I remember the day it started like it was yesterday. I woke up from a particularly good night of sleep. The magical storm that had been raging for the last three days was finally starting to abate, which meant that my days were about to get interesting. The days and weeks following magical storms were always interesting for my line of work. Lots of missing people, family heirlooms run amok, the occasional murder from a family pet temporarily gaining sentience.
I climbed out of bed and walked up to my window, peering through the blinds out into the overcast morning. A few drops of rain still fell, but the telltale flashes of green lightning were gone. Small miracles. I fixed myself a quick breakfast while keeping an eye on the door. I barely have enough money to rent one room as it is, which means that my office and living space are all clustered into the same space.
I had just finished up my scrambled eggs when the first knock came. I tossed my dishes into the sink and pressed the dwarven rune on the wall nearby. Enchantments caused the bed and kitchen appliances to fold away while my desk appeared out of midair. I smirked and settled into my mahogany chair, grateful for my connections with the Remnant. I pressed a second dwarven rune on the cold stone desk, causing the door to swing open.
The woman who stumbled through was a faun, like me. Her horns, like that of most female fauns, were a good deal sharper than my own. With that minor physical difference, we look remarkably like humans. Don’t really act like them, though. The woman was a case in point. Obviously distressed, she nevertheless kept her cool while dropping into the chair just opposite my own.
“You’re Deschur Sil, right? The great and mighty private eye?” Her eyes were wide, her mouth pleading.
Okay, so maybe that’s not exactly how she acted. I like to flatter myself, though. For the sake of an accurate report, it was a bit more like:
“You’re Deschur Sil, right? The cheapest private eye in New Donenrot?”
“The cheapest that still has a formal commission from the police.” I muttered, rather frustrated that thatwas the takeaway that most people got from my limited advertising. “What can I do for you today? Wait, let me guess.” I took a brief look at her clothes. She was wearing a green, tight-fitting dress that ended just above her knees. It spoke of a night out partying, though she lacked the dark bags under her eyes indicative of exhaustion. “You went out last night for a dance and a drink. You went over to a friend’s house before your jaunt to the bar, only to decide that the storm was too bad. Upon arriving home, you found that something had been stolen.” I leaned back in my chair, confident of my appraisal. There were other possibilities, of course, but the dames of New Donenrot were terribly predictable.
“No! Well, sort of.” The woman blinked her eyes several times. “I went over to my best friend’s flat. She’s one of the wealthy ones. Bonded with an aniskin and everything! Then the house got struck by lightning and all the statues came to life, so we had to spend the evening getting them to calm back down.”
I smirked. Partly right was still right.
“But then as I left this morning, I saw something down by the docks. It looked to me like a minotaur! And it had a bunch of metal armor.” She leaned forward. “You don’t think the dwarves are planning something, do you?”
I frowned as I processed the information. Minotaurs were illegal in New Donenrot, and indeed everywhere in Fairn. Calsin and South Calsin both still allowed their enslavement, and they weren’t exactly uncommon sights in lands such as Corinth and Thadusar, but where I’m from they were considered menaces to be shot on sight.
“Now, now, let’s not be so hasty.” I slid open the top drawer of my desk and pulled out my pipe. It was a pipe sort of day. I began measuring tobacco into the bowl while I put the bit in my mouth. I continued to speak even through this process, a tactic that I believe makes myself look far more intimidating and official to those seeking my services. “It’s very possible that the storm opened up a portal that the beast just walked through. No need to go start throwing accusations.”
“But sir, don’t you know how those dwarves work?” The woman leaned forward and lowered her voice. “They all live underground! Who knows what all they’re doing down there?”
“The dwarves also have more government observers down there than any other group.” I struck a match and lit my pipe, finally inhaling a good puff of the smoke. Oh, that calmed the nerves. “If it’s the dwarves, it’s not the Remnant. Maybe a group of Fond’sar fanatics, refusing to believe that their plans for world domination failed all those years ago.” I pushed back my chair. “Can you give me the exact location you saw the creature? I’ll go investigate, might be that I can dig up something.”
“It was at the corner of Third Street and Zureth.”
“I’ll be on my way, ma’am.” I climbed to my feet and held out my hand, which she shook. “Can I get your name?”
“Lorellia? It’s good to meet you, ma’am.” I walked around my desk and began sauntering to the door. “I’ll get out and see what I can find. Come back in a few days, and I’ll give you everything I’ve managed to find out. We can deal with payment for the job at that point.”
“Oh, thank you.” She took my hand and wrung it once more. “You’ve given me such a peace of mind!”
She was out my door before I could blink. I listened to her shoes clopping down the wooden floor outside my office, wishing that I could have spent just a bit more time with her. My line of work doesn’t allow for much in the way of relationships. I always start to wonder every time a woman walks in, only to have my hopes crushed as she runs out.
Nevertheless, her absence allowed me to prepare for my upcoming travel. I took the long, grey trench coat off its hook, draping it across my shoulders with pride. The hat was next, a narrow-brimmed covering that would keep my horns from catching on low-hanging doorways and lights. That always hurt. Finally, I slid aside a small portion of the wall and withdrew my handgun.
It was a beauty. Made from polished steel drawn from the mines of Thadusar, it had six chambers that sat in a silver cylinder. I made sure that the hammer was down, preventing it from going off accidentally, and slid the weapon into its leather holster on my side. The soft thwack it made as it impacted the leather was just ohso perfect. As with most of my other furnishings, it had been a gift from a Corinthian warlord whose daughter I had saved from the merfolk. Now that’s a long story for another time.
All set, I stepped through the door and pulled it shut behind me, locking it with a silver key. I placed the key in a small purse, then slipped the purse into a small pocket close to my body. No sense in letting some pickpocket get ahold of all my records. I myself subsequently swept across the wooden floor of the building, though my rubber-soled dress shoes left a considerably softer footstep than the standard wooden-soled shoes of the civilians.
Out on the street, it was just as I had suspected. Though overcast and still drizzling, New Donenrot was waking up with haste. Business, closed for three days prior, were springing open with fervor. Enchanted mannequins danced in the windows of dress shops, proudly displaying the new scandalous designs from the corporate bigwigs. Bakeries set out steaming hot bread and rolls, letting the scent waft through the dismal streets. The lone enchanting forge in the area began to pump smoke from its chimney, announcing to the world that anything and everything you might desire could be yours- for a price. A few automobiles rumbled up and down the streets, their noisy engines spewing smoke from the tailpipes.
I ignored it all, and simply began stalking down to the harbor. A few people called out to me, but I did my best to zone in on the case. Lorellia had likely seen the minotaur roughly an hour before arriving at my home. If that was the case, the beast could be miles away by then, putting a large percentage of the populace in danger.
First and foremost, I needed to survey the scene. I found my feet moving faster the closer I got to the designated location. It wasn’t particularly far from my office, which was by design. Buildings close to the docks were cheap, and a lot of crime took place there. It was the perfect place for a man of my designs.
When I arrived at the corner of Third and Zureth, I found myself standing at what must have been a most unlikely place to see a Minotaur. It was a T-shaped intersection, with Zureth running parallel to the docks and Third street striking out into the city. On either side of Third were businesses catering to hungry and overtired dock workers: Bars, restaurants, and the occasional brothel. In particular, a dwarven bakery offered ales and other delicacies drawn from the mines of Calsin. Given that most dock workers were dwarven, it was a high-demand business.
Across Zureth, there was a particularly large factory whose own chimney vanished into the clouds above. I knew it well: It received aluminum and other metals from ships in the harbor, which it subsequently processed into cans that it sold to plants for packaging foods. I had made several visits there over the previous several months, as it was a hotbed for corporate greed and corruption.
At that moment, I could see two guards on the other side of the chain-link fence that rose immediately from the edge of the sidewalk. There was a single gate in the fence to allow workers easier access, but that was it. I mentally berated myself for not asking Lorellia which side of the intersection the minotaur had been on. Not that there was much question in my mind, but certainty was never a bad thing. After a few moments of indecision, I glanced up and down the street to ensure that no cars would run me over, and sauntered across to the side of the factory.
“Hey!” One of the guards, a dark elf, came stomping over to meet me. He held a small, semiautomatic rifle in his hands, which glistened with inner enchantments. I made a note of that fact, satisfied with its innate inferiority. Sure, enchantment-powered firearms could have some nice effects and often shoot faster, but they had the distinct weakness of becoming completely useless in the presence of anti-magic fields. “I thought you were told to stay off company property!”
“Indeed I was, good sir.” I bowed slightly at the waist. “It seems fitting, then, that I am not setting a single toe on your company’s property. I will stay here on the sidewalk, minding my own business, until such a time as I see fit to leave.”
“What’s this guy’s deal?” The second guard, an aqahartis whose scales were rather grey and starting to peel, stomped over as well.
“He’s just some pathetic private eye that keeps mucking up the boss’s business.” The dark elf snapped. “Shoot him if he crosses you.”
“My dear aquatic friend.” I bowed my head in the direction of the second guard. “You seem quite ill. Is that Parniac’s Disease?”
The aqahartis opened his mouth, but was cut off by the dark elf.
“Pay no attention to him!”
“Indeed, pay me no mind.” I shrugged and turned away. “Is it, of course, a felony to force aqahartis to work in conditions where they may be subject to certain illnesses, but what do I know?”
I was quite saddened to see the dark elf turn and push the aqahartis away. I was even more saddened as the dwarves began marching down out of their company homes on Fourth street for their day of work. Men and women alike, short in stature and mighty in muscle, they were the perfect deckhands for loading and unloading cargo. Many seemed just as downtrodden as the concrete they walked on: Their beards were patchy and incomplete, scabs and stone scales mottled their exposed skin. Even the dwarven fortresses of ancient Calsin were better on dwarven bodies than the harsh corporate overlords that they now served.
I shook my head and turned back to the matter at hand. I had to locate that minotaur, and I had to do it fast. I knelt down and began to survey the sidewalk, looking for any telltale clue that might point me in the direction it was headed. Of course, this was greatly dependent on the minotaur having actually been there at all.
The sidewalk, quite unfortunately, showed none of the telltale signs of a large, hooved beast walking across it. Of course, if the minotaur was only partially armored, it was distinctly possible that it hadn’t been equipped with horseshoes. If this was the case, the marks would be far more subtle. Adding to my growing dilemma was the fact that a large number of people had already come that way earlier that day, and continued to do so. Several of them called out expletives, occasionally invoking their god asking for curses to rain down on me. If only they knew that I had conditional protection from deities granted by a permission obtained from the Astheris Treaty.
As I made my way down the sidewalk, under the close eyes of the guards, something caught my attention. My first real clue of the adventure. In the chain-link fence, there was an ever-so-slight blemish on the metal, as if something had torn through only for it to be repaired. I let my eyes track up the fence, noticing that the blemish ran nearly eight feet into the air.
I had my minotaur. Or, at the least, I had his trail. My spirits lifted ever higher as I noticed what seemed to be a corresponding scuff mark. Yes indeed, something had been here. I began shuffling down the sidewalk ever faster, noticing that there were several more ever-so-slight scuff marks. It had headed this way, and it had been heading that way fast.
“Good sir!” A voice finally cut into my intense concentration. I straightened up and doffed my hat at the sight of a lovely young woman watering a small flower on a small apartment balcony just above the sidewalk across the street. At a glance she appeared human, though there were a number of fauns in New Donnenrot who filed down their horns to cast that particular illusion.
“Good day, ma’am.” I did my best to appear cordial. “Is there something I can help you with?”
“I actually thought I could help you.” She sashayed her hips ever so slightly, making her rather casual dress sway in the early morning breeze. “You’re investigating that minotaur, right?”
Ah-ha! Another lead! And, once again, from a spectacularly beautiful woman. I nodded in return, thankful for the stroke of luck.
“Indeed I am. Did you happen to notice anything about it?”
“You know, I couldjust tell you that.” She frowned down at me, a small smile playing across her lips. “Or I could dole out the information I know over a cup of tea.”
As a rule, someone in my line of work should never accept an invitation to enter an unknown person’s home. I’ve made more than my share of enemies, and many of them would jump at the chance to get me out of the public eye so they could put a hot bullet through my skull. That said… Well, she was quite attractive, and my hormones got the better of me.
I kept my hand on my revolver as I walked up to the door of her home. She vanished through the balcony door, appearing once more as she swung it open. I nodded to her in thanks as I stepped inside, though I remained on high alert as she swung the door shut behind me.
It was a nice enough home, certainly, for where it was located. A single room on either story, with a small staircase connecting the two. As the door opened into the staircase, I had to step through one more doorway into the small kitchen/dining/living room that she had made into quite a proper home. A couch sat just below the drape-covered window that overlooked the factory, while a stove and several cabinets sat along the other wall. A kitchen table was draped with a checkered tablecloth, upon which already sat two plates and saucers, a small basket of scones, and a teakettle.
“Ma’am, if I didn’t know better, I’d say that you were expecting me.” I settled down into one of the chairs, the one where I could see the open door to the staircase.
“Well… I was.” The woman quickly poured two sets of tea and settled down into the opposite chair. She seemed somewhat taken aback that I wasn’t expecting her. “I sent my good friend over to your office this morning. We were enjoying a nice view on the morning balcony when we saw the monster come stomping by. I knew where you were located, so I sent her on posthaste.”
“Then why… Ahh.” Realization dawned on me even as I saw an odd and knowing glint in the woman’s eye. “You’re both women of the night. Unlicensed, most likely.”
“We get by.” The woman crossed her arms. “Lorellia told you she was with a rich friend, didn’t she?”
“She did.” I inclined my head. “That’s going to land her in more trouble than your line of work.”
I should note here that I’ve changed the names of these women, to avoid getting them in trouble. As stated earlier, these women likely didn’t have a permit to be granting the favors that they were known for. The government doesn’t particularly like it when taxes aren’t flowing in its direction, and thus such women are imprisoned when their sisters ply the exact same trade just across the street. If you want my opinion: Make it legal, or don’t. I’m fine either way, but the wishy-washy nature of the police in New Donenrot makes me sick sometimes.
“That’s what I keep telling her.” The woman, whose name I shall note as Lithia, gave her head a quick shake. “Anyway, the minotaur. Gave us a proper fright, let me tell you.”
“I can imagine.” I sighed and picked up a scone from the table. To my delight, they were quite good, a fantastic yeast bread with a hint of orange flavor drizzled over the top. While I bemoan the effect that megacorporations have had upon our world, I do love the artificial flavorings available these days. How else can we taste the shores of a far-away land while sitting in this foggy city? “It looks to me like it was headed north? Towards Second street?”
“That’s what it looked like to us, too.” Lithia nodded. “It was running, I can confirm that much as well.”
I had suspected the same thing based on the distance between scuff marks, and was indeed beginning to question how much information I would actually get out of the dame, but I nodded and went along with the line of questioning.
“Did it look like it was running towards or away from something?”
“Towards something.” Lithia nodded. “As quick as a married man runs to this house when he gets a flash of these ankles!”
I decided to let the comment slide past and continued thinking.
“It was running towards something. Hmm.” I stroked my chin. “If it came from the can factory, it’s possible it was sent by Burlifis, the boss there, to go rough up someone. If I don’t miss my guess, there are some people down at the local fish market who have been canning their catches in other types of cans, thus driving down their sales. Might just be who our friend was sent to pay a visit to.”
“If it is, I hope you can find whatever’s left of him.” Lithia sighed and leaned back in her chair. “I suppose you’ll be going, then?”
“Unless you can tell me anything else I need to know, that would be correct.” I climbed to my feet and finished off the scone with a single bite. “Thank you kindly for the hospitality.”
“Are you sure I can’t interest you in staying?” Lithia climbed to her feet. As she did so, her dress caught on the edge of the table, causing it to tear at the shoulder.
I glanced away before I could see anything. It was a common enough tactic among such women, and worked well enough on the average customer. Keeping my back to her, I edged around the table and stepped up to the door.
“I do hope you can fix the dress, ma’am.” I doffed my hat once more. “Thanks for the tip.”
With that, I let myself out and was once more on the case. If you think that my dismissal of poor Lithia’s services was a bit abrupt, then… Perhaps you’re right. Nevertheless, while I have often longed for female companionship, it has never served me well to dive into such relationships headfirst.
The tangy orange flavor of the scones continued to linger on my lips as I once more made my way down the street. The city market wasn’t far away, I would be there within minutes. As I walked, my mind continued to work at full speed.
Hypothesis: The minotaur was sent by the canning factory to rough up the competition.
Evidence in support of said theory: The tear in the fence indicates that the minotaur came from within the premise of the factory. Not to mention that, in the wake of a magical storm, the monster’s existence could easily be blamed on some strange magic during that event.
Evidence against said theory: If it came from the factory, why did they not just send it through a gate? Why bother smashing through their own fence? Not to mention the fact that the police are always on high alert for crimes committed under the cover of the deadly storms.
I continued to muddle through these thoughts, along with others, until I came into view of the local market. I use the world “locally” a bit loosely here, as it dwarfs the native local markets often seen across the lesser industrialized parts of the world. Operated out of an old warehouse that went bankrupt due to scandal, dozens of local factories and stores had built up booths within the structure. There, they were able to sell the damaged, dented, or otherwise unsafe products to the masses at far cheaper prices. Despite the inherent hazard of shopping there, many of the poor and destitute dock workers purchased the goods in high volume. I personally suspected that this encouraged the producers to churn out low-quality products, but I had yet to gather such proof.
As I arrived at the market, whether or not I had proof to bring the establishment crashing down became rather moot, as I found the entire area sectioned off by the police. Their fancy new cars, complete with three gears and reverse, sat with flashing red lights just outside the entrance. Two cops stood guard, one on either side, while I could see lights and movement from within. I put on a brave face and marched forward, doing my best to look confident.
“Hold it right there.” The officers barely even looked in my direction as I walked up. “Official business only.”
“I’m official.” I whipped out my badge. “Deschur Sil, Private Eye, granted by the Governor of New Donenrot the license, privilege, and right to examine any evidence, scene, or witness that may be deemed necessary by law to solve a-”
“Yeah yeah yeah.” The cops seemed not to care. Of course, both were human, and thus had quite a bit of ego going on. “Just get on through.”
I personally don’t understand quite why humans puff themselves up so much. All of them can access the magical field that permeates Calsin, true, but almost none of them bother to put that fact to use. As far as I’m concerned, that leaves them as little more than sacks of meat that are shorter and less attractive than elves, weaker than dwarves, less vocal than aqahartis… The list really does go on.
Getting back to my own story, I walked past the two humans and into the warehouse. There, it appeared that everything was at a standstill. The flickering electric lights barely gave off any illumination through the thick layer of dust that covered them. The booths, built from scrap metal and plywood, were all closed. Instead, a large crowd of witnesses stood near the center of the room where half a dozen police officers grilled them. Once again, most of the officers were human, though a centaur clopped around the perimeter with a stun baton.
I simply walked up to the crowd and crossed my arms, preparing to begin my investigation. Of course, one of the police officers finallytook the time of day to notice me and immediately placed his hand on his gun. I smirked at the blocky weapon, which shimmered with enchantments that I was fairly certain spelled out “fire.”
“I see they’re still giving you the weapons they were able to scrounge up from the pirates.” I flicked a bit of hair back over my ears. “I personally would send a complaint.”
The officer seemed somewhat taken aback. I recognized him as one of the new recruits, I had seen him once or twice during my time in the station.
“You’re going to have to leave.” He finally stammered. “Police business only.”
“Then it’s a good thing I’m licensed.” I pulled out my badge. “Please don’t make me go through all this again. It’ll just hurt my voice and embarrass you in front of all your friends.”
“Hey, it’s Deschur!” My voice had apparently alerted the other policemen. The young recruit turned back to his witness as a far older man, a mottled elf, stomped over. This guy I did recognize. His name was Captain Smalls, though he took quite a bit of offense when you used it as an insult. He wore a mustache that looked rather like a caterpillar trying to crawl across his lip, which was really his defining trait as a character. For the record, he took quite a bit of offense when his moustache was insulted, too.
“Ahh, if it isn’t Captain Smalls’ mustache.” I decided to go the latter route and insult the facial hair instead of the man himself. “Oh, and the Captain himself! Sorry sir, I didn’t see you there. Might be that you’re a bit too small to properly wear such a bold facial statement.” Ahh, might as well make it both.
“Deschur.” Captain Smalls ground his teeth together so loudly I could hear them. I rather wondered how much money he spent on getting new dentures every year. “I thought I told you to stay away from my crime scenes!”
“And I thought I told you that I was allowed to examine anything that you can.” I frowned in thought after a few seconds. “No wait, that was your boss. In front of your entire squad, if I do remember correctly.”
Once more, the teeth ground together so loudly that I suspected someone sitting on Darama could have heard. He spoke again in a quiet whisper.
“Then remember this. My boss isn’t here. If you don’t leave, all that these witnesses will see is someone threatening me.”
“I get it, I get it.” I held my hands up and took a step back. “I’ll leave, no harm done.”
I turned around, putting a disappointed look on my face. Nevertheless, I had learned all I needed to know. During the time that Captain Smalls had been trying to decide what to do with me, I had spent my time listening to the conversations of the witnesses. I hadn’t been able to learn much, but I had learned enough.
A minotaur had come crashing through the market. It hadn’t attacked anyone, but had simply pushed people aside until it went crashing out the far side. It had been covered in armor plating, of course. It meant that the stories of the two women had been more than fantasy, but it didn’t tell me much beyond that. Was it still chasing something? If so, why had it simply run through and left? It obviously hadn’t been sent to rough anyone up, unless of course it was a pre-arranged warning that didn’t actually require physical contact to work. Unless of course the target had been one of the people it ran over.
My somewhat jovial mood relapsed as I realized that, once more, I was simply too far in the dark to make any proper conclusions. Instead of marching out of the warehouse, I began to putter around the shops, glancing at the different goods being offered for sale. Most, as stated earlier, were canned food items. Fish, birds, steaks, vegetables, almost anything that could be placed in a can had been placed in a can.
I was almost halfway around the edge of the warehouse when I caught a glimpse of something flittering through the rafters. I turned my attention upwards, where I saw a small aniskin jumping from beam to beam. It had its large eyes trained on me, slit pupils intensely focused on my progress. When I made eye contact with the small creature, it gave two flicks of its tail before flapping out a small hole near one of the lights.
I frowned, my interest suitably peaked. If you’re not familiar with aniskin, I truly don’t blame you. Once, they were the most populous race on Fairn. Nowadays, they’re almost as rare as minotaurs themselves. And now I was looking at seeing both in a single day. I made my way out of the warehouse, doffed my hat at the police officers, and slid around to the rear of the building. Not a single officer paid attention to me, and I suspect that that was for the best.
As I walked into the gritty alleyway, a roughly ten-foot gap between the warehouse and the stare of yet another warehouse, the aniskin came down to land on my shoulder. It was a small one, only about a foot long, with a wingspan that barely reached that same amount. They could easily be mistaken for small dragons, and in fact the early explorers from Calsin had been convinced of as much. I’ve heard that such logic was a reason for their decline. Whatever the case, the creature spat a small fireball in front of me, urging me forward.
I needed no encouragement, and quickly set off down the grungy path. My trench coat became flecked with the mud and dark filth that was built up across the concrete, but that was part of the reason I wore a dark grey coat to begin with. Towards the end, the aniskin spat another ball of fire at a small red door in the adjacent warehouse, and I obeyed and entered.
From here, it was a simple game of follow-the-leader. We traveled through the warehouse and out the other side, down to the docks where the mighty metal ships of the sea were stored, then across the docks where we made our way among the various deckhands. As I’ve stated earlier, many of these were dwarves, and spared me little more than a passing glance, if they even bothered to give me that.
The docks are one of the defining features of New Donenrot, and span nearly ten miles up and down the coast. Nevertheless, individual sections of docks are kept separate from each other, to make it easier for the government to collect taxes. As it was, we soon reached the end of this particular section of dock, where a large brick wall rose from the wooden walkway to bar us from traveling any further. Here, kept in a small space that I suspected wasn’t even intended to be a dock but a small buffer zone between larger ships, was a tiny boat that sported enough rust to fill a dump truck.
How it even floated was beyond me, as I suspected that it would be possible to punch a hole straight through the hull. Nevertheless, there it was. At a glance it looked like it had once been a skipper, a small boat that the rich folks could use for short trips out onto the waves. It had likely been abandoned by whoever once owned it, leaving it to whomever picked it up next. Somehow, I got the odd feeling that I was about to find out.
There was a single board that connected the boat with the dock, and neither end was secured with any sort of proficiency that made me trust my weight to it. The fact that the aniskin jumped from my shoulder and flapped through the open door to the belowdecks section of the ship simply reinforced my conviction that it wasn’t safe. Nevertheless, the story called, and I shuffled out and onto the small ship as quickly as I could move. As my feet impacted the rusty deck, I heard something move below.
Once more cautious of entering strange homes, I kept my hand on the hilt of my revolver as I stepped through the door and onto the creaky stairs. The boat rocked back and forth softly as I made my descent. About halfway down into the darkness, my eyes began to adjust to the near-darkness, a natural adaptation granted to us fauns. As such, I was able to see the stairs terminating against the rusty hull near the front of the ship. I could see the aniskin nestled on the shoulder of a skin-and-bones faun boy that stood near the base of said stairs. And I could see-
“Ahh!” I cried out in pain as light flared through the room. My eyes snapped back to their ordinary daylight mode, but it was too late. I spent several seconds blinking painful dots out of my eyes as the faun fired up a lantern.
As my vision cleared, it became obvious that the lantern was nothing spectacular. It was a simple oil wick, and similarly to the boat had likely been discarded by a careless rich family. In the pale light, the young faun seemed haunting. He obviously hadn’t eaten in several days, a terrible fact to attribute to someone who likely wasn’t even twelve years old at that point.
Behind the faun, two shapes suddenly moved. I drew my gun in a blur, causing the faun and the aniskin to dive out of the way. The light went out, and I was once again left in total darkness. My eyes adjusted after a few seconds, revealing… Well, not much.
Standing towards the rear of the vessel were two elves, one a full-blooded high elf and one mottled. Both seemed surprised at the sudden darkness, though not more so than the boy, who stared back up at me with wide eyes. I was certain that he at least understood my haste, and I slowly slid my gun back into the holster. As he began trying to relight the lantern, the male elf spoke, his voice almost unintelligible through his thick accent.
“Is this who you promised? The one who will help us?”
It took me several long seconds to process the information I was being given. The reasons for this were twofold: First and foremost, I was trying to place the accent. If I was right, it was from Calsin, though I wasn’t certain on that particular fact. Since most of Fairn had been colonized by Calsin, accents get a lot more jumbled up over here than in some other parts of the world.
Secondly, I was really quite annoyed at having yet another person ask for my help when I wasn’t done yet with the first issue I was facing. I waited until the young faun had relit the lamp before I spoke again. As light filled the room and I once more blinked spots out of my eyes, I sat down on the last step of the stairs and nodded at the two elves.
“Is it too much to hope that you need help finding a minotaur?”
The two elves glanced at each other before answering. “Actually, we’re hoping to steer as far away from the minotaur as possible.” The high elf finally spoke. “We think it’s trying to kill us. It’s been chasing us ever since we got here.”
“Uh, huh.” That was interesting. I made a mental note of the situation and crossed my arms. “Do you have any idea why it’s chasing you?”
Neither one seemed particularly intent on answering, so I changed tactics.
“Why don’t you just give me your story?” I glanced at the faun. “Include how you all met.”
“Alright.” The high elf nodded again. “Well, my name’s Paulin. This is Hesione. We got here just this morning. We started looking for a market, somewhere to buy food, and the thing started chasing us. These two helped us escape.” Paulin frowned. “The… Aniskin, you said? Told us where to go, and Heser here was able to cast illusions to distract the thing.”
Something about that statement caught my ears. “You’re not familiar with the aniskin at all?” Both elves glanced down at the ground, and I leaned forward. “Do you have any idea what species I am?”
“Faun.” Paulin nodded. “You’re a faun.”
“You already asked me that question.” Heser looked up at me. “They’re clueless, mister.”
“Really?” I leaned back against the stairs. The pieces already in my head were growing more and more jumbled. “So we have two people who aren’t familiar with our species, a minotaur that shouldn’t be here…” My mind jumped to a remote possibility. An odd possibility, for certain, but one that I nevertheless wanted to pursue.
“You’re from Calsin, aren’t you?” I crossed my arms. “You were transported here by the magical storm?”
“I think so.” Paulin nodded. “It’s hard to know for sure.”
“Amnesia is often a result of some of the more virulent portals that can be opened.” I reassured them. “Don’t worry, I have something back at my office that can help with that. I deal with a lot of misplaced people after magical storms.” I pursed my lips. “The question, then, is what the minotaur wants with you. It wasn’t transported here in the same portal that you were, was it?”
“No.” Paulin shook his head. “It just showed up once we got here.”
“Interesting, indeed.” I slowly took off my hat, which I started to spin in my hands. “Alright, answer me one more question. Did you notice the minotaur when you first arrived, or did it show up later?”
“It appeared once we arrived at the market.” Paulin answered. “Just came crashing through. We ran out the other side, and that was that.”
“Right.” I nodded. “But like… Did it appear immediatelyas you arrived at the market, or did it take a little bit?”
“It was a few minutes.” Paulin agreed. “Oh, five or six?”
I made a few measurements in my head. The distance from the factory to the docks was…
“It saw you on the cameras.” I crossed my arms. “That has to be it.”
The two elves blinked several times. I formally amended my theory about them being transported from Calsin. In the only continent where dwarves still reigned as monarchs, security cameras had been a staple since the early fifth era. Who were these people?
“The security cameras.” I gestured up at the ceiling of the boat. “They let people see things from a distance. Like old spy magic, but better.”
“Ahh.” Paulin nodded as though he understood, though I could see that he still didn’t. “You think it had one of these cameras and saw us?”
“No, I think it was tapped into the network of security cameras throughout the city.” I shrugged, speaking a bit faster in an attempt to throw them off. “My guess is that it has some sort of internal connection to the city’s security grid. You appeared on it, and it came after you.”
“Why would someone do that?” Hesione finally spoke up for the first time. Her accent was definitely from Calsin, it had just a bit of that flat sound that all speech from that quarter has. “Why do it to us?”
“Well, it’s a dwarven minotaur.” I shrugged. “Have you ever run afoul of the Fond’sar?”
Both elves once more glanced at each other, and Paulin scratched behind his ear.
“Then I think we have our culprit.” I clapped my hands and climbed back to my feet. “Seems like Lorellia’s theory wasn’t so far off after all. Well, then, we just need to take it down.”
“And how do we do that?” Paulin asked.
“Oh, I’ve got an idea.” I smirked, picturing the look on Captain Smalls’ face. Or at least picturing what I hoped it would look like. “How much are you willing to trust me?”
“Deschur!” I could hear the voice of Captain Smalls echoing through the dingy police building even before I made it past the main lobby. Behind me, the two elves both spent a great deal of time glancing back and forth around the area. I myself spared no such time. If Captain Smalls was already on his way, it meant that the minotaur would likely be coming too.
“Captain!” I called out in return as he appeared amongst the rows upon rows of desks that filled the space behind the receptionist. Only a few of the police officers had proper offices, the rest were forced to fill out their reports in the wide-open space, exposing them to the observation of the several dozen cameras spread across the area. Only a few were occupied at that point, their residents frantically pecking away at typewriters that worked far less efficiently than the thought-transfer devices that basically everyone in the rest of the world used.
“And just what in Sarkil are you doing here?” The captain finally reached the front desks and burst through the gate, eliciting rather annoyed glances from the myriad of women who sat behind said desks.
“Just came for a friendly chat.” I nodded at the employees. “You do realize that they would be able to get a great deal more work done if you didn’t have this whole place cloaked in an anti-magic field.”
“If I allowed magic, any old fool off the street might waltz in here and try to kill us!” Captain Smalls bellowed.
“Of course, of course. Because the high profession of wizardry is still studied in earnest in such lands as Fairn.” I rather hoped that my sarcasm was wearing off on him. “Apologies, I do understand the need for such security. Nevertheless, it’s a security issue that brings me here today.”
“Indeed?” Captain Smalls’s eyes narrowed. “Tell me, which one of my officers talked to you?”
“None of them whom I have any desire to speak to again.” I decided not to mention the new recruit, whose presence I had actually rather enjoyed. “That said, none of them had any need. I was able to come to the conclusion, all on my own, that the Fond’sar Remnant has tapped into your very own security feed.”
Captain Smalls laughed. “And how do you expect to prove that?”
A low rumble filled the air as several screams trickled in from just outside the doors. “Oh, about like that.”
Paulin and Hesione both dove out of the way as a minotaur crashed through the front entrance of the police station. The wooden and glass doors shattered spectacularly: it truly would have been an incredible entrance to witness if I hadn’t been in such mortal danger.
This was, due to the circumstances of my life, only the fourth minotaur I had ever seen. The first two had been in zoos, while the third… I’d rather not talk about that particular incident. Nevertheless, this one was more than enough to satisfy any potential lingering curiosity that I may have had. As described by the women, it was plated in armor, though not in the way that I had expected. Pieces of gold and silver, glowing with enchantments, had been fused into its flesh. Its upper arms, chest, head, and parts of its legs had been covered. That said, a large portion of its body was still exposed, providing dozens of vulnerabilities.
Of course, none of that was particularly important. As dozens of officers leapt to their feet and rushed towards the intruder, my trap kicked in. The anti-magic field, so common among the paranoid, finally served the purpose that Captain Smalls had hoped it to have. Every single enchantment on the minotaur ceased working at that exact moment. It nearly fell over, there was so much added weight from the metal, and smoke quickly began to billow from its nostrils.
Now, please don’t underestimate the strength of minotaurs. More than likely, it would have easily been able to recover from the shock and still kill all of us after only a few seconds. The simple suddenness of the cancelation of weight-negating enchantments would throw off anyone, most certainly the mindless beasts that were the minotaurs.
At this point, with several seconds left to us to breathe, every policeman on the force opened fire. Or rather, they tried to. Their guns, fashioned with enchantments as they were, all failed to fire. I had a brief moment of amusement watching Captain Smalls’s face turn from annoyed with my presence to horrified at the minotaur to confident in his gun to once again terrified. As the minotaur rose up and it became clear that no one on the force could stop it, I pulled out my gun.
Silver and smooth, and lacking in any and all enchantments, I pointed it directly at the minotaur’s throat. My thumb pulled back the hammer in one smooth motion, my trigger finger brushed across the metal with just enough force to fling the bullet from the chamber.
One shot. One blast, echoing through the police chamber like a thousand drums beat at once. The minotaur stumbled backwards and collapsed on the ground, blood trickling from its single wound. I had severed its spinal cord, so even if it was technically breathing, it would be unable to attack. I slowly slid my gun back into its holster, relishing the feel of the metal on leather, smiling as the smoke from the gun filled my lungs. Oh, the scent of gunpowder after a kill truly was a fantastic smell.
“You knew that thing was going to come in here.” Captain Smalls ground his teeth together and stomped up to me. “You knew!”
“Why yes, I did. I believe that’s called setting a trap.” I pulled my pipe out of my pocket, where I had stored it after leaving the boat, and placed it in my mouth once more. Even without a fire inside, it still gave me an appearance of confidence. Behind Captain Smalls, I caught a glimpse of the two elves slinking out through the doors. If they followed my instructions, I would soon enough see them back at my office. “You could learn a thing or two from it.”
“Why… I ought to…” The captain stuttered loudly as spittle formed on his moustache.
“Indeed you should give me a medal. I deserve it, but you should know by now that that’s not really my thing.” I knelt down next to the minotaur and began examining him. Though it sounds disgusting, the first thing I did was bend over and sniff his hair. Say what you will, hair will capture and hold more scents than almost anything else. If you want to learn about a crime scene, smell the hair. A faint odor, the smell of oranges, lemons, and sugar drifted upward from the creature. I slowly climbed to my feet and flashed a smile. “Now, if you’ll come with me, I think I know where to find the man who owned this beast.”
“I’m telling you, I didn’t send it out after anyone!” The dwarven owner of the bakery, a rather pudgy man who had made a great deal of money off the dwarven dock workers, thrashed against the men carrying him from the shop. “It just activated and ran out!”
“And I’m sure he’d be very sorry to have inconvenienced you.” I hoped that that was a witty enough comeback. I supposed it didn’t matter. Outside the shop, the man was quickly and forcefully thrown into a police car and driven away. Meanwhile, officers continued to flow down into the basement of the tiny shop, from which they were carrying a large number of artifacts and bits of technology that I rather itched to get my hands on. Oh, well. I knew where they kept the key to their evidence locker.
As I stepped out onto the street as well, Captain Smalls flashed me a single glance that could have meant anything before climbing into his own car and driving away. As it rumbled into the distance, I cast a glance up at the balcony, where Lithia had appeared to me. It was quite visible from the storefront, the very store from which she had quite obviously purchased the scone she had fed to me.
Sure enough, there she stood, along with Lorellia. Both of them were now dressed to party, sporting knee-length skirts that twirled just as they stood there in the breeze. Lithia blew me a kiss before they both turned and vanished into the home, letting the door fall shut behind them. I knew, instinctively, that were I to try to open the door to their home, it would be locked. Should I force it open, I suspected that I would even find the house abandoned. Women were quite the mystery… Some more than most.
From here, satisfied enough with the outcome of events, I began making my way back to my office. This time, I gave a considerably larger amount of attention to the people I passed. I waved at the women sweeping off their steps, I doffed my hat at the blood elf girl that flashed her teeth at me. I can never remember if that particular gesture means “Good day” or “I want to eat you.”
I was just arriving at the door to my building when the clouds finally split open, allowing brilliant rays of light to touch the ground for the first time in what felt like ages. The city itself seemed to ignore the unexpected brilliance, but I could sense that it was a sign of hope for the people around me. They all cast their eyes to the sky, content in the knowledge that there was indeed goodness and life outside this weary city.
When I stumbled back into my one-room apartment, I found the two elves waiting for me, as planned. Both stood rather awkwardly, glancing at the books in my lone bookshelf or musing over my desk. They straightened up as I entered, though I waved them down again. It took but a moment for me to take off my trench coat and hat, though I kept the gun belted on my side. I would need to clean it once they had left, no reason to put it away only to take it out again.
I settled into my chair and gestured for them to do the same. As they sat down across the desk from me, I leaned back and began preparing my pipe once more.
“Alright, that’s one problem solved.” I shrugged softly as a thought crossed my mind. “Two if you count the Fond’sar agent that we apprehended. I’ve never trusted the society. Now, would you mind telling me why a Fond’sar minotaur was so all-fired interested in you?”
I placed the bit of the pipe in my mouth and struck a match, enjoying the first wafts of smoke as the two elves shifted in their seats. Finally, as the billowing clouds of tobacco began to waft through the room, Paulin spoke up once more.
“Well… This is going to sound strange, but… We’re time travelers.”
I frowned in curiosity. That would certainly explain the accent, as well as not recognizing species native to Fairn instead of Calsin. I nodded slowly, taking a few more puffs of smoke.
“Indeed?” I frowned. “In that case, I have two questions. First, how new are you to this? I’ve always pictured time travelers as true masters of disguise, able to blend into their surroundings without leaving a trace. Secondly, why in Gerensethia’s great name did you come here? Seems to me like New Donenrot is stuck between two great eras: The one that just ended and the one that we’re moving towards.”
“Truth be told, we are a bit new at this.” Paulin scratched the back of his neck. “We haven’t really visited many other times besides this. We came because we’re looking for a cure for vampirism. Our time pod had New Donenrot listed as one of the greatest cities of the sixth era, so we decided to check it out.”
I snorted loudly. “A cure for vampirism? You’ll find it right alongside the passive orc and the Hearts of the Elementals.” At their confused looks, I sighed. “Both are considered impossible finds in today’s day and age.”
“I see.” Paulin sighed and climbed to his feet. “I guess we’ll be on our way, then. Thank you.”
Both elves stood up. As they began to walk to the door, heads hung, something struck at my heart. I leapt to my own feet and held out my hand.
Both elves turned, confusion on their faces. I sighed and held up my hands.
“If such a cure ever existed, and I see no particular reason to assume that it did, it probably got confiscated at the beginning of the sixth era.” I shrugged. “Corporations started buying up anything and everything they could get their hands on, even people and ideas. People like me are starting to chip away at those vaults, but it’s taking time. We lost a lot of information in that purge.”
Both elves perked up, though Paulin seemed far more interested than Hesione. I shrugged and walked over to my bookshelf, where I pulled down what was by far the largest volume I owned. I blew off the dust, smiling at the faded red letters. After several rather painful moments of indecision, I handed the book to Paulin.
“My great-grandfather was one of the greatest historians who’s ever lived. He traveled around the whole world, visited every known continent, and compiled a history of our planet up until… Oh, around fifty years ago.” I nodded at the volume. “It’s been banned and burned by almost every corporation in existence, but it’s the best trove of knowledge I have.”
“Thank you.” Paulin dipped his head, which I now recognized as an ancient Calsinese sign of respect, and placed the book on my desk. “I’ll look through it and-”
“Take it.” I placed my hand on the book. “Please. I have most of it memorized anyway, and the gods know you could use a reference book when time traveling. Just imagine if you landed in ancient Corinth and saw a tribe of dwelves!” I chuckled at the thought, then forced myself back to reality. “Seriously, take it. If you’re traveling through time for a cure, it means that someone you know has been affected. Far be it from me to deny assets to the needy.”
“Thank you.” Paulin inclined his head once more and scooped up the book. “We are truly in your debt.”
“Then you’ll just have to come back and repay it sometime.” I flashed a smile. “Now be on your way. I don’t want to keep your undead friend waiting any longer than necessary.”
Both elves bid me goodbye, and quickly vanished from the room. I sat back down in my chair, a bit saddened by the loss of the volume. I didn’t regret giving it to them, as they certainly did need it more than I did, but it was going to be a difficult task to replace the forbidden book. I had a few contacts who might be able to help, but it was going to be a bit of a task to track them down.
I was still consumed by this thought when the final knock of the day came at my door. I smiled and pressed the rune to allow them entrance, pleased to find the street urchin Heser and his aniskin standing in the hallway.
“You came!” I exclaimed, climbing to my feet. “I had hoped you would accept my invitation.”
“Hold on, mister.” Heser held up his bone-thin hands. The aniskin opened its tiny mouth, prepared to spit fire the moment I made a move. “I don’t take charity from strangers.”
“Then don’t take any charity. I think that’s a fine standard in life.” I shrugged and sat down on the corner of my desk. “What I want you to take is a job.”
Heser’s eyes lit up. I could see that I had touched something within the boy, and that alone made my own heart leap.
“A job, mister?”
“Indeed.” I nodded. “You know the lay of the street. You know the people, and you likely know the ones too corrupt to be allowed to roam free. With your bonded aniskin, you truly have a set of skills that I could never hope to have.” I leaned forward, taking the pipe from my lips. “You help me take down the corruption in this city, and you’ll have a roof over your head, three square meals a day, and extra spending cash whenever I happen to get paid.” I nodded at the aniskin. “Same goes for you.”
“You mean…” The boy stammered. “You could… A real job?”
“Stick with it, and you’ll have a license when you come of age.”
Heser ran forward and jumped in the air, letting out a celebratory “Yippee!” He quieted after a second, and simply held out his hand. “I accept.”
I stood up and grabbed hold of the hand, giving it a firm shake.
“Then I’d say we have a deal.” I smirked down at the boy, who I had no doubt would become a far better detective than I ever would. “I think we’re going to make quite the team.”
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical means, without prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the publisher, addressed “Attention: Permissions Coordinator,” at the address below.