Shadow's Ascendance

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Chapter Seven

In certain parts of our fair city, walking around with your badge out will more than likely get you attacked, if not killed. But in places like the Arcane Market, it’s the only way to ensure that you don’t get hassled by shady shop owners or pickpocketed by the various street urchins that are running around. Dorf and I made sure that our coats stayed open so that everyone could see that we were with the police. Thankfully, it was a balmy autumn day and so we really didn’t need the coats for warmth, only protection.

It’s no secret that in our line of work, even as detectives, there is a very good chance of us being attacked at some point during our day. And so we need to wear armor. But, unlike those ridiculous looking knights of old clanking around in all that heavy plate armor, we needed to be able to move and run in ours. Some of our own research and development people created this substance that is similar to Elven mithril but also not as rare and expensive, lightweight and capable of stopping a round from a pistol or a knife stab from a drunk. All of our jackets and coats have this substance, called titanium by the R&D geeks after the mythical beings of old, woven into the lining. I can’t count how many times it has saved my life, and I know for a fact that without it Dorf would not be with us today, so I say “geeks” with much love and respect.

Several times I saw some greasy looking shopkeeper about to open his mouth to try and shill his wares until he saw our badges, the silver shield with a star in front of it; then, he would close his mouth just as quickly as he opened it and try to fade back into the shadows, offering up a prayer that we weren’t here about his shop. Like I said before, everyone knew that if you came to the Arcane Market, it was definitely buyer beware. If we arrested every shop owner who had a claim of false magic representation pressed against him, there wouldn’t be any left.

On the other hand, if they were unlucky enough to fleece someone with some money or connections, then that person would lean on our Chief who would then lean on us, and we would be down here to “make an example” of what happened when you scammed the wrong person. It’s what kept most of the shops down here honest about what they sold…or semi-honest, if truth be told. Being dragged off in chains to pay a fine or face prison time was bad for business.

Like tiny feathers tickling my side, I felt a pickpocket trying to untie my money pouch from my belt. Quick as a whip, I reached down and grabbed the hand, pulling the rest of the person in front of me. But when I did, I got a shock when all I was left holding was said hand. A small individual, barely 6 Hands tall and covered in small blue scales, darted away from me before I could react, holding their suddenly handless arm against their chest as they did so.

“Gods damned Salamanders!” Dorf spit to the side in disgust. “They fucking creep me out, the way they can just shed body parts like that.”

“Yeah, well at least he won’t be plying his trade for a few days until he grows a new one,” I grimaced as I threw the hand away, knowing that within hours it would dissolve into a slimy goo. “That’s one good thing, at least.”

“He must be new to Aerendor. By the time most of the kids that were born here reach his age, they’ve already learned not to pickpocket the police in the AM.” Dorf spit once more to the side before we started walking again. When the boy had run off, all of the shop owners out front hawking their wares had made themselves scarce, and probably wouldn’t come back out until after we had passed their shops by. Can’t say I blame them; I’ve known some other officers and detectives who take out their anger about stuff like that on anyone who was nearby. Lucky for them, neither Dorf nor I were like that. Well, at least I’m not like that. Dorf has his days.

As we walked, Dorf brought up what had happened when they finally located the family of the murdered young woman, who were the Stantons. “You’re not gonna believe this, partner, but they asked that their names be kept outta the news! Something about how they only wanted to grieve in private and whatnot. Normally, that would make me really suspicious, but apparently they are generous donors to the police force, and the Chief sent me a warning to, and I quote, ‘keep your big fucking mouth shut and do what you’re told’ end quote.”

“Really? So, did you do that?”

Chuckling, he smiled at me. “Sure, I made sure I told the press that we had identified the body, but the family –who was Old Blood, just like you suspected- had asked to have their privacy respected, and so no names would be released.”

“Wow, Dorf, I’m kind of surprised that you let the Chief bully you like that.”

He snorted. “Who the fuck are you talking to? Yeah, I didn’t splash their names all over the papers, but I did go down to the city records and look them up. Would you like to know what I found when I researched her name, Gloria Stanton, would ya?” he said enthusiastically.

I rolled my eyes. “Give it up, Dorf, you can’t tell a story to save your life.”

“Like you’re so much better. Fine, asshole, since you don’t want to play, I’ll tell you what I found out: that girl was adopted when she was just a baby, brought in from outta the city, if you can believe it. Maybe they didn’t want it known that they couldn’t have kids.”

“Maybe,” I said slowly, mind spinning as I processed this new information. That explanation could be true, but my gut told me that there was something else going on, something that we were missing. I vowed to keep this in the back of my mind as we kept working.

After about a half hour walk, we finally made it to the Paru Magnu Emporium. That meant “little big” in Gargantus, the Giant language. A play on the fact that Mama Crea was half-Giant, I imagine. You couldn’t say she didn’t have a sense of humor about the fact that her mother had been brutally raped by a hill giant and died giving birth to her. Me personally, I wouldn’t put my pain out there for anyone with some schooling to figure out, but then again I’m me and not her. For some, being that open about their pain means it held no power over them.

Nodding to her bouncer, a Dwarf known only as Stumpy (hey, he’s the one who told us that’s what they call him!), Dorf and I pushed open the swinging doors and went inside. Not that Stumpy has much to do nowadays besides sit on his stool out front and whittle on some wood. His carvings are so well made, a lot of the partial casters use them in their charms and spells. I have one of his carvings, a small bear rearing up on its hind legs, that I use for a focus and it does a great job. He didn’t even look up from whatever project he was working on, just nodded to us and went whittling away. If anyone was dumb enough to cause Mama Crea trouble, she knew all she had to do was whistle and Stumpy would come in flailing away with a massive warclub he had carved himself out of a petrified oak. Nobody had been that dumb in years, though.

Dorf wasn’t an officer twenty years ago, but he was just heading into the Academy and he told me stories of what happened when Mama Crea first came to town. It was gossiped about amongst all of the officers at the time, and so the recruits and rookies heard about it as well. Funny thing is, most half-Giants stopped aging as far as their appearance goes right after they finish puberty, and so she looks the same now as she did back then, supposedly. In fact, she probably won’t show her age until she drops dead if she lives long enough to die of old age. Who knows, maybe she’ll get that lucky. Somebody ought to, after all.

Anyways, when she first came into town, the Arcane Market was ruled over by a prick of an Elf by the name of Nikola. He made all of the people who lived here pay for his “protection” and also took a portion of their profits for “rent”, and if anyone was dumb enough to defy him he just had them run into some kind of “accident”. Yeah, a real class act. When Mama Crea –who just went by Crea back then- heard about all of this, she went to meet with the so-called Maestro of the Market, to see if they couldn’t come to an understanding about how things should change.

Oh, they came to an understanding all right. Crea came to understand that Nikola didn’t respect her gender or her race, and Nikola came to understand that if a half-Giant throws you through the roof of your home, you suffer serious bodily harm upon impact with the ground when you land. I should also mention that he came to understand that half-Giant hide is very tough, like tough enough to withstand being stabbed, since that’s what he tried to do when she came out to check on him. At least, I can only imagine he came to understand that, because after his failed murder attempt Crea came to understand that if you step on an Elf’s head hard enough with a big enough foot, it will be crushed like a melon.

“Detectives Waldorf and Jonas! To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?” Mama Crea’s booming voice rang out from behind the counter, shaking some of the more delicate objects she had displayed amongst her many shelves. Countless charms, trinkets, and other items made up of nearly every type of substance imaginable filled all of the shelves, not cluttered but not a whole lot of empty space between them either. I could feel the energy that some of the items was putting off, but even I would be hard pressed to tell at a glance what was actually magical and what was a well-done fake no more magical than Dorf was without picking said item up. Of course, picking something up so I could get a feel for it would be highly insulting to her, and that’s not the way I wanted this to start.

She didn’t get up, not that either of us expected her to. This was her domain, as it were, and we were merely supplicants. While Dorf may have frowned at that image, I knew when to give others the respect they demanded. Sometimes, you had to bend your knee –figuratively speaking, of course. After she had disposed of Nikola, the half-Giant had bought out an old building that used to be a barn many years ago, and opened up her shop here. The ceiling was high enough that she didn’t risk bumping her head when she stood, and it was large enough that she made the aisles easily navigable for someone her size.

Not only was Mama Crea tall –almost 17 Hands if she stood up straight- but she was big as well, with an impressive girth. If I had to guess, I would place her weight around 40 Stones, and that was probably being nice. I also knew that the red hair on her splotchy dirt-colored head was a wig, since all half-Giants were bald. But, being the gentleman I am (and not being dumb enough to point out something like that to a person who could crush my head between her massive hands like it was a grape), I simply said, “I love how you’ve done up your hair, Mama Crea. It looks very beautiful all curled like that.”

“You flatterer!” she beamed while she batted her eyelashes at me, blue eyes crinkling with mirth. It was an old routine we had, and while some would be disgusted by my gentle flirting with her, I didn’t find anything wrong with it at all. Not that I would ever actually sleep with her, but being friendly didn’t cost me anything and it made her feel good. That’s what I call a win-win in my book. “Stumpy did my hair this morning, isn’t it fabulous?”

“Absolutely amazing,” Dorf agreed with me while doing his best not to look surprised. Trying to picture how that relationship worked on an intimate level was not something I wanted to imagine. I hadn’t known that Stumpy was anything but a bodyguard, but there’s a spoon for every fork as the Halflings say. Of course, all of their sayings are about food, so there is that. “How are you this fine fall day, Mama Crea?”

“Oh, you know. Some days business is good, and some days it’s not, but at least that muggy heat of summer is gone for the year and I can stop sweating buckets. It’s not ladylike to perspire that much, you know.” We both nodded our agreement. “But, I’m sure you didn’t come all this way just to discuss the weather. So, what can I do for you boys?”

One thing I would say about Mama Crea, she ran a clean semi-criminal organization. Not to say she tried to make all of the denizens of the Arcane Market upstanding citizens, but she only charged a small fee based on what each individual could afford. She kept everything fair amongst all of the people, never choosing sides or playing favorites. And, if we came down here with a warrant for someone’s arrest, she let them be taken, knowing that it was almost like a sacrifice to keep everyone else safe to ply their trade. It’s the reason they all love her, and the main reason I cautioned my partner about keeping any negative opinions he had about her to himself, at least until we left this part of the city.

Coming back to myself, I heard Dorf say, “My partner and I are investigating a murder that took place in the Entertainment District last night, and we found a flimsy clue that we’re looking into. It’s not much, but it’s all we got to go on right now.”

“That young girl murdered that I heard the crier talking about this afternoon? Grisly work, that. Poor thing.” Criers were the ones who called out the pressing news to the general public that either couldn’t afford a paper or read. Snapping open her large folded hand fan, Mama Crea waved it in front of her face as if trying to keep herself from fainting. Having heard stories of some pain and punishment she’d had to dish out over the years, I found it hard to believe that anything like a simple murder would upset her delicate condition, but I was wise enough not to say anything. “But why come to me?” she asked. “I didn’t kill her.”

“Because, Mama Crea, this flimsy clue looks to be magical in nature, and everyone knows that you are the one to go to about anything of that sort,” I stepped forward, laying on the flattery thick. Reaching into my duster pocket, I pulled out the description of the playing card that had been found at the scene of the original murder all those years ago. She took it from me.

“Boys, can you go check on the front door? I thought I heard Stumpy calling out or something.” It was one of her vanities, the half-Giant not wanting anyone to see that she now needed reading glasses. Everyone knew it, but both Dorf and I were polite enough to buy into her little lie, and so we both went up front to the entrance and looked out at Stumpy, still sitting on his stool and still carving away. Spotting us both poking our heads out, he simply looked up at us and gave us a polite nod before returning to his work. “Never mind! My ears are playing tricks on me I guess!” we both heard her shout out, and with a shared little grin both Dorf and I went back to the counter where the half-Giant was still sitting, the offending glasses hidden away from our sight.

When we got there, she looked at me and shook her head sadly. “I’m sorry, Detective Jonas, but I personally don’t recognize what you showed me.” If anyone actually knew what tradition she was, they had never shared that with me, but if I had to hazard a guess I would think that she was one of the rarest traditions this side of the Aniwald Ocean: a Psion. Their magic was all done with their mind, though they did use crystals a lot, and it would fit with how large the half-Giant was. Her massive size wouldn’t get in the way if she never had to make lots of gestures, and from what I’ve seen she has a sharp mind. But then again, I’m just guessing.

I sighed in defeat. “Oh well, it was worth a shot. Thanks anyway, Mama Crea.” I reached out for the parchment to put away.

She didn’t hand it back to me, just smiled at me. “I said I didn’t recognize it, but I would be happy to call on someone who might. They deal with the weird and the unusual, and I would say that this qualifies. Would that do?”

Before I could reply, Dorf spoke up. “Hold on, Mama Crea. What would this little favor of yours cost?” I tried not to wince at my partner’s absence of social graces. A little blunter than I liked, I was wondering the same thing but wouldn’t have worded it quite like that.

A small tightening around the eyes was all that gave away how offended Mama Crea was by my partner’s lack of discretion, but she didn’t let it show in her voice. “Nothing at all, Detective Waldorf. Consider this a gesture of good will, to help catch an evil murderer before they strike somebody else down.” She spread her arms wide, as if she was giving us something very generous. In reality, she was. “Now, can I call them?”

Interjecting before my partner could make a bigger ass out of himself, I answered her. “We would be delighted if you would, Mama Crea. Please do.” I gave her a grateful smile and held it as she stared at me, thinking it through as she tapped her forefinger against her lips.

“At least one of you has manners,” she muttered softly. Not knowing what else to do, I shrugged my shoulders while giving her a wink. It seemed to pacify her, at least for now. Lumbering herself out of her seat, she went into the back to make her call and my partner and I waited with baited breath. We both hoped that whomever she was getting a hold of would have answers that we could use, because it wasn’t like we had any other options to chase down.

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