“Well, hu-man. I will ask you one final time. Would you really choose death rather than pay 513 gold pieces?” The voice was flat, almost robotic, but even so it held a hint of incredulity. A well-tanned man in weathered adventuring gear was bound to a flat, iron table. The human stared upward at his questioner, as if in deep contemplation.
“Would I rather be beheaded than pay your mechanical ass a 500 gold fine?”
“As I just mentioned, the fine is now 513, due to interest.”
The human stared into the face of his large executioner and slowly uncurled his middle finger in response. It took several moments for the Inevitable to register that the obscene gesture was the only response it was to receive.
There was a rasping metallic exhalation, which if one didn’t know better, might be construed as exasperation. The Inevitable hefted a large axe upward.
“Very well, hu-man. Victor James Gilroy, in accordance with the bylaw 659 of the plane of Mechanus, you have been found guilty of theft of another’s property and lying to authorities. You have refused to pay the requisite fine, despite having the funds to do so. You have already received the maximum non-lethal corporal punishment and have still resisted payment. Since you still refuse to pay the fine and subsequent interest, your recalcitrant, law-breaking head shall be removed from you body, terminating your existence on this plane.” The Inevitable lofted the axe effortlessly above its metal head.
“Punishment will be administered… now.”
At that moment a loud explosion shook the square chamber. Dust and brick blasted across the room, spraying the Inevitable with debris. It hesitated for a split second. Inevitables are programmed to administer justice above all else; however this Inevitable reasoned that there was a small chance not responding to the blast could result in an outcome that left the human alive. Taking a moment to assess for danger was the rational course. A lithe humanoid silhouette slipped quickly into the blasted opening in the wall. The Inevitable processed that this new humanoid was casting a spell. It concluded that it should bring the axe downward quickly. The Inevitable slammed the axiomatic weapon onto Victor’s neck- or would have had a spell of protection not blocked its blow. The Inevitable reared back in pain. Powerful chaotic magic was protecting the law-breaking hu-man! It turned to the breached wall, but the humanoid silhouette had vanished. At that same moment Victor felt the bonds holding his arms release. The Inevitable took notice and rushed the execution table. Sparks shot into the air as it staggered backward. This magic protection was an insult to the Inevitable’s ordered being! Victor readied himself. A few seconds later he felt the bonds around his ankles click off. A sword appeared next to Victor on the table, as if out of thin air. Victor’s sword. Victor didn’t know who was rescuing him or why, but he knew exactly what he wanted to do.
“Hu-man! You are now in violation of Mechanus penal code subchapter 28.7: Resisting an officer of the law. Given previous judgments against you I must termina-“ The Inevitable’s speech was rudely interrupted by a gout of white hot flame leaping from Victor’s sword. Victor heard soft chanting behind him, then realized he was growing in size and felt a surge of righteous might course through him. The Inevitable slammed its axe against the chaotic barrier. Victor was still behind the protective shield. Not for long. Now that he was large Victor stepped forward, meeting the robotic creature eye to eye, slamming the blade down again and again between construct’s glowing eyes. The eyes slowly dimmed to darkness as its large metal bulk dropped unceremoniously to the floor.
Victor spun around. He shrunk back to normal size. No one was visible, until some magic word was spoken and the lithe figure shrugged of the spell of invisibility. Behind him stood a slim, dark skinned human with a peculiar holy symbol on his and chest and- was that Victor’s belt and bag of holding the man was holding?
“You’re Victor James Gilroy. This is your stuff. Remember me? I’m Jamaal. I’m here to get you out of here.”
Victor grabbed his things back roughly, heading for the door as he slung his pack around his arm.
Jamaal laughed and said, “I have a better exit strategy than that. I’m here to help!” He set a small cube on the ground and pressed one of the sides. A portal appeared. Behind an undulating film a lush green landscape beckoned, slightly out of focus. Victor paused to look back, then continued to the door.
Jamaal stumbled forward. “Wait! I… I need you to come with me, Victor! You may not know it, but it’s part of the deal- Hey! What in the hells did they do to your hand?”
Victor was walking and struggling to put on his belt with his one remaining hand. On Victor’s left forearm there was a shining metal cup attached just where his hand should have been. Having finally gotten he belt adjusted, Victor just kept walking. Jamaal followed carefully, a few steps behind, grumbling “I’m here to help,” under his breath.
Victor maneuvered the ordered hallways of the detention facility as though he knew them well. He did not slow his pace to allow Jamaal to keep up, but without looking behind him he said, “In 100 paces we’ll reach the front door. Be ready to fight.”
Jamaal hustled behind, casting a several quick spells to ready himself for combat before nearly running into Victor, who had stopped abruptly.
Victor stared at the front door. It was open. The guards were gone. In fact, there was no one in sight. This was too easy.
“You know, we could just go back the way we came and take a quick jump out of this glorified grandfather clock of a plane.”
Victor turned to face Jamaal.
“They cut off my hand. For not paying a fine.”
“Villains! How could you pay the fine if you were locked in irons?”
Victor, moved slowly around the edge of the room, getting another angle of the street outside the open front door.
“Oh I had the money. It was in my bag of holding, the contents of which they had already meticulously catalogued and logged. You obviously saw my possessions log when you liberated my belongings from the evidence locker before you rescued me.”
“Wait. They had your money. Why didn’t they just deduct the fine from your gold and call it even?”
Victor tumbled in front of the door from the left side to the right. No arrows or lightning bolts shot through the doorway in response.
“Technically the money was still mine. Something in their stupid bylaws about me having to PAY the fine, as in, agree to part with my money voluntarily. Plus the fucking INTEREST.”
“Well if they’re chopping off hands it hardly seems voluntary,” Jamaal quipped.
“I would rather lose my head than pay these bastards a single copper. If they had executed me my belongings would sit in their stupid probate court for years before they’d be able to touch it, anyway. They are completely rational. They never actually expected to have to execute someone over refusing to pay a fine. Dying would have been the bigger ‘fuck you’ to them.”
“I don’t suppose,” Jamaal asked tentatively, “you could explain why you just turned down a free portal out of this place when you appear to have a death sentence on your head.”
Victor backed up toward the wall opposite the door, readying himself for a quick sprint through the opening to the streets outside.
“I didn’t turn it down. We can use your Gate cube or whatever it is. But first I have to take back something that’s mine.”
“Uh, I grabbed all of your belongings out of the evidence locker.” Jamaal was getting nervous.
“Yes. Because these metal twats and I don’t have the same ideas about what “mine” means.”
Just as Victor was about to spring out of the door, the room shook with a massive, inhuman roar. The shadows on the walls of the building ahead of them momentarily vanished as the red light of what was obviously fire flared from somewhere close by.
“Lovely. A dragon,” Jamaal said drily.
“That explains the lack of a door guard,” said Victor, sprinting out of the door. No hostile welcoming party waited for the pair. They rushed through the streets as high above them an elder and very angry red dragon was spewing dragonfire into the clockwork city. Lightning bolts crackled into the sky like antiaircraft fire. Many fizzled, stopped before they could reach their target by the ancient wurm’s resistance to spells.
“Is that monster part of your jailbreak plan?” asked Victor, as they slowed to approach his destination- the beautifully carved door to a large mansion with two perfectly still metal creatures standing guard.
“No. No it is not. I was hired by old man with a funny accent to get your ass off this hunk of metal. Dragons did not factor into the plot, as far as I could tell. To be honest, I was going to ask you if you thought it was an illusion.”
Just at that moment a detachment of winged mechanical war machines were batted from the sky down onto hapless defenders by one massive sweep of the dragon’s tail.
“Looks pretty real to me,” replied Victor. “Very real and very convenient to helping us get across town unopposed. Who did you say hired you?”
Jamaal had just cast a spell of holding against one of the two mechanical servants barring their way from an ornate metal door. They were the only two defenders standing in the way of the adventurers.
“Well, to be honest I don’t know much about him. He would only say his name was Braithwaite. He was dressed a bit like a shabby servant and said he worked for some organization called the SOE.”
Victor tumbled past the held door warden and erupted into a ball of flame, toppling both of his opponents. “Never heard of them.”
Jamaal ran his hands over the magnificent door handle and lock, then tried the door. It pushed open on well-greased hinges. “Me either. But the pay was good, and even though we only met that one time outside Freeport, you seemed like a nice enough dude. I’m here to help!” The dark-skinned man grinned with glee.
Victor ran through the open door with purpose. Jamaal followed.
They reached an unassuming locked door at the end of a hallway. Victor looked impatient.
“You got any speedy open lock-type magic, Jamaal?”
“No, but I got blinky-blinky type magic that jumps us to the other side.”
“Good enough. I’m in a hurry.”
“I’m here to help! Hold my hand, Victor.” Jamaal started chanting.
The two blinked out of existence briefly. Victor felt a bit woozy as his physical body instantly reassembled ten feet from where it had been a millisecond prior. Jamaal seemed used to the feeling.
Victor paused less than a second to take measure of the room. It was a study lined with bookshelves. Above a cold fireplace hung an old sword. A desk littered with scrolls was tucked cozily in the corner. Victor headed toward the fireplace.
“Say Jamaal, how much did this old man offer you for my safe return?” Victor gently lifted the sword from off the mantle. A bolt of lightning slammed into Victor, passing right through his abdomen. Jamaal twisted out of the way. Victor’s armor was scorched where the bolt entered and left. He winced, but quickly put the sword into his belt.
Jamaal gave Victor a dirty look. “You could have warned me that was coming.”
Victor turned toward the door. “Sorry. Next time I ask a question about finances I’ll warn you ahead of time.”
Jamaal moved in front of Victor. “Let me check the door for traps BEFORE you try to unlock it.”
“Oh. You meant the lightning trap. Yes. next time I’ll let you get zapped.”
Jamaal rolled his eyes. “I’m here to help,” he replied.
Jamaal quickly looked over the door. “Three thousand gold. The door is clear.” Jamaal turned the bolt on the door and pushed it open. “Hallway is clear. Two up front, the last thousand gold upon your safe return to the plane of this old man’s choosing.”
Victor moved quickly back down the hallway. Jamaal followed. Victor slowed at the front door. He turned to Jamaal speaking quietly. “Some movement outside. I think the guardians we wasted have been discovered. Let’s hang back for a second. Do you have to return that plane-jumping cube thing to Braithwaite?”
Jamaal caught up with Victor. “The old man didn’t mention returning it, so I’m going with no. It’s mine now,”
Victor cocked his head to one side, listening against the door. “I hear whoever was outside moving on. Something about the dragon being more important threat right now. We’ll sprint through on my mark, in 5 seconds.” Victor used the fingers on his only hand to count down to zero. “I’m no merchant, but an item like that is worth well over 100,000 gold pieces. Mark!”
Jamaal’s eye’s widened. He was left standing in the front hallway until he realized he had missed Victor’s mark.
The pair eluded capture, weaving back through the city using a different route. The red dragon appeared very real and content to raze a nearby part of the city, drawing off any citizens of Mechanus who may have otherwise tried to interfere with their escape.
“Whose house did we just burgle?” Jamaal cheerfully asked as they approached the detention facility.
“Someone rich and stupid enough to think Kamate the Iron Heart belonged on a mantle instead of in the hands of a hero, slaying foes.”
Jamaal nodded. “And someone who deserved to have the sword stolen from him?”
Victor nudged Jamaal into the shadows of a building as several massive metallic golems rushed past in the direction of the dragon. “Stolen from HER. Yes. Exactly.”
The two ran back into the detention facility.
In the execution chamber the cubic gate was still open, shimmering, with the green idyllic setting still just on the other side of the portal.
The two adventurers quickly searched the room, but it appeared that no creature had ventured onto Mechanus from the other side.
Jamaal gestured to the portal. “Shall we?”
Victor stood still, thinking. Jamaal took a deep breath in and then exhaled.
“Okay, Victor, what’s the problem now?”
Victor spoke slowly and deliberately, as if reasoning each sentence out as he spoke it.
“Well, Jamaal, you don’t seem smart enough to double cross me, but you might be dumb enough to send me into the arms of some other tyrant who just wanted a stooge to get to the sword Kamate. So I am trying to decide whether I should take my chances on this plane or jump through this portal.”
Before Jamaal had time to be offended, two tall Inevitables entered the room. Judging from the sound of marching feet behind them, they had backup.
“Victor James Gilroy and… second hu-man! You have been charged with absconding, breaking and entering, destroying private property, resisting arrest…”
Victor rolled his eyes, looking at Jamaal. “You and your coin purse are lucky I’ve taken a bit of a beating or I’d just stand here and take on the whole mechanical plane.” He leapt through the portal.
The Inevitable began advancing, continuing to read the charges. “… two counts of theft, lying to authorities, escape, eluding capture…”
Jamaal shook his head, muttered “I’m here to help,” grabbed the cubic gate and followed Victor through the portal, closing it just as the Inevitables were about to cross the planar threshold.
Jamaal looked around. It was a pastoral scene, with green meadows and rolling hills dotted at whiles with ancient marble ruins.
“A thousand gold to the good,” he quipped, perhaps a bit too loudly. If Victor was bothered he did not show it.
“I don’t suppose you have any idea where we are,” Victor remarked.
“I do. This has the look of Bytopia. We are on peaceful Dothia. And here,“
Jamaal pointed to the sky above “Is Shurrok, the wild and tangled paradise.”
Victor looked up. Where the heavens should have been there lay another plane, seemingly upside down. The tops of grest trees stared back at Victor.
Jamaal continued. “And look! It appears that old Braithwaite had your well-being in mind. There’s a temple to Heironious not a league from here that looks large enough to host a cleric of great enough stature to know the Regeneration spell.”
“Always here to help, aren’t you, Jamaal?” sneered Victor. “I am quite certain that your old man did not deposit us here out of the goodness of his heart.”
“Yeah?” Jamaal shot back. “How can you be so certain?”
“What old man do you know powerful enough to use ancient red dragons as distraction techniques? What old man do you know willing to pay twice the going rate for an extraction job, then gift his subcontractor with a magical item forty times more expensive than his already generous fee?”
“A… really cool old man?” Jamaal snidely quipped.
Victor replied, pointed his remaining index finger squarely into Jamaal’s chest with every word. “A really powerful, dangerous old man.” His voice quieted to a whisper. “An old man about whom I know nothing, yet who knows enough about me to correctly guess that I wouldn’t leave Mechanus without going back for Kamate. An old man who knows that while I was on Mechanus I had already discovered the secret location of another of the weapons of legacy. On the plane of Bytopia. In a secret catacomb. Under a temple of Heironious.”
Jamaal was staring up, a brown hand resting atop his cocked head. He was very still. Victor paused a bit, letting all that sink in.
“Now, Jamaal. The only reason I am bothering to tell you all this is because you are not so stupid that you would have thought you could have betrayed me intentionally. This Braithwaite got you to do just what he wanted. So the question I need you to help me answer is why. I need you to remember everything you can about this old man, every detail about his dress, his manner, how he contacted you, where you were, what time of day- everything. And anything about this SOE group too.”
Jamaal continued to stare upward at the birds flying between Dothia and Shurrok. “Special Operations Executive,” he said thickly, slowly. “That was what SOE stood for. I’m supposed to be met by another agent sometime after the portal jump to collect my last thousand in payment.”
“Good,” Victor said. “That’s a start. What the hells is the Special Operations Executive? Is it a group or a person?”
Jamaal didn’t answer his question. “Victor, what are you going to do once you figure out all that there is to know about this Braithwaite?”
“I’m going to do exactly what this Braithwaite asshole expects me to do- use my amputated hand as an excuse to get into that temple, then break into the catacombs and become better acquainted with Eventide’s Edge, the multiverse’s most legendary mithral shortsword.”
Jamaal turned his gaze back toward his companion. “Victor, you are aware that in addition to two very pissed off Inevitables who will relentlessly pursue us across the planes until we are dead, you are suggesting we commit multiple crimes inside the temple of the most powerful lawful good deity in existence.”
Victor shrugged. “Fuck ‘em all. I need that sword.”
Jamaal sighed. “Well Vic, I got you into this. I’m here to help.”