Our most recent job came through one of Crim's contacts. We'd been hired to recover an item that the client had bought through an auction house. It seems the item was stolen before it could safely be delivered to our client's hands. The contact we got the job from had tracked the original thief and found out he was only a runner. The stolen item was now in the possession of a collector. We were to go in, get it, and return it to the rightful owner.
But what was the item in question?
"A toy horse."
I quirked a brow.
," Crim said, "There's a popular book series all about these mythical horses and the guy who bought it wanted it for his kid. The collector guy just happened to intercept it first. The particular toy we're after is one of a limited edition batch made by some fancy-shmancy magic toy maker."
I shook my head. "We're stealing a toy horse..."
"Hey, look at it this way, mageling: these people are willing to throw around a lot of money for the recovery of this stupid, little, toy horse."
"I may never understand the world," I sighed.
Later that night we quietly made our way to the collector guy's location. He lived in an old building that looked like it ought to have been condemned save for the fact that it had bars on all the windows, and the doors were made of really thick metal. It took Mara, our alchemist, several different acids to get through a side door's locking mechanism.
Inside, the place looked like a museum of all things toys. Honest to God, floor to ceiling were nothing but shelves and displays of tons of toys, most still with their original price tags hanging from them. If not for that it was pretty dark in there, I'm sure the place would have been very lively and colorful.
"Any idea where to head for this thing?" Kyle asked in a whisper.
"If this thing is the newest acquisition," Twest, our maps guy said, "Then it's probably going to be the center of some huge new display. Let's start at the center and work our way outward. Look for anything displaying horse toys."
Sure enough, smack in the center of the building there was a HUGE display with a castle and a rainbow and all kinds of girly looking settings, covered
in toy horses. Well... I guess
you could call them horses. Their proportions were kind of out of wacky, and some had horns, some had wings, some had fins... The further out on the display they got, the more weird looking and less-horse-like they became.
On a large pedestal in the middle of the display there was a rearing horse with both demon-looking horns and dragon-like wings. It was green, looked nasty, wore armor, and was quite a bit larger than the surrounding horses.
"Whooooooa, coooooool!" Kyle said. "That's the evil prince — the main villain! I didn't know anyone had even MADE a toy of him yet!"
We all gave Kyle weird looks.
"What? The guys at the bars talk about this series all the time! It's really popular!"
I ought to point out that the only way I have committed Kyle to my memory is that he's the one constantly talking about partying or alcohol. To hear him sharing bar stories of this children's series probably shouldn't have surprised me. But it did.
"Grown men talk about a little girls' book series?" I asked.
"Mageling, remember what I said about people being willing to spend lots of money on these things?" Crim asked. "Same type of people."
Crim gingerly picked his way through the display to the raised platform with the green horse on it. "At least we didn't hit any kind of top notch security or anyth-"
"FOOLS!" the green horse suddenly shouted.
My heart jumped up into my throat. Crim froze in mid-reach for the thing.
"YOU CANNOT CONTAIN ME! DARKNESS WILL ENSHROUD THIS WORLD!" The green horse gave a mighty flap of its little sculpted wings and took off in the opposite direction, over the display.
?!" I blurted.
"The really hard to get ones do, yeah!" Kyle squealed. "Wow, this is so awesome! Those kind are really hard to come by because they have to be commissioned by golem makers for the extra enchanting spells. They've only got a couple of commands for once they're in play-mode, though. The more commands they're imbued with, the more expensive they are. And this is a rare character to begin with!"
"You're really into this, aren't you?" Twest, the maps guy said, curling his lip a little.
"Some of them are ADORABLE!" Kyle squealed. "You'd probably like it if you read it."
read?" Twest asked, even more perplexed.
"It's up there, now," Mara, the alchemist said, pointing up to a balcony.
I probably ALSO ought to take a moment to explain that Mara, despite being a wonderful medic and alchemist, is also part tiger-person. Her hearing and eye sight are a lot better than the rest of ours, making her a wonderful party member for sneaking work.
"Hey, know-it-all," Crim said to Kyle, "This thing is just in play-mode?"
"Yup," Kyle nodded.
"How do we turn it off, then?"
"Duuuh, you beat it!" Kyle said. "Like in the series!"
"And how, pray tell, do we do that?" Crim asked, trying to climb back out of the display. He tripped right before the bottom, though, and almost every toy in the nearby vicinity suddenly squealed, coming to life and running from the crash.
Little horses scattered everywhere, some went flying over us, others running between our feet. I screamed. Mara gasped. Twest shouted. Crim looked absolutely flabbergasted.
!" Kyle shouted.
All of the little horses paused. (One or two continued rambling amiably about nonsensical things.)
"The evil prince has escaped and is trying to take over the kingdom! We have to stop him! He's up there!" Kyle called, pointing to the upstairs balcony.
A hundred tiny, toy heads turned to the balcony where the green horse we were supposed to be retrieving started laughing evilly. One little horse gave some kind of retaliatory battle cry and the whole mini-herd took off for a nearby set of stairs.
"You've gotta be kidding me!" I said.
"Just like in the series," Kyle grinned.
Crim shook his head, getting up. "Come on; let's go get that thing before there's nothing left of it."
For being so tiny, those little horses got up the steps a lot faster than we did. When we reached the top, the evil green one was surrounded by half a dozen smaller ones and he was giving some kind of villainous monologue. The little horse that had given the initial battle cry gave another command and the good-guy horses suddenly all performed some kind of group magic against the villain horse. He shouted and writhed, then fell over spouting how this wouldn't be the last they saw of him. When finally he stopped moving, he was in just about the same pose he had been in when he was displayed on the pedestal downstairs.
All of the smaller horses gave cheers of victory and one by one stopped moving while in cheerful poses.
"Well, guess play time's over," Kyle said. "But wasn't that AWESOME?!"
Crim used the edge of his jacket to pick up the evil green horse, careful to not jostle any of the others again. "It was something
," he said, "I don't know about awesome, though."
"I wonder why this guy didn't have any security measures if these things are so expensive," Twest, the maps guy said. "I mean, it wasn't exactly difficult to get in. Troublesome, yeah, but..."
"Shoot, if thieves like us could get in, I'll bet anyone could," Kyle laughed pleasantly.
A thousand little toy heads suddenly turned toward us from all sorts of shelves and displays. A collective hiss of "Thieeeeeves?" went up.
"Uh-oh," Kyle said.
"RUN FOR IT!" Crim shouted.
It was the most difficult thing not to laugh, getting out of there. Crim and Twest called Kyle all kinds of stupid for having woken up all those toys again. The difficulty increased when we started toward the exit. A display of fuzzy puppies came to life as we went past it, and all of them decided Kyle might make a good chew toy. When we finally got out of the building, one was still latched on to his behind. He tore the toy off and tossed it back into the building.
It made for a WONDERFUL story to recall to the others when we got home. But we had to stop and drop off the green horse with its rightful owner so we could get paid before that. The job paid so well that the guys said we probably wouldn't have to work again for two weeks, but then again, Kyle said he might need most of it for medical recovery. He had two dozen or so little puncture wounds in his legs and butt from tiny toy-dog teeth.
"Serves you right!" Twest said, laughing.
"That's the last
time we take you on an espionage run," Crim smirked, shaking his head.
"At least ones that involve toys for little girls," I grinned.
Kyle was a good sport about it. We all had a laugh.