Shadow's Ascendance

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Chapter Thirty-six

I still couldn’t make head or tails of the symbols that the Bastard (Dorf was right, that had a nice ring to it) had carved into the wooden walls of Mama Crea’s shop, which really bugged me. It wasn’t bragging –well, it wasn’t JUST bragging- when I had told Dorf that I spoke and read a myriad number of languages. That, coupled with my translation spell, should have been enough to figure out what the symbols meant; however, even after all this time, I still was unable to decipher them. And, the more I stared at them, the more they seemed to almost move around, like the ones in the photographs. Yeah, I know that sounds crazy, but I swear it’s the truth.

Magical symbols, like runes, always mean something. Unlike regular letters and wording, you don’t just ‘graffiti’ stuff like this. You have to put a little of yourself into carving runes (either emotions or energy), and I was willing to bet that whatever these symbols meant, they followed the same pattern. So, obviously the Bastard had taken the time to burn those symbols into the walls for a reason. And, since I’m trying to stop him (one way or the other), it behooved me to deny my foe whatever advantage these symbols provided.

While it may take a while to carve runes, disrupting them is as simple as defacing the rune so that it doesn’t mean what it used to mean. In other words, if I found a rune somewhere it shouldn’t be, all I would have to do is take my athame (for example) and scratch a line through the rune so it didn’t mean anything anymore. Of course, you have to know all the various types of runes; otherwise, there’s a good chance that your defacing of it could just turn it into another rune, one that you wouldn’t know the results of, one that could have disastrous consequences.

Realizing that I was stalling, I squared my shoulders, put on my big boy pants, and walked in a slow crouch up to the left wall. This wall’s window had a curtain closing it off, since that was where the half-Giant displayed some of her more delicate and valuable wares. I was counting on the Bastard not being able to see through it; I mean, if he could, there really was no point in going through any of this and I might as well just slit my wrists now. But my parents didn’t raise a quitter, so that wasn’t an option. Besides, why ruin my duster and uniform?

Once I reached the wall, I took out my athame. Since the walls were wood, I could easily scratch through one of the symbols. However, since I couldn’t read any of them, doing so could be a very bad idea to say the least. So, I had to be smart about this. Suddenly, it hit me, and I barely stopped myself from letting out a happy cheer, instead being content with giving a small arm pump in triumph. All I had to do was erase one of the symbols in the middle.

See, the whole reason for writing down runes or symbols like they were here (one below the other) is that they form a cohesive whole, kind of like building a house. The words for “floor” and “wall” and “roof” all have meaning on their own, but when you combine them you have a “home”. Same goes for runes, which is why it’s effective to deface one to depower the whole set. If I removed the rune for “floor” (using my previous example) that would change what the rest of the runes made from “home” to “hut”. Change what they add up to, you change whatever they do. Damn, sometimes I’m really clever, if I do say so myself.

One of the earlier spells any full caster learns is how to erase something that you’ve written. Paper is not horribly cheap (they save parchment for permanent things like ritual instructions and whatnot), and so when you are copying some notes onto paper with your ink and quill, if you make a mistake halfway through a page, you don’t throw the page away and start over. You just delete your mistake and keep going. And, since paper is just wood finely ground down, the same spell should apply. With fingers that only trembled slightly, I whispered the incantation and touched my athame to the tip of the symbol right in the middle.

It has to be one of the best feelings in the world when a theory you had is proven correct. Gleefully, I watched as the profane symbol (I just realized that’s what they reminded me of, something vile and unnatural) faded away and the wood was restored to normal. Even though it took longer, I crept away and went far afield before I circled back to the right side of the building and, crouched down as low as I could get, did the same to the symbols on the right side.

In the plays and the coppertales, when the evil wizard has his spells countered or defeated, there is a large explosion or expulsion of energy, usually resulting in the evil wizard being defeated. Don’t get me wrong, there are a few spells where if you countered them that would happen; for the most part, however, once a spell is countered or undone, the energy just dissipates into the ether from whence it came. This was no exception, for after I had erased the symbol on the right side of the building, the sulfur smell stopped being emitted from inside the shop. I took a deep breath in of fresh air (well, as fresh as you could get inside Aerendor on a normal day) and felt a major sense of relief.

Now that that was done, I could hear something from inside. It took me a minute of listening carefully to figure out what it was, but once I did I was shocked. That was the sound of a woman crying, and unless the Bastard had kidnapped someone else, that could only be Mama Crea softly sobbing in there. I was aware that she had a reputation of toughness to protect, and I’m sure that there would be threats from her to never reveal to anyone that she had shown a moment of weakness; but for now, it was wrenching to hear her brought so low.

Don’t get me wrong, I was still furious that she had ordered Stumpy to kill those Ronan. But, I was also still a man, and very few men like to hear a woman cry without being moved to want to help make it stop. Suddenly, I heard her speak, her voice raspy and weary. “Please, please just make it stop. It feels too good, just make it go away.”

I couldn’t hear what the Bastard said, but I heard Mama Crea’s response. “But why? Why are you doing this? It can’t be because you want power, since I’ve seen what you can do. So, why?!?” Whatever he said to her made her chuckle in between her gasping for breath. “Oh, so that’s the only reason. I’m just bait. What I don’t understand is, why do you hate Detective Jonas so much?” If the Bastard replied, the half-Giant didn’t comment back on it, and so I was left to wonder why myself.

The only reason that made sense to me was that I kept thwarting his plans, or at least trying to; images of Madam Darya, Anya, and the rest of that caravan and Aerdale popped into my mind unbidden, along with the initial victim 2 weeks ago that started me on this path. Otherwise, I don’t think I had ever encountered the Bastard before. Of course, according to Darya he was nondescript and could blend into the crowd –at least, before he was cursed- so it was possible that I had done something unknowingly to him, but I could count on both hands the number of innocent people I had hurt unintentionally, and he wasn’t one of them.

You’re stalling again, I chastised myself. I’m sure by now that my partner had managed to pick the lock on the back door –don’t judge, in our line of work sometimes it pays to go in quietly- and was just waiting for me to make a move so he could free Mama Crea and get her to safety. Dorf was a good man, but like I had told him, he would be useless in a magical confrontation, and worrying about him would just slow me down. All that was left was for me to actually go confront the Bastard and give Dorf the opportunity to spring into action.

But, you can’t confront what you can’t see, and since this son-of-a-bitch had a nasty habit of being invisible, the first thing I needed to do was to dispel that effect. I’d been giving that a lot of thought, and since I’d just realized that the symbols were profane, I was happy that I’d made the preparations that I had earlier this week. It hadn’t been a lie when I told those students (in what seemed like a lifetime ago) that I wasn’t a divine caster although I dabbled in some of their areas. However, one of the big things about my tradition was that we were very flexible in our learning, and so I had set out to make good on a promise I had made to a deity.

It wasn’t like I was ever going to be presiding over weddings or some shit like that, but Ierva had been very receptive to me being ordained in Her church. I think She loved the irony in an officer of the law paying his respects to a Goddess that usually was worshipped by thieves, rogues, and other ne’er-do-wells. And so, after a small ceremony, I was blessed with some small abilities that I could use as I saw fit, as long as I never abused them. She wasn’t big on a list of scriptures about what was or wasn’t allowed. Mirthfully, the cleric who had helped me in the imbuement ceremony had simply said that if I pissed Her off, I would know without a doubt.

Each tradition had its own areas that it excelled in, but one that every deity shared was their distaste in things that were profane and unnatural. Well, I guess there are unholy deities, but I wouldn’t truck with any of them. Anyway, getting distracted again. So, they hate unholy things, and whatever powers the Bastard had, they were definitely unholy. All I had to do was to get Ierva’s attention and point out how bad the ‘bright man’ was, and She should help me out by dispelling his invisibility…in theory, at least.

Since I was already on the right side of the building (when you faced it), I just went over to the center of the wall (thankfully, Mama Crea didn’t have any windows on the side) to enact the first part of my spell. Remember, I improvise a lot, and so making a small cut in the center of my left palm with my athame, with my right hand I took my blood and drew the rune for “See” on the wall, along with the symbol of my Goddess. Trying to hustle as fast as I could, given the circumstances, I went around to the left side of the building and did the same.

Finally, all that was left was the swinging doors. As I stood up on the left side of the left part of the door, my aching back gave thanks that I was finally not crouching anymore. After this was over, maybe Ivana would give the triumphant hero a massage. It’s funny, but I was already assuming that I would win over the Bastard. That’s the thing about any fight, if you go into it thinking you’re going to lose, you guarantee that you will. No matter how unlikely the odds, you always have to believe that you have a chance; otherwise, why fight?

Making the rune and symbol one final time on the center of each door (as I moved around to the right door to do the same), I offered a brief prayer to Ierva. “Please, let this work, and don’t let me embarrass myself. Amen.” My prayer must have pleased Her, because after I said it the cut in the center of my palm healed up. Turning my head towards a nearby shadow and giving a quick smile of thanks, I turned my head back towards my work, put my right hand on it, and finished casting the spell. “Let that which was hidden finally be revealed for all to see.”

There was a bright light that seemed to get sucked into the building from everywhere, followed by a soundless wave of darkness shooting out through every available crack and opening. With fingers crossed, I pushed open the doors and stepped inside Mama Crea’s shop, hoping that I wasn’t willingly walking into my doom. I had to have faith that I wasn’t.

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