Shadow's Ascendance

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Chapter Thirty

Slamming open the door to the wagon, I leapt out of it and stormed up to where Dorf had Ivana kneeling on the ground. The defiant look she had just seconds ago was gone now, replaced by one of infinite sadness. I knew that look all too well. It was the look of someone who had just killed a person for the very first time; it was also the look of someone who had gotten their revenge, but found it to be lacking in closure. That’s the thing about revenge: it doesn’t right the wrongs that had happened, it just makes new ones. I should know.

Having heard me throw the door open, Dorf turned to face me, resting on the steam-rifle as he had the end planted in the dirt. “Now, Jonas, let’s not do anything…” he started to say.

I spun to face him. “Did you read her rights to her?” I all but growled.

He paled slightly. “C’mon Jonas, you can’t be serious?”

Biting off every word, I reiterated. “Did…you…read…her…her…rights, Detective Waldorf? Or do I have to do it?”

“You do know that Stumpy just killed seven Ronan, right? The man was no saint, that’s for sure, and he would have been executed anyway if he had lived to take part in a trail.” Realizing his protests were having no effect, Dorf sighed and looked away. “Yeah, yeah I read her rights to her, and she’s cuffed, Detective Jonas. For all the good it will do.”

Even though he was done, I wasn’t. I glared at my partner. “We aren’t judge, jury, and executioner. Those days are long gone, and it’s for the best. Our job is to uphold the law, and the law says that what SHE did,” I pointed at Ivana, “was murder. Plain and simple.”

Turning to face the slumped over half-Orc, I refused to kneel down, since that meant that she would have to look up at me. Petty, yes, but I was so pissed off that my temper was a slavering dog yanking on the chain and foaming at the mouth. I was just looking for an excuse to unleash it. “Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You know, just in case you forgot that and wanted to run your mouth one more time. Do you understand your rights as they have been read to you, Miss Ivana?”

“I do,” she said, so softly I almost didn’t hear her.

“Good. As we have no vehicle, and seeing as how your people have suffered enough I won’t put them through us commandeering a wagon, we will have to walk back to Aerendor. On your feet,” I barked out, putting words to action by helping her stand up. “Is there anyone you would like to say good-bye to before we leave?” She simply shook her head no. “Then let’s get going,” I finished by giving her a not-so-gentle shove to start walking. I heard Dorf sigh once more, but refused to turn and look at him. Instead, there were just the sounds of my partner beginning to follow after us.

Although I knew the chances of her risking bolting away from us were slim to none, I held onto Ivana’s arm anyway. I was so angry, I tried not to squeeze her too tightly. If it hurt her, she didn’t complain. Truth was, I understood that anger that she had been feeling just a few minutes ago all too well. Even though I had no desire to revisit that day, I couldn’t help but flash back to over 8 Cycles ago, to an autumn day just like today. Not sure if it was close to an anniversary of sorts, since when I grew up on our farm we never bothered with much of a calendar; just enough to know when to harvest and when to plant. But back then, that was all we needed to know about the passage of time. Other than that, it had no hold on my family.

After my chores that day helping my mother out, and after my schooling from my father, I had begged leave to go down to the creek not more than a mile away from our farm. The tadpoles had hatched in the spring, and they should be just about done turning into frogs. Yeah, that may seem kind of boring to most people, but for me, since I had almost no close friends my own age, this was the highlight of the year. I had discovered them the year before, and my father had explained to me what they were and their reproductive cycle. And before this seems weird, I had helped birth foals, piglets, and calves, so I was no stranger to the ‘birds and the bees’ as I’ve heard some urban people refer to ‘the talk’. As if it was something really mysterious.

Anyway, I had spent a few hours down there, just fascinated by what they were doing. In fact, it had started to get dark before I was aware of how long I had been gone, which struck me as odd. By now, one of my parents should have tracked me down to call me in to wash up for dinner; but, they were nowhere to be found. It wasn’t like I had snuck off somewhere. As hard as this may be to believe, I was a pretty well behaved child. Shocking, I know, but it’s the truth. So the fact that they hadn’t come to the place I had told them I was going was a little worrying. But, I couldn’t just wait for them here –and I was getting hungry- so I set off for home. Being able to see heat in the dark definitely has its advantages, since I made the trek back in short time.

When I got there, at first I couldn’t believe my eyes. There was a bunch of bodies lying down in the dirt, just dropped where they had fallen. They were starting to cool down, but I could still make out their features. A couple of Dwarves, some Humans, and even an Elf and an Orc. And, at the center of them all, was my mother. I screamed out and rushed to her side, but my heat sight told me that her body had been cold for an hour or so now. Don’t ask me why, but for some reason Orcs –and Dwarves, since they also have heat sight- shed heat much faster after we have passed on. Doesn’t make sense, but there it is.

It was obvious why my mother was dead, since her whole body was covered in slashes and puncture wounds. But, it was also obvious that she hadn’t gone down quietly; she still clutched in a death grip the sickle we used for harvesting plants and herbs, and the wood-axe we used for our firewood. Both blades were stained and sticky with blood. To this day it’s why I pay someone to chop up the wood for my little apartment stove and I visit the Arcane Market for any herbs I may need. I can’t look at either of those tools without flashing back to that day.

After a minute, it occurred to me that I hadn’t seen my father. Surely, he wouldn’t have let them kill my mother without a fight. So I left my mother where she was, vowing I would return soon to prepare her body, and rose to go find where my father was. First I checked our house, but it was fairly small, only having a master bedroom for my parents, a small room for me, the kitchen and the dining room/family room. We didn’t have any indoor plumbing beside a hand pump in the kitchen that my father had rigged up when we first moved in, so there was no indoor water closet, just an outhouse and a large copper tub we would take baths in. It was apparent that besides looking like it was ransacked, my father wasn’t here, and so I went out to the barn to look for him.

The adult me wonders why the younger me didn’t realize something was wrong in the barn right away, but I didn’t. Now I know that I should have picked up on the sounds the animals were making, or more accurately, the lack thereof. But, younger me was scared and just looking for his dad, and so if I even noticed that clue I didn’t give it the attention it deserved. Moving quickly, I went inside the barn. And lying there, propped up against one of the center beams, was my father. Even to my heat sight it was obvious he was fading fast, impaled as he was by our pitchfork right through his gut. Gut wounds are awful things, promising a slow lingering death, which is why I never use them. If I’m forced to kill someone in my line of work, I make sure I do it quick, like that Blood Guild hitman back in the Arcane Market.

“Dad!” I shouted out as I rushed to his side. His head jerked up at the sound of my voice, but his eyes were foggy and unfocused. I realized he was dying. I knelt by his side. “Dad! Stay with me, dad! What happened to you and mom?”

He coughed and blood accidentally splattered all over my face. I didn’t bother to wipe it off. “Ah, son, there you are. I’m glad you were down at the creek instead of here with us. They would’ve killed you too.”

“What happened, dad? Tell me. Wait, don’t tell me, let me go and get some help.” I started to rise, but he gripped my arm with a strength I hadn’t thought he would possess and pulled me back down beside him.

“It’s too late for me, Jonas. Gut wounds are a slow way to die, which is why my old commander made sure to stab me this way. He always was a vindictive bastard. Of course, I had just killed both of his sons, so I guess he felt he owed it to me.” Hearing that, I looked behind my father to spot two Human corpses, both sporting holes out of their backs. My father’s sword was nowhere to be found. He must have sensed the question because he coughed and answered it. “After these two cowards tried to ambush me and I killed them both, their father came up behind me, sucker punched me, and then impaled me and left me here to die. He took my sword as a trophy.”

“But why dad? Why were they here?” I knew that I was crying, but I didn’t care.

“Because, Jonas, the mercenary field is drying up. The King is having more and more of his guards patrol the countryside, so the days of being a man-at-hire are dwindling fast. I had made something of myself, had a loving wife and an amazing son and we ran a successful farm. Simply put, they were jealous of my success, and thought they could take it from me. They certainly didn’t count on your mother, though.” He grinned at me, and the blood staining his teeth made it look like Death Himself was looking at me.

“I don’t have much time, so listen up. Your mother and I had been saving up, and I already paid for you to go to the Academy in Aerendor. I know it’s far away from here, but we knew you were too bright to be just a farmer. So, after you’ve buried both of us, promise me you’ll go to school and make something of yourself. Promise me.” His grip on me was lessening, and I could see the lights in his eyes starting to fade.

“I promise, father. I love you.” Tears streamed down my cheeks, and my father appeared blurry to my eyes. It was better this way, I had thought, since it helped make him seem as if he was just tired, not dying.

“I love you too, Jonas. Your mother and I both do, and we know you’ll make us proud. You were the best thing…we…ever…did…” I felt his hand release me, and his head slumped forward. To my eyes, his body lost a lot of his heat and started to appear as everything else in the barn: cold and unmoving. I just sat there in the dark, crying as I rocked back and forth holding myself tight. How long I did that, I don’t know. Long enough that eventually my eyes dried up and no more tears would come out. It was only then that I shakily got to my feet. I had a job to do, and it was best I got to it.

Orc burial rituals are quite simple. They believe that after a person has passed on, their body is nothing more than dead meat. In harsh times, those who passed on were used to feed the rest of the tribe (I’ve told you my people are really fucked up); in good times, the body was taken a good distance away from the village (or wherever they were bunkered down for the night) and left out to the elements. This way, it would feed the scavengers and other predators who weren’t above eating something that was already dead, and in return one day the tribe would eat them. The circle of life and whatnot.

So, I stooped down to toss my mother over my shoulder, and walked through the darkness for an hour or so until I came to a hillside where she and I had shared many a night just looking up at the stars as she named all the constellations we could see. It was very peaceful there, with a large boulder that was lying down that we often used as a table. I placed my mother’s body there as gently as I could and, even though this definitely wasn’t an Orcish tradition, bent down to kiss her forehead one last time. “Okteer, chol-ok, tyrstof un uulen borshto.” I whispered to her. In Orcish, “Goodbye, mother, until we meet again.”

Taking care of my father was much easier, although I nearly passed out when I had to remove the pitchfork from him. He followed the Trinity, and so I cremated him as best I could, using all our winter firewood to build a large enough pyre for his body. I knew I wasn’t going to be living here anymore, so it wasn’t needed. My father had asked me to promise him I would go to school, and I would. What I hadn’t promised him was when. They had both taught me how to follow tracks, and that many animals would be easy to find, even having to wait until daylight.

“Jonas, we’re here,” Dorf’s voice brought me back to the present, and I looked up to see we’d made it back to the city. I left my memories for another day as we all entered Aerendor.

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