The next morning…well, if I’m being honest, it was closer to noon when I stumbled out of Ivana’s bed, leaving her snoring softly and sound asleep. Anyway, I got up, refreshed myself as best I could -since I really didn’t want to take my stuff down to the apartment showers- and hustled out the door to meet Dorf at the station. I knew I should have woken my half-Orc umbak up and made her go with me, as I was her parole officer and she was supposed to accompany me everywhere I went; however, I had really worn her out last night, and thought that just one day alone wouldn’t hurt her. Hells, maybe Cat would finally bond with someone.
As I showed my badge at the security door so they would buzz me in (glad to see they got some of the new security procedures already in place), I could see through the glass my partner standing by my desk, impatiently tapping his foot and rechecking his pocket watch, probably for the third time in as many minutes. “Sorry I’m late Dorf,” I said breathlessly as I jogged up to him. “I forgot to set my alarm spell and I didn’t wake…”
“Wait a second,” he interrupted me. “Where’s your shadow, Miss Ivana? Isn’t she supposed to tag along EVERYWHERE you go since she’s on parole right now?”
“Yeah,” I admitted, trying not to blush. “I know, it’s just that she was sleeping so peacefully,” I tried to recover from my gaffe, “and I’m so tired of her nagging me, so…”
Dorf didn’t let me finish again. “By the Trinity, you did it! You finally fucked her, didn’t you?”
“Hey, keep your voice down!” I hissed at him while he grinned from ear to ear. “And, whether I did or did not have sex with her is none of your business.” I concluded primly.
“The Hells it ain’t!” Dorf leered at me before raising his voice. “Fellow officers, listen up!” Naturally, it got real quiet as everyone temporarily stopped what they were doing and turned to face my partner and me. I could feel my face getting hotter and hotter. “Detective Jonas’s dry spell is finally over! He has made the beast with two backs! He has finally cleaned the cobwebs off of his cock and put it to good use! Maybe now, he won’t be such a pain in the ass to work around!” My fellow officers began to hoot and clap, and I wished for a hole to suddenly appear beneath me so I could vanish.
After the genial bedlam calmed down, I yelled out, “I just want you to know that I fucking hate all of you!” My proclamation was met with good-natured jeering and quite a few lambskin condoms thrown my way along with well wishes to put them to good use. Turning to face Dorf, who looked like the cat that ate the canary, I couldn’t help but pout as I said, “You’re enjoying this, aren’t you asshole?”
“Every second of it,” he admitted. “Hey, I can respect being late because you were up late last night because of THAT! Better that than you were late cuz you were studying or some other such horseshit.” His smile lessened a little bit. “Seriously, will she be safe there?”
“Honestly, with all the safeguards on my apartments, she’s safer there than just about anywhere else in Aerendor, including next to us if we’re still going to the Arcane District,” I told him. “I gotta have faith that she will be, partner. Otherwise, what’s it all for?”
He nodded his agreement. “I understand, truly I do. All right, if you’re done bragging about how you finally got some last night, we’re burning daylight and should finally be heading towards the A.D.” Laughing as he dodged the half-hearted kick I aimed his way, we both made our way out of the station and hailed down a horse and buggy. In no time at all (something I’m sure Dorf was truly grateful for), we exited the buggy and stood in front of the arch into the Arcane District. After the buggy drove off, while I waited for Dorf to finish throwing up his breakfast, I studied the entrance, trying to figure out what was bothering me.
Finally, I snapped my fingers. “It’s too quiet in there, Dorf,” I told him as he wiped his mouth off and rinsed it out with a shot from his whiskey flask. “I understand that after we walk in, a lot of the vendors stop hawking their wares and make themselves scarce.” I paused to listen once more. “But they shouldn’t have seen us yet. So, why is it so quiet already?”
Taking off his ever-present, he patted dry his brow and cocked an ear. “Yeah, I don’t hear nothing, and that’s not right. So,” he said as he pulled out and unfolded his hand crossbow, “how should we play this? Not ‘shoot everything that moves’ I’m guessing?”
I chuckled grimly as I also unfolded my hand crossbow from my duster pocket. “You are correct.” Normally, I would rely on my spells and my wits to keep me safe, but if something had happened to the denizens of the Arcane District, I didn’t want to draw attention by flinging magic around. “Do you think it’s the ‘bright man’ come back to pay Mama Crea a visit?”
Nodding, Dorf spoke softly. “I’m not a gambling man, but I would bet gold that it’s probably him. And I really hope we learn what his name is soon; I’m getting real tired of calling him the ‘bright man’ cuz it sounds stupid. How about I just call him ‘that bastard’ instead?”
“Hey, whatever floats your boat. Personally, I just want to call him ‘formerly living’ and be done with it. I mean, I really don’t think he’s going to let us take him in alive and put him on trial, do you? More than likely, he will be killed while we try to apprehend him.” I made sure that there was a bolt loaded into the chamber of the crossbow and that it was cocked and ready.
“Are you saying that cuz that’s what you think, or because that’s what you want?” Dorf asked me, and I resisted the urge to snap at him. It was a valid question, and my personal feelings towards the suspect shouldn’t come between doing our job and obeying the law.
“If he actually surrenders, of course I’ll arrest him! But, since we’ve seen what he’s capable of, I doubt we could even hold him, much less bring him in! Unless that’s what he wants, and I can’t even begin to imagine for what reason that would be.” I began to walk slowly up to the arch, Dorf right by my side. As we walked under it, I noticed that the arch never lit up, which filled me with a sense of dread. To knock out something that powerful would require a lot of juice, as it were, and I could only think of one person that had that much power at their disposal. It was looking more and more like the ‘bright man’ had been through here, and recently I would imagine. I couldn’t think that some busybody…uh, I meant concerned citizen wouldn’t have reported that the arch had stopped working if it had been out for a day or so.
As we moved slowly through the once-crowded aisles, it was hard not to notice how empty it all was. It was apparent that people had fled in a hurry, since none of the shops had their awnings taken down to close them up. Trinkets and charms galore just dangled in a faint breeze as we walked along, and for some reason I smelled something like rotten eggs or… “Sulfur,” I almost whispered.
“What’s that, partner?” Dorf hissed at me as we kept our steady measured pace. Neither of us wanted to rush in, guns blazing (well, crossbows firing) like the police or heroes always seem to do in plays or coppertales. No matter what, in those stories the heroes always make the right choices and no one ever seems to get hurt because of a mistake they make. Real life is much more complicated and messy than that.
“Can’t you smell that, like rotten eggs? That’s sulfur, and it’s the same thing I smelled when the ‘bright man’ killed Madam Darya and when I stabbed him; the smell faded away after he fled out the stairwell exit from the library; and, Stumpy said he smelled rotten eggs when the ‘bright man’ threw him against the wall and tortured Mama Crea.”
Sniffing the air a few times, Dorf made a face. “Yeah, I can smell it. I wasn’t sure if it was because all of the A.D. citizens had left in a hurry and forgotten some food, but you’re right. OK, so what does it mean? That comes from that bastard?”
I nodded. “It does, and it must tie into the ritualistic way he kills his victims, the symbols he carves into them –that no one seems to be able to read- and how powerful he is. All of that means something.” Growling, I hit my thigh with my fist in frustration. “And Gods damn me, I can’t think of anything I’ve read or heard that would help us make sense of it!”
“Hey, hey Jonas, buddy, take it easy,” Dorf patted me on the shoulder. “Nobody is blaming you for not being able to put this together! We’ll catch him, partner, just wait and see. After all,” he winked at me, “I may not have faith in my religion anymore, but I do have faith in you. And that’s gotten me this far in our relationship, I’m sure it will get us through this too.”
A big part of being in a successful partnership is letting your partner be there for you when you needed them, whether you would admit it or not. And so, I let out a big sigh and gave Dorf a grateful smile. “You’re right, for once.” Chuckling quietly, he let go of my shoulder to give me the one finger salute. “But, partner, promise me this. When we get to Mama Crea’s shop, I want you to go around the back and help her escape, if she’s indeed his prisoner.” He started to protest. “No! Promise me! This is powerful magic, and I don’t know if I could shield you in case he hurls something nasty at you. It will help me, knowing he can’t target you.”
Muttering to himself, finally Dorf gave me a terse nod of acceptance. “I promise, you fucker. You better not die, or else I’ll find a way to bring you back just so I can kick your ass!”
Smiling grimly, I simply said. “Duly noted. Now, let’s finish our little stroll through the abandoned market. After all, it wouldn’t due to keep our guest waiting. Judging by some of the food that was left out in some of the stalls, I would hazard a guess that he’s only been here a couple of hours or so.”
Snorting loudly, Dorf spoke up when I raised a questioning eyebrow. “I was just thinking, it’s lucky that you got, well, lucky last night and slept in. Otherwise, since we had planned on getting here bright and early, he would have taken us by surprise when we were paying Mama Crea a visit, and who knows who that would’ve turned out?”
I couldn’t help myself, I barked out a quick laugh. “Yeah, hooray for me getting some!” Dorf joined me, and we just stood there for a minute, releasing some of that nervous tension. When we finally calmed down, we travelled the rest of the way to the familiar building. Strange symbols, resembling the ones that had been carved into the alleyway floor and the victims, were burned into the wooden walls, and I smirked at the realization that our hunch was correct.
Patting my shoulder once more and gripping it tightly for a second, Dorf left my side and snuck down a side alley to get to the back door of Mama Crea’s store. Not for the first time, I marveled at how well he could move for his size. As if the symbols wasn’t enough of a sign that HE was here, the sulfur smell was emitting in waves from inside, almost fog-like. Asking whatever Gods were listening to take care of my partner and best friend, I took a deep breath and went up towards the front of the store. It was time to finally get some answers, once and for all.