Garrett bent close to his door as the footsteps neared his door. His sword glinted briefly in the moonlight as the footsteps stopped, just outside. He prepared to jump on the intruder when the footsteps stopped and a note was shoved under the door. After Garrett was sure the person had gone, he grabbed the note, unfolded it, and held it near the candle burning low on his table. It read:
I have been this city's greatest thief for many years, but as time has passed my skills have proven themselves no longer as good as they once have been. Therefore, I invited you along with several other thieves around the city to prove their worth in my eyes. The reward? Over my career I have amassed a great quantity of wealth. The winner of this little contest shall inherit what fortune I do not spend in retiring to the comfort of a small island off the coast.
The 'game' begins Thursday night. You and the others will meet at the Feisty Burrick tavern at eight o'clock sharp. Terribly sorry I couldn't make better reservations, but using any other tavern would raise suspicions. I hope you will not disappoint me by not showing up.
Garrett crumpled the note in his free hand and smiled. The Feisty Burrick, eh?
The Feisty Burrick was not a popular tavern. Tavern was also too strong a word to describe the place; of course, "ramshackle dump most likely to constitute a toxic waste hazard" was far too long a phrase for any of the usual clientele to use, since if the people drinking in there weren't stupid to begin with, they usually were after two drinks from the bar's Special House Blend.
The owner, a rather stupid man by the name of Dirk McWinter, was not concerned about the state of his patrons' mental health. His main concern was trying to get as many of those shiny golden things that people used to purchase his drinks as possible. He was still unclear on how those shiny golden things worked, and as a consequence he rarely paid for repairs for his bar (although most would agree all the place needed was a lick of paint, a hanging picture or two, and a demolitions expert to make it a bit more presentable). Dirk instead spent most of his time wiping the bar down with a rather dirty rag. Many believe that the reason the bar itself has a gigantic, circular groove worked into it is because of Dirk's constant wiping. Others believe it was formed by the rag's extremely high bacterial content.
A clock in the corner of the tavern struck 7:45. A disheveled, mechanical cuckoo blasted out of the top of it, having time to screech "Cuckoo!" once before the springs holding it gave their last. It was catapulted twenty feet across the main room and embedded itself in the right eye of a local patron gulping down a House Blend ale. He appeared not to notice it, but somewhere in the clogged workings of his brain something told him he would feel it in the morning.
In the corner that housed the clock was a small corner booth. It was covered in dark shadow and hid the three inhabitants like a cloak of invisibility. All, except for the gangly blond one who would have been visible in an unlit cave 50 miles below the surface of the planet. He carefully sipped at a mug of ale that he'd wisely brought from home and sighed. "You know, this is not how I planned to live my life. I had dreams. I wanted to be a merchant. Merchants get to see the world, make a lot of money, meet a lot of exotic women, and go home the next day on that giant pile of money. It's not my fault that I was born into a poor family."
A shorter, wiry fellow with brown hair in the booth raised his glass (which he had specifically filled with House Blend Extra Strength) in the gesture of a toast. "Hear hear!"
"Anyway, after my father suffocated himself in the heap of dung he was supposed to be collecting, I had no other choice but to wander the streets picking pockets. Now here I am, sitting in the worst bar in the city with an idiot who's so hungry he's trying to eat the table…"
The stout one looked up as a chunk of moldy wood fell out of his mouth. "Hey, I resent that! I'm not hungry, I'm trying to set a record! This is number four I'm working on, this is!"
"…and an idiot wearing a sock puppet."
Pete lowered his glass. "Well, at least Sockman's on my hand now. No one notices a sock on your foot, especially when wearing boots."
"But it's just a sock. Can't you put eyes on it or something? It's just not bloody right like that, is all."
"DON'T SAY THAT! You'll hurt his feelings!" He shoved Sockman to his chest as if it was a wounded child. "It's bad enough you bled all over him, you taffer! Do you know how long it took to get all of it out?"
"Cripes, Pete, all you need is some bleaching agent. Every store's got some. It takes twenty minutes, tops."
"I don't care! You apologize to him right now!"
"I'm not apologizing to a stupid sock puppet! Especially one without any face!"
"All right, that does it!" Pete clambered over Jack and leapt for Henry's neck. Henry calmly removed Pete's free hand, as it is rather hard to choke someone with two hands when a sock is on one of them. He retaliated by removing Sockman and flinging him into a half-filled glass on a table across the room. The patron who was the proud owner of the glass took no notice of it, drank a little, and complimented Dirk on the new flavoring he was adding to the liquor. He did complain it made his right eye ache, though.
Pete shrieked. "You bastard! I'll get you for that!" The scuffle continued under the table, from whence emerged a large string of obscenities, an occasional clump of hair, and a patron that had obviously gotten lost underneath the table about seven years ago. Although he was too far gone for any mortal aid, it should be noted that seeing him gave Dirk some peace of mind. Apparently it wasn't his armpits that smelled all this time after all.
Jack managed to look up from his 'tablework' and stared, mouth gaping open. He ducked under the table, where Henry had somehow managed to fold Pete into a position most people wouldn't think possible. "You guys, stop! Look at that!"
A man dressed in form-fitted black suit had pushed open the door of the bar. He had a neatly trimmed beard and a look of utter disdain for his current surroundings. This was a man with status, pure and simple. He was also a walking mass of gadgets and doodads. The suit had more equipment attached to it than could fit in most horse-drawn carts. Almost every square inch had a holster with something in it: lock picks, knives, an object that looked like a cheese grater…
Jack pushed Henry and Pete apart and pointed their heads at the newcomer. "Don't you see who it is? It's that Zantar guy!"
Henry blinked in utter amazement. Jean Zantar was a noble who'd recently moved to the city. He was very popular for his seemingly endless variety of antiquities that he auctioned off to the highest bidder. By way of how he was dressed, it was obvious to even these three where those antiquities had come from. "You're right, Jack. What's someone like him doing in a trash heap like this?"
Zantar glanced quickly at the bar. Thinking better of it, he sat down at a table by himself. He began drumming his fingers on the tabletop, checking occasionally to see if anything was stuck to them that shouldn't be there. He appeared to be waiting for someone, and seemed to be muttering something about health code violations.
The three crawled out from under the table and cautiously edged toward Zantar, who eyed them with both a sense of pity and dread that a conversation with them would be forthcoming. They grabbed seats from various areas of the bar and pulled them up to Zantar's table. After they'd settled in, they gawked wide-eyed at him for several minutes. Zantar sighed. It looked like he'd have to start the conversation himself. "May I help you?"
Henry squeaked, then managed to mumble out something. "You're Jean Zantar, aren't you?"
"Yes, I am, and I'd prefer it if you took your business elsewhere, as I'm waiting for some very important people and…I'm sorry, but is that a sock on your hand?"
Pete grinned devilishly. While getting his chair, he'd gotten Sockman back from the glass. It was a little wet, and perhaps even a bit dissolved, but not too worse for wear. "Yes, he is. Do you like him?"
"Not really. Maybe if you add some lips or hair or…or…something."
Pete frowned sheepishly.
"Now where was I? Ah, yes. Please leave my sight or I'll be forced to jam something very large and uncomfortable somewhere it is not supposed to go."
Henry jumped back quickly. "Well, now, wait a minute. Can we ask who you're waiting for?"
Zantar gripped something Henry couldn't recognize off-hand, but he knew it was very large and uncomfortable. "If you had to ask about it, then obviously you didn't get the invitation now, did you? That means it has nothing to do with you, so go away. Now."
Henry still looked fairly puzzled. "So I take it you're NOT going to tell us about this, right?"
Zantar gritted his teeth.
Behind the Feisty Burrick was a small alley that also functioned as the trash dump for everything thrown out at the pub. Somehow, it not only looked better, it also smelled better than the pub itself.
Sticking out of the largest pile were three pairs of legs. Muffled by the piling of rags, boxes, and who-knows-what-else, a voice rose up from the depths of the pile.
"I guess I went just a little too far, huh?"
"That's what you get for insulting Sockman, you sod!" Pete's legs wiggled slightly as he said this.
"Don't make me beat you again, Pete! I mean it!"
"Would you both shut up, already?!? At least he just roughed you two up a little! You're not the one with a grappling hook up his…"
"Well, who's the one that wanted to see Zantar up close, anyway? You asked for it! And Pete, would you stop pretending that Sockman is biting my leg? It's getting annoying."
As the bickering and bantering continued, and as Jack weakly yelled for help, a voice came wafting out of a hole in the wall of the Feisty Burrick. Henry quieted the group. "That must be one of those important people Zantar was talking about." He dug himself out of the trash and looked through the hole. "Hey, guys, come look at this! Something big is going on!"
Pete shuffled his way out of the pile and went over to where Henry was peering through the wall. "Jack? You coming?"
Jack whimpered slightly and stayed where he was.
Pete scratched his head. "I see. You gonna be all right over there?"
"stupid wankers…I'll get you two for this…good gravy it hurts…"
"All right, then. We'll be over here for a little bit."
The Feisty Burrick had never had as many customers total in its entire 20-year history of operation as were now seated within. Henry recognized them all as master thieves that had worked up quite a reputation within the ranks of the underworld. At Zantar's table alone sat "Three-toes" Malachai, known for his necklace of toes he'd taken from a fence who'd cut him a bad deal once, Wallace Stormer, an assassin trained in ancient martial arts tactics, and…Garrett? Henry rubbed his eyes and checked to make sure. Yes, even Garrett was assembled among the throng. What was going on here?
The clock struck 8:00. The crowd hushed as the doors to the bar swung open. In came a man of about fifty or so. His hair was a dark gray color, and he stood at least six and half feet tall. He wore a red cloak around his shoulders, and he exuded pure charisma.
He went back over to the back of the bar, where Henry was peering through the crack. Not noticing the extremely obvious eyeball staring through the wall, the man spun and faced the gathering of thieves. He cleared his throat authoritatively. He then raised his arms in a gesture of both business and friendship.
"I'm very glad all of you answered my invitations. Tonight should turn out to be very interesting indeed."
Malachai stood up. "Ah, shut yer gob! What's this all about, anyway?"
Carrigan, whom the man obviously was, smiled. "If you would be so kind as to sit down and wait along with everyone else, I will explain my purposes." Malachai, quite aware of the amazingly high number of stares and daggers that pointed in his general direction, sat down immediately.
"Thank you. As I'm sure you've read, tonight I shall award one of you all the treasures that I've collected over the years. The collection is quite numerous…and quite widespread. Only I know where it is all kept, so those of you that came here tonight hoping to kill me and find it yourselves will be out of luck, I'm afraid. So, those of you who were here to get me out of the picture, please leave now."
There was a grumbling, then about 10 thieves stood up, sheathed their stealth crossbows (i.e., crossbows with silencers attached to the ends), and walked out the door. After a few seconds had passed, there were 10 separate yelps, all silenced by various slashing noises, arrow flights, and even an explosion or two. Everyone seated turned toward the entrance.
"Oh, I must have forgotten to tell them about my bodyguards. Pity. Well, that brings me to my next point. Anyone who wishes to back out of this arrangement, now also please step outside." No one moved. "Ah, everyone still here? Good. Now, let me explain the rules.
"Today at three o'clock, Lord Farnsworth began preparations for laying his dear mother Ethel Farnsworth to rest. She is to be placed within the newly constructed Farnsworth Crypt."
Stormer spit out his drink, which was a lucky thing considering what he was about to swallow. "The Farnsworth Crypt? But, but that's in the…the…the…"
Carrigan smiled. "Yes, the Bonehoard. I know some of you are a little edgy about going there, as it is still under heavy patrol by undead despite the recent attempts to renovate it. But as I was saying, the crypt has been decorated heavily with golden trinkets, valuable tapestries, and Farnsworth's penchant for hidden artillery. It is rumored that the traps are so insidiously placed that Farnsworth himself is afraid to enter the tomb in case he forgot where one was. The guards, understandably, have taken off for the night so as the undead will not 'steal their souls' or whatever they believe these days. This means that the tomb is ripe for the plucking."
Stormer stood, a little upset that the drink he'd spit out was beginning to eat through the table. "That tomb's in the middle of the Bonehoard, for Builder's sake! It's suicide! We'll be torn to shreds if we go in through there!"
Carrigan sighed. "To think I actually I wasted good invitation paper by thinking you were a master thief. Haven't you learned anything in your dealings? There is always a better way if you can find it."
"Oh, yeah? What is it, then, if you're such an expert?"
"If I told you it wouldn't be a challenge, would it? But enough about that. Let me finalize by saying whoever gets to Ethel Farnsworth's tomb first and cleans it out will be the winner. Enjoy your time here, ladies and gentlemen. You depart in approximately half an hour."
Henry pulled away from the hole. "Did you hear that? Old man Carrigan's giving his riches to whoever robs the Farnsworth Crypt! Do you realize what this means?"
Pete flinched. His ribs still hurt from the time they'd attempted to rob Farnsworth's house. "I have an idea, and it seems to involve me being shot at again…"
"Well, yes, of course, but think of the money! The prestige! The women! If we can pull this job off, no one will ever think poorly of us again! We'll be heroes in the eyes of everyone in that pub! Think of it, we could finally join some of the greatest, most prestigious group of people in the world!"
Within, "Darkeyes" Cornwald spat on the floor and scratched himself. Janiss von Croenhauer picked her nose and farted rather loudly. David "The Fox" Gavin drank two glasses inhumanly quickly, shouted, "Ziggy-socky!" and passed out, cracking a table in half as he fell on it.
"So what are we waiting for? Let's get a move on! They won't leave for another…" Henry suddenly wished he had a small, portable clock that he could carry around with him, preferably in his pocket on a chain or on his wrist. This moment of amazing foresight and genius soon disappeared in slurry of thoughts about gold and women. "…what did Carrigan say?"
Jack whimpered again. "He said half an hour. Now please help me or else I'll be forced to bring horrible bodily harm on both of you!"
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