Halfman

By Richard Fife

Adryan carefully filled in the last section of the form and frowned.  In a single page, he had turned a grisly double homicide into just another file.  Like most murderers that struck in the slums of the city, this one would likely never be found, or if he was, it would be as a corpse himself.  Even then, they would likely never truly know.

And that was what made him frown.  It was a puzzle piece that would never be placed, a perfectly normal thing that could be labeled and categorized and put on a form, but never would be.  Even in Adryan’s meticulously neat hand on the form, the word “unknown” was jarring.  It made the Justiciar credo of “Justice is absolute” hard to believe.

He sat the paper to the side so the ink could dry and glanced over at the steam-driven clock on the wall.  It was one of the three luxuries in his office, the others being the slight padding on his chair and the landscape portrait of the city hanging on the wall.  Aside from that, the steel walls were unadorned, and the only other furniture in the room aside from his desk and chair was a filing cabinet, made of cold, unadorned steel like everything else.

“Nine already,” he said.  “Rachil is going to kill me.”

Just by saying her name, he felt drawn to look at the framed photograph that sat on his desk.  It was a picture of their wedding day, she was radiant in her white dress, and he was dashing in his newly granted lieutenant’s uniform.  They were standing under a tree in the picture; it was the first one either of them had ever seen in person.

He reached out and caressed the wooden frame, the only wooden item he even owned, and sighed.  She did not fit into any puzzle he had ever found, either, but he would not have wanted her to.  A man needs a little uncertainty in his life.  At least, he did so long as he knew where it would be.

He picked up the report, made sure it was dry, and put it on the stack of others just like it that one of his patrolmen would file in the morning.  The report left his mind soon as it hit the stack, and he left the office, twisting the knob that controlled the gas-lamps on the wall to nearly extinguished.

The outer office was empty, but the night shift was always like that.  Patrolmen would be spending their time in a lounge down the hall or out on the street.  Reports could wait for the end of shift, just as Adryan’s own had.

He spared the door on the far side of the office a glance.  It was dark, as usual, although he doubted the owner was taking his ease.  Adryan’s superior, the Justiciar of Ertan, Mallek Dramus, rarely was at leisure.  Most likely, he was at his other office in the Cloister Tower at the distant center of the city.

Adryan turned towards the door to the hall then stopped.  Heavy footfalls echoed against the steel walls, and they were coming closer quickly.  A hand fell instinctively to the revolver on Adryan’s hip, but he forced it back to his side.  He opened his mouth just as the footsteps were about to enter the room, prepared to dress down whatever rash patrolman had forgotten the simplest decorum, but the words caught in his throat.

Instead of a black-clad patrolman, a brown-coated constable burst into the office.  The man stopped at the door, his face red from exertion, and panted as he looked around.  His round face lengthened as it took in all of the empty desks and dark offices, but he settled his gaze on Adryan.

“Constable Bremmer,” Adryan said.  “What is the meaning of this?”

He knew the man.  Bremmer was a middle-aged street beater that would probably never be anything else, nor did he give any indication of wishing otherwise.  Despite that, Adryan liked the man.  At least, he did when Bremmer was not barging into the Justiciar offices at strange hours.

“Lieutenant Vannce,” Bremmer said.  “Thank Troena that somebody is here.  There’s a situation down at in the foundry sector, and the captain sent me to bring back some Justiciar presence.”

Adryan blinked at that.  Constables notoriously despised the office of the Justiciar putting its nose in what they felt was their business, which typically meant any crime at all.

“What sort of trouble?”

“Oh, ah, well.”  Bremmer pulled out a soiled kerchief and mopped his high forehead.  “A break-in, I’d imagine it is.  Yes, definitely a break-in.  Door’s all sorts of broken.  Don’t rightly know that I can do it justice.”

Adryan glanced over to the only steam-clock in the large office.  “I’m sure you can handle it, constable.  The night-shift patrolmen have better things to do than investigate a simple break-in.  Have Captain Jarvis file a report if he wants, and a lieutenant will look at it in the morning.”

With any luck, that would not be Adryan.  He started to walk past, but Bremmer grabbed his arm.  Adryan glanced murder back at constable, but Bremmer held on.

“Adryan,” Bremmer said.  “Please, you need to see this.”

If it had been any other constable, even the captain of the entire district of Ertan, Adryan would have pulled free and repeated himself.  But Bremmer was different.  There was an honesty there that Adryan had always respected, and now that honesty showed pure, earnest fear.

“Fine,” he said.  “You didn’t happen to notice if any patrolmen were in the lounge as you ran by, did you?”

Bremmer flinched, and Adryan sighed, shook his head then made his way to the lounge.  There, a single patrolman sat in an armchair and read a book.  When Adryan walked in, the black-clad man marked his place with a finger and looked up at Adryan with a neutral face.

“Carlt,” Adryan said.  “Explain to me why, when a man came running past this room, you did not stop him?”

“I’m sorry lieutenant,” Carlt said.  “I saw that he was a constable, and I knew you were still in the office.  It seemed a fair conclusion that you would set him straight far faster than I could.”

Set him straight?  Adryan scoffed and shook his head.  Had Carlt been the one to stop Bremmer, Adryan would likely be on his way home to his wife right now and the constable would be returning to his captain empty handed.

“It could have been a man in a stolen uniform,” Adryan said.  “Now, get your firearm and meet me in the stable house, Patrolman Haggerty.”

The last came out like a whip, and Carlt flinched before he saluted.  At least it put a little fire into his step, though.  He was not short of running himself as he went back to the office to retrieve his revolver from his desk-safe.

Bremmer’s gaze followed Carlt for a moment then turned back to Adryan.  “Just the two of you?”

“Be glad you’re getting that many,” Adryan said.

They walked in silence to the stable house, traversing the steel corridors of the Justiciar wing for only a few moments before they entered the stone-walled baronial palace of Ertan.  Gilded lamps lit the way where unadorned iron had served moments earlier, and nooks held intricately carved wood and ivory, not that any of carvings were very large.  Ertan affected to be the same as every other district in Adervyn, but even in this display of wealth, it was clear they were a lesser district, an outlier almost in sight of the vast iron-sand desert that ringed half the city.

Adryan did not let it faze him, though.  So what if the inner districts were wealthier?  They were poorer at the same time.  An aristocracy has to stand on the backs of its subjects, and the higher it stands, the more weight it puts on those below it.  Ertan might not be wealthy, but it was far less poor.  And with that, it was more peaceful, despite the stack of murder paperwork Adryan had processed just that day.  In Gerra and Sorden, the stack would have been far larger.

They finally reached the stable house, located several levels lower, and Adryan was surprised to see a carriage already waiting with the symbol of Ertan on the door surrounded by a brown C.  He glanced back at Bremmer, and the man blushed.

They only had to wait a few moments before Carlt caught up.  A nightstick hung from a loop on his belt, and his revolver was on his opposite hip.  Adryan nodded to Bremmer, and the constable led the two black-clad men to the carriage, where he held the door for them as if they were nobility.  He said something to the driver that Adryan did not catch before jumping in after them.

“Right then,” Bremmer said.  “We’ll be there fairly quickly, I think.  It’s on the first layer, but there’re stairs that take us right there ten minutes from here.”

Adryan frowned but nodded.  It did not matter where in the city you were, from the Cloister itself to Vargon, a district even more outlying and poor than Ertan on the other side of the city.  The bottom layer was always a dangerous place.  That the constables were even daring to go there was surprising.

“So, anyone mind telling me what this is about?” Carlt said.

Bremmer glanced at Adryan, who nodded, before clearing his throat.  “Well, see, it’s the baron’s foundry, you see.  About an hour ago, a frantic woman came up screaming to a constable that the foundry was blowing up.  The constable was about to tell her to bugger off, that foundries don’t just explode, but she was insistent, so he followed her.”

“When he got there, well . . . .”  Bremmer mopped his forehead again.  “The front door had been ripped clean off its hinges, and from how it’s all bent up, I’d imagine that’s what she heard that made her think the foundry was going up.  That and the other noises that were inside.  Great, grinding things, like metal being twisted and torn apart.  The constable didn’t waste no time, and sent her to fetch the captain and as many men as he could bring while he kept an eye on the place.”

Bremmer stopped, and Adryan and Carlt shared a look.  “And?” Adryan said.

“And when the captain got there and heard the noise too, he sent me for you,” Bremmer said.

“But what is going on inside?” Carlt said.  “What’s making the noise?”

“I don’t rightly know,” Bremmer said.  “No one has gone in, but we have the place surrounded, and I’ll tell you, no one has come out, either.”

“You haven’t gone in?” Carlt laughed.  “Are you telling me that the constables are too frightened to do their job?”

Bremmer blustered and sat up a little straighter.  “I wouldn’t say that!  But, these are strange times, what with the war and all.  There are rumors—”

“Rumors are just that.”  Adryan made a sharp motion with his hand.  “There are crimes, and there are those men who commit them.  No hobgoblins or demons are needed to kill a man, or to break into a foundry.”

“Be that as it may, lieutenant,” Bremmer said.  “But there have been strange goings on.  Why, just the other day, I responded to a murder where the body ripped clean in two!  It isn’t natural, you mark me.  And this is part of it.  I can feel it.”

“Halfmen?”  Adryan laughed when Bremmer flinched.  “You think some monster of brass and blood is out there?  Perhaps it is the best that this came to my attention tonight.  First I’ll prove that men and only men are at the heart of this, and then I’ll be able to inform the baron of the superstitions that has infected his constabulary.”

Bremmer looked at Adryan squarely.  “I hope that’s all you have to do, lieutenant.”

Adryan blinked at the comment, but kept his peace.  They rode in silence, and outside, Ertan changed as they left the well-to-do section around the palace.  Where stone facades and decorative gaslight lamps had given a welcoming feel to the streets, even this late into the night, now sparse, utilitarian lamps dimly lit the corrugated steel walls and iron-grated streets.  In some places, it was so dark that Adryan could see his own square face and curly black hair staring back at him.

When the carriage finally stopped, Bremmer hopped out and held the door.  He left instructions for the driver to stay put then led them over to grand, spiraling stairwell just off of the street.  The same, simple gas lamps lit the stairs as they twisted through seven levels of city built on top of city.  Even so, the bottom of that descent looked as dark as the bowels of Praedin.

Still, a footpad would have to be insane to think of attacking two men in black and another in brown, and even if the lower stairs were dark from here, they would still be at least dim up closer.  Adryan took a deep breath and started down, if not into the belly of Hell, then into something nearly as dark.

Their footsteps went dully out into the shadows, and no echo returned.  In fact, no sound at all came from the darkness beyond the small pools of light.  Lamps flickered, and a hush held the underbelly of Ertan in a vice.

Bremmer swallowed hard from his position just behind Adryan.  “Something has happened.  We should be able to hear the sounds now.”

Carlt scoffed but quickly covered it with a cough when Adryan shot him a glower.  The man might be justified in laughing at the constable, but that hardly was the kind of thing Adryan needed to deal with right now.  Bremmer would feel shame enough when he realized that he was worked up over nothing.

Adryan’s boots hit solid stone, and he grimaced and walked away from the stairs.  The lowest layer, Old Adervyn as some called it, was as grimy and worn as it had been every time he had visited it.  Original stone buildings were dwarfed by the towering steel pillars reinforced columns that supported the upper levels, and the soot of a hundred years of coal smoke with no place to go covered every surface.  The streets, at least, was kept clean by nightly crews.  Such crews should have been in evidence, even now, but the only person Adryan saw was a single constable some fifty feet away.

The constable ran up to them.  “Bremmer!  The cap’n wants to see you right quick.  He’s in the Tipsy Helmsman.”

Bremmer straightened himself and nodded to the other man while making an obvious effort to not be obvious as he righted coat and brushed at soot that was not there.  Adryan kept quiet, even when the constable gave him an appraising look as if to say “This is it?”  Bremmer was obviously not the only one over-reacting over the whole business.  Adryan made a mental note to talk to the Mallek about what they might do to squash the rumor mongering about monsters in the night.

The Tipsy Helmsman was as ramshackle a place as Adryan had ever seen, the kind of pub that would be a favorite amongst foundry workers, which made sense as the baron’s foundry was directly across the street from it.  The foundry itself was surrounded by men in brown coats, and the doors were just as Bremmer had said: ripped clean off the hinges and lying crumpled some ten yards from where they had once stood.

When Adryan walked into the pub, he did not even have to look for the familiar, lean faced fellow that was the captain of the Ertan constabulary.  Captain Jarvis looked over from where he had been standing near the back of the bar and walked immediately to the new arrivals.

“Well, this is a start,” Jarvis said.  “When can we expect the rest, then?”

“We’re it,” Adryan said.  “What was this about a loud, scary noise?”

Jarvis’s face darkened.  “Aye, there was a noise.  It stopped only a handful of minutes ago.  And what do you mean, you’re it?  I sent for Mallek himself!”

Carlt snorted.  “Justiciar Dramus is busy with real work at the Cloister.  We’re here to see why constables are letting superstition prevent them from doing their duty.”

Adryan tightened his jaw but did not call Carlt down.  The tone was hardly what a patrolman should use to a captain, but the man did have the right of it, and a tacit approval from Adryan would save Carlt from the brunt of any retribution.

“Superstition?”  Jarvis walked to the door and pointed.  “Do those doors look like superstition to you?”

“Explosives,” Adryan said.  “Which could explain for the sounds from inside as well.  Perhaps industrial espionage?  Another barony or perhaps even a dukedom could be crippling Ertan’s largest foundry, and the constabulary conveniently sat around outside instead of rushed in to stop them.”

“Those weren’t explosions we were hearing.”  Jarvis spoke as if it was simple fact.

“Then perhaps some other means,” Adryan said.  “But I am hardly going to let your cowardice give them any freer a reign.  By the power granted me as the senior lieutenant in district, I am taking control of this investigation in the name of the Regents and Justiciar Dramus.  I am also taking command of the constables on scene for my use and disposition until such time, if ever, that more members of the Justiciar’s office can be summoned.”

It was a rote speech that Adryan had been forced to memorize years ago when he first became a lieutenant.  This was the first time he had ever been forced to use it.  It was the first time he had ever heard of it being used.  By all accounts, the captain should have been ready to explode at the exercise of the power.  Instead, his face relaxed, and he let out a relieved sigh.

“Troena be with you,” Jarvis said.  “For you surely are going in to face Praedin himself.”

Adryan turned around and started for the door.  “Then I shall teach even Praedin that justice is absolute in Adervyn.”

Jarvis followed and made sure the word was spread that the Justiciars were now in command.  Many more relieved faces looked at Adryan in wonder.  Did these people really think that the color of his coat made him somehow different than them?  From their faces, one might have thought they expected his revolver to shoot torrents of light and fire instead of cold, hard lead.

He gathered a group of ten constables in addition to Bremmer as he walked.  Jarvis, he was not surprised to see, fell behind and went back to the tavern as soon as it was widely known that he was no longer in charge.  That would go in the report for certain.

They paused at the doors, and Adryan bent down to examine them.  Behind him, Carlt whistled softly then swore.  The doors were mangled hideously, but now that Adryan was closer, he could tell it had been focused from a single spot on both panels.  Six deep grooves were located on the edge that would have once been chest high.

“I told you,” Bremmer said.  “This isn’t right and natural.”

“Everything is natural, if not right.”  Adryan forced the remark to be casual, as if he had seen doors that appeared to have been ripped open by bare hands, albeit with far too many fingers, a thousand times before.  In truth, he said it as much for the constables as for himself.  Sometimes, it helped to hear the simple truth, even from your own mouth.

He stood back up and led the group into the foundry.  Inside, the walls were chipped and broken where stone and dented and buckled where steel.  The constables all started to murmur amongst themselves.  Strangely, Carlt walked over to one of the larger dents and laughed.

“You see something humorous, patrolman?” Bremmer said.

“Maces,” Carlt said, and Bremmer blinked.

“Maces, Carlt?” Adryan said.  “Are you suggesting our burglars are using maces to do this damage?”

“It’s consistent with what a mace would do,” Carlt said.  “It may be a pretty silly weapon to use nowadays, but with all this ridiculous rumors of halfmen floating around, they would be a good way to scare people.”

Adryan nodded and turned to Bremmer.  “A simple solution, wouldn’t you say?  We are most likely dealing with either a band of thieves with a flair for the dramatic or industrial saboteurs.  Bremmer, take the constables and search the foundry floor.  Carlt and I will go to the upper offices.”

Bremmer looked doubtful, but at least he nodded and gestured for the others to follow him deeper in.  Adryan frowned then started towards a stairwell to the side.  The damage noticeably stopped the moment they started climbing, but he did not think anything of it.  It would be only logical to leave a false path of destruction to the foundry floor while making the path to the real objective appear unused.  Of course, any criminal that would think that deeply would likely be well organized in other areas as well.  Fortunately, the constables were all jumpier than miners, so any attempt at an ambush laid on the floor would be well received.

The top of the stairs opened to a catwalk that overlooked the floor.  Dim, red and yellow light from ever-hot vats of iron and brass played across random puffs of steam that escaped from weak spots in the piping suffusing the entire building.  Sweat instantly beaded on Adryan’s brow from the heat.

Below, he could see the constables starting to spread out in pairs to search the floor, and he put them from his mind.  Now that they were about it, they would do their duty.  He glanced back to make sure Carlt was still on his heels then walked down the catwalk to the elevated set of offices that hung over the foundry like a spider in its web.

To his surprise, the door was still intact and locked.  That in itself was not completely unreasonable.  If it was sabotage, then perhaps the perpetrators had not made their way to the offices.  Or perhaps they had come up another way after leaving their trail of mayhem in the foundry.  Several sets of stairs and catwalks approached the office from other angles.

After a moment of thought, he drew his revolver and kicked the door in.  It took a few tries, and the metal let out a groan that echoed across the floor.  So much for any hope of surprise.  When the door finally swung open, Adryan dodged to one side.  No hail of bullets came rushing out to meet him, nor did any men shout from inside.  Carlt, who had taken up on the other side of the door, gave him a questioning look then poked his head in.  When nothing happened, Adryan did the same.

The offices were dark, but from what little light there was, they seemed to be orderly.  Several desks were set up in a row with all of their drawers closed and chairs pushed in, and the filing cabinets to one side were undisturbed as well.

“Go check the safe,” Adryan said.  “I’d imagine it’s in one of the back offices.”

Carlt nodded and darted back to the nearest door, leading the entire way with his gun and looking around desks and corners immediately.  Adryan walked to the other doors that lead outside and was almost disappointed to find them all still locked.  A moment later, Carlt emerged from one of the back offices.

“Safe’s intact,” he said.  “Whoever this is, they haven’t been up here.”

“What kind of thieves don’t come for the money?” Adryan said.  “Even toughs sent from another district would come up here to make it at least look like a standard break-in.”

Carlt opened his mouth to answer, but froze has gunshots rang out below.  There were only a few, all of which seemed to ricochet off metal, then they stopped.  What replaced them were screams.

Adryan ran to one of the doors that would take them directly to the floor and fumbled with the latch.  The screams grew louder then cut off with a sharp finality.  Adryan slammed the door open and started down the stairs, all the while looking around the floor to try and figure out where the gunshots and screams had come from.  He held no hope for the men who had screamed, but perhaps he could stop whatever it was that killed them.

The thought made him almost miss a step.  Not whoever, but whatever.  He chastised himself and kept running.  Crimes were committed by men, not monsters, and he would bring justice to these men.

In Adryan’s moment of hesitation, Carlt dashed in front of him, probably thinking it only right and fitting that the patrolman went first.  Of course, it was.  Adryan fell in behind the younger man and reminded himself that he had not been a patrolman himself for years.  He had already taken his fair share of the risk.

Carlt turned a corner and swore, and Adryan grimaced as he joined him.  A few yards away, three paths met amongst a maze of smelting pots, and the intersection was covered in dark, glistening liquid.  He first thought there were four small bodies, perhaps those of children, but a second glance proved that only two people had died there.

He walked over to the nearest torso and hissed sharply.  Bremmer’s sightless eyes looked up at the ceiling, and his lips were still twisted as if to scream.  The man’s guts tumbled out where they should have rested on his hips, and blood and entrails fell down between the grating to a lower floor.

Carlt walked up next to Adryan.  “What under Heaven . . . ?”

“Who.”  The word came out instinctively, and Adryan forced himself to believe it.  “A madman is who, if a strong one, perhaps wearing armor of some sort.  Stay calm and if you see something, for Troena’s sake, remember to aim.  Am I clear?”

Carlt swallowed hard, perhaps trying to not retch, and nodded.  Adryan tore his eyes off the half of a dead man at his feet and looked at the other paths.  Both were riddled with large dents in both the equipment along them and the walkways themselves, but neither gave any hint of which way the killer might have gone.  Adryan picked one at random and started walking.

The path they took ended quickly at door to a small enclosure in the middle of the floor.  He did not know if he was relieved or terrified to see the thick, iron door twisted and half hanging on its hinges.  Carlt poked his head inside and grunted.  Adryan glanced in himself and saw a room full of broken piping and bits of coal.

“It took the boiler,” Carlt said.  “What kind of monster wants a boiler?”

“Carlt—”

“Lieutenant, look around you!”  Carlt gestured to several of the damaged spot.  “What can do that, rip a man in two, bounce bullets, and rip out an entire boiler and carry it off?”

Adryan opened his mouth but said nothing.  Carlt was right.  Even when Adryan had gone to see strongman competitions at a fair, he had never seen a man who would be able to have done all this.  Maybe a group of them, but still, why?  Why leave the office untouched, and steal a boiler that they could have bought ten of with the money that was most likely in the safe?

“I don’t know, Carlt.”  He shook his head.  “Let’s—”

More gunshots rang out, and Adryan did not hesitate to run towards them.  Just like the time before, the firefight was short and filled with the sound of bullets hitting metal.  Just like the time before, men started screaming and stopped abruptly.

More gunshots rang out, and a sound like a massive bell being tolled filled the foundry.  It rang out again, and Adryan grit his teeth, amazed that he could still hear.  Suddenly, the constables’ fear did not seem so unreasonable.  Had he come across the foundry first and heard that sound, he could not say that he would not have sent for the local army garrison.

He turned a corner and skid to a halt.  The scene before him was in anarchy.  Constables lie crumbled and ripped to bits.  One body was a wrangled mess beneath a dent in a smelting pot, the two connected by a streak of blood.  Several constables, perhaps all that remained alive of those he had brought in, were backing away as they emptied their revolvers towards the center of the chaos.

And there, in the middle of the mutilated corpses and pools of blood, stood something that resembled a man in the same way a cloud might resemble a train or a cat.  It had two legs and two arms, but they were all mangled messes of brass and steel, gears and piping.  In places, steel plates fit as tightly as any skin, and the thing’s left forearm had a wicked saw that dripped with gore.  A tank hang from the creature’s side and jutted wires and tubes into its chest, and what must have been the missing boiler was strapped to its back, still lit and steaming.

Carlt raised his revolver and shot several rounds, but the only result was a few dings in some plating here and there.  To Adryan’s surprise, the creature winced.  Could it possibly have . . . ?

“It can feel pain!”  He raised his own revolver and shot several times.  “It must be able to die!  Aim for the exposed bits!”

The constables looked at him with wild eyes, and he doubted they could pull themselves out of panic long enough to think of what he had just said.  Carlt, at least, seemed to still be calm, and his next shot landed in the exposed bits in the creatures left shoulder.  A small plume of steam suddenly started to spit out, and the creature turned to look at them.

A glowing blue eye peered out from the narrow slit of a makeshift helmet.  It might have been part of the creature, but something told Adryan it was not.  Unlike the rest of the metal on the things body, the helmet was coarse and even more dented.  It might have even once been a soup pot, if Adryan squinted.  If the thing felt the need to wear armor, then it had to have a reason.

Adryan shot at the exposed workings of the creature as well, and more plums of steam steamed out, but the creature did nothing more than wince.  It stared at them for a moment, then it charged them with a speed Adryan would not have thought possible of such a shambled together thing.

The creature reached out at Carlt with one seven-fingered hand and grabbed him by his gun arm.  It picked him up before Adryan could even think of what was going on and started to grab at one of the patrolman’s flailing legs, now a foot above the floor.  With a scream, Adryan jumped on the thing.

In retrospect, it probably was not the wisest idea, but rationality had taken its leave the second a walking machine had started ripping people in two.  Something that almost sounded like a laugh came from under that helmet, and the creature flicked its arm casually, flinging Adryan into a nearby framework.  As he flew, he felt his foot catching something, and that laugh turned into a howl of pain.  He made contact with the framework, and everything went black.

He was not unconscious.  No, he could still hear the creature howling, and he felt the heat of the foundry.  Slowly, his vision returned, a narrow tunnel surrounded by darkness.  The back of his head throbbed in pain, and a gentle touch found blood matting his hair and a welt already forming.  No time to worry about that, though.

He looked around at things that seemed far too distant.  Carlt was crawling backwards, looking around on the ground for something.  Amazingly, he was still in one piece.  The creature had staggered back several steps and was holding that odd tank at its side.  Thoughts swam through Adryan’s head like fish in muddy water, and slowly, he lifted his gun and fired, aiming for the tubing and wires that connected the creature to the tank.

A tube ripped in two, and steam gushed out in a hissing torrent.  The creature howled again, and Adryan fired again.  A machine.  It was a machine, if a monstrous one, and machines needed steam.  It made sense.  The boiler, everything.  Another tube was sliced in two by a bullet, and the creature fell to its knees in a misty, white cloud.  Adryan kept an eye on the creature—his vision was slowly getting better—and hobbled over to Carlt.

“What . . . how?”  Carlt rubbed his arm and looked at the creature in confusion.

“Steam,” Adryan said.  “Even the strongest train is useless without steam.”

Carlt looked at Adryan with bewilderment clear on his face, but he slowly nodded and stood up, his revolver finally recovered and in hand.  Together, they walked over to the creature, which was now lying on its side and moaning.  Quickly, Adryan darted at it and ripped the helmet from its head.

“Troena above,” he muttered.

Around the creature glowing, blue eye was a ring of metal, but otherwise the face of a frightened young man looked up at him.  Barely a man, at that.  Adryan doubted the boy would have had to shave regularly yet.

The creature moaned and reached up at him with one of those hideous imitations of hands.  Before Adryan could even move, a gunshot rang out, and a gush of blood squirted out from the youth’s forehead.  Adryan watched the creature crumble then glanced at Carlt.  The other man only looked at him, no sign of what he was thinking on his face.  Adryan only nodded and knelt down.

“What is it?” Carlt said.

“I don’t know.”  Adryan pushed the corpse to one side and noticed a bundle of wires coming out of the back of the boy’s head.  “But I doubt this is the last we’ll see of it.”

“What?”  Carlt knelt next to him and looked at the wires.  “It’s dead, isn’t it?”

“This one.”

“This one?”

“It was made, Carlt.”  Adryan stood and took a step back.  “Whatever it is now, this was a man once.  Whatever foul mind conjured to make this, I doubt has made only one.”

“So halfmen are real?”  Carlt holstered his gun and shuddered.  “I guess monsters are real.”

“Maybe,” Adryan shook his head and started towards the front of the building.  “But, that doesn’t change a simple fact.”

Carlt gave the body a final look over then joined Adryan.  “What’s that?”

“Even for them, justice is absolute.”

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