Steampunk Writing Competition : Jewelry Heist
1st place winner
The Basilisk Eye
Marie decided not to worry about the unusual aspects of her current assignment, as she always considered worrying a waste of time, but when she found the door to the study unlocked it was very difficult to maintain her nonchalance.
The security of Lord Auldwolder’s manor was laughable and incredibly easy to evade; three auto-matron guards, a handful of dogs, and a fifth-teen foot fence? Did he want his necklace stolen, or was there something she wasn’t aware of? Something Captain Dresker hadn’t told her? An air-pirate, by nature alone, shouldn’t be trusted and she had never made it a practice to do so. He hired her to steal a piece of jewelry from Lord Auldwolder, but he wasn’t paying her enough for unnecessary risks.
Indecision, an unfamiliar state for her, left her sitting crouched in front of the large mahogany doors that led to Auldwolder’s study. Her lock picks hovered uselessly above the key hole as she stared at the lock through her yellow tinted spectacles. Either Auldwolder was a giant fool or he had no reason to fear his servants or anyone else stealing from him. Yet would anyone leave such a powerful necklace so vulnerable?
Granted, not many knew the legend of the Basilisk’s Eye, but one would still expect wariness of opportunistic thieves. The necklace lacked any significant jewels or precious metals, but it had an allure that would draw anyone. That, in fact, was its supposed power. The big green eye set into the brass necklace appeared to beckon its beholder to touch it, whispering temptingly, spouting dark promises. Or so Marie had been told.
She slipped the picks back into their slots on her vest as she paused to consider. Her vest held all the tools of her trade though one wouldn’t know it by first glance. If one of the human servants actually did awaken and find her, they would see a slim form dressed in dark, men’s clothing. The only strange feature of her appearance would be her spectacles and the black balaclava she wore that covered her face and hair. Marie preferred her sex to be ambiguous to any potential witnesses.
“What do you think, mon petit ami?” Marie whispered as she stroked her chin thoughtfully.
A whirl and a click was the response, the sound so soft only she heard it. The source was resting wrapped around her finger. A tiny amber eye glowed briefly in the darkness and another mechanical sound emerged. The ring was a gift from a former patron who had been quite a talented inventor. He had found no use for the tiny machine, but Marie had instantly noted it’s potential with its tiny clamp extremities and glowing eye. Bernard consisted of a single amber eye set in a long, slender brass body with two arms equipped with clamps. He was usually found wrapped around her ring finger. She wasn’t sure if the machine had a personality or soul of it’s own, if that were even possible, but she preferred to think it did and referred to it as such.
“It’s all too easy, no?” She went on, her voice a breath in the shadows. “Why would Dresker pay me for what a common footpad could do?”
A prudent thief would depart immediately and return the fee the air-pirate had given her, but Marie had never heard of a prudent thief and didn’t want to be accused of being unorthodox. And she was curious; a lifelong curse of her’s. The Basilisk Eye was unique and mysterious. She may never get a chance to steal it again.
“Il faut qu'une porte soit ouverte ou fermée,” Marie decided, gripping the handle and pushing the door open.
The study was empty and so silent that the click of the door closing sounded through the room. Marie waited a few moments, crouching in the absolute darkness with her back against the door. She listened for anything that would indicate another person in the room and mentally brought up the floor plan that she had memorized earlier while scouting. A large bookcase was on the East wall and a desk and globe were spaced in the middle of the room. The bookcase was the only area large enough to house a hidden compartment.
Once Marie felt safe, she cautiously made her way past the obstacles to the East wall. The smell of paper and leather reached her, indicating the bookcase was directly in front of her. Only then did she lift her right hand in a fist to eye level.
“Now, Bernard.” She whispered to the ring and the amber glow from the machine’s eye spilled over a faded leather binder. The light was just enough for her to see without drawing unwanted attention.
She scanned the shelves of books quickly, looking for the subtle features of a hidden lever. A particularly faded and worn binder with fraying at the top caught her attention and she gave an experimental pull. A muffled clanking sounded from behind the bookcase and a section of the bookshelf disappeared into the wall. A wooden case rolled out to take its place and a dark iron lock embedded into the wood greeted her. Impressed, she slipped her picks free to start her work. A quarter of an hour passed before she heard the satisfactory click of success.
Again, she brought Bernard out when she pulled the case open. Various items of jewelry lay displayed on black velvet. The Basilisk Eye was in the center surrounded by small brass sculptures of scorpions. They were intriguing with delicate yet dangerous looking tails poised in the air, but Marie was here for the Eye.
She pulled free the handkerchief she brought to cover the necklace but... The rumors did no justice to the power that emanated from the necklace. The eye was a bewitching brilliant green that dulled her senses and drew her desire to touch it. She found herself moving slower than normal as she reached to stroke the pendant. In her peripheral vision she thought she saw movement. Did those scorpions twitch?
A flash of pain on her hand, like a sting from a bee, and she sluggishly pulled away. The scorpions skittered to cover the necklace, their pincers snapping in the air. Dimly, she realized she was falling to the ground, her muscles weakening. The last thing she saw was Bernard unwrapping from her finger and his glowing amber eye blinking rapidly in distress.
She woke to tense voices and the light of gas lamps. She was still in Lord Auldwolder’s study, still lying on the floor, but her hands were bound behind her. Panic boiled in her chest. She’d been caught!
“Is it the practice of Scotland Yard to accuse the victims of crimes, Detective?” The voice was snide and cruel sounding with the lilt of aristocracy. Lord Auldwolder, she presumed.
“No, my lord, but it is our practice to discover the truth.” This voice was younger and subdued.
Craning her neck, she looked around for the men and felt her hair brushing against her cheeks. They removed her balaclava!
“She’s awake!” Auldwolder announced and Marie felt a painful tug on her scalp. Grimacing, she struggled with her bound hands to her knees to prevent her hair being pulled out by the roots.
“Where is my necklace, thief?” a wizened, harsh face filled her vision and Marie wanted to close her eyes from the sight.
“That is enough, Lord Auldwolder. We will handle questioning the suspect.” The second voice from before held more strength this time.
Auldwolder straightened and turned to his left but didn’t release her hair. Marie bit back a groan and followed his gaze to the man that stood there.
The first thing she noticed was that his right arm was larger than his left. His frock coat, vest, and blouse were fitted properly and the garments did make the anomaly less noticeable, but Marie was at direct eye level of his waist and hands. She could see that his right hand was entirely made of brass. The fingers, while larger than normal, were curled in a natural position and rested easily at his side. When they began to fidget she could see tiny gears and mechanisms that allowed the easy movement. It was a stunning piece of technology and a part of her wondered where and how he had acquired it.
“I will have my necklace back, Detective. Regardless that she is a woman she is still a thief.” Auldwolder’s tone made it clear that he held the same distasteful regard for both aspects of her person.
The detective stepped forward and it was then she noticed his right leg was also noticeably larger and heavier than the left. His pant leg was smooth and loose but his right boot shone in the light and she could see her distorted reflection in the surface.
“Obviously she does not have it on her person, my lord. It’s clear that she did not succeed in stealing anything.” The detective pointed out calmly.
They searched her? Looking down she saw that her vest was still on but the pockets were all opened and empty. Bernard? Wiggling her nearly numb fingers allowed her to feel the ring. They hadn’t noticed it.
She felt the hand leave her hair and another grip her upper arm with an insistent but not overpowering pull that allowed her time to get to her feet. Once standing, Marie could see that there were three more men in the room observing silently behind her.
“She had an accomplice, no doubt. They’re probably already back to Dresker with my necklace now.” Auldwolder sneered.
Marie blinked in confusion. He knew of Dresker? And what did he mean the necklace was missing? She didn’t have time to hide it before fainting. She looked toward the bookcase and saw the empty jewelry cabinet. No scorpions were there.
The detective, who had been regarding her silently, followed her gaze. His right hand was firm but steady on her arm and while it didn’t squeeze painfully she knew that she could not break his metal grip.
“We will question her according to protocol prior to searching any man’s ship.” He replied.
He handed her over to one of the other men who led her toward the door. Marie was still too stunned to put up a useless struggle. As she left, she could still hear the angry voice of Auldwolder and the equable replies of the detective.
Marie quickly found herself assisted into the back of a covered prison cart. As soon as they shut the door she began working on escaping.
“Bernard!” She hissed and felt the ring move against her fingers.
Before she had time to do anything else, the cart door opened again and the detective stepped in. When his right foot landed on the wooden floor she could feel the vibrations shiver through the cart. Marie instinctively backed up until she sat on the bench along the wall. The detective took a seat across from her.
They remained silent as the cart started to move. The only light came from the street lamps that filtered through the barred window at the front of the cart, making it impossible to examine the man. She imagined that this would be the “questioning” that would take place and prepared herself for mistreatment.
“Good evening, madame. I’m Detective Wyse.” He began politely. “I am aware that you are known as Marie St. Croix. I am also aware that you were hired by the air-pirate Dresker to steal the Basilisk Eye from Lord Auldwolder. Am I correct in these assumptions?”
Marie stared at him, flabbergasted. She couldn’t think of where to began to respond.
He started, as if something just occurred to him. “Oh, please allow me.” He reached into his coat pocket and retrieved something small. Holding it in the air, he waited a few seconds and then indicated toward his hand. “Your restraints?”
Warily, Marie turned to allow him access to her wrists. She heard clinking and felt the tingling of blood returning to her fingers. Rubbing her hands together to get them limber, she absently murmured her thanks.
“Madame St. Croix, are my assumptions correct? It’s quite urgent that I confirm them as it determines our next immediate actions.” The detective’s voice remained so neutral that she wondered if perhaps more than his arm and leg were mechanical in nature.
“Mademoiselle.” Marie corrected automatically. “Why is there an urgency, monsieur? What makes you believe these things?”
“A series of facts that I have uncovered that I do not have the time nor the inclination to list.” For the first time, she heard emotion in his voice- impatience. “Let me be succinct, mademoiselle. You have one of two options available to you. You can deny these allegations and be taken to prison to await trial, which based on the evidence against you, you will most assuredly remain in prison.”
“And the second?” She queried with an arch of her eyebrow.
“Or you can confirm what I already know and I can offer you an alternative you may find more agreeable.” He finished.
Marie gripped the bench to steady herself as the cart swayed. She had so many questions shouting in her head about this night that she could barely focus. The only thing overwhelming the other voices was a quiet, desperate fear that she absolutely did not want to go to prison.
“You’re correct.” Marie admitted quietly, feeling like she was stepping off a roof top without a safety rope. “But I did not steal the necklace! There were mechanical scorpions protecting it. The venom prevented me from escaping and I had no time to hide the necklace.”
“I suspected as much. Auldwolder said that a servant heard you and knocked you down, but I found that unlikely.” The detective showed no disapproval or shock at her admission, just a factual acceptance.
“Heard me?” Marie repeated indignantly. She was no amateur!
“Obviously a lie, just as you did not have an accomplice who escaped with the necklace.” The detective ignored her professional outrage.
“I work alone.” Marie confirmed after pushing aside her annoyance.
“Auldwolder wants us to believe that Dresker has the necklace and arrest him for thievery.” Wyse appeared to be talking more to himself than to Marie. “We would take Dresker’s necklace and return it to Auldwolder, believing we were returning stolen property.”
“But Dresker doesn’t have the necklace. I didn’t have it to give to him.” Marie insisted.
“I know, but Dresker has the second necklace.”
“A second necklace?” Marie’s eyes widened. “Rien!” The rumors only spoke of one Basilisk Eye. One of the mysteriously powerful necklaces was enough to be dangerous.
At hearing her curse, the detective paused. “Yes. Quite unfortunate. The necklaces are significantly more powerful when they are combined, which is why both men have been after the other’s for awhile now.”
Marie decided that questionably moral men playing with mysteriously powerful objects was never a good combination for a thief such as herself and resolved to extricate herself from the situation as quickly as possible.
“Monsieur, as you are aware, I do not have the necklace. I am of no use to you. Perhaps you could forget my presence here tonight?” Marie offered a charming smile, but remembered it was too dark to see for it to do any good.
“But you are of use to me, mademoiselle.” The detective gave no acknowledgement of her failed attempt to charm him. “You have the skills to acquire both necklaces.”
Marie sighed, feeling her brief hope escape with the breath of air. Getting out of this predicament would not be so easy.
“I can not steal Captain Dresker’s necklace. I wasn’t even aware he had one. Not to mention I can not steal from one of my client’s. It’s bad business.” Marie pointed out with a shrug.
“I doubt he has as much regard for your business relationship as you do, mademoiselle.” The detective replied.
“Marie, please.” She insisted, tired of hearing the pleasantry. When he remained silent and she could practically feel his gentleman honor balk at using the name, she rolled her eyes. “St. Croix then, if you prefer.”
“St. Croix. You may call me Wyse.” He offered after a moment’s hesitation and Marie had to smile at the stuffy Englishman.
“As I was saying, Captain Dresker has no interest in holding up his part of your arrangement.” Wyse continued and began removing his frock coat.
Marie watched him, slightly curious but mostly alarmed. What was the stuffy Englishman doing now?
“How do you know this?” She demanded when he started rolling up the sleeves of his dress shirt in a matter of fact manner. For some reason she wasn’t really afraid that he would hurt her, but the expression on his face was deadly serious. It was then she realized that the cart had stopped and light from a street lantern was shinning steadily through the window.
“Do you hear that whistling sound?” He asked her calmly, finishing rolling his sleeves up to his mid arm.
In the dim light she could see that his entire right arm was indeed mechanical, the dull golden glow of what appeared to be brass and other metals in place of lightly tanned skin that covered his other arm. The metal disappeared under his shirt sleeve and she wondered how far the machinery extended. Bolts, gears, tubes, and coils all arranged artfully, perfectly in a display of human anatomy. The creator of such work was truly talented. A detail on his fist caught her thief’s eye. A lion’s head molded into the metal, with a set of emerald eyes. A half-carat each, if she wasn’t mistaken.
Marie was so distracted by looking at the wonder that was his arm, that she didn’t register his question or that she indeed was hearing a shrill whistling sound that grew louder.
Before she could ask about it, Wyse pushed her into the far corner of the cart, his bulky right arm shielding them just as the wall behind him exploded into flames. Marie was too shocked to react, her confusion growing as Wyse calmly regarded the wall of flames that appeared a few feet away from them. Straightening his arm, a small nozzle rose from the surface and when he clenched his fist a stream of liquid shot out, extinguishing the flames within seconds. Darkness waited on the other side of the charred wall.
“We should move.” He told her phlegmatically. At close range she could see that his eyes were a quite human brown but eerily impassive given recent events.
“What is happening? Mon dieu!” Ignoring his example of stoic calm, Marie continued to curse in her native language as Wyse pulled her out of the cart.
Once standing in the street, Marie could see that the horses and the guards were gone. In their place was a crowd of pirates, armed and looking ready for ill-intent. Marie unconsciously stepped closer to the detective, lifting her fists in preparation for the brewing fight.
“Ah, my dear little thief! Do you have my necklace?” A familiar, jovial voice erupted from the crowd and Captain Dresker appeared.
While Auldwolder was chillingly cold, Dresker was frighteningly friendly. One felt he would smile while he skewered you.
“You brought me the Detective as well, I see. Not necessary, my dear.” The pirate’s gaze sharpened and he drew his double barrel pistol.
“Captain Dresker, are you rescuing me?” Marie asked with a quirky, knowing smile.
“Nay, my dear. Pirates don’t care to rescue overly much. We do a fair job at double crossing though.” And with a gesture from their captain, the pirates attacked.
Marie was preoccupied with dispatching the thin, lanky pirate who was attacking her with two knives, but occasionally she caught glimpses of Wyse fighting and was suitably impressed. His right arm was capable of knocking back two men at a time and a kick from his right leg incapacitated the receiver. Despite the added weight of his mechanical limbs, he was able to move rather quickly, which was a necessary trait when Dresker signaled for a large cannon-like contraption to fire at them. The shrill whistling sounded again and a wave of liquid fire rushed toward them.
They were just able to duck and run out of range of the contraption to cover, but before they could catch their breath, the machine sprouted two stilted legs and began to follow them.
“We need to take out their device. It’s too formidable.” Wyse proposed, dodging a bullet from Captain Dresker’s gun.
“Oui, it is quite ugly as well.” Marie agreed. Unlike Bernard or the detective’s limbs, this machinery was rudimentary and crude, lacking any grace or elegance.
“If I distract them, can you climb atop it to dismantle it?” He looked at her, doing a quick assessment.
Marie nodded, swallowing and pushing back her fear. Distantly, she could hear the mad laughter of Dresker over the growing whistling. “I will need something to dismantle it with.”
Looking back at the array of pirates, now significantly fewer, Wyse nodded. “One of those cut-throats is using a railroad wrench. I’ll get it to you.”
“Good luck, St. Croix.” Wyse told her before running out into the middle of the pirates.
Marie blinked, her muscles freezing. She could leave now. Slip into the shadows and leave the detective to his fate. She looked down to her hands, where the redness from the restraints were fading around her wrists and Bernard blinked curiously up at her.
“Ouvert ou fermé, non?” Baring her teeth, she forced her legs to move and ran toward the lumbering metal contraption.
The whistling became unbearably loud as Marie raced toward the barrel of the cannon. She saw Dresker aim for her and varied her speed so the bullet flew past her. Just as the flames began to spew forth she ducked and rolled under the machine between its stilted legs. Once safely behind the cannon, she used muscles from years of scaling buildings to maneuver her way atop the carriage of the machine. The pirate controlling the device tried to push her off and she grappled with him.
“St. Croix!” Wyse yelled from below.
Giving a final push, Marie was able to dislodge the pirate and turned just in time to catch the heavy wrench that sailed toward her. The weight hitting her almost toppled her off the machine. It took both hands and a giant heft to get the wrench up into the air and arcing down to crash into the main controls. Gauges and parts flew from the console as she brought the wrench up and down again. Steam started to escape from the cracks that were blooming in the metal. The whole machine began to tilt and wobble in a comedy of a dance and Marie leapt off after throwing the wrench to the side. Bracing herself for a hard landing, she was surprised to find herself cushioned by the now slightly disheveled detective.
Together they ran past immobilized pirates and out of the range of the frenetic machine. Dresker was not as fortunate and quickly found himself underneath a felled, steaming mass of metal.
Later, after Wyse used his mechanical arm to pull the cooling wreckage away, they retrieved the second Basilisk Eye from around the pirate’s neck. It was just as forbidding as the first, though slightly charred.
“What do you say, St. Croix?” Wyse asked her, smiling for the first time.
“Will you help me obtain the other Eye?”
Marie considered, twirling Bernard around her finger.
“For the safety of England?” Wyse continued, growing serious at her hesitation.
She gave him an amused look.
Marie gave him a smile and hooked her arm companionably through his.
“Come along, Wyse. We have some scorpions to deal with.”
Read the 2 place winner story here : The Case of the Stolen Rings