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The Old Ways

December 22, 2013

This story comes from this continuing nagging thought I have about how boring I find fantasy worlds that are trapped in the high middle ages and renaissance.  It’s still sort of dogs me, as does plenty of other stuff about ‘standard fantasy settings’ which is what lead me to right this story.  Of course, the concept of a social worker in a fantasy city that’s similar to late 19th century American ones, is not one that’s just going to catch on with everyone.  Some people didn’t like the setting, the people that liked the setting would have preferred a different story, and ultimately I just didn’t quite nail the main character in the way I probably needed to.  Anyway, I still think it’s a fun read.

Eric Armeeni frowned as he thumbed through his latest case file.

With just a few sheets of paper the city’s Civic Watch had managed to detail the entire life of an eleven year old girl. At the top of the first official looking document was the standard array of identifying information; her name, date of birth, parentage, race, and so on. His eyes glanced over it, absorbing the details even though he didn’t take the time to explicitly read them. Eric had dealt with enough case files to pick up the important things with a glance at the first page.

Chezzi Yo’Grub, eleven years old, and a little over five and a half feet tall. Tall for a Human girl but perfectly average for an Orc her age. She had passed into the city of Stormhaven at the age of four with her mother, a Churlan Yo’Grub. They quickly settled into one of the many neighborhoods that had sprung up next to the textile factories in the Outer Banks, which was starting to be called Little Urkosh after the Urkosh Wastes that so many of its Orcish residents hailed from. She had enrolled in school at the age of six and from all accounts was a stellar pupil. In the past four months though she had started missing class. When she did show up she was described as inattentive, disruptive, and even combative with her fellow students. There were several notes from her current teacher that suggested the woman had originally chalked it up to the girl simply ‘blossoming into womanhood.’ Eric shrugged, it certainly wasn’t uncommon in Orcs for puberty to result in minor outbursts of violence. Hell, it wasn’t uncommon for any race really. Then came the reason why the Civic Watch had taken an interest in the case. After a prolonged absence, the school teacher sought out the girl at home, fearing she had become ill. There was apparently a long argument with the girl’s father, who had finally joined his family across the sea despite the Orc and Goblin quotas that Stormhaven had instituted over twenty years ago, but he had relented and sent her back to school.

Bruises, not even well hidden ones, had been all over Chezzi’s body. She was extremely subdued, even nervous, and kept to herself. After nearly two weeks of consecutive attendance, Chezzi disappeared again.

The Headmaster of the school had made the decision to call in the Civic Watch and Eric had received the file that morning. He sighed, closing the thin folder and putting it back into his leather satchel. He rested his head against the plate glass window of the train he was riding in and closed his eyes.

It was one of the older electric trains, probably a member of the first generation that had replaced the old magically powered ones. Eric’s father had told him about them and even though they were being phased out when he was a child, his memories of them were still very strong. “Silent and smooth,” the words making him sound like a salesman rather than a member of the Court. He’d say it whenever the clacking of the wheels became too loud or the sparks flew a bit too close to the open windows during the humid Stormhaven summers. It was as if he thought that every complaint would somehow stoke the dying flame of magic.

Eric frowned, pushing the thoughts of his father out of his head. He turned, letting his eyes drift over the waters below and the Outer Banks in the distance. It seemed as if he was making the journey out to Little Urkosh at least once a month now. Somewhere in the back of his head a voice was telling him it was because more and more Orc men were flooding into the city, bringing their infamous temperaments with them, but he quashed it quickly. Such thoughts weren’t merely inappropriate for a member of the Civic Watch but they were frankly wrong.

“Just a few bad apples,” he muttered while rubbing his eyes.

The great factories loomed larger and larger as the elevated train began to slow down, preparing for the stop-and-start movement between neighboring stations. The tracks began to curve as the train moved south across the narrow strip of land that had become dominated by industry over the last fifty years. Not that long ago it had been little more than a few fishing villages and lighthouses, but no one would believe that now. With the exception of the large lighthouse at the Old Fort, they were all gone. The fisherman’s sons who once might have followed in their father’s footsteps had become the masons, plumbers, and electricians who built the countless tenements and rowhouses that stood shoulder to shoulder along the narrow streets.

After three halting stops, Eric finally arrived at the Eaffolk Street station. Eaffolk Street was the main corridor of Little Urkosh, bounded by Kundarak to the north and Somerbee to the South. The eastern and western boundaries were a bit more murky. To the west there was an old Goblin enclave and while it was slowly being pushed out by Little Urkosh, there was still a point when the signs went from Orcish to one of a number of Goblin dialects that Eric simply couldn’t parse. Like all residential areas in the Outer Banks, Little Urkosh ended at the Textile Highway, a narrow street that was little more than the back alley for the seemingly countless factories and sweat shops that were crammed along the harbor-facing coast of the Outer Banks.

From the moment he stepped out onto the station’s platform, Eric could smell the distinct scent of roasting equines and dogs that truly marked Little Urkosh. It was one of the hardest things for Eric to understand. Every Orc he had ever met professed a love for the flesh of cows and their ‘sweet milk,’ and despite the fact that if you just crossed to Stormhaven proper you’d find beef everywhere you went, in Little Urkosh it was all horse, donkey, and dog. They were the animals that Orcs traditionally ate in the Urkosh Wastes. The animals that worked in their camps and caravans alongside them, always ready to be sacrificed for the good of the tribe.

The culture of the Urkoshi, the Orcs from the Wastes, was certainly very different than what Eric had grown up with in Stormhaven. Even among the other parts of Ivarra that he had visited, there was nothing quite like it. It was steeped in century long traditions, driven by the honor of one’s family and tribe, and governed by nuanced rules that Eric was still learning how to negotiate.

His frequent trips to the neighborhood had made him more than familiar enough with its layout that he didn’t need to ask anyone for directions to the Yo’Grob’s apartment building. Not that he would ever ask an Orc for directions again. The first time Eric’s work had brought him to Little Urkosh he had spent nearly an hour asking about for directions in his halting accented Orcish before learning that admitting he couldn’t navigate for himself was apparently a very shameful thing.

The Goblin factory foreman who told him this then cajoled a boy into serving as his guide.

“These Orcs,” the Goblin had said in accented Temple while picking his teeth with claw-like nails, “They’re a backwards sort. Gods forbid you don’t know where you’re going, but ‘test a child’s knowledge’ and you’re some kind of sage.” He laughed a cackling high-pitched Goblin’s laugh.

Eric walked down Eaffolk for several blocks, noticing that more and more men seemed to crowd the cafes and taverns with each passing month. Few of them seemed to be finding gainful employment in Stormhaven and they all wore their long dark hair in the top knots that signified them as warriors. Brawls were a common occurrence, though they were always over before someone could call the City Guard.

The real reason that Eric got the majority of the Orc-related cases was that most of his coworkers were unwilling to work with them. They didn’t have anything close to respect for the green skinned people of the Urkosh Wastes. Most of his coworkers just saw dangerous thugs that were unwilling to assimilate into Ivarran society as a whole. Eric understood it though, they had their traditions and they didn’t want to lose them just because they were in a new place. If everyone had become a ‘part of Ivarran society’ the way some people suggested, Ivarra wouldn’t be the vast diverse nation it was.

It would be like the continents of Erroban and Taraval across the sea. Lands segregated by every small difference that could be found constantly threatening war with each other over every perceived slight. It was no place to live or raise a family, at least in Eric’s opinion. In Ivarra, and Stormhaven especially, there was opportunity.

The Yo’Grubs lived in a sturdy brick building that rose five stories above a narrow street, barely discernible from its neighbors on either side. On the rooftops above, Eric could hear the rough voices and throaty laughter of Orc men mixed with the occasional ringing of steel. Sparring was a common pastime for warriors.

On the inside, the building was dark and warm, almost oppressively so despite the Autumn chill of the streets outside. Eric’s eyes stung slightly from acrid herbal smoke that poured out of the stairwell, drifting up from some basement apartment that housed some shaman or other Urkoshi holy man. The fact that the Urkoshi didn’t keep the Gods of the Temple was just one of the countless reasons people remained suspicious of them, but in all of his experiences with them, Eric had no reason to believe their faith was demonic or evil in any way (as countless pamphlets claimed).

Eric mounted the steps and climbed to the fourth floor, happy that the heavy smoke didn’t follow him. As he approached the Yo’Grub’s apartment, he could smell roasting horse and hear the guttural but quick sounds of Orcish. With a deep breath, Eric raised his hand and knocked loudly upon the wooden door.

The Orcish stopped instantly, and a moment later the door was wrenched open by an angry looking young man. Eric stared directly into the Orc’s narrowing eyes, and instantly knew that he was staring into the face of Chezzi’s older brother. He was the spitting image of an Orc on the cusp of manhood; green skin bulging with ropey muscle, a pair of polished tusks jutting up proudly from his lower jaw, and his dark hair hanging in a braid down his back indicating his status as a warrior in training. He spat out several words in Orcish quickly, and while Eric only caught a few of them, one stood out prominently.

Kurak. It meant outsider or foreigner, and not the friendly kind.

Eric took a sharp breath in between his teeth, suddenly realizing that it was going to be one of those types of cases. He smiled at the young man, trying to remember the boy’s name from the file but drawing a blank for some reason. “Hello,” Eric chose to speak in Temple, it was far more official and authoritative than trying to speak in Orcish, “My name is Eric Armeeni, and I’d like to speak with Chezzi, please.”

The young man’s dark eyes narrowed, and he snarled, slightly jutting his tusks forward.

Eric leaned his own head forward, and locked eyes with the young man. This was not the first time an angry young Orc had tried to engage him in a test of wills. He still hadn’t learned the exact origins of this contest or what its significance was but he understood how to win it. With great care, Eric pressed his own forehead against the boy’s, and repeated himself calmly, “I am here to speak with Chezzi Yo’Grub. Bring her here.” Clearing out his throat, he spoke the last word in practiced Orcish, “Boy.

The young man jutted forward again, but Eric stood his ground. With a few angry words, he stormed back into the apartment but did not invite him in. A long moment passed before Chezzi’s father appeared at the door. Gurosh Yo’Grub was a prime specimen of an Orc male. At eight feet tall, his broad frame filled the doorway, and the way he tilted his head downward to look at Eric was more than a little intimidating.

“You are not Chezzi, Mr. Yo’Grub,” Eric stated with confident assurance, staring up into the larger man’s face.

“What do you want with my daughter, kurak?” His voice was rough and deep, rumbling through his barrel sized chest as he spoke.

“That is between me and her.”

“Are you with that school my woman sent her to?” Gurosh crossed his large arms in front of him.

“No, sir. Though her lack of attendance does concern me,” Eric reached into his coat and pulled out the amulet that served as his badge of office. It was a simple piece of polished metal hung on a plain leather strap that he chose to keep tucked away in an interior pocket. “I am with the Civic Watch of Stormhaven and there’s reason for us to believe that your daughter might not be safe in your care.”

“What?!” He thundered, switching to Orcish instinctively.

“I’m sorry, sir. I understand that you’re upset but all I need to do is speak with Chezzi and everything will be fine.”

“How dare you!”

The door slammed in his face, and Eric sighed. He knocked again, and continued to tap his knuckles against the door until finally it was wrenched open again by a visibly angry Gurosh Yo’Grub.

Eric held up a hand, “Sir, you can let me in now to talk to your daughter or I can return with the City Guard and we can forcibly remove you from your home while she and I have a discussion.”

He could tell that the man was more than angry. In fact, many emotions registered across his face but it was the threat of the City Watch that got him to step aside. As it always did in cases like this.

The apartment was only made up of a few rooms and none of them were particularly large. A narrow kitchen sat off of the parlor along with two bedrooms, one of which was only just big enough to house the bed that sat in it. Sitting on an old dilapidated couch in the parlor was Chezzi herself, dressed in a plain skirt and shirtwaist. She was thin for an Orc girl, and there was no attempt to hide the bruises on her face and the marks on her hand. With a longer glance, Eric could see that her skirt was threadbare and her shirtwaist was starting to split at the seams. Spread across her lap was a pair of men’s trousers, too small to be her father’s but just the right size for her brother’s, that she was busily mending.

Eric stepped forward, but before he could ask a single question, Gurosh stepped forward and spoke in clipped Orcish, “Chezzi. We have a guest. Present yourself.”
Chezzi snapped to attention, almost dropping her sewing before catching it, the needle catching against her forearm and drawing blood. She began to apologize profusely, though to who was not entirely clear to Eric, as she carefully handled the pants with her unbloodied hand folding and placing them on the couch. Despite the trickle of blood winding its way down her arm, she stood facing Eric with the Orc approximation of a smile.

No one moved to bind the small wound and Chezzi didn’t seem to react to it at all.

She bowed her head and curtsied while Gurosh took a seat in a sturdy looking chair and gestured for Eric to take its partner. “Wife! Hraak!”

An older Orc woman bustled out from the kitchen, and she too looked as if she had lost weight recently. Deep bags ringed her eyes and she looked as if she might fall over as she handed Eric a cup half filled with the Urkoshi drink of choice.

Hraak was not something Eric was certain he would ever be able to get used to. It wasn’t much stronger than beer but it was a thick sludge and tasted of dirty earth. Eric doubted that it would ever grow popular anywhere else in Stormhaven.

Knowing that not drinking would insult his host, Eric gulped it down with a broad smile. “Thank you,” he said to Chezzi’s mother. The older woman just bowed her head and returned to the kitchen. Turning his head he found that Chezzi was still standing. Eric was about to ask her to sit when he remembered that it was not his place to do so in Gurosh’s house.

Urkoshi custom dictated that the man of the house was the one who made such invitations and commands. It was clear that Gurosh had no intention of telling his daughter to sit.

Eric dispensed with the suggestion that he normally conducted his interviews in private. There was no privacy in this house, and that had nothing to do with its size. Taking a note book and pen from his bag, Eric smiled at Chezzi, introduced himself, and then began his questions.

It was not long before she was denouncing her school. “They teach me useless things that will never help me or my people,” her voice was filled with a false anger that seemed to please Gurosh. The lines continued, and the whole time Eric could see her eyes darting to her father and back to him.

He realized as he sat there, listening to her father’s words, that the entire interview was pointless. Chezzi was clearly a bright girl, and she knew he didn’t believe a word she said but her father did. That’s all that mattered, that her father heard her deny the concept of education and her own scholarly achievements.

“Thank you, Chezzi,” he had heard more than enough. There was an easy way to solve this problem, at least for the moment. “I’m sorry to say though that currently, given your age and active enrollment in a school, you will be expected to continue to attend for at least the remainder of the semester. If you do not, or you continue to be disruptive in class, I will have to come back with the City Guard and conduct a full investigation. Do you understand, Chezzi?” He kept his gaze squarely on the eleven year old girl, even though no one in the room was unaware who he was actually speaking to.

“Yes, sir,” her voice as sweet and adamant as it had been while she had lied to him.

“Thank you.” He inclined his head to both her and Gurosh before rising from his seat and taking his leave.

It was a long walk back to the train station, and the scent of roasting mule hung heavily in the air. The hraak’s bitter taste still sat on his tongue, and Eric knew it would be a long time until he was able to get rid of it.

 

#

Chezzi’s school was on the opposite side of the harbor, over half an hour ride by train. It was a thin but tall building not far from the dockside, and made of the dark rock that had once covered the sides of Stormhaven’s harbor. Students were already leaving for the day when Eric arrived, and he waded through the crowds of children as they ran about laughing and joking amongst themselves.

He looked across the street, watching as the children separated into small knots and groups of friends that were busily chatting about their classes and what they’d do before dark when they would be forced to start on their homework. Eric couldn’t help but wonder which one of those clusters of children was missing the tall frame of Chezzi Yo’Grub that afternoon.

The interior hallways of the school were largely quiet, with few children still roaming the halls. Only teachers remained, and most of them were quickly tidying their classrooms or going over their own notes before they left for the day. No one questioned him as he moved through the halls. Eric looked like someone official, dressed as he was in a neat pair of pressed slacks, clean shirt, and overcoat. His purposeful stride only helped solidify his standing amongst any of the teachers he saw.

Eric hesitated briefly at the doorway to Ms. Blackrock’s classroom. He was surprised to find that it was a well lit room, the sun shining through the tall windows that looked out on the calm harbor. For a moment, looking out on the still blue waters of the bay, Eric wondered just how long it would remain peaceful this year.

“Can I help you?” A strong feminine voice asked from amongst the rows of student desks.

Ms. Blackrock was a broad Dwarf woman with a matronly demeanor. She wore a sensible frock with a conservative cut and kept her hair neatly bundled at the base of her wide skull. Her shoes clicked softly as she walked toward him, carefully appraising him as she did.

“I’m sorry, I’m Eric Armeeni. I’m with the Civic Watch.”

Her face took on a sad knowing look as she nodded, “Chezzi?”

“Yes. I just came back from interviewing her and I was hoping that I could speak with you.”
“Of course,” she gestured toward a seat beside her desk and sat down behind it. “I have a feeling it didn’t go well.”
“No,” he replied as he sat down, “Not particularly. I think she’ll return to school. I made it clear that if she doesn’t finish out the semester then I would have to return with the City Guard.”

“Would you?”

“Of course. There’s few who would believe that she’s not being abused but I can’t say that the city’s orphanages would be much better for her. It’s not something I like doing but it’s part of the job.”
“I’ll be honest, Mr. Armeeni, I’m amazed that you left her there at all if you feel that way.”

“It’s not about what I feel, Ms. Blackrock. The Urkoshi are different from you and I, they have their own ways and we have to respect them.”

“To an extent.” She finished the sentence with a frown. “You can’t possibly tell me that we should let a girl get beaten simply because it’s the Urkoshi way.”

“No, but…” Eric sighed, “Many children get beaten in this city, Ms. Blackrock. Many children don’t go to school. We just have to save the ones that we can. In this case, I think that the threat of the City Guard will get her parents to fall in line.”

“Her father, you mean. Her mother is the one who enrolled her here.”

“Whoever it is.”

Ms. Blackrock rolled her eyes, “Is everyone in the Civic Watch as evasive as you, Mr. Armeeni?”

“I’m considered the confrontational one in the office, Ms. Blackrock.”

“Then it is no wonder that many children get beaten and don’t go to school in this city.”

“I’m sorry that you feel that way.”

Her lips remained pressed into a single disapproving line.

“Either way, Ms. Blackrock. I want to leave you with my contact information. Chezzi’s case is not officially closed until I’m satisfied and I won’t be satisfied until she’s coming to school regularly and acting like herself. I’d like to speak to her again as well, not the first day she comes in but sometime in the next few weeks. That interview will have to be conducted here for obvious reasons.”

“Right.”

“I appreciate your cooperation and thank you again for keeping an eye out for her.”

“She’s a very bright girl, Mr. Armeeni. She’s sweet, and shy. Or at least she was. I just want to see her do well again.”

“Of course,” Eric smiled, rose from his seat and left Ms. Blackrock at her desk.

The teacher frowned as she watched the retreating form of Eric Armeeni. Her fingers carefully dug into the collar of her dress and pulled out a small string of neatly carved stone prayer beads. “By the Gods, in their Heavenly Dominion…” she began to pray.

 

#

On days like this, Eric Armeeni preferred to get drunk.

The sun was falling behind the ever growing spires of Stormhaven as Eric sat at the bar of an old basement tavern. It was the preferred watering hole for many employees of Stormhaven’s government. A government that seemed to barely be able to keep up with its ever expanding populace. Many people were overworked and underpaid, which lead to a common need for drink.

Eric didn’t actually have much of a problem with his pay, but some days he certainly had a problem with his job.

The sweet malty beer washed away the still lingering taste of hraak from his mouth. He hated hraak, and the fact that he was forced to drink it with people that beat their wives and children while they told him about how happy their families were drove him to basement taverns like this one.

The stool next to his scraped against the sawdust covered floor and was occupied by a tall broad shouldered man in a thick gray coat and wide brimmed hat. “Whiskey, John,” came the rough voice of one of Eric’s favorite drinking partners. Two glasses were set before the tall man and he tossed the first one back before settling in to nurse the second. “Thanks, John,” the coins that were dropped against the bar disappeared before they even finished clattering against it.

“Hey, Detective,” Eric muttered as he took another long pull of his beer.

“Evening, Eric. Bad day?”

“Yeah.”
“Little Urkosh?”

“How’d you guess?”

“The only times you’re in here for more than a round or two is when you’ve either had to drink Hraak or close a case on a kid you knew was in trouble.”

“I might as well close the case on this kid. Though it’d probably get reopened in a few months.”

“That bad?”

Eric tried to speak but he couldn’t find the words. His mouth kept opening and his hand kept gesturing but no sound ever actually left his body.

“Damn,” the detective replied as he took a long sip of his whiskey.

“It’s getting harder to let things slide over there in the Outer Banks. I know that the Urkoshi culture is different and I need to respect that but…” Eric shook his head, letting out one long breathy sigh, “Sometimes, and I know it’s inappropriate, I just think that they’re wrong. They’re just wrong. They’re dirty savages who are evil and no amount of gentle nudging or education is going to change that.” He frowned, and turned to look at his friend, “No offense.”

“None taken,” Detective Ur’Harosh replied, tipping the wide brimmed hat that covered up his warrior top knot back across his head.

“Does that make me a bad person?”

“No.”

“But we can’t just dictate how people are supposed to act…”

“Eric, let me ask you something.”

“Ok.”

“Why can’t we dictate how they’re supposed to act? Isn’t that the job of the Civic Watch?”

“No, our job is to ensure the safety of people in various situations; the work place, home, schools, and so on. We’re not supposed to tell people that their culture is wrong. I mean, it’s not my place to tell someone how the they’re supposed to raise their child, even if what I think their doing is wrong. I’m there to make sure the law is being observed and the child is alright.”

“Is the child alright?”

“It’s a gray area…”

“You know, my father raised me in the Urkoshi Traditions. Took our family out to New Atalon not long after I was born. He always told me it was like home, and that’s why he decided to move us there, so we could grow up hearing the stories of our people and learning what Orcs needed to know. And I did. I became an honorable Warrior but do you know what else he did?”

Eric shook his head, turning to look at the detective.

One of Detective Ur’Harosh’s tusk’s was chipped, and he had several scars across his face from wounds that had never quite healed right. “He used to beat me and my sisters every day. It had nothing to do with teaching us a lesson or Urkoshi culture. He just beat us. If I ever have children, Gods willing, I want them to learn about my people. I want them to be able to sing my tribe’s songs and tell our stories but I’m not going to beat them just because my father beat me. If I have a daughter, I’m not going to prevent her from learning how to read just because that’s how my grandfathers would have wanted it.” The Detective tossed back the remainder of his whiskey and shook his head, “And if you have to choose between respecting their culture and protecting some kid that doesn’t know any better, then Eric you need to ask yourself why you’re doing this in the first place.”
Eric frowned, he wanted to argue with Ur’Harosh. That there was something about the traditions of a people that mattered but it sounded simply like progressive idealism rather than what needed to be done.

“Another round, John.” Ur’Harosh’s voice was flat and somber as he gestured to both himself and Eric.

 

#

Morning found Eric Armeeni’s head throbbing from the night before. Somewhere in the distance he could hear a horrific ringing that was threatening to tear his skull in twain with its terrible noise. He groaned while attempting to push himself to something resembling a sitting position before his whole body plummeted to the ground, the room spinning uncontrollably around him.

A couple of minutes went by as his face was pressed against the dirty wood of his bedroom floor. The metallic ringing noise continued unabated only for him to realize it was the sound of the boarding house’s telephone. Fumbling to his feet, Eric stumbled out of his room and wondered why his land lady had yet to answer the screeching device.

The glare of the mid afternoon sun through the windows told him instantly why no one was answering it. Everyone was either at work or out running errands by this hour, and there he was fighting to keep whatever remained in his stomach in its proper place. He gripped the thin black shaft of the phone through bleary eyes and tore the receiver from its cradle before pressing it to his ear. Holding the microphone to his face, Eric was happy that his words at least weren’t slurred as he spoke, “Hello, this is Eric Armeeni speaking, you have reached the Central Arms Boarding House.”

“Mr. Armeeni, finally!” Even through the phone’s crackling and distortion he recognized the matronly tone of Ms. Blackrock, “I feared I would never reach you. Chezzi returned to school today.”

“I am very glad to hear that, Ms. Blackrock. If that’s all you’ve called to inform me of, I’m afraid I must beg your forgiveness but…”

“No, no, I’m sorry. There’s something far more important that I must tell you. During lunch today, she came up to me and thanked me profusely for all that I taught her. She even hugged me.” Eric blinked, and he could already feel a frown forming on his face as Ms. Blackrock continued to speak, “She then asked if she could go to the bathroom, and since it was the lunch hour I didn’t think anything of it but she… Mr. Armeeni, she never returned. We’ve searched the whole school and no one can find her. One of the students said they saw her leaving, Mr. Armeeni.”

Eric cursed under his breath, “How long ago was this?”

“Less than an hour ago…”

“Alright, Ms. Blackrock, I need you to contact the City Guard. Have them dispatch a Detective Ur’Harosh and any patrolmen available in the Outer Banks to Chezzi’s address now. Do you understand?”

“I can do that but I’m not sure…”

“As long as you do it, Ms. Blackrock. I have to go. It takes over half an hour to cross the harbor by train, but if I catch a car I can make it across the bridge in less than that.” He hung up the phone, and didn’t even bother to change from his wrinkled clothes before dashing out the door.

Since most people were at work and the traffic of the day was dying down it didn’t take long for Eric to catch a carriage, though the driver was less than thrilled when he started directing the man toward the Outer Banks. When they departed the bridge and turned up Eaffolk Avenue the driver would have stopped if Eric didn’t give him another ten piece coin.

He had little proof that anything foul had actually happened to Chezzi but there was a strong feeling in his gut that something was wrong. Children had certainly thanked members of the Civic Watch or whoever called in the Civic Watch before, that wasn’t strange. It was doing so before disappearing that made him worry. The types of people that did that were often prone to hurting themselves or worse…

Several patrolmen in the City Guard’s dark blue uniforms were already standing outside of the apartment building looking confused. Next to them, with a deep set frown on his face was Detective Ur’Harosh. He too wore the same suit that he had been wearing when Eric had parted ways with him the night before. Eric leaped from his carriage, and didn’t bother to slow down as he pulled out his Civic Watch amulet and called for the patrolmen to follow.

The acrid smoke from the basement filled his lungs the moment he entered, but Eric ignored it as he took the stairs two at a time with two or three patrolmen hot on his heels. The smoke continued to tickle his nose and throat by the time they reached the fourth floor. He coughed slightly, banging his fist against the door. On the other side of it, he could hear sobbing and pleading in Orcish.

“Open up! This is the Civic Watch and the City Guard. I demand you open this door now or we will break it down.”

A sturdy Dwarf patrolman brushed him aside and shook his head, “They’re not going to open up now, ya idiot.” He barreled his broad shoulder into the door and it crumpled in an instant.

The door swung open to reveal Churlan Yo’Grub sitting on her floor sobbing. Blood was oozing from several cuts on her face and arms, her dress was torn, and bruises were already forming on her skin. “Gods damn it!” Eric shouted wheeling about as the woman continued to wail.

“Armeeni! Down here!” Shouted Ur’Harosh from below.

Eric bounded down the stairs, following Ur’Harosh as he descended toward the smoke filled basement. The heat in the rest of the building was nothing in comparison to the inferno of the basement. Steam poured out of a boiler closet and smoke seeped from the doorframe of the one residence. Ur’Harosh gestured toward the door and shook his head, “Sacrificial incense.”

The patrolmen caught up, and they all drew their pistols.

Ur’Harosh lifted his powerful leg and kicked in the door.

Smoke billowed out of the apartment, along with the chanting of several Orc men. The patrolmen poured in and Ur’Harosh wasn’t far behind them. The carnage was quick and deadly, blades were drawn, guns were fired, and bones were snapped. Eric didn’t care for any of it though, all that mattered to him was the unconscious form at the center of the basement parlor.

Chezzi Yo’Grub was in the midst of some kind of mystical triangle, surrounded by animal bones, obsidian tools, and plants that Eric didn’t recognize. She was naked, covered in minor cuts, some kind of paint, and countless bruises. Around her, dead or dying, was her father, brother, and an old man in threadbare robes wearing the decaying skin of some kind of predator from the Urkoshi Wastes. The Shaman who apparently was going to sacrifice her to some ancient spirit for some reason or another.

Eric wasn’t sure how much time passed from when they found the girl to when he was standing outside again. Lamps were coming to life all across the Outer Banks though by the time Detective Ur’Harosh stepped up next to him, and handed him his hip flask. Eric didn’t even ask what it was before tipping it to his mouth and passing it back. The burning felt good in his throat, though it did little to cleanse it of the smoke that had filled his lungs.

“Apparently, by drawing the attention of the Civic Watch, she had brought shame to the family,” Ur’Harosh spoke in that flat somber tone he always used to describe his cases, “She wasn’t even supposed to go to the school. She was hoping she would be safe there but her brother had shown up to retrieve her. Gods only know what he would have done if she hadn’t come out to meet him. Apparently the mother tried to stop it but I suppose that’s not so surprising. She was probably next on the list in all honesty.”

“What list?” Eric found himself dazed, uncertain if it was the booze from Ur’Harosh’s flask or the remnants of his hangover.

“The Shaman’s list of shameful women who had brought dishonor upon the tribe.”

“Gods…”

Night fell on the city of Stormhaven, and as Eric Armeeni took the train back across the harbor he watched as the water turned choppy and frothy. Storm season was beginning.

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