Ok, so here's the next bit of Mikey's story. Hopefully it's gonna keep coming this week and I'll have some more soon. I'm kind of excited to see how it turns out!
I’d been between jobs for about two months which meant I hadn’t been sober for about a month and a half. At this point in my life I was either killing a target or killing a bottle of Scotch. I hadn’t been down out of my room for a day or seven, so Bobby had come up to check on me and shove some food under my door. Only difference was this time he knocked.
“Hey Tole. Brought you some food and some coffee…oh and there’s someone down here looking for you. Do us all a favor and wash your nasty ass before you come down would ya? I can smell you from out here.” With that I heard him stomp back downstairs.
What does he mean I smell? I just took a shower the other…ok it has been awhile. Fine! I’ll clean up.
Once I had a bath and some food in me, I headed down stairs to find out who or what was looking for me. Bobby hadn’t said they were looking to hire me, just that they were looking for me. Consequently, I went armed. It’s never good to be lacking pointy goodness when that is exactly what the situation calls for.
I stepped out onto the landing outside of my room and made eye contact with Bobby. He nodded and pointed to a table where a mountain of a man was sitting in a chair that was flanked by four metallic men a uniform six foot tall. Each one of them was golden and built like a perfect specimen of humanity right down to the perfectly shaped musculature. The creepy bit was that none of them had a face nor clothing nor genitals. They looked like those faceless mannequins in the department stores back home except they seemed to be alive.
When I looked closer, I could see there were handles by each man for them to carry the chair. Then I noticed why. His legs were all but useless. Crooked things that probably wouldn’t hold my weight much less his. From the waist up though this fella was huge…nothing but muscle and bone, and not the kind you get from working out. You could even tell it through the clothes he wore. This was working muscle like the stuff you see on blacksmiths and stone masons. These muscles did shit.
There was something familiar about him though, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Anytime I’m faced with an unknown my brain starts doing that threat assessment thing it does, and I quickly decided that I would be extra nice to this guy until a time came to not be nice. Boy did I hope that time never came. That would not be a fun fight. Best to not go looking for one then.
As I walked up to the table the four automatons turned to face me, and I got the impression that they would defend their master without hesitation. I decided that was yet another fight I didn’t want to take on because I wasn’t totally sure that they even could be killed. I filed that away as a question to research later.
“I have come to understand that you are a man who solves problems,” he said before I even had the chance to speak. His voice was deep and rumbled like the ground moving in an earthquake.
I nodded, and he motioned to a seat and continued, “Well, I have one that a man of your skills should find entertaining. I am a crafter of things, weapons and armor mostly, but I also craft finer things. Someone has stolen from me and that cannot be let stand. I wish to hire you to find my things, kill the one who took them in a public and messy way as a message to any others with thoughts of thievery, and return my goods to me.”
In all honesty I was starting to get bored with the stories my clients and potential clients told me. In the end it all boils down to the same thing. They’re pissed about some perceived wrong, and they want it dealt with in the worst way possible. In all honesty I couldn’t be bothered to give two shits about their troubles, but I’d be more than happy to kill someone for their gold. Let’s be honest with each other. In the final analysis that’s all I really want to do anyway…kill someone or something and get paid.
Funny thing was in this case I was actually interested. Something about this guy told me that it was in my best interest to help him. It was almost a compulsion. When that realization hit my brain, I started to back pedal. Compulsion had gotten me royally screwed before, but I had safeguards in place to stop magical compulsion. Maybe it was my hind brain telling me there was more here than I realized. I’d learned to listen to that voice by this point. It’s probably why I was still alive.
He just kind of sat there a minute. He sat so still I wasn’t completely sure he was even still alive, but after what felt like forever he finally kind of snorted out a small laugh. He just sort of relaxed, and when he did, all of his automatons walked away from the table going to sit silently at the table next to us. I took that as a sign that I should go ahead and ask.
“Ok, so the first question is what did they steal that was so important you’re willing to pay my outrageous fee to make an example of the thief? This isn’t going to be cheap.”
He leaned forward in his chair and looked me right in the eye. I could see the anger that was boiling right beneath the surface. I had obviously struck a nerve because when he answered his voice was even lower and there was an edge to it that even set me on edge.
“It’s not what they stole from me. It’s the fact that they dared to do it! I want their guts strung up as banners as a warning to any one foolish enough to consider repeating the act. I cannot allow this to stand. Your fee, however outrageous, is irrelevant to me.” With that he settled back into his chair and drained his mug and before he could set it down one of his drones was there with another full one and another carried away the empty.
Now that is damned handy shit.
That’s when it happened. That process that had been running in the back of my mind trying to figure out why this guy looked familiar finally locked onto it, and I knew who he was. Deciding to be nice was the right call when you’re sitting across a table from a god. That made my second question a little different than I had first intended, but it was far more important.
“I can definitely understand where you’re coming from on that point. If you let one scumbag take advantage of you, they all will. I get that, but here’s my second and I think more important question. What can I do that a god can’t, Hephaestus? That is your name isn’t it? I mean it’s been a long time since I had a class in Greek mythology, but you certainly fit the bill.”
I caught him mid-gulp from his new mug of what I now knew was wine because he sprayed it all over the table and one of his minions. He slowly turned to look and me and then did something I never would have expected…he laughed. It was a huge, heartfelt belly laugh too. I let a little of the tension in my shoulder slip away.
“I haven’t been called a god in a very long time. In our early days of trans-dimensional travel a group of us did take up residence on a backwater world and play the part of gods to a primitive people who called themselves the Greek. It got old though, and we eventually left. Power is an intoxicating thing, but eventually you do sober up or else you get consumed by it and perish.”
“To answer your question though, yes, I and my people are powerful. The problem is if I go to my people for help they will see me as even weaker than they already do,” he said gesturing to his legs. “That would not be the healthiest of choices for me. The second aspect of this problem is that the thief has somehow masked himself from my power. He…or she…has also hidden my creations from my view which is damned hard to do. The things I create carry some of my power and are therefore linked to me. I cannot imagine what it would have taken for the bastard to confound that link. That is why I am here seeking your help.”
This job was going to require me to find the target not just put something pointy in them. It had been a long time since I had a challenge like this. Hunting someone who didn’t want to be found and was doing a good enough job of hiding that a very powerful being couldn’t find him was going to be tough. This might be worth staying sober for a while.
“I’ll find your thief and end them in the messiest way possible. It may take me a while since I have absolutely no idea where the hell to start looking, but I will get it done…what?”
I noticed he had glanced at me and had done a double take like something caught him off guard.
“Huh?” he started. “Oh, nothing…for a second I could have sworn your face changed…darkened like it was under a veil. There is something about you that is vaguely familiar, but I just can’t put my finger on it. You carry a touch of power in you…but I just can’t nail it down.”
I waved my had dismissively, “Whatever. Look can you tell me what was taken? I’m thinking that a thief only steals for one reason…profit. They’ve got to sell that shit, so they’ll look for someone to make that happen. I’ll find the fence and backtrack from there to the thief.”
“Well, most of what was taken were things of minor power…jewelry and such, but there were some very powerful items taken as well. Weapons and armor that I crafted not only for my kin in the Pantheon but also some items that were made for heroic humans back in our days on Terra. The armor for my kin would be of no use to anyone not of my race, but the things I made for the humans…those could be worn and used by anyone. I will have an inventory drawn up and given to you. I could also provide you with one of my assistants who should be able to identify my creations. He seems to have a gift for sensing them. I think once he is within a short distance of them he should feel my touch regardless of any masking done by the thief.”
He opened a portal beside our table as easy as thought and called into it, “Mikey, would you join me please if you’re not too busy?”
At first I thought it was odd that he treats these automatons with such deference. Then I remembered that they are all sentient beings with individual personalities. They’re not his equals by any stretch, but they do help him to do things he otherwise could not. I guess a little respect isn’t too much to expect him to show.
What came through the portal was not at all what I expected. I was expecting another of these sleek automatons. What came through was…well, it was Mikey. He stood about four and half feet tall, had a body that looked like an old potbellied stove with a bucket on top for his head that unlike the others actually kind of had a face on it. His arms and legs that looked like flat bar steel with rivets at the joints. I was not impressed…not in the least.
“What the hell is that?” I asked, the words coming out before I really even thought. “I seem to remember that you created all of your helpers. Did you have an off day or something?”
“What did you say meat-sack? Did you just insult the Master? May I kill him for you Master?”
I couldn’t help it…I laughed.
Apparently Mikey was every bit as twitchy as I am because he produced a blade from…I’m still not sure where it came from...and leapt to the table while thrusting it in my direction. I didn’t survive as long as I have by being slow, but I only stopped his strike with the stiletto up my sleeve by millimeters. We sat there for what felt like an hour staring at each other over the locked blades before Mikey finally broke the stalemate by withdrawing his weapon.
“Oh, I like him!” we both said in unison.
Mikey climbed back down off of the table the weapon disappearing back to wherever it was he stored it. Once he was down and settled back in beside Hephaestus he asked, “I know you didn’t call me out here to pick a fight with...what’s your name meat-sack?”
“To pick a fight with Tole over there, who by the way is damned quick…kudos on that.”
Hephaestus chuckled under his breath and shook his head saying, ”No I did not call you out here to defend my honor, but thank you for that. I have hired Tole to retrieve my stolen things and to deal with the thief. I want you to go with him to identify the things that are mine. You are to do as he asks for the duration of your time together, or I will be most disappointed. Do you understand me Mikey?”
Mikey answered him with, “Sure Master. I get it. Tole’s the boss until you say otherwise. No problem.”
Something in the way he said it though made me a little uneasy. There was something in the way he emphasized that bit about until Hephaestus said otherwise that triggered something in the back of my mind. I may just watch my back a little closer than usual.
“Now to your price,” Hephaestus continued. “I understand that you are customarily paid in gold and gem stones, and that is acceptable to me. What are your terms?”
Now this is the point where I carefully weigh the perceived difficulty of the job, how long I think it’s going to take, what my client can afford versus their willingness to pay. It’s a very complex process unless, that is, the client is wealthy beyond caring and highly motivated to have the job done. In those cases I tend to just get ridiculous. If they say no, I always have a bottle of Scotch waiting, so I went for broke.
“Tracking the thief and ending his ass plus recovery of as many items as I can locate…I would think my weight in gold, an equal volume of diamonds, and a favor should cover it nicely…plus expenses of course.”
Wow, he agreed to that way too easily. Maybe I shot too low. Dammit!
“That brings up another question though. What about items that have already been sold? Do you want me to recover those things as well and how shall I deal with a new owner who is reluctant to give them up? I don’t have a problem leaving more bodies on the floor, but I never kill for free.”
He sat there quietly for a full minute which when it’s spent under the gaze of a being as powerful as he was seems a helluva lot longer.
Hephaestus finally shook his head and said, “You are a brazen little malakas aren’t you? If you should have to forcefully retrieve something that belongs to me, I will compensate you, but not nearly like I will for the thief. I should think a gold bar per would be fair, BUT I will expect you to justify my payment.”
I stuck out my hand and said, “Fair enough. I think we can do business.“
He gripped my forearm and I gripped his to seal our bargain. Before he released me he pulled me closer and stared hard into my eyes. He looked like he was gearing up to threaten me not to fuck him over…they all do that…but before he said word one, his visage changed from stern to questioning. He released my arm and said, “Bargain struck. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have things that need my attention elsewhere.”
He opened a portal behind him and his four companions lifted him and carried him through with him facing me the entire time.
“So Boss, where do you want to start?”
Mikey’s voice caught me off guard, and I MAY have jumped a little. Honestly, I was so distracted by Hephaestus’ exit that I had forgotten he was there. I turned to look at him wondering if maybe I had undercharged again. I should have asked for something for having to put up with a tag along. Crap.
I spun on him and said, “We aren’t gonna do shit until I get a lead on the thief, so unless you have a suggestion where I should start, you can just make yourself at home here. I’ll come get you when I need you to check out things I find.”
Mikey somehow managed to furrow his metal brow and say, “Okay! Geez, you don’t gotta be such a jerk about it. Truth be told I’m really not an ‘out in the world’ kind of guy anyway. You go do what you have to do, and I’ll gladly wait here. I’m sure I can find some way to amuse myself.”
“Got a job?” Bobby asked as he came up to the table with a big mug of coffee and a plate of food in his hands.
I nodded at him, took a pull at the coffee, and said, “Looks that way. Hey Bobby, you have any idea where a guy could move powerful magic items without drawing attention to himself? Maybe a discreet re-seller of items who doesn’t place a lot of value on where they came from? He’d have to be able to scramble efforts to track them and maybe even keep them hidden after they were sold. Sound like anyone you know?”
“Why?” he asked. “You thinking of adding thieving to killing and be a double threat?”
I gave him my best ‘quit fucking around’ look and took another drink of my coffee.
“Wow. You really are in a mood huh?” he asked as he took a seat at the table next to me. “I can only think of about three guys who have the skills and the power to do what you’re talking about. I’ll put out some feelers, and see if I can get a sniff of anything for ya.”
I set the cup down and thanked him as I got ready to dig into the food he’d brought.
"Don't thank me yet...you haven't gotten my bill," he said laughing and went behind the bar.