here, so it can be prepared along with all the other people this Dwarf killed. That’s something that neither Dorf nor I can do. Please.” I couldn’t tell if my words were getting through to her or not. But, I hoped that they were, and finally after a long drawn-out minute, I heard her sigh in acquiescence. “Glad you saw reason. Dorf, if you don’t mind?” My partner pushed by me as he came inside the wagon, cramped though it was, and gently helped carry the older woman’s corpse out of her former home. He left the door open behind him, and I could hear the two of them talking softly on their somber task as they carried her to where the other bodies were laid out. At least, that’s what I was assuming as I turned back around.

Now that that was settled, I returned to my study of Stumpy. I hadn’t known the old Dwarf really well, but it was hard for me to reconcile the picture I had of him sitting on a stool in front of Mama Crea’s building, always whittling away on some piece of wood, with the person in front of me, previously dressed head to toe in black and green garb that helped him blend into the grove. We had all heard stories of how he had cracked quite a few heads in defense of his patron –and lover apparently, though I was doing my damnedest to not think of THAT mental image again- but in none of those stories had he killed anyone. But, to be honest, there was more we didn’t know of him than there was that we knew for certain. It was time to rectify that.

Some spells required something very specific or intricate to dispel them; others, could only be disrupted by, strangely enough, a spell that was specifically called the dispel spell. And then, as I’ve mentioned before, there was the sleep spell. All I had to do to break the spell and wake Stumpy up was cause him physical harm. So, I pulled back my fist and punched him in the face as hard as I could. His head rocked back, and when he brought it back his eyes were open.

“Good evening, sunshine. Wakey wakey!” I told him, the false cheer in my voice quite at odds with the dagger I had drawn and was pressing against his throat. “I hope you don’t mind, I took the liberty of tying you up and confiscating your weapons. Would really love to hear how you got your hands on that sweet piece of Steamtech that killed all these people. Oh, and by the way,” and here I leaned forward, tusks bared in a snarl as I barely managed to restrain myself from pressing the blade into his neck, “you’re now under arrest, you son of a bitch!”

To be fair, I don’t know what kind of reaction I was expecting. Fear maybe, or a dull blank stare perhaps, or even a bravado attempt at being the real one in control. What I was not expecting, however, is what happened. Leaning his head forward, not even caring if he pressed his bared throat against my blade, the old Dwarf started to sob. Not cry, but sob, full body heaving as tears streamed down his cheeks. I was at a loss for words, and so I pulled the blade back and sheathed it while Stumpy continued to pour out his pain.

Finally, after a few minutes, he seemed to wind down and only occasionally hiccupped when an errant sob escaped him. Getting up from where I had been crouched, I went over to the bed and grabbed some more rags and handed Stumpy one so he could clean his face, only realizing at the last moment that since he was tied up, he couldn’t do it. Feeling only a little awkward, I did my best to clean him up. Throughout it all, he never said a word. As much as I wanted to treat him like the piece of shit he was, he was making it damn difficult to do so.

“All right, Stumpy, why don’t you tell me what’s going on? I’ve known you for a few years now, and I’ve never known you to be a stone cold killer. Why’d you do it? And why the Ronan? They’ve never hurt anyone!” I kept seeing Madam Alisa killed right in front of me, where he was sitting in fact, and it kept me from having too much sympathy for the old Dwarf.

“You wouldn’t understand,” he said quietly.

“Try me,” I said back.

He sighed a few times, and then he began to speak. “All right. It was earlier today, and I was sitting outside Mama Crea’s shop, like always, when this strange figure approached.”

A sense of dread filled me. “Let me guess, it was man shaped, but he shone so bright that it was hard to look at him. Am I right?”

Stumpy looked at me strange. “Yeah, yeah that’s it. I guess it makes sense that you would know who wanted you dead. Very few people have a hit put out on them who don’t know why they’re being targeted.” He let out another sigh. “Anyways, this figure walked up, and even though I tried to prevent him from entering the shop, he just waved his hand and I flew off to the side. Hit my head pretty good, made me a little woozy for a bit.”

“Go on,” I prompted him.

“So Mama Crea saw him send me flying, so she was standing when he walked in. Oddly enough, as he walked by I smelled rotten eggs. But, she still had no fear when she faced him down. She said, ‘Mishandling my employee isn’t the way you want to get my attention. Now, what can I do for you? And just so you know, whatever it is, it’s going to cost extra.’”

The old Dwarf coughed for a bit, until I got up and got him a ceramic cup and filled it from a waterskin that the older woman had hanging on one of her drawers. I had to hold it for him while he drank from it –I still didn’t trust him with his hands unbound- but he truly appeared grateful when he was finished. Putting the ceramic cup down, I turned back to him. “Come on, Stumpy, get to the good part, as it were, of your story.”

Just for a second, he glared at me and he was back to his old, cantankerous self; then, the glare died away and he slumped forward, utterly defeated. “Well, I don’t actually know what he said, since I couldn’t hear anything. Must have been cuz of the fall. Anyway, all I heard was Mama Crea’s response to whatever he was saying. She said, ‘Yes, I know the man, Detective Jonas. But, whatever your beef is with him, it’s got nothing to do with me. I don’t take sides, or haven’t you heard?’ Then he said something else, and she laughed at him. Laughed! All she said to him was, ‘Do your worst, little man. I’ve known more pain in my life than you could possibly fathom.’ And right after that, he must’ve done something, cuz that’s when it started.”

“What started, Stumpy? Did she start screaming?”

Nodding uncomfortably, he said, “Yeah, but it wasn’t in pain. It was…it was…”

Suddenly, it dawned on me what had happened and why it was awkward. A lot of people, like Mama Crea, have built up a tolerance for pain. Their lives have forced them to do so, and there’s not a whole lot that can break somebody like that. But, pleasure on the other hand…I had read a few banned books on how pleasure, when used the right way, can be a better motivator than pain. Sure, pain is something that you can learn to accept, but pleasure? It’s hard to build up a resistance to something like that. All I said was, “I take it that it was effective?”

“Oh yeah. After a minute, she was begging with him to stop, saying she couldn’t take it anymore. Whatever he wanted, she told him, if she could do it, then it was his. Apparently, that’s when he told her where to find you this evening, and then he left. When he walked by me, it hurt so bad to look at him that I think I blacked out. Once I came to, I went in to check on Mama Crea. She wouldn’t let me touch her, not even to help her up from where she was laid out on the floor! Just kept sobbing softly and trying not to touch herself in any way.”

I definitely felt bad for Mama Crea. As pissed as I was, I don’t think I could stand up to that kind of torture if it was inflicted on me. “So, let me guess, you had some contacts somewhere, or she called in some favors, and next thing you know you got yourself a high-powered steam-rifle and you’re in a tree, killing helpless civilians. How’d I do?”

That glare returned. “Yeah, I had a few connections still from my time in the military –what, do you think they teach you to shoot like that just anywhere? And you don’t have to remind me of what I did,” he said as he swallowed past the lump in his throat, “I know that I’ll see those people dropping every time I close my eyes” here he sighed, “for the rest of my life.”

“Thankfully, that won’t be long,” a voice thick with anger said from behind me, and as I turned around, I spotted too late Ivana holding a hand crossbow and firing it at the immobilized Dwarf. How she managed to aim with tears in her eyes, I’ll never know. I tried to stop her, but by that point the bolt had already left the weapon. Spinning around, I watched as it embedded itself to the feathers in Stumpy’s chest. Dorf’s voice rang out from behind the half-Orc, and I could hear him wrestling the weapon from her hands, but by that point, the damage was done.

Choking on his own blood, the old Dwarf looked down at the bolt and then looked up at me. “Don’t blame Crea too much, young one; it’s not her fault,” he sputtered out. “And tell that pretty young thing that did this to…me…thank you. Really.” He gave me a wan smile, and then I watched as the light faded from his eyes and his head sagged forward. Any pressure he had been putting on his restraints slacked off as he died. I know he didn’t want me to be too mad at Mama Crea, but I still needed to know what she knew. This ‘bright man’ kept adding to the list of things he would be held responsible for, and one day –hopefully soon- he’d have to pay for them. But for now, I had to deal with a murderous half-Orc and the mess she had just created.

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