Shadow's Ascendance

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Chapter Five

Thanking Kindor, I barely waited for the elevator doors to open before I slipped out between them and ran to Dorf’s desk, not giving a damn how wet the steam made the back of my neck. I figured that his press conference would be over by now, and we could get a start on this lead. Yeah, I knew that this temporary boost of energy wouldn’t last long, but every minute we didn’t pursue this possibly insignificant thread was an extra minute that a killer went free. And personally, that kind of stuff really pisses me off. I’m funny like that, I guess.

But when I turned the corner and approached where all of us detectives had our desks, I found my partner surrounded by a gaggle of kids, teenagers from the looks of it. The majority were human, but I did see a few Dwarves, a couple of Elves, and even a Naga outfitted with a breather so she could walk around on land. Why they would be talking to Dorf baffled me, since he disliked children almost as much as people who have been modified with steam-tech. When he saw me, the instant gratitude in his eyes almost made me turn around and run away as payback for earlier; instead, I let out a small sigh and put on my bravest face.

“How’s it going, partner?” I asked as the kids all turned to face me. It was intimidating, all of their earnest and curious eyes, and I tried not to be too obvious as I swallowed nervously.

“Just the man I was hoping to see!” Dorf replied with a false sense of cheer; not that he wasn’t happy to see me, but that it was clear he wished he was anywhere but here. “Detective Jonas, these are some of the 1st Cycle students from the Police Academy; the Chief asked me to answer any questions they had, and so far the only ones they’ve had have been about magic.”

Now it all made sense. When Dorf had given that press conference, the Chief must have known that my partner sat on that info for a few hours when the press began to tear him a new one. So, even though the Chief may have agreed with Dorf and what had been done, he still had to punish him; and, since it was well known how bothered my partner was by children, what better way to get back at him than by having the unfortunate detective play babysitter? And I’m sure if I asked around, I would find that the Chief had ‘encouraged’ the kids to talk about magic. Well played sir, I thought respectfully with silent applause, well played indeed.

Of course, I could leave my partner to dangle, claiming exhaustion and keeping him stuck with the students. And, even though I was considered a full caster instead of a partial, my style really didn’t fit into any classification and that could be confusing to some people. I could try to claim that, and watch Dorf squirm when they turned back to him. But, doing so was not fair, and besides, he would just get back at me somehow. So, with a big grin on my face that I didn’t feel, I said, “I would be happy to answer any questions you students may have! Who’s first?”

The Naga raised her hand first and highest, which honestly surprised me. Her species were known for being very cautious and not taking chances; maybe the fact that she did was why she was at the Academy and not being raised on her people’s massive merchant boats. Large black eyes blinking behind her goggles, she took a few deep breathes through her breather, which converted the air that most of us breathed into a liquid, replacing her need for gills while she was landlocked, as they called it. “We assume you’re a caster, since he’s mundane; what type are you, Detective Jonas?” She had a very deep timbre, which I’ve been told is necessary for them to hear each other underwater. I couldn’t help but notice that she also had ear plugs in, since her ears were so sensitive I’m sure we all seemed like we were always screaming to them.

“That’s a very good question, miss. Who would like to hazard a guess? Yes, you there,” I pointed at the very small male human in the front of the group.

He flipped his hair out of his eyes before talking, and I did my best not to roll my eyes at how foolish he looked. Kids and their fashion choices, I silently grimaced. “Do you use material components or any foci for your magic?”

“I do indeed,” I answered, and by admitting that told all of them I wasn’t a sorcerer. Everyone knew that sorcerers had magic running through their veins, and to cast a spell all they had to do was cut themselves and let the magic out. Besides being bloody and disgusting, it also meant that they had no need for any of the things the young man had asked me about. Most of the group nodded their heads, putting together my answer with what they had learned. “And, you?” I pointed to another human, a slightly heavier set female off to the right.

Pushing her glasses back up on her nose, she sniffed before replying. “Are you associated with any temples or deities?” She looked very pleased with herself.

I smiled before answering. “While I offer prayers as much as the next person, no I am not affiliated with any religion.” That let them know that I couldn’t be anything like a cleric or a paladin, since both of those types of people had to pray to some deity –or pantheon, remembering a story that I heard once- in order to cast any magic. While the young female grinned at having checked off another box, I threw a wrench into her thought process when I added, “But, I do have the ability to heal minor wounds and injuries, however.” That got them all going, and they ignored me and Dorf to put their heads together and converse amongst themselves. Man, I loved stumping know-it-alls like this! Now it was my turn to grin.

Weaving his way through the throng of kids, Dorf made his way to my side and leaned over before whispering, “Man, I am so glad that you showed up! I didn’t have a damn thing to talk to these kids about, with all their questions being about magic and stuff! Fucking Chief, this is horse shit!” One of the Elves, with their acute hearing, poked his head up out of the crowd and gave my partner such a scandalized look that he grumbled and grimaced before mumbling what almost sounded like an apology. Even I raised an eyebrow at that one.

“No problem, Dorf,” I whispered back. “So, how long do we have to entertain them?”

“Their teacher should be back for them in another ten minutes or so, thank the Gods!” he snarled. “This is why every time Gregory brings up adoption I change the subject. Kids make me uncomfortable.” He pulled at the collar of his shirt, as if it had suddenly grown too tight.

“You do realize that you were a kid once, correct?” I reminded him drolly.

“Nope, I sprang outta my mom full grown,” he shot back.

“Well then, either you killed your mom doing so, your mom is a giant, or she is really REALLY loose,” I fired back, barely able to keep myself from chuckling.

His eyes got really big, and I could see the flush of red creeping up from his torso and coloring his face. “Listen, my mom is a fucking angel and you know it, so you take that back or so help me…!” Dorf never got the chance to finish his threat, because at that point the kids had stopped talking and I stepped forward, doing my best to ignore the growled threats of my partner.

“Yes, students, are there any more questions?” I asked, and the Elf who had heard Dorf and his filthy mouth cleared his throat to get my attention. “Yes, young master?”

“Are you of a scholarly bent, Detective Jonas?” he asked, and I knew what he was getting at. Wizards were capable of some of the most interesting and dangerous spells around, and the only thing that kept them from being all-powerful was their limitation of being bound to their spellbooks; without their spellbooks, most wizards weren’t capable of magicking their way out of a thin cloth sack. An innate balance to their power, as it were. You could always tell a wizard, not only from the belt satchel that carried their books within easy reach, but from the ink-stained fingers they all seemed to acquire from their constant note taking and copying.

Smiling, I held up my hands and showed them my ink-free fingers. “While I am more than capable of hitting the books and putting in hours of research –and am easily more of a scholar than my partner here- I am not a wizard.” My little aside had them all giggling and tittering behind their hands, and I could feel the heat from the glower that Dorf aimed at my back. Hey, just because I said I wouldn’t hang him out to dry didn’t mean I couldn’t have a little fun at his expense. I’m a nice guy but I’m no saint, that’s for sure!

They all began talking amongst themselves again, and I knew I had them stumped. I spotted someone wearing a prim and proper uniform that mimicked what the students were wearing, and figured that was their instructor. “Well kids, it seems like your instructor is returning to take you on the rest of your tour, so I am sad to say that none of you guessed what kind of caster I am. Maybe you haven’t done enough research, or maybe I’m just too clever for you.” I couldn’t help but smirk after I said that last part. To be fair, I wouldn’t have suspected any of them could guess what kind of caster I am; it’s not like there is a lot of my kind around anymore, though we used to number in the hundreds. Those days are long gone now.

As I was about to turn away, I noticed that one of the Dwarves, a girl from the looks of it, was jumping up and down with her hand raised trying to get my attention. I figured I’d give her a break and call on her. “Yes there, the female Dwarf in the middle, did you have a question?”

Pushing past her classmates, the girl stomped forward and spent a few seconds adjusting her clothes, glaring around at the other students. “I mentioned this theory, but since no one else thought it was sound, they all ignored it. Are you musically talented, Detective Jonas?”

It felt like my heart had just stopped, or that the floor had opened up and I was about to fall down into the yawning abyss. “I’m sorry, miss, I didn’t quite catch that.” I hoped that my voice sounded normal to them, because to me it sounded like I was beyond nervous.

Turning to face her classmates, the Dwarven girl gave them a triumphant grin. “See? I told you it was a valid question. Just because none of you have ever heard of them doesn’t mean that they don’t exist!”

Gratefully, I was saved from having to answer her by the instructor finally arriving at the group. “Thank you so much for answering any questions they had, Detectives,” she thanked both Dorf and me. “I hope they weren’t too much trouble.”

Since I was having difficulty breathing, Dorf stepped forward and gently pushed me behind him, to help deflect any attention I may be drawing. “It was no trouble at all, Instructor. I think everyone found it quite informative.”

The instructor positively beamed at this, and she and my partner spent the next few minutes making small talk while her students gathered up all of their things and put away any parchment and pens they had been using to take notes. Only the Dwarven girl didn’t, trying her best to stare at me whilst I did my best to ignore her. Soon enough, the instructor had gathered up her students like herding a gaggle of geese, and they went deeper into the station where they would be someone else’s problem, not ours.

Once they were gone, Dorf spun to face me. “What in the seven Hells was that about? I’ve never seen you this out of sorts!” He must have seen how pale I was, because he lowered his tone. “Care to explain?”

Coming back to myself, I shook my head a few times before answering him. “It’s not important, partner. What is important is this,” and I handed over the clue that I had dug up. Taking the paper from me with a look that promised this conversation wasn’t over, Dorf scanned what I had written down. “You know what this means, don’t you Dorf?” I asked him as he gave a low groan of regret when he finished reading it.

“Yeah yeah, this means that we’re taking a trip over to the Arcane Market,” he said with a full body shudder. “And that means I can’t take my steam-carriage either.” The Arcane Market had a strict policy against allowing steam-tech of any kind on their grounds, and he knew it. So not only would we be on foot, but he would be surrounded by casters and trinkets galore. This day just wasn’t his day.

“Sorry, buddy,” I said as I clapped him on the shoulder, and I actually meant it. Some people just aren’t comfortable around magic, no matter how prevalent it is. Using my hand on his shoulder to steer him, I pushed Dorf forward away from our desks and towards the front of the station. Hopefully, by the time this day was done, my partner would forget all about what that Dwarven girl had said and I could once again leave my past where it belonged: behind me.

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