Unknownium was commonly described as a rock, glowing purple from within, that could float given the slightest jolt of energy. The exact mechanism for this was not fully understood, but it was magic - and so was given the benefit of the doubt.
The Unknownium rush of ‘49 turned Vulane from a community of farmers with small town values into a metropolis with new Unknownium-powered airships landing every day. It also changed the leadership of the town from poor prey animals like mice and voles - and poor humans besides - to wealthier creatures with impossible magical powers in their sights.
Sheriff Red had just gotten off duty and was resting her heels at The Violet Pearl - one of the hundreds of saloons that popped up after the rush. Of course, she was never truly ‘off duty,’ simply less culpable if something went wrong.
Red, a jackal, kept her keen green eyes on a swivel: always scanning her surroundings. She was on the lookout for creatures with violent intent, although her new employer was more interested in intrusions into bank vaults than measly brawls.
The jackal was a relic from the old days: when there was a strong delineation between those who broke the law and those who enforced it. Her muzzle was beginning to grey, her left ear had a bullethole in it, she was starting to show her age. But she was still respected, her marksmanship was still penned about in the dime novels by a particularly annoying and persistent meerkat she knew.
She took another sip of whiskey, always keeping in mind how much she’d had. Her black, embossed slugthrower was near her paw on the wooden table as she kept to herself in a dark corner of the huge establishment. She also peeked out the window at the Vulane First National floating thirty feet above the ground across the street, through the cleanest windows she’d ever seen in a bar.
The Financial District of Vulane almost completely shut down after five o’clock. The saloon itself had a few well-dressed patrons sipping Veilwinter Wine and giggling and making world-altering deals behind drawn curtains in private rooms -
- Or gambling in the upper floors, where mansions, titles, and futures were won and lost.
Right on time, she thought as she saw a thin man in a black stetson and matching duster get off a coach pulled by a rather scraggly-looking horse with some of his friends.
Sphinx and the ‘Misfits.’ Red’s eyes squinted as she took one last sip.
The thin man was known as James Sphinx, sometimes still referred to as ‘Captain’ from his time as an aeronaut. Accompanying him were his loyal companions.
A tall blonde broad shouldered man, the gunslinger known only as ‘Tex’. There was also an auburn haired man with a well trimmed mustache and pipe, dressed more in the fashions back east. Webster, formerly from across the pond he had traded his life of luxury for one of adventure. Last but not least, a red fox, Renard had also been an aeronaut and had a reputation for being something of an inventor.
Sphinx and his ‘Misfits,’ as the wanted posters referred to him, sat at a table at the opposite end of the bar in their own dark corner. The weasel bartender watched them uneasily: He didn’t know who they were and they weren’t wearing badges so that made them suspicious all on their own.
Red stood up and cracked her neck: time to do this. She approached Sphinx and the Misfits flashing her badge.
“You boys new in town?”
Sphinx narrowed his eyes. “Yeah? What’s it to you?”
Red twitched an ear. “It’s my business to know. I’m going to have to ask you to step on out with me. Quietly.”
The Misfits shifted in their seats, the tension in the saloon was thick with anticipation. Slowly the Misfits stood up with Red trailing behind them. They walked till they were a good few feet away from the saloon.
Sphinx stepped forward and Red moved towards him eyes locked on one another.
Red and Sphinx embraced one another.
“It’s so good to see you again Red!” Sphinx said burying his face in the fur of the jackal.
“Likewise kiddo,” she was one of the few that could call him that.
“You still working for the Veilwinter Company?” Sphinx asked. “Or are you just pretending?”
Red’s ears folded back as she looked at her badge. As lustrous as it was, it was worth less now that the town was owned by them. “I’m planning on taking some vacation,” she said as she joined the gang at their table.
“Glad you’ve come to your senses,” Tex said in his classic southern drawl. “You’re too good to be working for them.”
Red twitched her ears, “It wasn’t always like this. Used to this town was for the people.”
The Misfits rubbed their necks and shared sad glances before Sphinx spoke up. “And we have an idea on how to take them down a peg.”
Red turned around in her chair. “I suppose you mean to... make a withdrawal from Vulane’s First National?”
Webster began cleaning his glasses and the rest of the boys awkwardly avoided her gaze. Sphinx was the only one to nod his head.
“That’s why we called the truce.”
Red leaned back and laughed. “You boys have guts at least,” she said, knocking back a shot of whiskey. “It’s hovering thirty-odd feet off the ground, powered by generators that can’t be messed with, designed by Orphea herself.”
Orphea the genius fox prodigy, daughter of the Veilwinter company’s president.
“You’re still thinking like a law-creature in that furry head of yours,” Tex said. “We’re not going to try and disable the generator like the Rustlers did last year, we’re gonna come at it from above.”
Red still shuddered at the event - a ton of TNT exploded below the bank and not a single generator stopped, keeping the bank itself hovering above the ground. Within ten seconds the gang of outlaws - who were only trying to steal money - were shot to pieces by magic-enhanced slugthrowers.
“From above, eh?” Red asked. “And how are you going to avoid the scanner blimps? Armed to the teeth with those new unknownium ray guns that Orphea developed?”
“I’m not a slouch at inventing either,” Renard interjected.
Sphinx smiled and leaned in, lowering his voice. “Our mechanical genius has found a way to make us blend in with the sky. Remember: I was once an aerounaut, I can get us there if our disguise holds.”
“You’ve thought of everything haven’t you,” Red said, unimpressed. “And once you somehow get inside the bank—”
“—Using the bank president’s own office balcony,” Webster added.
“—And once you get to the vault, what then?” Red asked.
The plan itself was complex but Red could see it working. Unfortunately, the mechanics of the airships and their invisibility devices were so complex that no one could be spared on the Misfit’s team, however...
“I’m the distraction?” Red asked. “I... I guess that makes sense. I’m still sheriff after all.”
Webster leaned forward. “That still leaves the subject of your son,” he said gently. Red folded her ears back and looked dejectedly at the ground.
“That’s none of your business, Web,” she said.
Sphinx sighed. He had hoped that Larkin could help too, but he had been folded into the Company too deep by then.
Sphinx put his hand over the old jackal’s paw. “We’ll get him back one day,” he said softly, although a little disappointed that her son couldn’t assist with the plan either.
“And no one is going to get seriously hurt,” Renard assured.
“Maybe some... lumps,” Tex said carefully, “but we’ll try our best to avoid that.”
“What else do you boys need?” Red asked.
“Perhaps closing the street?” Renard posed.
Red clicked her tongue. “I’ll try to do every administrative thing I can on the day, which is...?”
“One week from now,” Sphinx said. “Reynard’s Day celebration. Veilwinter’s gonna shut the whole town down. Best time to do it.”
Red and the Misfits shared a solemn shot of whiskey and made their separate ways.
“Damn!” Tex said. “That’s too bad about Larkin. One damn good aeronaut.”
“That’s all right,” Sphinx said. “I just hope he’s in the airshow on Reynard’s Day and not doing his rounds. Let’s make ourselves scarce boys - We can’t be seen together for a while. You all know the meeting place?”
They nodded, mumbled, and patted each other on their backs as they all sank into the shadows of the wealthiest city on the continent.
One week later and the gang was situated in the viewing deck of the city’s most exclusive club, The Velvet Club: a monstrous thing a dozen stories tall that had a clear view of the main street of Vulane all the way down to Veilwinter HQ.
“Egads!” Webster said, ogling the view. “However did we get here?”
Sphinx smiled and patted Renard on the shoulder. “Thank our foxy friend here: smooth as silk, Renard!”
“Ah, nothing to it.” the fox grinned a toothy grin.
“And perfect to observe the skies,” Tex said, scanning the blue morning sky for a particular flying machine. The huge scanning airships with their Company logos and the silver masks on the veritable army that the Company had were just starting to arrange themselves as wealthy critters in their fanciest lined the street with their little ones in anticipation of the parade.
“You gonna get scolded by your mama afterwards, Rey?” Tex asked, grinning back. “Committing a heist on a high holy day?”
“Not at all,” Renard replied with his own fangy smile. “Reynard was a thief as well.”
They laughed and Sphinx ordered something called a “mimosa” before they heard the door to the room open, followed by a vixen in a glittering long dress, and little glasses on her snoot.
“Oh!” She said as her gaggle of vulpine friends entered as well. “I wasn’t aware there were other guests here.”
“That’s all right,” Webster began, “we were just—”
“—Ordering some morning aperitifs,” Renard said. Sphinx stopped too: the vixen’s dress was interlaced with strands of unknownium. “Would you care to join us?”
The vixen in front turned to her other lady friends. “Shall we, girls?”
Tex gave a look like Renard had just grown an extra head as the vixen and her friends headed over.
“I think that would be delightful,” the bespectacled - and obviously extremely wealthy - vixen said as she strode over. Suddenly, a wolverine and a tiger - both in Veilwinter silver masks - walked in as well, armed with the new Veilwinter long guns that Sphinx had seen in the barred windows of the fancy armory shops in the Fog District.
The Misfits nervously twitched. This could ruin things.
“Gentlemen,” Sphinx said, raising a glass.
Their dead eyes behind their masks said everything the Misfits needed to know about their attitudes toward introductions. The vixen and her fluffy, thin friends glided over to the Misfits. That’s when Sphinx noticed that the ‘main’ vixen’s heels had unknownium in the heels: she literally floated over to them.
She gently offered her hand to Sphinx. “I hope you do not think it rude, but I am not technically allowed to introduce myself to gentlemen I have not met before... however I would adore to know your names, if you would give them?”
The tails of the mysterious guests were all long and fluffy, braided with strands of blue and purple ribbons - the colors of Veilwinter. Sphinx kept up with local politics and noticed that her friends had different colors according to their houses.
“James,” he said. It clicked then who he was speaking to.
This... was Orphea: The very designer of most of Veilwinter’s inventions. She didn’t seem much older than himself. Maybe a few years difference between them.
She gently offered her hand to him. Ever the gentleman he kissed it. “I am very charmed, James,” she said.
Webster clamped on his pipe, as always it was unlit.
Her introduction to Renard was slightly more friendly. They licked each others’ cheeks several times and spoke Vulpine to each other. Renard was a foot taller than her, and so took extra care with his licks.
“Charmed as well.”
Sphinx couldn’t help but see Renard’s tail vibrate: it always did that when he was trying to stop it from wagging - he stopped playing poker with the others after that was noticed.
Each of the vixens sidled up to a member of the Misfits, with Orphea taking the arm of Renard.
Renard twitched his ears.
“And are you here from out of town to see our festivities? Or are you local? I do not recognize you.”
The vixen that had taken Sphinx’s arm was gorgeous as well - heck, he’d never seen an ugly fox. She raised her snoot up to him, curious as well.
“From out of town. I hear it’s something worth traveling to see.”
“And how is the gunpowder business?” She asked suddenly, snuggling a little tighter to Renard.
It was a question meant to catch him off guard.
“Oh, you know I’m in the gunpowder business? Well honestly we’ve been struggling a bit since your inventions. Thankfully they’re still too expensive for most folk to purchase, so we’ve still got a thriving business.”
Orphea tilted her head, blinked her glittering blue eyes, and gave a little smile, showing a line of healthy little fangs.
“Oh - if someone is interested in my toys - not just the altered ones my guards are carrying - they would have to pay a very high price.”
“I’m sure.” Sphinx replied, the Misfits didn’t try to show much emotion being in the presence of Veilwinter’s inventor.
The vixen that was being held by Sphinx lifted her snoot and made a little squeak at him.
“I’m sorry if it seems like I’m ignoring you.”
She stepped on her tiptoes and gave Sphinx a little lick.
That’s when the buzzing in the distance began. The party turned to face the windows as the roofs of several nearby buildings began to open. Tex wanted to see what the new invention by Orphea was - he had heard about it from various sources and wanted Renard and the others to see if it could be a problem during the heist.
Slowly the scanner blimps arose, but then a streak of blue almost exploded out from between them. Even high up and a block away, they could hear the crowds below go “ooh” and “ah” as it spiraled and rolled through the sky, leaving a trail of glittering exhaust behind.
“What is that thing?” Tex asked, leaning so far forward he actually put handprints on the glass.
“I don’t know but I’d love to fly it,” Sphinx replied. “One of your inventions?”
Orphea chuckled. “Indeed. Powered by unknownium of course, but not in the regular way... patent pending. Flown by one of our best.”
The aircraft swooped low over the crowd, then swept upwards over the Velvet Club building itself. Tex got a very quick look at the underside, but it was too fast for even him to see. He tapped Sphinx on the shoulder.
Sphinx stood up. “Well, it’s been wonderful. But we must be going.”
The vixen who was in his embrace gave a sad little whine while Orphea looked confused.
“Go where?” The astute vixen chimed. “Everything in Vulane is closed.”
Renard let go of Orphea. “Indeed, apologies.”
Orphea looked a little disappointed. “Perhaps we shall all meet again one day, James.”
“I’d like that.” he replied, and it didn’t feel like a lie.
On the way back to the hangar on the other side of town, they saw a huge poster on the side of a building bearing the gentle smile and large blue eyes of Orphea’s brother Todd in dress uniform:
Protecting your interests