A Slayers/Thief crossover
Disclaimer: Slayers is the property of Hajime Kanazaka and Rui Araizumi. Thief is the property of Eidos Interactive. Both have been used without permission.
Chapter 1: The Effigy
Alaric peered suspiciously at the door to the west annex. He swore he had heard a faint clank of metal emanate from behind it, but he could not be certain. He unslung his crossbow, switching off the safety latch and double-checking that the bolt was loaded straight as he did so. Holding it at the ready, he fumbled at the ring of keys on his belt, rattling them loudly as he searched for the proper one. After a minute he found it, and with a sharp click from the lock opened the door.
A long, rectangular hall, the west annex of Publius Manco's Emporium of Wonders and Enigmas stored recently acquired stock. Much of it was arrayed as if on display, for Manco often gave private tours and presentations to his favored patrons. Many items rarely reached the public showrooms, instead being bought outright by this eccentric noble or that superstitious aristocrat. Alaric did not care for the west annex, or for that matter most of the exhibits the Emporium hosted. It disturbed his sense of rightness about the world that some of the things Manco bought and sold existed. Involuntarily he thought of the fully articulated skeleton of dwarfed Siamese twins, its bones plated in etch-worked silver; of that stone miniature imp, whose cold, hard eyes always seemed to follow you about the room; of the headless white marble statue of some long forgotten goddess which had haunted his dreams so strangely until Manco had finally, thankfully sold the accursed thing. But despite his discomfort Alaric never thought of quitting his post as a night watchman here. The pay was good, and Manco was a kind master.
Looking into the annex, Alaric cursed under his breath. Two of the four torches that illuminated the hall during the night had gone out. The fool caretakers had forgotten to fill the torches with fresh coals, and now half of the hall was obscured with gloom. He'd have to bring this matter to Manco's attention. The servants were being too lax in their duties lately. How was he expected to patrol effectively if he did not have light? Alaric sighed while making a mental note to bring coals on his next round past here, but for now it could not be helped.
Alaric walked into the annex, the tread of his heavy boots echoing ominously through the hall, the rings of his mail vest jingling noisily at every step. Alaric's eyes darted to and fro, looking for an explanation to the noise he had heard. He studiously ignored the stuffed and mounted body of a giant insect as he passed it. The specimen was a horrible amalgamation of man and mantis. Its chitinous hide gleamed like a lambent emerald in the torchlight and its wicked claws were poised to strike. He spared a bulky stone sarcophagus (complete with immured mummy, Manco had gleefully informed him) from distant Araby a brief glance before quickly averting his gaze from a tapestry on which pastel patterns swirled and glimmered, constantly changing and contorting hypnotically before his eyes. He reached the end of the annex, where a door in the left corner led to a stairway to the attic. Alaric gave it a perfunctory check before reversing his steps back up the hall. So far he found nothing that could explain the strange sound, and was ready to chalk it up to his nerves. Nearing the exit he glared at the nearest snuffed torch. "Gotta get some fresh coals," he muttered as a reminder, relaxing his hold on his crossbow as he made for the door.
The back of Alaric's skull burst apart in a blast of fiery pain. Stars rushed towards his eyes as his vision tunneled, a sickening sense of vertigo making his legs buckle... sending him falling, falling, falling... a fall that seemed endless. A black veil fell over his sight. 'The other torches went out... gotta talk to Lord Manco about that...' he thought inanely before oblivion swallowed him.
A shadowed man loomed over the prone watchman. Heavily cloaked and cowled in black, little detail could be made out of him, save that he was slightly shorter than average. A lean pale face, hard and expressionless, could just be discerned in the depths of the hood. His right eye glittered in an odd, almost metallic manner in the torchlight; obscured by the gloom of the annex, it would take a minute before one realized it was indeed an eye of metal, not flesh. In a gloved right hand he gripped a blackjack.
This man considered the unconscious form before him for a moment, before, with a shake of his head, slipping the blackjack beneath his cloak and taking a grip on the guard's ankles, dragging him unceremoniously into the shadows. He returned for the crossbow, disarming it before laying it next to the guard, then snapped the bolt between his hands and dropping the pieces on the watchman's back. Without a second thought the cloaked man returned to the object of his venture: A large glass cabinet. Set upon a velvet covered oblong pedestal, topped with an ornate, intricately carved birch wood lid, it was stubborn about giving up its contents. A cunning lock at each corner held the lid in place. One had been vanquished; the rest would fall soon. The cloaked man glanced at the cabinet's treasure: a life-sized effigy- seemingly carved from a single great bone- of a young woman lying on her back. She was perhaps supposed to be no older than twenty, and dressed like a man in boots, trousers and a strangely designed tunic, with a slender sword and dagger adorning each hip and a heavy cloak clasped around her neck. Small and slender, she was an attractive example of womanhood, with a slightly upturned nose, long, sweeping hair and small, pert breasts swelling beneath her tunic. Her eyes were closed, her lips slightly parted, her face relaxed as if she slept. The cloaked man could not help but shake his head in wonder and admiration. The creator of the effigy had obviously been an artist of unparalleled talent, for the level of detail it possessed was amazing, perhaps unmatched by any other sculpture he had seen. Easily worth what Publius Manco was demanding for it, if not twice that amount. Too bad for Manco that the cloaked man's client didn't want to pay that much...
Kneeling before a corner, lockpick in hand, Garrett returned to work...
"Would you like another glass of wine, Mister Garrett?"
"No, I'm fine."
"Are you sure? It's of an excellent year and vintage. From Blackbrook. It's so hard to procure wine from that city right now, with our good Baron waging war against it."
"I'm set, Van Groot. I'm more interested in why you want my services than the difficulties you have in acquiring good wine."
"I understand. The matter is quite simple, Mister Garrett. I am a collector."
'Now where have I heard that before?' Garrett thought sourly. A dull ache started up behind his artificial eye; he massaged his temple with two fingers and narrowed his eyes slightly, but otherwise he showed no other sign of his discomfort, his expression remaining stoic.
"A collector, you say Van Groot?" He settled back in his chair as he dropped his hand down to the goblet set on the fine mahogany lamp table by his side.
"Do you mind me inquiring about what exactly you collect?" He drained the dregs from the goblet in one swift motion then languidly set it back down. Albert Van Groot's thin lips- the only thin thing about him- pursed in an almost embarrassed smile.
"Not at all," Van Groot answered with a shrug of his flabby shoulders. He tossed his head to one side, making lank, limp bangs of colorless hair sway a little before greasily re-clinging to his brow. "To tell the truth, I am not a systematic collector, nor do I restrain myself to one particular subject. I am quite the magpie, Mister Garrett! Anything that catches my eye, be it a curious piece of glass work or a book written in some forgotten hieroglyphical cipher... if my interest is piqued by something I will go to great lengths to obtain it, even if it possesses little intrinsic worth. I will even..." here Van Groot hesitated.
"Resort to hiring men like me." Garrett finished for him. 'And well beyond that, if I judge the gleam in your pig eyes right. I'll have to be cautious with this one.' "So what has excited your interest this time?"
Van Groot leaned forward in his seat, licking his lips eagerly. "You have heard, of course, of Publius Manco's Emporium?"
Garrett nodded. "Yes. An interesting place. I've paid it a few visits... in a non-professional capacity."
"Yes, it is. And just recently he had acquired a VERY interesting piece, from out of Bohn. Or, to be more precise, from out of the wilderness north of Bohn." Van Groot paused a moment to take a quick sip from his goblet. "Some months ago a woodsman discovered a blasted heath in the middle of the Great Black Forest. Trees all charred and cracked, stripped of their foliage. The earth burned black, scorched and upturned. Some great conflagration had occurred there, as if some unknown force had rained explosive cannon shot down upon the glen. All quite mysterious, and still unexplained. But most interesting was what the woodsman found in the center of the heath, laid out in a great crater. An effigy..."
Garrett arched an eyebrow. "An effigy..."
"Aye. Of an outlandishly dressed woman, carved from bone and untouched by whatever holocaust destroyed the heath. And what detail, Mister Garrett! It has to be seen to be believed. So life-like. An acquaintance of Manco has suggested that it is not a carving, but rather a corpse somehow calcified by the blast." Van Groot chuckled. "A rather romantic and improbable surmise, in my opinion."
"I don't know. I've seen stranger things come to pass." Garrett commented softly.
"Hmm... Well, whatever its origins may be, what I do know is that the woodsman took claim of it and brought it to Bohn to show. He sold it for a pretty sum, and it changed hands several times before finally coming into the ownership of Publius Manco, who promptly shipped it to his Emporium. He showed it to me during his most recent private tour of his annexes. I offered to buy it, but his asking price would leave me penurious. But... but I must have it, Mister Garrett." Van Groot's breath quickened as he clenched his fat fists. They trembled, and his pale, plump face flushed in an unhealthy manner. "It is constantly before my mind's eye, haunting my every moment, waking or sleeping. Only by owning it will I have any relief. Thus, why I now turn to you." He settled back, seeming almost to deflate into his plush chair.
Garrett did not respond right away, but simply stared into the crackling fireplace of Van Groot's study in meditation. Van Groot seemed content with this, pulling a silk handkerchief from the gold embroidered breast pocket of his tunic to mop his now sopping brow. Once he had composed himself Garrett spoke.
"You said it's a life sized effigy. How large do you estimate it to be?" Van Groot thought for a moment.
"Oh, not too large. I'd say it's a little over five feet long. Will its size be a problem?"
"Quite frankly, yes. I've been wondering if you've confused me for a porter instead of a thief, Van Groot. I specialize in the unlawful procurement of small, portable items of great value, not of bulky objet d'arts of questionable taste."
Van Groot took a longer drink from his goblet. He slowly rotated it in his hand as he mused for a moment. His thin lips parted, revealing straight white teeth as he flashed a condescending smile.
"So what you are saying is that this theft is beyond your talents..."
"What I am saying is that there will be complications," Garrett retorted curtly. "Bone is light, but moving something of that size will be cumbersome and awkward. Getting to it is simple. Getting it out, unnoticed and intact, is a different matter... unless you want me to bring it to you in separate pieces?"
"No I do not." Van Groot answered flatly. "I grow tired of this, MISTER Garrett. Do you accept my commission or not?"
Garrett did not answer immediately, instead holding out his goblet. Van Groot blinked, then with obvious irritation re-filled the pro-offered vessel with the wine on the study table. Garrett drained it with one pull, then stood, pulling up the hood of his cloak then hitching at his belt.
"It will be complicated, but not impossible. I'll consider it a challenge. I accept, but only on my terms."
Van Groot stared at Garrett warily. "And they are...?"
"I want five thousand for this, plus expenses, with a thousand up front. I will not be able to deliver it to you directly, but I will arrange to hide it somewhere safe for you to pick up. I will guarantee that it will remain intact and unhurt. You have my word on that."
"That relieves me to no end." Van Groot muttered sardonically.
"I am a professional, Van Groot. My word is my bond. When I give it, I keep it. People have found that out to their benefit... and to their cost."
Van Groot did not reply. He looked at Garrett silently, then rose from his chair and offered him his hand. "Very well. Your terms are reasonable." They struck hands, sealing their agreement.
"Just one last thing: you are being totally honest and forthright about the nature of this effigy? I have a distaste for surprises." Garrett asked looking sidelong at his client. In the depths of his hood only the chill gleam of his metal eye was visible to Van Groot. Under it's implacable, searching stare Van Groot could not help shivering slightly.
"But of course, Mister Garrett." He answered with great sincerity, smiling brilliantly. "It is of great quality, but the only unusual thing about it is its origin."
Van Groot was lying, of course. Garrett knew that. But he kept the commission anyway, against his better judgment. He had nothing else even remotely as lucrative lined up at the moment. And besides, the rent was due again.
The final lock yielded to Garrett's ministrations, opening with the softest of clicks. Garrett exhaled faintly in relief. They had taken longer to pick than he had anticipated. He stood up, laying hands on the edges of the lid, getting a good tight grip. He tugged at it, making a face when it did not budge. It had been put on good and tight. Garrett grunted as he pulled with greater force. Though somewhat short and of svelte build he was surprising strong, the muscles of his limbs as hard as tightly woven iron cords. Finally the lid came off, but not without a loud pop of escaping air. With a silent curse Garrett dropped to one knee behind the cabinet, concealing himself in the shadows. He carefully leaned the lid against the pedestal and reached behind his back for his bow, unslinging it and nocking a broadhead arrow to its string. Head slightly bowed, ears straining for the slightest sound coming from the hallway, he counted minutes in his head.
One... Two... Three...
When he reached three and no one had yet come to investigate Garrett relaxed slightly, putting away his weapons and rising again. He reached into the cabinet for the effigy, and pulled it out with great caution. He grunted again in effort, for though the effigy was light the narrowness of its cabinet forced him to lift it in an awkward manner. Once up and out he pivoted on his heel and set it on its feet, leaning it against the wall. He rested for a minute, letting the muscles of his back relax before taking up the effigy, cradling it in his arms. He headed to the attic door, his footfalls less than whispers. He set down the effigy for a moment to open the door then swiftly entered the landing, pulling it in and shutting the door behind him with a foot.
One could almost choke to death on all the dust and cobwebs in the west attic. It had stood empty and unused for more than a few years now. Most of the Emporium's supplies and tools were kept in a storage room in the back of the ground floor. A trapdoor in the ceiling opened up to the roof, but it had been locked with two thick bolts. It was open now, allowing Garrett a view of the moonless night sky. The floor beneath the door was blackened, the stone pitted and scarred- a side effect of vials of acid he had used to defeat the slide bolts. A rather crude way of circumventing them, compared to his preferred methods of housebreaking- but the true professional does not sneer at or dismiss crude ways when they are necessary. A long rope dangled from the trap door's lip, its end coiled on the attic floor. Laid out near the acid scorch were two tarps. Garrett carefully laid the effigy down on the tarps and swaddled it tightly. He then took hold of the rope and tied it around the effigy slightly off-center, just beneath it's breasts. He double-checked his knot work, and once satisfied with its soundness he jumped and quickly climbed the rope up to the roof, slipping through the trap door.
On the square, flat roof of Publius Manco's Emporium Garrett paused to rest for a moment. He leaned backwards a little, hands pressed to the small of his back as he stretched it out. He then stretched his arms, clenching and unclenching his limber, strong hands, preparing them for the tasks still ahead. He swept back his cowl to let the night air cool himself down. A gentle breeze flowed over his saturnine face- pale, but not unhandsome- and through his close-cropped hair, ordinarily brown, now blackened by the gloom of the cloudy night. He surveyed the cityscape about him, grimly noting how wonderfully open and exposed the Emporium's roof was compared to the buildings around him, and silently, perfunctorily thanked the nameless patron saint of thieves for the moonless, starless sky.
Garrett re-donned his cowl and walked to the western parapet. There the Emporium and the building adjacent to it formed an alleyway. To a cornice jutting from the parapet he had anchored his rope He checked it to make sure his climb hadn't loosened it, and once assured he returned to the trap door. He squatted down before, taking hold of the rope and drew up its excess length, stopping when it pulled taut between him and the effigy below. Garrett took three deep breaths, then started to his feet, pulling up. The effigy jumped off the attic floor with a jerk, dangling precariously. Garrett spread his legs wider for better balance as he raised his prize up to the trap door; hand over hand, pull by pull. When the effigy was but a foot shy of the aperture Garrett paused to adjust his position, making sure it would not catch on an edge when he pulled it out. With a grunt Garrett walked backwards, drawing the rope as he did, dragging the effigy through the trap door, safely onto the roof.
Garrett knelt by the effigy, feeling at it through the tarp, checking the side of it that had made contact with the door's edge for damage. He could detect none, but resolved to make a thorough examination of it once he delivered it to the rendezvous site. He quietly eased the trap door shut and moved the bound effigy over to the parapet. From a belt pouch he retrieved a vial, pulled out its cork stopper with his teeth and sipped its contents. He secured and put the vial away as a pleasant warmth spread across his back and through his arms, the strain and tension incurred by his feat surrendering and fleeing before the potency of the healing draught. Garrett rolled his shoulders, cricked his neck then peered down into the alleyway below him, keen vision cutting through the obscuring murk of night and shadow. Once determining it to be empty Garrett closed his left eye and gently tapped his right, metallic eye with a finger.
It was a wondrous piece of artifice, this artificial eye. Cunningly crafted from arts both sorcerous and scientific, it had cost Garrett a small fortune to have it constructed and surgically implanted in his maimed eye socket, and the pain of the operation and its aftermath had at times rivaled the agony he suffered when his true eye had been torn from his face. But the ocular had been worth the cost of gold and pain. It saw as clearly as his lost eye, in full color and crystalline sharpness, and it restored to him depth perception, so very important due to the nature and hazards of his profession. And it also had other attributes no eye of flesh could match...
Before he had broken into the Emporium's attic Garrett had set at each mouth of the west alleyway a small iron orb, each with a circular piece of crystal set in them. They were specially linked to his ocular, allowing him to see what the crystals spied. They could also be moved, made to rotate on their weighted bases, granting a full three hundred and sixty degree arc of vision. By tapping the ocular Garrett activated the link to the first orb he planted, and through it observed the adjoining street for traffic. Garrett stroked the side of the ocular, which made the orb shift to the left, then the right. All was clear. Garrett tapped again, jumping to and repeating the process with the second orb. All was quiet on the back street. A prolonged press cut the link to the orbs, allowing Garrett to see normally. He proceeded to unwind the rope from the cornice. He took hold of the rope at about a foot length from where it was knotted to the effigy and with a grunt preceded to dead lift it, swinging it over the parapet and lowering it down into the alleyway, slowly and with the utmost caution. He braced a foot against the parapet as his teeth ground together from the effort, sweat starting to bead on his brow, leaving sticky hot trails as they ran down the sharp angles of his face. If the effigy had been made of some other heavier substance he'd have never been able to accomplish this by himself. After, what seemed to him an almost interminable amount of time, where the effigy grew heavier with each passing moment, each hand length of rope lowered, it finally touched bottom, a faint clunk rising up from the abyssal alley. Garrett let the rope slide out of his hands in slow inches, cautiously letting the effigy slowly fall flat. Garrett released the rope and sat down, huffing somewhat from the exertion. He took another drink from his healing draught and wiped the sweat from his face, pulling down his cowl again. Within moments he recovered his composure. He re-anchored the rope and climbed down the wall. He retrieved his scouting orbs, finding all was still clear on the streets. He returned to the effigy, drawing his sword and cutting it free from the rope at the knot. Sheathing the blade he caught up the effigy in his arms, and silently made his way down to the back streets. A handcart would have made things easier, but would also have made noise on the cobblestone streets, attracting unwanted attention. Besides, he was stashing it quite near the Emporium. The guards of the City watch were by nature creatures of routine, unimaginative and dull of wit. They would never think to closely search the areas near the scene of the crime.
Garrett moved quickly through the streets, keeping to the voluminous shadows as much as he could. So far he encountered no watch patrols. The entire job had gone as smooth as a dream. No fuss and no muss, save for the slip of hand that had attracted that Emporium guardsman, and that had been easily remedied. He was almost home free....
So naturally he expected something to go horribly wrong at any minute.
Yet nothing did, and without incident Garrett found himself in an alley across the street from his destination: a small, ramshackle hole-in-the-wall tavern with the dubious name of Sheval's Silver Carp. Old man Sheval had a cunningly concealed thief's cubby in the basement of his establishment, where the effigy could be stashed safely until inconspicuous transportation could be arranged for it later in the day. Sheval's discretion could be relied on, for he owed Garrett several favors and was eager to get out of debt. Garrett shrugged his shoulders, shoring up his grip on the effigy. The street was clear. Thirty paces to the back door would end this. He stepped out of the alleyway.
Garrett started, nearly fumbling his burden in his surprise. He looked down in horror at the bundle, a heavy ball of lead starting to swell in the pit of his stomach. The crack had clearly come from it.
"No..." Garrett whispered in disbelief. His handling couldn't have damaged it. He stepped back into the darkness of the alleyway; a cacophony of cracks and pops emanating from the effigy, barely muffled by the two layers of tarp. Suddenly, impossibly, its feel changed from hard, unyielding bone to something soft and pliable. It went limp in his arms; either ends bending slightly downward, as if the effigy's neck and knees had been granted articulation. The crackling stopped.
Garrett kneeled and set the bundle down. Face grim, teeth bared in a slowly steeping anger, he drew out his sword. (He lied. I knew he was lying to me about this damn thing, yet I took the job anyway. I should have known better. What did the fat fool get me into?) He eyed the covered effigy warily. He should just leave the damn thing where it was and fade. Maybe later the next night pay Van Groot a visit and show him in Hammerite fashion the folly inherent in the sin of lying. Yet the instinct of curiosity had always been very strong in him, the proverb of the cat be damned. His former masters had nurtured it while training him, and a life of danger had yet to dull it. He pulled away at the tarps with his free hand, sword raised to strike at an instant's necessity.
And there before him on the unwrapped tarps lay the effigy, all of its rigidity gone, head lolled slightly to one side, arms slightly akimbo, no longer stiffly held to the sides, knees slightly bent. A skein work of fine, hairline cracks covered it from crown to toe-tip. Its breasts rose and fell slightly, almost indiscernibly, and Garrett could just hear a soft rhythm of breathing. He lowered his sword, reaching out with a trembling hand to touch its face. The white flaked away, peeling from the face like eggshell, showing warm, pale flesh beneath. He brushed roughly at its head, cleaning its face, revealing the hair to be a vibrant, flaming red. Its lips parted, a slight groan escaping them.
Garrett just stared, leaning on his sword for support. What was once a cold, still effigy of bone had become a living woman of flesh and blood and breath. His mind grappled with this impossibility momentarily, but he shook his head, dismissing the conflict from his thoughts. The events of his life had demonstrated to him, without doubt, that beneath the sun and stars of the heavens there are few things truly impossible. If the dead could walk and banished gods conspire to return to lost power, why couldn't effigies transform miraculously and mysteriously into living beings? Garrett sheathed his sword. (What have I gotten into now?) He asked himself idly. He pondered this in the darkness of the alley, and quickly came to a decision. He picked up the girl, cradling her, and turned his back to Sheval's Silver Carp. He headed for South Quarter, to his home turf. His contract with Van Groot stated that he deliver to him a bone effigy, not a living girl...
Garrett had many questions.
One way or the other, he would have them answered.
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