Shadow's Ascendance

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Chapter Thirty-one

It felt strange to be back in this interview room not even a full day later. In fact, I could still see the blood stains from where Madam Darya’s throat had been slashed open and sprayed her life fluid all around the room. Obviously they hadn’t gotten a chance to either bleach the room or to contact a partial caster who specialized in stain removal. Don’t laugh, a lot of amazing laundresses in this city depended on charms made by a partial caster to help get really stubborn stains out. I realized I was thinking about off things, since a part of me didn’t want to deal with this situation, now that my temper had gotten under control.

Or should I say, now that I had found a target to unleash my temper on. I’m sure that petty thief that Detective Sean had been doing the paperwork on wasn’t really that bad of a guy; but when he managed to slip his cuffs, sucker punch Sean, and run for the door, it was like he painted a giant bull’s eye on his back. He never expected a large half-Orc to come flying across the desks to tackle him down to the ground and to slam his head against the floor a few times. At least, I’m sure that’s what he would say when he regains consciousness. A tiny part of me felt bad about that, but for the most part I was content with my actions.

Going off topic, I chastised myself. I stared down at Ivana, who was in a very different position than the last time she was in this room. She had her head hung down, seemingly defeated, whilst she did her best to not touch the stains of her former matriarch on the table. At least they had gotten her a different chair, I thought. Personally, I could understand her discomfort –I wouldn’t want to sit near where my mentor had passed on, though the grouchy old bastard is probably still alive and kicking- but the only place to lock the cuffs was on the side away from the door, and so she had to stay there. Nothing intentional, but it sucked all the same.

“You do realize that by murdering Stumpy –and yes, I’m aware he had murdered seven of your people- you not only committed one of the most heinous crimes our legal system recognizes, but you cut off a lead that we were going to use to try and catch the man responsible for killing more Ronan than the old Dwarf just did. So, why’d you do it?” I mean, I KNEW why she did it, but sometimes the accused needs to say the words themselves.

“Isn’t it an expression amongst your religious leaders, ‘an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth’? He had to pay for what he had done.” Ivana was still speaking softly, and I truly wished for the return of the defiant, mercurial woman who had verbally sparred with me not even a day ago. This broken mask she had donned ill-suited her.

Slamming my hands down on the table made her jump in her chair, but she refused to raise her head to look at me. Now, there was a little of that stubborn spirit, I thought proudly, even as I leaned down and growled at her. “You don’t know the first thing about me, Miss Ivana, so you have no right to assume that the religion of the Trinity is MY religion. It’s not. And besides, they also have another expression that isn’t used as often, but applies in this situation: an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” Seeing as how she still wasn’t making eye contact, I slowly stood back up.

“It isn’t just your city/kingdom that considers murder the most heinous crime there is,” she spoke up again.

Frowning, I said to her. “Well, yeah, most civilizations consider murder a bad thing. I wasn’t saying it was just Aerendor that did. But what does that have to do with…?”

“My people consider it a crime against the Divine and the Universe,” she interrupted me, seemingly not even aware she had done so. “We are not a violent people, Detective, but we do defend ourselves when we have no choice, though we prefer to leave the hostile situation if we can. But even when we defend ourselves, we defend to the life, not to the death. Do you understand? By doing this, my people have no choice but to kick me out. I have become Dok’thal to them.” Saying this, she put her head down on the table and began to cry. It was an Orcish word that meant ‘unborn’, and what she meant was the Ronan would no longer acknowledge her as one of their own. She was now a person without a heritage, without a home. I felt my heart start to break, but I hardened it up as best as I could, only allowing myself to pat her on the shoulder in a conciliatory manner. I couldn’t afford to feel sorry for her, not now.

Still sobbing, I heard Ivana say, “I almost wish that my parents had made me nir-Ronan instead of keeping me!” Even with my translation spell still working, I had trouble figuring out what she meant. According to the spell, what she had said was ‘not-Ronan’, which made no sense. So I asked her what that expression referred to, not even expecting her to respond. But, she did, lifting her head up, eyes puffy from crying and cheeks splotchy and tear-streaked. “It refers to how we keep fresh blood among our people, and the consequences that sometime result from that.”

“Uh, you’re going to have to give a better explanation than that, Miss Ivana,” I said drolly, and was rewarded with a flash of anger in her eyes before she muted that spark.

“It means, Detective, that I should be proof enough that the Ronan don’t just breed amongst themselves. They often, especially during their Otkrytiye, come back with a newborn. But sometimes, our youth have had a difficult time being out in the world alone, and so if they don’t want to keep the baby they declare it nir-Ronan and we find a parent or couple that wants a baby. The baby is raised as one of their own, never being the wiser of their ancestry.”

Suddenly, it was as if a puzzle box that had been giving me a tough time showed me how to slide the pieces together to open it up. “How common would you say this is, Miss Ivana?”

She frowned up at me before wiping the expression away. “Not very, Detective. Most of the time, a new baby is a cause for celebration. But, if I had to hazard a guess, I would say maybe every decade or so?”

“And would you say that the majority of those babies are given to people here in Aerendor?” I said, practically whispering.

“Well, yes. If they can’t be Ronan, what better way to make sure they have quite a different life experience growing up than to give them to someone here? Where your people have covered the sky with your ‘progress’ so you have difficulty breathing, and sometimes the water has to be filtered before it is safe to drink? And usually, it is wealthy or well-off families that adopt the babies. It’s not something we’re proud of, but the money they give us helps pay for repairs to our wagons that we can’t do ourselves, medicines we need, things like that.”

My feet seemed to have a mind of their own, and I realized that I was pacing frantically back and forth, trying to keep up with how fast my mind was working. I asked a question that would, hopefully, help fit that last stubborn puzzle piece that refused to move. “This blood ritual that you and Anya had done –yes, Madam Alisa told me that before she was killed- is it just something symbolic, where you make a cut on your palms, press them together, and proclaim that you are now sisters, or siblings in case it’s not just a female thing?”

“Don’t be stupid, Detective,” Ivana snapped at me. I was so happy to see a bit of her old self that I was willing to overlook how she was talking to me. “What good would that do?”

“Well then, Miss Ivana, explain it,” I prompted her.

Sighing as if I was intentionally being daft, she went on. “Yes, we do cut our palms and place them together, but only after we have shed some blood into a ceramic pot that we both helped make. Then, the blood is heated up with some rare herbs and water that was collected under a full moon during the rain, while one of our fortune tellers recites our history together, making sure to emphasize both the good we have done for each other, and the ill we have caused the other with our actions. After that, if we still wish to go through with it, we say our love for one another over the pot, let it cool, and help the other drink from the pot, all while holding our cut palms together. Once this is done, our blood changes in both of us so we are now related, combining our individual lines. In all aspects of it, we ARE siblings from then on.”

It all made sense, why the ‘bright man’ only seemed to go after what had appeared to be random women every 20 Cycles or so. Somehow, he must be able to sense who had Ronan blood in them. I still wasn’t sure what he was doing with those markings he made on the victims, or why he cut off their heads and removed their hearts, or why he would still be pursuing vengeance long after the one who had cursed him was dead and gone. There must be more to the story than this, but at least I had a handle on some kind of reasoning. I didn’t like things that don’t make sense, and up until now that was what those murders were, nonsensical. There had been no logic to it, no rhyme or reason. And I was a big fan of both of those things.

Granted, I still needed to pay Mama Crea a visit, to make her answer for her part in the deaths of the seven Ronan that her man Stumpy had killed. But at least I felt we were finally moving in a forward direction, not just spinning our wheels in the mud. You know I’m giddy when I start using STEAM-CARRIAGE expressions. “Excuse me, Miss Ivana,” I told her.

“Where are you going, Detective?” she asked me, her voice trembling just a bit.

“I just need to find Detective Waldorf,” I replied. “I shouldn’t be gone more than a minute, two tops.”

“So, you’re just going to leave me here, handcuffed, for the ‘bright man’ to come and slaughter, is that it?” Ivana was trying to put on a brave face, but it was obvious she was terrified. Can’t say I blame her; after all, her matriarch died under our ‘careful watch’ in this very room. She must have felt that, now that I didn’t need her anymore, that she was expendable. And that is a shitty way to feel. Debating it mentally for a few seconds, I made a decision. I went back over to her and released her from the chair and table, but made sure I put the handcuffs back on after I had done so. “What are you doing, Detective?” she wondered out loud.

“Making sure no more Ronan die on my watch, Miss Ivana. You’re coming with me, so at least I can protect you in case HE shows up again.” And, having said that, I led her out the door and down the hall. “We need to go find my partner, and then we need to go pay a certain crime boss in the Arcane Market a visit. Stumpy was her man.” After hearing that, Ivana’s eyes hardened and she stopped slouching, even going so far as to keep an even pace with my hurried stride. I had guessed –correctly, it would seem- that the beautiful half-Orc would also like to ask the half-Giant a few questions of her own.

We had just made it to the door leading to the main room of the station when I heard gunshots and could feel in the air the release of magic being used in spells. Making sure to keep Ivana behind me, I pantomimed crouching down. She did so, and after taking a few deep breaths, I opened the door and peered out into chaos, unable to really believe what I was seeing.


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