The Sunbird was prepared and ready to go by the time we set foot on her wooden deck. Cane in hand I led the ladies to Over’s quarters.
“Marcus, good to see you,” said my old friend. “I see you have come with yet another lovely lady, lad. Are you starting a collection?” He asked humorously.
I laughed gingerly “No, Ovur, this is Crista. She is a new acquaintance of mine and will be assisting me on this rescue.
Ovur rose from his chair and walked over to Crista. He put out his hand for hers and she gave it to him, He bent slightly at the waist and gently kissed the back of it.
“A pleasure to make your acquaintance, Lady Crista and might I say what a lovely name it is.”
“Nice to meet you as well, Captain and thank you, another dwarf to whom I was quite close to named me so.”
“Really? That sounds like quite the story.”
“I’m sure it is,” I interrupted. “But Ovur, this is a time critical situation.”
“Right, right. Let get the bird in the air and then take her for a swim shall we.”
Ovur led us out of his quarters and back to the deck. He began shouting orders and his men set the ship in motion. You could hear the low rumble of the steam engine from the decks below. The ship waded out into the water and after a few minute the Sun Bird took to the air. I stood back, close to the wall next to the door to below deck. I don’t get air sickness per say, I just had a really bad experience last I was on the Sun Bird. Tanis and Crista however seemed to enjoy every bit of it and marveled over the city below.
With the sun down, Luimere shone like a luminous beacon letting the entire world know where it stood. She was beautiful, my city and brutal all at the same time. I decided to distract my discomfort by going through cane fighting and sword forms. Nearly as quickly as we had ascended the Sun Bird began its descent to the dark waters of the bay. I looked at my pocket watch, the time was drawing near and we were right on pace. I hoped for once in my life everything went according to plan.
The stunning airship splashed down two miles from the building’s location. Ovur prepared to lower a small rowboat fitted with a miniature steam engine and a pair of paddles. Crista, Tanis and I climb inside. I heard the gears and pulleys go to work as the boat was lowered into the sea. Ovur bid us good luck and told me he’d keep an eye out for the signal.
I started the engine and steered us toward the docks of the lab building. As we rode Tanis checked the blade of the sword Lucy had given her, it was plain looking short blade that with the push of a button would become electrically charged. Crista began to strip out of her clothing. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t look. Beauty could not truly describe the combination of her lean sculpted frame and shape elven features. I felt my cheeks heat up and had to once again avert my eyes. In my head I heard Crista softly laugh in amusement.
We drew nearer to our destination and right on time several explosions could be heard. These were followed by the sound of gunfire and elemental forces. I brought the boat in and beached it beneath the docks. The naked Crista hopped out of the boat and before her feet touched the ground she was Shadow Stepper again.
Tanis and I followed behind the silent wolf. I slid on my goggles and change the view to the thermal setting. The little gears turned and I could see the very heat that both Tanis and Shadow Stepper emitted. I looked up above us and could not see the two guards that would have normally been standing by the gate.
I switched the lenses back to the normal setting and we three crept up to the dock above. We eased our way up to the gate and bore witness to the chaos I had devised. The Silverstein’s had more men than I anticipated. There were already bodies lying around everywhere. Orcs were smashing through men with massive melee weapons. The Lurkers were dumping round after round of ammunition at the guardsman. The guardsmen were retaliating with the same amount of ferocity. Bolts of lighting and blast of fire were being tossed around as well.
Periodically a Single bolt would fly across the battle and some poor guard’s head would be missing. Brill had really gotten a handle on the Storm Caller.
“Welcome to the party,” said Lucy’s voice in my head. A moment later her little clockwork beetle was hovering before my face.
“Lucy, did you find them?” I asked.
In my mind she replied, “Yes, they are under lock and key in the sub-basement. Looks like they have a few guards and a steam-bot.”
“Steam-bot?” I asked.
“Think Tanis, but bulkier, heavily armed and no free will. They are essentially bronze golems with guns.”
I swore, “Now, I’m regretting leaving Lucy with you.”
“Oh, you’ll be fine. It’s just a clunky, un-artistic chunk of metal with bullets.”
“Right... Well lead the way,” I looked to Tanis. “Go ahead and use your invisibility, Shadow Stepper and I will creep along, stay close. Lucy is leading the way.”
Tanis nodded and a moment later was no longer visible. Shadow Stepper dipped low and we stalked after Lucy’s Beetle. We entered into the front door of the building unnoticed by the guards fending off the attacks from the two gangs. The door led into a sparse lobby that seem to be used as a command post for the guards, there were a few tables set up with what appeared to be playing cards and abandoned food. We followed the little beetle across the room and through another doorway, which led to a small hall; at the end of the hall we reached a staircase led both up and down stairs.
We quickly went down the stairs making as little noise as possible. Less than a minute later we reached a gray door with a sign on it that read sub-basement. I cracked the door slightly, allowing Lucy’s beetle to skirt through.
“There are two guards in the hallway,” Lucy voice whispered in my mind. I was quite sure why she was whispering.
I reached into my pocket and withdrew one of the potions Lucy had given me. I open the door and tossed the bottle at the guardsman’s feet. The bottle shattered and the hall was nearly instantaneously filled with a thick fog. I switched my goggles to the heat vision setting and crept into the hallway.
I swiftly and quietly crept up to one of the guards blindly scanning the hall. Using my cane I swept out the guardsman’s legs and landed a crushing blow to the man’s skull. To my right I could see the thermal image of Shadow Stepper pouncing the other blinded guard. The man struggled briefly before I heard the distinct sound of his neck snapping.
After a minute the fog dissipated and we stood in an empty hallway with one unconscious and one dead guard. I reverted my goggles back to the clear setting and surveyed the hallway, silent and ready to pounce if anyone were to enter.
“At the end of the hall there is a bronze door. One of the guards should have the key.” Lucy’s voice informed me.
With haste I searched the bodies looking for the key. What I found was a gear like disk attracted to a key’s handle. We pressed onward down the dimly lit hall to the final door. Briefly, I felt the rumble of another explosion from above. The very building shook on its foundations. I nodded to Shadow Stepper and headed for the door.
The door was actually a pair of large bronze and brass double doors. The locking mechanism was a sight to be held. A collection of gears and cogs, combined with brass levers and pulleys. To be honest it was a bit overdone. I did not imagine that the kid or the doctor needed more than your average door for keeping them.
I placed the key in the slot where there appeared to be a missing gear. I turned the key toward the right and the door immediately went into motion, the gears spinning and the large bolts unlocking from place. I hopped back several feet; unsure of which way the big doors would swing. I pressed the ruby on the top of my cane and twisted the handle to trigger the transformation.
I followed the motion by throwing another fog potion at the opening door. I tapped the button on my goggles once more and prepared my sword to make the attack quick and sudden. The final bolt clicked and the doors swung inward sucking the fog in with them. In a split second I took in the heat signatures. There were four guards, two to each side of the room, and in the center was a massive, blazing red figure.
Bullets shredded through the doorway in a tidal wave of lead. I ducked low and dived into the room. With a roll and a single upward swipe, I separated the nearest guard from his arms. The guard reeled back screaming as his blood sprayed from the stumps. I kicked the man firmly in the mid-section, launching him to the path of his ally.
The blind guard fired several more rounds that, as intended landed firmly in the armless henchman. In the shadow of the fallen guard I advanced on the second in an attempt to remove his head from his shoulders. To my left I heard the winding of a Gatling gun, just in time to change my direction. Bullets streak before the lenses of my goggles as white streaks of light. Nearly ventilated, I rolled hard to the left coming up next to Shadow Stepper, who was mauling another guard behind a crate.
The room itself appeared to be a converted storage room. There were a number of wooden boxes and crates stacked high, conveniently providing cover. There were still two guards left, which I mentally pointed out to Lucy was not the aforementioned two total. The large steam-powered robot with the Gatling gun stood ominous in the center of the room. Behind the robot was another door and faintly I could make out the form of two more warm bodies.
“That gun is going to be a problem. It may not kill us, it will definitely stop us.” Shadow Stepper said with my mind.
“I can tell you from first-hand experience taking a lot of bullets at a single time will absolutely stop us.”
“It appears to be hunting by sight and sound. What of Tanis, young one?” She asked.
“Tanis!” I yelled as both the robot and the two remain guardsmen opened fire on my location.
Shadow Stepper and I parted ways and retreated to new places of cover. A moment later I heard a whisper so close, I nearly thought it was another voice in my head.
“Do you believe you can shove the electrically charged blade into the power core of that robot?”
“Point me in the right direction.”
“Just a moment, let me ask Lucy.”
“The power core on that model should be just above the miniature furnace. In the general region of the heart would be located on a person. Tell her just about where her own power core is located. Lucy relayed to me.
I passed the information to the invisible Tanis. The fog from the potion cleared and I got a clear view of the machine. It stood eight feet tall, nearly nine including the twin smokestacks protruding from the ammunition pack on its back. The machine had the head and torso of a man in bulky armor made of steel and bronze. Its right arm for the elbow down was the Gatling gun. The left appeared to be shaped in the form of a double head axe, popular among the orcish community.
The lower body was a heavy armored base that sat atop a pair of large treads. The bot appeared to be able to swivel on its waist while firing. I grabbed the nearest box and threw it in the robot’s path; the chain gun on the big machine’s arm winded up and unleashed a flurry of bullet disintegrating the box to nothingness.
The sight was intimidating up until the enchanted blade of Tanis’s sword protruded from the chest of the big machine. The electricity arced and flared off of the bronze body of the metal golem, and then exploded in a small shower of metal coal and flame. The shrapnel tore through the, walls, crates and flew over the ducking guardsmen. I immediately charged one of the guards as he was returning to his feet.
As my short blade penetrated the abdomen of the guard, I could hear Shadow Stepper’s growl as she pounced the other guardsman. Bullets from both men’s guns rang throughout the room and both fell silent. I withdrew my blade, wiping it clean on the dead guard’s shirt. I honestly had nothing against the man, he just happened to work for the wrong person.
Quickly, I searched the guard for another key. Upon finding it, I rushed to the other door in the room. Tanis and Crista, in her elven form once more, appeared next to me. Tanis handed Crista her knapsack, which contained a shirt and a pair of pants. As the naked she-wolf got dressed, I unlocked the door that held the kid and his father captive.
The sparse room only contained a single cot. On it sat Doctor Dorn and the kid, the doctor wrapped around his son with his back to the door. The doctor, who looked worn and haggard, stared back at us. His eyes grew wide and a faint smile of relief flashed across his blood stained face. He rose as Tanis entered the room.
“Amelia!” he said his arms stretched wide.
Tanis melted into his embrace and the kid joined them.
“What are you doing here?” The doctor asked fear making his voice crack.
“Rescuing you and our child,” she told him.
I stood there stunned.
“Wait,” I said “Amelia? Our child? I know I have taken some pretty big hits the last couple of days but, I’m a bit confused.”
“I don’t believe we have the time for this Marcus. In short, I am Amelia Silverstein,” Tanis said in her usual detached voice.
I’m fairly certain my jaw was on the floor.
“I am the worst detective ever,” I said aloud.
“I do not believe now is the time to discuss this,” Crista chimed in.
“She’s right,” I agreed. “We need to get to the roof fast. Doctor, are you and you son okay to walk possibly run?”
“If it means getting out of this place, yes we can.”
“Good, let’s go. I’m not sure how much longer the others can remain topside before the authorities make their way to a disturbance in Lower City.”
I took the lead, following Lucy’s clockwork beetle. We rushed for the lifts; I prayed to the fates that they were operational. Thankfully they were, we piled in and began our ascent to the top floor.
“Okay, while we have a moment breathe, explain,” I said.
“Braylen doesn’t know,” Tanis said.
“No time like the present,” I retorted.
Dr. Joseph Dorn sighed deeply. “My wife Amelia did not survive the birth of our son. I was able to capture her spirit before it passed over to the Reflection, the spirit world. I had already been working on a fully-fledged automaton and I could not bear the thought of raising Braylen alone.” The doctor squeezed Tanis and Braylen close. “The hardest part of creating an automaton is creating a way for the device to think on its own. To create a machine that can learn, adapt and integrate with its surroundings. I found stories of a great sword that was fused with the soul of a sword master. I researched for nearly a year before I found a reasonable spell that came close to the ritual that was performed in the legend.”
“With the hardware and programing complete on the automaton I willingly used necromancy to infuse Amelia’s soul to the automaton’s body. The bot was originally designed for covert operations and preloaded with knowledge for weapons, tactics, and protection details.”
“That is amazing.” I said the sentiment echoed in my mind and Lucy said the same thing.
The elevator came to a halt at the top floor. Crista with Tanis’s sword in hand exited the lift alongside me. We scanned the room for guards and possible traps. Outside, I could hear the battle waning down. “Sounds like we are running out of time.” I said.
“Daddy, I’m scared,” the kid said.
“Don’t worry, son,” Doctor Dorn told him reassuringly. “Can I ask how we are making our escape?”
“Airship, come on the roof access is this way.” I said.
I hurried them along toward the roof access door. There was another guard standing there with his weapon trained on us. I swore, and without a moment’s hesitation, lobbed my sword at him. The blade flew point over end and landed firmly in the poor guard’s throat. Today was a bad day to get roof duty.
I searched the body while the others kept eye out for more guards. Upon finding the key, I unlocked the steel door to the roof and corralled everyone through. I retrieved my sword and grabbed the slain man’s pistol. I handed the pistol to Tanis, I mean Amelia, needlessly to say I hadn’t a clue what to call her at that point. The roof of the building was a tar covered flat top. Thankfully it was clear of guardsmen and of large chimney stacks. I positioned myself on the eastern side of the building, the closest side to the bay. I shook out the brass bracelet cut in the dwarven design of a never end knot surrounding a large fire opal.
I pressed the fire opal and raised my hand above my head. The knot work began to move and a small funnel formed, a cone of flame half as tall as the building itself stretched toward the blackened clouds in the night sky. The others gasped in surprise and much as I. I knew then why Lucy called the bracelet Dragon’s Breath.
“Okay, we have to expect that the guards are going to make their way up here. Let us do what we can to bar the door until Ovur arrives with the Sun Bird.”
“We could slide this sword between the handle.” Amelia said holding the enchanted short sword in hand.
“That will work.”
I took the blade from her and rushed to the door. I slid the blade through the handle and firmly wedge the point into the lip of wall that protruded next to the door. A bit of electricity arced along the metal door. I returned to the others and stood facing the door.
“Marcus, I cannot thank you enough for this.” Tanis-Amelia said.
“We’re not out of the fire yet. I am curious though.”
“Heiress to an empire. You seemed rather adept in the way of war.”
She smiled her chocolate colored face heavy in shadow.
“My father wanted boys, he got girls. One of us had to make up for that. He taught me and trained me as if I were a son than a daughter. Combine that with the pre-installed programing and you get… what did you call me Super Nanny,” she smiled.
“If that is the case, why does he treat your son the way he does?”
“Because he loved me more than he loves my son. Like my sister, I was never intended to have children. My father did not approve of my marriage to Joseph and was filled with rage at my passing. I believe in his eyes Joseph and Braylen took his daughter from him.”
“That is a sad thought.” Crista whispered.
Before long the Sun Bird could be heard overhead. The ship’s crew threw down a rope ladder. Through all the noise I could hear activity coming from the floor below.
“Hurry!” I yelled.
Dr. Dorn aided Braylen onto the ladder and the two of them began to climb. Amelia-Tanis followed after them handing me the pistol. I heard the scream of someone getting electrocuted by the charged door. I looked up to see the Dorns nearly in the ship and Amelia-Tanis nearly halfway.
I swore, again.
“Crista, head on up, if they break through I’ll hold them off.”
“Are you certain?” she asked.
“Quite, Now Go!”
“Very well, young one.”
Crista began her climb just as the door exploded with a burst of flame and molten metal. I quickly lobbed the final potion that Lucy had given me. The glass shattered and the space of the doorway was enveloped in a mass of ice. I turned to begin my climb when I heard the crack of rapidly heated ice. Moments later the massive block that encased the hallway erupted, sending daggers of ice in every direction. I batted away the large chunks with my cane sword and was cut by many of the smaller one that appeared to be sharp as razors. I heard a shout from above. Looking up briefly, I saw that the ice had shredded the rope ladder and Crista near the top was hanging by one arm.
I turned my attention back to the door. I timely fired each round into the first three guards to step through before the gun clicked empty. I swore.
“OUVR GET THEM OUT OF HERE!!!” I screamed with all of my might.
I did not hear a reply, but the ship took off toward the bay. Sword in hand, I turned to face whoever was coming through the door. A tall guard with a long blade stepped into view. If you hadn’t noticed, I have no qualms with playing dirty. I threw the pistol at his face and charged the man after it.
He batted the weapon away with his blade and was prepared to parry my sword with ease. Never underestimate a man that brings a sword to a gunfight. We exchanged passes, our blades ringing in the rain drenched night. I lunged with my sword; the skilled swordsman trapped my sword arm with a serpent-like motion and attempted to impale me on his own.
I slapped the flat of his blade away from me and used my own-trapped arm to pull him closer to me. I used my head and head-butted him with all of my inhuman strength. The smack resonated across the rooftop. The fighter wilted his blade falling to the roof beneath our feet.
“Very impressive,” a sly voice said from the doorway. “Now sleep.”