Hollow Street was in one of the nice parts of Middle City, Luimere. The closely packed homes all feature small yards with quaint flowerbeds. The frightening part is that it’s about three city blocks north of Orc Country, which was on the border of Lower and Middle City. The view was pleasant; from where I stood you had a clear view from the street to the Airship docks. Well, as clear as it gets around here with the rain and all. Many of the vessels were former sail boats converted to airships. A few of the new models featured smaller hulls as well as armor plating and weaponry. Air piracy had become popular in recent years, which required ship designers to add new means of protecting them.
The address on the paper led me to a seven-story building at the end on the street. I crossed the small yard and checked the door. Luckily it was unlocked, I’d rather not have to break in or drawn attention to myself. I found the stairs and casually made my way to the third floor. I sniffed the air as entered the hallway. I could make the smells of tenant A’s dinner being burned, chicken, rice and broccoli. I could smell the scent of fresh cleaner coming from tenant C. From the nanny’s apartment I got nothing and that troubled me. I checked the door hand and as I expected it was locked. Cautiously, I checked the hall left and right, and then applied a little strength as I turned the knob. I listened to the bolts break under the strain of the force I applied. A nagging feeling curled up my spine; I checked the hall once more. Something was really bugging me and I could not put my finger on it. I sniffed the air once more that time there was a new somewhat familiar odor in the air. It was masked, muted but familiar.
I tapped a button on the strap of my goggles, the little gears turned and the lenses changed to a shade of green. Lucy, my dear friend, mechanic, technomagus and sometimes lover had enchanted the lenses for different purposes. Through the green lenses I can actually see the unseen, gases in the air, the ghosts in the shadows, and the monsters in the closet. I looked around the hall once more and there it was, a figure crouched in the corner at the end of the hall near the stairway. It sat there completely motionless absolutely silent. I didn’t allow my eyes to settle on the figure instead I just continued surveying the area around the hall then quickly opened the door. I rushed inside not taking in any of my surroundings.
I slammed the door shut and took two steps back drawing Lucy from my hip. I rapidly popped the wheel ejected the rounds and loaded the inferno rounds. The bullets rattled on the hardwood floor, the sound echoed about me. I cocked the hammer back and aimed at the door, the twin vials of liquid bubbled as the gun rapidly heated up. I was ready to feed whatever that figure was a ball a fire from the mouth of a dragon. That’s when the orc that had been silently waiting in the room sucker punched me in the back of the head. I heard the pressurized steam release just as the charged fist sent me face first into the door. The door splintered from the impact with a loud crunch and I felt blood run down my forehead. Lucy fell to the floor from my limp hand as I sank to my knees dazed, stars dancing before my eyes.
I came to my senses just as an oversized orc boot came rocketing at my face. I crossed my arms in the shape of an x and lunged forward. I caught the orc just below his ankle and launched his four hundred pounds of green muscle across the sparse room. He recovered far too quickly for an individual his size. With a practiced roll he returned to his feet without preamble. He adjusted the steam-powered sleeve then snarled as he took a brawler’s stance. I looked for Lucy; apparently the pistol had been knocked across the room along with the orc.
How did I miss the scent of an orc? I wondered, even the best groomed of them have a distinctive aroma. Another time I told myself, first things first. The orc stood at right around seven feet tall and was built like a dock worker and a boxer’s love child. He wore a white button down shirt with a maroon vest. He had on tan pants with brown leather kneepads and brown leather boots.
I’m rather strong when I need to be, sure. But strength is not everything in a fight. Knowing how to fight your opponent and knowing your surroundings can be the difference from walking away from a fight and being carried away. I took a guarded stance and quickly surveyed my surroundings. The facts; fact one the orc is not a random brute. He took a fighter’s stance after my take down instead of berserker charging. This meant he was a trained professional sent here for a purpose. Fact two the orc struck me instead of shooting me. This meant he was here to take someone alive. Fact three my back was to the door and there was still that figure crouched in the hallway under some kind of veil.
Behind the orc I noticed the large window. Three floors weren’t enough to kill him, but I hoped it would be a big enough deterrent. The steam hissed from his empowered sleeve from the small vent just above his right elbow. The large fist came barreling toward me; I stepped off to the left my arms bent at the elbow out in front of me. At the instant the orc’s fist passed me, I clasped hard on his right wrist. I shifted my weight pulled hard on his wrist and shoved on the back of his elbow with my left hand. The momentum slammed the orc into and through the door, but he did not fall. I circled around so that I was standing in front of the window.
The orc turned around rage and bloodlust in his beady black eyes. He charged forward with a fury of blows. I dodge the bulk of them and blocked the rest. He was fast just not as fast as I was. I hunched and got inside his long reach. I hammered a few hard shots to his body and an uppercut to his chin. The orc was knocked back a few steps. “Oww!” I said shaking my hand. I admit I can punch through bricks when I need to. Punching that orc was like punching a steel girder. The strikes however did have the desired effect.
The orc finally lost control and charged with reckless abandon. He lunged at me again with both hands outstretch. Still standing in front of the window, I fell to my back while grabbing the orcs wrists. I planted my feet squarely in his mid-section and as my back hit the floor I heaved with all of my might. The orc vacated the premises to the sound of shattered glass and splintered wood. Moments later, I heard a loud thud and the sound of bones breaking. I rolled over and picked up Lucy from the rubble of what I thought was a coffee table. Standing I caught a quick look at the room, the place was simple near empty and aside from the scuffle mess was immaculately clean. Too clean like the room had never been lived in.
I walked into the bedroom to find the single bed perfectly made. The closet was filled with pressed clothes that smell as if they were still hanging on the rack in a shop somewhere. There were no personal articles to be found anywhere, no pictures, photograph, or mail. I walked back into the main room; and was greeted but the sound of hammer being pulled. I raised Lucy to see three guns pointed at me from large green skinned hands. Without warning or preamble the orcs fired their weapons. If you have never been shot at, I don’t advise it. It is not a pleasant experience.
You know what else is an unpleasant experience? Falling backwards out of a three-story window, it is not as short as you might think. In a single instant I had enough time to fire one round from Lucy’s enchanted barrel. At the same moment a blue translucent wall in the shape of a medieval shield appeared in front of me. The shield took the impact of several rounds as the black clad figure from earlier shimmered into existence bracing the shield.
The figure turned and tackled me through what was left of the window as the single enchanted bullet erupted into a blazing fireball that consumed the entirety of the room. I remember falling, then not falling, as we were caught by my rescuer’s grappling hook. I heard a female voice say, “We must go,” in a very flat monotone voice. I rose to my feet and placed Lucy in her holster. I turned to the street and with a word swiftly ran to my car. We ran past the orc I had tossed out of the window, which lay broken on the sidewalk. I looked up to see the fire blazing in the apartment; the other apartments it seemed were coming to life, as the tenants were awakened by the gunfire. In the distance I could already hear the sirens of the fire brigade. I got in my Athena and my black clad heroine got in the passage side.
“We must go somewhere safe,” she whispered.
“You think so?” I asked loaded with sarcasm.
I started the boiler and tore down the street shortly thereafter. As you might have guest escaping was not a cakewalk. Within minutes of leave Hollow Street we were jarred to the left from the impact of an orc filled Ares. I could hear orcish war cries over the roar of our steam engines. I swore and pressed down hard on the petal feeding more power to the engine.
“I don’t know who you are, but we’ll work that out after we are out of hot water.” I shouted.
“Very well” She said in the same emotionless monotone voice.
The sound of bullets rained along the exterior of the car. I swerved in and out of traffic, not dodging the bullets. I was in fact driving into them. The enchantment my mechanic had placed on the steam-powered car was a type of kinetic shielding. The steammobile could withstand thousands of shots without worry of penetration. According to Lucy the shield absorbs high velocity kinetic energy on impact. The bullets themselves just fall harmlessly to the ground.
That doesn’t mean the car can’t be destroyed. Like her owner, my Athena was made from tougher stuff. I dodged another impact from the pursuing orcs black steam-powered truck. I quickly turned down a narrow alleyway, the tires screeching loudly. Behind me I heard the crunch of impact as orc’s steammobile as they clipped the corner and slammed hard into the alleyway wall. I looked back through the rearview mirror smirking. We exited the alley in a rush and I eased us into traffic hoping we had both evaded our pursuers and did not draw the attention of the Police.
“Somewhere safe?” she asked.
“I know a place that is close.”
We headed back toward the Upper East Side toward Lucy’s Place. My mind was racing, so many questions, and so few answers. I glanced over at my passenger; She was dark of skin, a rich ebony color. She still wore the black leather airman’s jacket with a black shirt underneath, black leather goggles that covered her eyes and a black leather fly-boy’s skullcap. She sat motionless and from where I sat could not tell if she was even breathing. I veered through traffic until we were safely on the highway and out of orc country. “OK, what’s the story?” I asked her staring out the window. The sun had just set and the rain had momentarily stopped.
“That is the first thing you say to someone that saves your life, Detective?”
“Fine, thank you for saving my hide,” I said in a boxing match announcer’s voice. “Now, what’s the story?”
“I am the nanny you seek.”
“That I already know.” I did not tell her I knew from her smell.
“I was assigned to watch over Braylen by his father Dr. Joseph Dorn.”
“Dr. Joseph Dorn? I was hired to find the Silverstein kid.”
“They are one and the same. Braylen was under my protection.”
I huffed, “Keyword in that sentence is “was”. So the illustrious Silverstein’s hired a Magus to watch over their kid. How did you not see an attack coming?”
“I am not a Magus. I am just a nanny.”
“Yes, A nanny that can turn invisible and create shields of pure energy?”
“Those are tools of the trade. The orcs caught me off guard, they were not the assailants I expected.”
“I see, so you used the tools to escape. What happened to the kid?”
“They knocked us out with some kind of gas, the moment we were in the van. When I came to they had separated us. Do you know what orcs like to do to captive females?”
“I can make a guess,” I said hoping she would not go into detail.
“Honesty, you would think they would have removed my garments before disrobing themselves. As well-endowed as they are, they presented rather easy targets.”
I winced, “Okay, Okay I get the picture. What made you start shadowing me?”
“Originally, I was following Ms. Silverstein. She has an invested interest in the return of Braylen.”
I nodded. “Well, she is his mother.”
She sat there silent for a nearly a minute. Statuesque, she continued to look out the windshield. Then she said, “Yes, she is. I witnessed that she had hired a detective to find Braylen. I was unsure why with her resources she chose a mediocre one.”
“Hey!” I said.
“I mean no disrespect.” She went on without skipping a beat. “You are an able man Mr. Moore, more able that I first realized. But as your own company name suggest you are a bargain brand detective.”
She had me there; I am not the only private eye in Luimere. I am one of the few that doesn’t practice magic or have a vast array of gadgets. Honestly, if it wasn’t for meeting Lucy, I would not have my arcane pistol or goggles. I’d just have my wits and natural gifts at my disposal. “Very well, do you know which orc gang took the kid and why they would ask for a blueprint for a ransom?”
The nanny turned her head to me. The light of oncoming traffic reflected across the lenses of her goggles. Her caramel colored lips were pressed in a thin line. “They did what?” she asked.
I reached into my breast pocket and produced the folded ransom note. I handed it to her as I steered toward the exit ramp. The city lights of the industrial city Luimere shone luminescent in the background. I flicked on the overhead lantern in the Athena; the soft orange light flickered to life above our heads. She read the letter in silence as I navigated the streets of the Upper East Side. I turned down a narrow alley and stopped before a wall plastered with posters featuring plays, events and political figures. I honked the horn twice in rapid succession followed by a long honk.
The ground rumbled beneath the steam-powered car and steam hissed over the sound of the rain. The wall parted slowly revealing a large garage; I drove forward and killed the stream engine. I could hear the hidden doors grind close behind us. The Athena vented the remaining steam filling the room with a warm cloudy haze for a few minutes.
“This does not make any sense,” The nanny said still looking at the ransom note. “The orcs already have the device.”
“Device? Who said anything about an actual device?” I asked.
Lucy walked out of the mist waving a hand. She stood at about four feet two inches tall. She was slender, curvy and athletic all at the same time. Her skin was somewhere between a light hazel and cream. She was gifted with the larger than average eyes of the gnomes, almond shaped and tilted downwards like the elves. They were the color of aquamarine, which of course appeared even larger behind the magnified lenses of her goggles. She had a cute button nose and a small mouth on a round face. Her strawberry blonde hair was dyed blue at the tips and pulled back into a long tail. To complete the package, Lucy had a pair of tall pointed ears pierced with several dangling earrings made of random gears.
She was wearing a mechanic’s jumpsuit with top tied off around her waist. She wore a stained blue blouse that tucked into the bottom half of her jumpsuit. Strapped to her arms was a pair of black power gauntlets. Lucy’s however were not designed for fisticuffs like the one worn by the orc or big Francis, but to allow her to work with heavy machinery.
“Marcus Moore! How many times have I told you to vent your steam before you pull into the garage?” she yelled.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” I said throwing up my hands in surrender. I could see her scowl magnified behind the goggles.
“What did you do to your head and who is the girl?” She asked bluntly walking over to me.
She reached up, grabbing me by the vest and with far more strength than someone her size should have possessed, and she dragged me down to eye level. I heard the nanny come around the car for the rescue. She stopped a few feet away when she saw Lucy was examining the gash on my skull.
“Marcus, I marvel at your pain tolerance. Looks like the bleeding stopped and you are already healing, but there are some bits of wood still in there. We’ll have to dig those little bits out. Your body won’t eject those, as you learned last year.”
“Oww, could you let go,” I grumbled. “You could have asked me to bend down and as far as the girl, this is...” I paused I still didn’t know her name. I rubbed my hand through my wet hair matted with blood and rain and winced. The wound was bigger than I thought.
“Tanis,” the nanny said feeling the void of silence.
“No wonder you are the cheapest detective in all of Luimere. You bring a stranger to my workshop and didn’t even know her name?” Lucy said releasing me from her steam powered vice grip.
“Come on inside.” Lucy instructed, as she headed for the staircase that led into home.
Inside Lucy’s house was like walking through a funhouse designed to kill you. There were clockwork arms and legs, Spinning blades, sparking coils, gyrating electricity, and puffing steam engines of various sizes wreaking havoc in one room. In another room there was the serenity of a miniature waterfall surrounded by lounge chairs and shelves full of spell books and enchanted artifacts.
“New girl, don’t touch anything.” Lucy told Tanis without looking at her.
We walked pass the insanity of Lucy’s mind and creation into her living quarters. She led us to the kitchen, which was more of a normal sight. Lucy had gained a fairly large amount of wealth from some of her inventions. The kitchen featured the latest in fine wood paneling embossed with gold and inlaid with bronze. The countertops were a white polished marble. I sat on a stool at the breakfast bar.
Tanis sat in a chair near the window and stared blankly into the street below. Lucy pulled out her med kit and stepped on the floor panel in front of me. She pressed a button on the breakfast bar that caused the floor to rise on gears and stilts. Lucy pressed the button again and the floor stopped. She tapped a button on her goggles and I could see the magnification increase. She grabbed me by the tie, pulled me closer and looked over my wound. She pulled tweezers from her kit and began to pull the splinters of door from my skull.
“Talk,” she said removing bits of wood.
So I told her what I knew so far. Tanis sat in her chair motionless the entire time. She did not so much as shift her weight to get more comfortable. I noticed that her posture was perfectly straight. Lucy pulled out another big chunk of wood before dousing a clean cloth with an antibiotic and herbal mixture.
“Well, you got yourself into a heap of crap again,” she said, “You know you have been lied to.”
“At what point?” I asked clenching my fist from the pain. Honestly, the wound didn’t bother me till she dabbed that stuff on it.
“Arlena Silverstein is not a mother.”
“What?” I stammered.
“Arlena Silverstein has never given birth. Giving birth would have killed her rise in the ranks of Devlin Works.”
“The weapons manufacturer?”
“The very one.” Lucy said pulling out her needle and thread.
“You can put the thing away, it’ll close on it’s own.”
“Yes, but this way it will heal right and not mar your pretty face.”
I sighed deeply, “Fine. So what’s a weapons manufacturer’s interest in an eight year old kid?”
Tanis moved for the first time during the conversation. She stood and removed her caps and goggles. She had shoulder length hair black as raven’s feathers; it was straight and shimmered with a slight sheen. Her eyes were icy blue in sharp contrast to her milk chocolate skin. She spoke in that same flat monotone voice.
“As you have figured out the plot there is no need to hide information. The child Braylen Dorn is the son of Dr. Joseph Dorn and the late Amelia Silverstein. Amelia Silverstein did not make it out of childbirth and the child was born in a weakened condition.” She said it in manner like she was reading off a fact sheet. Tanis continued, “The boy’s heart was not fully developed. The doctors told Dr. Dorn that his son had a forty percent chance of survival. Dr. Joseph is the lead designer of steam powered motors and weaponry for Devlin Works. He in his desperation developed a generator that assisted the boy’s heart. The device was massive and when the doctor was not working on weapons of destruction for Devlin Works, he was working on improvements for the generator.”
Lucy finished patching up my head and poured each of us a glass of bourbon. She hopped from the platform and sat on the stool next to me. Alleviated of her weight the panel lowered back into the floor on grinding gears. Tanis stood motionless and recited the history of Braylen Dorn.
“Last year, Dr. Joseph Dorn accomplished his greatest feat. He created a self-contained generator the size of a human heart. The generator possessed the ability to produce enough energy to fire a cannon or power a galleon class airship. The doctor did not disclose this creation. His superiors did not know such an engine could be possible. In secret he operated on his son and replaced his heart with the generator. Braylen Dorn survived the operation. His health improved and soon after he learned to walk on his own. A year passed and the up and coming Arlena Silverstein took notice of Braylen’s improvement. She began to spend time with Braylen as a favored aunt. She discovered the access panel on Braylen’s chest.”
“She sought to capitalize on the one device that was keeping her nephew alive?” I asked. Lucy hushed me and Tanis continued.
“This I do not know. Arlena started asking questions about it. Started demanding Dr. Dorn turn of the device and blueprints to the company. He refused over and over again. Dr. Dorn knew the potential the Heart Core, as he had named it, possessed. He destroyed the schematics and asked me to escort his son to safety.”
Tanis blinked a few times, the first since she had started talking. She shook her head and took the half empty glass from my hand. She knocked back the shot without flinching.
“Well that was a mouthful.” Lucy said pouring Tanis another glass. “Marcus you really need a screening process for your jobs. They will be less likely to get you killed.”
“I’m starting to believe you. So super nanny, what was the orc’s interest in the kid?”
“The orcs found out about the Heart Core somehow. They know it’s a potential power source or a potential weapon,” Tanis said.
“I agree. The orcs employ some of the nastiest gnomes in the business. With a device of this potential, they could hold Luimere hostage.” Lucy interjected hopping down from the stool.
“Fantastic, so what you are both telling me is that I’m about to stick my head in a foxhole and I won’t be getting paid for it. Curse you, morals and self-respect.”
“No, I’m not saying you should get further involved. But are you going to leave the kid out there, alone, surrounded by orcs ready to literally rip his heart out?”
I sighed deeply, she was right of course, she usually was. I slumped on my stool and pulled Lucy, the pistol, from my holster. I eyed the weapon for a moment, admiring the elven letters etched into the metal. I looked over at Tanis who stood staring at the glass expressionless. It was not a matter of choice, the kid needed saving and I was the poor sap that needed to do it. Put Lucy down on the bar and grabbed the bottle of bourbon. I refilled Tanis’s glass and Lucy handed me her own, I filled the glass and took a sip. Lucy smiled, walked around the bar and opened her icebox. She rummaged around a bit and pulled out three frozen steaks. A girl after my own heart and she practically had it anyway. She fired up the stove with some fresh logs and bit of fire magic. She slapped the meat over the grill and turned back to us.
“Lucy, you mind if we stay here tonight? I have a feeling my place is going to be watched and I don’t want to show up with our friend here in tow.”
“Of course, Tanis you can sleep in the guest bedroom. Marcus, you can pay for the medical care, the booze, and the stay.” She said with a small smile.
That was about as sensual as Lucy got. As blunt as she is, our arrangement has its benefits. I looked back at Tanis, “Do you have an idea where the kid is being held?”
She looked up at me with the blue eyes. “Yes, He is being held within the base of operations of the Orc Boss Morntok.”
I cursed a few things I would not say in front of children. I picked my pistol up off of the breakfast bar, opened the wheel and shook out the five remaining inferno rounds. I reached in my left pocket and extracted the speed loader. I reloaded the ammunition in the speed loader and added a sixth round from the collection of spells on my belt.
Tanis raised a black eyebrow. “Is this a problem?” she asked.
Lucy laughed from behind the stove. “Oh yes!” she exclaimed “Didn’t he shoot you once for that thing with his sister.”
“Let’s not get into that, Lucy.” I said. “Morntok and I have a history. His sister Brill and I dated, and well… orcs don’t approve of inter-species relations when it involves their females.”
“So he shot you for dating his sister?” Tanis asked with a puzzled look on her face.
Lucy laughed again flipping the steaks over. “No, he shot Marcus for have sex with Brill.”
“I honestly don’t think he knows I’m alive. Morntok’s goons dumped me in an alley afterward and I never crossed paths with Morntok or Brill again.”
“You keep telling yourself that.” Lucy said mockingly from the stove.
“Pardon me for asking Mr. Moore. What are you?” Tanis asked.
“Special,” I said with a coy smile.
We sat in silence for a bit, while Lucy finished cooking the steaks. We ate the mouthwatering meat and washed it down with more bourbon. I told Tanis she should get some rest and we would come up with a plan in the morning. After we finished, Lucy made me wash the dishes while she escorted Tanis through the dangers of her home to the guest room.
Lucy came back down and we sat across from one another in her sitting room. She had switched out of her work clothes and wore a lacy nightgown and robe. Her very straight strawberry blonde hair with blue dyed tips rested over her shoulders stopping just below her robed breasts. Like I said the arrangement had its benefits.
“I think I’m going to have to call Brill for a way in.”
“Yep, I think you will.”
“I’m going to need a bargaining chip.”
“I’ve got a new self-pleasuring device.” She said with a straight almost bored face.
“She’s an orc not a succubus.” Yes, I said succubus and no, I won’t get into it. “They are into two things; guns and gold.”
“I might have something I can part with. Whether or not I part with it will depend on how hard you work for it tonight.” said say in a sly voice.
“I did just get my ass kicked, not two hours ago. I’m not sure how much work I can put in.”
“Tell someone that doesn’t not about you regenerative abilities, Mr. Moore. You put in the work or you get nothing.”
I smiled, as she slowly parted her legs, inviting me over. I walked across the carpeted floor and knelt before her. I kissed the top of her left barefoot gently and then kissed each toe as I massaged her tiny arch. I repeated the action on her right foot before slowly kissing my way up her left leg, stopping at her inner thigh. She cooed at the touch of each kiss and I could feel a small trimmer course through her body. I raised my head and kissed her little lips.
They tasted like sweet strawberries and she returned kiss with hungry vigor. The heat in her eyes was the only expression on her otherwise expressionless face. I swooped Lucy’s tiny frame into my arms and walked upstairs to her bedroom. I closed the door and my night ended far better than it began.