“The monsters have made their first move since they destroyed our bases,” Isora told me.
Metal grated against asphalt as Boss Ivan’s daughter hauled a scrap of twisted metal machinery out of her way. It landed with a clatter amidst gears and gyros that were all that was left of the old mechs the monsters had sent to loot the remains of our bases.
Isora and I picked our way through the ruins of the bases. Ivan had sent the two of us there to see if the monsters had managed to find anything of use in the ruins. A few crows had come across mechs leftover from the Old World attempting to loot the ruins while I was away in the Giant’s Quarter. Now, Boss Ivan had commissioned me to oversee his daughter’s safety during the hurried efforts to salvage as much as possible from his bases.
Clockwork gears whirred around broken bits of machinery that were all that remained of the Fangs’ mechs in the wake of their looting. Isora sifted through them, spinning them softly.
“They sound slick,” I told her. “Oiled. Whoever’s been maintaining these is no stranger to mechs, Isora.”
“Which makes it all the more urgent to find them,” Isora told me. “If we’re dealing with folks who know how to utilize mechs, then the Fangs just doubled their deadliness as long as their maintainer remains alive.” Belatedly, she added, “And it’s Madame Isora, Silas.”
I hoped she didn’t hear my fingers scraping lines into my palm.
I unsheathed my blade and used it to stir the twisted metalwork on the ground. I could smell tin, copper, iron…these mechs were built hundreds of years apart, all of them lasting well beyond their makers. These things were worth a fortune. And the crows who stumbled onto it had to have trashed at least three in the pile, from the smell of it. “Is there a chance the Fangs would’ve used mechs this expensive if there wasn’t a guarantee that crows weren’t lurking about?”
“There were, Silas.”
“They weren’t assigned to be there, were they? Why overlook ruins?”
Her teeth knock together when he jaw tightened. “I suppose not.”
“Do you think it’s a security breach?”
She stopped moving. Her heartbeat quickene d. “Unlikely,” she said after a momentary pause. “Mechs are powerful, and any raid would have been bound to cost the Fangs something. Considering the current state of our gangs, they likely figured the risk of trashing a few mechs was worth the reward—and if they had someone to maintain their mechs, it’s doubtless that the risk was relatively low. And don’t underestimate how low your plans have brought my father’s gang.” She kicked a scrap of clockwork in my direction.
“I had a vision,” I told her.
“A vision, Silas Cord, without a plan, is useless,” Isora said. She kicked through the wreckage like a child wading through a pile of dead leaves. “I might not possess your ever-so imaginative mind. But my plans are effective. Do not mistake my position here as something as simple as nepotism. I’ve worked to be where I am in the Murder. I was given this position because my plans work. We cannot resolve the Murder to any one thing like border bases or new mechs. Destroy it,” she picked up a gyro and tossed it back and forth between her hands, “And our criminal empire topples.” She tossed the gyro into the mess, where it clattered, far off.
I rubbed my temples. “Okay,” I muttered. “Okay okay okay okay okay. Okay. So.” Through a clenched jaw I asked her, “What do we do?”
“Go back and assemble a mech-repair team. They may be able to design them in such a way that the mechs will lead us back to their maintainer, assuming they haven’t already picked up and moved. I’ll assemble a company to guard these ruins until we can extract what little the Fangs left us when they trashed them.”
“And what of the Fang’s base? They’ll as soon cut off the hand than let us take the whole.”
“Which is why I’m sending one of my father’s greatest assets to apprehend their mech maintainers. As soon as we locate them, that is.”
“Oh. That.” I coughed. “Well…I don’t know about greatest. I’m not one to be modest, but I would say—”
“You are a sword, Silas. A weapon to be wielded. That wasn’t a compliment. Asyou’re your wielder, I’ve assigned you an adjunct to oversee you. His name is Ormic. He’ll be going with you to ensure you do not make the same mistakes you did during your last tangle with our enemies. And Silas?”
“Please heed my advice. Don’t go running after the Fangs alone again. You’ll remember what happened the last time you tried to solve this problem on your own. It didn’t end well, did it? Let’s not repeat the same mistake. My father may have forgiven your incompetence, but you still have to prove yourself to me. I am not as forgiving as my father. Remember that.”
I turned heel and maneuvered through the wreck for the door. I kicked a clockwork skull into the doorframe on my way out. Almost broke my toe in the process. I winced through that pain and said, “Don’t worry. I will.”
I’d had enough business with the Murder for today. I limped home, hoping I had enough money to pay for food tonight.
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