Thief II: The Mental Age
A Thief II parody Copyright © 2001 by Seamus Sullivan


He poured his children's eyes from glass
And wrought their hands from molten steel.
And his wife said,
"Honey, you needn't go to all this trouble to have kids,
they've got a pill for your little problem now!"

-From the Scripture of the Master Builder and Housepainter

The light of the moon shone down upon The City, as it was called. Oddly enough, there were many cities in the world, despite what the name implied, but the original founders of the place hadn't had all that much imagination. The way they saw it, after trekking hundreds of miles through dense forest to escape religous persecution and the minions of the unholy being known only as "The Trix Rabbit", they were far too tired to come up with a name like "City of Brotherly Love", so adding capital letters would just have to do. Regardless, The City had grown over time, evolving from a small rural community built over the ruins of an ancient city to a thriving technological metropolis. And every thriving metropolis has a criminal element...


Blessed be the Forge,
And blessed be the Boiler.
And the Fire, that's not too bad either.
And the Hammer's pretty good.
But not quite as good as the Forge. Yeah.

-Mechalomaniac Prayer

Chapter One:
Shipping...And...Well, Not So Much Receiving As Stealing Everything Not Nailed Down, But You Get The Idea

Gary, former Creeper and argueably the most gifted professional thief in The City, sighed as he slipped over the wall around the warehouse district. He'd snuck into a haunted M.C. Hammerite cathedral/recording studio and stolen the powerful and accursed gem know only as "The Nose", allegedly for its ability to "Clear the Sinuses of Dimensional Rifts and Blow Away All Who Stood in Its Path". He'd infiltrated the lair of the most feared and legendary god of all time, the Trix Rabbit, and lived to tell about it. He'd snuck past religious fanatics with unhealthy passions for singing, undead horrors that were so stupid as to refuse to realize when they'd been killed, and half-animal monsters that talked like our universe's George Bush. And now he was reduced to sneaking into warehouses and shipyards to steal for cash. It was depressing, but he had no other choice. The tax people were coming tomorrow, and nobody frightened Gary except for the tax people. And he needed some cash badly, as the recession caused by baronomics had hurt everybody. That and the fact that Sheriff Trout had been waging a war on crime that involved arresting anyone doing anything suspicious, like going for a walk. It had apparently started as a war against graffiti, but Trout had a bad habit of overdoing things.

Gary lost his concentration and fell off the wall, landing in a crate full of pepper. After a few minutes of sneezing uncontrollably, he pulled himself out, dusted the spice off of his clothes, and ducked behind a lamp post. It was only about five inches thick, but he hid behind it perfectly. He was that good.

"Let's see..." he muttered, checking his map. "I'll hit warehouses 2 through 7. They have the most loot in 'em, and they're all right next to each other. First I'd better steal a key off of a guard."

Gary saw a guard rounding a corner and waited, readying his blackjack. He could hear the guard talking to himself now.

"I'm bored."

"That's not my fault, now is it?"

"Must you always be so callous?"

"Burn things. That's the only way to save yerself! They're all against you, lad!"

"Shut up! Everybody just shut up!"

Gary blinked, then shrugged and shook his head. He waited until the guard had passed, then stole out and snuck up behind him, blackjack raised...

"Atchoo!"

Gary was still feeling the effects of the pepper. The guard whirled around and nearly decapitated him with his sword. Gary ducked under the blade. He couldn't reach the man's head to knock him out now, so he did the next best thing and swung his blackjack upwards into the man's groin. The guard let out a faint whimper and crumpled up like a lawn chair.

"Sorry about that," whispered Gary. "Just business."

He picked up the ring of warehouse keys from the fallen man's belt and proceeded to loot a good portion of the warehouse district.

Six warehouses, twelve blackjackings, and two bouts of sneezing later...

Gary smiled smugly as he carried over 7,000 dollars in loot back towards his home turf. He was somehow able to hold a sword, bow, quiver of arrows, good luck charm, assortment of holy statuettes, and numerous bags of coins under his cloak and still climb a thirty-foot wall without making a single clanking noise. Like I said, he was good.




Strike Iron and call forth sparks
Strike up the Band and call forth a catchy tune
Strike a man and prepare to be asked, "Hey, Man! What the hell's with the violence? Where's the love?!"

-From The Sermons of Kletus: Live at Shoalsgate Station

Chapter Two:
Bamboozled, Bedazzled, and Bushwhacked!

Gary was taking a nap when the knock came on the door. It was a knock that managed to be apologetic, but intrusive nonetheless. The master Thief sighed. He'd been robbed blind by the tax people- he was an amateur in Thievery next to them- and all he wanted was some shuteye. No rest for the weary, especially if they happened to consider the concept of "Personal Property" only when it was convenient. Gary leaned against the door and called out, "I gave at the local temple!"

"I'm not from the bleeding local temple! Let me in. I have a...business proposition for you."
The last time he'd listened to an offer like that, he'd ended up getting his eye torn out by a woman who could turn into a shrub at will. He wasn't eager to start down a similar path here.

"Just a moment..."

Gary undid the thirty or so locks on his door, pulled it open, and grabbed the man outside by the collar and tugged him into the room. He somehow managed to have the man up against a wall with a dagger at his throat before the door swung shut.

"How do you know who I am? Where I live?"

"Are you kidding? Everybody knows where you live. You're a neighborhood celebrity! People sell maps to your tenement!"

"I really wish I got less publicity. Who the hell sent you?"

"An old associate. He calls himself Mr. 'Largebagsofmoneyforpeoplewhodon'taskawkwardquestions'".

Gary blinked. "Is that a Polish name?" He paused for a moment. His eyes lit up. "Ohhhh, right. Mr. 'Largebagsofmoneyforpeoplewhodon'taskawkwardquestions'. An old friend of mine. How's he doing?"

The man smiled and put a large sack of coins on the table.

"That's more like it!" muttered Gary approvingly.

"So what's this job your...associate wants me to pull off?"

"Well, as you know, Sheriff Trout has been making trouble for...freelance workers like ourselves."

"Right, right."

"He's been arresting people for no reason at all, cracking down on-"

"Yes, yes. Enough exposition, they've got it now."

"Oh. Sorry. Look, my client-"

"Oh, he's your client  now, is he? Somebody's got a high opinion of himself."

"Look, do you want another three bags of money or not?"

"I eagerly await your instructions, kind sage."

"Shut up. Now, my client has been getting trouble from Trout's top lieutenant and right hand man, Hogan."

"I thought he'd been captured in the war and imprisoned in a P.O.W. camp!"

"No, he escaped by hiding a radio in a teapot and sneaking out of a trapdoor under a doghouse."

"He always was a resourceful bastard."

"Regardless, we want you to put him out of the way."

"Ah. Want me to kill him?"

"No. It is better to simply...discredit him."

"Eh?"

"It is quite simple. Slip into Shoalsgate Station, evade the Mechalomaniac security system, break into Hogan's office, steal something from it, break into the evidence vault, drop the thing from Hogan's office there, get the strongbox from the vault, break into Hogan's office again, drop the strongbox there, and slip out. Oh, and don't let yourself be seen. And don't kill or blackjack anyone, since the frame-up won't stick if anyone knows you're there."

"Wouldn't it be easier to just kill him?"

"No, no, no! Framing him is preferable for its simplicity!"

"You call that simple?! I've heard Yiddish operas that are more straightforward than that! Look, I'll just wait until he's going home and shoot him!"

"No! Framing him is better!"

"I have a bow and about fifty arrows in my room. I'll go get 'em, shoot him, BAM! Done! No more Hogan!"

"Gary, you just don't get it, do you. You don't."

"It'll take two seconds!"

"Look, you have to frame him or you don't get paid."

"...don't even get to konk anyone on the head."

"What?"

"Er...I'll be glad to do what you said."

"Good. Then we're agreed."


Hours later, Gary and his contact were waiting in the shadows across from Shoalsgate station.

"Why is it important that I do this at precisely 6:00 AM?" asked Gary.

"Because that's when all the ale-and-donut shops open up. Hang on. It's almost six now."
A few minutes after he spoke, a faint rumble began in the distance. It gradually increased in loudness until the doors of Shoalsgate popped open and a sea of bluecoats poured out, intent on some morning snacking. The tide of police moved like a cattle stampede, threatening to sweep Gary and his accomplice away.

"Just grab on to something!" the man shouted. "If you let go, you're a goner!" Gary hung on tight to a lamppost. After a few minutes, the tide of officers had passed, leaving the two men on solid ground once more. A few cops, cut off from the herd, wandered about The City's streets aimlessly until they were roped in.

"That was close," muttered Gary. "The station's bound to be nearly deserted now. Let's go."

"Wait, wait. You can't just go into the front door."

"Why not?"

"See that face above the door?"

"Ew."

"That's a security camera made by the Mechalomaniacs."

"That is the homeliest damn security camera I've ever seen."

"How many security cameras have you seen in your lifetime?"

"Well...just that one."

"Regardless, it's attached directly to the alarms systems. You can't let that alarm go off."

"So I can't let those things see me?"

"Well, if they do, they'll turn yellow and pause for a moment. You'll have a second to get out of sight."

"Who the hell designs a security camera that warns criminals before setting the alarms off? Why not have it trigger the alarms automatically?"

"The police like it better this way. They say it gives the criminal element a fighting chance."

"Oh. That's considerate of them."

"Right. Now it's time to plan our approach. Get us into that shed over there."

Gary began to pick the lock. Unfortunately, one of his lockpicks broke off. Frustrated, Gary jammed his other pick inside, attempting to wedge the first one out. That broke off too. In his anger, Gary kicked at the door, which swung open. It hadn't been locked. Trembling with rage, he stepped inside. His colleague followed him in.

"Now, there are several ways inside. You can go around back and through an open window, you can use a rope arrow to scale the wall, or you can jump," he motioned to a well. "...into this well, swim through freezing water with no air, climb up through spider-infested caverns, and wind up on the bottom floor, where patrols are heaviest. Which route d'you think you'll take?"
Gary paused to consider his options. "Well..." he said.

"Great!" said the man. He pushed Gary into the icy water of the well.

Gary struggled upward and surfaced, sputtering for air. Up above he saw his contact wave, then vanish.

"When this job's over I'm gonna rob that guy blind," Gary muttered before sinking down again. Think it's easy to swim while carrying a sword, bow, quiver, and wearing a cloak? I've got news for you folks: It ain't. And Gary, while a bloody good thief, wasn't the best swimmer to start with.
Gary spent several minutes pulling himself upwards and gasping for air before realizing that he could stand up and have his head well above the water. He did this and began to trudge down the nearest pipe, all the while muttering about how much he hated sewers.

"I really hate wading through other people's waste. What the hell do these guys eat?! Oh good God, what just floated by? I really hope that was only a small branch..."

After a while of this, Gary saw a small incline where the pipe was breached by a cavern. He gratefully pulled himself up and out of the sewers. His gratitude lasted until he realized he was sharing the cavern with a pair of Posterius masticus spiders, commonly known as "Leaping Ass-biters". He hurriedly drew his sword, which sloshed rather than giving the cool "Chink" he'd hoped for. He darted forward to strike at one of them, but overswung his target by a good five inches. Following this, he crouched down, hoping to hit the spider at close range. It jumped out and over his head, landing squarely behind him.

"Ow!" shouted Gary as both spiders fulfilled the second part of their namesake. He wouldn't be sitting down for a while. Desperately, Gary struggled across the cavern, towards the exit. The spiders started to follow him, but paused when they came to a deep pool of water in the center of the cavern that had accumulated from years of watchmen sweat seeping through the floor of the gym above. They crawled into it for a few inches before being overcome by the fumes and drowning.

"Stupid animals," muttered Gary, pulling himself up and rubbing his behind. He'd forgotten that he'd nearly drowned in shoulder-deep water a few minutes ago.

Still feeling smug about his heroic victory over the spiders, Gary continued past the main cavern and down into a side tunnel. Eventually, he found it was blocked by a stone wall. Shuddering at the thought of having to go back through the sewers, he lit a flare and looked desperately around for a door. A moment later, he stumbled across an empty torch bracket and relaxed. It was a secret switch. Had to be. In all his travels, the master thief had never once come across an empty torch bracket that wasn't a secret lever. Even in zombie-infested catacombs, all the non-lever torches were lit somehow. He didn't quite understand it, but it made his job all the more convenient. Gary grabbed the bracket and tugged at it. Sure enough, the wall swung outward, hitting him in the face and knocking him out.

When he regained consciousness, Gary saw the flickering lights of the room beyond the secret door. It looked like a deserted storage room of some kind. Rubbing his nose and glaring at the door, he stepped into Shoalsgate station. Edging up to the door, he pressed his ear against it, listening for guards. He heard footsteps and the sound of conversation drawing nearer.

"Hey, do you know what they call Burrick Steak in Shalebridge?"

"Er, no."

"Le Burrick Steak!"

"Oh."

After the pair of bluecoats had passed, Gary eased the door open and stepped out into the shadowy hallway. Consulting his map, Gary saw that he was directly across from the stairs leading to the second floor, where Hogan's office lay. He cautiously snuck up to the door and peered up into the stairwell to see two guard posts and a flickering torch. Gary smiled, thanked the Builder and Housepainter that they were still cheap enough to use torches in a station with robotic security cameras, and pulled a bow out of the folds of his cloak. Many people had asked where exactly he kept it, and he'd told them politely to piss off.
He mounted a water arrow on the bow and took careful aim at the torch. When the string was taut, he let fly and watched the stairs plunge instantly into darkness with a rather rude plopping sound.

"Hey!"

"What?"

"The torch went out!"

"So?"

"So torches don't just spontaneously go out!"

"Sure they do. It's a documented phenomenon."

"Is it?"

"Yeah. There's been many best-selling novels on the subject. I'm reading one right now."

"Huh. So, why does it happen?"

"What?"

"Why does the torch spontaneously go out?"

"Well, if you spent hours or even years on fire, wouldn't you get fed up with it?"

"Suppose I would."

"Shall I relight it?"

"Um....nah. Forget it."

Gary shook his head and tiptoed, unseen, up the stairs.

"That's government work for you," he muttered.

Gary edged up the stairs and carefully poked his head out onto the dimly lit second floor. Straight ahead he could see a double-patrolled intersecting pair of hallways, lined with shadowy doorways. Gary recognized one as the door to Hogan's office. He waited until both guards had their backs to him, then slunk out into the carpeted halls, ducking into a doorway just as the guard turned. The master Thief remained totally invisible to the guard as he walked past. It was odd, but people who wanted impenetrable fortresses always seemed to hire men with no peripheral vision. After the guard passed, Gary fumbled for his lockpicks before remembering that they were both broken.
Sighing, albeit quietly, he realized he had no way into the room.

At that moment, the guard passed by again. As he continued down the hall, Gary's reflexes took over and he found himself stepping out behind the man with his blackjack raised. He convulsively forced his arm down, remembering that he wasn't  supposed to blackjack anyone. It was just so damn hard not to! As this internal conflict went on, the bluecoat finished his circuit of the hall and turned around. Gary saw the man's eyes widen as he prepared to call for help...he had no choice now. Giving in to the irresistible instinct, he swung his blackjack down into the man's forehead as hard as he could. The guard immediately fell over, unconscious and with one of the most hilarious expressions Gary had seen on a blackjacked victim in years. He wished he had a portrait artist handy. As the other guard's footsteps came closer, Gary thought quickly. He could still salvage this operation if he acted fast.

Officer Davids rounded the corner to see his fellow officer and close friend, Corporal Wilkins, standing slightly hunched-over at the end of the hall. It was shadowy over there, but he was pretty sure he could make out a strange-looking expression on his fellow bluecoat's face.

"You all right, Bill?" he asked, pausing in his patrol.

"Just...fine!"

"You sure? You sound a bit...off. Do you have a cold or something?"

"Er, yes...Think I've picked up something from my vacation."

"The one seven months ago?"

"That's the one. They've got strange diseases in the tropics. This one has some sort of long remission period."

"I thought you only went as far as Dayport!"

"Well, I went through the tropics on my way. Um, don't come any closer. Very contagious. Makes your lungs fall off."

"Good lord! I'd have that checked out if I were you."

"Yeah, yeah. I really must sometime. Say, could you do me a favor?"

"What, Bill?"

"I want to clean up Hogan's office, but I seem to have lost my key. Could you open the door for me?"

"Anything for an ill friend."

"Thanks awfully...er...Bob."

"My name's Peter."

"That's what I said. It just came out funny."

"Er, Bill?"

"Yes, Pete?"

"Don't call me that. Just, why haven't you changed your expression at all? And what's with all the trembling and grunting?"

"Part of the sickness. Thanks awfully, but it's really getting contagious now. You'd best be off."

"Righto. Take care of yourself, Bill."

Gary waited until Davids had turned the corner and gone down the hallway before grunting and finally dropping the unconscious body he'd been holding like a puppet. His arms had started to give towards the end, but the cop had seemed like the gullible type.

Gary dragged corporal Wilkins into Hogan's office, dumping him in a shadowy corner. Looking around for something incriminating, Gary found a wadded up handkerchief with "R. H." embroidered on it.

"Jackpot!" he whispered, reflecting that this was probably the first time in his career where he'd said "Jackpot" after finding a handkerchief. What an odd turn his job had taken.
He picked up the handkerchief, making a disgusted face upon realizing that it had been used recently. Placing it among the folds of his robe, he stole out into the hallway. A moment later, he stumbled back into the office, took a pint of ale out of his cloak, spilled some of it on the unconscious officer, and left the half-empty bottle next to him, confident that nobody would believe his story of being attacked now. It was little touches like these that proved Gary's love for what he did.

Shutting the unlocked door behind him, Gary edged out into the shadowy hall again.

"Now for the evidence vault," he muttered. Consulting his map, he saw that the code for access to the vault was downstairs, in the hall of records. "Almost as if someone was trying to make me travel through as much of the station as they could...Ah, I'm just being paranoid."

Waiting until Davids' back was turned, Gary continued down the hall and through a door leading into a well-decorated room. "Might as well nab something for myself," said the thief, obeying his profession's nature by lifting a few easily missed items from a table. He had an innate talent for estimating the value of stolen goods to the dollar, and it never failed him. In fact, he could even form a mental image of the loot he'd most recently grabbed, just above the approximate total value of what he'd stolen. Despite this, he still couldn't make heads or tails of his tax forms.
Returning to the matter at hand, Gary scanned the room for the dumbwaiter marked on his map as leading to the floor below. Squeezing inside, he pulled the lever and descended to the floor below.

The dumbwaiter stopped halfway between floors. Gary winced. He couldn't have just backtracked and taken the stairs, now could he? Nooooooooo. He had to be all clever and use the stupid dumbwaiter. And now they'd probably discover his shriveled body one day when the sheriff couldn't be bothered to go down to the mess hall to get his waffles. It wasn't even a particularly good death, either. Not like getting hacked to death by a walking crayfish, or decapitated by arrows flying out of a wall, or even torn apart by talking shrubbery. Hell, he'd had numerous opportunities for really great ways to die and he'd wasted them all, only to end up with a rather obscure and slow doom in a malfunctioning food elevator. It really put things in perspective.

Gary paused for a few minutes and said a silent prayer to the Builder and Housepainter, who was, after all, the essential god for malfunctioning household appliances.

If you can hear me, I just want to say that I'm really sorry about all the trouble with your religion, and for letting "The Nose" out upon an unshielded world, and for all those the times I desecrated the burial grounds where your disciples were housed, and that business with the burrick stables right near that temple of yours. But I was only seven then. Look, if you can find it in your heart to forgive me and let the dumbwaiter start again, I swear I'll...er...do lots of good deeds...

The dumbwaiter remained stalled.

...and...um...build things...

Nothing.

...and, I'll join your order...and...and...erect several temples in your name. Honest.

The dumbwaiter jerked a few times and continued to descend to the mess hall. Upon arrival, Gary hopped out and took cover behind a stove. He looked around and saw that the hall leading to the records room was clear.

"Um, Builder and Housepainter?" he whispered. "About that temple-building...I didn't really mean it."

The stove roared to life.

It was fortunate that nobody was in the immediate area at the time, because they almost certainly would have seen the puzzling spectacle of a cloaked, babbling figure racing away from, of all things, a stove.

When Gary had calmed down sufficiently, he carefully sunk deeper into the shadows and glanced around to ensure that he hadn't been seen. All the bluecoats in the area seemed totally oblivious to his presence. Giving a smirk which he'd spent hours practicing in front of a mirror (Which was rather odd, as nobody ever saw it when his heists were successful), he slipped down a flight of stairs and towards the bowels of the station.
He emerged in a small antechamber with a pair of locked gates. One, he could tell, led to a torture chamber. He spent a moment listening attentively.

"I'll ask you one last time. What is the capital of the Czech Republic?"

"I told you...I don't...know anything about that!"

"Why do you turn my simple torture chamber into a house of lies?!"

"Oh, God! Not the spinning thing with the twelve blades again! No- noooooooo! N-Aaagh!"

"Now, let's try another one. What's the tangent of a 35 degree angle?"

"I don't know! I swear!"

"Lies!"

"Aaaagh! Ow! Ooh, that really feels quite bad!"

Gary winced and decided to check out the other gate instead. Pulling an old and corroded lever, he slunk through the rising gate and into a nightmarish, claustrophobic prison. Unearthly screams and moans filled the narrow tunnels, and the clinking of ghostly chains mingled with the mad ravings of the condemned. Gary paused by the nearest cell.

"What are you in for?" he asked casually.

"Double parking," rasped the occupant. Gary moved on, eventually coming to a locked cell at the very far end of the prison.

In the cell sat a balding man in a straitjacket, his face covered by a skillfully crafted mask of leather and wire.

"Hello, Gary," said the man in a smooth, cultured voice, his nostrils flaring.

"How d'you know who I am?"

"I can smell that all-familiar taint of nervous sweat on you. That, and the odor of the potions you consume to keep yourself hidden. And the ever-present stench of the fluid in your mechanical eye. Yes, I know all about you, thief Gary. Did you scream as that woman plucked your eye out, Gary? Did you run home to your poorly-furnished apartment and hide, shivering, in that terribly-hidden secret compartment in your closet? I can see that expensive cloak and those cheap, noisy shoes. You know why you can't afford better shoes, Gary? Because you don't make enough money. Because you're not as good a thief as you tell yourself! "

Shuddering and muttering something about how he liked Cragscleft much better, Gary rushed out of the prison, the convict's disturbing monologue echoing behind him.

"Wait! Come back! Damn. Drove another one off. I'm so lonely here...If only some nice, southern-sounding watch officer came along. I'd have a great time picking her psyche apart. Ah, I might as well fantasize about escaping and spending ten years hiding in Shalebridge, while I'm at it."


Retracing his steps and checking his map, Gary found that he had, in fact, made a wrong turn somewhere. He tiptoed back upstairs and eased open a door to his immediate left. It led into a room with a single guard standing next to the doorway to a spiral staircase. A plaque on the wall said "Hall of Records". Gary slid into the room and concealed himself in a shadowy corner, contemplating the best way to get past the bluecoat. It was so much easier when you could blackjack people! After a moment of consideration, Gary decided to douse the torch and creep past the sentinel. He whipped his bow out and cocked a water arrow. There was a swooshing sound followed by a plop and the room was plunged into darkness.

The guard blinked.

"Seems to me," he said after a few minutes, "That torches don't just go out like that on their own."

He paused.

"Hell, maybe they do after all," he concluded. With that issue resolved, he went back to picking his nose.

Gary crept through the dark room, pausing for a moment, then darting through the doorway, momentarily illuminated by the light on the other side. The guard started.

"Who's there?"

Gary paused, his back against the wall, and held his breath.

"Guess it was nothing."

The sneak let his breath out and thanked his lucky stars that every guard in the city seemed to suffer from Attention-Deficit-Disorder. He continued up the stairs. They led him to a trio of rooms filled with important-looking books. Gary looked them over.

Crime and Punishment, The Trial, Les Miserables.....cheerful reading these cops have, he thought. He peered into one of the anterooms and spotted a scroll marked 'Evidence Vault Code'.

My gut instinct tells me that that's the paper I want...

He tried to open the door. It was locked.

"Dammit!" he yelled. "They're always goddamn locked! Why can't they ever leave sensitive documents out in the open? And why are they always as far as possible from what they pertain to?!"
He checked his map, seeing if there was any information on the door's key. He noticed a scrawl in the margin that read, "Key is in Mostly's office."

"Dammit!"  he cried again. He had just come from there. That meant two more trips across the station. In frustration, Gary banged his head against the door. The bars forming the door's small window bent inward. He paused for a moment. If he could break those bars.... Gary smashed his head against the bars with renewed force. They bent further. Again he hit them full-on with his head. He was starting to see lights. With a whimper, he gave one final head-butt. The bars popped out of the window. Gary, telling himself that the pixies who were currently poking him in the ears with forks weren't really there, reached through the hole and unlocked the door. He then pushed it open and staggered into the room. He thought he had a concussion.

Half-falling into a chair, Gary picked up the scroll and read it, noting with satisfaction (though this was dampered by the way the room kept tilting around and singing dirty limericks) that the code for the vault was 24601. He pulled himself up, walked into a wall next to the door, tried again, and made it outside this time. The world turned slightly green, then red, then a kind of off-orange mixed with purple that very few people see without the aid of severe bodily harm or certain kinds of plants.

Pretty certain that he had a concussion, and also pretty certain that he was a fruitbat named Elsie, Gary began to search for a book on first aid. Eventually, when the letters stopped moving around long enough for him to read them, Gary spotted a thick volume with "How to Treat Head Injuries: Volume IX: Door-related Mishaps" printed on the spine. With a sigh of relief, Gary grabbed the book.

It slid only halfway out of the case before stopping and making a clicking sound. The entire bookshelf swung out and smashed him against a shelf full of "How to Be Happy by Giving Me All Your Money" books. Miraculously, this seemed to reduce the severity of his head problems, though he had no doubt he'd be feeling it in the morning.
Muttering about how much he hated secret passages because there was no warning giving you time to get out of their way, Gary descended the ladder behind the bookshelf.

Gary edged down the ladder, dropping off into a cramped crawlspace. He paused for a moment, thinking that whatever crazy sod who built Shoalsgate might have been sadistic enough to construct a secret passage that led to a dead end. A moment later, he realized that the object pressing into his kidney might well be a lever. With a wince of extreme discomfort, he pulled the lever downward, which produced a really painful sensation. A moment later, the rusty grating in front of him slid open. The thief was flung out of the narrow crawlspace like a jack-in-the-box, landing with a monstrous THUMP  on the stone floor and kicking up quite a cloud of dust. Fortunately, there weren't any patrols passing through the area at the time.

After a few minutes spent lying on the floor in a semiconscious state, Gary pulled himself up off of the ground, feeling rather strange. With a jerk, he realized that the slow-fall and invisibility potions in his cloak had both shattered, making him invisible from the waist down and inclined to float about with every step. This would no doubt confuse any nearby guards, but in the end it just wasted some perfectly good potions and made his job a tiny bit weirder.

Grumbling, Gary slipped out of the cubicle-filled hall he'd landed in and began to slink- well, all right, hop- down the shadowy hallway. As he neared a stairwell, he waited until a guard's back was momentarily turned and stealthily raced up the stairs. Or at least tried to. What in fact happened was more like this: His first step caused him to rocket off of the ground and fly, screaming, up into the air, still half-invisible. He hit his head on the stairs, got his bow tangled up in his neck somehow, and gradually settled to the ground on the carpeted halls of the second floor.

The guards posted at the stairs both blinked blearily.

"Oy, Bill."

"Yeah, Fred?"

"Did you just see a disembodied upper body fly past us?"

"Reckon I did."

"Screaming?"

"That it was."

There was a pause.

"Funny about that."

"Yep."

"Um...should we report it?"

"You wanna walk into the sheriff's office and say you just saw a howling torso-man fly up the stairs, be my guest."

"Good point."


Gary took a moment to untangle his bow and collect his wits. All the blows to the head were definitely hurting his style here. He took a few minutes to crouch in the shadows as the potions wore off. When he was confident that he was now in a non-invisible-and-floating state, he worked his way back down the halls towards the steps leading to the evidence vault. On the way, he saw a guard nearing him and ducked into the nearest room, which happened to be Lieutenant Mostly's office. Looking around, he saw several stacks of coins- which were made with magnetic metal, so they always remained stacked- and two rather shiny keys, one of which was the hall of records key that would have saved him a very painful experience, and a second one that practically screamed "Pick me up, I'm important!" Gary lifted them all. Looking at the key, he saw "Evidence Vault" engraved on it. Good thing he'd found this. He'd hate to backtrack across the entire station or give himself another concussion opening the vault doors. When the guard had passed, Gary slipped out and snuck down the hall and up the spiral staircase leading to the evidence vault.

Gary peaked out of the shadowy doorway to see a heavily-patrolled room connected to a hallway. Several of those extremely ugly Mechalomaniac cameras hung from the ceiling, casting disapproving glares at any and all who might be currently contemplating doing something not entirely honest. Glancing around, the thief noted with no small degree of satisfaction that the third floor was lit entirely by gas lamps. Apparently torches were passe up here. Fortunately, gas lamps were just as easy to extinguish.

Feeling the slightest sense of deja vu, Gary knocked a water arrow and took careful aim at the closest lamp. The arrow hit home, and the light was extinguished. Gary began to slip into the room. Suddenly, the lamp, which had only been partially put out, sputtered back to life. With a muffled curse, Gary hopped back into the stairwell. Luckily, neither the guards nor the camera had spotted him. For a second time, he leaned into the room, took extremely careful aim, and shot a water arrow directly into the lamp. He was slipping out into the dark room when the light flickered to life again. Wincing, and at the same time managing to glare at the lamp, he stumbled back out of the room, narrowly avoiding the gaze of the sentries. A third time, he peeked into the room with an extremely vengeful look in his eyes.

Pointing his bow, he deliberately selected a broadhead arrow, aimed slowly and carefully, and shot the gas lamp, shattering it into bits and causing the fuel to spatter all over the floor, igniting a small fire. This only succeeded in making the room brighter. The guard, who had been dozing off, started and made his way over to the blazing corner, attempting to put the small inferno out by stomping on it. Seeing his chance, Gary quietly jogged out into the room behind the occupied bluecoat's back.

Unfortunately, the camera spotted him. Gary dove behind the desk as the extremely ugly and disapproving face of the camera paused to focus on the intruder. Crouching under the desk, the master (No, really, he is. This is just an "off" day.) thief considered the situation. Even at the rate his informant said the cameras waited to sound the alarm, this one would probably do so before he could emerge from cover and get out of sight. That left him one option.
Corporal Thompson finished stamping out the fire with the espestos-coated boots his mother made him wear, then turned back to see that his desk had vanished. He looked around just in time to miss seeing the piece of office furniture creeping around the corner, towards the vault doors. The camera, deciding that it had probably just imagined seeing a cloaked figure ducking behind a desk and crawling off under it, whirred as it reset itself and continued to cycle.

Gary, seeing the doors of the vault, peeked out from under the desk. Noting that the coast was clear, he hurriedly inserted the key from Mostly's office and opened one of the two doors. He found himself in a narrow anteroom with an impressive door and a keypad for entering the vault code and deactivating security. He smiled to himself. This proved it. He was good. He was reeeeaaaal  goooood. The fact that he often thought in long, italicized words was a testament to the size of his ego.

Referring to the scroll he'd filched from the Hall of Records, Gary typed in the code for opening the vault. He winced as the massive metal doors creaked open, revealing a room festering with Mechalomaniac security. There was another locked door at the far end, no doubt leading to the vault itself. Taking a deep breath and praying to whatever gods he hadn't recently pissed off, the thief stepped into the room. The security devices were all motion-sensitive robotic cannons that fired various unpleasant things at anyone who stepped into their range. Gary carefully began to cross the room. After a few steps, one of the cannons sprung open with a surprisingly vicious click. Gary let out a muffled shriek and dove to the ground as a razor blade shot out over his head and ricocheted around the room, kicking up sparks and generally making a nuisance of itself. He remained prone for a few minutes and wasn't hit. This made him wonder about the efficiency of these protective measures for a moment, but he couldn't be sure. Crawling forward a bit, he caught the attention of another mechanical head. Its mouth opened and spewed forth a stream of sulfuric acid- directly over Gary and at the opposite wall. The rogue smiled to himself, which he did quite a bit because, in his line of work, smiling at anyone else would earn you the nickname "No-arms". The idiots who built these things had forgotten to give them vertical movement! They couldn't hit anything less than three feet above the ground!

Gary continued to crawl across the floor, as razors, arrows, firebombs, acid, little metal pellets, and an unidentifiable fluid he felt sure was skunk juice all flew over his head and did damage to various bits of the room. At last he found his way to the opposite door, pushed it open, crawled through, closed it again, and stood up. He was in the Shoalsgate Station evidence vault. Looking around, he saw numerous statuettes (valuable on the black market, no doubt), piles of coinage, a crumpled and bloody golfing glove, various bags of mail addressed to somebody called "Santa Claus", paintings, from different angles, of some sort of grassy knoll, and, the object of his search, the vault strongbox. Whistling a thieving tune that sounded suspiciously like a number from an early Walt Disney movie, Gary proceeded to clean out the vault and drop the handkerchief in an extremely obvious place. Next, he picked up the strongbox. This seemed like a harmless enough task, but that was before he realized it weighed upwards of eighty pounds. It would have to be dragged out. The thief sighed and opened the door, forgetting to duck. Almost immediately, a series of metal pellets and a luckily unlit firebomb charomed off of his head, knocking him backwards.

Much, Much Later...

Corporal Wilkins blinked blearily as the cursing, battered figure in the tattered robe dragged the huge box into Hogan's office. Wilkins' vision was all blurry, and his head hurt, but he was still able to discern that whoever was dragging the strongbox in was having a really difficult time of it, straining his muscles and grunting. It was kind of sad. The Corporal also felt some kind of damp liquid spattered all over him. Blood? Had he been stabbed? No...no, he'd been...

"Whoops, looks like you're starting to come out of it, friend."

The figure raised its blackjack. Ah yes. This was what'd happened before. THUMP!

Standing over his victim, Gary spilled some more ale on Wilkins for good measure. He then looked at the to-do list he always kept with him.

To-Do list for today:

Sneak into Shoalsgate station and put something of Hogan's in vault: Done

Put strongbox in Hogan's office: Done

Don't let anyone see you: Done

Don't blackjack or kill anybody: Sort of Done

Get out of Shoalsgate: Not Done Yet

Purchase half-a-pound of roast beef from local deli to be used in celebratory sandwich: Not Done Yet

Right, thought Gary. Now I've just got to find a way out of here...and pick up that roast beef on the way home. Piece of cake. He made yet another trip through the now-familiar shadowy halls of the station, descending to the first floor and finally emerging in the office right near the front entrance. He heard the sounds of conversation beyond the doors.

"Strange things've been going on round 'ere, sir."

"Such as?"

"Well, Davids was just telling me how Wilkins seems to have caught some sort of tropical flu. And there have been all sorts of fires in the kitchen and upper vault areas. And I hear some of the boys by the stairs talking about seeing a screaming ghost, or something."

"Really, detective, I think you're jumping to conclusions. The men who don't get to go out to the ale and donut shops always act a bit strange. Oh, look. All the officers who left are returning now."

Hearing the distant rumbling drawing closer, Gary felt a moment of panic. He crouched, trembling, under the desk as the tide of bluecoats surged through the doors, past him, and began filling up the narrow halls. When the ground finally ceased shaking, Gary pulled himself out of his hiding place and scanned the room. Deserted. Just then, he spotted a control panel on the desk that had served as shelter. Next to it, a plaque read "Security System Shutdown". Cursing about how he could have avoided the whole business with the cameras and the cannons if he'd found this earlier, Gary pulled the lever. Various homely security cameras clacked to a halt as the lights in their eyes dimmed. Naturally, the police, having the attention spans of drugged bison, didn't notice. Gary pushed open the doors to Shoalsgate and emerged, triumphant, into the streets of The City. The effect was rather spoiled by his tripping over a cannon and falling in the moat. Eventually he pulled himself out, closed the doors behind him, and slunk off, dripping, in the direction of the local delicatessen.


Sings we a song of lawyers,
Who smell money and slays clients.
Sings we a song of sixpence,
And a pocket full of rye.
Or something. We're very confused, as you may have guessed.
-Pagan Saying

Chapter 3:

The Plot Thickens

The door to the Incontinent Apeman deli swung open as a cloaked, dripping figure stood panting in the doorway. Murray, the hefty head butcher, didn't bat an eye.
"Afternoon, Gary."

Gary could never figure out how Murray could recognize people without looking up. Maybe he memorized the differences in the sound they made opening the door. Shrugging, the thief crossed over to the counter, leaving a wet trail, plunked a small stack of copper pieces on the counter, and said, straining to keep the haggard edge out of his voice, "Just a pound...er...half-pound of roast beef today, Murray."

"Righto, Gary."

He instantly produced a somewhat greasy bag from behind the counter. Gary didn't bother wondering how he did it for the umpteenth time. It was just one of those deli guy things.

"Anything else, sir?"

He always asked that, even when Gary made it clear there was nothing else in his order. It was just another one of those things.

"Nothing, thanks."

"Have a pleasant evening, sir."

"You too, Murray. Murray?"

"Yeah?"

"What do they call a burrick steak in Shalebridge?"

"Le burrick steak, Gary."

"Thought so. Thanks."

"Evenin', sir."

Gary looked out through a grimy window. It was getting dark out. So it hadn't just seemed like hours in Shoalsgate, it'd actually been hours. Good to know he wasn't losing his mind. Gary was about to step out into the night when a furtive voice from a disreputable customer at a table near the back stopped him in his tracks.

"Pssst!"

"Pssst?"

"Yeah! Gary! Over here!"

Gary looked around and picked out the diminutive figure seated near the back. At the back of his mind, he remembered that he'd arranged to meet Nicki the Narc here tonight, over a lucrative business opportunity.

No rest for the dishonest, Gary thought wearily. Sighing, he sat down across from Nicki.

"What's this about?" muttered Gary in a low voice, "And make it quick, I've got a sandwich to attend to."

"Like I said, Gary, it's a big heist. How'd you like the opportunity to go where many thieves have gone before...but from where none have ever returned?"

Needlessly cryptic, thought Gary. Better watch myself.

"This wouldn't happen to be another undiscovered temple-ish place with zombies and monsters and stuff, would it? I'm really sick of the undead. I hope I don't run into more than five or so on my adventures from now on."

"You may come to regret that, Gary. Zombies aren't all that bad."

"Like I said, I'm sick of the undead. From now on, it's just standard house robbing for me. So what's this job? Hell, who's paying for it?"

"It's a small group. Just me and my friends in the WATCH!!!"

Nothing happened for a moment or so.

"Like I said," repeated Nicki nervously, "My friends in the WATCH!!!"

After a few seconds, two bluecoats burst in.

"Sorry, Nick. We was having some fags. Can't get 'em down the station...."

"Say, is that that Gary fellow?"

"The one we're supposed to kill?"

Nicki held his head in his hands, exhasperated.

"Yes!"

"Righto. You are nicked, me 'ole beauty," the second watchman said, motioning at Gary. Both police drew their swords and stepped forward. Reflecting that he really needed to stop trusting people nicknamed "The Narc", Gary shoved the table and Nicki into the path of the two watchmen, grunting and fleeing to the far corner of the deli. Murray didn't glance up. As the guards got to their feet and began to advance again, Gary scrambled in his belt for a flash bomb. He raised one over his head, then realized that it was not, in fact, a flash bomb at all. It was the roast beef he'd gotten. In desperation, he flung it at the guards. It flew over their heads and hit a shelf directly behind them, which dislodged and dumped a few dozen pounds of kosher salami on their heads.

With catlike reflexes (if the cat had had an extremely bad day and kept getting its fur wet), Gary jumped over the cops, took a moment to hit Nicki on the head with a piece of bratwurst, and fled out into the streets.

Murray, not having moved during the entire exchange, said, "I'll just put that bratwurst on your tab then, Gary."

Gary jogged (it's very difficult to jog stealthily and you look quite silly doing it, but nobody's supposed to see you anyway so it's all right) about a block away from the Incontinent Apeman and hid himself in the shadows, catching his breath. A moment later, he saw the two dazed bluecoats stumble out of the delicatessen.

"I can't believe you let him get away! And after we went to all that trouble settin' up the ambush!"

"I let him get away?! You're the one who fell over onto me!"

"That's because the bastard took a swing at me with that sword! Nearly cut me bloody head off if I hadn't jumped out of the way with my catlike reflexes!"

"Looked to me like you missed dodging a shelf fulla salami."

"Shut up! Now let's fan out and catch him before he gets away!"

"But won't splitting up enable him to stealthily pick us off, one by one, despite our superior numbers and considerable combat abilities?"

"Nobody likes a cop who thinks too much one the job, mate. It's unhealthy."

"Well, if he does get by us, at least those reinforcements I sent for will keep him from making a clean getaway."

"Those what?"

"Reinforcements. I figured, it'd be a big bust, we could use some-"

"You stupid git! Now we've got to catch him! Otherwise they'll get all the credit!"

"Who?"

"The other blokes on the force! If you want to get promoted in this town, you never call for reinforcements unless you've got a twenty-stone murderous rapist on your hands who's ingested something liable to make him..."

"Make him what?"

"Um...liable to make him...what's the word...see things that aren't there....be violent...."

"Make him like someone from that greenish island near here? The one with the potatoes and the rock that you-"

"No, no! Forget it and let's nab the sod!"

"Righto."

Gary sighed as the cops split up and began patrolling noisily down the cobbled streets. Naturally, he'd gotten the urge to go to the deli that was on the opposite side of town from his house. And he kept getting lost in the streets at night, which he kept under wraps because it was rather embarrassing for someone in his profession. And it'd be a long night with those guards out there...

On the other hand, he reflected, it would finally give him a chance to do a helluva lot of blackjacking now that he was free of that damn "no witnesses" restriction. That almost made it worth it. Humming merrily and jauntily sneaking (yes, it can be done) down an alleyway, Gary pulled out his blackjack and prepared to give a lot of cops a lot of headaches.

Gary peered warily out into the streets. They were filled with shadows, which was good, and watchmen, which was bad. Gary grinned in a manner that would make most people double-check their pockets. He could take care of the second thing. With relish.

As a conga line of four cops trudged past his hiding place, Gary popped out from cover, snuck up behind the guard at the rear, and blackjacked him.

THUNK!

"Oof!"

"Did you 'ear something, Bill?"

"No, sarge. Probably just the wind."

"The wind doesn't go 'thunk', Bill."

"Maybe we ought at least turn around and check to see if anything's happened."

"That is the biggest load of burrick-"

THUNK!

"Bwmmmphhhhhhh...."

"Funny, he didn't finish his sentence."

"Except to say 'Bwmmmphhhhhhh'. Downright unprofessional of him, that."

"You're sure we oughtn't turn around and watch our backs? Or at least count ourselves?"

"Don't be a pansy, Bill."

THUNK!

"Ooch!"

"Say, Bill? Hullo? Bill, are you- oh bloody hell."

THUNK!

Gary stood over the unconscious body of the fourth bluecoat, brandishing his blackjack very smugly. That had been the most fun he'd had all night. He stashed the bodies in the narrow space between buildings (they all fit, amazingly) and went off to find more prey.

About fourty-five minutes and fifty or so blackjackings later, Gary still had no idea how close he was to his house. All the streets looked exactly the same at night, and he felt sure he was going in circles. Eventually, he resorted to using unconscious police to mark where he'd been. Using this method, he eventually found his way to the canal. He considered diving in and following it to his house, reflected that he'd spent far too long tonight jumping into bodies of water, and decided instead to follow the canal from above. This eventually left Gary standing in front of his tenement. Wearily, he opened the door and stumbled inside. He immediately heard heavy footsteps on the stairs.

That'll be the landlord, thought the master thief. Probably wondering who the hell's barging in here at this time of night.

Gary's thoughts were interrupted by a sword being buried up to the hilt in the door by his head. Gary did what was logical in the situation, which was to scream.

"AAAaarrrRRRRghhhh!" he cried. "I'm sorry about tracking mud into the building! I'll clean it up! And I swear I'll pay my rent by next week!"

Gary calmed down when he realized that the owner of the sword was not, in fact, a tempermental landlord, but an officer of the watch who, despite all logic, was situated in his own apartment building trying to kill him. At least it wasn't the landlord, though. That woman was hell on wheels.

Gary swung the door back open and flung himself out into the street. The sword, which was still embedded in the door, swung with it and hit the guard in the head, knocking him over. Seeing his chance, Gary darted upstairs as he heard the shouts of other guards drawn by the commotion. Kicking open the door of his room, the stealthy rogue decided that the heat on him in this district was too intense and that he'd have to wait out the trouble in a safehouse in Shalebridge. He kept the key in his secret compartment, so he had only to get it and escape.

Gary moved towards the bathroom, where the key was hidden. Carefully lifting the lid off of the tank of his lavatory, he pocketed the key and made a quick search of his rooms for stuff that he could take with him. First he went to the closet and pulled his extra cloak off of a hook. The hook swiveled and caused the back of the closet to open up and reveal several fire and water arrows. Gary blinked. It was another secret compartment, one that he'd had no idea even existed. How odd. Well, this apartment had been owned by a long line of thieves, so this wasn't too out of the ordinary.

Hearing shouts coming up the stairs, Gary reached up to turn the lamp off. He tripped and ended up tugging on the lamp, which popped down and caused a trapdoor to open in the ceiling. Another secret passage. There must have been quite a few thieves living here at some point. The voices got louder. Gary made his way to the window. On the way, he stumbled over a floorboard, which clicked and caused a console full of futuristic radar and statistical computer equipment to rise out of the floor.

"How many damn secret passages does this stupid house have?!" he shouted, exasperated. He grabbed a bust on a shelf, preparing to break the window with it. Instead, it turned out to be a switch, which made the bookshelf slide aside to reveal a pole leading into darkness. Sighing, Gary gave up and slid down the pole seconds before the watch swarmed in and began bashing the hell out of things just to keep in practice.

A few minutes later, a dripping, cursing figure pulled himself out of the canal, resolved to never ever slide down a pole again unless he was absolutely sure where it went, and made off towards the other side of town. On the way he stopped at Nicki the Narc's house, broke in, stole everything that wasn't nailed down, and smashed some stuff up on general principle.


Interlude...

Gary, following his harrowing escape from the Incontinent Apeman, sat unwinding in his Shalebridge safehouse. To be more specific, he was unwinding one of the springs in his mechanical eye. It had been given to him by the M. C. Hammerites as a way of saying "Thanks for destroying that pesky demigod, oh, and sorry about incidentally trying to kill or imprison you a few dozen times. That's why pencils have erasers, hey?" Since he still wasn't fully sure how it worked, though, it often proved to be more of a hinderance than anything else. It did strange things like producing spanish subtitles whenever he looked at two people having a conversation. He also wasn't quite sure how it actually connected to his head....on the other hand, it let him do some neat tricks at parties, so it was worth it in the long run. He snapped it back in and settled down in front of the mirror, practiced glaring for a few minutes, switched over to leering smugly, and was right in the middle of darting eyebrow movements when a knock came at the door. Gary paused. This was no ordinary knock. It was the secret knock of the Creepers. It went something like "KNOCK, KNOCK-KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK". It was rarely heard, however, since they weren't very big on knocking, preferring instead to let themselves in through an open window and bury a crossbow bolt in your neck.

Gary sighed and redoubled his eyebrow movements, making a heroic effort to sound busy. He'd worked with the Creepers for a while and wanted no truck with them. Their whole destiny and logic thing would get to anybody, but what had really gotten on Gary's nerves was the poetry. The stupid prophetic poetry, with the bongos, and the hats, and the stupid dark glasses...that had been something of a final straw. And so he'd left. The fact that the Creepers didn't actually approve of breaking into houses, taking things, and selling them also played a part, but what the hell.

A Creeper's voice, annoyingly like Leonard Nimoy's, sounded from the other side of the door.

"By vote of the Creeper council, you are to come with us."

"The Creeper council only has one member!" muttered Gary.

"Gary, be reasonable."

"Yeah, man. Ditch those bad vibes. Get happy, man."

"Leave."

"You need to dig the karma, dude."

"Maybe this isn't the best time, Brother Leo."

"Go away, you unwashed freaks!"

"Has your wealth-"

At the word "wealth", Gary perked up.

"-of knowledge-"

Gary relaxed again.

"-grown so complete that you don't want to add to it?"

"Yup," said Gary. "Good evening."

"Look, if you don't come with us, we'll show everybody that picture of the time you screwed up during rope climbing and ended up hanging from the roof with your cloak over your head and your underwear showing."

After a moment, the door clicked open.

"Let's make this fast," grumbled Gary. "And no poetry!"


A few seconds later, through the magic of cinematography, Gary and the Creepers were standing in the middle of the vast Barnes and Noble corner cafe that served as the headquarters for the Creeper order. Smoke emanating from the small tables where washed-out looking patrons sat drifted among the leatherbound volumes. On a slightly elevated stage, behind a microphone, a little girl nervously looked around, preparing to read from a book she held.

"What do you beatnicks want?" asked Gary.

"We want you to hear this prophecy."

Brother Karl was able to catch Gary just before he finished shoving the heavy doors open.

"I said no poetry! That means none!"

"Okay, man, so we lied. Be cool."

The Creepers dragged Gary, still struggling, back to a table and sat him down. The little girl cleared her throat, drank from a water bottle beside her, and began to read.

Zippety, zappity, zamphetey-zir,
Oh drat! The Mental Age is here!
Too-loo-ra-lah, too-loo-rah-loo,
'Twill be the end of me and you!

My eye is copper, my brow is lead,
I wish I could get this Mask off my head!
The trees are iron, the cats are all tin,
Oh, where, oh where have those Prequelers been?

Gary took all this in, his mouth hanging open in mute horror. After a few verses he whispered hoarsely to the Creeper beside him.

"This is even worse than your usual stuff!"

"Brother Seuss's prophecies are more...casual, it's true. It is a bit of a change, I know, but we think if we give him a bit of a chance his stuff will really catch on, don't you think?"

"Builder and Housepainter, please let me die!"

The poetry continued.

From there to here and here to there,
Those Robot guards are everywhere!
Tee-randy-la, tee-randy-lay,
Mechalomaniacs are bad, m'kay?

Don't trust Kletus with a hat,
Do not trust him on a cat,
Do not trust him in a cave,
Do not or you'll be his slave!
Not in a house,
Not on a train,
Not with a mouse,
He'll bring you pain!

Gary's good eye twitched.

"What the hell does this torture have to do with me?"

"Well, there is a verse coming up about you and something about a killer gas...thought you might be interested. Oh, yes, and the Mental Age is upon us."

"The what?"

"Something about robots, and...um...metal. The Mechalomaniacs have something to do with it. You get the idea."

"I'm getting the hell out of here."

"Hold it, hold it! You haven't stayed to hear the end of the poem!"

"Wild horses couldn't keep me in here another second!" the thief cried, jumping up from the table and bolting for the door again.

Brother Leo spoke up. "Shall I get the wild horses, man?"

"No, Brother Leo. I will talk to him. Not to convince him to rejoin our cause, but to keep the door open between us."

"How come, man?"

"Because we might need to use him to kill some kind of all-powerful demigod like last time."

"Oh, right."

"One more moment, friend Gary."

"What?!" Gary looked like he was in quite a lot of pain from all the poetry.

"Take this letter."

"I swear, if you guys are trying to get me to subscribe to your newsletter again..."

"No, this is different. Just take it. That way you can find out that Kletus- um, someone hired Trout to kill you, and you can get back to your steady job as our unwilling pawn."

"Fine. Now if I have to hear any more of that drug-induced rambling I may be forced to blackjack myself."

Gary crossed the threshold and strode off dramatically into the street amongst the sounds of bongos and fingers snapping. He had to bang his head against the wall for several minutes that night before finally drifting off to sleep.


Chapter 4

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