“Wakey wakey, Lucas,” said a whiskery voice in the thief’s ear.
“Nng – not on duty t’day,” Lucas mumbled. He rolled over in his pallet and covered his throbbing head with his ale-soaked sleeves. “Slag off.”
“T’aint Captain Thurg calling you to duty, lad,” continued the strange voice. “It’s Crippled Mince.”
“Mince?” Lucas sat upright, his heart pounding. When the High Collector of the Theives’ Guild made personal calls, it was never to be sociable. “Cripes, Mince, what are you doing here? The guards will see you -“
“Your fellow guards have been persuaded to give me a moment with you.” Crippled Mince set aside his little crutches and heaved his bulk onto a chair next to Lucas. The chair creaked. The old robber may have been grossly fat, but his arms were strong like a team of oxen … which is what happens when you cut off your own legs to settle a debt to your Guildmaster. “Quite a night you had at the Froghemoth, I understand. Don’t get there much meself. The tavern boss at the Frog discriminates against us cripples something fierce.”
Lucas licked his lips in a vain attempt to wet them. He looked around his empty barracks with growing panic. “Mince, you’ve got nothing to collect from me. I’m paid up in all my dues, and I haven’t pinched a penny since -“
“Lucas, my boy, there have been whispers around the Guildhouse,” said Crippled Mince. “Whispers. That there were more swag in the Beggar’s charnel house than what you brought back. Some even say there were more shiny stuff in his coffers than what were pilfered from us, and that any guest of the Beggarhearth might make himself a king with what he could fit in his pockets. Vicious rumor, I know, but there it is.”
“Mince, I swear, to you,” lied Lucas, “the Guild got everything we found.”
“Oh, I believe you, boy. You’d be a fool not give the Guild her due after a baggy score. As I say, I believe you … but Khazilas, now, he don’t. He thinks you’ve been amusing the choir with some pretty patter.”
“Pretty patter? I’m not lying, Mince!”
“Surely, surely. T’is a mute point, anyway, lad. The mucketies have had a chinwag – “
“You mean a moot point, Mince?”
Crippled Mince scratched his whiskers. “Moot? I suppose so, lad. Such a bright boy! See? I knew I was right about you. This fairly proves that Khazilas made the right choice.”
The fog of alcohol, blown back by the wind of adrenaline, was beginning to lift from Lucas’ senses. Though his head still ached, he began to unravel more about his surroundings. Two more bodies joined him and Mince in the barracks – two dark, cloaked shapes lurked at either end of his bed, and their hands were concealed under folds of fabric. His footlocker had been emptied. His weapon was nowhere at hand.
“Kill me in my bed?” he croaked. “A foul deed even for you, you legless gunnysack. Give me my dagger and let me go out swinging!”
“Ha!” Crippled Mince slapped his gut in mirth. “Never waste what you can still use, any mother’s son should know that. And Khazilas, he thinks you have great purpose yet for the Guild, my boy. He’s looking for clever, brave boys with special gifts, and who is more clever, brave or special than our Lucas? And too, you’ve picked up some swift flashie that do catch his eye – or not catch it, as the case may be.” Here, Mince leaned in and pinched a fold of gray skin on Lucas’ arm and rubbed it as if he were sampling the quality of fine silk.
“My- my skin?” Lucas fumbled. “My complexion? This is poison – picked it up in a trap in the Beggar King’s lair…”
“Your eyes, too, gray as a mare’s belly,” marveled Mince. “You’re touched by something, boy. Something that may or may not be useful to all us humble bung nippers. We need to educatify ourselves about your condition, and since the master of your Guild thinks you owe him some special service, you have been volunteered to go to the head of the class.”
“What do mean? You’re gonna experiment on me? Mince, I hereby un-volunteer,” said Lucas. “You can tell Khazilas I don’t owe him anything more than -“
Whatever the cloaked men concealed in their folds, it made quick work of Lucas. After a flash of light, his eyes rolled back and his words slurred out, and he slumped back into his straw.
“Nice work, boys,” said Crippled Mince. “Summon the Trevian. We begin at once.”