The Steinadler Job, Part Two
Standing upon the platform outside the train car were three figures dressed in identical dark suits. Unlike the detectives on the scene, their suits were cut a bit more aristocratically, with thinner lapels and longer coat tails on the jacket, as well as having razor-sharp pleats on their trousers. The clothing was also strictly tailored to their lithe but curving figures and made of fine silken materials. The three were the epitome of wealth and high class, as to be expected since they were elves. Many of the uniformed officers took quick glances up at the figures, who were a rare sight down here in the Docks district.
Detectives Schmidt and Azul exited the train car and made their way towards the waiting three. Edelweiss, meanwhile, hung back by the entrance, content on watching the proceedings.
"Are you the one in charge here?" asked the elf in the center of the formation when the detectives had reached them.
"I am Detective First Class Schmidt," Schmidt replied, introducing himself. "And yes, I am the senior officer on the scene. How may I help you, Ms… ?"
The elf, whose fair features and long, dark blond hair made him look very feminine, frowned in irritation. "I am Herr Lerner von Mittag, Squire Herald to High House Mittag."
"My apologies, sir," Schmidt said, though his dull tone made the apology seem less than genuine. "What may we do for you, Squire Herald?"
"You may start by returning what rightfully belongs to us," the elf said with a sneer. "This train and everything within it is the property of House Mittag. I demand that you and the rest of your ilk leave these premises at once."
"I'm afraid we can't do that."
"What?" The elf's brows shot up in utter confusion, obviously not used to being denied. "What did you say to me?"
Schmidt continued speaking, not at all bothered at Lerner's increasingly bad mood. "Three people were murdered in that train. Regardless of-"
"This is intolerable!" The squire shouted, interrupting the detective. "We are of House Mittag and such an insult-"
This time it was Schmidt who interrupted. "Regardless of your claim on the train, as far as the law is concerned, this area is a crime scene. According to the High Charter Chapter 27, subsection 214: All capital crimes committed against non-Elf citizens go under the purview of the Lower Senate. Which, as a reminder, the Capital Police is a branch of."
"You…" Lerner was about to say more, but the elf on his right placed a warning hand on his arm. The elf visibly took a deep breath to calm himself.
"Now, is there anything else I can do for you gentlemen?" Schmidt asked.
Lerner gave him a fierce sneer. "You know, human. It wasn't so long ago that I could have had you skinned alive for your impertinence."
Schmidt returned the elf's sneer with a grim smirk. "Well, thank goodness we live in much more enlightened times."
Lerner ignored the remark, choosing instead to turn around and make his way towards the exit. His two bodyguards followed.
"Damn," Azul said. "You definitely have balls of steel. There's no way I could have talked to an elf like that."
Schmidt shrugged. "What can I say? I've got a lot of experience in dealing with elves and their nonsense." He spotted Edelweiss approaching. "Speak of the devil."
"Wow, you handled yourself quite well against that idiot," she told him.
"I probably only bought us a few hours," he said. "Lerner will go up the chain of command and try to intimidate someone higher up. It's only a matter of time before someone bends to his whims." Schmidt turned to Azul. "We better get as much done as we can while we have this crime scene to ourselves."
"On it," The detective broke away and jogged over to some uniformed officers to relay Schmidt's orders.
"Well, I can see you folk are going to be busy tonight," Edelweiss said. "I'll leave you to it."
Schmidt frowned. "And where are you off to?"
The elf was walking towards the exit and stopped to address him. "The Freelance Guild. They're the only loose end in this entire unfortunate ordeal."
The detective sighed. "I'm not about to get more complaints from them about you, am I?"
"Don't worry," Edelweiss said, waving to him as she made her way to the exit. "I'll play nice this time."
"Well, so much for playing nice," Duke muttered.
Edelweiss looked up from the front desk of the Guild headquarters and saw two familiar figures headed her way. One was a large, angry orc in a red jacket, the other an older human in a tan suit. She immediately recognized them as the two recruiters who accosted her outside her apartment a few weeks ago, the ones she had to beat the hell out of after the orc had slapped her in the face.
Said orc wasn't looking too well, as he had numerous bruises and stitches on his green face. He had a fading black eye as well as a large chip in his left tusk. All in all the wounds seemed to be healing, but they were still quite noticeable. His human friend had a bandage across the bridge of his nose, from when she had broken it.
"What the hell do you think you're doing here?" the orc asked. The human was trying to hold him back, but it was difficult due to the orc's massive size.
"I'm working now, what do you want?" Edelweiss turned away from him, choosing instead to turn her attention back to the somewhat confused receptionist who she had just been talking with.
"You have some nerve showing up here, after what you did to us!" The orc's shouting was drawing a lot of attention from the others in the lobby. Most of them, Edelweiss could tell, were Freelancers. The lobby of the building was quite large, similar in scope to that of a ritzy hotel, so there were a lot of people gathering to watch the events playing out.
"You deserved every bit of it, and you know it," she told him coldly.
"Don't you dare talk like that to me, you stupid elf, not in this building!" The orc made a move to close in on Edelweiss, but his partner shoved him back.
"Come on, Huss, that's enough," the human told him.
"Damn it, Zhang, it's because of this bitch that we got knocked back down to Copper! Now I find her just waltzing around HQ like she owns the place? Fuck that, man!"
"What's all this commotion about?" An older, gray-haired human walked up to the three of them. He was dressed in a tailored blue suit with gray pinstripes. Covering his piercing blue eyes were silver-framed spectacles that looked remarkably expensive.
"Mr. Ballard, sir," Zhang said, backing off to stand a respectable distance from the man.
Even Huss, the orc, seemed to calm down when he saw who it was.
"Well?" asked Ballard, looking from the orc to the human. "What's this all about?"
It was the orc who answered. "This one," he grunted towards Edelweiss. "She's the one who attacked us."
"I see." The old man looked towards the elf. "Ms. Edelweiss, wasn't it?"
Edelweiss raised an eyebrow in surprise. "Yes. I am."
"I am Yu Ballard, Assistant Guildmaster to the Freelance Guild," he said. "In the name of the Guild, please accept our deepest of apologies for the way you were treated."
"But, boss!" Huss shouted.
"Enough," Ballard sent a vicious glare to both the orc and Zhang. "We sent you to Ms. Edelweiss with a simple offer of membership, not to shake her down like you were some common thugs!"
"Mr. Ballard, we-" Zhang started to say but was interrupted.
"Quiet! You've disgraced the Guild enough with your previous actions, and now you start this commotion. I had thought being demoted would be enough to curtail your idiocy, but perhaps that wasn't enough!" The old human shook his head, sighing in disappointment. "Go. I'll figure out what to do with you two later."
Huss growled, then stomped away. Zhang merely followed silently.
Ballard turned back to Edelweiss, his stance and tone apologetic. "Once again, on behalf of the Freelance Guild of Drakhaven, I must beg for your forgiveness. Please, I hope you don't allow the actions of two, uh, overenthusiastic members to taint your perception of the Guild. We are not like that, I assure you."
Edelweiss frowned before crossing her arms. "Is that so? I seem to remember a time when the Freelance Guild would do exactly that, trying to strong-arm independents into their rank and file. I've personally had to go through this sort of thing numerous times when dealing with your members in Leronte."
"Oh, I see." Ballard removed his glasses, then began to polish the lenses with a handkerchief taken from his front breast pocket. "I forgot for a moment of how long-lived your kind is. You must be speaking of our earlier days when the Guild wasn't as organized as it is now."
"Yes, but in my experience, nothing changes that quickly in just thirty years," said Edelweiss.
"To you, maybe. But to we humans, thirty years is almost a lifetime. I admit, our predecessors shortly after the Guild's founding did not engage themselves in the most honorable of ways. Since then, though, the Freelance Guild has instituted numerous regulations that prevent the vast majority of… unpleasantness to occur."
"I see," said the elf with a sigh. "Look, I didn't come here for a history lesson on your Guild. I'm here because of the Steinadler."
It was faint, but Edelweiss was able to catch the softest of ticks occur in the old man's left eyelid. "I don't know what you mean."
"Come off it. In a few hours, House Mittag is going to declare a sizeable bounty on both the Steinadler and the perpetrators of its theft. Things are about to get hectic for you and your Guild. And considering the fact that this crime happened under your watch, I'm betting the Guild's reputation is on the line if that golden eagle isn't recovered. Sounds to me like you need all the help you can get."
Edelweiss tilted her head and gave the old human a wan smile. "You said you were sorry about how I was treated by your two attack dogs. If you really are as apologetic as you seem, then you'll be more than happy to help me out here. Unless of course, all those sweet words about honor and forgiveness were just empty platitudes."
Ballard frowned. He put his glasses back on his face then began walking away, towards the elevators. "Come with me."
Edelweiss rushed after him, whereupon they entered an empty elevator. The walls of the lift were polished brass and reflected the image of the two occupants all around them. Ballard leaned over to the operations panel and clicked the 12th Floor. The ride up took less than two minutes, and the two of them remained silent during the trip.
Upon setting foot on the 12th Floor, Edelweiss found herself faced with an organized mess. The floor was a collection of offices, in which all of the occupants seemed to be participating in a chaotic jumble. Men and women were glued to their telephones while others ran to and fro from one office to another delivering paperwork and files. There were even those who were asleep in the corners of each room, either on the floor or on chairs, their duties preventing them from returning home for a much-needed rest.
Ballard escorted her through the maze of hallways and offices until they reached a large, curtained-off meeting room. Inside were ten people involved in looking through various boxes of files and paperwork, all of them looking much more harried than the ones outside.
One of them looked up from his work as the two entered. "Sir," The human stated as he stood up. As he got to his feet, Edelweiss realized that the man was about four heads taller than she was. He looked to be in his late twenties and was wearing a thoroughly wrinkled tan suit.
"Ayu Mortensen, this is Edelweiss, an independent Freelancer," the old man told the younger. "She will be assisting us in this mess."
"I see," although there was a hint of suspicion in the tall human's voice, he still accepted the assistant guild master's words. "Pleasure to meet you," he said to Edelweiss as he shook her hand.
"This is Ayu Mortensen," Ballard told the elf. "He was in charge of the Steinadler delivery job. Needless to say, he's now in charge of its recovery as well as hunting down the people responsible."
"So, now that we're all here, Ms. Edelweiss. Tell me. What do you know?" Ballard asked.
The elf crossed her arms and took a long, deep breath. "Where to begin? Hmm, let's see… I know House Mittag hired you as extra security while they transported their house symbol to the capital. I know that the train was attacked en-route by a person or persons unknown, resulting in the deaths of everyone aboard. I know that at least one of the attackers was an elf-" Ballard and Mortensen looked up, startled, upon the revelation, "since the perpetrator was able to perform magic through a Faraday Ward. I also know that in order to gain access to the secure car itself, the perpetrators needed to be able to pass the biometric scanners at the door." Edelweiss met the old human's eyes. "That's how I know that someone from the Freelance Guild was one of the perpetrators."
"That's bullshit," Mortensen said. "One of us would never take part in this. Three of our Freelancers died for the gods' sake!"
Ballard held his hand out to silence any more retorts from his subordinate. He turned to Edelweiss and motioned her to explain.
"The biometrics," she said. "They were tuned only for a certain number of people. One set of biometrics was for the members of House Mittag, and another set I'm guessing was for select members of the Freelance Guild since they were guarding the cargo. Since House Mittag wouldn't be stealing from themselves, that only leaves someone from the Guild who was able to open the secure car's door."
Ballard frowned, then shook his head. "That's where you're wrong. No one from the Guild had clearance to access the secure car."
Edelweiss blinked in surprise. "What? But…"
"House Mittag didn't trust us enough to give us full access," Mortensen said. "Only members of their House could open that door. One of our men had to be locked inside that stupid car with the eagle and couldn't be let out until the train reached its destination."
"I see," Edelweiss rubbed her chin in thought.
"You said that you believe one of the perpetrators to be an elf," Ballard said. "Could one of the other Houses have attempted this? I know House Mittag and House Mitternacht are not on the best of terms."
The elf shook her head. "No. It would be a declaration of war for one House to steal another's symbol. I don't see any House committing to such an action for so petty a price. No, we're missing something." Edelweiss turned to Mortensen. "Who else besides you, the assistant guild master, and the three Freelancers on the train knew about this job?"
The tall man looked over to Ballard, who gave him a nod. "Well, aside from me, Mr. Ballard, and the three operators, everyone in this room."
"How about any support staff or clerks outside this room? Could they have known about it?"
Mortensen shook his head. "No. This was an important and pretty hush job, so we kept all details close. Only those directly involved knew the details."
"And nobody else knew about it?"
The tall man shook his head once more.
"Gunther," Ballard suddenly said aloud.
Mortensen looked up in surprise. "Wait. You're not saying…"
"He is an elf," Ballard replied.
"Wait," Edelweiss suddenly cut in. "What's going on? Who's this Gunther?"
"Gunther is one of our gold level Freelancers," Ballard explained. "We had originally assigned him to this job during the preliminary planning stages, but he opted to drop out. He said some sort of emergency came up and he'd be out of the city for a few weeks."
"And this guy's an elf?" Edelweiss asked.
The old man nodded.
"It can't be Gunther," Mortensen stated. "He may be an elf, but he's bro-" The man cut off what he was about to say, remembering that Edelweiss was with them in the room. "... he was an elf, like you. Couldn't cast magic without a Grimoire. He could never have gotten passed that Faraday Ward if what you claim is true."
"He could be faking it," Edelweiss said. "It wouldn't be too hard for an elf to pretend to be using a Grimoire when in fact he was casting the spells himself."
"That seems pretty far fetched," Mortensen said.
"Maybe, but it's the only-"
Edelweiss was interrupted by an intern who had suddenly rushed into the room.
"Sir!" he shouted as soon as he saw Ballard. "Word just came out. House Mittag just put out a reward of six million bits for the recovery of the Steinadler as well as the capture or elimination of the ones responsible for the theft!"
A shocked silence fell upon the room.
"Ladies and gentlemen," Ballard spoke up. "We are now on a deadline. With this news, every hired gun, bounty hunter, and mercenary in the region is going to be competing with us to find and recover the Steinadler. If we're to restore the Guild's reputation, as well as avenge our fallen comrades, we need to light a fire under each of our seats and get to work!"
With his words, the room broke out into chaos once again as the Freelancers doubled their efforts.
"Ms. Edelweiss," Ballard turned to her. "I'm afraid that with the posting of the bounty, our time working together has expired. You have now become our competition. Please show yourself out." The old man waved his hand towards the exit.
Edelweiss nodded. "Good hunting," she said, before leaving the room.
"Well, that was an interestin' peek into the inner workings of the Freelance Guild," Duke said as Edelweiss entered the elevator. "Think you can work in a place like this, dealing with so many people?"
"Yuck, no thanks." Her face cringed in disgust at the thought. "This place is too organized, too corporate. I'll stick to how we do things." She pushed the button for the ground floor.
"You mean blindly running around, no idea what we're doing, and occasionally getting lucky when we get ourselves a lead?"
"We're not that bad," Edelweiss glanced up at the floor display above the door. Only the Eighth floor. Why is this thing so slow now when it was super fast before? Was it because the Assistant Guildmaster was riding it? "Besides, we already have a lead."
"Oh, you mean that Gunther fella?" Duke asked.
"Yes. I need you to get his information: home address, Grimoire number, etcetera. Anything that'll help me find the guy." She was still watching the display. Fifth floor now.
"Already done. I broke into their mainframe and got the info the moment I heard the name. Interesting guy. I put everything I found in your Grimoire for you to peruse at your leisure."
"Good work, Duke," Edelweiss grinned. "I knew there was a reason I paid you the big bucks."
"Sweetheart, you don't pay me shit."
The elf let out a laugh just as the elevator reached the ground floor. The brass doors opened and Edelweiss stepped out.