Shadow's Ascendance

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Chapter Thirty-eight

They say that secrets never stay buried for long. That the things people try to hide eventually come out into the light of day. And yes, I’ve heard the old adage that “three people can keep a secret if two of them are dead”, but what does it do to the one person left holding onto that secret? Does it weigh them down like a millstone around their soul, until carrying it around with them day after day begins to feel like such a chore that they almost hope that it will come out and they can put that burden down?

Only one person besides me knows my secret -that’s my mentor- and I trust them with my life. Especially since if the cantankerous jerk revealed it, they would be placing themselves into danger as well. After all, they couldn’t have trained me if they weren’t one themselves, right? Nothing like the threat of imprisonment (or worse) to help keep one’s lips shut tighter than the strings on a Dwarf’s coin purse. Wow, I’m so nervous that I’m turning to stereotypes; way to rise above the crowd, Jonas.

Supposedly, there comes a moment (at least one) in every person’s life, where they will have to make a choice: to do the right thing, even though it may be difficult or dangerous, or not, and live with the guilt of their cowardice the rest of their days. It’s funny, but up until now I had never stopped to think about that. I mean, I face danger all the fucking time in my line of work! Hells, most of the time I never think twice about how if I made a mistake it could be my last one; in the pursuit of justice, I can’t stop to think about paying the ultimate price like that. You just have to get the job done, because there is no other alternative.

So, why was I so terrified now? I mean, I don’t want Dorf to die, that’s for sure; and, as much as she can be a pain in the ass, Mama Crea doesn’t deserve death either. But I know that, once I reveal this, it will change things forever, especially between me and my partner. Mama Crea will keep her mouth shut, seeing as how she doesn’t want it to get out that she was crying. Yeah, blackmail is an ugly thing, but I’m not above using it if I have to, and since we both get something out of it, there should be no problems.

Dorf, on the other hand…Dorf, he’s basically family to me, and I to him, but there are some things that can split a family apart. This could be one of them. All I can do is hope that he’s willing to listen to MY side of the story, and not just believe the lies and slander that have been spread about those like me for the last century or so. Granted, some of those things have basis in truth, but for the most part, they are the result of people being afraid of what they don’t understand. And that I get, unfortunately, all too well.

“Detective Jonas?” Robert interrupted my musing. “While I’ve heard the expression ‘frozen with fear’ I never thought that it would apply to someone like YOU! I mean, you’re a defender of the innocent, a capturer of the corrupt, and a paragon of pride! Surely you aren’t so terrified that you’re just going to stand there dumbstruck whilst I kill you and your friends? After all, you managed to shield that brat from my blood beast somehow” His laughter, mocking and bitter, washed over me and broke me free from my worries. No matter what, I couldn’t let this madman win. So I would do whatever it takes, and damn the consequences.

“You know, Robert –or should I call you what Detective Waldorf and I were calling you, the Bastard? - You talk an awful lot for somebody that, up until today, moved through the world practically invisible, unnoticed and unwanted. Huh, guess you’re making up for lost time.”

A frown temporarily cracked his cold veneer before he hid it. Robert felt that he was in control, and if I got to him, no matter how inconsequential, it would shatter that illusion. I’m sure he would rage like the beast that he was if I did that. Hells, I was counting on it. “Such a mouth on you, Detective. Tell me, is this the infamous temper that I’ve heard so much about? I have to say, I’ve felt more threatened by a puppy growling at me than by your bark.”

I just gave him a smirk as I reached into my duster and pulled out a small object, carefully wrapped in negatium, along with the other bit of that cloth that contained Robert’s blood. Unwrapping the first object, I revealed a miniature lute. Robert frowned down at it but said nothing as I hummed a perfect C-sharp. He couldn’t help but take a step back as before his eyes, the lute grew until it was normal sized again. Funny thing about miniaturization spells, they don’t change the weight of the object, just the size; that’s why I made sure that there was lots of stuff on the other side of my duster, so I wasn’t off-balance.

“Just what are you doing, Detective Jonas?” he asked me, with just a tremble of uncertainty in his voice. Since he had been alive back when my kind were eliminated, I’m sure he could guess what I was about to do; but, it was satisfactory all the same to know that for the first time in a long time, that Bastard felt afraid. “Do you think that you can serenade me a song that will help you and your friends? What do you hope to accomplish with all of this?”

Smiling at him while I went through the automatic gestures of tuning the lute –I hadn’t taken it out to play in quite a few Cycles- I finally answered him. Thankfully, both he and the daemon were curious, and so the profane spirit had stopped tormenting Dorf and Mama Crea, for now at least. “By the way, I didn’t do anything for Natalya that night. But as for what I’m doing? Oh, just making sure that it will play the best that it can. And as for what I hope to accomplish, you of all people should know just how dangerous a little versatility can be. After all, you were born in a time when my kind was fairly common, weren’t you? You know just how dangerous we are. What was that expression everyone used to say about us? Oh yes, jack of all trades, master of none. But, do you know one thing we were masters of, Robert?”

“What’s that, Detective Jonas?” he asked me, body rigid from his trying to lean away from me without actually doing so, since he couldn’t have me knowing he was afraid.

“Improvising,” I finished with a feral grin. Having gotten the lute tuned up perfectly, I strummed a few notes before I launched into a wordless melody, the negatium cloth with Robert’s blood tucked safely away into my sleeve until I needed it. The notes seemed to fill the air, almost glowing if one was prone to saying that music could be magical. Obviously, I was one of those people, and I watched as my notes danced and strolled through the air until they encountered the spell that the daemon had used to hold my friends in place. They wrapped around the spell until it dissolved into a puddle of black goo that stained the floor before it dissipated into the ether.

“Get her and yourself out of here, Dorf!” I shouted out, though I never stopped playing. The next tune I started had a more military bent to it, and now it was Robert’s turn to be frozen in place, helpless. The daemon started humming its off-pitch tune, and I could feel his music fighting against my spell. It wouldn’t hold him for long, but at least my friends could get to safety. Eyeing me in shock as if he didn’t know me, my partner nevertheless put Mama Crea’s arm around him and half-dragged, half-helped her walk into the backroom.

As soon as they were out of sight, the daemon gave a wordless roar and I felt my spell shatter. I was forced back a step, but it wasn’t enough to stop me from playing. That was one of the first things we were taught, to never stop the music no matter what happens, and it was a lesson I learned well. My mentor, towards the end of my apprenticeship, almost never got me to drop a spell I was playing, no matter what they did to distract or disrupt me. That was something I was quite proud of, and it came in handy on more than one occasion. Like today, for example.

The Bastard tried to reach for me but my music kept up, and the notes were like a wall of steel, pushing back at him with so much force he looked like he was being blown away, if anyone had been there to observe it. Snarling, he started moving his hands around in gestures that I instinctively knew was for spellcasting, and I could see the daemon superimposing itself over his image as it continued its profane chanting. The shelves around me started to catch fire, and I could feel the heat singeing my duster as I tried my best to keep my distance from them.

“Did you…really think…that you could…beat me, with…just a song? Why people feared your kind so much is beyond me.” Robert started off having difficulty breathing, but he regained some of his strength as I coughed from the heat and the smoke now being produced by the shelves; when I did, I stopped playing for just a moment, and that was the break he was waiting for. “So, what now, Detective Jonas? You can’t play forever, and soon enough you won’t be able to stand the heat. And when you finally succumb to it, I will take great pleasure in beating you to death with your own musical instrument. What do you have to say for yourself?”

Seeing furtive movement behind Robert, I chuckled slightly and said to him, “I get by with a little help from my friends, of course. Now!” As I said this, I dropped the negatium cloth from my sleeve and angled it just right so it opened up on the strings of my lute. The next notes I played were so sharp that they almost seemed to form knives in the air, and as I strummed them out they danced with the Bastard’s blood and bonded with them. Each one struck him like a dagger, but the best part was, I tried to aim them so they ripped apart the symbols that the daemon had carved into his arms over a century ago. Luckily they did, and I offered up a quick prayer of thanks to Ierva that my aim had been true.

As the notes cut apart the anchor that had bonded the daemon to Robert, I watched in glee as it howled in impotent rage and was sucked out of him down towards a crack in the floor. Using his blood had also weakened his curse, albeit only temporarily. The Bastard just stood there, swaying confusedly, but not for long. I can’t imagine what strength it took for Mama Crea to regain her footing, but she did, standing behind her former tormentor. And, as she towered over him, she stretched out her arms and wrapped her large hands around his head. Grunting with the effort, she squeezed, and the sound of a watermelon if it was dropped off the roof echoed out in the room. What was left of Robert’s head oozed out between her clenched fingers.

Tsking in disgust, she let go of the body and bent down to wipe her hands on his clothes before slumping next to it on the floor. “Damn, Jonas, you do have quite an effect on people. Either they love you or they despise you.” She sounded pained, but the fact that she was able to joke about the whole ordeal made it seem that she would make it through just fine.

It was the movement behind her that caught my eye. Dorf stood there, leaning against the doorframe, staring at me as if I was a stranger. “Hey partner,” I tried to sound nonchalant, “I see you didn’t listen to me and get Mama Crea to safety. Boy, am I glad you didn’t. How are you feeling? Would you like a little bit of healing?” I stepped forward, but he stepped back from me, and I felt my heart fall in my chest. “What’s wrong, Dorf? It’s still me.”

“Jonas,” he asked me breathlessly, “tell me the truth. Are you a…bard?” Hearing it like that, from one who was like a brother, hurt more than anything that Robert had just done to me.

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