Mama Crea used the remains of a couple of her burnt shelves to painfully levee herself up off of the floor as Dorf and I stood there, staring at each other. “You boys hold off on whatever it is you’re about to do,” she breathlessly told us, and both my partner and I turned to glare at her. Ignoring us, she went over to her counter and reached behind it for something. Giving a grunt of triumph, she pulled it out and came back over to us. It was a large purple crystal, about the size of my forearm. Clearing her throat a couple of times, the half-Giant held it up in front of her mouth and began to speak:
“I, Mama Crea, do hereby give witness to these things that I know to be true. Yesterday, on Fifthday, a man who was unknown to me came into my shop and held me hostage, torturing me for over a day. He was using me as bait to capture and kill Detectives Jonas and Waldorf for their investigation into a murder that occurred over 2 weeks ago. He confessed to me –and later to the Detectives- how he had killed that poor young woman and gave details that only the killer would know. When the Detectives came to free me, he managed to get the drop on Detective Waldorf and beat him mercilessly. Having already been freed, I came to his rescue by pulling the man off of the Detective. In doing so, I failed to account for my strength and unfortunately crushed his head when I pulled him off. While I regret that this man couldn’t be brought to justice, I feel no shame in saving the life of one of Aerendor’s finest.”
After she was finished, she tapped the crystal against her forehead with a ringing peal before handing it to me. I took it, bewildered. “What was that, Mama Crea?”
“That, you sweet man, was my confession and my statement to Robert’s murder. This should keep your involvement out of the papers…though why you would want that, I don’t know. He hit me pretty hard, my hearing is acting up and I missed a few things. Just, tap the crystal against something wooden –don’t ask me why it has to be wood, it just does- and my voice will play out. That should satisfy your captain.”
Ignoring me, Dorf spoke up. “What about how we prove that it was Robert that killed that young woman?”
She just shook her head. “Do I have to do everything? Just take this body and place it next to the young woman’s –hopefully, somebody did a repose spell to preserve her- and cast a resonance spell. If he was her killer, her body should react negatively.” I felt like hitting my head; of course that would work! To be fair, detectives don’t like to rely on resonance spells to prove guilt, since you have to know who the killer was for it to be effective. That’s why people like Dorf and I are so important. We follow the clues and track down the killer. Then and only then is the resonance spell useful.
But that didn’t seem to be enough for Dorf. “Well, what about when people see his arms all shredded in specific spots where the symbols were? How will we explain that?”
“Simple. As distraught as I was, I was starving and tore his arms off after I killed him and ate them.”
Looking at her dubiously, Dorf shook his head. “But, you haven’t.”
Putting words to action, we both watched in horror as Mama Crea reached down to the Bastard’s body and did just that. She just said to us, “If you don’t need anything else, Detectives, I’m going to go try and get some rest. Let me know if there’s anything else you need, and let yourselves out after you hash out whatever difficulties you two have.” Then, she turned away and shuffled off towards her bedroom, munching on one of Robert’s arms as she did so. I had forgotten that Giants loved to eat humanoid flesh, and had just assumed that being half-Giant she wouldn’t have had that instinct. Guess I was wrong, I mused as I tried not to get sick.
“Fuck, just when you think this day couldn’t get any weirder,” Dorf said, his voice full of revulsion. Without looking at me, he continued. “Like finding out your partner, who you vouched for to become a Detective, has been lying to you for over 3 Cycles and is a fucking bard! Now, that takes the cake for being weird for sure!” He was shaking, he was so angry, and to be honest I couldn’t blame him.
“What do you want me to say, Dorf? I had to hide it; Hells, the only person who knows is my mentor, and that’s because they trained me. You know how my kind is viewed.”
Spinning to face me, my partner pointed a finger in my face. “You’re Gods-damned right I know! For fuck’s sake, Jonas! Your kind went around, supposedly all innocently recording history and shit, but in reality you manipulated people, cities, and even whole kingdoms! Bards caused more wars in the previous century than in any other century in thousands of Cycles! I know that your kind once claimed to be about the music and the moment, but you weren’t, were you? Spies, assassins, raconteurs, and so many other names that fit more than musician.”
“You think I don’t know any of this, Dorf? I know all of that, and more! My mentor taught me things that would probably curl your hair if you heard them, parts of our history that never got recorded! But, we all aren’t like that, you have to believe me!” I pleaded with him.
“Shit!” he threw up his hands. “Why would you tell me something like that?”
“Because, partner, I don’t want any more secrets between us. You’re right, I should have trusted you enough to tell you, but seeing your reaction, can you blame me for being cautious?” Seeing him hesitate, I pressed on. “If you can be honest with yourself, what would you have done if I had come to you and confessed all of this? Would you have welcomed me with open arms, told me none of that mattered, that I was still your partner and your brother? Or would you have reacted as you are now, full of blame and fear for something you don’t truly know anything about?” I lowered my voice. “I think we both know the answer to that one.”
“Well, I guess we’ll never get to find out which one would have happened, will we? You took that choice away from me, Jonas. Took it right out of my fucking hands.” I could see the hurt in his eyes, and I felt slightly ashamed that I hadn’t trusted someone who put their trust in me day in and day out. “So, how did any of your kind survive the Burnings?” That was what history called the period when various heads of state and royalty found out how certain Bards had been pulling the strings behind the thrones (as it were) for quite a while and, in a show of unity not seen before or since, in one week burned all bardic colleges to the ground and put any that could be found -apprentices and journeyman all- into the pyre.
Walking over to the counter, I leaned against it with a heavy sigh. “It’s not like we wore a sign around our neck that said, ‘hey, I’m a Bard!’ or anything. A few got word about what was happening, those who had never agreed with the way that most of my kind started shaping history instead of recording it, and they fled as fast and as far as they could away from the colleges. Never again would we congregate like that in large groups.”
“But, how did any of you get trained without a place to study?”
Chuckling softly, I kept my gaze down. “You forget we are a verbal tradition –have been since recorded history- and so without all of the books and other trappings of proper schooling, they just relied on their stories and their own experiences to teach the young. A rule was enforced, that a mentor may have no more than one apprentice, and if an apprentice went off and threatened to reveal our existence, the mentor had to silence them permanently.”
“I’ll be damned,” Dorf swore. “They would kill someone they used to teach?”
I could understand his horror. “If they had to; otherwise, we all could be killed because of someone else’s mistake. It’s why most bards either don’t mentor at all, or only mentor someone who is an orphan or has no contact with their family. That way, there’s less chance that an apprentice could decide that it was too hard and run back home.”
Realization dawned in my partner’s eyes. “That means that you…”
“Yup,” I confirmed it. “After my parents were killed, I tracked down the group that did it and slaughtered them all. My mentor came upon me after I was burning their longhouse to the ground with their bodies inside. I didn’t want to talk to a stranger, but I was so lonely that I confessed everything. Upon hearing my tale, my mentor offered me a chance to make something of my life. And so, I accepted.”
“Fuck, Jonas, how old were you?” he asked, aghast at how nonchalant I seemed.
“I was just 15 Cycles. Remember, I’m half-Orc; at that point, according to my Orc half, I was already an adult. Since I didn’t have to ask permission, I went with them. I’d always had a good voice, a great memory, been good with learning new things. This just put it all together, that’s all. I don’t regret it, not one bit. But, eventually, I needed a change, and so I moved here.”
“To Aerendor.” I nodded. “Then, that story about how you entered the Academy at 19 wasn’t a story, it was the truth?” I nodded again. “But, didn’t the instructors wonder why you didn’t have a tradition when you entered?”
“Not at all. Lots of students entered the Academy without a sense of direction or a tradition already in mind, and I know I wasn’t the only student who graduated from there with ‘undecided’ put down on my transcript papers. Contrary to popular belief, we casters fuck up and can’t make up our minds just as often as you normal types do.” I smiled at the end, and Dorf started to smile back before he caught himself.
“So, what happens next?” he asked, unsure of the answer himself.
Sighing once more, I pushed myself off of the counter. “Now, you head back to the station –or the nearest call box- and get our people out here. They’ll see the fire damage, and hear Mama Crea’s statement, and see the symbols that are carved outside on the walls. That should be enough to tie him to the murders, at least enough to get the Chief to sign off on a resonance spell. We’ll say he was a misogynistic Pyro-mage, obsessed with communicating with the Realm of Fire; and, since almost nobody speaks or reads the Elemental tongue anymore, we can pass his symbols off as his misunderstanding that language, and that should do it.”
“You mean, we’re going to lie,” Dorf accused me.
“What do you want me to do, Dorf? Do you really want to hold a press conference where you declare that the killer was over 100 Cycles old, that he had been cursed by a Ronan to live forever, but not before he had bonded with a malevolent spirit that most people have never heard of called a daemon? How do you think that’s going to go over, hmm?” I waited for him to think it through, trusting that he wouldn’t want to cause a panic any more than I did.
Still frowning, he didn’t admit I was right (he was always bad about doing that), instead saying, “And what about you, partner? What should I say about you? How do you figure into all of this?” He gestured all around the wrecked and ruined room.
Throwing up my hands, I yelled out, “What do you want me to say? Do you think I want you to tell every Tom, Dick and Harry about me? Fuck no! But I’m not going to beg you not to, either. It’s your choice, brother. Make the call. Know this: I’m still the same quick-witted, dependable and intelligent asshole I’ve always been all these Cycles. This, my tradition, it changes nothing about who I am. It’s just one more title that I wear, that’s all.”
In the plays and the coppertales, this would be where the hero’s accomplice would swear that he would keep the hero’s secret, that he would take it to his grave. But, this is the real world, and sometimes the real world sucks. Instead of doing any of that, Dorf just stared at me for a minute before he turned and shuffled out of the building. Whether he was going back to the station itself or going to find and use a call box I didn’t know and quite honestly didn’t care. I had laid all of my cards out on the table, and I couldn’t have played my hand any other way.
No matter what, though, I wasn’t going to run away. This was my city, and I did my job well, and if I was punished for choices I made years ago, so be it. While I waited for my partner and more of our fellow officers to arrive, I cast the miniaturization spell once more on my trusty lute –after thoroughly cleaning it, of course- and returned it to the pocket of my gorgon hide duster. Trying my best to ignore the snoring coming from Mama Crea’s bedroom, I leaned against the wall and slid down until I was sitting on the floor. Closing my eyes, I put my head back against the wall and awaited my fate, humming to myself a little ditty that sounded a lot like a dirge I had heard once. How fitting that was, I wasn’t sure, but it seemed appropriate.