Detective Kintinorous Kope sat down at his new desk in the New Zephyr Constabulary Station House, and found to his dismay that the rickety chair was much too large. Kope was a gnome, about half a tall as a normal man, and the Constabulary obviously hadn't prepared for him. Kope considered complaining, but this was his first day on the job since he had transferred to New Zephyr from the gnome city Burrowtown, and he didn't want to make a fuss about his height. He wanted to fit in, but he was a gnome far from home, and that was looking difficult.
"Need some help there, little buddy?" The voice had a confident twang to it, and Kope looked over his shoulder to see a tall elf in a fringed khaki jacket and broad brimmed hat staring at him through smoked spectacles. Kope frowned and a wide smile appeared under the elf's thick moustache. "Heh. I'm just fooling with you."
"Well, it's not funny, sir. Not in the least," Kope stood up on the chair, until he was eye to eye with the elf. "I'm Detective Kope and I'll have you know that I will tolerate no crude humor about my stature. Sir."
"Well then maybe you ought to get a couple of wooden blocks to sit on. Or bigger shoes." He cocked his head. "You're a dwarf, ain't you? No, you ain't. They got beards and your face is a smooth as a baby's bum."
"I shaved this morning…" Kope muttered, but the elf continued.
"A Halfling? Nah, you look too damn smart." He snapped his fingers. "Got it! You're a gnome!" He smiled. "Heh. What are you doing here? Don't you belong in some falassing garden, with a big red cone on your head?" He held out his hand. "My name is Quelvelas Loth'Lorien. Don't bother pronouncing that last part, unless you've been meditating around some sacred stones and communing with tree spirits. You must be Kope, right? I'm your new partner."
"Wonderful." Kope shook Quelvelas's hand, feeling the strength in the thin fingers. "When do we start?" He put his hands in the pockets of his dark overcoat after shaking. He wore a conservative vest and dark tie, a bowler hat resting on the desk in front of him.
But Quelvelas leaned against Kope's desk and reached for a cigarette. "I gotta tell you, I think you're making a falassing mistake, coming up here to the big Zephyr. Should have stayed in the earth, where you belonged. The job's tough here."
"The law's the law, and I'll enforce it wherever I may be, Mr. Loth…loth…" He paused. "Detective. I was the bailiff of Burrowtown for several years, and never once had any difficulty. Why do you assume New Zephyr, metropolis though it may be, will pose any challenge."
"What ethnicity are you?" Quelvelas asked. "What nationality? Who flag did you fight under, before you came out? You from the north, or the river countries or the Orclands? Are you white, black, or green skinned?"
"Gnome," Kope said. "I'm a gnome. There's only one place where we come from, and that's where I'm from. I don't see what—"
"Exactly. There ain't no other falassing gnomes on this flying burg. You're as lonely as a deer in a wolf-pack, and if you're not careful, you'll get chewed up." Quelvelas patted Kope's shoulder, nearly knocking the gnome down. "But don't worry too much. After all, you got me."
"I disagree, Detective Quelvelas. Why, the antiquated prejudices of elf against dwarf, man against orc have no place in such a modern city as New Zephyr, the flying city. Good Gods, man, this is a place of steel, gears, electricity, steam and technological artistry, a city of the future, that has left the boundaries of earth to soar amidst the heavens! What place have the old hatreds here?"
"You wait, then," Quelvelas replied. "You'll see."
The door of the Chief Constable slammed open and he poked his head out. The other officers ceased their conversations, busying themselves over their desks and paperwork. The Chief Constable, Chief Nicolas Tobble by name, was bald, thick-necked looked like a bulldog leering out from his dog house. "Right," he said. "Quelvelas and Kope, the new guy, get your behinds in here now."
"That's us," Quelvelas said, still grinning as he hooked his thumbs in his belt. "You need any help getting down? A falassing stool maybe?"
The elfish curses were annoying Kope. He furrowed his brow, trying to think of an appropriate gnomish response. "Perhaps you could go ask the worms…" he started, but Quelvelas was already ambling away. Kope sighed. Gnomish curses, revolving around worms and maggots, always took a while to set up. He slipped down from the chair and followed his new partner into the chief's room.
Chief Tobble was waiting for them, a collection of sepia photographs on his desk. He glared at Quelvelas as the elf slumped into one of the high backed chairs before him. "Ain't those smelly elfin herbal dung-sticks you suck on banned by New Zephyr ordinance?" he asked.
Quelvelas shrugged. "This, boss? Helps me relax. No harm done."
"I believe they are illegal, under the Volescrin Dangerous Substances Ordinance, Thirty-Fourth Provision, actually," Kope said, quoting from memory. He smiled a little as Quelvelas stubbed out the cigarette and tossed it in the wastebasket. "Chief Tobble, perhaps I could request a—"
"You can request a gold-toothed dragon for all I care, Burrowtown boy," Tobble said. "I pulled through your transfer because you had a good record back home, but don't expect any other favors from me. If I had my way, all you unmen would be tossed out of the constabulary and back into the garbage where you belong. Humans are the only ones who should be upholding the laws in New Zephyr."
Kope gulped at the blatant racism. "Sir, I don't think—"
"Well, prove me wrong, shorty. Despite Quelvelas's pointy ears and his desire to worship trees or some crap, he's a pretty good cop. That's why I put you together. Now, here's a little problem you can help us with." He pointed to the photographs on the desk. "We got this mailed out from the rogue's gallery in the department in Grand City. They figure we're gonna need it."
The photographs showed a dwarf, stripped to the waist with his hands chained. He was a bullet-headed fellow, with hateful black eyes under a furrowed brow. Tattoos of hammers, runes, and axes stood on his muscled chest like strange scars. His dark beard hung in two braids down to his chest, and he was smiling slightly, like he was thinking of a joke that only he found amusing.
"This worthy is Urzen Brik. He's wanted in Grand City for over fifty counts of murder with firearms and a dozen with blunt objects. He's what those dirt-loving dwarves refer to as a Death Hammer. Could call it a Hitman, but dwarves like styling it up, I guess. And now he's headed here. He's our problem."
The investigative part of Kope's mind came to life. In Burrowtown, he had mostly solved petty vandalism, run in drunk gnomes and arbitrated disputes, but a small town detective was still a detective. "Why would that be?" he wondered. "He must have a job here. Have you investigated the local Dwarven Mob?" He remembered his reading on various criminal groups. "The individual organizations are referred to as Caves, with a Cavern being the encompassing authoritative units."
"Gee, thanks for the education." Chief Tobble pointed a thick finger at the door. "As for investigating – that's your job. Get out there and make me proud, gnome-boy."
Kope nodded. "Consider it done, sir," he said, knowing it would be much harder than that.
A few minutes later, Quelvelas and Kope walked down the marble steps of the Station House and into the choked streets of New Zephyr. Steam chariots, automated carts, and carriages and wagons pulled by rhinoceroses, bears and horses fought for space in the wide streets, under the glare of neon signs and electric and elemental lights. On the sidewalks, human and unmen alike -- solemn orcs, leafy wortfolk and slovenly trolls -- hurried to their destinations. Zeppelins trawled the skies like ponderous birds, while swift biplanes and gyrolifts buzzed from building to building.
All of New Zephyr hummed. The entire city was built on a great disc, kept aloft by pounding elemental engines maintained by generations of gremlin mechanics. If you listened closely, you could almost make out the individual cogs, deep within New Zephyr, rumbling as they interlocked, like a distant storm that never broke. Despite everything, Kintinorous Kope was happy to be here.
"Don't mind the chief too much. He's a Bal'sarthun'oth'ka – lots of thunder, no lightning." Quelvelas walked easily down a side street, then a spiral stairwell leading to a narrow avenue. "I've got just the stone to overturn for word on what the dwarves are doing."
The neighborhood became dingier as they progressed, with mindfog dens and their addicted customers, alehouses and saloons full of cheap mead and violence, and footpads, stick-up artists and outright thugs lurking in the dark alleys. An infestation of creeping moss had hit this place, and most of the crumbling buildings looked like they had been dipped in emerald pond scum.
"Welcome to the Nethers, gnome boy," Quelvelas said, holding out his hands to the urban blight. "The 88th Street Cavern, led by Little Noch, has this place locked down, and I know a fellow who knows what they do." He paused and pushed his smoked glasses down his thin nose, looking at Kope. "You're packing, right?"
"I am armed, yes," Kope agreed. He opened his dark coat, revealing an automated rune cannon pistol in his shoulder-holster. It was a sleek weapon, with a long barrel etched with copper, silver and crystalline bands. "It's covered by regulations and can fire several types of elemental and magical projectiles."
"By the spirits of my hallowed ancestors, that cannon is a falassing hunk of junk!" Quelvelas said, guiding Kope to one of the largest of the alehouses and hotels, a dive called the Cave-Inn. He opened his fringed jacket, revealing twin long-barreled revolvers. "These babies are what you want. And I got this." He pointed to a scabbard, with the jeweled handle of a short elfish saber hanging out.
"A big knife?" Kope asked. "What, will you be preparing a meal, detective?"
"Don't knock the blade, my friend. Cold steel never runs out of ammo, not like that fancy-pants for'futhe you're carrying."
They reached the entrance of the Cave-Inn and stepped inside. It had a dirt floor and stone walls, with a wyvern fighting pit in the center, and several dwarves in canary yellow or peach cream suits, taking bets from the nightly audience. Mugs of frothy ale were swilled by the customers in the low light, as the feathered wyverns struck at each other like part of some bizarre dance, letting their blue blood spill onto the earth floor.
Quelvelas's eyes scanned the room. "There he is," he said, moving towards a corner. "My little green friend."
Kope followed him, towards a small wooden booth with a single patron. He saw it was a goblin, with pink pimples over his mottled green skin. The goblin wore a stained snakeskin vest and a newsboy cap. He spotted Quelvelas and started to run, but then the elf grabbed his thin arm and held him.
"Stinky!" Quelvelas said. "How the Hell are you?"
"Gods!" Stinky whined. "Not now! I got enough problems breathing down my back without you badges showing up! I'll be roasting on a spit if they see me talking with a cop!"
"Then you'll have to talk quick, buddy." Quelvelas pushed Stinky down and sat next to him. Kope hurried to join them, and gave Quelvelas a disgusted look. Quelvleas ignored the gnome and turned back to the goblin. "So, Stinky," he said. "I heard about some big time, small sized shooter just arrived from Grand City. You heard anything about him? Maybe working for Little Noch?"
"I don't really know, Quel," Stinky's voice was a little whine, squeaking at the end of each sentence. "I'm just trying to enjoy some brew and the fight, okay? Why don't you go bother someone else, you pointy-eared nut. I know some dungeons inhabited by slime-beasts and death-bears. Why don't you check those out?"
"Why do that when I can spend time with you?" Quelveas grabbed his arm and pulled him from the booth. He drew out his saber. Kope saw the slightly curved blade, shining in the low light of the tavern. "Come on, Stinky. One way or the other, you're gonna squeal." A few of the patrons looked away from the wyvern, finding another kind of battle more interesting.
Kope stepped between them. "This kind of violent behavior is inappropriate and cruel!" he hissed up at Quelvelas. "Cease intimidating this goblin immediately!"
"Ain't gonna intimidate him," Quelvelas replied, angling the knife downwards. He slashed at Stinky, but slow enough so that the goblin leapt back. "Gonna cut his falassing face off!"
Kope sighed. He looked back at the crowd as he opened his coat, pulling out his round badge. "Nothing to worry about, gentlemen," he said. "It's constable business. Barbarous, insane constable business perhaps, but still nothing that should detract from your enjoyment of drowning in ale and watching those, um, bird-dog-snake creatures fight."
As soon as Kope pulled out the badge, he knew it was a mistake. The Cave-Inn fell silent, and there were only the soft growls and snarls of the battling wyvrens. A dwarf in shirtsleeves and a straw boater's hat stepped out from behind the bar, cradling a sawed-off shotgun. "Detectives," he muttered. "In Noch's joint."
Quelvelas sighed as Stinky slipped away and pounded for the door. "Why'd you go and do that, you idiot? You might as well have set fire to the tree your climbing in!" He stepped in front of Kope. "By the spirits of the earth, your brain must be as small as you are!" He waved to the bartender, as the other dwarfs stood around the bar. The other customers started hurrying for the exit, like the saloon behind them had been set on fire.
Kope faced down the approaching dwarves. They were all a head taller than him, and stockier than the gnome. Kope considered his pistol as he pocketed his badge. "Now, we're not here for trouble," he said. "We're just, well, asking around." He could see them reaching for revolvers or automatics, daggers and slungshots. He hadn't dealt with anything this outright aggressive in Burrowtown.
"Get zrokked, cop," the dwarf with the straw boater's hat said. "We got a place for you, sonny-boy – it's under six feet of dirt, in the back of our garden." He nodded. "Little Noch will want them alive! Take them!"
The dwarves charged forward, quickly crossing the alehouse floor. Kope went for his pistol and opened fire, sending a bolt of raw force, a blinding white flash the color of a star, into the nearest attacker. The dwarf was thrown back, gasping in pain as he covered his chest.
The other dwarves reached them, then. The diminutive gangsters bellowed out insults in their grating, harsh language as they swung at the detectives with whatever they could find.
"Nice shooting, gnome-boy!" Quelvelas grabbed a dwarf's beard and cracked the handle of his blade against the mobster's face, forcing him back. "Almost makes up for your stupidity!" He sheathed the dagger and reached for one of his revolvers, but a billy club cracked into the back of his head. He fell to his knees, his shoulder-length hair spraying out as he tumbled down. Kope ran to his partner's side, ducking a slashing meat cleaver and firing his rune cannon wildly.
"Detective?" he asked. "Quelvelas?" He was surprised that, despite all the fear and frenzy of the fight, as well as his hatred and annoyance of Quelvelas, he didn't want any harm at all to come to the elf. Then a shovel's flat blade struck him full in the chest.
He fell to the ground as the world spun around, bringing up his rune cannon and leaning on the trigger. Half a dozen blasts of blazing energy shot out, knocking back several of the dwarves. But then a steel-toed boot cracked into his face. Whiteness exploded behind Kope's eyes, and that was the last thing he saw.
When he woke up, Kintinorous Kope was in a richly adorned room looking at a white-bearded dwarf and feeling sick. The room had a red velvet carpet, a fireplace crackling dully as the flames flickered down, and a wide window overlooking a Nethers back alley covered in green moss. Quelvelas sat next to him, their hands bound behind them and their weapons lying on a table in the corner.
"Hello, gnome-boy," Quelvelas said. "I bet you wish you stayed in the garden now."
"Kindly call me Detective Kope," Kope hissed.
Then the white-haired dwarf turned to face them. He had a wrinkled face, a nose like a rotten cherry and half-closed eyes. He wore a red dressing gown, and held the fire poker in his hands. Several other dwarves, all flashily dressed in loud suits, stood near the fireplace. Kope recognized them from police photographs. This was the leader and Cave captains of the 88th Street Cavern.
"Ah," Little Noch said, turning around to look at the two cops. "You are awake. Good. I want there to be pain and zrokking suffering, so that my foolish underlings will know not to disappoint me any more, the coalsucking fools!" He slammed the poker down on the carpet, and Kope's heart skipped a beat. "There should not be police in my establishments. You are to turn them away, you are to bribe them, but they should not be there. Rather you bury your own mothers than let them see what occurs in my joints! You think Flinick the Sly and his goblin scum would not be running this city, if I had the constables investigating me?" He turned around, and the Cave leaders shivered slightly. "Now see the consequences."
Quelvelas leaned back and started praying, mumbling strange, airy syllables in rapid succession. Kope would have prayed too, if there was any god he knew worth a damn. Instead, he tried to talk.
"Pardon me, Mr. Noch," Kope said, struggling to keep his voice calm. "But you are making a grave error. Killing constables is only going to cause you unwanted trouble. I guarantee that there will be major consequences."
Little Noch only grinned, jabbing the poker into the fire. "I have wasted many a-badge," he said. "I'm still here." He pulled the poker from the flame. It was glowing red hot. "And you are a gnome, boy. A gold-hoarding, dirt-eating, burrowing little coalsuck." Kope stared ahead, ignoring the words. He had seen hints of the prejudices against his people before, of course, but never so blatant, never snarled into his face. "No one will miss you." Little Noch pulled back the glowing hot poker.
But before he could strike, the crystal ball on his mantelpiece flickered to life. A nervous, tawny-bearded dwarf leaned forward, his face filling the orb. "Mr. Noch?" he asked. "There's someone to see you, a tunnel brother, it looks like. He is quite insistent."
"Bah!" Little Noch cried. "I am busy, you zrokking overfed, milk-sucking zrokk! Do not disturb me!" He waved his hand and the crystal ball went dark, and then turned back to Kope. The gnome realized how small he suddenly felt, how alone and helpless. He struggled at his bonds, but the ropes were too tight. Noch raised the fire poker.
Then the door slammed open. His face as red as his beard was white, Little Noch turned around and glared at the newcomer. "You little bastard! How dare you—" Then Little Noch's wizened head shattered. As his corpse tumbled down, Kope got a look at the shooter. He wore a dark trench coat and a low fedora, a large automatic with an extended clip in each hand. It was Urven Brik, the Death Hammer, and the fire made shadows dance across his hateful face.
"Holy Gods! He killed the Cavern Boss!" The Cave bosses struggled to draw their weapons, but Urven opened fire on them in long bursts. Kope watched in terror as Urven poured bullets into them. One made it down the hall, and Urven spun around and gunned him down without pause. Another knelt down and began to pray, managing a single quick verse before a bullet caught him between the eyes.
Kope turned to Quelvelas. "I think that's our man," he said, and then saw the elf had pulled himself to the far end of the room, where their weapons rested on a small table. Quelvelas dragged his chair a little closer and then leaned back, balancing on two legs to let his hands reach his dagger. "What in the name of the gods are you doing?" he asked. A stray bullet whistled over Kope's head, nearly splattering his brains. He ducked down.
"I'm falassing getting us free, little man!" Quelvelas cried. "What do you think I was doing?" Then his chair fell to the ground, his boots waving in the air. Urven turned away from the dying Cave captains, and looked at them. For an awful second, Kope thought he was done for, fit for the worms and maggots.
Then Quelvelas stood up. He had grabbed his dagger, just before he fell. He grabbed a pistol with one hand and fired at Urven, making the Death Hammer duck into the hall, then slashed Kope's bonds with his saber.
"Thank you, detective," Kope said, hopping out and grabbing his rune cannon. "I guess that knife of yours does come in handy." He and Quelvelas raised their guns in tandem.
"Ain't a knife," Quelvelas said, as Urven peaked out. "It's a saber." They opened fire, sending Urven running back as bullets and blasts of elemental energy tore into the gilded walls. But before Urven ran, he tossed a round metal sphere back at them. It landed between their legs.
Kope recognized it instantly. "Grenade!" he said, grabbing Quelvelas's hand and dragging the elf to the wide window. "Jump!" They leapt through the glass, the explosion ripping through the room behind them in a plume of black fire.
They fell and hit the ground hard, but the infestation of moss cushioned their fall. The moss felt cool and soft to the touch, unlike the rest of Kope's body. He came to his feet slowly, wincing with every movement as the fires burning behind him. He looked back at Noch's headquarters and shook his head. The entirety of the 88th Street Cavern had been destroyed, their leadership blasted to bits, and all by another dwarf, a fellow 'tunnel brother' as they called him.
"Maybe…maybe I should have stayed in Burrowtown," he muttered.
"Hell no, little buddy," Quelvelas said, still lying on the ground. "If you did, nobody would have chucked my butt out of that window and I'd be in bits and pieces." Kope offered him a hand and hauled him up. "So, would I be wrong in saying our case got a whole lot more goddamn interesting?"
"I don't think so. Why would Urven Brik turn against his own people? And who could have hired him? And who is he going to kill next?"
"All very important questions, Kope." Quelvelas shielded his eyes and looked down the street. Several constable steam chariots were heading their way, blaring their sirens like wounded animals. The gunshots and explosions must have summoned them, even in the Nethers. "But I think another good one is – what the soth'sariel are we gonna tell the chief?"
They waited in the corner of the alley for the steam chariots to arrive, and then received a few bandages for their cuts and bruises, a thermos of hot tea, and harsh words from Chief Tobble, who had arrived as soon as he heard the conflagration was caused by dwarven mob business.
Tobble looked like someone had set a fire inside his body. "Sixteen bodies, and more unidentifiable remains in the top floor. A near gunfight in a Nethers club after you barged in. An explosion tearing through the heart of dwarf town." He cocked his head. "You want to tell me exactly what happened?"
"I must say, sir, that none of the events you mentioned are our fault, um, directly, that is," Kope offered. "Circumstances just, well, occurred. That's all."
"Circumstances, eh?" Tobble turned away. "Well, circumstances has changed for you too. You're off the case, the both of you. Clearly, I made a mistake handing it to a bunch of unmen who can't even take a piss without starting a riot. You'll make your reports tomorrow and then I'll get you on something else." He turned away, his shoes tramping on the slick street moss.
Kope sighed. "I'm sorry, Detective Quelvelas," he said. "If it wasn't more my zealous waving of my badge in the Cave-Inn, perhaps this would not have happened."
"Eh, don't sweat it, partner. Case ain't closed until all the bastards involved are in jail or living with their dead ancestors in the underworld," Quelvelas replied, stretching his arms as he started down the back street. "Come on, let's catch a carriage home. I'll pay."
It was late, and few of the taxis and coaches were operating, but they stood on a corner until a rickety black chaise carriage, pulled by a team of six straining red-haired goats, arrived and picked them up. Kope sat in the back next to Quelvelas after giving the coachman the address of his apartment building, and looked out at the forest of neon and electric lights, the urban beauty of New Zephyr. "Our is age is one full of miracles," he said.
"Yeah," Quelvelas agreed. "Say, shorty, why'd you become a cop, if you don't mind me asking?"
Kope was too tired to mind the question, or the insult. "My father was the chief bailiff in Burrowtown. We had quite a few unruly neighbors in those old days, who disliked gnomes on principle. They would often arrive to cause trouble, and my father kept the people safe. I wanted to do the same."
"But you couldn't stay in gnome-town?"
Kope sighed. "There was nothing to do, and every day I thought of my father's accomplishments, and how I had done nothing but run in a few drunk and disorderly gnomes and stop the occasional dispute. I needed more. So I made a request for a transfer." He turned back to Quelvelas. "And you, sir? Why did you join?"
"Ah, that was on account of my father too, but not to live up to the bum. More like so I'd never end up in his falassing place. He was a priest, a shaman of the forest gods, and when our home of Golden Grove got carved up by industrialists, crime, corruption and our own vices, he was a leader of the community, but when trouble came, he just stood back and prayed to his standing stones and sacred trees. Did a whole lot of nothing, as you can expect. I told myself I'd never end up like that."
"We are defined by the past," Kope said after a few seconds of silence. "Whether we like it or not."
"Got that right, little buddy." The carriage rattled to a stop, and Quelvelas pointed to the towering boarding house. "Right. Here's your place. See your tomorrow, Kope. Get ready for a long day's worth of justice."
"No insults?" Kope asked, as he opened the door and reached the step.
"It's too falassing late."
Kope managed a quick smile as the carriage drove away. He went upstairs to his rooms, poured himself several drinks of strong ale, and slept in his shirtsleeves. He was too small for the bed, but he didn't really notice. Kope slept peacefully, and dreamt of Burrowtown's green fields and earthen houses.
He was awoken by the telephone sometime before dawn. The rings sank like dull blows into his brain, finally making his eye flick open and his hands move. "Grub-sucking terrible," he muttered, reaching out and grabbing the phone. "Yes?" he asked, trying to regain his composure.
"Sleep well, little buddy?" It was Quelvelas. "I hope to the spirits you did. We got something big going. Meet me outside your place as fast as you can." Kope sat up, and reached for his overcoat. "Oh, and Kope? Don't forget to bring that fancy little pistol of yours. We're gonna need it." Quelvelas hung up.
Kope slid his rune cannon into his shoulder-holster and hurried out of his apartment. He took the elevator down to the lobby, tapping his shined black shoes in his impatience. New Zephyr was still sleeping, with the lights off, mist in the cobblestone and paved streets, and only the occasional stray gryphon or scavenger wolf scampering around the alleys. Quelvelas stood outside the lobby, a broad smile on his face. Stinky stood next to him.
"Look who gave me a call this fine morning," Quelvelas said. "This little slime-bag figured he had more information to share with us." He put his arm on Stinky's shoulder. "Let's go somewhere and discuss it, shall we?"
They walked down the street, Stinky with his head bowed. Maybe it was his fatigue or the closeness he had come to death last night, but Kope suddenly felt reckless. "You won't hurt him," he told Quelvelas. "And you'll treat him civilly, without threats. I will not be a part of this otherwise."
Stinky shrugged. "Thanks for the concern, Detective Kope, but I don't mind it. In the Market Street Goblin Mob, I'm a nobody and the butt of every joke. The pointy-eared prick here cares about me and saved my scaly hide from death's door more times than I'd like to count."
"Hey, wenches love the ears," Quelvelas interjected with a smile.
Stinky turned to the two detectives, lowering his voice. "And what I'm gonna tell you should make up for all of it. I did some asking around last night. I found out who hired Urven Brik."
"The goblins, I think," Quelvelas said and Stinky nodded. "Only ones who would talk to you, and they had a lot to gain by knocking out the city's biggest Cavern. Kind of weird, though. A dwarf would rather shave his beard than work with the green scale crowd."
"Well, they appear to have set aside their differences," Kope said. "But will their profitable little relationship continue?"
"Yeah," Stinky said. He stopped walking and faced them. "There's a meeting, in a couple of hours, in the Brill Building in Dolmen Square. All the big bosses, or representatives from the major families, pylons, covens and crime clans will be there. Flinick the Sly is calling them in. He invited Urven Brik too. And none of the bosses but him are gonna leave alive."
Kope and Quelvelas looked at each other. "Good riddance," Quelvelas replied. "Let those falassing bastards send each other to Hell. It will make this city better."
"I'm afraid not," Kope replied. "Flinick the Sly is no benevolent gang lord. His conquest will be no easy thing. And when the allies of the other gangs find their leaders slain, they'll go to war. The city will bathe in blood." He nodded to Stinky. "Many thanks for the information. I suggest you make yourself scarce for the next couple of days. Give us time to take care of these grub-eaters."
Stinky nodded and turned away without another word. He broke into a run, scampering for the shadows like just another city scavenger. Kope and Quelvelas continued going down the street, moving towards Dolmen Square. It stood in the center of New Zephyr's financial hub, with clean broad streets that would soon be covered in merchants and traders in their frock coats and derbies or top hats.
"So, we call for back-up, have the tactical teams arrive before Urven does and get him and his goblin employers arrested with ease," Kope said, but Quelvelas wasn't buying it. "What are you thinking?" he asked.
"Tobble took us off the case. We can't go to him with this. We'll get a slap on the wrist, a few insults for being unmen, and then we can go and get falassed while a bunch a big human heroes save the day."
"And there's something wrong with that?" Kope asked. "We're constables, sir, and we're expected to behave in an appropriate matter."
"We're a joke, Kope," Quelvelas replied. "And we're supposed to behave like a bunch of trained dogs, a pack of Bal'sarthun'oth'kas for the constabulary. I don't like that. And I don't think you like it either. So let's go on, crack this thing open and prove those grub-munchers wrong."
Kope paused and considered it. His recklessness remained. He nodded. "We'll need a plan," he said. Back in Burrowtown, he had bended the law when it didn't help people, not bothered with technicalities and done his job as best as he could. Of course, this was more dangerous, but his will remained.
"Well, I looked at your reports from Burrowtown, and I saw you got some top marks in the entrance exams and I'm so smart I can't hardly stand myself." Quelvelas patted Kope's shoulder, nearly knocking the gnome down. "Let's see what we can think up."
When the meeting began in the Brill Building in Dolmen Square, the hobgoblin bruiser in the lobby was surprised to see a gnome wearing a pair of smoked glasses walking ahead of a tall swaggering elf. He set down his magazine and stared at them, his pointed ears perking up. "What do you want?" he asked, his voice a dull rasp.
"We're here for the meeting," Kope said, not looking at the goblin guard. He wore Quelvelas's smoked glasses, and though they weren't that good for the indoors, he had to admit they made him look pretty cool. "All the bosses are supposed to be here. So am I."
"Yeah? And what mob are you running, little man?" The goblin sneered at them.
"The Gnome Mafia, you unbearable lump of scum," Kope said. "You've heard of Burrowtown? We run it. We're gonna expand in this flying scrapyard and expect to be running it within the week. Now tell me where the other bosses are meeting, or I'll have my man here chop you." He didn't raise his voice and spoke in the same low tone. Quelvelas leaned down and grinned. "How's that sound?"
The goblin nodded. "The top floor. The main room," he said. "Have a nice day, Mr. Gnome."
"You better hope I do." Kope walked past him, Quelvelas following. Kope took off the smoked glasses and handed him back to his partner as they reached the elevator and began the long trip to the top.
The Brill Building was the tallest skyscraper of New Zephyr, a rectangular structure of wide blue glass windows, steel and tan stone. The top story had been turned into a long conference room for the meeting, with wide wooden table spread across the golden carpet. Kope and Quelvelas stepped out, looking at the room's occupants.
Every organized crime entity in New Zephyr had sent somebody. There were a bunch of rotund humans from Dragon Hall, the corrupt political club that dominated the city like a conquering force, in checkered suits and wreathed in cigar smoke. There was a party of thin elfin gangsters with pierced ears and embroidered purple suits, fingering their gilded canes. There were muscled trolls in dingy overalls, orcs in dark coats and fedoras, ash-colored gremlins, and even a couple leather-skinned liches, stinking of rot and covered with arcane, faintly glowing tattoos.
Kope sat down at a corner of the table, Quelvelas standing above him. He glanced from one gangster to the other. "No heavy weaponry," he whispered. "Not for a peaceful meeting. They'll be outgunned and not expecting such a trap."
The crime bosses were talking in harsh mutters amongst themselves, until the leader of the orcs finally came to his feet. He slammed his fist onto the table and snorted. "I've had enough of this bollocks!" he growled. "The stinking little goblins called this meet. They ought to do us the courtesy of showing up!"
As if in answer, the doors slammed open and Urven Brik stepped out, his automatics in his hands. "They are not here," he said, speaking slowly and with an accent that made it seem like his mouth was full of gravel. "But I am." He started shooting. The gangsters started running back, or ducked under the table as they fumbled for their own meager arms. Kope and Quelvelas ducked under the table, both drawing their weapons.
"Constabulary!" Kope yelled, coming to his feet as he drew his rune cannon. He tweaked the settings and sent a plume of flame towards Urven. Smoke filled the hall as the carpet smoldered, and Urven walked through it, still firing.
Quelvelas grabbed Kope's arm and dragged him back, following the other gang bosses. "Maybe this weren't the best idea," he said. They were running for a maintenance stairwell at the end of the chamber, which led out to the roof. Bullets churned the air around them as they ran, the human political boss's pearl-handled revolver blasting open the lock.
Kope stepped out into the air on the wide roof, feeling the morning's coolness on his skin as his heart pounded. Urven stepped out after him, still firing his automatics. One of the lich's died, a bullet punched neatly through his leathery skull. The gremlin gang leader did the same, his legs blasted out from under him as he stood near the roof, causing him to tumble off the side. His shrieking wails echoed over the sound of Urven's automatics.
"If I can just get a shot…" Kope muttered, kneeling down and taking aim with his rune cannon.
Before he could fire, Quelvelas grabbed his arm and pointed to the edge of the roof. "I think we might want to save our ammo," he said, even as Urven continued to throw lead at them.
A group of goblin gangsters stood at the roof's edge, Flinick the Sly at their head. He was fat for a goblin, his skin a dark olive green and his fur-lined pinstriped purple suit affixed with a glowing diamond stickpin. Flinick the Sly had come up from some brutal violence-plagued swamp in the Orclands a few years back, and his rise to power in the Goblin Market had been a mix of bribery, brutality and murder. Kope saw the contentment in his dark eyes, and knew that while Flinick's intelligence made him troublesome, his ruthlessness made him a real threat.
"Hello, gentlemen!" Flinick exclaimed, leveling his automatic at the group of gangsters. "We've shared vice in this grand flying city for a long time. I'm afraid that is something which is at an end." He looked behind them, at Urven, who had finally stopped shooting. "And Mr. Brik? It's been a pleasure." He leveled his pistol and Kope realized what was going to happen. "But at the end of the day, I am noble goblin. And you are a stinking dung-eating dwarf." He fired, his shot striking Urven in the shoulder and knocking him down.
Kope and Quelvelas were closest to him and caught the Death Hammer as he fell. "Why did he do that?" Kope whispered.
Quelvelas pointed to the sky above the roof's edge. "Don't need him no more, I think. He's got a bigger falassing weapon now."
The air hummed and not with the usual murmur of New Zephyr's engines. As they all watched, a sleek obsidian gyrolift flew up and hovered above the roof. It was shaped vaguely like a dragonfly, with rotating blades holding aloft a bulbous body and a long tail. Two mounted machine guns and rockets rested under the gyrolift, and started to roar to life like a rising storm.
"Back to the stairwell?" Kope asked.
"Bet your tiny gnome ass," Quelvelas agreed.
They ran, along with Urven, and the swarm of New Zephyr's highest ranking gang bosses and captains, as the gyrolift opened a storm of fire behind them. Rockets and streams of machine gun fire crashed into the roof, spraying up chunks of concrete. A few of the gang bosses were cut down, torn apart by the machine gun rounds or blasted into bloody mist by the rockets. The survivors reached the stairwell and crammed inside.
"Open the damn door!" the orc boss bellowed, waving a thick fist. "Open it or we die here!" An elbow was pressed into Kope's face, and he struggled to stay next to Quelvelas in the crowded stairwell. If anyone cared that he had announced he was a constable, they didn't show it.
"Ah gods!" The elfin boss turned around. "That duplicitous Flinick must have had one of his underlings block the doors with furniture before the slaughter. We can perhaps push it aside in time but the falassing gyrocopter will come about presently and destroy us all in a fury of fire." He removed his purple bowler. "Gentlemen, it's been a pleasure scheming with you all."
The orc boss pointed at Urven. "You! Death Hammer! Why did you turn your own kind? Why did you betray the dwarves to work with their enemies?"
Urven shrugged. "Is modern age," he said. "No place for old prejudices here." He touched the bleeding wound in his shoulder and leaned weakly against the cement wall. "Or so I thought."
Quelvelas peered up the stairwell, watching the gyrolift come around and hang in the sun like a solid black moon. "Well, partner," he said. "Looks like this is the end."
"Not so," Kope replied. He drew out his rune cannon, busying himself with the settings. He would have one shot, but it might be enough. "I may be able to bring down the gyrolift. I'll need covering fire against the goblins on the ground. I'm sure you could handle that." He finished dabbling with the rune cannon and held it up. The crystal bands glowed white. "What do you think?"
"That's crazier than bathing in lava, that's what I think!" Quevelas cried. "You're just a little gnome. How can you hope to succeed against a falassing, death-spitting, gods-damned gyrolift?"
"Come on, Detective," Kope said, feeling his heart beat slower. "It's the modern age. No place for those kinds of prejudices here. Or haven't you heard?" He turned back to the roof and looked up at the gyrolift. "Now cover me." Then he started to run. Kope felt his stomach boiling, his throat go cold. Any second he expected a bullet to cross his brain, or a rocket to explode before him and send his bloody pieces into the air. He reached the roof.
Flinick the Sly raised his revolver. "Looks like we got a suicidal halfling!" he laughed. "Finish him, boys!"
Quelvelas stepped forward, opening his coat to reveal the twin long-barreled revolvers. He drew them out and started firing, "That's gnome to you, scum-brains!" The long pistols fired rapidly, pumping rounds into several of the goblins and making the others duck for cover.
Kope ignored the bullets flying around him, making the air grow hot and full of the taste of gunpowder, and focused on the gyrolift. It came screaming down for him, its rotors a blur of motion. Its machine guns were readying, and Kope could see the pilot and co-pilot inside, their clawed hands flying over the throttles, and levers, bringing their guns to bear. Almost too late, he saw the rockets glow under the main cabin.
He leapt forward, raising his rune cannon and pulling on the trigger. A long crystal-white cord shot out from the muzzle, a long rope of ductile ice. It slammed into the underside of the gyrolift and stuck. Then Kope's feet left the ground. He felt the wind on his face as he reeled himself up. The rocket streamed past him, and he could have paused to watch it fly past him, feeling its heat as it exploded on the part of the roof where he had been standing just a few seconds ago.
"What in the Dark Dweller's name is that crazy gnome doing?" Flinick shouted. "Pick him off! Wipe him out like the bug he is!" His men struggled to jam new rounds into their rifles and shotguns, and raised them to their shoulders.
But Quelvelas, and even some of the surviving mob bosses, poured gunfire into the goblins. The goblins' shots went wild, one clanging into the dark steel of the gyrolift's underside, near Kope's forehead, and the rest of the barrage fizzled out.
Kope looked back up, spotting the gyrocopter's engines. The ice rope would shatter when he started firing again. He didn't have much time before the gyrolift was too high in the sky for him to survive a fall. He brought the rune cannon up, took aim and squeezed the trigger.
The ice rope shattered and Kope fell down. He squeezed off three long shots, feeling the prickling chill as the bolts of pure white elemental energy flew from the barrel. They were like spiky snowballs, and they crashed into the engine, rotors, and gun battery of the gyrolift. Then the air was roaring in Kope's ears and the ground was rushing up to meet him. Kope closed his eyes.
But instead of splattering over the cement roof, he landed in Quelvelas's arm. The elf caught the smaller gnome like he was an infant. "Well," Quelvelas said, setting him down gently. "That was some damn fine shooting."
Above them, the gyrocopter came careening down, ice freezing its engines, rotors and guns. The rocket pods exploded, the engines strained to no effect, and the rotors slowed and stopped. With a crash that Kope felt in his gut, the gyrolift crashed down in the midst of Flinick's goblin gang. The cockpit slammed open and the pilots dashed out, the rest of the goblins and Flinick running with them. The engine burned hot against the ice and finally gave out.
The gyrolift exploded. Orange tongues of flame tore the dark steel apart, and the force of the shockwave hurled Flinick and his underlings onto the ground. Kope shielded his eyes from the explosion and the sudden flame, and Quelvelas lowered his glasses and grinned. He pointed both his guns at the fallen goblins, all too injured to do more than groan.
"That's right, boys," he said. "You're all under arrest."
Kope sank down to his knees. "Grubs and maggots," he swore. "My guns empty."
"Well, it did it's falassing job, shorty," Quelvelas said. "You didn't fire one shot that didn't go where you wanted it to."
"Lot of practice at the range," Kope said. He smiled slightly. "Not much else to do, where I come from."
Urven Brik approached them. Most of the remaining gangsters huddled in the alcove near the stairwell, waiting for the police to arrive and open the doors. Sirens sounded in the distance, and their steam chariots started to fill Dolmen Square. Urven pointed one of his automatics at Kope and Quelvelas. "You're out of ammo," he said, slurring his words in his thick accent. "I am not."
The two detectives looked at each other, then back at Urven's pistol. Quelvelas's leg lashed out in a spinning kick, driving his boot deep into Urven's wounded chest. The dwarf tumbled backwards, and Quelvelas finished with a heavy blow across the face. He picked up the fallen automatic and tucked it into his fringed jacket. "You just lie there, boy," he said. "I ain't in the mood."
A few constable gyrolifts and dragon cavalry soared above them, their shadows wide on the sunny roof. Quelvelas yawned. "Some first two days, rookie. But you came through all right. Just one thing remaining – what about Tobble? He's gonna be madder than if we was marrying his daughter."
"Him?" Kope asked. "We prevented a dangerous and bloody gang war from errupting. We caught the culprits—all of them. He can go munch grubs if he doesn't like it."
"Heh." Quelvelas held out his hand. "Well, shorty, that's a healthy attitude to have." He paused. "You know, little buddy, I think we might make a good team."
"You think so?"
"Yes, Detective Kope," Quelvelas said, smiling as he looked over his smoked spectacles. "I falassing do."